TED Conversations

Bernard White


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Can we ever design an experiment which can determine whether God exists?

I just find it hard to believe when people say : "There is no evidence for God". Yes there isn't because we can't design an experiment to prove or disprove this hypothesis.
However a very important thing, Which I devoted a whole TED Debate to (Here is the link to that debate : http://www.ted.com/conversations/17001/can_god_be_defined_or_in_othe.html), is that to work out whether the hypothesis is true we must first define what we mean by "God" (and "existence" for that matter), which I have found doesn't prove to be very successful. Otherwise we can't advance into going to making experiment for this hypothesis.
In science (I believe) theories can only be disproved and never proved to be "certain", so in this sense everybody has to be an agnostic about God, unless some genius in the TED community can come up with an experiment.
While another problem remains that we base all data we have on experimental data we have gained from the past, and expect the future to be consistent.

So in this sense I am a strong agnostic / Ignostic because God hasn't really been defined (and only has subjective definitions) and that I can't genially think of an experiment to determine whether God exist of not. So yes in the literal sense there is no "evidence" but that's only because no experiment have been done.
(Also there remains the slight problem with the fact that there is a degree of uncertainness in everything, and that no matter how logical and rational a hypothesis may seem it can always be proved false, or untrue)

My final point would be I see no correlation with an absence of evidence, and an evidence of absence! (This is very important)

And of-course, I apologize for repeating myself (if I have done so!) and my awful spelling and grammar.
Just so I say now, so I get no confusion, this is just an honest enquiry as to whether it can be done! (Not trying to reduce "God" in any way!)


Closing Statement from Bernard White

I'm slightly worreid I won't do a good job of this summary but here I go :

I must first say this :
I implore everybody to look at my "new" God debate :
What does the theological implications do the "Psychology" and "Neuroscience" (and possibly biology) of religion/ "God(s)" have?
Link : http://www.ted.com/conversations/18226/what_does_the_theological_impl.html

This has been a wonderful debate with lots of interesting idea's. However I view, with the majority consensus, (and please correct me if I have got this wrong) that there isn't a experiment which can (dis)prove the existence of "God(s)".
I would just like to congratulate everybody for their amazing contributions to the conversation. It has given me a lot to ponder.
Kind regards (to all),

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    Apr 10 2013: I've been in a rather spiritual mood for the last day, and felt that if I was God, I probably would create the universe as it is.
    And I do pray to 'God' and find my prayers do gets answered more often than not! Yet this does go against my 'Strong Agnostic Ignostic' self.
    Hmm. I mean I accept God existence will never be known, and is beyond almost all method known to man. Like scientific method.
    Strange huh?
    Am interested in people's opinion, for I realise this could be a slight experiment for God? :)
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      Apr 11 2013: Hi Bernard,
      I probably wouldn't make a universe with so much suffering.
      I'd make one where animals dont need to kill or eat other living things to survive for starters.
      Child birth a bit easier etc.
      • Apr 11 2013: Hi Obey No1 ...!
        I sure understand what you mean! It can be pretty awful, much of the time!
        But, (from my obviously very different perspective), I have to ask; could this experience here be a really tough boot camp to get our attention - to begin to get us to ask some very important questions? And then to perhaps to move toward individual steps for answers.
        With the many years of acummulated evidence from my personal experiments; I've had to conclude that the boot camp scenario is a viable one.
        Question; you are now signing your comments with "ob", is it o:k for us to address you this way?
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          Apr 12 2013: (On a completely different matter, if you don't mind. I am just responding to this comment, because I'll know you will get it!) :-)
          If you read my Part 2 comment to "Mike Colera", that is pretty much why I doubt my intuition.
          I finally managed to put it into words which can be understood! :)
          Hope you enjoy, and it isn't offensive at all. (This was not my intent!)
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        Apr 11 2013: Obey,
        In reply to your question "do I think that God has a mind?"

