Saturday, May 24, 2008

What Would Change Your Mind?

Dogmatism is the death of reason. If a person’s belief about anything is indefeasible, if she would not be willing to modify, revise, or reject in the light of any new information or evidence, then that belief has co-opted her reason, her freedom, and her consciousness. She no longer merely believes it; now it is believing her.

The real sign of intellectual integrity, is a willingness to change your mind. So here’s the challenge: Whatever it is that you think is true about God, what would it take, hypothetically, to change your mind? Is there any sort of experience that would indicate that there is a God or that there isn’t one? Could an argument do it?

The problem with some forms of evil atheism (atheism that is motivated by the problem of evil) is that there appear to be no circumstances under which the non-believer would relent and concede that the amount of suffering or the sort of existence we have in the world is commensurable with the existence of an omni-God. See What Would Make the Atheist Happy? for a more detailed explanation. The problem described here The Paradox of the Soul Building Defense for Evil gives the evil atheist a decisive answer to attempts to reconcile God and evil by soul-building.

So it’s a useful exercise, and a vital reality check to explore scenarios, experiences, events, reasons, or arguments that could possibly convince the non-believer that there is a God. The atheist, like any person with sense, should be prepared to admit that X, Y, or Z would possibly lead them to reconsider their position.

By hypothesis, God is the ultimate creator of reality, the infinitely great, powerful, knowledgeable, and morally perfect foundation of the universe. And by hypothesis, God seeks to have a relationship with humanity.

The existence we find ourselves in is finite, ambiguous, full of unanswered questions, and isolated. A person is confined to the wants, thoughts, experiences, and relationships that are made possible by a limited set of sensory faculties, a powerful but constrained set of reasoning abilities, and set of organic idiosyncrasies and neurological quirks. Our discursive consciousness is constituted by a set of concepts and properties that we can form into propositions. Our experience is full of mysteries and confined to the relatively continuous path through time and space that our experiences lead us through. Along every vector devise for our inquiries, the world we live in resembles one in which no God exists. In the world where we exist, if there is a God, he has conspired to erase every real, compelling indicator of his existence so completely that the world is indistinguishable from one where there is no God at all. If he’s there, he has managed to hide perfectly.

Those considerations suggest an answer to the “What would it take to change your mind?” question: if there were a God, then the nature of our existence, our experience, and our relationship to the universe would be radically different than it is. We would have a profoundly different relationship to reality and to God than the sort of existence and experience we have now. This transcendent form of existence is hypothetical and difficult to speculate about. But if there were a God, then it is difficult to conceive how our consciousness would be confined to the narrow sliver of space and time as it is now. It seems that our knowledge of the world would not be mediated by concepts and propositions. We’d have some sort of direct, non-discursive access to God and the world. God wouldn’t be hiding. Suffering would not exist. Nor would doubts or ambiguity. Nor would it be an existence where we have an existence like this one first and then later achieve a transcendent unity with God. All of humanity would have been in this transcendent state from the start. God doesn’t wait around to get what he wants. Nor does he have to employ indirect, circuitous, and ineffective means to achieve his goals. It’s also difficult to see how the individual foibles, desires, beliefs, and states of consciousness that constitute the individual as we know ourselves in this world would be present in an existence with a God being. That leads to an interesting paradox, however. If it is the particular beliefs, weaknesses, and confined perspectives that essentially constitute the individual as she is in this world, and those would not be present in an existence with a God, then it would seem that the individual wouldn’t exist at all in a world shared by God. How could a being like that, who seeks after a direct, morally perfect, and loving relationship with other entities, be thwarted or restrained in any way? And how could the restrictions that make us individual consciousnesses be sustained in a world with a being like that?

The Buddhists talk about ultimately achieving a state of nirvana where all the trappings and confines of the individual melt away. It’s a wild speculation, but wouldn’t existence with a God be like that? How could there be personality distinctions between you and me in heaven? Those are what isolate us from the world, knowledge, and enlightenment.

So let’s bring all these far-flung mystical musings back to reality. It's all making me kind of queasy:

1. If there were a God, then the experience had by humanity would be utterly transcendent beyond the form of existence we find ourselves in.

2. The experience had by humanity is not utterly transcendent beyond the form of existence we find ourselves in. (You still have to get up and go to work tomorrow.)

3. Therefore, there is no God.


Ron said...

Hello Matt,

My name is Ron Mosby, and I came across your blog while doing a seach for blogs. Very interesting statements, many of which I do have responses to. For now, however, I will confine this post to a single issue, and that is suffering.

It seems that one of the most common arguments that I have heard is that if there is a God, then there would be no suffering. Would you mind sharing how you came to that conclusion? I can tell you there is nothing in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, that implies that at all. If you allow, I would be more than willing to share Scripture that says the exact opposite. Also, please feel free to visit my blog at

sam said...

This is an old post, but still worth replying to. You criticize some forms of atheism (those that emphasize the logical problem of evil) for lacking falsifiability (What would change your mind?). But could this lack of falsifiability in non-belief stem from the theist’s proposition itself (i.e. the absolutist tri-omni attributes), not from any recalcitrance on the part of the atheist? A perfect, desireless, all-powerful, all-benevolent mind would not create “defective souls” that require “building”, for example.

There seems to be a deeper epistemic problem to answering “What would change your mind?” than a search for pro-god evidence. If we’re talking about the yhwh character of the christian bible, this being expresses little displeasure with intentionally deceiving & abrogating ‘free will’ for the express purpose of destroying human life (EZ 14:9, DT 13:1-5, 2Thess 2:11-12, Josh 11:20, Rom 9:15-18, DT 2:30, JN 12:37-41, IS 6:10, MK 4:11-12, MT 13:10-15). If we’re then asked, “Assuming that yhwh exists, what would it take for you to believe that yhwh exists?”, then we are asked to consider the possibility that reality includes a being or beings that have the power to strip us of all decision-making & thoroughly deceive us. If this is true, it is entirely possible that the nature of our existence, our experience, and our relationship to the universe very much IS radically different than we think it is, but we are being prevented from seeing it by yhwh, allah, or any given demonic being of any given religious tradition.

The paradox of conceiving of reality as being fundamentally teleological & rooted in intentionality, rather than as natural, is that the moment you do, you epistemically paralyze yourself from assessing the soundness of your beliefs. Every religion’s god is another religion’s Deceiver (excluding polytheistic religions, of course). If the source of Plantinga’s sensus divinitatis is a self-confessed deceiver, how does this provide warranted belief for anything? If the presuppositionalists are correct that logic, empiricism, and deductive & inductive reasoning are useful tools for approaching truth, then Martin’s transcendental argument for the non-existence of gods holds.