to the person who wrote the responses in the notable correspondence section:
i’ve read about half of the exchanges in that section. according to your responses, you seem to believe it is possible that there might one day be sufficient evidence for belief in god, and that “strong” atheists have no “philosophical leg to stand on.” i think this, at the very least, poses a definitional problem.
if you accept that it is possible for god to exist, you must believe that the notion of god is coherent. it seems clear, however, that you do not think that the notion of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent god is coherent (omniscience, omnipresence aside). so exactly what type of god is it that you feel there one day might be sufficient evidence for? it certainly doesn’t seem to be the theistic god…
i think the problem extends further, however. it seems to me that it is no longer possible to entertain a notion of a god that is not supernatural, because of what we know about the world. if your notion of god is that of a supernatural entity, then i do not see how you can allow that any empirical evidence will one day make his (or her, whatever) existence plausible. if you claim that there one day might be logical evidence for belief in god, in the form of an argument perhaps, it seems to me you would have to concede to the theist that on logical/metaphysical grounds that his/her position is as valid as yours, provided you agree on a definition of god that has not as of yet been shown logically incoherent.
it seems to me that allowing for the possibility of an existence of a supernatural god would not give you any grounds for rejecting mysticism, but is that a concession you are willing to make?
so, yes, i don’t think you are atheist enough….
I really appreciate the excellent letter! I’m guessing you have spent some time on this subject, because most people I encounter don’t discuss these topics as well as you.
You bring up some excellent points, and I agree that my position needs to be made a little more clear. Here goes:
1) The definition of “god” is, as you say, a big, big problem. Most definitions of god that I’ve encountered are either unworkably vague or have holes in them you can drive a truck through. When I think of the possibility of there being a god (or gods), I generally think in terms of “a conscious entity that willfully created the universe.” A deity could have other attributes as well, but the arguments I’ve seen for assigning these attributes have all appeared to be rather weak.
2) I disagree with atheists who say “there is no god” because I don’t see any way to prove that there is no god. For example, it seems impossible to disprove the possibility of a prime mover that left after the moment of creation, and such a prime mover would fit my definition of a god.
3) I think it’s a bit conceited for an atheist to say that there is no possible proof for a god’s existence that they haven’t thought of. I’m sure there are plenty of things I haven’t thought of.
4) I consider the possibility of proof of a deity’s existence through personal revelation. An omnipotent deity could make me believe He existed and I would consider this sufficient proof (because I would have no choice). This proof would not be compelling to anyone but me, however (they’d probably think I was nuts).
5) I don’t see the likelihood of either empirical or logical evidence for a deity that can get past Occam’s razor. If there is such a thing, it’ll have to be pretty spectacular.
6) I don’t think that my admitting the possibility of a logical argument I hadn’t thought of puts me on the same footing as a theist. First, the theistic position fails Occam’s razor (at least for me). And second, theists generally don’t believe in a deity because of the possibility of a proof — they either think they have a proof or don’t believe that proof is necessary. (As an aside, you’re right about a theist and me having to agree on a definition of god before we could have any kind of agreement — I haven’t had much luck with that
7) I do not reject mysticism. I also don’t see any evidence for it.
I hope this makes my position more clear. Let me know if I missed anything.
In: Agnosticism, Defining god, Discussion