        Based on the accepted fact that all of reality emerged from a singularity known as the big-bang, and the accepted fact that fundamental particles, upon which all of reality is based, are universal in nature, leads to the conclusion that everything has a common denominator. I do not believe that God is apart from this common denominator, I believe that God is just another expression of it. This changes the question to "do I believe that the universe has a mind?"

        Based on my own experiences, I believe that there is a collective consciousness that we can tap into. It is reiterated in many books regarding cosmic consciousness.
        Edgar Cayce, also known as the sleeping prophet, claims that the universe itself has a memory. He referred to it as the akashic records. There are books on this subject as well.
        Does this constitute a mind? I don't know the answer. I believe that our consciousness is not limited to the space between our ears, that there is a collective consciousness, and that this collective consciousness has often been referred to as the mind of God.
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          Apr 15 2013: Thanks for clarifying Roy.
          So some sort of cosmic consciousness, with memory, but perhaps not something we would consider a person, with intent? More of a collective with some momentum from combined vectors, but perhaps not a single intent.
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        Apr 11 2013: I probably would.
        Because then there would be no hard for gain (watch Dan Ariely new talk!) and that there has to be suffering (in comparison) for there to be pleasure.
        Also I would probably create something for my pet species to strive for, because realist ally life would be so boring if it was easy! And I would create something along the lines of synthetic happiness, yet most of all I wouldn't really care if my own pet species worshipped me or not.
        So the world I would create, would very similar to what the world is like today. Not saying that this makes God any more likely. :P
        I cant see any valid reason why I wouldn't want people to live in an illusion where everything is "okay", I would want people to prove their worth by struggling against my own creation, yet at the same time be happy to a certain extent (with synthetic happiness and the "hard work" thing.)

        Also with the availability heuristic there appears to be more suffering there actually is! How we remember the most "intense experiences" not the "most likely of time", just think of shopping Ques if you want a good example! (Like how the media creates this illusion, when we are actually living in the most peaceful time for our species!)

        However I can see what you mean! (There is no grantee though that I wouldn't change my mind of course like the old testament to new testament God does! :P)
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        Apr 15 2013: Obey,
        A collective consciousness with memory yes, but absolutely not a PERSON. We are talking an entire universe here. The entity we call God is the universe with all its processes collectively, not some being apart from it. The belief that God is separate from the universe was a claim made by organized religion so it wouldn't have to share its authority with science. It was a step in the wrong direction, and until it is done away with, religion will continue to delude people to the truth. I believe that meditation (prayer) allows us to integrate with cosmic consciousness to expand our awareness.

