What evidence would convince you that a god exists?

One of the big differences between religion and science as “ways of knowing” is that in science we can almost always specify what observations or experiments would prove our theories wrong.  In contrast, the faithful do not (and cannot) specify what observations would disprove their beliefs—or the whole basis of their religion.  There are two reasons for this distinction. First, through judicious theological manipulation the faithful carefully insulate those beliefs from disproof, often in a hypocritical way.  When evidence is found against them, like the medieval age of the shroud of Turin or observations showing that prayer doesn’t work, the faithful simply say, “No, you can’t test God.”  No matter that if the Shroud of Turin did date to around 30 A. D., or if prayer did cure people in double-blind tests, those same believers would trumpet to the skies the proof of their faith.  Evidence for religious beliefs is counted; evidence against them is dismissed. Needless to say, science doesn’t—and couldn’t—work that way.

Second, because religious belief is irrational, the faithful often won’t let themselves even consider counterevidence.  The evidence for evolution is by now overwhelming (I wrote a book about it, and didn’t even scratch the surface), but still around 60% of Americans think that humans were created by God directly instead of having evolved—and a lot of the latter believe that our evolution was guided by God.  Faith has immunized these people against the plain facts.  I’ve always thought that the existence of horrible tragedy and evil, particularly that inflicted on innocent people and that produced by natural forces like earthquakes and tsunamis, were prime evidence against the more loving and omnipotent species of god.  But there’s a whole branch of theology—theodicy—designed to explain those things away.  Let’s put it this way: if the Holocaust didn’t make people abandon their belief in God, then nothing ever will.

Religion is not a way of knowing because it doesn’t have a way of knowing that it is wrong. And without that, you don’t know if you’re right. That’s why science makes progress in understanding the world while religion is still mired in medieval theology.

Granted, some of the faithful—and many of you readers—have abandoned religious belief because it either seemed irrational or was contradicted by empirical evidence.  Dan Barker has chronicled this journey in his poignant book Godless. But the abandonment of faith is often a gradual process, so gradual that believers don’t even realize it’s happening.  How many of you, when you were believers, were brave enough to lay out the kind of evidence that would make you bail on God?

But we atheists, being scientifically inclined, can do the converse: we can lay out what observations would turn us into believers. Over at AlterNet, Greta Christina describes six things that, if they happened or were observed, would convince her that God exists.  These including magic writing in the sky, correct prophecies in sacred texts, accurate information gained during near-death experiences, followers of one religion being much more successful (in ways that couldn’t be explained by economic and social factors) than followers of other faiths.  Go read it: she qualifies and explains all of these things in detail.

Darwin himself, in a letter to the botanist Asa Gray, laid out his criteria for believing in God:

Your question what would convince me of Design is a poser. If I saw an angel come down to teach us good, and I was convinced from others seeing him that I was not mad, I should believe in design. If I could be convinced thoroughly that life and mind was in an unknown way a function of other imponderable force, I should be convinced. If man was made of brass or iron and no way connected with any other organism which had ever lived, I should perhaps be convinced. But this is childish writing.

Making the same point, I provided my own list in a critique of the claim that science and faith are compatible:

There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. The fact that no such things have ever been scientifically documented gives us added confidence that we are right to stick with natural explanations for nature. And it explains why so many scientists, who have learned to disregard God as an explanation, have also discarded him as a possibility.

It’s your turn.  If you’re one of the faithful reading this, feel free to post those observations that would convince you that God doesn‘t exist.

And, if you’re one of the more numerous atheists, agnostics, or skeptics who comment here, supplement my list and Greta’s with observations that would make you accept God’s existence.   If you comment, don’t be facetious.  This is a challenge to those believers who say that their way of knowing is equivalent to that practiced by science and rational investigation.

220 Comments

  1. Country Crock
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    How about, then Christians all start being kind to each other..and everybody else? When Christians start being tenderhearted, compassionate and forgiving. How about when Xtians are completely humble and gentle, patient. When Xtians stop lying. When Xtians stop stealing. When Xtians stop bragging and being self-righteous. When Xtians stop being rude and angry and scared and condescending.

  2. Posted July 7, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I posed this exact question to evangelical minister Frank Turek, during a presentation he gave last spring. Turek is co-author of the book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”, and tours the country giving seminars under the same name. He responded by saying that if the body of Jesus Christ was found, it would mean that he never rose from the dead, and that Christianity is founded on a false premise and is therefore untrue.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 7, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      …funny…since there is a pretty large body of skeptics who don’t think there was an actual historical person named “Jesus” in the first place.

      Also, since the standard method of burial in those days involved 1) placing people in a tomb temporarily while their flesh rotted away; and then 2) placing their bones in an ossuary, it’s darned unlikely those conditions could possibly be met.

      • Marella
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:54 am | Permalink

        How’re you going to prove it’s the body of Jesus if he did exist (I don’t think he did)? You’re looking for a coffin inscribed, “Here lies Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, crucified by Pontius Pilate and failed to rise on the third day as predicted” are you? Yeah well let’s get up an expedition right away!

        • articulett
          Posted July 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          I know the book says the “third” day… But if he died Good Friday at night and rose on Easter Sunday morning then that’s just a day and a half at most. Then there has to be time for burial and then to leave him alone so he can escape from his tomb unseen (according to at least one account…)

  3. PuzzledPonderer
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    If a great number of people in a short time period got struck down by specifically targeted lightning right after uttering or doing something blasphemous, I’d consider the idea, especially if that happened on bright, sunny days.

