To the test

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. - Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects

The greatest trick God could ever pull would be convincing the world he does exist. - Me

Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew. - Judges 6:36-40, ESV

Okay, here’s the thing. I’m an atheist. (Yeah, I know, big surprise.) It is my considered conclusion, based on what I’ve seen so far in my life, that there’s no such thing as a god or gods.

But that could change at a moment’s notice. If I saw something that I could only attribute to the intervention of God, then I’d become a believer again.

Some people would say that I shouldn’t be expecting that; that I need to make the first “leap of faith”. Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12 (quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, although it means something completely different in that context) say “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. But here’s the thing. He’s not my God. It’s all very well for God to want me to trust him enough to not need proof of his existence, but then how do I come to trust him in the first place? It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.

And, at any rate, I spent six (or twenty-four, depending on your definition) years as a Christian. I’ve done my leap of faith. God didn’t do anything to back up the trust that I put in him. I’ve already made the first move, and God didn’t respond.

Of course, many people are convinced that God has shown himself, but of the stories that I’ve heard, each fails to be convincing for some combination of two reasons:

  • They are too far removed from me for the story to be reliable. Either they happened too long ago for reliable accounts to have survived (starting from the “creation” of the universe and going through to Jesus’ miracles and a few scattered stories after that); or it was never examined in detail, and has passed through enough retellings to make it indistinguishable form myth (an angel appeared to the brother of a friend of a guy in Italy whose mother I met once).
  • They can be explained through the actions of people, or natural events, or chance. Someone changing their life for the better after finding God is not a miracle, because people are capable of doing that without finding God. Surviving a car crash is entirely possible without divine intervention. Recovery from an illness, even a serious one, is not proof of anything unless it’s at the level of, say, regrowing a limb.

It amazes me that people think it’s reasonable to expect God to use people to spread his message and encourage others to believe. I already believe that people exist. I don’t want to hear it from them, through things that I already know they can do (like talk a lot, and distribute pamphlets). For it to make any difference, I need to hear it from God.

Now, I can come up with plenty of things an omnipotent god could do that would easily convince me of his presence. Burning bushes, disembodied hands writing on the wall, talking donkeys, water into wine – there are any number of Biblical precedents for things that I’d readily accept as evidence for God. But it doesn’t have to be anything fancy like that. Any small thing, that I could verify as being impossible by natural means, would at the very least force me to reconsider things very carefully.

There’s a standard argument against this, that I wouldn’t really reconsider anything; that my dark atheist soul is too far gone, and that I don’t want to believe in God for my own evil reasons, and wouldn’t change even if Jesus himself appeared before me. Apparently such people have some special insight into my mind and soul that I don’t have, because I’m pretty sure that I would change my mind.

But we could argue that point back and forth all day. There’s an easy way for me to demonstrate that I’m serious.

Two ring-pulls

I have here two perfectly ordinary ring-pulls from drink cans. I’m going to keep them at home and check them every day. If I ever discover that they’ve been linked together, without being broken, like this:

Linked ring-pulls - SAMPLE ONLY

…then I promise to:

  1. Post a photo here immediately.
  2. Start attending church again, that week if at all possible. In the absence of any other factors, I’d probably go back to my old church, but I’m willing to be directed to other alternatives. (For example, if it happens when a friend prays for it, I’ll go to church with them instead. Similarly, if the context suggests it, I’ll look at religions other than Christianity.)
  3. Tentatively accept the existence of God. I won’t close my eyes to other explanations (at the absolute least, I’ll check very closely to see if the ring pulls have been tampered with), but I would take the existence of God very seriously indeed.

I’m doing this to put my money where my mouth is, and show that my atheism is nothing to do with not wanting to believe in God, but rather not having the evidence to believe in God. This is my way of saying what it would take to convince me, and to lay out the red carpet for an omnipotent God to show me that he’s there, if indeed he is. (Or she, or it, or they. I’m not narrowing my scope here.)

I’d also encourage other atheists to do the same, if they think this is meaningful. This isn’t about being arrogant or smug; it’s about showing that we’re ready and willing to be shown that we’re wrong. Atheism is a hypothesis, and a hypothesis that can be disproved. You can even do this if you’re not sure what you believe, or if you’re looking for a sign or a spiritual experience. The ring-pulls are just what I happened to have on my desk; find something that would convince you. (Although it would be kind of cool if two unjoined ring-pulls became some kind of atheist symbol. It would be more meaningful to me than the scarlet “A” at any rate.)

To theists reading this: if you understand and accept what I’m doing, then pray for the rings to link together. If you think I’m totally misguided, leave a comment and explain why. Also, let me know if there’s a simple, verifiable event like this that has the potential to challenge your beliefs.


7 Comments so far

  1. steven carr December 7th, 2007 3:35 pm

    God is more than happy to be put to the test like this.

    Judges 6 36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised- 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew – a bowlful of water.

    39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

  2. Katie December 7th, 2007 5:31 pm

    God is also, apparently, more than happy to slaughter innocent people by the millions and then “fix it” by agreeing not to do things like that anymore, when he could, were he real, and as powerful as claimed, simply reverse the damage he did… but of course, since he ultimately decided it was a mistake, doesn’t that kind of call his perfection into question?

    “Whoops, maybe I shouldn’t have pwned those guys after all. Mah bad! Hey, if I could turn back time… No, I can’t! Well, okay, maybe I just dun wanna. Look, point is, here’s a rainbow, it means I’m done here.”

    It really is the most illogical mythology I’ve ever encountered. By comparison to God, Thor looks downright plausible.

  3. Jamie December 18th, 2007 8:31 pm

    Seen this?

    Interesting article on a topic relevant to your blog.

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