What would it take to convince me that God doesn’t exist?

There’s a new round of comments on asking theists what would convince them that they’re wrong and that God doesn’t exist, spawned from atheists listing what would convince them that God does exit.  Jerry Coyne has a big post here:


Which references Greta Christina:


Which references Ebon Musings and a post asking for that from theists and pointing out what he’d accept as prove that God does exist:


Since the latter has a dearth of responses and is still accepting them, I’m going to toss my hat into the ring.

Before I do that, though, some long caveats and issues to address.  Hey, the “verbose” in the title ain’t there for show, you know [grin].

1) He comments that at the time of writing he had not personally met a theist who would accept the possibility of being in error.  I am a theist who accepts that.  I do this, though, in a not-quite-straightforward way; to me, my belief in God is, in fact, a belief in the epistemic sense.  I claim that while I’m a theist because I believe that God exists, I also claim that I don’t know that God exists.  Because of this, the implicit claim is that I could indeed be wrong, because that’s what’s implied by having a belief and not knowledge.   I accept, then, that I could be wrong.  I don’t think I am — else I wouldn’t even believe it — but since I merely believe I could very well be wrong, and I accept that.

2) I’m an agnostic theist; I believe that God exists but also believe that because of the qualities of that God no one can know whether or not God exists.  So this, obviously, causes a problem when someone asks me “What would it take to prove to you that God doesn’t exist?”.  Because the answer is “Nothing that we can, at least, practically test”.  I suppose I’ll have some idea when I die, but that’s not exactly a practical test, now is it?  So, for me this may not be a fair question; I don’t think proof — either way — is possible.

3) There is a bit of a difference in what can be said about the evidence that atheists require to accept that God exists and that theists require to accept that God does not.  Recall that the claim “God does not exist” is, in fact, a negative existence claim; it, obviously, claims that something — God — does not exist.  Thus, proving that God does not exist is proving a negative existential.  Thus, atheists asking what it would take to prove to theists that God doesn’t exist is essentially asking theists what prove they’d require to prove a negative … something that many people are skeptical can be done.

Now, I deny that.   Negatives can be proven.  You can prove that some key quality of an object is incompatible with the existence of something else, and then make the positive claim that that something else actually does exist.  This would then show that the object doesn’t exist, since it and the thing that you just proved existed cannot both exist in the same universe.  However, you can’t prove non-existence strictly empirically, by looking real hard.  That limits the sort of proofs that theists can accept as real proofs of the existence of God.  So it isn’t really fair to ask theists to provide the evidence that would get them to accept that God doesn’t exist and compare that directly to atheists doing the same thing;  in that scenario, theists have by far the harder job.  Because of the nature of the claims involved, that this happens is fair; theists are indeed making a positive claim, and so to have evidence that it isn’t true is going to be, in essence, proving a negative.  It’s just not fair to draw conclusions about how they view the belief itself from this.

Now, if the question was “What would it take for you to stop believing that God exists?”, then that’s a little more fair … but becomes both subjective and runs headlong into epistemology (ie when should you stop believing that a proposition is true, and on what grounds) and so is a more complicated question than an off-hand “Give me reasons” response can handle.

So, that out of the way, my initial comment would be to stick with my agnosticism and say that there is no such evidence that would compel me to stop believing that God exists.  But while reading Greta Christina’s post, it now seems to me that that would be too pat an answer, because there are some things that would force me to abandon my belief in God and, at the same time, cause me to believe — and even know — that God doesn’t exist.

And it all follows from the claim above: how do you prove a negative?  So, they all follow from the arguments that would prove a negative.  None of them, therefore, are strictly empirical, and tend towards the deductively logical side … which may be unsatisfying for atheists asking for it.

1) Prove that the concept of God I’m using is, in fact, self-contradictory.  So, presume that I accept that it is critically important for God to be omnipotent, and you can prove that onmipotence is, in fact, self-contradictory (the old and hackneyed “Can God create a rock that He can’t lift”).  Then I couldn’t accept a God with those qualities.  The same would apply if I accept that God must be omnipotent and omniscient and you can prove that He couldn’t be both.  In all of these cases, that concept of God is demolished and I could no longer accept it (this doesn’t mean that I can’t accept an altered form, though).