  4. Nick
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Say Jesus, or Vishnu, or Zeus, etc., appeared to Richard Dawkins in a dream and showed him a 20 digit number 21,866,687,779,231,419,735 with the command to write down the number when he awoke (it would also be arranged that he would correctly remember the number when we did awake) and email it to Jerry Coyne at 1800GMT that night, explaining that Jesus/Vishnu/Zeus asked him to do this. And NOT to share this revelation with ANYONE else.

    So Jerry receives the email at 1200GMT, but also receives one, at the same time, from Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, AC Grayling and Victor Stenger.

    Jerry confirms that each of them has independently had the dream and acted according to its wishes. He posts the results on this blog.

    That would be pretty hard to dismiss.

    • Nick
      Posted July 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      * Should read ‘Jerry receives the email at 1800GMT…’

      • articulett
        Posted July 7, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

        But even, still, that’s a lame trick. At least the number should mean something. Maybe a coordinate to where there’s other life in the universe… something “almighty”…

        Number guessing is mighty… provincial. Penn and Teller are more clever than that.

    • Eric MacDonald
      Posted July 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      I’d look for the trick. Hume is right on this.

  5. mistereveready
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I’ve changed my list, not like anyone read it.

    1) A theist pulls off a horton hears a who. just was reminded of that after watching the film version. If they pulled one of those, then i’d be almost as gobsmacked as if i saw a real life transformer.

  6. Carl
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    What would convince me of a higher power would be if all humans were fed three meals a day. Also all disease eradicated along with no more war and humans able to fly like birds. No more natural disasters everyone with the same amount of clothes and housing no more rich taking and swindling from the poor heck no more poor everyone equal. Of course none of these conditions will never happen so I will remain atheist.

  7. Posted July 7, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    How about 16 stars forming a neat 4×4 grid in the night sky, which prove on examination to be in a 3D array whose parts are at vast distances from each other with actual brightnesses in ratios to give equal brightness as seen from earth under the inverse square law?

    Or how about many stars (>40) generating a good (much better than Orion) outline of a human, disances as above?

  8. Kirth Gersen
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    What would convince me? All I’d want, or even expect, is a semblance of internal consistency. If the Almighty exists and talks to Preacher McGawd, then he should be telling the same stuff to Imam IbnAllah, and also to Yogi Sri Brahman — and arguably to me as well. Therefore, the independently-written holy texts from various parts of the world should agree on salient details. My reading of said scripture should lead me to the same essential conclusions as anyone else’s, without us ending up arguing over which parts are metaphorical, etc. — and over which “apocrypha” or “heretical” writings get thrown out altogether.

    • Posted July 7, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      How about a commandment that is not just common sense (like “Love your neighbour”), but which might not be common sense, yet actually makes the difference claimed?

      If people who abstained from meat on Fridays had measurably better health (or some other benefit) than a control group who abstained on Tuesdays – even if they didn’t live in a Catholic country and had no knowledge of the custom?

  9. Posted July 7, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Since we’re talking about science and specific religions, how about some unique phenomenon (kind of MRI scan, magnetic field, measurable radiation) that occurs always and only from the brains of those who are praying to the God of one religion, and not of any others?

    Or only during the saying of the Rosary, and not when chanting Om Namah Shivaya?

    Or only when speaking in tongues, and not when speaking a known language or deliberately babbling meaninglessly?

    Even better, such a phenomenon emanating only from the brains or bodies of people being prayed over?

  10. Posted July 7, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Of course, to all of my suggested tests (and most if not all of the others), religious people will say “Ah, but that’s not what my religion claims. God does not always answer prayers, or sometimes the answer is ‘No’. God does not do miracles on cue. Religion does not necessarily make people better-behaved than non-religious people.”

    But when asked what their religion DOES claim, all they can say is “eternal bliss for believers after we die, and not eternal punishment.”

    Nice and untestable.

  11. Gorgon Zola
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Why should there need to be “evidence” of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God in order to believe in It?

    If It really had my interests in mind, there would be no need for evidence. It could simply put the belief in my head that It exists and I wouldn’t question it.

    Of course, perhaps that’s exactly how it works. The deity chooses some of His pet monkeys to worship Him by beaming the beliefs directly into their cerebral cortices, while the rest of us can go hang.

    • Marella
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 5:00 am | Permalink

      What about the ones who used to believe and then grew up? He changed his omnibenevolent mind? Omnibenevolent means he’d have to do the same for all.

      • Journalmalist
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        The deity — in his infinite wisdom! — pre-selects a group to lose their belief in Him. This is to demonstrate to the True Believers His awesomeness …

  12. articulett
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I’d want evidence that shows that consciousness can exist outside the brain before I’d be interested in anything anyone had to say about any immaterial being or any supposed after life.

    A nice starter, of course, would be plain old regular evidence… the kind that a theist would require to believe in a magical being they don’t currently believe in– Say, Xenu. Or gremlins. What kind of evidence would it take for a Christian to switch to Scientology and why shouldn’t I require at least that much evidence to switch to any belief that involves claims that are indistinguishable from “magic” or “myth”.

    I find all supernatural beings equally unlikely to exist. And if science can’t know anything about such beings due to their immeasurable qualities, then how can anyone else “know” about such beings?

    Besides, if there was a god, then he/she/it/they should know exactly what is required for me to believe. If such beings exist, they clearly don’t care whether I believe in them or not. They also clearly don’t care that multiple sects arise killing each other because of lack of clarity regarding what these invisible beings did, do, or want.

  13. Posted July 7, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    It depends on what you mean by God. If you mean some form of “higher” intelligence that was interacting in the universe then I think David Hume’s suggestion in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion about a voice speaking to all people in all languages carrying the same message simultaneously. Something like that would definitely constitute a greater intelligence.

