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Existance of unprovables. - Ed's journal
Existance of unprovables.
Sometimes there are theological discussions down the pub.
Provoked by that we sometimes come to the question:
Does lack of proof, imply proof of lack.

Sometimes the discussion will stray onto whether you can prove unicorns don't exist.

That always seemed somehow unsatisfactory, and I think I've managed to piece together why.

The problem is with the definition of God. Put simply, if you could prove, definitively that God did or did not exist, then it wouldn't be God.

It's like asking if you can see something invisible - the answer is clearly 'no' because if you could, it wouldn't be invisible.

So you end up with a circular argument of belief - both on the parts of the theists, and the atheists alike, as they make their assertion about something that is by it's very nature impossible to prove - if you could prove, one way or another, that God exists, then you'd be the God.

But that leads on to an interesting train of thought - if you cannot prove it one way or another, it's a matter of faith. But ... it's largely an irrelevant question - debate all you like, but the point is none the less moot.

But from there... well, what then? If you can't prove it, then you have to accept someone elses assertion. Someone who ... we have no way of knowing whether they're telling the truth or not - all the tales in holy books are from people reporting their account of what happened. Why is that intrinsically more credible than any other written source?

To accept the assertion that 'There is a God' is one thing. You choose to, or not. Problem is in what daisy-chains off that assertion - I mean if you accept the notion that there _is_ a God, then you also accept the definition - which is that God is powerful enough that he could completely deceive you, if he so chose. I mean, that's why it's impossible to prove (true or false) in the first place, right?

That's where I start to get to a point of picking at the question - given that, how do we connect the spiritual teachings of a religion, to it's source? I mean, there's been all sorts of well meaning spiritual people over time. Some of them have even had some really neat and/or radical ideas about how people could live together. I don't see how it follows that that's any more the will of God than the idea I had the other day, of 'going down the Pub' - because without the possibility of proof, we lack the ability to differentiate the ideas that someone had - I can make an assertion, and say 'because God Said So', but why would you believe me, any more than ... well, the Pope say? Barring the education that the Pope has had, perhaps? I'd assume he's better read in scriptures than I am. But I bet I've read more Sci-Fi than he has.

Whatever. I'm not quite sure where this train of thought was going any more. Perhaps I'll complete it once I finish my musings.
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thepsion5 From: thepsion5 Date: July 10th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't see how it follows that that's any more the will of God than the idea I had the other day, of 'going down the Pub' - because without the possibility of proof, we lack the ability to differentiate the ideas that someone had - I can make an assertion, and say 'because God Said So', but why would you believe me, any more than ... well, the Pope say?

I think that this is where faith comes in - you believe something to be true in the complete absence of evidence. It's kind of funny that so many people who believe in a higher power - by nature supernatural - argue over evidence of that same higher power.

Isn't it a greater act of faith to believe in a higher power in the absence of evidence than to believe in concrete evidence that supports its existence? And isn't faith what religion and spirituality are all about?
sobrique From: sobrique Date: July 10th, 2009 06:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Yse. But where does it follow that because someone believes in God, that all these other facts must therefore be true?
That's kind of what I'm getting at - it's ok for God to be unprovable if the point of that is because it does define faith.

But how does the Pope get to know the will of God better than anyone else? Or do you need to have faith in the Pope, too? Despite being able to prove his existence.

The thing I'm sort of getting at is that 'does God exist' is implicitly a mystery, that you get to choose whether to believe or not. Whether $insert_spiritual_leader is full of crap or not, is ... not.

Edited at 2009-07-10 06:26 am (UTC)
jorune From: jorune Date: July 10th, 2009 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
"does it follow that because someone believes in God, that all these other facts must therefore be true? "

We can see this behaviour in those aspects of love which incorporates a trust between two persons. It is common for a Mother to believe in her children and what they tell her, to believe what they say even in the most difficult of circumstances. It is also a standard dramatic theme for two lovers to hold onto the ideal of each other through the years and decades even if separated, i.e. Homer's Odyssey.

