What would constitute evidence for God?

As a so-called New Atheist, one of the cornerstones of my worldview is that evidence is absolutely key in coming to any sort of important conclusion. To believe otherwise is to believe dangerously, at least when it comes to anything important. (Our belief that, for instance, a bridge isn’t going to collapse beneath us is an assumption, and so I exclude such beliefs when I use the word “important”.) That is, to believe something without evidence is to believe on faith. And, of course, that is entirely random; faith is not a method of belief by any means, but rather an arbitrary basis that can lead a person to absolutely any conclusion, including abortion clinic bombings, giving a homeless person a dollar, and committing war atrocities. In short, faith is the worst thing the world has ever seen.

So all that said, I reject faith fully. This is why I call myself an atheist: I am without any form of theism because there is no evidence in its favor. Indeed, there is no good evidence in favor of even deism. (I’m also an anti-theist, but for different reasons.) But I’ve often wondered, what sort of evidence would I accept as pointing towards a knowing, intervening creator? I recall Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers having a back and forth prior towards everyone in the New Atheist movement, including Coyne, shunning Myers for various reasons, so it was a civil exchange, but I don’t recall the details. All I remember now is that Coyne said there is possible evidence whereas Myers took the faith-based position in saying that no evidence could convince him. I won’t bother finding those posts since they aren’t especially relevant here. What is relevant is this B-level Onion article:

Researchers at Harvard University announced today that they have found what appears to be a message from God written inside the human genome.

In a little-explored section of non-coding DNA, a team of top geneticists discovered a 22-word snippet of ancient Aramaic in which God confirms his existence and his role in creating life on Earth.

The stunning finding represents nearly irrefutable evidence of God’s existence and his role in creating the process of evolution by natural selection.

The message was discovered when researchers noticed strange mathematical patterns appearing within a certain section of the genome.

“Hello my children. This is Yahweh, the one true Lord. You have found creation’s secret. Now share it peacefully with the world.

Again, this is an article in the style of TheOnion, a tongue-in-cheek piece meant to be funny. It comes from The Daily Currant, which has had some success in fooling people with its articles (not that that was their intention), but I’m not a big fan.

At any rate, this is a perfect example of what it would take to show me evidence God exists. It isn’t that if we find there are no hidden messages in our DNA we’ve falsified the God hypothesis. No, rather it’s that something like this would be strong evidence for the existence of a creator, I think. The odds that natural selection would, by chance, produce something so precise as this is very, very small.

Of course, let me take this moment to point out that natural selection is not actually a chance process. I only describe it as such in the above instance because natural selection acts to increase an organism’s ability to survive – it does not act to produce linguistic codes that translate into multiple sentences in order to form a coherent message. That is, natural selection is not a chance process, but for it to produce a lengthy message would be insanely freak chance since no part of its regular process leads to anything like messages. That old creationist chestnut about a tornado producing a 747 would actually have some applicability here.

So there we have it. There certainly is possible evidence for the existence of God, and I think this brings us to an important conclusion: God is a refutable hypothesis that can be subjected to the rigors of science just like anything else postulated to exist and/or have an affect on the Universe. The problem for theists is that they’ve never been able to present a test their particular, cultural god could pass.

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4 Responses

  1. Before one can produce evidence for god, one needs to properly define what god actually is. Different religions have different conceptions of god. E.g. if one would produce evindence for the existence of shiva, it wouldn’t help christians or muslims.

  2. “this is a perfect example of what it would take to show me evidence God exists”

    Actually not. The genome is large enough for random patterns to be matchable to at least short phrases. This reminds me of finding predictions of assassinations in Moby Dick:

    http://cs.anu.edu.au/people/bdm/dilugim/moby.html

    On the other hand, a sufficiently-long text in the genome would be suggestive. Or perhaps that some alien species had intervened some time ago and was having us on.

  3. That’s why I specified the length and complexity of the message, Lurker.

  4. Interesting question, having learned to question everything, and hopefully developed a sense of how to think logically, I cannot fathom any evidence that could or would prove without a doubt that some such supernatural entity exists, without violating the laws of physics/nature as we know them.

    So…said evidence would need to violate the laws of physics/nature first, then be attributable unquestionably to said supernatural entity second, and be verifiable through many sources of investigation third, before I would even begin to think it was possible…let alone likely.

    As I recall, PZ said something along the lines of: “if I started believing in god/s tomorrow, brain damage should be the first thing to consider”
    (that is from memory, so don’t shoot me for the quote) I don’t know if I would go that far…but damn near it. I would say the evidence would have to be very compelling, and even then I would be looking for the man behind curtain…

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