What Would It Take To Convince You?

Herman, the de facto hermit

Brian and Parrotlover recently raised an interesting question that we’ve all probably thought about: What would it take to convince you that God is real?

In a comment to the “Asshole Jesus” article, Brian wrote:

Believers have the easiest go of it, because all it takes is just one miracle (beyond Mary-shaped piss stains on underpasses and grilled cheese Jesus sightings) to prove that they’ve been right all along. One miracle. Just one goddamned miracle. That’s all I’m asking for. Until god decides to get off his celestial ass and do something, I’m forced to conclude he very probably is a figment of most everyone else’s imagination. I’m comfortable with that.

Parrotlover then asked if that really would be enough evidence:

Not to be too much of a devil’s advocate here, but it would take more than just one. For if it only required one miracle, who’s to say one of the accounts in the bible is not said miracle? There is no evidence to survive to this day, only oral and written tradition. The same would be true two thousand years from now. Even if we caught it on camera, two thousand years from now, it would be pretty easy to wonder if those works were just doctored.

So, I would say one miracle per (and I’m just spitballing here) one hundred years. That’s still not asking for much, but for perpetual proof of God’s existence, it would have to be recurring. Humans just don’t trust eyewitness accounts of ancestors enough otherwise.

He’s right, you know. We need solid, incontrovertible proof. Even if God performed a miracle right in front of Christopher Hitchens, convincing him right on the spot, I sure as hell wouldn’t believe it. Why should I believe one person’s testimony?

What if God appeared in front of me and performed a miracle right on the spot? Would I believe in God then?

No, I wouldn’t.

Our senses are so easily fooled. That’s why optical illusions work. People see Venus at night and are convinced they’re seeing a flying saucer that is zipping around the sky, making wild, impossibly-sharp turns.

Venus. They’re staring at a static point of light in the sky and somehow think they’re looking at a God-damned flying saucer with flashing lights, whirring sounds, crazy maneuvers, and anal probes.

Our memories are so easily fooled, too. That’s why eyewitness testimony is almost worthless. That’s why people are convinced that “psychics” who get almost every prediction wrong are nevertheless “uncannily accurate”.

If God appeared in front of me, I wouldn’t believe a word I said about it.

Groups of people are no better. You’d think that if a bunch of people all report the same thing, that the credibility of the report would be higher.

Wrong. Witnesses subconsciously incorporate the testimony of other witnesses into their own memories of the event. Multiple witnesses are only agreeing on a shared fiction.

Then, of course, there’s the phenomenon of mass hysteria. Whether it’s the Salem Witch trials (with or without LSD), Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast, the Red Scare, or day care sex abuse hysteria, people can convince themselves of anything.

Physical Evidence

OK, then. If witnesses are out, we’ll have to rely on physical evidence. Or can we?

The evidence can’t be subtle. What if some loggers chop down a 2000-year-old redwood tree and discover a Jesus statue embedded in the very center? What if they turn it over to some scientists who discover that the tree actually grew around this irregularly-shaped statue? Assume that fact is clear from the growth pattern of the wood around it. And what if the bottom of the statue has one of those little “Made in China” stickers on it? And it carbon-dates to sometime in the last decade?

I would be stumped (as would the tree). I wouldn’t be able to explain that. But there are lots of artifacts in this world that appear genuine at first. Some, such as the Cardiff Giant, can be dismissed fairly readily. Others, such as the Shroud of Turin, take a bit longer. I would have to allow for the possibility that the statue could have been somehow placed in the tree after it was cut (and in fact, Occam’s Razor demands it), and the growth pattern faked in some as-yet-undetermined manner. After all, nobody is completely sure how the fake image of Jesus got onto the Shroud of Turin. It has only been in the last few years that a number of good, plausible techniques have been demonstrated. A fake is a fake, even if we don’t know how it’s done.

(BTW, I used to work with one of the chemists who carbon-dated the Shroud in 1988. He said they analyzed the real samples the night before. Then the next day they burned a fake sample for the TV cameras. They didn’t want to risk screwing up one of the few samples that existed and having their disaster captured on tape for the whole world to watch.)

A Grand Display

No. If God wants us to believe in him, he has to go all out. He has to make a HUGE miracle that everybody can see and measure and test.