Note, however, that this is really, really hard to do, at least in part because in arguing against such proofs I can point out mistakes or errors in definitions.  For example, for me I limit omnipotence to “Can do that which is logically possible”.  So in the case of the rock, my reply would be “Either it is logically impossible to create a rock that it is logically impossible to lift or it is logically impossible to be able to lift every rock.  If  the former, God cannot lift every rock, since there can exist a rock that omnipotence — limited to the logically possible — cannot lift.  So God could create a rock that omnipotence cannot lift, and thus that He could not lift.  If the latter, then there is no such thing as a rock that cannot be lifted … and so God cannot create such a rock.”  To address this, we have to hammer out what omnipotence really means and what it really implies.  And I won’t accept definitions that are created just to prove it logically contradictory; we’d need good reasons to think that that was the definition in the first place.

2) The second way is exactly as outlined above: prove that there exists something that is incompatible with the existence of God.  The “Problem of Evil” argument is precisely this sort of argument: prove that there would be no — or at least less — suffering in the world if an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God existed, and you’d have a disproof of, at least, that God.  The arguments that free will and omniscience are incompatible are also of this sort, as it forces a theist to give up something: free will or that sort of God.

These, then, are the ways to “disprove” the existence of God, and as you can see a number of them have been attempted for ages now.  Unfortunately, they don’t work, and my agnosticism makes me skeptical that they would ever work.  The qualities of God are such that such disproofs just don’t work; God can maneuver around such proofs and most empirical attempts just by, well, hiding really well.

So, in the same light as the atheists, here’s what won’t convince me:

1) Assertions of “There’s no evidence”, “there’s no good reason to believe”, etc.  While these sound good, the problem is that they aren’t really true.  They rely on specific notions of “evidence” and “good reason” that need to be hammered out at the epistemic level, the level of deciding when evidence is good enough to believe something and what reasons are good or bad reasons to believe something.  After all, in most circles religious texts at least count as some form of evidence, just not particularly conclusive or reliable ones.  So saying “There’s no evidence” is far overstating the case.  Saying “There’s no evidence that you should base a belief on” is both delving into epistemology, and probably contradicts something that they believe.  If they were right that there was no evidence, then the point would be a good one … but there’s far more work to do when the claim really is “There’s no evidence that I accept” (which is a fair claim, but only for that specific atheist) or the stronger “There’s no evidence that someone should accept” (which is likely not a fair claim).

2) “Empirical” proofs based around qualities that are not critical to the concept of God.   So, arguments of “The Bible gets some science wrong”, or “How come the creation story isn’t accurate?”, or “How come there are multiple religious texts?” aren’t good enough.  We aren’t sure why God does things, and they aren’t really critical to His existence.  It is very easy to accept that there is a God and that there is some corruption in the religious texts — as they were passed by word of mouth — or that God exists and that the message was pitched differently to different areas, and so on and so forth.  So, it has to be over critical features of God: creating the universe being the big one.   Now, some may reply that they’ve done that and the concept of God shifts, and yes, that’s probably happened … but as long as the shift is valid your argument is not as convincing as you might have hoped.

3) Arguments that it evolved as a “meme” or anything that links it to it having qualities that mean that it would replicate.  Any idea that survives will have those qualities, true or not.  That it shares qualities with ideas that survived but were not true doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.

4) Arguments that I’m being childish or superstitious.  That’s what you have to prove, you know.

5) Arguments that I don’t know that God exists, or that my arguments don’t prove that God exists.  Yes, but I don’t accept that that means that you can’t believe it, and that’s an epistemic claim anyway (so you need to say a lot more than that).

I’m sure there are more, but I can’t think of any at the moment.  I’ll update later if I think of some.

So, that’s it.  Feel free to discuss.

18 Responses to “What would it take to convince me that God doesn’t exist?”

  1. Brock Says:

    Nice post, verbosestoic … thoughtful, balanced and well-considered. 🙂

    In general, I note requests for “proof” about God typically presume that there is an adequate standard by which a particular aspect of God can be “demonstrated”. But, such presumptions typically fail to bear scrutiny. Like measuring sound levels with a thermometer, or evaluating radiation levels with a yardstick, most standards are the wrong tool for the job.

