What could be considered "proof" of existence having a spiritual aspect?

According to an atheist, what would constitute “proof” or “evidence” of a spiritual aspect- that God, other spiritual forces, or anything of a spiritual nature actually exists?

The question is not “why what other people consider proof is not valid” but what WOULD count as empirical evidence that some thing or quality of the sort- supernatural, divine, spiritual, metaphysical, etc. is either absolutely real, or highly likely?

Posted: April 13th 2010


Like many things related to theism, there’s a definitional problem.

I don’t know what it means to say that something of a spiritual nature exists.

I’m presuming that for it to mean anything, it would mean that there are physical differences in things that physically exist in this world.

I personally would find a few of the biblical miracles to be worth further investigation – walking on water, changing water to wine, parting a sea, raising the dead, etc.

But you’ll note that those sort of miracles seem to be in pretty short supplly, and in fact when the Catholic church is looking to beatify a saint, they generally have a pretty hard time coming up with a miracle as justification.

And even with those sorts of miracles, I think you run ito Clarke’s law about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic.

Posted: April 16th 2010

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Stefan www

To prove something you need to have a reproducible natural effect. So for example if people who were prayed for recovered faster from illness than people who weren’t (in a randomized controlled double-blind trial with a large sample size), that would be evidence that something supernatural is going on.

One could then proceed to test whether all prayer worked or maybe only prayers to the Greek gods for instance. Pretty soon by process of elimination you’d find what properties of prayer have to be present for the effect to occur. You can then publish your results and establish which one is the right religion.

Instead we have a bunch of small poorly designed studies which mixed results and a few bigger ones with a negative result. So the efficacy of prayer (a claim that the Catholic church for example maintains) is shown not to work. Any belief system that includes it is demonstrably false.

Some claims move the goalpost so you can’t test them. Like aliens who are so advanced that they can dodge all our attempts to detect them. There is an infinite number of such claims. For instance yesterday a gnome appeared to me and gave me a six foot diamond. This morning he appeared again and took it back with him saying that “I wasn’t ready yet.” I tried to tell all my friends but nobody believed me!!

The point is that they shouldn’t! The burden of proof is on the claimant. Why? Because there are thousands if not millions of bizarre claims that people make. You have the same justification to believe in my gnome that you have to believe in UFOs or whatever. The amount of anecdotal evidence is irrelevant, since there are plenty of explanations why people would come up with the same fantasies, hallucinations, delusions etc., even independently. Writing it down doesn’t make anecdotal evidence any better, my gnome story is also written down. Age doesn’t make it better either, in two thousand years my gnome will still be fiction. Even if I manage to convince a billion people through rhetoric, psychology, missionary work and violence to believe in my gnome, it still wouldn’t make it any truer than it was when I made it up.

Reproducible effects are the only things that can be proven, everything else is in the realm of what we can never prove or disprove. Sure, it’s theoretically possible that there is some truth stuck in the realm of the untestable, but all such claims have the same level of reliability, which is zero.

Posted: April 16th 2010

See all questions answered by Stefan

brian thomson www

There’s a fundamental contradiction in the question. The existence of actual evidence for something brings it in to the realm of the “natural” i.e. evidence, by definition, is something we can scrutinize scientifically – and we do, where it actually exists. Or, conversely, the “supernatural” is that which can not be natural, for which no evidence could exist, even in theory.

For example: if there was a “God”, and it actually left evidence of its existence, then we’d naturally (!) examine that evidence in a naturalistic way. It would not be a “trigger” that turned scientists in to believers: to those of a scientific mindset, it would be a great subject for further study. (Think of the funding possibilities!)

Part of the problem is that the word “evidence” is misused in these debates. Scriptures, for example, are (first and foremost) books of testimony. They are evidence that people wrote them. They do not constitute evidence for the events they describe, any more than any other books do. Evidence, in the scientific or legal sense, exists independently of human observers or interpreters: totally different people, from different times and cultures, could look at the same things and come to the same conclusions independently.

Posted: April 15th 2010

See all questions answered by brian thomson

SmartLX www

What would be considered “proof” of the spiritual is actually pretty close to the kinds of events people already present as alleged proof: miracles, ghosts, prescience, divine visitations, impossible survivals and so on.

What’s missing is proof of the proof. If a tenth of the stuff people have claimed actually happened, that would be pretty definitive, but all we ever seem to get is hearsay. No credible footage or recordings, no due diligence to rule out natural phenomena, etc.

If you want to prove the supernatural, establish that something supernatural has actually happened, beyond reasonable doubt. That’s it.

Posted: April 15th 2010

See all questions answered by SmartLX


Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum