The evidence for God

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne takes PZ to task (“On P.Z. Myers on evidence for a god“) because PZ asserts that he won’t be persuaded of a god’s existence.  Presumably, Coyne thinks that PZ is being just a tad too dogmatic.  After all, PZ can only go on the absence of any evidence of God, and that no evidence has been seen does not prove that there is no God.

I want to suggest that is all wrong.  In fact there is an enormous amount of evidence of God, and both PZ and Coyne are well aware of that evidence.  That PZ firmly rejects religion, and that Coyne rejects it not quite as firmly, is because they are well aware of the evidence.  For what is clear to anybody who has looked carefully enough at the wealth of evidence, is that God is a cultural construct.  I am suggesting that PZ is not going by the weak “I haven’t seen any evidence of God”, but instead is going by the quite strong evidence of God as a cultural construct.

We should be clear, that there is nothing inherently wrong with cultural constructs.  As I write this, it is a fall Sunday.  And many people will spend time today watching football.  The game of football is a cultural construct, and evidently one that many people value.  For sure, there is a physical component to football.  But if we were to watch football purely as physical activity, then we would be watching inane (and perhaps insane) behavior.  It is the culturally constructed game that makes those physical activities meaningful.

Come to think of it, I am writing this post for the blogosphere, which is another cultural construct.

If there is nothing inherently wrong with cultural constructs, why do atheists reject God?  It seems to me that their rejection is because they find the associated culture to be abhorrent.  They see the culture of theism as promoting ignorance, intolerance and hate, and they want to have nothing to do with such a culture.

Advertisements

9 Comments to “The evidence for God”

  1. Yes, there’s plenty of evidence of “God” the literary character and cultural pre-text. That God has thousands of avatars across human history. But the God being referred to by P.Z. and Coyne is the God is supernatural agent that is credited with creating the universe and everything in it, and that takes interest in the actions and thoughts of individual people. The evidence for that God is wanting, to say the least. P.Z.’s point is that the very idea of that God is incoherent. That God is impossible, so why pretend that that there might be something, somewhere, somehow that serves as evidence of that God?

    Like

    • I don’t actually have any important disagreement with PZ or Coyne about this. I was just looking at it from a different perspective.

      We have the interesting phenomenon, that millions (perhaps billions) of people assert belief in a God. So it is an interesting question of cognitive science, as to how that is possible. I see the idea of cultural constructs, and our ability to incorporate those constructs into our lives, as the best way of looking at that.

      Like

      • “We have the interesting phenomenon, that millions (perhaps billions) of people assert belief in a God.”

        This may be interesting, but I would think the plural “phenomena” is better than the singular “phenomenon.” It’s a rather important distinction because assertions in the existence of gods take several forms, from theophany to songs/incantations to private meditation to rapturous moments on hillsides. It’s hard to separate assertions of gods from experiences of grandeur/godliness and from rituals performed in traditional service to the gods.

        My point is that the facile claim of people asserting belief in God probably becomes more problematic when we try to understand exactly what it is people may or may not be asserting. They may be asserting a sincere belief in a god or they may be asserting belief in belief.

        What’s your sense of memes and how traditions work? Do you favor the meme theories of culture?

        Like

      • [ The blog software apparently allows comment replies only 3 deep ]

        Personally, I’m not a big fan of the “meme” theory of culture, but using that as a metaphor is okay.

        I’m a mathematician, and much (perhaps all) of mathematics is a cultural construct, so I don’t have a problem with the idea of cultural constructs.

        In terms of religion, I would guess that people see themselves getting something of value from participation in the religious community. Whether they are correct about that, is of course a different question.

        Like

  2. Wait, so if math and God are “cultural constructs”, then would it not also follow that “science” is a cultural construct? After all, science is done by people who do use math, for the most part, since science does rely on quantification, and we use mathematics to derive our predictions of what quantity we should see in experiments. Seems like we’re getting to that old Protagoras saying of “Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not”. This would seem to mean that those theoretical entities, like atoms and etc, are “cultural constructs”.