    But it’s always important to remember Shermer’s Last Law:

    “Any sufficiently advanced ETI is indistinguishable from God.”

    so any such event wouldn’t prove the Christian deity, or even a supernatural event has taken place. So as to the Christian God, what would probably convince me to believe would be the DNA of Jesus. If that showed what the Christian narrative said, then that would be compelling evidence in favour of the belief.

  14. Microraptor
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    For me it would be a written message that included the following- some religious text, a detailed description of some personal detail about myself that is known to no other person, and the answer to Goldbach’s Conjecture.

  15. Donovan
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    To be truthful, I would probably revert to belief if I found it fulfilling and rewarding, but I don’t. I don’t want to think I would, and I’ve nearly convinced myself I wouldn’t, but I would. I know my mind would work so hard to ignore the evidence.

    That is not to say I am a relativist. I do look at the evidence, I do question my atheism, and I come to the consistent conclusion that I am right. I also feel richly rewarded as a freethinker. But what I refuse to do is to think I am somehow immune to the religion virus, or that I am smarter than a theist. I’m just lucky enough to have had a pause from indoctrination long enough to have seen the man behind the curtain. I know that had I not caught that glimpse 20 years ago, I’d be in seminary.

    Solid, tangible evidence in a god I would buy? Any defiance of the laws of nature. Anything less could conceivably be performed by advanced technology or trickery. Anything more, needing only to qualify as evidence and not proof, is intellectual dishonesty.

  16. ElitistB
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    Probably no single act would convince me. Trust is not given simply for one gesture.

    World peace would definitely give a favorable impression, however. Definite proof of continued existence beyond death contingent upon that being would be another.

  17. Michael Kingsford Gray
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    As may have been asserted already, I agree with Matt Dilahunty that if there were a god or gods, they would know what it would take to convince me of their existence. It is up to them to so do.
    Case closed.

  18. Steve Zara
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    In response to the many who suggest that answered prayer would be convincing, may I suggest a far simpler alternative: that humans could do magic? Why involve a third party?

    Also, wouldn’t answered prayer be evidence against a benign God? A god who could not be bothered and had to be nagged by prayer is hardly the deity of the new testament.

  19. GeorgeG
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    > “But there’s a whole branch of theology—theodicy—designed to explain those things away. Let’s put it this way: if the Holocaust didn’t make people abandon their belief in God, then nothing ever will.”

    What do you mean by explain AWAY? All they have to do to explain the holocaust is to point to some biblical verses in Deuteronomy. Did you not know this, Jerry?

  20. Tulse
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Of course, it’s notable that flamboyant proofs of a god’s existence were supposedly rampant during the biblical period, what with the flooding of planets, smiting of cities, parting of seas, multiplying of fishes, curing of sick, raising of dead, etc. etc. etc. Funny that gods have become shy only once people became more sceptical.

  21. Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    The problem with most of the “writing in the sky” and other miracle types of evidence is that, even if convinced that I wasn’t crazy, I’d still be suspicious of who exactly this being was. And in any case, there is nothing that would make me “believe in the supernatural”, because, by definition, what is supernatural is not real, i.e. if the the God of one of the Christian sects was accurate down to every detail, it still wouldn’t be “supernatural”, it would just mean that part of nature included an omnipotent omniscient deity.

    Anyway, that aside, a couple weeks ago I thought of a potential piece of evidence, which suffers from many of these same problems, but I think is an original one that not a lot of others might have thought of: If in the distant future we encountered a radically different form of alien life in another solar system, and under the microscope found that it used DNA as its central replicator mechanism, that would at least lend a lot of credence to intelligent design.

    If we found alien life that, at a macrosopic level, was surprisingly like our own, but which used different chemistry for its central replicator, that would not be entirely unexpected. The degree of convergent evolution on this planet suggests that there may be fairly universal constraints on what types of mechanisms can evolve via natural selection. So a completely different genetic code evolving vertebrate-like eyes, for example, or even global morphological similarities such as a wolf-like animal, would be entirely consistent with our current understanding of evolution.

    But an identical genetic code? That seems highly unlikely.

  22. Neil
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Fossil rabbits in the precambrian. And I would get the joke.

    • GeorgeG
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Wouldn’t work for me. I’d interpret the fossil as having been thrust into that layer by some cataclysmic event.

      • McCthulhu
        Posted July 10, 2010 at 2:36 am | Permalink

        What if the rabbit fossil were in the jaws of a T-rex with perfectly fossilized tooth puncture marks on the bunny’s hindquarters and the dino in a pose of rubbing it’s tummy in gastronomical delight?

        • GeorgeG
          Posted July 11, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

          I would assume that you planted it there, and faked things just good enough.

  23. Posted July 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    There are many kinds of evidence that could convince me of the existence of a being or beings with intelligence or capabilities far beyond those of humans. Consult your favorite science fiction novel or film for suggestions.

    No evidence could convince me of the existence of a being with infinite intelligence and/or capabilities, that is, a being that completely transcended nature. The reason for this is simple: naturalism is the necessary ground for the rational analysis of experience. The very concepts of “evidence” and “proof” are incoherent if experience can be totally unconstrained by any limiting principles. The actual existence of an omnipotent being would render fundamentally unreliable, by definition, any “evidence” used to demonstrate that existence.

  24. nichole
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    For me to believe in an omnipotent, supernatural being I would like to see all suffering removed. Or hell on earth. Rather than just being promised these eternal states in the ‘afterlife.’ Omnipotent beings should’ve made up their mind as to what they think of life by now.

  25. Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    If, when I die, I fail to experience any manner of afterlife- then I will cease to believe in God (…by default). Past that, there’s really nothing on this Earth that can convince me otherwise. I know that probably pisses you off, but that’s Faith for you.

