What Made You Believe? The evidence for God

(Spoiler: None)

As an atheist, I receive the occasional benign criticism for holding to a belief in atheism as firmly as the religious hold to their belief. The conversation can go on, where I can ask what, exactly, my belief is (because atheism only tells you something I don’t believe, it tells you nothing of all the things I do believe) and about the difference between faith and belief. But occasionally (and all too often) I engage with people who insist on a misunderstanding of a great deal of philosophy. So, instead of being a discussion, it very much becomes a case of me teaching a reluctant learner.

There is no positive belief associated with atheism. Some atheists may believe that no God exists, where others cannot rationally justify belief in God. The reasons for this can be evidential (i.e. there is insufficient supporting evidence), philosophical (e.g. no definition of God is internally consistent) or even irrational and emotional reasons (e.g. not wanting to believe that the horror and the suffering in this life could easily be stopped by a Being who refuses to do it). So it doesn’t mean anything to tell me I am holding to a belief in atheism.

“…if you know a thing you should know how you know it”

Otherwise you are remembering, can’t claim to be sure, or made it up.

When a person realises this the conversation often moves on (informally) to the topic of the burden of proof. Which of the people in the discussion need to give arguments and evidence to support their position? The person announcing a positive belief or the person who says they don’t believe you. The answer is obvious for claims like “my tumble dryer can dry my clothes in under 5 minutes”; you want me to prove that my tumble dryer can do that, and you feel no pressure to offer any evidence that it can’t happen*.

However, I am often asked to present evidence for my doubt. I’m never sure what that means, and my normal approach is to investigate (and discredit) the arguments put forward for a claim. The real question is why do you believe? I follow a blogger called Robin Claire, and she has written her own testimony about how one day, in absolute desperation, she let God into her life and, as it happens, He actually came in and enveloped her in a blanket of love and deep awareness of His existence and of the existence of Jesus Christ. It is a six part post you can find here. She let God in and God gave her a personal experience that was all the evidence she needed. I have a friend who didn’t let God in, God made His own way in when she didn’t expect it; for a short time this was all the evidence that she needed, but it didn’t last. I tried to recreate these experiences the other week, and it didn’t work. I wrote about that, and the commenter MyAtheistLife pointed out that, even though I am finite and God is meant to be infinite, people will see me as the one at fault here; even when I gave God the opportunity to have a loving relationship with me, which apparently He wants, I still had to do all the leg-work. It’s odd that God would accept an invite from Robin, but not from me. It is weirder still that God would invite Himself into my friend’s life and give her a deep awareness of His existence, but not everyone.

So there, I investigated that claim and I got nothing. Not only could I not replicate the experiment, Derren Brown has shown that the even he (as a mortal, I think) can induce those same feelings in a person. Robin’s testimonies are not evidence for God that can be shared; the only material existence of the evidence was a fleeting brain state and an experience that is now gone. And her experience is not my experience, so it would be irrational for me to believe based on it. It doesn’t even make sense, by Robin’s definition of a God, that she would get this experience and I would not (unless desperation in life really is a key part, in which case happiness is a burden).

So, the challenge is not what I would accept as evidence for belief in a God; it is what evidence do you have for your belief in a God? What made you believe?

* As it happens, my tumble dryer cannot dry clothes this fast. Also, I am sure anyone with access to information like the specific heat capacity of water (4.18j/°C/ml) and the burning temperature of most clothes (the ignition temperature of wool is 600°C; nylons can ignite at temperatures as low as 180°C) could show that any tumble dryer that gets hot enough to do that would also incinerate my clothes. But I haven’t bothered with the maths yet.

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27 thoughts on “What Made You Believe? The evidence for God”

  1. Well, in my case he started burning this bush and then gave me these stone tablets with stuff written on it which I didn’t understand because it wasn’t in English, then he divided the sea in two or three, I can’t recall, and that was awesome. Then he sent those frogs and stuff raining on some neighbours who didn’t like me and killed their newborn son and I rejoiced.

    1. Lol. Convincing stuff.

      Don’t suppose you still have those stones lying around, do you? Or the death records of all the kids that died in one night? Or the massive pile of dead frogs?