    Secondly, one should note that an appeal to demonstration is itself an inadequate standard. As Aristotle indicated, “Our own doctrine is that not all knowledge is demonstrative”[1]. In fact, to the degree that such an appeal to demonstration is bounded by issues of decidability in logic[2], the classes of problems that are demonstrable/decidable represent only a small subset of reality.



    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_regress
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decidability_%28logic%29

  2. Kirth Gersen Says:

    “In all of these cases, that concept of God is demolished and I could no longer accept it (this doesn’t mean that I can’t accept an altered form, though).”

    So you’ve established the baseline conditions so that they can’t possibly be fulfilled. You’ve set the requirements, as, basically, “show that God is X,” and then said you’ll happily change the definition of God to “Y” as soon as that’s done. This is what Russell Blackford was blogging about when he referenced the “cumulus-shaped spirituality,” in which believers have no clear concept of God at all, and simply allow the haze to fill in the contours of whatever space is left for it.

  3. Ebonmuse Says:

    Hi Allan,

    I’ve reviewed this list, and I think that rather than meeting my challenge, it emphasizes the point I sought to make by raising it: for most theists, belief in God is a deliberately unfalsifiable construct that bears no relation to the real world.

    Your first criterion is that you would accept it if your definition of God was shown to be self-contradictory – but as Kirth Gersen pointed out in comment #2, you’ve more or less said that in that case you would just change your definition and go on believing.

    Also, it’s not clear to me why mere logical consistency should be your standard for believing. There’s an infinite number of self-consistent, non-contradictory entities that nevertheless don’t actually exist – unicorns, leprechauns, minotaurs, mermaids, and so on. Why should God be treated according to a different standard?

    Meanwhile, your second criterion is so vague as to be useless. You just say “prove that there exists something that is incompatible with the existence of God”, without any explanation of what that thing might be or how one would go about proving that it exists.

    You cite the problem of evil as one potential example, but clearly you’re already aware of the problem of evil and don’t consider it a persuasive disproof of God, and you don’t explain why not or how it would have to be different for you to accept it as such.

  4. verbosestoic Says:

    I’ll answer both comments here, since you both make the same point about one of them.

    For the first part, I’m not seeing it as much as “changing the definition” as “If you prove Zeus doesn’t exist, that doesn’t mean that I can’t then believe that Odin exists.” While it is a bit of philosophical wrangling, my contention is that I’d adopt a different concept of God and then, essentially, a different God. So, as an example, imagine that my definition of God is this:

    Created the universe.
    Is more or less described in the Old and New Testaments.
    Is omnipotent.
    Is omniscient.
    Is benevolent.

    (which is pretty much my definition, BTW).

    Now, imagine that the “Problem of Evil” argument worked, and it was proven that a God that was omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent couldn’t exist. So, that concept above is demolished, and I couldn’t accept it. But, then, why couldn’t I say “Okay, I’ll drop benevolent; God is not benevolent”? Note that that’s not a minor change; it has an enormous impact on the concept and what we can ascribe — and how we’d follow — that God. While it in some sense is “the same God” (because it’s still the one in the OT and NT), the concept is radically different; far more different than, say, Zeus and Jupiter are. Is it enough to be a different God? That’s wrangling over semantics. But it would be a major change, certainly, and one that seems valid.

    You have to allow people to change theories and beliefs when evidence contradicts them without having to toss the whole thing out, or else the fact that science quite often does that will work against you.

    I also have to disagree strongly, Ebonmuse, to your contention that it has no relation to the real world, since both criteria insist that the concept, at least, adapts to real world findings. I can’t hold a definition of God that contradicts the world. What more can you expect of me?

    As for the “vagueness” of my second criteria, I disagree with that as well. It is, in fact, fully defined. That I can’t give you precise example cases is not the fault of the criteria, but the fault of the demand: you are asking me to outline precisely what conditions would prove a negative. That, you must admit, is a demand far beyond what you can expect. That I can even give an example is more than reasonable. The criteria is precisely this: taking my definition of God, prove that there exists something in the world that cannot exist in a world that has something that fits my definition of God. If you come up with such an argument, you will be able to determine that immediately, and I will be able to evaluate it and know that as well (at least if it’s a candidate). It’s pure deductive logic.

    But here is where my agnosticism comes in as well: I don’t think such a proof is possible. And if I could think of such a potential argument, I would have evaluated it already and either dismissed it or dismissed my belief in God. It is, therefore, a bit unfair to demand that I provide examples that I clearly haven’t thought of yet [grin].

    See, the issue is precisely as I outline at the beginning: it is relatively easy for an atheist to say “If this happens, I’d believe in God” because they can point to an event and use it as a positive proof. That doesn’t happen for the negative side of the ledger. And it’s fair enough that theists are in that position, but not all that fair to use that to divine their motives and intentions from that.

    So, why doesn’t the Problem of Evil work? Because there are two possibilities: either this amount of suffering could not be allowed by a benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent God, or it can be because of factors (extra benefits, a different morality, whatever) that God knows and we don’t. Unless we thought we knew exactly what is and isn’t moral and what the total consequences are, that second option is still open, and for a logical disproof — which is required to prove a negative — that option must be eliminated.

    But here’s the kicker: I was very careful to talk about what would COMPEL me to give up belief. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t stop believing at any point short of that; it just means that I wouldn’t rationally HAVE to before that point. But, again, I don’t know what that point is. There’s no empirical event that anyone can foresee that could force a negative, so it would have to be a conflict of beliefs and a choice on my part … but that gets deep into epistemology which would be drifting a bit from this discussion.

  5. verbosestoic Says:

    Oh, one thing I forgot to mention: giving you that precise a definition does, in fact, give you what you’d need to get rid of to force it — everything on the list. That’s not all that vague. And it is quite likely that it would end up being a God that I wouldn’t accept well before that point; at some point, it just wouldn’t be God to me anymore.

    As an example, I can’t imagine myself ever believing in a Deist God; that’s not really God to me. I also can’t imagine myself accepting an “Intelligent Force” God either.

    So maybe that’s another criteria: prove to me that a God could not interact at all with the world, and I’d drop it (and probably all of it). Good luck with that.

  6. Ebonmuse Says:

    I’d like to offer some thoughts regarding this comment:

    “…it is relatively easy for an atheist to say ‘If this happens, I’d believe in God’ because they can point to an event and use it as a positive proof. That doesn’t happen for the negative side of the ledger.”

    I don’t agree that theists have a harder time than atheists in outlining what would change their minds. If you agree that evidence is the link to truth, then it seems to me that this task could be accomplished fairly easily: Explain what evidence convinced you to believe in God, and then explain what further evidence would overturn your initial conclusions.

    As an analogy, let’s say I believe in Bigfoot. Let’s also say my belief is premised on several different lines of evidence: videos of hairy, man-shaped creatures in the woods, plaster casts of giant footprints in mud, and testimonies of several eyewitnesses who claim that they saw an anthropoid beast lumber out of the forest and into their backyard.

    Now let’s say the man who shot that video came forward to confess it was a forgery, enacted with the help of a friend of his, and produces a receipt for a costume shop dated the day the video was taken. Let’s say he produces clay sculptures of feet that fit the casts that were taken. And let’s also say the house where the eyewitnesses live is proven to have been contaminated with ergot mold that would have produced vivid hallucinations in anyone living within.

    Clearly, in this case, I no longer have reason to believe in Bigfoot. Every strand of evidence that links my belief to objective reality has been severed, and new evidence points to a better explanation that accounts for the prior evidence more convincingly than my former belief did. Now, I might continue to believe in Bigfoot regardless, asserting that the creature could still exist despite the failure of all the evidence. But, I hope we can agree, that would be irrational at that point.

    I’m not suggesting that belief in God could only be overturned by the discovery of a deliberate conspiracy to deceive humanity. But I can readily conceive of the discovery of lines of evidence – in fact, I would argue that such evidence has already been discovered – which adds up to the same result. If you think the theist has the harder task here, I’d venture to say that it’s merely because theists, having constructed their beliefs so as to make them immune to disproof, are naturally at a loss when asked what would in fact disprove them.

  7. Nathan Says:

    So, why doesn’t the Problem of Evil work? Because there are two possibilities: either this amount of suffering could not be allowed by a benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent God, or it can be because of factors (extra benefits, a different morality, whatever) that God knows and we don’t. Unless we thought we knew exactly what is and isn’t moral and what the total consequences are, that second option is still open, and for a logical disproof — which is required to prove a negative — that option must be eliminated.

