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 17 2013: k... I didn't read any other comments so sorry if this has already been said.

    No we can't ever propose an experiment which disproves the existence of God.
    And this is because of a very simple reason.... "brain in a vat".

    You can ALWAYS say that "all of our observations/experiences are illusions" which are placed there by some external thing (God or a machine or perhaps a physical illusion... you can go on with even stranger ideas if you want).

    In your own post you point out that in science you can't really prove something is true... you can only prove something is false given some premises.
    The brain in a vat argument tells you that all premises could be illusions.... So you can use this argument to destroy all knowledge we have.

    There is not a single argument you can bring against that... except that the idea is far fetched.

    We can however make it more/less likely for religion to be a human fabrication by discovering things about the human nature and other types of research.
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      Apr 17 2013: I love this comment!
      I have been trying to tell people something on this idea, for ages.
      Yet you have just put it beautifully into words!
      While I do feel that if we are "brain in vats" or if I am an illusion, then I still exist, just in a different form. (I'm a line of coding! Yay!)
      However it does depend how you define "existence" doesn't it? :P
      • Apr 17 2013: "While I do feel that if we are "brain in vats" or if I am an illusion, then I still exist, just in a different form. (I'm a line of coding! Yay!)"

        When I freely translate that into historical context it would be "I think therefor I am" (cogito ergo sum) - Descartes. He argued that even if you cannot be sure of anything the fact that you can think about being unsure means that 'you' must be somewhere.

        Ofcourse, like you also mentioned, it does depend on how you define existence (or 'being' in Descartes reasoning).
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      Apr 17 2013: This does not stop inductive and bayesian logic to be valid.

      It is reasoning with clearly stating your assumptions.

      Furthermore, occam's razor implies that redundant assumptions need not to be taken into account.
      So explanation A is better than explanation B if B=A+god (it's adding 0 information value)

      When adding fantasy, call it fantasy and not valid.

      Furthermore, a brain in a vat will assume that one connot generate knowledge ex nihilo (an algorithm cannot increase in complexity unless there is outside information added). This implies that you'll need to assume that "everything" is the "brain in that vat".
      I call this everything "reality", but if you want to call it "illusion", then we are discussing semantics.

      So something is true within "the brain in the vat". You cannot make truth claims about something that is outside it (if you could, it would be part of it).

      So you are back at square one: partial information to inform you about somthing bigger (probably finite). In that finite space, the probabilty of a god is getting lower the more we discover (Boltzmann style)

      So I agree with White
      • Apr 17 2013: You write that as if you disagree with me... But I don't really see where.

        In science we have assumptions about the world (which allow for the inductive reasoning to take place).
        You could say that given the premise that "what we can observe is reality" we can conclude that ..insert scientific findings.......

        But for religion you can't because "In the beginning there was nothing.... then God created blabla" this in itself lifts God above what we can observe. And therefor we cannot assume the same premisses that we do in science.

        Science is perfectly fine if you always include the premise of "in this universe we can observe ....." (which science actually does but it's not clear to many people that this is one of the premisses).
        Or as you put it that "You cannot make truth claims about something that is outside it" (where it = the vat)

        I just tried to word it in such a way that breaks the normal train of thought.

        And yes we get back at square one.... which is why we cannot prove that God doesn't exist.

        Perhaps the line you disagree with is "So you can use this argument to destroy all knowledge we have." If you disagree with that line then I think you're saying that while we're in the vat the knowledge will hold.... But that is a somewhat strange idea because assume that the vat is a computer program and God is a programmer... and he decides to hit the "invert gravity" button....

        I would agree with you if you would say that science is our best attempt at trying to describe everything we can observe. However that doesn't invalidate (or validate) the reasoning behind a "brain in a vat". There is just no way we can prove something when it is outside of our perception.

        We could however show that the existence of God is unlikely.

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