    On a more personal note, I find it very telling that you seem upset at the idea of some of us being comfortable with the idea of God guiding the planet through the evolutionary process. If your study is strictly devoted to determining whether or not evolution took place based entirely and exclusively on present-day empirical evidence, then why waste time concerning yourself with the responsible party- be it random chance, God, magical pixies, flying spaghetti monster(s), or (Dawkin’s favorite) Aliens? Why bother injecting agnosticism/atheism philosophy into a purely scientific inquiry at all unless you have some kind of axe to grind?

    Personally, I abandoned this particular battlefield long ago as it’s as much a debate of philosophy as it is science with people like you; so if we’re going to debate philosophy, I’d much rather argue the infinitely more important issue of Cosmology than waste time bickering over how exactly life on this planet came to be what it is today.

    • articulett
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      Why do you imagine it would piss people off? Are you pissed off that Scientologists believe in Xenu? Would you be pissed of if someone believed the moon was made of cheese or that the sun went around the earth? Does Santa belief anger you?

      Perhaps you get pissed off when people don’t believe in your supernatural beliefs, but I’ve never met an atheist that is “pissed off” based on peoples’ supernatural beliefs– unless they try to use them as excuses to demand privileges or rights they wouldn’t give to people with conflicting faiths, of course.

      Myself, I’d prefer that people keep their supernatural beliefs to themselves the way they’d keep their fetishes private. I don’t want them inflicting their beliefs on school children in science class anymore than they’d want Scientologists or Muslims to do so.

      I think most atheists care more about what is true than what assorted people feel saved for “believing in”. I find it interesting that you imagine people would be “pissed off”.

      • BigChris
        Posted July 21, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        @articulett:
        I imagine that it would piss people off because it’s been my experience that Atheism is simply Agnosticism waiting to happen after the person gets over themselves and starts applying the scrutiny of logic that they hold so dear to their own position.

        The moment an Atheist lets go of their hate for all things religious and genuinely starts caring about what is observably *true* about our universe, they become an Agnostic; because the *truth* is that no one can say for certain exactly how the universe transitioned from non-existence to existence. An Atheist declaring “there is no god!” is speaking in faith in the same way that my declaring “there IS a God!” is also speaking in faith.

        The difference is, my faith is in all-powerful eternal being to whom I am held responsible for my actions, and your faith is in your own intellectual superiority. Tell me- which belief system is more hubristic by nature?

        Believe me- I want philosophy out of science textbooks as much as you do, but since Atheists have seen fit to “inflict” their beliefs on schoolchildren, fire must be fought be fire.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted July 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          the *truth* is that no one can say for certain exactly how the universe transitioned from non-existence to existence

          That is a weird belief.

          Well, the fact is that we can give pathways, see for example Vic Stenger’s “GOD – The Failed Hypothesis” for an example. This is of course uncertain to a certain degree, _but so are all actual facts_. If not, they are precisely beliefs.

          But that is neither here nor there, we are discussing if we can falsify the theory that there are no gods. If you claim that we can’t adjudicate such claims it is a mere belief, agnosticism.

          But the fact is that we can make headway on this, see the thread, and I claim decide the issue, see my comment on the thread.

          Your characterization of this as belief has no basis in facts. Atheism is precisely rejection of belief, agnosticism is one of them.

        • articulett
          Posted July 21, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          I think you are confused all around. Perhaps you’ll make more sense to your fellow believers. Atheism is just a lack of belief in gods. And I’m quite sure that most any atheist would do better on any logic test than you. You are a fabulous example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Just because you imagine yourself logical, doesn’t make it so. (Kind of like the existence of gods.)

          Agnosticism means it can’t be known. It is not about a belief, rather it is about knowledge. I know you think it means something like “on the fence”, but I suspect this is because you had a poor faith-based education. See, technically everyone is an agnostic about things that can’t be known like whether there are any invisible undetectable entities like gods, fairies, demons, sprites, etc. Nobody CAN know if such beings exist, because they are undetectable. Moreover, we know people are prone to making up such beings to explain that which they don’t understand. Theists, are the arrogant ones because they claim to know which invisible undetectable beings exist and which don’t– they then claim to KNOW what these beings did, do, want, etc. Atheists make no claims to divine truths or “special knowledge” that you can only know through “revelation” OR other untestable means. From a Scientific perspective, your gods, souls, demons, etc. are no more evidenced then Thor, Xenu, fairies, gremlins, ghosts, etc. Until there is evidence separating a true supernatural being from a false one, from a scientific perspective, they are ALL imaginary. If you have a problem with that, you may wish to take it up with your apparently imaginary god(s)so that it makes itself more evident than the gods that you think are mythological.

          There is no atheism is science books. It’s just that the facts don’t support your magical being any more than they support Scientology’s magical beings or Buddhisms belief in reincarnation. Science is about the facts that are the same for everyone no matter what they belief. The sun is a star and the earth goes around the sun no matter what you believe about these things. Moreover, the earth is 4.5 billion years old and life evolved. Science provides evidence for its claims– faith tells you that you just have to BELIEVE– (or you’ll be punished forever.) Maybe you should be questioning those that put such ideas in your head rather than the science that has brought your computer, air conditioning, modern medicine, airplanes, and all sorts of goodies so that even the most faith-addled can benefit.

          Science learns from its mistakes and corrects them. It is constantly refining and honing our understanding of the universe and there are no magical books that are giving us clues. I suggest you get your science from scientists than from your indoctrinators. Sadly, you appear to sound as dishonest, arrogant, and confused as those people in those other religions that believe things that are ridiculous to you.

          There are many faiths; there is only one truth. So far, science is the only verifiable means of discovering that truth.

