From: email@example.com (Patricia Shanahan)
Subject: Re: Evidence and the Christian God
In article <11545@ut-emx.UUCP> padraig@emx.UUCP (Padraig John Houlahan) writes:
:In article <213900012@inmet> jlp@inmet writes:
:~The questino has been raised by several posters to present evidence of the
:~existence of GOd. Since Christian believers know that God is
:~transcendental, and any physical manifestation of Himself directly would be
:~deadly, I am now faced with a need for clarification.
:~What is the evidence that would be needed to provide an acceptable proof?
:This is an excellent question, and I'm not sure how I as an atheist could
:answer it fully. Almost by definition of the problem the assertions
:concerning religious experience are beyond testing and evaluation
:except subjectively. The main problem is that many claims of this
:nature are made - superstitions, multiple religions, astrology, ufology and
I think that Padraig's comment about the range of religious
statements goes to the heart of the problem. In most fields where I
am not myself an expert I depend on the body of agreement among the
established experts. Where the experts disagree wildly, I assume
that none of them know what they are talking about.
Generally, there is a gradual increase over the years in the body of
ideas that the experts agree about. Periodically there may be an
upheaval when new evidence comes in. The concensus among the experts
can be taken as representing the "best fit" in some sense to the
currently available evidence in their field of expertise. This "best
fit" may or may not survive in the face of new evidence; it is
probably at best an approximation, but it is the best that can be
done with current evidence.
In the area of religion I see experts who have devoted their lives
to studying the subject disagreeing wildly on the most basic points,
with no sign of progress towards a consensus in the last 1000 years.
Ask a Jewish Rabbi, a Zen Buddhist teacher, an Islamic scholar, and a
Christian theologian for their opinions of the extent of divine
authority of Jesus of Nazareth. The answers you get may
include "none", "human but divinely inspired prophet", "God
Incarnate", and something indicating the total irrelevance of the
The set of religious statements that are actually supported by the
evidence to the general satisfaction of religious experts is empty.
I therefore choose the simplest theory that satisfies all
the evidence, atheism. Atheism is unique among religious views in
that it accounts for the extent of disagreement among experts. If
there are no gods, and religion is an entirely human and social
artifact, religious opinions should be more strongly influenced by
culture and individual taste than by any underlying reality.
The form of evidence that would convince me of the truth of a
religious statement would be if all (or even almost all) scholars who
have studied religion carefully and appear honest agreed that it was
true. Killing all the scholars who disagree does not count. Nor
does prohibiting the study of alternatives.