Something to prove, but what?

Question from Darian:
What would be defined as legitimate proof of god(s) within the accepted community of atheists? And, is there any proper scientific research being done to find said proof? Another way to word, what would be the atheist definition of god(s)?

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s some argument about this within the atheist community (for example between biologist bloggers PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne) so I don’t think there’s a definitive answer I can give you. Some atheists name grand gestures (say, huge letters in the sky) as evidence they would accept, and some think even that kind of thing would be insufficient.

The more general attitude is that if evidence for an entity which might qualify as a god presented itself, there would be two questions to answer: whether the evidence was valid, and if so what kind of presence was actually indicated. The resulting investigation would make as few assumptions as possible, which might be difficult given the subject, to get as close to the facts as possible.

Religious apologetics, and the idea that a god might be demonstrated by an argument alone, are considered differently. Each of the prospective arguments that aims to do this makes its own presumptions and inferences about the qualities of the supposed god. If an apologetic argument were established and accepted as valid and sound, thereby unambiguously confirming the existence of a god, what that argument said about the god would implicitly be accepted too.

Since the ontology of a hypothetical god (i.e. what it is) isn’t settled, there isn’t a lot of scientific research of any kind being done to discover evidence for it. If scientists knew what to look for, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get a grant or sponsorship with the help of religious politicians, philanthropists or venture capitalists. As it is, scientists are exploring the universe as best they can to find whatever happens to be there, and evidence for a god might turn up under a microscope or millions of light years away when they least expected it.

On the other hand plenty of work is being done to establish the existence of a god (usually a specific god) by those who want there to be one, though a lot of it doesn’t qualify as research, let alone scientific, because it doesn’t uncover anything new. A famous example is that expeditions have set out to find Noah’s Ark, and some claim to have found it (in several different places). The much more common approach, though, is simply finding new ways to interpret existing biological, paleontological and geological data in order to support the idea.


Question from Robert:
Why don’t atheists believe in God if atheists admit that there is no proof that He doesn’t exist? (see What is an atheist?) That’s like asking why adults don’t believe in the tooth fairy simply because there is no proof that she doesn’t exist. But more to the point, compelling evidence for the existence of God is sorely lacking.


JUST LOOK. >>>>>

Fast Facts

2. The adult body is made up of: 100 trillion cells, 206 bones,
600 muscles, and 22 internal organs.

3. There are many systems in the human body:
Circulatory System (heart, blood, vessels)
Respiratory System (nose, trachea, lungs)
Immune System (many types of protein, cells, organs, tissues)
Skeletal System (bones)
Excretory System (lungs, large intestine, kidneys)
Urinary System (bladder, kidneys)
Muscular System (muscles)
Endocrine System (glands)
Digestive System (mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines)
Nervous System (brain, spinal cord, nerves)
Reproductive System (male and female reproductive organs)
4. Every square inch of the human body has about 19 million skin cells.
5. Every hour about 1 billion cells in the human body must be replaced.
7. The circulatory system of arteries, veins, and capillaries is about 60,000 miles long.


How could evolution, even over millions of years form into such amazing complexity~! How can you explain billions of cells changing into and then organizing themselves into something so amazingly complex as the human body? How did cells which have no brain, change into heart cells, lung cells, esophagus cells, blood vessel cells, kidney cells, liver cells, ligament cells, tendon cells, pancreatic cells, super complex eyeball cells, optic nerve cells, hair cells, eyelash cells, eyelid cells, nose cells, jawbone cells, teeth cells, gum cells, lip cells, muscle cells, bone cells, red blood cells, white blood cells, and super, super, super, super, super, complex brain cells — ALL ONE HUNDRED BILLION OF THEM ~!~!~!
One person likened it to putting all the parts of a watch together, then shaking all the parts together for a million years, and then voila ….. you have watch ~!
And then here is this. It takes a male and female to be able to create a new life. A male and female COULD NOT EVOLVE AT THE SAME TIME~!~!~!~!