          • articulett
            Posted July 21, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

            And I guess you have no answer for Jerry’s question.

            I think that makes theists the arrogant closed minded ones. They believe they’ve accessed “higher truths” and nothing can convince them they are wrong.

            That puts you in the same category as any cult member, Greek myth believers, and people who believe in religions that conflict with yours. You all believe you have the really true magical truth and that all those other people have fooled themselves.

            tsk

    • Notagod
      Posted July 12, 2010 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Hi BigChris!

      There is so a god on my tricycle, that’s final, GRRrrr.

      LOL.

  26. Richard Thomas
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    What ‘evidence’ would be considered sufficient to convince one of existence of a god is, I think, ill conceived in first place.

    The difficulty is less with the parameters we would assign to phenomena that would sway our discretion but, rather, with identifying what is meant by the term god in the first place.

    It is my experience that even a deep investigation of religious thought yields little in the way of clarity as to the nature and meaning of god much less what would constitute evidence of such an entity { is that even an applicable term?}

    IF the subject we wish to discuss is not defined as a matter of course by any participants in a discussion I think it a moot point to assume what we would use to verify such things.

    Perhaps one day the people in this world who assert this or that property or trait of the god they worship would be so kind as to,for the first time, come to universal agreement as to what the hell they are talking about then maybe we can intelligently debate the issue.

    I, however, doubt humanity will last that long.

  27. dave's not here
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    A big arm comes out of the sky and rams Tony Hayward into that damned hole in the Gulf of Mexico stopping the flow, it’s all caught on film and, you got me on board! Too facetious? Tough, that’s my criterion!

    • Todd
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Works for me! It doesn’t sound facetious at all; extraordinary claims require extraordinary acts of supernatural justice.
      I had a similar idea a couple of weeks ago, but then it occurred that plugging a giant, gaping, spewing toxic hole with another giant, gaping, spewing toxic hole might not work…

      • dave's not here
        Posted July 9, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

        Todd, maybe they would cancel each other?

  28. Todd
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    How about this:
    God appears and presents us with a genuine, naturalistic experiment that would provide sufficient falsifiable scientific evidence to confirm or reject the existence of the supernatural.
    Whoa! I just blew my own mind.

  29. Posted July 9, 2010 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure it is possible to confidently identify design. It requires too many assumptions about what a designer would do.

    What would convince me of the christian god’s existence? Simple, have him turn up. He is supposedly a relational god who wants the best for us. He supposedly allowed himself to be killed to enable relationship (although if you’re a god, that is meaningless). Given this, his appearance is the only acceptable “proof” – not someone making unjustifiable conclusions based on incomplete understandings of the universe (eg fine tuning) or historical reliability of the bible (which is unreliable). All bilblical accuracy would tell us is that certain events are historically verifiable – not that a supernatural agent was involved. I could take the history of rome and attribute it to Saturn’s intervention. The history would be accurate, but that does not mean Saturn was involved

  30. rodionsturmoil
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Among other things, I would accept that God exists if he/she/it showed themself. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so. The evidence required by many for their conversion from atheist to theist necessitates events that are just as miraculuos as if God himself appeared on earth and declared his dominion over the universe.

    In other words, if God existed and wanted us to know about it, why provide only hints, when he could just give us the answer.

    Incidentally, it seems ridiculous to consider that an omnipotent being would even have a gender. Religion’s assignment of a gender to God is just another indication that man created God in his own image.

    • GeorgeG
      Posted July 12, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      What would qualify as “showing itself”? Considering the fact of its invisibility… May I guess that you mean that this being should show you a miracle– i.e. one that you personally would categorize as a miracle as opposed to just an awesome coincidence? Or maybe you require a national revelation?

      Also, although it is indeed ridiculous to consider that an omnipotent being has a gender, don’t forget that the main religions call God a “He” /and at the same time/ say that God is genderless. How can they do that? Well, “He” generally connotes more power than “She” and “He” is more personal than “It.”

      • BaldApe
        Posted July 12, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        “The fact of it’s invisibility?”

        Where exactly do you find facts about God? Plenty of opinions, many of them masquerading as facts, but I know of no “facts” that would pass muster for me as such.

        • articulett
          Posted July 12, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

          Everyone knows god is a shape shifter… he could be a burning bush, his own son, a beggar in disguise, a bright light, a burning in the bosom… etc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQak6ng0RXQ

        • GeorgeG
          Posted July 12, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

          My bad. I should’ve said “likelihood” of its invisibility.

  31. Bear
    Posted July 12, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    How would you scientifically demonstrate that reason itself is rational or valid? My point is simply that science itself depends on prior philosophical (i.e. non-scientific) premises.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 12, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Because science WORKS–it helps us find out stuff, like what causes and cures disease. In contrast, faith doesn’t help us find out anything that’s true about the universe. Was Jesus the son of God? Christians say one thing, Muslims another. No way to decide if either (or neither) is right.

      • GeorgeG
        Posted July 14, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Same thing with history?
        Imagine the following response was written in 2080…
        “Some say the moonlanding was real. Some say it was faked. No way to decide if either (or neither) is right.”

  32. Posted July 13, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    because religious belief is irrational, the faithful often won’t let themselves even consider counterevidence.

    Circular argument. The conclusion is already in the premise.

    Isn’t it interesting that you think that even theistic evolutionists are included in the class of those who are “against the plain facts.” This is classic atheist dogmatism. It’s not enough that a person accepts evolution itself. He must also deny that God had anything to do with it in order to be pronounced kosher and orthodox and to get the Good Housekeeping seal of approval pasted on his forehead.