    If I read this correctly, your two possibilities are:

    1. This is the best possible world a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal deity could arrange. Moreover, it has always been the best possible world a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal deity could arrange. What appears to us as ‘evil’ is either unavoidable or an actual moral good that we do not recognize as such.


    2. There is no benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal deity.

    Consider (1) further. It rests on the assumption that the even the best possible world must have some perceived evil in it. (I use the term ‘perceived evil’ to denote both things that are evil, in whatever sense you like, as well as those things that only appear evil but are, in the sight of the benevolent omnipotent omniscient eternal deity actually good). I grant this for the purpose of discussion (although I have some doubts about this proposition – I personally find it less than convincing)

    It is the leap from ‘the best possible world must have some perceived evil in it’ to ‘this is the best possible world’ that I wish to address. Consider, for example, a two-year-old with leukemia, and not just at the present moment, but every child so afflicted throughout history. (1) tells us that even if one of those children had not gotten leukemia, the world would be a worse place than it is. Just one child, at any place in the world, and at any time throughout history.

    Do you believe that? Do you believe that is any kind of realistic possibility? Never mind all the other illnesses and afflictions and natural disasters that affect us – just focus on that one, single type, and ask: if even one of those tragedies had not happened, would the world be a worse place, even in the sight of the omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, deity?

    To the very best of my understanding, that is what (1) requires. And I don’t find that convincing, no matter how much omniscience I lack.

    In fact, I’ll go a little further, and suggest a world like our own, with afflictions and ills, but without childhood leukemia. Just that one change – it’s not a small change, I grant, but easily within the grasp of an omnipotent entity – and suggest that such a world would be better than this one. But (1), above, says that cannot be right, that there is some moral value or lesson to be gained from childhood leukemia that is unique, that no other affliction or ailment could grant or teach, and whose value outweighs all the suffering every caused to every child and every parent from that disease.

    Can you suggest why those two implications either do not follow from (1), or why they seem not impossible to you?

  8. verbosestoic Says:

    So, I made a rather lengthly comment on your blog about this, so here let me reply to what’s left over, which basically is the specifics of Bigfoot.

    Yes, if my main evidence was, in fact, a video and it was proven to be a hoax, that would be sufficient to get me to stop believing in Bigfoot. However, the other two are a little less clear. Presume that the clay casts example is one where he shows that the footprints COULD be made that way, not that they were made that way. So, what you’ve presented here is “Well, it doesn’t HAVE to be made by a real Bigfoot”, to which it is not irrational to reply “Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean it WASN’T”.

    The hallucinations example is even worse. So, they COULD have been hallucinating because of the mold. But I doubt that if they said that two kids on bicycles rode by, you’d call that into question — even if there was no other evidence — because of the mold. But it isn’t all that much more likely — if at all — that they’d hallucinate a Bigfoot than that they’d hallucinate bike riders. So why distrust Bigfoot? Well, because you’ve prejudged it based on what you think reasonable. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and all of that. And I don’t say that this is irrational. That being said, I don’t think it the only rational position either. It does come down to the Web of Belief that I mention at your site, and when you should be allowed to rationally believe something. And that’s deep into epistemology.

    Suffice it to say that, as I said above, simply proving that I could be wrong is insufficient. I already accept that. Thus, to compel disbelief, you have to prove me wrong. Or, you have to prove me epistemically wrong.

    Be forewarned that I accepted the Web of Belief after a few years of considering epistemology as a desperate attempt to preserve every day beliefs, so it will take quite a bit to get me to reject it [grin].

  9. verbosestoic Says:


    The main issue with your analysis is that you’ve missed the logical consequences of your suggestions.

    Let’s start with the “just one child”. Now, to make this align with the Problem of Evil properly, we’d have to say that God’s benevolence makes it so that He is forced by benevolence — deductively logically — to save that child and make the world a better place by so doing. So, He’d have to do it if He was benevolent, or couldn’t be benevolent anymore. Okay, so then we restart the world, that child was saved, and then ask your question again … and discover that, well, it still works. So He’d be obligated to save ANOTHER child. And so on and so forth until there is no childhood leukemia at all.

    So your “going further” isn’t really “going further”, but is actually demanded as a consequence of your argument. So let’s look at that.