        The evolution of the universe follows a progressive evolutionary order. We are the product of that order. Could the collective consciousness fine tune conditions to allow life to evolve? I am leaning in that direction. Does such collective consciousness conform to what religions are teaching? The teachings are built on associations, metaphors, myths, personifications, etc. They are controversial because they are dealing with a multitude of conditions. Little of it can be taken for face value. It is meant to inspire, instruct, edify, warn, etc. But it also admonishes us not to judge another. Early cultures fell victim to idol worship and the outcome was horrific. Science allows us to weed out the misconceptions that religion fosters. Anyone who ignores science is asking for trouble.
    • Apr 11 2013: Hi Bernard!
      I don't think this is strange at all - just part of our special, individual journey. I would like to ask a (hopefully, non intrusive), question. Were the experiences of prayer and apparent answers ('call and response'?), an asking for help with a problem or a purposed experiencial experiment? If you feel comfortable with giving an answer - a simple 1st, 2nd or both would be interesting to me in understanding you as a person.
      I applaud your courage / humility in making this disclosure and it's dilemma for you.
      If our current evolutionary or developmental path is similar to other species. we may well have unrecognised abilities / technologies built in already which our current intellectual paradigms have no place for - sort of like the amazing properties of spider silk.
      If quantum physicist David Bohm was onto somethimg concerning 'implicate order' (or energy information fields, that order and record scales of organization that move upward into atomic and molecular organization of energy systems), then this could be a partial answer to the question of sensory functioning on scales we are currently only scraping the surface to understand.
      But, then we have the problem currently, of inter-communication. (Wittgenstein's thought experiment "Suppose everyone had a box with something in it; we call a beetle. No one can look into anyone else's box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.")
      Then add to this our propensity for over connecting things and experiences (ie. Is that a face in the clouds?).
      Is it the random, presenting itself as connectedness or is it syncronicity?
      What I applaud is that you are willing to have experience - so that you can then actually have something to critique and scrutinize.
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        Apr 11 2013: I mean I often find, as C.S Lewis said : "Praying is sometimes like posting a letter to a non-existent address".
        While sometimes I think I probably am deluding myself, yet accepting this brings me greater pleasure in an odd sense of way. I mean even if I knew (which ofcouse I view you never can) that God didn't exist, I probably would still pray to it for stress relief purposes.
        Yet if a "God" (after it was defined of course) was proved, I would never assume anything more than it existed, I would accept that it may be cruel or nice, and would never claim to know it's will.
        However I accept that I may be seeing order in randomness and it may be just me looking for the times "it did happen" rather than the times it didn't. And this is sort of what drove me to pantheism, this thought, and the thought that the universe didn't have to be as it is. It just doesn't, I mean we could live in a universe where the laws of nature change every few seconds. (I don't believe this requires a personal God in any way though, and often get confused when people says it does!)
        While I accept that most of the arguments which are Pro-God are usually not very valid. (E.G the ontological argument!)
        Yet with the whole "prayer" thing, I must accept that there are many possibilities, maybe God like me more than other people (a possibilities no matter how cruel) or that God answers everybody prayers in ways which aren't bound instantly, God gives you what you need not want sort of thing. Quite hard to explain.
        Yet I am ready to admit I may be deluding myself, which in my opinion is the most probable, and am probably falling for a form of "wish fulfilment theory".
        I mean I can explain the whole of God in these 4 simple psychological effects :
        - Theory of mind
        - Artificialism (as a seen in Piaget’s “theory of cognitive development”) where we view that there is purpose in things, when there isn't.
        - Cognitive Dissonance
        - Wish fulfilment theory + Reduce in anxiety through finding meaning.
        • Apr 12 2013: Hi bernard!
          Some good points also! I can't give you a thumbs up - when I tried. It seems that TED believes that you have exceeded your alotted number of those - you naughty boy! :D.
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        Apr 11 2013: Jordan,
        In reply to your comment to me;
        I believe that religious leaders in Galileo's time saw modern science as a competitor rather than an ally, and have done all in their power to alienate their followers to any scientific information that would challenge their authority. As a result, any scientific information that could've provided credence to the notion of God (as the supreme power) has been dismissed by the religious community as erroneous since it would infringe on their territory. To support their view, they have put their focus on a God that is apart from reality, but in fact, have created a fictitious God to replace the real thing.

        The scientist has dismissed this fictitious God, and rightly so, but is discovering something transcendent in its own field that is paralleling mystical views of a transcendent power, but doesn't call it God because it doesn't coincide with the modern definition of God.

        Bernard is trying to find a way to scientifically prove that this fictitious God promoted by fundamentalists is in fact truly fictitious.

        I wrote a book trying to merge science and religion together. A Moody Bible Institute student commented on it claiming that like other books on the subject, it asks religion to bend its knee to science. He's right. And the sooner it happens, the sooner we can start to weed out the misconceptions on what God is not.
        • Apr 12 2013: Hi Roy!
          Some good points! Competition for adhernts by groups (religious or 'secular' ideologies), are competition for power - often political. It makes them feel more secure.
          So as you suggest, religions and ideologies are faith-based in one way or another. Honest inquiry and personal, experiencial or experimental exploration shows much more promise in getting to an answer that works.
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          Apr 12 2013: I can't remember where it is now!
          Yet I can wrote a comment somewhere saying that religion and science shouldn't be in conflict for they are just two different ways of looking at the same world, one relying on "rational logical thinking, which usually has to be backed up by evidence" and the other relying on a perspective on a "intuitive, emotional, subjective, experience" view of the world.
          It's interested that you note that most ideologies are faith based as well, that would make a lot of sense to me!
          However, as I have said, I will never know whether this God you speak of exists, for it could just be a giant squid. I'll never know, and I'm happy with this.
          Unless you can see a flaw, in me saying : Ill never know! :P
        • Apr 16 2013: Hi Roy!
          I've been to your site, very interesting work!
          I'm definately adding your book to my 'to read' list!
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      Apr 12 2013: Bernard,
      What I find is that people deny God based on the current definition.