You try to explain this by saying that male and female creatures were once hermaphroditic. THAT IS INSANE~!! Why then are the vast majority of animals today, male and female, and not hermaphroditic? — But even then, how could one animal develop male and female organs —- AT THE SAME TIME ~!~?


Answer by SmartLX (and by the way, the question arrived with #1 and #6 already missing):
I don’t know what things are like in your neck of the woods, but in most places adults don’t believe in the tooth fairy despite the lack of disproof, and no one disputes that this lack of belief is justified.

Explaining the theory of evolution as it applies specifically to each of these parts of the human body would take up far too much space, and you can get much more information simply by Googling “evolution of ” followed by the name of the body part. To address it very briefly, any positive change to a simpler organism was reinforced because more individuals survived and procreated to pass on the gene responsible, and most of the time that meant making the organism more complex. This process went on for an unimaginably long time, and has been extremely productive as we can see.

The watch analogy betrays a core misunderstanding of the theory of evolution, which is the assumption that the process is entirely random. It is anything but random, because the path of evolution is determined by which creatures survive and which don’t. There are random elements, from mutations to natural disasters to plain old bad luck, but those with better genes are far more likely to survive these uncontrolled events. Would you say that because some elements of a tennis match are random, like the wind and small imperfections in the playing surface, it’s entirely up to chance whether Andre Agassi would beat Peter Dinklage in a friendly set? Of course not. Some differences really do make a difference to the result.

Before gender distinction and sexual reproduction developed, individual organisms were not hermaphroditic. They were asexual, and reproduced through either cell division or forms of cloning. They didn’t have two sets of sexual organs, they had none. Gender developed as a reliable way for two individuals to exchange genetic information and thus allow for recombination of DNA, speeding up the process of evolution by creating more variables.

There are lots of fascinating details like the above to study, but ultimately your argument is a textbook argument from ignorance. You dismiss evolution as a valid explanation for the complexity of life, then immediately assert that God had to have been responsible. If evolution is false, there needs to be positive evidence that your alternative explanation is true or else it could just as easily be some unknown third option. God seems like the obvious explanation to you because you’ve already accepted that there is one, but why would a non-believer discard an explanation with a mountain of evidence behind it in favour of a supernatural explanation with no available substantive evidence at all?

The Unproveable Absence of God

Question from MiK’la:
Atheists always ask the Christian to prove that God exists. What proof is there that He doesn’t exist?

Answer by SmartLX:
None, but that doesn’t change anything.

Most atheists, myself included, allow for the possibility of a god existing. We think it’s unlikely, but there are so many ways in which a god could exist and yet remain unproven that there’s no way to prove beyond all possible doubt that there are no gods. That in no way means there’s enough evidence to justify positively believing that there is one, let alone a particular one. It’s impossible to prove that George Burns wasn’t the actual composer of Eleanor Rigby – he was around at the time, after all, and might have written Paul McCartney a long letter – but no one believes he did it. (That analogy was originally going to be that no one believes Queen Elizabeth I wrote Shakespeare’s plays, but it turns out some people do.)

Christians do believe in God, and therefore think there is at least one good reason to believe in God. When atheists go asking, we’re asking what that reason is. It’s an important question, because if it’s really a good reason to believe then we should believe too, and if it’s not a good reason then the believer shouldn’t. This is all based on the simple assumption that one should only believe in something with good reason. You’re welcome to argue with that if you really want to.

Proof? We don’ need no steenkin’ proof!

Question from Madoka:
I’m a Catholic but I’m open minded. I keep hearing about how God does not exist but how can you PROVE he doesnt exist? I’m just looking for your opinion because I read about some atheists who had near death experiences and became Christians so it’s kinda confusing. Have you ever thought that He might exist?

Answer by SmartLX:
I can’t prove God doesn’t exist, and I still think that He might exist. Neither of these is a good reason to believe in something, though.