I propose that in order for God to prove his existence, he must dry up the oceans.

For something like six hours, that is, then he can put them back. Complete with all the fish and ships and oil wells that were there before, completely unharmed.

If the oceans completely dried up, in an instant, it’s something everybody could see. Those of us along the coasts could go down to the shore to look and prove to ourselves that, yes, the ocean is gone. (BTW, God would have to refill the oceans a bit slower than he drained them. I expect that half of the coastal populations would run out onto the ocean floor for the sheer novelty of it. You wouldn’t want the water to come back too fast. Unless, of course, you’re a giant dick God who likes drowning Egyptian armies purely for sport.)

People who can’t get to the coasts could see this whole thing on TV (and if it’s on TV, it must be true!). All the satellites would take photographs of the completely empty oceans. There would be tons of physical evidence we could gather. (Not to mention that the rotational speed of the Earth would be different that day, and it would doubtless affect our orbit with the Moon.)

The Ghost of Arthur C. Clarke

There’s only one thing wrong with my scenario. Arthur C. Clarke once wrote:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

As spectacular and miraculous as my ocean-drying stunt is, how do we know that some passing UFO didn’t do it?

Isn’t advanced alien technology still more probable than an infinitely-powerful deity?

After all, the alien in The Day the Earth Stood Still does something remotely similar (he disables all electric power worldwide, except where it would cause injury or death).

So what would you think if the oceans dried up for six hours and then magically reappeared?

Pascal’s Wager

I’ve given it some thought, and I think I’d probably throw my lot in with the God-nutters. Hallelujah! Fundie Town, here I come! Hand me a rattlesnake and let’s start tonguing! (I mean speaking in tongues. I don’t need to wait for a miracle to start tonguing.)

This event would change the balance of Pascal’s Wager. One of the best arguments against the Wager right now is that we don’t know which god to pray to. If you choose wrong, the consequences might actually be worse than not worshiping any god at all.

One presumption we could make, with some justification, is that the ocean-drying miracle was performed by the Abrahamic god. He’s the current majority winner in the Godstakes, so it’s probably safe to assume that he’s the one doing it. If it were a different god, I would expect that god to let us know who is supposed to get credit. There’s no point in doing all that work and letting someone else take the credit.

OK, then. The question is: Do you believe that the ocean miracle was performed by God (a.k.a. Yahweh, a.k.a. Allah) or aliens?

This is a roundabout way of asking how you answer Pascal’s Wager with this new information.

It seems to me that the probability of God’s existence has just gone up dramatically, and the likelihood of praying to the wrong god has dropped.

If you don’t believe in God, but God exists, something bad will probably happen to you (we’ve seen what this guy does to the people he likes. Imagine what this asshole will do to people he hates.

If you don’t believe in God, and it was aliens instead, all you win is the right to stay smug.

If you do believe in God, and God exists, I’m sure you win some sort of lovely prize.

If you believe in God, but it’s only aliens, you only lose the effort you put into being obnoxious to the people around you.

Therefore, the risk/reward ratio has shifted in favor of God.

So that’s what it takes, Yahweh! Hurry up! Before the aliens beat you to it.

24 Responses to “What Would It Take To Convince You?”

  1. 4theist Says:

    What it would take for me: All amputees worldwide suddenly grow their limbs back. God could easily (one presumes) include a tattoo on said limb letting the world know who and how they should be worshiping.

    Just one disamputation (?) would go a long way. Getting everyone all at once — that would do it completely for me.

  2. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I don’t think I would need something as dramatic, but it would have to be an account that is solidly unexplanable. Not just unexplanable without new physics, but completely utterly unexplanable.

    It also needs to be repeated on an interval because, as I stated in the previous comment thread, a few hundred years from now (maybe a lot less), nobody is going to believe what happened actually happened, if God doesn’t consistently perform miracles.

    Maybe that sounds selfish, like God isn’t our personal ATM of miracles, but if his interaction isn’t consistent and repeated, what use is he to us?

    I would also hope that the miracle be positive in outcome. Draining the oceans is a damn nice show, but healing the amputated would be looked at as a kinder gesture and more worthy of worship.

