Pondering the Divine: What's Your Evidence Threshold?

Published on 30 August 2023 at 16:46

Every atheist who has engaged in a discussion about the existence of God has encountered the recurring epistemological question: "What would convince you that a God exists?" I believe it's beneficial to address this question in the most sincere and reflective manner. By doing so, not only do I equip myself with a ready response for future discussions, but I also hope that if my fellow atheists resonate with my perspective shared in this entry, they too can use it as a reference.


A renowned answer to this question, popularized by Matt Dillahunty, is: “I do not know what would convince me, but if a God exists, He would.” Absent context and nuance, some might perceive Matt's response as an intellectual evasion. I would concur, if the implication was solely that the atheist remains clueless about what would persuade them, without elaborating further. However, I believe this is the most forthright response, rooted in the principle of doxastic involuntarism. This concept posits that we neither choose our beliefs nor, perhaps, have the capability to do so. For one to hold a belief, they must be genuinely convinced of a proposition's truthfulness. Therefore, if we lack agency in determining our beliefs, it follows that we similarly can't dictate what persuades us of specific propositions.


My stance as a doxastic involuntarist leads me to believe that the question, “What would convince you that a god exists?” is inherently flawed, with only one intellectually honest reply: “I do not know.” I argue that a more pertinent question would be: “What would constitute evidence that a god exists?” This is a superior inquiry because the ramifications of the responses can be profound. Perhaps a compilation of evidence might persuade someone, or just one compelling piece could suffice. This, then, is the question I genuinely wish to address.


Before answering the question, we must first define "evidence." I closely align with the prevalent philosophical definition embraced by many epistemologists: evidence is information that enhances the likelihood or plausibility of a claim or proposition's truth or reduces the uncertainty about its truth-value. This evidence can take various forms, including empirical (scientific), mathematical, philosophical, logical, evidential, internal, or intuitional. However, it's essential to note that the nature of evidence often hinges on an individual's perspective and their specific standards for evidence.


I wouldn't presume to speak for all atheists or non-believers; I can only articulate my own criteria for evidence. I do believe that philosophical arguments can serve as evidence, and under the right circumstances, even specific claims can qualify. While I'm wary of generalizing about various arguments or diving too deeply into their nuances, there is one piece of evidence that would be particularly compelling for me. If someone could demonstrate not only the possibility of a mind existing without a brain but could also provide an instance of such a mind, it might be the crucial piece of evidence that could sway me back to theism. However, as AI technology advances, this criterion might need reconsideration in the future.


I believe it's essential to insert a disclaimer here. Using God as the example of a mind without a brain isn't satisfactory, as God is the very subject of contention in this context. It's crucial to understand that the objective is to find evidence for God's existence; therefore, God cannot be the evidence in this instance. I'm also open to the idea that other evidence might sway me. However, as of now, this criterion represents what I perceive to be the most compelling evidence, if it were able to be presented.

In our relentless quest for truth, it is pivotal that we remain introspective about the criteria that guide our beliefs and convictions. Evidence, as a tool for discerning reality, is multifaceted and can vary greatly from one person to the next. What may be an irrefutable proof for one might be an inconsequential detail for another. Our individual thresholds for belief, shaped by our experiences, biases, and backgrounds, play a significant role in this journey. Thus, it becomes imperative to continually evaluate and, if necessary, recalibrate our standards for evidence.


The conversation around God's existence, one of the most profound and timeless debates, invariably circles back to this question of evidence. As you reflect on the narratives and arguments presented, I challenge you to embark on an inner exploration: What would you consider to be conclusive evidence? Would it be empirical, philosophical, or perhaps something deeply personal? Whatever your answer, let it not be a mere endpoint but rather a springboard for deeper inquiry, fostering a richer dialogue with both believers and skeptics alike.

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