Therefore it may follow in their subjective form of reality but not necessarily in an objective form of reality. That God exists subjectively is down to each person and cannot be definitively proven one way or the other. You can though argue over philosophies such as Free Will, Predestination, Works vs Deeds as to how and when Faith is received.
crashbarrier From: crashbarrier Date: July 10th, 2009 09:24 am (UTC) (Link)
My problem is not proving Unicorns do or do not exist.. but figuring out the definition of what a unicorn actually is...

I mean some say its an equine type creature with a horn in the centre of its fore head and feet cloven like a goat.. ... whcih may aor may not be able to purify water and be tamed by virginal people.

So given the diversity of life on the planet, and the way some people look at things it could be possible that this animal is maybe a mutant goat (some goats do occasionally have horns grow out from their foreheads due to a genetic quirk) or a mutant equine or something separate which has a passing resemblance to the the descriptor... which may or may not have died out due to lack of suitable gene pool to make the species viable.. Or it could just be a confuised description of a warhorse in armour, or even just made up by sailors and story tellers keen to improve their story tellings. we don't know..

When it comes down to the whole GOD thing then these days it is pretty much in the eye of the beholder. There is enough evidenc eeither way to both prove and disprove "God's" existance (if you ascribe the many miracles that occure directly to "his" door).

I believe all people should sit and consider from the evidence at hand what they believe, recognises that that is what they themselves and be happy with that... I don't however believe it is something that should shatter society destroy nations and pitch people into bloody conflict. There are truely far more important things in the world to worry about.
ash1977law From: ash1977law Date: July 10th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC) (Link)
if you ascribe the many miracles that occure directly to "his" door.

Which miracles? Could you point me in the direction of these many miracles? I'll settle for just one. You'd think that religions would parade miracles as proof, but as yet I've not seen the pope on his balcony telling people about a genuine miracle that can only be explained by there being a god and can not be attributed to natural phenomena and a human desire to beleive in some sky-father.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: July 10th, 2009 10:48 am (UTC) (Link)
In the Middle East (I'd have to ask my mum exactly where) is a slab of marble where an Imam is said to have been beheaded. That stone bleeds a trickle of fresh blood and has done for at least a century. The stone is now protected by glass to stop the stone corroding. As far as I know, no one has done a DNA test on it, but they did prove it was actually blood.

One of my dad's friends in Uganda is Hindu, and keeps a shrine in his garden. One night, when praying, the string of beeds in the hand of the statue started trailing sandalwood sawdust. It made a small heap about the same volume as the beeds he was holding. The only part of that statue that was sandalwood was the string of beeds, and they were completely undamaged when it stopped 3 days later. The sawdust was distributed to the (approx) 300 people who came to witness the miracle.

In 1990 the was a massive news story all around the UK, and in other countries around the world. All the statues of the Hindu god, Swaminarayan, started drinking milk from spoons. A guy came on the news saying it was because when they normally offered milk they didn't touch it to the stone, so having done so the large porous stone was sucking up the milk. Then the news presenter wordlessly picked up and showed a hollow metal statuette about 3 inches high. He put it down and offered it a teaspoon of milk, which it drank.

In India my mum went with her friend to the Hindu temple on a special occassion. The godess statue was roped off about 2 meters away. One of the girls in the crowd suddenly put her head back, stood up and started dancing. On the clear floor in front of them footprints of bright red dust appeared in the same pattern of footprints as the girl who was dancing. The dust turned out to be kunchoo (not sure about spelling) which is the red powder hindus use to make the red dot on their foreheads.

I can go on if you like. There's plenty more.
ash1977law From: ash1977law Date: July 10th, 2009 09:49 am (UTC) (Link)
You can prove the existance of invisible unicorns by seeing their actions upon the world - ie - if you can see their hoofprints as they make them, in such a way as you are sure that the hoofprints are being made then-and-there by an invisible hoofed quadraped rather than created by some horse in the past.

