Have you ever had a dream? Describe to me that dream? Prove to me the contents of that dream? It's impossible. You can't prove to me what that dream was about, it was only in your head. But you KNOW that you had that dream, and it's content. I can call you a liar and a fraud, but you know, and have faith, that that dream was real. This is the same way I believe in God. If I know God exists, for the same reason you know your dream exists, can you say that my God and your dream both don't exist?
I've seen this question posed in a number of ways on different websites over the years, but I've never seen a decent answer for it. For the record I'm an atheist (agnostic atheist) but I just happen to love trying to see both sides and I've personally not seen a good (in my opinion) answer for it. It hits a nerve with me because I dream regularly, and if I was asked to prove the content of a dream I couldn't. It's only a truth to me personally.
The best answer I can think of has to do with content, that a dream is a personal relaity but the dream doesn't mean anything to someone else, where as the concept of a God, by definition, is to be agreed upon by many. But in a strict theist sense, there's no reason why a god couldn't reveal themselves to people on a personal level, and provide no evidence.
Thoughts, challenges, answers?
seems pretty simple to me really.
there's a fundamental difference between the claim "i had a dream in which..." and "god exists."
the analogy fails utterly. the only point at which objective reality and your dream intersect is at the fact that you had a dream. we can measure that you had the dream, regardless of our inability to say anything about the content of the dream. but that's no challenge to atheism because the content of the dream isn't making a claim about the nature of objective reality.
"god exists", on the other hand, is nothing like this. "god exists" IS a claim about objective reality. one that has absolutely no evidence backing it up. not only can we say nothing about the "content" of god, we can't even say that he/she/it exists.
if i person made this argument in a debate with me i'd point out that they had just compared something that only exists in their mind............................. to dreams. :)
Ahh, but to continue devil's advocate.
My god is not the christian god however, my god is a spiritual god that has spoken to me personally. Also, my God lies outside the realm of testable objectivism. But the evidence for my god existing is as real to me as your dream (or moreso it's content) to you.
Of course, the most obvious counter argument to this is, well clearly your god is a waste of space. If it's a non-interfering god that simply exists to make you feel better, so what? However that's not having the argument against existence. To me, the concept of a god that you cant test for, doesn't interfer, and only has proof on a personal level, is about as likely we're all living in the Matrix.
But when I've had this argument in the past, it basically boils down into "but that still doesn't disprove my god, and if you say and know your dream is real, even though you can't prove it, couldn't my god be real?"
That tends to be the part when I come unstuck. Whilst I still think that concept of god is useless, it doesn't disprove it. And I can't say 'prove it' because I can't prove I dreamt about flying monkeys (actually, I haven't, but I have watched The Wizard of Oz).
answering the devil's advocate:
"my God lies outside the realm of testable objectivism"
that's the same as "my god is immune to being falsified", which is the same as saying there's no way you could ever learn that you're wrong, which in turn means that you have no reason to think you're right.
"god exists" is an explanation for a set of observations about the world we live in. but in order for that hypothesis to be taken seriously as a contender as a true explanation it has to make predictions. to say that your explanation isn't testable is to say that it makes no predictions. and to say that it isn't testable and doesn't make predictions is to say that it fits the observations as well as any of an infinite number of other explanations we can concoct to fit the observations. after all, if we're saying that a successful explanation can be one that fits the observations as well as any other (and we must if we're saying it can't or doesn't make predictions and isn't testable) then we're left concluding that "the universe was created by a benevolent alien fungus" is as likely to be correct as "god exists and created the universe". and an explanation that is as likely to be correct as any other concocted to fit the observations is also as likely to be as wrong.
so how likely is it that the universe was created by a benevolent alien fungus? not very likely at all you say? QED
but it's worse. in traveling down this road we find ourselves to have arbitrarily chosen among an infinite number of possible explanations that fit the observations. in choosing one among an infinite number of possible explanations that we might concoct to fit the observations we're confronted with the overwhelming likelihood that we've chosen wrong given the chances of our selecting the correct one among so many possible explanations the fit the observations.
"but that still doesn't disprove my god, and if you say and know your dream is real, even though you can't prove it, couldn't my god be real?"
again, as above, there's a difference between the fact that you had a dream and the question of whether the content of your dream was real.
pay attention to the fact that if in your dream you were engaged in the battle of your life with werewolves this was not real even while it is true that you DID have a dream. and notice that this is true even if in your dream you went to dinner and a movie with your significant other and got into a car accident on the way home. then, too, though the content of the dream is not real, you still had a dream.
now that that's clear, let's look at the sentence quoted again.
"if you say and know your dream is real, even though you can't prove it, couldn't my god be real?"
i never said the content of your dream is real. i said that the fact that you had a dream is true. and this i can prove by hooking you up to instruments and measuring your brain waves looking for the tell-tale indications of a dreaming brain. i could also look for secondary indicators like Rapid Eye Movement (REM), since REM is known to accompany the brain states in which dreaming occurs.
so, no, because the content of your dream ISN'T real, since it's only true that you had a dream, it isn't true that just because i can't prove that your god doesn't exist, he's real.
now, another way to answer your question is to point out that you're asking if your god could be real. but i never said that a god someplace somewhere absolutely could not exist in the sense of being an in principle impossibility. i just maintain that, since there's no evidence and no argument that's convincing to doxastically neutral persons, the likelihood of a god existing is so low as to be beyond serious consideration.
so, irrelevant of dreams or anything else, your god could exist, sure. but who cares about could. could my left arm be made of green cheese, only to take on the appearance of flesh and bone when examined? sure. would you argue that because my arm could be made of green cheese, though there's no evidence that it is in fact, that a person refusing to believe it was was wrong to do so? do YOU have a problem rejecting the belief that my arm is made of green cheese even though it COULD be so, strictly speaking? why not? in order to be consistent, if you want to claim that the fact that your god could exist should be troubling to me, you'd have to be troubled by your refusal to believe in my green-cheese arm when it could be made of green cheese. and yet you're not. and neither am i when it comes to your god.
what matters isn't what could be but what is likely to be given the evidence. and you have as much for your god as i have for my green-cheese arm. i.e., none. :)
Don't discredit the green-cheese arm so flipantly.
it is just like that. i'd be glad to attend. just remember, if you try to examine my gree-cheese arm it'll instantaneously take on the appearance of an everyday flesh and bone arm.
but. yeah. it's still green cheese. :)
Heather, you mentioned bodily fluids, and I instantly thought of Our Precisious Bodily Fluids.
Curse you Stanley Kubrick, Dr Stranglelove.
It's the flouridation I tell you!
Strangely I happen to love rain water and grain alcohol as a beverage.