    Like

    • Wait, so if math and God are “cultural constructs”, then would it not also follow that “science” is a cultural construct?

      Well, sure, science as an institution is a cultural construct. That’s not even controversial. It is analogous to saying that religion, as an institution is a cultural construct. And nobody would argue with that, particularly seeing that there are many different religions.

      A more relevant question would be whether things studied by science, such as electricity, earthquakes, etc, are cultural constructs. And most people agree that they are not. Those things have a reality that is independent of culture. By contrast, nobody has ever provided evidence that would show God to have a reality that is independent of culture.

      This would seem to mean that those theoretical entities, like atoms and etc, are “cultural constructs”.

      No, that does not follow. There are some anti-realist philosophers who say that atoms are only theoretical entities. But most people find that implausible, though it is a legitimate philosophical position.

      Like

      • “A more relevant question would be whether things studied by science, such as electricity, earthquakes, etc, are cultural constructs. And most people agree that they are not.”

        You mean most people indoctrinated into a culture would agree that they are not. No doubt that people have an experience that they “call” earthquakes and etc. But those are cultural constructs. And electricity itself is a cultural construct, since you agree that science is a cultural construct. And electricity was a term created and defined within that culture.

        “By contrast, nobody has ever provided evidence that would show God to have a reality that is independent of culture.”

        That’s because a different culture would call it something else that isn’t labeled “God”. So it wouldn’t be considered evidence, besides “evidence” being an extremely vague word.

        “No, that does not follow. There are some anti-realist philosophers who say that atoms are only theoretical entities. But most people find that implausible, though it is a legitimate philosophical position.”

        What most people find “implausible” has nothing to do with it, since that is based on cultural constructs and indoctrination to accept that view. Besides, “atoms” is something used in, what you agreed to, the cultural construct of science. And you, as you admitted to, said that math is a cultural construct. And atoms are usually defined based on math. So it has two strikes against it. It is based on the cultural construct of science and math.

        Like

      • You mean most people indoctrinated into a culture would agree that they are not. No doubt that people have an experience that they “call” earthquakes and etc. But those are cultural constructs. And electricity itself is a cultural construct, since you agree that science is a cultural construct. And electricity was a term created and defined within that culture.

        If I turn on the light, I can see in the dark.

        If somebody from a completely different culture, who has never heard of electricity should enter the room, he would be able to see in the dark, too. So, no, electricity is not a cultural construct.

        How we formulate our descriptions of electricity has a cultural component. The ways that we use electricity has a cultural component. But electricity itself is not a cultural construct.

        Like

        • “How we formulate our descriptions of electricity has a cultural component. The ways that we use electricity has a cultural component. But electricity itself is not a cultural construct.”

          Sure, electricity itself, is a cultural construct. It is no where to be found in actual experience. You *attribute* some actual experiences to it, but that is just an attribution that you give it, not what it is. And of course electricity itself is a cultural construct. It is one that you’re taught, and one that you’re taught to attribute to certain experiences. You become indoctrinated to view experiences under those constructs. It’s not because that’s what it is, but that’s what you’ve been taught to call it. Like Carl G. Hemple said, “Take a scientific theory such as the atomic theory of matter. The evidence on which it rests may be described in terms of referring to directly observable phenomena, namely to certain “macroscopic” aspects of the various experimental and observational data which are relevant to the theory. On the other hand, the theory itself contains a large number of highly abstract, non-observational terms such as “atom”, “electron”, “nucleus”, “dissociation”, “valence” and others, none of which figures in the description of the observational data.” Studies in the Logic of Confirmation (I) pg. 4

          This “electricity itself”, is definitely a cultural construct, and is applied to the observations, but they aren’t discovered in those observations. It’s highly abstract, and one defined by a social group of people, and taught to others.

          Like

%d bloggers like this: