Tuesday, April 21, 2015

[PHI 3000] The God hypothesis

In "Testing the God Hypothesis," the physicist Victor Stenger, claims that the belief in the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator of the universe should be treated as a hypothesis that can be tested empirically, in the same way that scientific hypotheses are tested. According to Stenger, any of the following, if observed, would count as empirical evidence for the God hypothesis:
  • Afterlife: "a person who had been declared dead by every means known to science might return to life with detailed stories of an afterlife that were later verified. For example, she might meet Jimmy Hoffa who tells her where to find his body."
  • Miracles: "Miracles are observed. For example, prayers are answered; an arm or a leg is regenerated through faith healing."
  • Revelation: "any claim of a revelation obtained during a mystical trance could contain scientifically verifiable information that the subject could not possibly have known."
  • Moral law: "Natural events might follow some moral law, rather than morally neutral mathematical laws. For example, lightning might strike only the wicked; people who behave badly might fall sick more often; nuns would always survive plane crashes."
If any of these were observed, Stenger argues, they would count as empirical evidence in favor of the God hypothesis.

Do you agree with Stenger that the belief in the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator of the universe should be treated as a hypothesis that can be tested empirically? If so, what else, if observed, would count as empirical evidence for the God hypothesis?

If, after several tests, no empirical evidence is forthcoming, what should we conclude: that the God hypothesis is probably false or that the existence of God cannot be tested empirically?


  1. I do believe that the existence of God can be treated as a hypothesis that can be proven empirically. An example of evidence of the existence of God is the design of the human body. Man and woman were created to co-exist with each other. The parts of our body work in conjunction with each other so that we can live without any difficulty. Every part of our bodies serve a distinct purpose, therefore leading to the belief that it must have been created by God. Another piece of evidence is the earth that we live on. Oxygen, sunlight and water are creations that enable human life. The interaction of these resources must have been put in place by a greater being.

    If there is no empirical evidence, we should conclude that the existence of Good cannot be tested empirically.

    1. The claims that the human body and the earth are well designed are not uncontroversial. Check out this blog post: http://thinkjustdoit.blogspot.com/2013/12/phi-3000-stupid-design.html

      Why do you think that from the absence of empirical confirmation for the God hypothesis the correct conclusion to draw is that the existence of God cannot be empirically tested? Why not conclude that the God hypothesis is probably false?

  2. Empirical research means research based on experimentation, experience, or observation. One of the oddest things to me is that scientist can believe in the big bang theory or evolution, but no one was actually around to observe it. Unless there's someone billions of years old that I don't know about. Why is it easy to believe that the whole universe came into existence from nothing, although no one can recreate it in an experiment? In the same way that "faith" is required to believe in evolution and the big bang theory, so it is required to believe in God. Although I have experienced miracles and received revelation from God, I didn't demand that He provide me with empirical evidence before I believed in Him. When it comes down to it, God does what He wants, and He doesn't have to prove Himself to anyone. Sometimes He does choose to reveal Himself to people in extraordinary ways, but that doesn't happen always. And when He does provide empirical evidence, how many people call it BS and ignore what happened? It happens all the time. I have heard stories of people who died and God showed them heaven and hell. Now, I believe them, but there are many more who call them liars. So at the end of the day I don't believe that an experiment can prove God's existence or deny it. Like it or not you just have to decide yourself whether you believe in Him or not.

    1. Your comment points to another interesting problem, namely, the hiddenness of God. According to this argument, the fact that there are nonbelievers counts as evidence against the existence of a personal God. See this post for more: http://thinkjustdoit.blogspot.com/2012/11/phi-3000-stewart-on-gods-hiddenness.html

  3. I have two problems with Stenger's argument. First, Science has supportive evidence explaining a majority of the phenomena that people use as evidence for God. I am not saying that it is evidence against God, but I think that the testing God hypothesis simply can not be done. (I mean why would God even let us test him in the first place?) Second, I think the only way to approach this argument is from a logic perspective. The only way to evaluate his possible existence is with the use of logic because I believe it is the only thing that confines God. If God is not in fact confined within the laws and realm of logic, then the debate is pointless.

    1. You make a distinction between science and logic as ways of finding out whether God exists or not. But I am not sure how to draw the distinction precisely. Using logic alone, can we demonstrate that God actually exists (as opposed to the mere possibility that God exists)?

      Perhaps we need both to find out whether God exists or not. For instance, suppose we discover the following pattern: lightning strikes only non-believers. Stenger grants that this observation would count as evidence in favor of the God hypothesis. But we need to use some logic to show this. That is:

      P1. Lightning strikes only non-believers.
      P2. The best explanation for this observation is the God hypothesis.
      C. Therefore, the God hypothesis is probably correct.

      Of course, P1 is not true. But, if it were true, would it count as evidence in favor of the God hypothesis?

    2. It would not count as evidence for the God Hypothesis. We might say "coincidence" as a response. If it were the case that ONLY non- believers were struck by lightning, hit by cars and every other example of harm we can think of, then maybe I would be more inclined to accept it as evidence. But is it even worth the time to debate, if P1 is not the case in the first place? (not to say What-If scenarios are not worth discussing,).

      Maybe we should use a different example?

    3. Well, two arguments that are supposed to be arguments for the existence of God from empirical evidence are the argument from design (http://thinkjustdoit.blogspot.com/2012/05/phi-3000-audioslave-problem.html) and the fine-tuning argument (http://thinkjustdoit.blogspot.com/2013/12/phi-3000-stupid-design.html). But if the God hypothesis cannot be tested empirically, then it seems that there cannot be empirical evidence either For or Against the existence of God.


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