What Would It Take To Convince You?
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?
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.
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?
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.