I will gladly convert on the spot if a religion can show me objective proof of god's existance such as an actual can-not-be-explained-without-god prophecy or an actual genuine can-not-be-explained-without-god miracle, or us meeting extra-terrestials and each alien race having the exact same religion* without there being prior contact between the races.

I will not accept the following as proof: placebo-effect faith healing, kind-of-vague prophecies, one prophecy 'hit' amongst a plethora unfufilled 'miss' prophecies, self-fufilling prophecy, subjective experience ("I know god is real because I feel him in my heart"), circular logic, historical 'miricles' or 'prophecies' that may have been 'missreported'.

To date I have yet to see the metaphysical hoofprints of god. Everything that we can observe about the universe can be explained without a god. Wielding good old Occam's Razor we show that god dosn't exist, or if he does he is supremly uninterested in communicating this fact to us.

* Does Jesus have to go to each planet to die for their sins? Can aliens sin differently, or is morallity universal. Interesting if we ever meet them.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: July 10th, 2009 10:26 am (UTC) (Link)
You can prove the existance of invisible unicorns by seeing their actions upon the world

If an invisible unicorn wandered around and people inferred that the cause was an invisible unicorn, other people would always argue it, say it was something else. Some people don't like to believe in things they can't see themselves.

I will gladly convert on the spot if a religion can show me objective proof of god's existance

If god created the world then our existence and the workings of the world is the demonstration of god's actions in our world. Because of the scale, and because of the way we think, despite potential evidence all around us, we will never see it. We don't know what we're looking for or how to tell when we've found it. All we can do is debate and reason out what kinds of signs are good enough evdence. For some people, they see plenty of proof all around them. Others don't see any, and probably never will.

such as an actual can-not-be-explained-without-god prophecy or an actual genuine can-not-be-explained-without-god miracle

Miracles occur within god's world, and therefore do not break the rules, but work within them. There may be things we currently can't explain how it happened, and call it magic or an act of god, but that may only be because we don't understand our world well enough to be able to explain it. Miracles, by my own thinking, are unusual or coincidental things that happen at a time and place where they will achieve something. We know the science behind the parting of the Red Sea. It could be the cleverness of Moses that he was there at the right time, or it could be god's will in action. Likewise the ten plagues, and many other mircales.

So there will never be that proof. Whether you accept the scant proof toted by others is up to you. But belief isn't a matter of evidence. It's quite separate. I believe in god despite rejecting any evidence that people try to present me with in favour of god's existence.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: July 10th, 2009 10:05 am (UTC) (Link)
This is similar to something I have pondered upon. If someone asserts that they speak messages from God, how do we know it's true? Why should we believe them?

In Islaam we have the prophet Mohammed, an illiterate man who was asked to read a passage by an angel, and found he could do so. Over the years the angel came to him and told him things at different times. So now we have a record of everything the angel said. But it doesn't automatically come with the context in which he was told it. So even if you could accept that those words are truely those god gave him, it is massively open to interpretation.

In Christianity it's the exact opposite. The disciples and other scholars wrote down the teachings and doings of a man they believed to be the son of god. So now all we have are interpretations, however well-meaning and potentially accurate.

People believe that miracles come from god, so if a miracle is involved in the learning and telling then the information is treated as verified 'word or god'. Then, following that, anyone who has studied and pondered those accepted words can be said to be speaking the will of god.

Personally I take a very different approach, that comes from a Quaker mindset. God is inside each and every one of us, and god's spirit, the divine within, speaks to us if we listen. Therefore any words spoken or written in a spirit of goodness and/or prayer should not be dissmissed. In Quakerism we are all exactly equal, we can all be god's prophets, we all have something to say or contribute that is of benefit to ourselves and to others. That gives us a huge wealth of writings and experiences. What matters is not whether each one is truely the word of god, because they all are. Instead we consider how those words relate to ourselves, our experiences and our thoughts, and try to take something from each one. But what matters even more than that is prayerful listening to what guides us inside ourselves, our morality and humanity and so on.

So in other words, if you tell me something based in sci-fi that really speaks to you and that is a deep truth spoken honestly, then there's no reason I shouldn't listen to that as well as I listen to the Pope's dictates. Except that because of the role of the Pope, I trust him more to speak to me from that deeper truth than I trust you to, because I know you like to play devil's advocate and explore concepts by saying things that you don't whole-heartedly believe. But in either case I would consider what each of you says with equal merit.

I know most people don't treat religious leaders and their teachings the way I do, but I think my way may give you another way of thinking things out.
queex From: queex Date: July 10th, 2009 10:26 am (UTC) (Link)
The problems surrounding certainty and faith go away if you apply a Bayesian approach. Rather than dwelling on proof, you allow yourself uncertainty and adapt in the face of evidence. You may well find your beliefs converging on God or God', but as a result of evidence.

Of course, what you believe on that front will affect how you interpret evidence, providing a positive feedback loop, but that's an innate problem of subjective reasoning. Besides, like it or not, human minds seem to work in a Bayesian manner.

People whose faith is strong typically don't allow any uncertainty (and similarly for the Dawkins of the world)- which is just another way of saying 'I am an idiot. If I am wrong about this, I will never even know it because I set my priors exceptionally foolishly'.
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: July 10th, 2009 11:13 am (UTC) (Link)
No, lack of proof is not proof of lack - as should be trivially obvious from a history of science. However, the things that people want to assert are usually not lacking proof; they're swimming in abundant evidence - it's just pointing the other way. People have been searching for evidence for the supernatural for years, and years, and found none. What's more in every case where something that has once had a supernatural explanation has been later understood, there has turned out to be a natural explanation.

More basically, the problem with believing in the evidence-free does not come from the belief but the desire to treat that belief as knowledge. It's not. It's an unsupported assertion. You can't reason from an unsupported assertion and expect to get anywhere meaningful.

And here we hit a small hitch: reality itself is an unsupportable assertion. We can't prove it; we can't demonstrate that the world need correspond to our senses; we can't show that the means of acquiring knowledge have any validity. Does this mean that anything we deduce from the world cannot be regarded as certain? Yes, I guess it does, but without the assumption of reality we can't go anywhere at all so what other option is there?
sobrique From: sobrique Date: July 10th, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that's kind of the point I was getting at - you cannot prove or disprove God, any more than you can prove or disprove reality, because order to do sou you would have had to transcend it.

The definition of a miracle is something unexplainable - and therefore if you can, it isn't any mnore.

None the less, you get "does God exist" in the same bin as "is reality real" fundamentally impossible to ever conclude and so something that you have to treat as one of the underlying assumptions in your worldview.
jorune From: jorune Date: July 10th, 2009 01:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
A perspective on whether God exists from Woody Allen's film Love and Death. Who can disagree with the wonderful Diane Keaton?

A perspective on life without God from Joss Whedon. He gave a speech after receiving an award from a student society at Havard. I think it is worth listening to because it is a positive speech about Humanism and what it should be trying to achieve. This makes a refreshing change from the majority of non/anti-religious commentary on the web which seems to engage in either shouting "You're wrong, we're right" ad nauseum, endless pedantic arguments or the obligatory "Why Atheism is not a Religion" comment which is written with missionary zeal and fervour. They can say that they're not part of a religion but they sure behave as if they were.

csi_ellie From: csi_ellie Date: July 12th, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
If I tell my son that I love him more than anything in the world, how does he know if I'm telling the truth? For me, I believe that God is like a benevolent father (not like Ming) and that he wants the best for me. All I need to do is ask, and if it's in my best interests, God will provide for me. To not believe that would be devestating.
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