  2. Nice post, but why aren’t you committing the genetic fallacy of dismissing a belief because you are able to explain where it comes from or how it’s generated? People who have a religious experience like that are almost certainly under a pschological delusion but it says nothing about the existance of a god does it? The reason many thinking people want some evidence for gods non-existance is because it is so natuarally intuitive to explain things causally. Either explaination for why there is something rather than nothing faces logical inconsistancies. I just comes down to which one you are more comfortable with. The reason positive proof for Santa Clauses existance is not needed is because we have positive proof for his non existance. We don’t have positive proof for gods non-existance and the positive proof for his existance is ambibuous at best, open to many different explanations. A superior alien intelligence for example could in principle achieve all the ‘creative works’ and/or ‘miricles’ people ascribe to him. I think athiesm is a positive declaration that god does not exist and so to some degree reqiures some proof. Agnosticism on the other hand seems like a far more reason based and logically coherent position.

    1. There isn’t a spectrum that goes: Atheist – Agnostic – Religious. It’s better described as a Venn Diagram; there is theism and atheism which are about belief so are non-overlapping, and there’s gnosticism and agnosticism which are about knowledge, so are so non-overlapping. I don’t claim to know, so I am agnostic. But I also do not believe, so I am an atheist.
      Which brings me to the genetic fallacy. If I can demonstrate that you have misinterpreted your own personal experience (as a result of a neurological condition) or I can explain that God seeming intuitive is probably an evolved characteristic in us (and nothing to do with God) then what I have done is dismiss your personal experience and your intuition as evidence. But I have not gone as far as calling that dismissal proof to the contrary. Now, dismissing an assertion because insufficient evidence exists in support of the assertion is not a fallacy.

      As for logical inconsistencies with secular “something from nothing” theories, I invite you to read my blog (there is a search function). I have tried addressing those issues. But the short version is that it is not useful to get as far as God and then say “so God raises all these logical inconsistencies, often more perplexing and paradoxical than the issues with secular theories, but it doesn’t matter because it’s God and God can be a paradox and still not be a paradox because He’s God.” That may not have been the most sensitive way of summarising it, but it is more or less what really happens.

  3. As a Christian who has not always been a Christian, I can relate to this.
    I’m definitely not interested in giving you a story which you can’t experience yourself or otherwise verify. That always drove me crazy (and still does).

    The only thing I’d add (and you may agree) is that, were we discussing the matter, I’d want to compare our views with one another. Not your atheism to my theism (as you say, atheism is only what you don’t believe), but what you do believe with what I believe.

    Not knowing you, I’ll not venture a guess as to how that would go. But it seems a more productive sort of conversation than the typical one you’ve so clearly described.

    1. It does make a lot more sense to discuss what I -do- believe. But you’d have to ask a specific question. I try to keep a good account of the things I do believe across my blog. I invite you to have a look around.

  4. But atheism possitively asserts there is no god. You can’t be agnostic and atheistic. I know it might just seem like semantics but it’s an important distinction. I dont’ believe in a god but thats doesn’t mean I’m an atheist. It’s like the difference between saying’ I don’t don’t believe aliens exist’ and’ I don’t have sufficient reason to assert they exist’.They are different positions. The former says aliens are not to be found because life hasn’t arisen anywhere else but on Earth. The latter says I haven’t seen any positive proof for them but there are sound arguments for why there may be life elsewhere. So the question is open. We all seem the need to adopt one camp or the other.
    And as far as the genetic fallacy is concerned you may not have explictly called ” that dismissal [as] proof to the contrary” but you certainly implied it. And to some one predisposed to accept your position it would have been accepted as such if they hadn’t enough exposure to rigourous arguments.

    1. Atheism makes no positive assertions. That’s just mistaken. “A-” to be without “-theism” belief in a God. “Atheism” to be without belief in a God.
      Polytheism is not “many gods” it is -belief- in many Gods.
      So you can be atheist and agnostic. Not believing makes you an atheist, not knowing makes you an agnostic. These are not mutually exclusive.
      In fact your distinction doesn’t make any sense at all. The fact that I don’t believe in aliens doesn’t not say there are no aliens. Simply that I’m not convinced. The fact that there isn’t enough evidence for me to make the assertion is the same as saying I don’t believe. The fact that I don’t believe in aliens doesn’t mean the question isn’t still open. Of course the question is still open.
      I haven’t committed the genetic fallacy. You might have put some steps in yourself and committed it yourself. But I haven’t.
      Lastly, before you can give arguments against a God you need someone to define the God. God is so vague and nebulous and adaptable and specific to each believer that you need a definition before you get involved with why it doesn’t exist.

    1. Thanks for the conversation. I didn’t mean to come across as a condescending teacher.
      I understand the preference of choosing to identify as either an atheist or agnostic. But there is an over-lap.

      1. Thanks to you too Allallt. I really struggle to see the overlap. You didn’t come across as condescending but I honestly think you did commit the genetic fallacy. I just didn’t see how continuing the conversation would have been fruitful. It seemed to be going in the the direction I like to avoid. I appreciate a fair exchange of views, but when a person seems unyielding as a matter of principle I just prefer to move on. No offense. I look forward to reading your future blogs. Take Care, Mark

  5. From my understanding,

    Before we find the evidence of God, we should define the meaning “God” itself.

    Who is God? What is God? How God acts? Without this definition, you will keep playing “merry go round”. This game don’t have an end.

    Do a step by step approach.
    1) Did God really existed or myth. 50% -50%.
    2) If God existed, how and why. If God don’t existed, how and why.
    3) If He existed, who is God, What is God, How He acts.

    If you sincerely want to find God, I believe you will find Him.
    If your intention to criticize God of Christianity, then I believe you already achieve that..

    It always depend on your intention, this is what we called “free will”.

    In Quran said,

    “And inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness, He has succeeded who purifies it, and he has failed who instills it [with corruption].” (91:8-10)

    God have give us 2 way of life – wickedness and righteousness. You can freely choose either one…

    1. It’s not as simple as that. Some people claim to know God exists. Those people must have come about that knowledge in some way. For those people, they have a way of defining -what- God is.
      You define God as you stumble across Him. It is very possible that a lot of people are defining “God” as they stumble across different things entirely. In attempting to separate those that have really had evidence of God from those that have found something they found profound and called it God I have found 3 categories, and one of them is empty:
      (1) Found something awe-inspiring, not God.
      (2) Evidence beyond evaluation because it is personal to the observer
      (3) Evidence of God. [this is the empty one]

    2. My definition of God is An Absolute Creator. Every creation have their own creator.

      By using that logic, human/universe/atom/animals have their One creator – God.

      Even I can quote from Islamic scientist, I would like to quote from Isaac Newton:

      Newton’s describe God as “an intelligent and powerful Being”. Newton saw God as the masterful creator whose existence could not be denied in the face of the grandeur of all creation. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton%27s_religious_views)

      I believe my view and Isaac’s view are maybe not similar but almost identical.

      This is my evidence of God, which you see as empty one.

      1. It is pretty empty. After all, how do you know that the Universe is a Creation (defined as something that requires a creator)?
        Remember that there is a difference between a creation that requires a creator and an effect that requires a cause.

      2. Then, if there are no creator, the universe is just pop -up from no where? Actually, I already consider this question.

        I have put some other premise:
        1) Universe is pop- out from no where.
        2) Universe are evolving from other universe and the universe keep evolve.

        All the above premises have a problem.

        Premises No 1- Where the power and the energy of the universe coming from?
        Premise No 2 – When it start, is there any beginning? If there are no beginning, then, it suppose to be no end also…
        How, the world being maintain in such precise measurement.

        So, from my logic, there must be a Creator.

        1. Do you know the sum total of the universe? It’s zero; 0. Do you know the sum mass of the universe? The same; 0.
          What is our universe does come from another universe and that process has no beginning? What’s the issue there? If a thing cannot go backward forever, then that excludes God too.

      3. It true that I don’t know the sum of universe.

        ” What is our universe does come from another universe and that process has no beginning? What’s the issue there? ”

        In Newton law:
        An object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless an external force acts upon it.

        Based on law, there are 2 premise:
        1) Universe don’t have beginning and also don’t have an end and evolution is on going and evolution of universe is starting of beginning relatively. – The idea commonly leads to polytheism religion, “everything in this universe are gods”.

        2) God is ultimate force that don’t have a beginning and no end.When He create the universe, that is the beginning of universe and there will be an end of universe. – The idea commonly leads to monotheism religion.

        Both premises require a constant force to be establish… So, I choose God The Almighty.

        The problem of 1st premises, human tend to worship others human being and idols after few generation. Others problem is, how the universe is being maintain in such premise measurement. As an engineer who learn control system, this is totally unimaginable without an Intelligent Principal who control all this.