    No one may dare harmonize evolution with his religious beliefs, and believe that God guided the process (a position that Darwin and his original public defender T. H. Huxley thought were perfectly acceptable).

    No, you have to take it a step further. The logic of your position and the grammar of the above statement prove that you think that evolution precludes any talk of God or theistic evolution. Yet that is the very thing you can’t assert, by your own excessive “scientism” — because science can say nothing about God, by the simple fact that its purview is matter (and it often prides itself on precluding any talk of God or teleology).

    Even if science now bans God totally from any and all discussion about the universe, it can’t ban all other intelligent discussion or beliefs about God in philosophy and theology. Science is not the sum of all knowledge.

    If you want religious people to “shut up” and never let their religious views influence science to the slightest degree (even to the extent of excommunicating theistic evolutionists), then it seems to me that you should — by the same token – shut up about religious matters, and not pretentiously pose as an objective observer, all the while engaging in massive self-contradiction insofar as you speak from a “scientific” point of view that has nothing directly to do with religious matters or God. But you want it both ways.

    It is shoddy thinking like this that is deplorable. Bad logic is bad logic, no matter what the source is or how otherwise “smart” the one committing the error may be.

    • articulett
      Posted July 13, 2010 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      Way to miss the point and argue a complete straw man.

      The fact is, your magical beliefs should be of no more concern to science than a Muslim’s, a Scientologist’s, a Wiccan’s, or an Astrologer’s. Until you have evidence for whatever it is you believe, scientists should be as free to dismiss your “woo” beliefs as freely as you dismiss others– under the same reasoning. Science will change if the evidence warrants, but as you illustrate, the faithful can’t even “hear” the question.

      You might not believe in demon possession and others might. It’s not our job to care about your feelings on the subject, it’s our job to care about the truth. Religions have no such truth. And religions have no way to tell when their beliefs are incorrect… they have no way to tell a correct belief from an incorrect one since a magical god can make things look however he wants.

      Now why don’t you try and answer Jerry’s question in the post instead of getting all hot and bothered because he dared ask it.

      Surely your beliefs don’t rely only on your bluster do they?

      • Posted July 13, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        My points stand, and they are actually rational arguments, unlike your mere rant: filled with straw men and non sequiturs. I wasn’t trying to refute the whole statement; only a few logical holes that I viewed in it.

        • articulett
          Posted July 13, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

          Your opinions are like your beliefs– true only in your head. Science is interested in the stuff that is true no matter what people believe.

          But if these outbursts make you feel better about whatever it is you believe, you go boy! What else are you going to do when the evidence doesn’t exist, eh?

          It’s just that nobody is likely to answer you because nobody said all the things you imagined were said. A straw man argument is an argument against claims that no one made… like your whole “rant”. You win (in your head) because you fight a “straw man” and not any actual point.

          By the way, is there any evidence or any amount of evidence that would get you to believe your faith is not true. What sort of evidence would it take to convince you Scientology or Wiccan beliefs were true? How about the Muslim version of God? Or reincarnation? We atheists have given our responses.

        • Todd
          Posted July 13, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

          In point of fact, science does preclude “any talk of God or theistic evolution” for two main reasons: First, by definition, science deals with natural, observable, testable, empirical phenomena; any assertion that evolution is “guided” by a god is not supported by any evidence. And second, as Dr. Coyne has pointed out, religious thought has no mechanism for determining the validity of its claims, which is the exact opposite of how science fundamentally operates.
          You are certainly free to believe whatever you like, but in the absence of any scientific evidence, “we” are not obligated to believe that evolution is guided by a god. Nor are we obligated in any way to take such claims seriously until such evidence is produced. I would posit that the vast majority of scientists would not even concern themselves with others’ religious beliefs if not for the fact that so many religious people either demand that science incorporate religious ideas or are so misinformed about the scientific process in general and evolution in particular.
          Respectfully, it is not fair – or accurate – to claim that science “bans” any and all discussion of god or religion as it pertains to science; in fact, we are discussing it here. People cannot expect that religious claims upon science will be accepted a priori. For that matter, scientists cannot expect scientific claims to be accepted a priori either; scientific claims are subject to evaluation of the supporting evidence, and are often subject to extensive analysis, criticism, and attempted refutation before being accepted. Outside of a scientific pervue, general criticism of religious claims and/or religious modes of thought is not equivalent to a “ban” either. Religious thought is not somehow specially exempt from criticism simply because it it religious.

          • Posted July 14, 2010 at 1:08 am | Permalink

            Right. ZZZZzzzzz. I continue to await rational interaction with what I wrote, rather than (quite boring and irrelevant) lectures from true materialistic believers.

            • articulett
              Posted July 14, 2010 at 1:15 am | Permalink

              In order to have rational interaction, someone other than you would need to think you are rational.

              I thought Todd’s post was spot on, but I understand how it would fly right over your head.

              And I think it’s obvious why others are ignoring your silly straw man rant that had nothing at all to do with Jerry’s question. Did you have a point?

              Or are you just whining because, from a scientific perspective, scientists find your supernatural beliefs as unworthy of the supernatural beliefs you dismiss?

              (Try the Intersection for your coddling needs.)

            • articulett
              Posted July 14, 2010 at 1:17 am | Permalink

              insert “respect” after “unworthy of” above.