      Someone shows you a drawn picture of a cell and tells you that this is what a cell is. Then they tell you that you are made up of cells and you try to imagine yourself as made up of a bunch of these pictures. The fact is that you have to see beyond the picture to what a real cell is before you can come to any true understanding of what you are made of. If anyone tries to convince you that the picture is real, well you know that it is not. But there is such a thing as a real cell as opposed to the picture. That is the problem that we have in our current understanding of God.

      "I will never know whether this God you speak of exists, for it could just be a giant squid."

      From this context, your analogy is correct. Ancient cultures personified what God is, and now the focus is on the personification. You are correct in assuming that the personification is not real. The Catholic Church further aggravated the problem by declaring that God is apart from reality. So now concepts of God are not reality based but are non-reality based. Science is looking at the creative forces of nature and religion is proclaiming that there is a God responsible for creating the creative forces of nature, and then tries to convince you that the two are separate ideas. Take the God responsible for creating the creative forces of nature out of the picture and try to see the creative forces of nature directly as God. God is not apart from quantum energy fields, quantum energy fields are a scientific expression of what God is. Religion has created a false image, and you are correct in denying that any false image exists.
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        Apr 12 2013: So what definition of God would you say people could accept?
        I mean I have met some scientists (who are very clever people) who are convinced that there probably is a deist / pantheistic God. While I do not see how a "Deist/Pantheistic God" would interven in science, as many say : Science is the "how", Religion is the "why".
        I would be interested into how you would respond?
        Because I believe that according to the Catholic church, as you said,, God was originally just mean to be the "un-caused uncomprehending essence that is the primary cause of everything which governs (+created) the universe", and then to make it easier to comprehend they kind of personified it into a big man with a white beard sort of thing.

        As I have said many a time (:D) I just find God is a poorly defined hypothesis which tries to explain the cause of the universe, which has no observational or experimental evidence to it. And therefore just remains a simple hypothesis.

        Therefore I find I have to be a strong agnostic, unless someone finds some evidence either way.
        ( I have never got the belief argument, which goes knowledge and belief are separate. I'v always felt that once you "know something" there is no point in believing in it sort of thing. I mean if I know this glass of water is poisonous (beyond reasonable doubt, I mean I know there is a slight probability of it not being poisonous) then there is no point saying "I believe it does".
        I'v explained this quite badly haven't I?
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          Apr 12 2013: Quantum energy fields are the most fundamental basis of matter. They are everywhere. They are invisible. They are perfect. They are what is doing the creating. They are in essence, the creator. God is not apart from them. They are all part of what God is. This is hard to accept because every time we hear the word God, a personification pops up into our head. We have to push the personification aside.

          Science deals with structure; quantum energy fields > subatomic particles > atoms > molecules > cells > organic systems > organism, and so forth. There is no problem in seeing the world in this way. It doesn't go against any true notion of God, it goes against all false notions of God. So get rid of the false notions and hold on to what you know is true.

          Religion deals with morals and ethics. I believe that harmony with the laws of nature and spirit constitute true religion. Religion deals more with the spiritual than the physical. What we can do by working with the laws of nature is all that we have done, and all that is possible that has not yet been done. By the same token, disregard the rules and see what happens! Industrial accidents are tragic. Religion is about rules and they are all derived from the foundation up. Our laws are based on creating peaceful coexistence and eventual co-creation with the creator (with exception of those that are tweaked to give certain people advantage over others).

