Belief challenges/Meaningful God

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Challenge: Define God in a way that is both meaningful and can't be disproved.

Explanation

It is often claimed that science can't objectively disprove the existence of God – but this is only true if God is defined in some way that is basically meaningless. If God is a meaningless concept that has no effect on anything, then why should anyone care if anyone believes in it or not? Nobody would. People only care about God's existence because they think it matters in some way – and something can't "matter" if it doesn't affect anything ever.

However, if God does affect the universe, then we should see some evidence that can't be explained as the action of natural law – that is, we should see clear violations of natural law. If we saw that, then we'd have to revise our understanding of natural law to take "the God effect" into account: science and engineering would have to allow for physical laws being violated. We haven't had to do this, though, because there is no evidence of any such effect.

In other words:

For any definition of God in which God's existence actually matters, that being can be proved not to exist.

Taking the Challenge

To take this challenge, first you must define God in terms which specify in what observable ways God affects the universe.

Once you have done that, the respondant will attempt to disprove that God's existence.

Unacceptable Definitions

Just saying "the [Judeo-]Christian God", for example, is much too vague, since even Protestant Christians (to pick a popular example) disagree about the exact nature of God – which is part of the smokescreen: it's impossible to discuss something rationally when one side can change what they're talking about anytime they find themselves in an inconvenient corner – and none of the Christian factions are clear about exactly how God intervenes in worldly affairs, either. (In fact, they usually avoid being specific: "God moves in mysterious ways.")

Caveats

Caveat #1: There are no "proofs" in empirical science, at least not in the mathematical sense; science is a process of successive approximation towards an accurate understanding of reality. You never actually get there; you just get closer and closer.

What I mean here by "proof" is "evidence overwhelmingly favoring a particular conclusion". I can't absolutely prove that God doesn't exist because you can't absolutely prove that anything exists or doesn't exist -- but I can demonstrate that the evidence is overwhelmingly against it.

Caveat #2: Any God whose definition is objectively indistinguishable from the operation of one or more natural phenomena isn't really "affecting the universe", since those natural phenomena operate according to rules that do not require sentient (much less omnipotent) intervention.

The universe and its laws behave exactly as if there is no God, even if (in your view) they could not exist without God. God therefore has not had any effect on the universe that we are aware of.

If you want to define "God" as being equivalent to some natural phenomenon, that's your choice – but that's basically changing the subject; you're no longer supporting the idea of a metaphysical or supernatural deity, but arguing that a given natural phenomenon should also be known by a particular synonym.

Caveat #2a If you specifically include "that which created the universe" in your definition of God, then either:

  • (a) God has other attributes, to which the challenge still applies, or
  • (b) God has no other attributes, in which case "God" is just another word for the Big Bang (or whatever the best evidence points towards as the origin of the universe).

Responses So Far

1

Theist Response: God affects the universe in that "The universe exists, scientific laws exist and people have faith in him."

This doesn't really satisfy the first part of the challenge -- i.e. none of these statements really specify the effect that God has on the universe -- but since these are among the more popular arguments for God, I'll go ahead and address them.

1a. "The universe exists..."

The unanswered question is this: How would the universe be different if God had not existed?

You can't say it wouldn't have existed, because that would be presuming your conclusion (that God created it) -- i.e. circular logic.

An entirely natural universe would have to be somehow different from one created by a conscious entity, in order to say that some entity had had an effect on it -- and yet the universe as it is is best explained as the result of the operation of mechanical laws. Not only isn't there any need for a supernatural entity; there is increasingly little room for one.

God has not affected the universe in any way that we can discern, so this statement does not meet the challenge requirements.

(Also, see Caveat #2a above.)

1b. "...scientific laws exist..."

The same question applies: How would scientific laws be different if God had not existed?

It seems to me that divine intervention would be necessary in order for most technology to work. It would be necessary, for example, to pray while doing chemistry. Mathematical proofs would be insoluble without citation of appropriate scripture. Inexplicable things would happen in ways that clearly benefited those who followed God's wishes, and punished those who didn't. There would be _some_ kind of indication that the laws of nature were not automatic but were in fact maintained by a being outside of those laws.

And yet again, what we see is a universe whose operation leaves less and less room for the exercise of arbitrary will on the part of some supernatural being.

God has not affected the laws of nature. This statement does not meet the challenge requirements.

1c. "...and people have faith in [God]".

That is evidence for belief in God, not the existence of an actual physical God. People have historically believed in -- and even had faith in -- many things that turned out not to exist.

Since people can have faith in things whether they exist or not, the fact that people have faith in God does not imply (or require) God's existence, and therefore does not show that an actual God has had any effect on the universe.

This statement does not meet the challenge requirements.

Links

Reference

  • Issuepedia: the original formal posting of this challenge

Postings

  • 2014-09-02 The Challenge
  • 2014-09-02 Response #1: "The universe exists, scientific laws exist and people have faith in him."