        As I believe 1st premises is wickedness, so it up to you to pick either one. It your decision…

        Actually, they question that you and I being raise above is a part of Quranic question to human kind…

        Or were they created by nothing, or were they the creators [of themselves]? (52:35)

        Or did they create the heavens and the earth? Rather, they are not certain. (52:36)

        Or have they the depositories [containing the provision] of your Lord? Or are they the controllers [of them]? (52:37)

  6. I have to say I’m honored for you to be taking my testimony so seriously – even to write about it.
    “(unless desperation in life really is a key part, in which case happiness is a burden)”
    In my case only, it seemed that desperation played a key part in my being converted from atheism to christianity. That happened in 1982 and the experience is still as vital today as it was back then. It has never, ever left me for all these 31 years.
    I think that there is a mature “joy” that can be attained and not just “happiness”. This deep down joy I have now, has never been a burden.
    Have you been considering stopping drinking yet? Yes, there’s going to be pain in it – for a season – but I can assure you, this joy I’m talking about will greet you in the morning.
    love to you friend,
    robin claire

    1. In a previous post (Meditating on God) I took your advice on trying to let God in. I know there are many reasons people could point to for that meditation failing:
      * God doesn’t like to be tested.
      * I wasn’t sincere enough.
      * I didn’t believe it etc.

      But one of the things I noticed is that the day God invited Himself into your life was a time of desperation for you. And you have acknowledged that that may have been a factor. I don’t have that. As it happens, I am currently very happy and very contented. I just took that moment to consider the irony that my current happiness and contentedness may be a barrier to me having the mature joyful experience you had.

      I haven’t stopped drinking, but I’m often sober (and currently a functioning teacher in Austria). I’m not in the same place I was when I was worried I was using alcohol as a crutch.

      1. You say you stopped drinking but you’re drinking again. Can you really “stay stopped”? I mean, no drinking – period? Can you do that? Some alcoholics are what they call “periodics”. They can leave liquor alone for long periods, but when they pick up the drink again, they go on sprees where they get good and drunk. Then they leave it alone again – for a time. So, I ask again, can you “stay stopped” Rhys?

        Do you never have times when you’re feeling down for the count? Never? We ALL go through tough times. Life has ups and downs for everyone – I’m sure that even includes you Rhys. Is your life ALWAYS full of fluffy clouds and roses? If it is, then you are the exception rather than the rule. Try my formula for touching God during one of your tough times. You will see that He will carry you while you are going through it. We have happiness now, but with God holding your hand during a rough time, you will know joy. And joy can outshine happiness any day.
        love to you friend,
        robin claire

        1. I don’t need to be t-total for its own sake. I enjoy having the occasional drink, and it’s not destructive to my life. I felt it was a while ago, but that was immediately after I had a 7-year foundation to my life torn out from under me.

          Things don’t always go excellently for me, that’s true. But it’s been months since I was truly desperately sad. And I’ve never been in a situation similar to what you describe in your posts (I’ve had a read through a lot of them).

          I think your testimony is a very powerful story, but it’s not one I can recreate for me. But if I ever feel I need God-help to get me through something you can bet I’m going to look for it (because I like to ask for help).

        2. I’m so glad that you are willing to be open to getting help when you need it. That’s just what I did. I asked for help. You know that already in reading my posts and my testimony. That’s all I did while in great, great pain. I asked for help. I didn’t know what I was doing when I asked. I just stumbled into Christ – by shear accident. When it’s your turn to stumble [like dieing, we all must take our turn with stress and fear], I’ll be waiting here – with arms open – and so will God. He loves you Rhys; and I do too.
          love to you always,
          robin claire

  7. Allallt, so I still wonder, what “Do” you believe in? Humanity? Compassion? Equality? What things do you have a strong belief in, instead of what you don’t believe? Just wondering. By the way, I like you blog in spite of our disagreements. I invite you to read the post “Carl and Alfred” and the page “The Spiritual Sphere” in my blog and see what your thoughts are. Peace.

    1. I believe strongly in a wellbeing-centred morality. As as far as I can see, that invariably gives us equality and compassion. I also believe that we don’t have freewill, and the right way to react to crime, thusly, is rehabilitation and not retribution. This, if done morally, is also compassionate.

      I believe these things can be understood by people without God, and this I have to believe in humanity. I believe in science and technology as a method for bettering our lives and (again, only if we stay strong to our morality) fostering equality and unity.

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