          Take the big bang; we can explain what happened after. We cannot explain what led up to it. To use this as evidence of God is false. this is not an explanation for God, but a complete lack of it. So don't use it. The creator is that which is doing the creating. The word is built on right brain associations. Thus, the hand of God is the shaping forces of nature in action, not that God actually has a hand. It's only a metaphor. Fundamentalists are caught up in the words and can't see beyond them. You are smarter than that.
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        Apr 12 2013: (Sorry the reply thing is becoming slightly odd now, :P)
        Interesting, so maybe we have mis-defined God, if we still want it to have the attachment of a creator?
        I must admit, I do not feel I understand you well enough, if you don't mind me saying. I agree with the gist of what you are saying (if I understand it correctly!), yet do not have a knowledge of science (in physics, so I don't really know what a Quatum energy field is! :S)to compare to yours. :)
        And I feel I can only really comment on things I know, so I will try to keep my questions simple. :)
        I find your thoughts on God and the Big bang very reasonable though to be honest, that is why I ask :
        Maybe we have mis-defined God, if we still want it to have the attachment of a creator?
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      Apr 12 2013: Bernard,
      The right brain perceives things in associations, so that is why the creative forces of nature are regarded as "a creator" by those who perceive in a right -brain perspective. All of the forces of nature were personified by ancient cultures as a means to try and understand them. We must understand that the personifications were imaginary characters meant to represent forces that were not understood. But history also reveals that the personifications were later regarded as real by those who slipped into the false ideas of idol worship. They couldn't distinguish between what was real and what was imaginary. This was the task of the Israelites, to get rid of idol worship, but they later succumbed to it themselves.

      The big bang begins with a singularity. It then unfolds into the myriad of forces that make up the physical world. These forces follow an evolutionary progression. The singularity is represented as God by the mystics because it is not quantifiable (cannot be measured or explained). The reason the imaginary character remains with us is because it allows us to transcend into the spiritual realm, the realm of pure thought where nothing physical exists, but where ideas alone exist. We take the ideas and then convert them into physical realities through creative expression.

      God is not a character, it is the life force of the cosmos. It permeates everything that exists. That is why ancient cultures saw nothing that was not attributable to God. Modern religion tries to define the character as if the character itself is real and uses it to argue against the evidence of science. I saw through this misconception. At first I was an agnostic. But spiritual experience led me to explore the matter further. My conception of God has gone through a metamorphosis that is now in total harmony with science. I had to weed out the misconceptions and abandon all my prior notions of God.
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        Apr 12 2013: So your pantheist? :)
        Then I would agree you, yet many would accuse "us" of playing semantics, how would you respond?
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      Apr 12 2013: According to Karen Armstrong in "A History of God", the conception of God has never remained constant. All ancient cultures had their own separate gods. The similarities are apparent, yet the differences are quite notable. These too have evolved over time.

      The Catholic Church has their doctrines, yet the history of the church has its dark side, the witch hunts being the most severe. The thought process they present is that after 2000 years they should've been able to figure it out by now. But their contrast with science is constantly being shot down by overwhelming evidence.
      When Martin Luther nailed his 95 treatises to the church door at Wittenberg, he saw discrepancies in what the church taught. Since then, there are over 40,000 different versions of Christianity throughout the world.

      Pantheism is the belief that the laws of nature and all that has come about because of them is God. But the belief coincides with the notion that the universe has no spirit. Although I agree with the former, I don't agree with the latter. The experiences that I have had are similar to what others refer to as cosmic consciousness. the Catholic Church regards communion with God to be in a celebration of the mass. My communion with God is in communication with a transcendent realm. It is in this communication that God becomes personal.