    So, God gets rid of all and only childhood leukemia. Adults, then, still get leukemia. So now we ask the question: is there more of a moral requirement to stop leukemia in children as opposed to adults? Well, our moral intuitions tend to have us lean that way. And yet I argued in an abortionish debate that if there is a choice between saving the life of the mother and saving the life of the unborn or soon to be born child, the child should be saved because it hadn’t had a chance to live yet, while the mother had had experiences already. People replied to this that the mother should be saved because she has had the time to develop relationships — so more people will be upset if she dies — and/or is more valuable to society. Applying these arguments to childhood leukemia and it isn’t so clear that our moral intuitions are correct.

    So, then, let’s consider them about equal for now. And then the same consequence applies: if God is obligated to stop childhood leukemia, He’s obligated to stop leukemia in general, for everyone. Which is broader than you wanted, surely.

    But, okay, we’ll take it. But then we start looking at other ailments. Why leukemia and not them? Why should we consider leukemia more worthy of being cured than cancer? Or AIDS? Or heart disease? Or natural disasters? Or any other cause of human suffering? And the answer is: we probably can’t. And so God would be obligated to stop all of them, too. And so we’d have a world with no suffering at all. And since you accepted for the sake of argument that having suffering could be good … your demand eliminates that good. Thus, not allowable.

    The way out of this is more to tunnel down to specifics and not general cases. So God can — and may be obligated — to stop SOME instances of childhood leukemia because that specific instance does not bring more benefit for it being allowed than it not being allowed. But that is perfectly consistent with the world we have.

    Thus, the Problem of Evil doesn’t work because, again, either God is doing it for a reason that we may not be aware of or God doesn’t exist. I freely concede it could be either, but that isn’t enough to have the argument work.

  10. Dave Says:


    What is your exact definition of “God”? You have already said:

    Created the universe.
    Is more or less described in the Old and New Testaments.
    Is omnipotent.
    Is omniscient.
    Is benevolent.

    Does your definition of “God” include omnipresent, good, and perfect?

  11. verbosestoic Says:

    Omnipresent might be simply derived from omniscient; it may be the means for that omniscience. I don’t think it’s absolutely required or even a particularly important part of the definition.

    Good follows from benevolent; that’s essentially what I mean when I use that term.

    Perfect is probably a consequence of omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence.

  12. Dave Says:

    Even though you have refused to definitively state such, it seems you agree that good is omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent, good, and perfect.

    If God is perfect and good, then God must be perfectly good. If God is perfectly good and created everything, God created good and evil. The creation of evil is an evil act. How can a perfectly good being perform an evil act?

    If God is benevolent, perfect and omnipotent, why did God need Moses to talk to the Pharaoh? God, being omnipotent, could have simply told Pharaoh, using a pillar of fire or something, to let them go and backed it up by turning the Pharaohs army to stone. Instead, God tortured the people of Egypt and then killed the first born sons, which is neither a benevolent nor a good act. Why doesn’t God represent himself and talk for himself? Why doesn’t God do his own dirty work?

    If God is benevolent and good, please explain why God tortured Job to prove a point to a being, Satan, that, by definition, knew that God was correct. And, as God is omnipotent and omniscient, God knew beforehand what the outcome would be, and Satan was up to and thinking. Which, of course, opens up the whole can of worms about whether angels have free will, which was supposed only given to Man.

    If God is perfect, good, benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, why doesn’t God help children, by definition the most innocent and most willing to believe, who pray to be protected from hunger, abuse, and/or being raped by, say, priests? And, why didn’t God prevent the priests from raping the children by giving the priests strength or just removing the priests sex drive?

    If God is omniscient, why couldn’t God find Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

    Jesus says prayer works. But, if God is perfect and God has a plan, then by definition, God’s plan should be perfect and to change the plan because of a prayer would then make the plan imperfect. So, does prayer work or does God make his perfect plan imperfect?

    Speaking of prayer, an experiment was done by the Jesuits and other believers to determine if intercessory prayer works. It was double blind study of several groups, including but not limited to, people who were prayed for with and without knowledge as well as people who were told they would not be prayed for and people who were told they would be be prayed for but were not. The results showed that prayer, at best, did nothing. Please explain this.

  13. verbosestoic Says:


    You will note that I accepted “perfect” only as a consequence of the other attributes. Half of your descriptions of “perfect” work on an undefined concept of perfect.