    Clarke is right that our perspective would be skewed because advanced aliens could through technology do what appears to be magic, but what is God if not a sufficiently advanced alien? The ability to create a universe seems impossible to us, but for some extradimensional being with unknown properties, vast power, and advanced wisdom, anything is possible. So, at that point, Pascal’s Wager and Clarke’s famous quote converge. If an alien is that powerful and demands worship, it might be in your best interest to dust off your knees and pass the rattlesnake!

  3. L.Long Says:

    That is a too open ended question. What g0d?
    If you showed proof that Yeaw-Way was real I’d consider him an evil alien to be destroyed ASAP.
    The same for Jove, Jupiter, and so forth. I refer to the StarTrek episode on Apollo.
    But g0d by definition is beyond this dimension and this universe acts like he forgot about us once he had this ‘art piece’ done. You can talk about this g0d all day to no avail. If S/He/IT does rule the after life I will face that when I get there till then – Pluck’em!

  4. sue blue Says:

    Miracles are nice and all…there’s just one more condition I’d have to insist on before I dropped to my knees….it better be a “he” and he’d better be a hottie. I don’t get on my knees for just any old god.

  5. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Well, if he has the power and will to torture me for an eternity after my physical death, I wouldn’t have a problem stroking the divine rod once he makes his presence known to me, even if he is butt ugly. But, that’s just survival instinct (so-to-speak) kicking in at that point.

    I was thinking about this thread earlier. I want to roll back what I said a bit. I wouldn’t even require a miracle, as far as a dramatic outcome is concerned. I would simply require irrefutable “miraculous” communication. Amputees, oceans draining, that’s all a great show. But if there was a communication mode, that was provably not faked, something less dramatic would be sufficient. Basically, even if he just appeared, looking like an old white man floating around in a bunch of churches on Sunday, that would be enough.

    Now, of course, this is a lot easier to fake (which I think was what Ron was getting at), so a demonstration of destructive or constructive power goes a longer way to make his case.

    Or, you know, evidence of the existence of his past miracles would help too. As it stands, there is absolutely nothing in the ancient world that is “miraculous” other than what is described in the fables.

    Proving God’s existence through a miracle from this day forward is great and all, but some evidence in the past of his existence would do a lot more to advance his case.

  6. L.Long Says:

    Well Parrotlover77 that is why many religious do believe they claim ‘g0d spoke to them’ and there is no way to disprove it as g0d spoke to THEM only. And they view many of life’s oddities as miracles. And so they believe and tell you that you have not been listening.
    But of course I do know what you mean by communication as being talked to as a nonbeliever in a straight forward fashion. But I could fake that with enough tech and setup time.

  7. Brian Says:

    I think I should clarify the point I was trying to make, but didn’t quite manage. If god is literally capable of anything, as believers are so fond of claiming, then within their twisted logic this being ought to be capable of some action that will utterly convince all of us that he/she/it really exists. Don’t ask me what it is. After all, this is God we’re talking about, so presumably it is able to utilize its powers in ways we cannot fathom. Such an action is what I would generically term a “miracle”, and that is what I was trying to convey.

    The fact that this explicitly has not happened, ever, seems to me to be compelling evidence that we’re on our own in this universe. The so-called “great” monotheistic religions require belief in god as a prerequisite for a happy afterlife, and will even go so far as to claim that their angry bully in the sky really loves us and just wants us to be with him for eternity. They then drift off into fantasy land, content with their own delusions that they’ve spoken with god, or had it intervene on their behalf so their headache would go away. Their standards for evidence are laughably feeble, and people who have learned to utilize skepticism, like us, won’t be so accommodating should any actual deity deign to reveal itself to the world at large. But that’s the whole point. God ought to be able to circumvent our skeptical objections and settle the matter without question. Until then, I remain unconvinced.

  8. Ron Britton Says:

    Brian:

    That’s why I proposed making the oceans disappear for a few hours. I want something so monumentally huge that everybody can see and measure it, and something so big that the only explanation is God or aliens with god-like powers.

  9. sue blue Says:

    I’ve always found it interesting that the really big, knock-you-on-your-ass-with-awe miracles stopped a couple of millenia ago. These days, God’s been reduced to making hair around a dog’s asshole grow in a Jesus-resembling pattern, or helping some dipshit evangelical find his car keys in the couch cushions so he could make it to that night’s Youth For Christ meeting that was gonna win teens for Jeeeesus – can you say hallelujah!

  10. Jeff Says:

    … or helping some dipshit evangelical find his car keys in the couch cushions so he could make it to that night’s Youth For Christ meeting that was gonna win teens for Jeeeesus – can you say hallelujah!

    He isn’t the man he used to be; that’s for damn certain.

    This is what happens when you get old; you get obsessed with small inconsequential shit – “Who moved my Metamucil?”, etc.

  11. sue blue Says:

    Or…”Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!” Grumpy old man stuff – which, now that I think of it – is about the level of discourse between fundie factions. Nitpicking over how to interpret bible texts, trying to discern from the most mundane coincidences what god’s trying to “tell” them. I mean, why do they have to try to read the Bible tea leaves? Why doesn’t God just shout it out from Heaven like he used to back in the day? Where are all the burning bushes, the brimstone from heaven, the fiery clouds, the stone tablets, the Ark of the Covenant that could make you drop dead if you touched it…that sort of stuff? Maybe God’s just embarrassed by the flashy stuff – that only worked before humans went and got all uppity with the science stuff, explaining all his “magic” tricks. He’s sulking now. That must be it.

  12. Mark Says:

    I would be willing to believe in a god with sufficient evidence. If there is a god who knows everything, then he would know what would constitute “sufficient evidence” for me, even if I don’t.

    The fact that I have not seen such evidence tells me that either there is no such god, or he doesn’t care if I believe in him or not.

  13. Kat Says:

    If god wanted me to believe he would reach into my mind and change it.

  14. Draken Says:

    The god of christianity is discerned from powerful aliens, lesser gods and other scum by the fact that he’s attributed with being omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. Not just very well-informed, powerful and been around a lot, no, mind the word ‘omni’. In a word, he’s supposed to be perfect.

    That means, to convince me he’s the Dude, no amount of cheap trickery with amputees or oceans will do, if I want that I’ll invite Roland Emmerich. No, He’ll have to prove his divine perfection. And that is not going to work, ever, because I would not be able to recognise ‘perfection’, since I have no standard for that.

    He might stand a chance, not by dissolving the LHC in a miniature black hole in my back yard, but by giving a completely satisfying explanation that I do, indeed, have a Free Will despite the fact that he is omniscient and therefore already before my birth knew in minute detail what I was going to do fourty-four years, threehundred days, eleven hours and fifteen seconds later. I want him to explain whether he can, or cannot create a stone so big he cannot bear it.

    I don’t want no stinking muscle movement, I want him to solve utterly hopeless paradoxes.

  15. sue blue Says:

    This reminds me of something I read in Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World”, where he challenged people who claimed they were being abducted by aliens or channeling the voices of superior beings to provide proof of it in the form of solutions to complex mathematical equations or some other equally esoteric knowledge that the average person would have no way of knowing. Of course he never received a reply. Seems aliens and supernatural beings are only interested in telling us how we should behave. Why any advanced aliens or other beings should give two shits about whether same-sex humans are banging each other or having abortions or even building bombs is something they can never explain.

  16. ericsan Says:

    Turning Obama into a democrat would convince me.

  17. Ron Britton Says:

    There are some things even God cannot do.

  18. Jeff Says:

    Turning Obama into a democrat would convince me.

    F*ck, I’d be satisfied at this point if he grew a pair.

  19. matt Says:

    A simple response to believers who ask, “what would it take to convice you?” is this: ask them if their god is all-knowing and all-powerful. If so, then their god both knows what it would take to convince me and is capable of doing so. Why then does he not?

  20. OtherRob Says:

    The fact that I have not seen such evidence tells me that either there is no such god, or he doesn’t care if I believe in him or not.

    I don’t know if there is a god or not or what form he/she/it might take. But if there is a god who is capable of creating this entire universe — from the quantum small to the super galaxy cluster huge — would care so much about whether or not some naked apes from an utterly unremarkable world worshiped him in just the right way that he would condemn them to an eternity of torment if they got the slightest thing wrong. I also simply cannot fathom that such a god would care that two people who loved each other had plumbing that matched instead of complemented each other.

  21. SoVeryConfused Says:

    Matt @19:

    “A simple response to believers who ask, “what would it take to convice you?” is this: ask them if their god is all-knowing and all-powerful. If so, then their god both knows what it would take to convince me and is capable of doing so. Why then does he not?”

    Ah, but he has. However, your failure to recognize it as such is not God’s responsibility but your own.

    All the above reminds me of the recent conservative take on “Obama is a Muslim.” They like to claim that, since Obama has failed to convince them that he is a Christian, it is all Obama’s fault that they believe he is a Muslim.

    In similar fashion, what we have in this post and in the comments is this:

    Since God has failed to convince me, it is God’s fault. God should attempt to convince me in the manner I wish to be convinced in and no other way. If he does not meet my criteria, then I will not be convinced and it is all God’s fault.

    (Yep, you go with that. It’s a winner!)

    The actual fact of the matter is that you have made a prior, ideological decision to not believe the evidence provided and, thus, no amount of evidence will ever satisfy you. Sorta like the Obama birth certificate nonsense. You can be assured that if his vault copy were to be released, there would be two responses:

    1) I think it’s a fake, so I refuse to be convinced.
    2) I haven’t actually seen it and handled it, so I refuse to be convinced.

    In truth, those two responses are an adequate summary of the above post and its comments. And then, like the conservative response, you cloak it in the self-awarded superiority of the person who KNOWS they are right.

    However, as a Christian, I am at ease with your response because (ala Pascal’s Wager), I have made a wager with my life and, if I am wrong, I see very little, if any, downside to my decision.

    1) If I am wrong and there is no God, then my life simply ends and I am no more.

    2) If I am wrong and there is some other god (or gods), then whatever happens to the wrong decision-maker in that belief is what happens to me. In a rhetorical way, I ask you:

    What exactly are those things that happen to a non-believer in some other belief?

    The answer? Not much, if anything at all.

    In the end I suppose that, according to all y’all, I, by my Christianity, have slain my intellect, my ability to apply logic and even my ability to respond coherently to such self-absorbed drivel as the above post and its comments.

    As Peter Green once commented,

    “Oh Well.”

  22. sue blue Says:

    I suppose you are alluding to that “still, small voice”, SVC. I have known many Christians, who, when asked why no flashy miracles occur today, retreat into the “God speaks to me in my heart” or “I prayed and it happened” (or if it didn’t happen, that was also an answer – God always has the last word). Then there is the whole “the plane went down, killing all on board except Bob – it’s a miracle!” phenomenon. God has to kill 300 people to save one so we can recognize his magical powers. And were people thousands of years ago really so stupid, so incapable of subtle reasoning and faith, that they required the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of fire, the manna from heaven, and the Ten Plagues to convince them, where we don’t? If God was willing to go all out then, why not now? Is he just sitting around up there saying to himself, “Gee, you know, with all that CGI in the movies, the smart phones, the GPS, the Hubble telescope pictures, the Large Hadron Collider…there’s just not much I can do that’ll impress them anymore.” Does he then fall back on subtle whisperings that only the faithful can hear? And are you saying that atheists, then, are deaf?

    As far as Pascal’s wager is concerned, that just does not cut any ice with me. If the God I learned about from my fundie Christian upbringing does exist, then I’d rather be condemned to hell than sit up in heaven forever with the knowledge that billions of human beings, including my friends and loved ones and maybe even my own children, are burning in hell for all eternity. What kind of “love” is that? And here’s the nitty-gritty for me – if God exists, and created this world and us, and he doesn’t like it, why doesn’t he just fix it? What’s he waiting for? If my kids were in trouble, with their lives at stake, would I remain aloof, and tell them, “hey, unless you acknowledge me, fall down on your knees and admit that I was right and tell me that you love me, repeatedly, every day – screw you. You can just die. And then I’ll punish you forever.”

  23. sue blue Says:

    Oh, and yes, I know all about theodicy – the theological contortionism necessary to explain why bad things happen – I like to spell it “the idiocy”.

  24. Jeff Says:

    The actual fact of the matter is that you have made a prior, ideological decision to not believe the evidence provided and, thus, no amount of evidence will ever satisfy you.

    I’ll say it again – they are the least introspective people who have ever lived. No fucking clue. None.

    And, again, Pascal’s Wager. The veiled threat. In the end, it’s all they have. It’s all they’ve ever had.