      As far as Christianity goes, I can correlate the Judeo-Christian tradition with the National cycle of the Mayan calendar as if the events were predestined. I am a non-denominational Christian with Pantheistic beliefs. How's that for semantics?
      • Apr 13 2013: Hi Roy!
        Interesting input! Question; do you mean pantheistic or panpsychistic (many gods, or god in or underneath everywhere, everything)?
        From looking at your comments over all, I'm beginning to feel that we may have experience in common. You can checkout my experience at; TrueAscensionLLC.com
        Perhaps we can compare and contrast our experiences?
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        Apr 15 2013: I enjoyed that book by Karen. Very enlightening.
    • Apr 13 2013: HI Bernard!
      I'm not affended at all! We both respect and enjoy each other - perhaps because we are at such different places. You make some good points, which I appreciate and accept. And yet you say (if I'm understanding you correctly), that you are looking and have yet to find evidence that you feel can't be easily explained away by the well known mechanisms that can delude us. We are both at a point where we are talking about assessment of personal evidence. Experiencial evidence (like all evidence from experiments), should proceed from a premise or a hypothisis, proceed to evidence gathering, which must be repeatable - over and over and over ... This takes time - alot of it. It takes serious work of analysis of results, before sharing said results. It takes peer review by those who are working in the same experimental areas, for consensus building.
      All of this is now going on, in the subject area we are discussing - how to interpret the results of experiencial evidence. May I suggest a couple of fairly light readings (they need to be light for my dull wit to comprehend): "Entangled Minds", by Deen Radin of PEAR, SRI and Institute for Noetic Sciences and Russlell Targ's "The Reality of ESP". Both of these books cite the ongoing evidence accumulation for consciousness functioning, as a seperate phenomenon from electro-chemical brain function. These are not hypothetical ponderings.
      Personally, My money is on a David Bohm like functioning of our 'physical' senses on an "Implicate" energy- information scale. But who knows at this point.
      So, I would posit that if a community of explorers are reporting certain results to experiments, then an answer could lay in joining the experimental process.
      This point of insistance has not endeared me to some, but you may see that it does make logical sense. Some talk and others do - and then, talk.
      If a divinity exists, on a level of energy-information scale/dimension below our usual experience, then ...
      Your Friend,
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        Apr 13 2013: Jordan,
        I had to look up the word panpsychistic as I was not aware of it. Pantheism is the belief that the forces of nature are the expression of God, not that some God created them, but rather that God is those forces.

        I briefly viewed your site. I say that we do have something in common. Mankind is capable of transcendent experiences. We are not limited to learning from outside sources, we are capable of inner experiences that lead to deeper awareness, what Eastern philosophy regards as awakening.

        You have rightly said that the word God has been misrepresented, which makes Bernard's question a difficult one since most people have preconceived misconceptions of what it means. How can you develop a scientific experiment to prove or disprove what you cannot define?
        Personal experience helps one to develop an understanding of what the word God means. This was the challenge of Eastern philosophy. A lot of Eastern philosophy is presented in the bible, but none of it is explained in the bible. Anyone who uses the bible alone to validate their faith has little to no information to expand their faith. And yes, many churches have misrepresented the word God to intimidate and control their converts. I believe that Bernard is trying to find a way to determine the truth by his question.

        I too have a website;
        Check out the youtube video. It will give you a hint of my background experience.
        • Apr 14 2013: Hi Roy!
          Thanks for your comments and your web site URL. I have created a shortcut to it and will check it out tommorrow first thing. Its 9 PM here, Ive been working until about 15 mins. ago. My wife just came home and we need to have some dinner and get some rest.
          I agree with you about christianity. All religions are human constructs. Many are based on kernals of truth and true inspiration, but they are relying on second-hand revelation. I think people often prefer religious thinking and behavior because it is a useful self-deception / defence mechanism - a way of trying to hide in plain sight. They secretly fear personal involvement with Divine but, can 'feel' good about going through the motions and being part of a group-mind that are also doing the same set of defence behaviors.
          Thanks again! I'll talk to you again soon!
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        Apr 13 2013: Sorry which was this replying to!
        Am getting quite lost in all these comments!

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