    At any rate, you were clearly on a fishing trip here, and your comments have little to do with the topic of the post. But I’ll reply to at least part of it anyway, by starting with the first statement and explaining what I mean when I talk about my problems with the “Problem of Evil”.

    “If God is perfect and good, then God must be perfectly good. If God is perfectly good and created everything, God created good and evil. The creation of evil is an evil act. How can a perfectly good being perform an evil act?”

    First, evil isn’t a thing, thus no one can create “evil”. Evil has always been a vaguely defined term that allows for wonderful amounts of equivocation in the argument. So, allow me to clarify what we really have in the argument:

    God created beings — us — that can act morally or immorally.
    God created beings that can suffer.
    God created a world where the beings referenced above do, in fact, suffer, sometimes through their own actions and sometimes through random natural occurrences.

    Now, again, we must ask the question not in terms of evil — ie is it evil to allow this — but in terms of MORAL. Thus, the question is:

    Was it immoral for God to create a world where the above three facts are true?

    After all, if you concluded that God was evil and was not acting immorally — or, in fact, was acting morally — that wouldn’t be much of an argument. The important thing about God to most theists is morality, not a nebulous concept of evil.

    So, in order to do this, you first have to start by defining and proving what is and isn’t moral, and showing that God would be immoral to create the world we have now. Let me give you three examples that won’t work to show you the problem:

    1) Utilitarianism would work, as it talks about suffering. Unfortunately, it allows for some amounts of suffering as long as it prevents more suffering later. There have been many arguments suggesting that that could be the case with this world, and even without them God does know far more about future events and consequences than we do. So, it isn’t clear by Utilitarianism that God would be immoral for creating the world as is, and there are many ways in which He could be moral by Utilitarianism. It would only be an appeal to “God can do anything!” that you are left with, but this is a weak argument and risks you walking yourself into an incoherent definition of omnipotent. So, this one doesn’t work well.

    2) For the Stoics, suffering is irrelevant. Thus, if it would be virtuous for God to do something and it causes other people suffering, that’s just too bad; their obligation is to not be impacted by suffering. Thus, that an action causes suffering is insufficient to consider it immoral and the argument fails to get off the ground.

    3) Hobbesian Social Contract specifies that the king is allowed to punish to the strongest extent — even death — to ensure that the contract is enforced. God would be the ultimate “king” in this case, and so any action taken to demonstrate the consequences of breaking the contract would be morally justified under that code.

    So, you’re up: give me a moral code that works. And simply presuming that causing suffering is immoral clearly won’t work.

  14. Daylight Atheism > Two Responses to the Theist’s Guide Says:

    […] there's this essay from Verbose Stoic. I left a comment on his site which is reprinted below, with minor edits: I've […]

  15. Controversial Controversies? « The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Before getting into their math, I want to outline the case for controversy. First, some empirical numbers. The post that has the most views on my entire site all time is my post on Rebecca Watson and Elevatorgate, which has over twice as many views as any other post on my site. Next is my post on Jerry Coyne’s criticism of a philosophical project funded by the Templeton Foundation that was picked up by both Jerry Coyne and Daniel Fincke, followed by my post about some complaints that seemed to not be about things that were unreasonable, my essay on the morality of psychopaths and autistics and rounding out the top 5 my response to calls asking theists what would convince them that God didn’t exist. […]

  16. The Moral Test … « The Verbose Stoic Says:

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  17. 432olim Says:

    Well written post. I think it would be interesting to hear your answers to two questions:

    Why are you an agnostic that chooses to believe a God exists that you have very limited ability to understand (this is the definition of agnostic as I understand it) instead of an atheist?

    In your opinion is the atheist view as valid as your own agnostic view?

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Well, I think that we aren’t that limited in our ability to understand the concept, or come up with a conception of God. I just think that based on that concept we’re going to have a very difficult time knowing that it does or doesn’t exist. Right now, I’m moving towards thinking that conceptual arguments like the Ontological Argument or the Ground of All Being MIGHT have a chance, but they’re devilishly hard to pull off (no pun intended).

      I think that an atheist who finds themselves unconvinced that a God exists and therefore either lacks belief or believes in a lack of God is holding an at least potentially rational position. Only knowledge can compel belief or belief in lack; beyond that, one can only rely on what seems right to the person.

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