Can you accept an alternate epistemology?

Many theists believe that, while there is no objective proof for the existence of God, they have had experiences which are evidence of God’s existence. In particular, my faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons) teaches that someone with a sincere desire to know God (and follow Him, if He exists) should read and learn about Him then pray to know whether He exists. That knowledge will come to that individual typically in very subtle ways.

Can atheists accept that God may show Himself only to the sincere seeker, thus making it impossible to demonstrate His existence to someone else?

Posted: August 13th 2011


I could conceive of such a god.

But we know (from a lot of psychological research) that people are good at seeing what they want to see, at deluding themselves. That’s why science is set up the way it is, to try to limit the situations in which that can happen (Look up “n rays” for a good example where this happened).

Across the world, there are lots of people with religious and supernatural beliefs who are sincerely seeking the confirmation of their beliefs, and are personally convinced that they have found such confirmation.

But many (most, perhaps) have beliefs that are in conflict – often significant conflict – with your beliefs. You can’t all be right. Now, it is possible that one of these groups is right and all the rest are wrong, but it’s much more likely that all of you are wrong.

Or, to put it another way, looking for evidence for something you really want to believe is true is a poor way of finding real evidence, but may be a good way of convincing yourself that you’ve found “evidence”.

As for faith, I was told many times of the value of faith, but from what I can see the only purpose of religious faith is to allow you to believe in something that you don’t have evidence for.

If god exists and is omniscient, he/she/them/it would clearly know what it would take for me to believe, and I don’t have that evidence.

That means one of the following is true:
1) God exists and doesn’t care if I believe or not.
2) God exists and actively doesn’t want me to believe.
3) God doesn’t exist.

The ball is, as they say, in god’s court.

Posted: August 15th 2011

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Galen Rose www

You say that the way one apprehends your god is to pray and receive “Knowledge … that will come . . . in very subtle ways.” Those “subtle ways” are the problem. We can convince ourselves of all kinds of subtleties.

Here’s what can happen with that approach. An online study of prayer was conducted in 1999-2000 by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. The purpose was to gain an assessment of “the will of God on the topic of same-sex marriage.” Participants were asked to note whether they were personally in favor of or opposed to same-sex marriages. Then they were asked to pray about the matter, seeking god’s will. Once they felt they had received an answer (or weren’t going to), they noted whether god was in favor of or opposed to same-sex marriages.

Of the 49 people who claimed to receive an answer from God, 26 were told he approved of gay marriage and 23 were told he disapproved – so did those answers come from god? But here’s the real kicker; of those who claimed to receive an answer, not one single person received an answer that conflicted with his or her own personal opinion. Clearly, the answer people got was whatever answer they expected to get.

Subtle signs just don’t cut it with atheists. If there’s really a god who wants our worship, then it should be obvious, so we can avoid dealing with subtle signs which many of us just don’t trust (and for very good reasons). An intelligent god would know this.

Posted: August 15th 2011

See all questions answered by Galen Rose

George Locke

What makes a “sincere seeker”? Do I have to want to believe in order to be a sincere seeker? If I decide what I want to find first and then go search earnestly to confirm my preconception, then my findings will be unreliable. If the engineers who designed airplanes did their research that way, we’d never get off the ground.

If on the other hand, a sincere seeker is merely one who uses the best of his abilities to discern the truth, well then I am a sincere seeker. Why hasn’t God revealed Himself to me?

People can convince themselves of anything. Salesmen convince themselves that their customers desperately need their products. Scientologists convince themselves of all kinds of nonsense. If I “desire to know” that the Moon is made of green cheese, if I read a bunch of propaganda suggesting that it is, and then I sit quietly thinking to myself, “I hope the Moon is made of cheese,” for hours a day and years on end, then you wouldn’t be surprised if I convince myself that the Moon really is made of cheese.

Your suggest that I should “desire to know God”, read Mormon scriptures, and “pray to know whether He exists”. These are exactly the techniques that people use to brainwash themselves. Don’t do it, and don’t expect others to take you seriously if you do!

Posted: August 15th 2011

See all questions answered by George Locke

Steve Zara www

I’m afraid that I really can’t accept that. It rejects all we have found about the world we live in using science and reason. It should be an undisputed fact that we are beings of matter, behaving as matter behaves. There is no magic in our souls, for our souls are the firing of uncountable cells in our amazing brains. Our brains are astonishingly complex, but there is no doubt that they work according to physics, and physics that we know to an huge level of precision. There is no room for spirit in that physics. It really is that simple.

You may hope that there is enough gap in the physics to allow for spirit, but there isn’t. Every time you drive a car, watch TV, use a computer, you are effectively performing an experiment to validate the physics that says there is no spirit, because those technologies test physics to a far greater degree than our brains do.

It’s a physical world we live in, not because we scientists want it to be, but because when we all look at and test the world a billion times a day, that’s what we see.

It’s true that we look for new physics, but we look at the extremes, using the LHC. There is no new physics in the brain, which is about as physically interesting as a housebrick. (It’s a good thing that there is no new physics in the brain – if the brain used LHC energies, then each thought would explode our heads)

The argument about spiritual experience is over. It should have been over centuries ago when a German chemist first made a biological chemical in his laboratory, showing that there was no magic vital force.

We are physical beings, and that is truly wonderful, because it is that fact that allows us to have brains and so minds.

Posted: August 15th 2011

See all questions answered by Steve Zara

brian thomson www

I will have no problem accepting anything that is supported by evidence. Where is the evidence that any god exists? Really – it’s that simple. Show me evidence that would hold up in court, not mere hearsay or testimony, and I will look at it.

On the other hand, I do have a problem with this “seek and ye shall find” notion. We people are fallible and suggestible, subject to biases and delusions. We can construct complex mental models and beautiful pictures, based on our desires, but they have no grounding in reality. The Biblical warning against building houses on sand doesn’t go far enough: theologists build castles in the sky with no foundations at all.

We simply can not trust ourselves exclusively, and need to have points of reference in reality if we want to avoid deluding ourselves. This is why supporting beliefs with evidence – real physical evidence, not mere words – is crucial: we can talk and think ourselves in to believing anything if we want it badly enough. Your “sincere desire to know God” is a ticket to self-delusion. I don’t have a “desire to know God”, sincere or otherwise: if your god wants my attention, he knows where I am – if you are right about him/her/it, that is.

Posted: August 15th 2011

See all questions answered by brian thomson


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