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.


  1. If one could get his attention, it should be fairly easy to convince Richard Dawkins that his argument that ‘there almost certainly is no God’ is false. His main argument is that both Darwinian evolution in a single large stage and the existence of God, represent prohibitive improbabilities, but only the problem of improbability of evolution is soluble. It is solved by gradualism, which ‘breaks the improbability up into small pieces. Each of which is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so.’ Clearly, God cannot gradually develop, so there is no solution to the prohibitive improbability of God.
    Dawkins has illustrated the role of gradualism with three mutation sites of six mutations each. He thinks he has demonstrated an increase in the probability of evolutionary success of natural selection. However, it is evident from his arithmetical analysis that he has demonstrated that the role of gradualism in Darwinian evolution is to increase mutational efficiency with no change in the probability of evolutionary success.
    Elsewhere, Dawkins has noted the principle that the values of a variable defined over the range of 0 to 1, such as probability (and improbability) vary from one another by degree, not by kind. Consequently, there can be no problem of improbability, which depends upon distinguishing one kind of improbability (prohibitive) from another kind (non-prohibitive). Dawkins’ claim that ‘the argument from improbability is the big one’ is not simply false. It is meaningless, by his own admission that the problem of improbability depends upon an undefinable distinction between kinds of improbability. (See ‘Richard Dawkins as his own critic’,
    I actually admire Richard Dawkins for two quite lucid arguments. It is a shame no one has got his attention to point out these important arguments and their correct conclusions. (1) Gradualism in Darwinian evolution effects an increase in mutational efficiency, without affecting the probability of evolutionary success. (2) No two values of probability differ from one another by kind. If one rejects a value of probability as too close to zero to be an explanation, he must reject every probability, however close to, but less than one, as an explanation.

    1. Hi Bob,
      I think Dawkins expressed gradualism, which breaks the improbability up into small pieces, as “climbing mount improbable”. Even if a valid point, I don’t think gradualism accounts for the probability of an anthropic universe materializing by itself with all the necessary physical constants being set precisely as they are. Or the probability of a solar system and planet being formed arbitrarily producing an environment that can support the fragilities of life, while at the same time spinning around in a mindless universe that is so hostile to life. Once the environment is set, what are the odds of dead things becoming living things all by themselves and then evolving to become self-aware things like us who can sit around and wonder about it all?

      I don’t find it convincing, not because of the math, but because of the final conclusion which essentially is……“We come from nothing for the purpose of nothing.”

    2. Hi Ben,
      Rather than considering what would convince Ben, consider the question, ‘What should be convincing to Dawkins?’ My answer is ‘Showing on his own terms that his argument is false.’ However, to do so requires getting his attention.
      His argument shows an increase in mutational efficiency, not an in increase in probability as he claims it does. Therefore, he has not solved ‘the problem of improbability’.
      An error analogous to Dawkins’ claim that gradualism increases the probability of Darwinian evolutionary success, is to claim that Car B can travel a greater distance than Car A in the following example. One has the choice of Car A or Car B to drive from Chicago to St. Paul, roughly 400 miles. Both cars have 15 gallon gas tanks. Car A can travel 375 miles on a tank of gas. Car B can travel 450 miles on a tank of gas. On what basis could one choose Car B rather than Car A?
      Analogous to his claim regarding an increase in probability, Dawkins would say that Car B can travel a greater distance than Car A. That is false. Both cars can travel equal distances. The correct claim is that Car B is more fuel efficient than Car A.
      Analogously, the series of sub-stages of Darwinian evolution is more mutationally efficient than a single overall stage, while both processes achieve the same probability of evolutionary success (just as both cars can get to St. Paul). Dawkins has demonstrated the greater mutational efficiency of the series, not a greater probability of success. That is something Dawkins should be able to understand. It leaves him without his central argument (in his lingo ‘the big one’) for why God almost certainly does not exist.