            • Todd
              Posted July 14, 2010 at 11:08 am | Permalink

              So what then, Dave, would constitute “rational interaction” to you? Several people have posted responses to your initial comment, none of which have apparently satisfied your criteria for rationality. You made several claims in your original post regarding what you perceive to be faulty logic, poor reasoning, etc., but then wholly dismissed others’ replies as irrational or inadequate without explaining why. Again, with respect, I think that by rejecting everyone else’s arguments out of hand without offering any counterargument is a perfect example of Dr. Coyne’s criticism of religious thought: You posted a critical comment (which is fine – admirable, even, given the audience), but then you can’t be bothered to respond to any rebuttals beyond dismissing them as irrational. There seems to be nothing anyone can say in opposition to your comments that meets your standards.
              So, to reiterate my question (which I hope you will accept in the spirit of debate in which it is offered), what to you would constitute a sufficiently “rational” argument that would meet your criteria to warrant a substantive response?

  33. Steve Zara
    Posted July 14, 2010 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    “Isn’t it interesting that you think that even theistic evolutionists are included in the class of those who are “against the plain facts.” This is classic atheist dogmatism. It’s not enough that a person accepts evolution itself.”

    It’s not dogmatism: it’s knowing when to stop in terms of explanations. If God isn’t needed to explain evolution, it makes no sense to add him to it, and anyone who does should expect to have their ideas rubbished. Once there is understanding, there is no space for magic. It would be like adding Thor to an explanation of the weather, or Poseidon to a study of waves.

    There is a simple test: starting from a position of ignorance about theism and evolution, if you found out about evolutionary theory, would you feel a need to add God? Of course not. God is superfluous. Science involves trying to minimise explanatory factors. That’s not dogmatism, it’s about trying to honestly find out what is going on.

    If you want to add God, do so, but then you are in no position to mock those who think that aerodynamics isn’t enough and planes are kept in the sky by angels.

    • Bear
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      What about people like me, who accept evolution and also believe in God, not because He is necessary to to immediately explain evolution, but because He is (arguably) necessary to explain the very idea of contingent existence? Darwin may explain evolution immediately (and I think he largely does) but what explains the essence of change? What explains the very idea of causation? What explains simple existence?

      But most of all, why are so many scientists so shallowly incurious about these deeper questions?

      • articulett
        Posted July 17, 2010 at 1:50 am | Permalink

        I don’t think scientists are incurious at all– I think that’s a label much more true of those appealing to a god as some sort of explanation to vague questions like yours… you guys don’t even ask yourselves if the questions makes sense. How would you know if you were wrong –or if the questions didn’t make sense? How can you correct errors? How would you know if your god was as much of a myth as those gods of yore you don’t believe in?

        Don’t you think every scientist would be testing, refining, and honing the evidence if there was any evidence for gods or souls or whatever? Why wouldn’t they?! Wouldn’t it benefit them, their loved ones and the world? If something is real, then it’s something science can discover more about, right? It’s not the fault of scientists that there is no evidence for the undetectable beings you believe in! Anyone can make up reasons to believe, but those reasons can’t make a god real. Your vague “deep questions” are not a reason for believing in god.

        Why would such a being be so scientifically undetectable and indistinguishable from the imaginary beings that humans are KNOWN to make up anyhow?! Why aren’t theists curious about that? There’s just nothing to test when it comes to supernatural claims– every believer imagines they have access to “divine truths” while knowing that all those believers in Greek Myths and other gods were fooled. I guess they imagine that they are more rational than such people. How arrogant and incurious is that?

        Theists plug in whatever god they imagine into whatever questions they feel need answers. And then they imagine themselves humble, open-minded, and saved for their belief. If there is no god, then your questions are just designed to make you a believer anyhow. Osama Bin Laden can use the same reasoning to support his god as you can. But these “deep questions” (giggle) are not a way of getting at the truth as to whether any invisible forms of consciousness can/do/or did exist! Shame on those who made you think they were. Aren’t YOU curious as to whether you may have been fooling yourself? And how would you know if you had?

        If scientists can’t know if something is real, why would we imagine that you could? Or your guru? Didn’t the Greek Myth believers of yore feel the same way. Don’t the Mormons and the Scientologists? Don’t you see the problem of plugging in the equivalent of “magic” to the questions you find “deep”? It leads to “answers” that are bigger conundrums than the things they supposedly explain!

        I think it’s you who are incurious. You don’t want to know if your god is as imaginary as all the gods you don’t believe in– so you invent “deep questions” and in your mind you tell yourself your god is the answer and that scientists who don’t believe in this god are incurious. Confirmation bias (yawn).

        So can you answer Jerry’s question or not? Or is your faith more important than the truth? Would anything convince you that your god is as mythological as Greek Gods? Or do are you just bent out of shape because he dared to ask a question that challenged the faith you feel so special for having?

        A lot of atheists have an answer as to what would make them believe in god. The evidence doesn’t show a lack of curiosity on their part…

        Why won’t theists answer the question? I think that”s telling evidence as to who the “incurious” people are. You guys are afraid to question the god you imagine yourselves saved for believing in.

        You can believe whatever you want of course, but more rational people require more evidence before they believe in “extraordinary” beings. They don’t want to (or can’t) fool themselves on this subject.

      • Steve Zara
        Posted July 17, 2010 at 2:49 am | Permalink

        The idea that anything is necessary to explain existence, or change, or causation, does not make sense, because we don’t have any idea what those terms mean in the real universe. What does causation mean in a universe with quantum rules, for example?

        The idea that there is an actual being with a personality who is puffing and panting working hard to ensure that causality keeps happening is nonsensical: for one thing, that process itself would have to involve causality (so it explains nothing), and secondly if some being was outside of causality, then it does not make sense to say that they were involved in anything at all.

        Sorry, but this is a combination of millenia-old theological nonsense and an attempt to randomly put words together to see if they can sound good in a way to justify God.