In order to prove God didn’t exist, with our vague concept of what a god actually is, we would have to rule out every place in (and outside) the universe where He might be hanging out. This would be impossible to anyone except a being which itself had godlike powers, so it’s not worth trying. Thing is, it means very little that we can’t prove God’s non-existence if whether he exists makes so little difference to the pursuit. Put another way, we can’t prove that there’s never been any such thing as a leprechaun, but that doesn’t mean we should all believe in them.

I used to think God existed, because I grew up Catholic. When I realised there’s no good reason to think He does, and lost my faith, I didn’t suddenly declare that God can’t exist. I could still be wrong, and He could be out there somewhere. I just think that’s very unlikely, for reasons I’ve given here, and until we know that it’s the right God and not a jealous alternative deity it’s no use worshipping any particular one.

Evidence and Proof

Question from Pachomius aka yrreg:
What is your concept of evidence and proof?

Please give five examples of evidence as of proof.

By stating what five things are evidenced by what evidence.

And what five things are proved by what proof.

I understand there is a difference between evidence and proof, of course they are connected.

Answer by SmartLX:
As he’s written elsewhere, Pachomius here basically wants an atheist’s definitions of evidence and proof so that he can reference them as he attempts to prove the existence of God, pre-empting anticipated objections by the atheists he’s trying to convince. Those atheists are regulars on the James Randi Educational Foundation forum, so his work’s cut out for him. (Hiya JREF.) Besides, no other atheist is obliged to accept my definitions, so the best he can really do is pre-empt definition-based objections by me personally.

That said, I’ll give him an answer, because I’d like to see what he has to offer. In my concept, evidence and proof are indeed connected, but here’s the difference between them:
Evidence for a claim is an object, event or argument which makes the claim more likely to be true.
Proof of a claim is an object, event or argument which makes the claim certain to be true.

Therefore proof is the ultimate evidence, but evidence is not necessarily proof.

Here are five examples of evidence that would at least make me re-evaluate the probability of a claim:

– A man’s unique dental imprint on a woman’s arm would be evidence that he bit her.
– Markers appearing in the middle of the second pair of human chromosomes, which normally only appear on the ends of chromosomes, are evidence that our (ape) ancestors had one more chromosome pair at one stage, and two of them later fused together.
– A man’s amputated arm growing back seconds after he bathed in the shrine at Lourdes would be evidence for the shrine’s advertised healing properties.
– A prophecy in the Bible which predicted the day and time of three 21st century earthquakes, which then actually happened, would be evidence that its author had some prior knowledge.
– An increase in the number of Christians worldwide which coincided with a similar decrease in the number of atheists would be evidence that non-believers were converting to Christianity in large numbers. (The reality is that Christianity today mostly increases through reproduction or, in some populations unaccustomed to missionaries, at the expense of more established religions.)

Proof is a lot harder to come by. As absolutes, proofs may only exist in pure mathematics, and even then they rely on axioms which are questioned by some philosophers. Each of the following five examples, however, would be good enough for me in its own context that I would unreservedly accept the given claim:

– Seeing a gaping wound in my leg after an accident, but not feeling any pain after several hours, would be proof that I had lost the feeling in that leg. (The wait would be necessary to make sure I wasn’t simply in shock.)
– If a positive integer is divided by every positive integer between 1 and itself (non-inclusive) and none of the results are integers, that proves the integer is a prime number.
– As JBS Haldane famously said, the discovery of fossilised rabbits from the Precambrian era would prove that there was a serious flaw in the theory of evolution, given that rabbits are thought to have evolved well after the Cambrian era.
– If when we first arrived on Saturn’s moon Titan we found that a stick figure ten kilometres tall had been burnt into the surface by a laser, it would prove that intelligent life had been there before us.
– If there’s an afterlife, its existence is proved to everyone after they die through their own continued existence. (Of course, this is no help to the living.)

In the end, if people think they can establish the existence of God I don’t care whether they call their material evidence or proof. I judge it on its own merits.