What would it take to convince you that there is/is not a god?
Discussions between religious believers and nonbelievers frequently come to a point at which one participant asks the other(s), “What would it take to convince you that there is/is not a god?”
My current answer to that question is this:
All I’d need to believe in to believe in god would be a direct, unequivocal, simultaneous revelation of him/her/itself to all humankind.
Sacred writings are insufficient – we already have plenty of those; they are only persuasive to those who, for psychological, emotional and sociological reasons are predisposed to believe them. Moreover, many of them contradict each other and there are no standardized criteria by which humanity can separate the wheat from the chaff.
Personal testimonies are insufficient – we already have plenty of those; they are totally subjective events, which can be described to, but not experienced by, others. Therefore, differing interpretations of the events are not easily resolved.
Traditions and creeds are insufficient – we already have plenty of those; many of them continue to be useful at the current time, and others have been discarded for more effective or humane alternatives.
Miracles are insufficient – we already have plenty of purported miracles that have, eventually, been explained as natural phenomena. Even if one grants that some events have not been explained – yet – as natural phenomena, the odds are that natural explanations for these events will be discovered eventually. Moreover, even if an event could only be explained as miraculous, then that explanation would raise a plethora of questions about the being that performed the miraculous act: its identity; its character; its intentions toward humankind…. A miracle, or a series of miracles, would not lead me immediately to the answer that “God A” or “God B” or “God Z” did it. Instead, a miracle or series of miracles would lead me to ask questions rather than jump to conclusions.
Why would I require a direct, unequivocal, simultaneous revelation to all humankind? First, if the revelation came to me alone, I’d have no way to ascertain whether it was revelation or imagination or hallucination. Second, if the revelation came to me and a group of others, those who did not share the experience would have no way to ascertain for themselves the reality of our experience. It seems that the best way to avoid the pitfalls of limited revelations like these would be a broad revelation of the sort that I prefer: direct, unequivocal, simultaneous, and shared among all humankind.
Instead of secrets, mysteries, exclusivity and faith, I ask for clarity, simplicity and inclusiveness. Is that too much to ask of a supreme being?
– the chaplain