  34. Posted July 14, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    To be convinced that god(s) exist, I would first have to understand what the word god actually meant. If it was meant to be the creator of the universe, It is not possible for me to think of convincing proof such a god(s) could show me that it created anything. How would I know that he was lying or not? How would I reconcile his being the main god(s) or just another dameon claiming such fantastical feats.
    Actually it would be very easy to be convinced that god(s) existed. All he would have to do is make my mind ‘believe’ he existed. Good luck with that.

  35. Posted July 14, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    In order to have rational interaction, someone other than you would need to think you are rational.

    Why do you bother with me at all, then? To impress your buddies that you can come up with a clever way of making an ass of yourself? That is hardly philosophy or science, but it is juvenile chest-puffing. Who cares about that? Just ignore me and go smoke a joint in the lavatory.

    • articulett
      Posted July 14, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      (giggles)

      Hey, Jean… how do DA’s posts fit in with your belief that religion makes people happier?

      To me, religious folks go ape-shit when they realize that, from a scientific perspective, their religious beliefs are as unsupportable as all the religions they laugh at.

      (Perhaps any increased happiness of atheists around religious nutters is due to giggle fits.)

  36. Posted July 14, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    The reason most people still believe in God is not primarily because they have been “immunized” by faith, but because evolution is so contrary to day to day experience. Richard Lewontin himself had the integrity to indicate atheists have an a priori commitment to material causes, and that their beliefs are not caused by science.

    However, an increasingly large percentage of modern scientists believe in an intelligent designer of the universe and life, and this is now an established one way trend. To understand why this interesting and relatively recent turn of events has occurred, see Intelligent Design vs. Evolution — The Miracle of Intelligent Design.

    • articulett
      Posted July 14, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Creationists need to learn that repeating something over and over does not make it true.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 14, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        Word.

        … no, that is religious.

        Fact!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 14, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      The day variation and selection as in dog breeding is “contrary to day to day experience”, is the day gravity is.

      This is one myth that creationists like to claim. But in fact farmers and gardeners were well aware that species aren’t immutable long before evolution explained the observable phenomena. They were never as stupid and unobservant as religious fundamentalists.

      Also Linnaeus had AFAIU severe trouble with it, both in his systematics and to square it with his contra-factual religion.

      • Posted July 15, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        Variation and selection in dog breeding etc. produces different types of dogs, not other types of creatures with different DNA structures. This is one myth that evolutionists like to claim.

        • articulett
          Posted July 15, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

          Yes, and all dogs descend from wolves and are a subspecies of wolf… all these modifications were made by humans selecting for specific traits. But this is way over your head, isn’t it.

          Really, you are way out of your league here. All people who have gotten their “science” from creationists are. It’s akin to getting your astronomy from astrologers only creationists are more ignorant because they imagine themselves saved for believing unbelievable things.

          Moreover, you seem to have no way to determine a myth from a fact. Your magic book is a myth. There is no evidence to support of any of the magical things in there– no more than there is for Greek myths. There is only one truth, and so far, science is the only method proven to reveal and hone that truth. Moreover, it has an error correction mechanism which religion doesn’t have.

          Get an education if you want any educated people to participate in discussion with you. Otherwise, you’re just preaching in an effort to convince yourself that your indoctrinators are telling you the truth.

          • articulett
            Posted July 15, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

            I read real peer reviewed science journals. The creotards have done zero research, contributed zero understanding to the world, and have added zero useful information on the subject of biology to human understanding –moreover, they unable to get a clue, because they are afraid they’ll be punished forever if they do.

  37. Delusional
    Posted July 15, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I don’t think you could ever disprove or prove something like this. Religion’s wired into the human psyche, and originally served the purpose of explaining our world. Sure, it’s possible for one to become an atheist (and many people do), but that doesn’t mean it can’t go away entirely. Even racism and misogyny have not disappeared; they’re just frowned upon in cultured society.

  38. Evolution SWAT
    Posted July 18, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    What evidence would convince me that God exists?

    1. Creationism: Young earth creationism makes sets so many testable predictions, in so many different fields of science, that if it were confirmed that would probably be all the evidence I needed.

    2. Faith healers regenerating amputated limbs (on live tv, in front of Richard Dawkins, the Myth Busters, and James Randi, on the skeptics’ terms)

    What evidence would I need to disbelieve in the Christian God?

    1. Very strong evidence of Darwinian evolution. By ‘very strong’ I mean about as sure as we are that the Holocaust happened.

  39. happyboy
    Posted July 21, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if it’s been mentioned yet, but I would believe if I wasn’t constantly finding simpler explanations. It’s just an extension of what many believers already do. For example, most people no longer automatically ascribe erratic behavior to demonic possession. Your average believer is generally going to want to know if a simpler explanation, ie-mental illness, is the source.

    It’s just that accepting simpler explanations on the grand scale is a lot less satisfying because facing the lack of a god means facing the things that terrify humanity the most, ie-fear of death, lack of meaning, etc.

    “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” [James 4:14]

    I’ve never met anyone who finds that a pleasant thought.

  40. Posted July 27, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Better think of religion and god as concepts being raised in the course of evolution. They surely had good reasons to emerge and good reasons to survive. otherwise it would have been a long time since their extinction. Plz refer to my blog posting labeled “unification”.

  41. Posted August 5, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    With apologies if this is a repeat (I haven’t had time to read ALL the comments):

    With great respect to the author, I think the question is pointless: sufficient demonstration of God would be “proof,” but you can’t prove God, or He wouldn’t be God. I take this as a clear indication that the whole notion of “God” is just pointless and should be derided at every opportunity.

  42. NJMontiel
    Posted December 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    The only way I would be convinced of God’s existence would be if every star in the sky suddenly changed position to spell out: GOD [OR GODS] EXISTS IN THE MANNER OF [INSERT NAME OF SACRED TEXT HERE].


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