Can We Falsify God? Further Thoughts on God and Evidence


Summarizing last Thursday’s post and subsequent comments:

Let me state quite emphatically – we cannot falsify the statement, “God exist.” But before we celebrate too quickly…

For many atheists (and theists, oddly enough) comes the belief that for any significant statement claiming to be knowledge, there must be valid scientific data behind the statement. For instance, if John says, “Mr. Green killed Mary in the library with the candlestick,” he needs to have evidence showing that Mr. Green actually committed the murder. We could have a video of him doing it, a taped confession, fingerprints on the candlestick, blood patterns on Mr. Green’s jacket, and so on. This method of knowledge – having empirical data – seems to then be applied universally to all knowledge.

But is empirical, falsifiable data necessary for the foundation of all knowledge? The answer is no. The statement, “For a belief to be rational it must be empirically falsified” cannot be empirically falsified. In other words, it’s a self-contradiction. If we said, “Some beliefs, in order to be rational, but be empirically falsified” we could avoid the contradiction, but this would leave open the ground that some knowledge that is rational is not empirically falsifiable.

As I stated in the comments from the previous topic (much thanks to Arjan who suggested I add this into the original posting):

Correct. Evidence doesn’t suffice as a requirement for the reasonability in every belief. Since this is the case, we now have groundwork to see whether or not belief in God is rational or irrational without having to point to evidence. Also, I would contend that even if belief in God is rational, it doesn’t necessitate that the belief is true (what is rational does not always have to be true).

In other words, while some beliefs require physical evidence, other beliefs do not. That I currently exist does not need evidence as it is known to me a priori. That when I look at other people I know that they actually exist independent of my thinking has no evidence to support it, yet we would argue that it’s almost irrational to doubt that other minds exist. If a man claims his wife loves him he has no real evidence to point to in order to prove she loves him; he simply knows it. Even outward actions wouldn’t prove it as there could be an internal belief contrary to the outward actions (with the outward actions being performed as a matter of obligation); he simply trusts that she loves him.

Even if one were to make counter-examples and show why evidence is needed in some cases, such attempts are woefully inadequate and leave the emperor naked. The one making a universal epistemic claim must validate that claim in all instances of knowledge. Thus, it is up to the adherent of scientism to defend its assertion that all knowledge must be empirically falsifiable; all the critic has to do is point out one counter-example to show how such an epistemic system fails. Stating, “Well what’s your alternative” or calling this philosophical “mumbo-jumbo,” or even going on the offense against theism doesn’t change the fact that a hole has been poked in the wall of scientism and if not fixed the wall will collapse.

The whole point is that while evidence is necessary for many beliefs, it isn’t necessary for all beliefs, particularly when dealing with other minds. So is it reasonable to believe in God under such criteria? When we realize that traditional theism treats God as a person (that is, another mind) and not a scientific object, we see that we must approach the reasonability of God’s existence as another mind and not as an object of science. Some may argue this is special pleading or an attempt to avoid a debate, but it’s not. It’s simply setting the parameters of the debate to see whether or not belief in God is rational.

I would submit that the Ontological argument, specifically as recently argued by Alvin Plantinga, provides good grounds to show that belief in God is rational (though it does not necessitate that it is true; one can be rational, yet untrue). Logically it is air-tight. Though many people critique the argument they can rarely point out what’s wrong with it (if they follow the argument properly; most critiques of the argument are generally based on a poor understanding of the argument).

If I am correct, then believing in God is rational even if it is not falsifiable. The idea that we must falsify everything or have empirical evidence in order to obtain knowledge is a false epistemology to hold onto. Rather, if we work within the traditional elements of theism we see it’s far more appropriate to treat God as a person. This, coupled with the ontological argument, provides good grounds to state that believing in God is rational, though not necessarily true.

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7 thoughts on “Can We Falsify God? Further Thoughts on God and Evidence

  1. Yu’re combating verficationism right? So then by the sentence “For a belief to be rational it must be empirically falsified” do you actually mean “for a belief to be rational it must be empirically verifiable (or falsifiable)” ???? I’m not sure anyone has ever thought that empirically falsified beliefs are rational.

    I think thats what you actually mean, but you state it the same way twice so the meaning here is very confusing to anyone who doesnt know you. You may want to edit that.

    1. To be empirically falsifiable means that we can prove, via empirical methods, whether it’s true or not. So verification/falsifiability would be the same thing.

      1. No, I meant to type, “For a belief to be rational it must be empirically falsified,” which simply means it has to be tested. You could interchange it with the word “verified” and that would probably be a better word to use. To be falsifiable or falsified simply means that it can be tested or proven to be incorrect by physical verification. Thus, for a statement to be rational it must have the capacity to be empirically falsified.

  2. I try not to make things too difficult Joel. It’s been my experience that if something needs a complex round of logic applied to it the claim is probably wrong. In the case of God and is it a rational thought, I really don’t go that far. I just look at history, and see various Gods fall into disuse. I don’t presume that any current God is the “real” God. I also see how biblical facts have been disproved time and time again, and wonder what’s next? The Bible has some really good things to say about how we should be. It also has some really bad stuff in it that most Christians tend to shove in a dark corner somewhere. Why would God put things in His holy text that are wrong? I really don’t care what that answer is because I know it was written by people, and people can be wrong for whatever reason. One thing I find extremely interesting is this: As far as I know all Christians “cherry pick” things out of the Bible that they agree with. What is that thing that does the picking? Is God telling us to pick this and that, but gloss over the rest of His word? The cherry picker in our brains changes over time, too. It’s almost as if as we gain more knowledge and insight into ourselves and the world around us, we have a more rational idea of what we want, and what we don’t. I also think the Christian God is more than one “God”. The “God” that created the universe (whatever that God is), is different than the feeling a person gets when they fill that “hole in their heart” by accepting Jesus Christ into their life (I have not). The later is a redirected, or misdirected manifestation of the love for the opposite sex, and family. It’s very easy for me to see this because I’m constantly fighting anthropomorphizing my cats! I want to “love” them, but I know that’s probably not too healthy, so I just like them a lot. So that’s my rambling for today Joel. I hope you consider it as thoughtfully as I consider your blog postings.
    Thanks.

    1. I do appreciate the thoughts and you may be surprised to see that I partially agree with you. I do think that Christians cherry-pick things from the Bible in order to suit their beliefs. This is why we have different denominations…but I think this speaks more about humans than it does about the Bible. Our ability, or should I say inability, to perfectly interpret the Bible due to the limits of our noetic environment mixed with the limits of our intellectual faculties. When our interpretations concerning the Bible change it’s not that we’re necessarily cherry-picking (though this does happen), but recognizing that it’s written in a different literary style.

      For instance, why is it that we can treat Genesis 1 as a prose/narrative (therefore not literal), but not the Gospel of Luke? It’s not that we’re cherry-picking, but that both books were written by two different people in two different times under two different cultures, and so on. I think that atheists – and Christians – sometimes forget that the Bible is a collection of books written over the process of thousands of years (even some of the books were composed over hundreds of years). So of course some parts should be taken literally while other parts are certainly figurative. Then there are parts where we just don’t know, but we can certainly debate it.

      So you’re certainly correct that as our noetic environments change and as we gain in knowledge and experiences how we view the Bible will change. But I think this ultimately says more about us than it does about the Bible.

    2. “It’s been my experience that if something needs a complex round of logic applied to it the claim is probably wrong.”

      Daniel Dennett has said something of similar ilk in response to the Kalaam cosmological argument . William Lane Craig responded with “How strange to indict and argument because it appeals only the inquisitive and intelligent, in a word, to the ‘brights.'”

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