Thursday, June 1, 2017

What Would It Take to Convince You?

The last Reason Rally was held June 4, 2016. Maybe the novelty has worn off because I can’t find a date for a 2017 Rally. Perhaps it will be every four years, or perhaps "reason" has left this Nation. In any case, the upcoming anniversary got me thinking more about reason vs. atheism. I rarely go on YouTube, but I decided to go ahead and browse some videos of atheists/agnostics debating believers about the existence of God and also conversing with each other, such as this debate between Richard Dawkins and Cardinal George Pell:

And this conversation between Richard Dawkins and Matt Dillahunty:

Since I have some experience conversing (civilly) with atheist/agnostics on this blog and other forums, much of what I heard was not new. As a case in point, I noticed an underlying premise in the videos that I have also noticed in personal conversations. There is normally a fundamental and possibly subconscious premise of “knowing better” about certain things.

For example, if there really was a God who wanted to save us from sin, he surely would have come up with a better plan than becoming a man and then sacrificing himself to himself. If I know better, then I know that a real God would have come up with a plan I can agree with or at least find sensible. It’s the same type of thing with the Old Testament. Why would God first reveal himself to only the Jews (or the ancestors of the Jews)? Why not all people at once? Again, if I know better, then I know a real God would have revealed himself to the entire world and not just a chosen group of people. I suppose—in their minds—this would have made things simpler?

It’s a circular argument…
➤ If it is senseless to me, then it cannot be true
➤ It is not true because I think it is senseless

Something that was new to me was the question “What would it take to convince you that God exists?” There was mention of very clear empirical and sensory evidence that might convince them, like a giant Jesus descending from the clouds for all to see, but for the most part the answer was “nothing”. An answer met with enthusiastic applause from a sympathetic audience in at least one of the videos.

Evidence is another interesting topic in and of itself. Some atheist/agnostics I’ve conversed with came off as self-proclaimed authorities of evidence. Only empirical/scientific data was valid evidence for them. Data from metaphysics, philosophy, witness testimony, inferences and other modes of reasoning were generally dismissed. This poses a problem when debating something immaterial (non-physical). Do inalienable human rights exist? Do you have the right to life? Do you have the right to choose? How do we prove these things? Empirically? If we truly want to be objective, should we look at ALL the data or only the data we like best?
See 20 non-empirical proofs for the existence of God from the fabulous Dr. Peter Kreeft

It’s contradictory and smacks of Scientism
➤ Using empirical data is the only valid way to prove something
➤ The above is a philosophical statement that cannot be proven empirically

Now, back to the question “What would it take to convince you that God exists?” Atheist Matt Dillahunty argued that God would know exactly what it would take to convince him, but God has not done so. Dillahunty then concludes two possibilities (2nd video above, 45:50)…

➤ Either God does not exist or…
➤ God does not want him to know that he exists
…and for either case it is of no concern to him

I thought of a third option. Could it be that God would want you to form your own conclusions? Perhaps God respects your mind and does not want to force himself onto your thinking? Maybe there is a fourth option too. There is a God and there is a reason, but we don’t know it. Of course, this conflicts with the premise of “knowing better” as mention above. If I know better, then I know there can only be two possibilities.

What would it take to convince you?
In the spirit of fairness, I pondered the opposite question. What would it take to convince you that God does NOT exist? I had to think about that question for a while. Since Catholics (and others) say God is the ground of all being or being itself(1), we cannot answer the question the way one would answer, “What would it take to convince you that Zeus does not exist?” God is not “one being among many” like Zeus would be and every other being is. It's like asking “What would it take to convince you that being itself does not exist?” or perhaps like asking “What would it take to convince you that existence does not exist?”

In this sense, the question poses a contradiction and contradictions are essentially meaningless. What would it take to convince you that I can draw a square shaped circle? What would it take to convince you that I’m a married bachelor? A square shaped circle or a married bachelor cannot exist in reality. In a similar, but opposite way I do not see how the “ground of all being” cannot be or how existence cannot exist.

So as we approach the anniversary of maybe the last Reason Rally, and based on the logic above and the Catholic understanding of “being”, I would have to "reason" that God cannot…not exist.

I’ll end this post with a dangerous picture that can cause brain damage. Study it briefly…but then look away!!!

1. Fr. Robert Barron, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of Faith (New York: Image Books, 2011) p. 61-64.