Can Facebook answer whether god exists?

This was from a Facebook thread back in 2010 which turned into quite an interesting little debate on the existence of god. I’ve not asked permission from anyone to post this, so I’ve removed links back to Facebook and removed last names.

The start of the whole thing was a post about a PEW survey showing that agnostics scored higher on a survey about religion than the religious themselves:


Yup, if you want to know about religion, ask an agnostic…

U.S. Religious Knowledge Quiz

How much do you know about religion? And how do you compare with the average American? Take a short 15-question quiz from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life to find out.

Shelly Or a Jewish person — they did the best overall as far as religious affiliation goes. Did you take the quiz? I thought it was pretty easy — I got an 87%. I think how well one does has more to do with their level of education than anything else. They recently had a dude on WPR talking about this poll – good show.

Erik I thought Jonathan Edward was that guy who talked to dead people?

JoshR Naw…I got a 100% so ask a anti-denominational Christian. With a Bible degree. And a minor in Philosophy. Never mind, probably wasn’t the affiliation then eh? 🙂

JoshM I got the last one wrong. Weren’t there more than 15 questions in the original survey?

Beth I was disappointed to get 2 wrong, thought it would be perfect. I don’t know how many Qs there were! You’d think, Joshes (hee hee), that it would be longer than 15 Qs. And, as you may have read by breakdown of religious types, you all are the exception scoring so highly.

JoshR I think its just such a taboo subject these days that few learn about anything other than what they were raised with.

John Stewart ‎87%. Atheist (and, technically agnostic). I never went to church; all self-learned. The more I learn about religion, the more I want no part of it.


Several years ago my hot water heater died and I needed to get a new one. I researched all about the different types, sizes, brands, prices, ect… I learned a lot and was very knowledgable about hot water heaters. I bought the best one for the size of our bathtub and the number of bathrooms, and cost, ect… It’s been reliably providing us with warm showers for years and I haven’t even thought about a water heaters since it was installed. Today I couldn’t tell you the first thing about water heaters. I would do bad on a water heater survey.

Beth Religions factor so much into cultural norming and cherished art through the centuries that even we non-practitioners are touched by it. I think it’s good to have a comparative understanding of religion. I agree, Josh, that too few do. That just seems most egregious when the ignorance is on the part of someone who would label themselves as devout. Like, one should know the landscape before proclaiming to own the best part of it.


An atheist who has rejected all religion on its face without thorough understanding is as close-minded, if not more so, in my mind than a person of faith who hasn’t made a study of the alternatives.

Its not really valid to make conclusions concerning any party on the basis of data such as this. I think its fair to say that there are as many close minded bigoted practitioners of Atheism as their are Jews, Christians etc.

Josh M. makes a very good point I think. Surveys such as this really do have very limited application.

JoshM Yep. Self righteous hypocrites suck. Thank God the vast majority of religious folks and Athiest aren’t that way. 😉 I think if people are happy with their religion and it works for them, they have no practical reason to learn any more about it or any other religion for that matter.

John Stewart

That atheists are at the top, or near the top, of this list shows that their beliefs are NOT based on limited information, but rather they have a much more complete understanding of religion and its history than most.

This is in stark contrast to a huge swath of the American population, who very fervently believe their theirs in the Only True Way, with no other evidence than their parents told them so.

JoshM The belief that a huge swath of the American population, who “very fervently” believe that their religion is the Only True Way is in itself a belief based on limited information. I think it’s very hard to know what people truly believe. It’s not something you can tell from church membership numbers.

John Stewart

Every belief is based on limited information. Some people continually revise their worldview as they gather new information. Some people reject new information that contradicts their worldview.

The former are scientists. The latter are the “faithful”.

I base my belief that America is religious not on faith, but fact (60% self-identified Christian):

I base my belief that Christianity preaches exclusivity on its scripture (this is not, of course, a unique property of the cult… every successful religion claims to be the only correct one).

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

JoshM I’m a self-identified Christian who doesn’t believe that Christianity is the One True Way. Based on this new information, will you revise your belief that Christians fervently believe theirs is the Only True Way?

John Stewart

I certainly accept what you say about yourself. However, a sample size of one is an anecdote, not evidence, so I think it has relatively little bearing on the population as a whole.

I do still believe that most self-identified Christians (and Muslims, for that matter… Jews are a slightly different case) believe that theirs is the only correct religion, and that theirs is the only true god. We have a much larger sample size than 1 showing this to be true.

I also wonder what it means to you to be Christian, if you don’t follow the doctrine laid out in the scriptures that form the basis of the religion. One of the most infuriatingly common elements I have witnessed in religious people is their insistence that their particular bible is the only truth.

Does the Christian Bible lay out the one true word of God, or doesn’t it? If it does, then see above (Exodus 20:2); all non-Christian views are, ipso facto, wrong.

If it does not, then on what basis can you claim to be Christian?

I’m not just trolling here; I am actually interested in the answer. I have also enjoyed this thread, so please don’t take offense that I’m calling your beliefs a bunch of hooey.


I’m not offended at all and also welcome the discussion.

I agree, the account of one person is poor evidence of the beliefs of the whole population. All I can say is that nearly every Christian I’ve discussed this subject with thinks the same way I do. Including my priest. I admit that’s still a relativly small number, but I don’t think there is evidence that shows that most Christians believe lock step in the dogma of their respective churches.

I just don’t think it is necessary to know, understand, or believe in church doctorine to concider yourself Christian. In the middle ages when a king converted to christianty, so did all of his subjects. I don’t think they suddenly believed in the trinity.

John Stewart Well, I am heartened, whatever the sample size, that not all self-avowed Christians are zealots. Good talking to you; peace be with you and your family.


Well, if being convinced I’m right and, for example Radical Islam is wrong, I’m a Christian zealot. But I’m no more a zealot than a comitted atheist is. No more arrogant either. Why bother taking a position if one isnt conviced theirs is right? The real question is can you listen, understand and share community with people with differing opinions to yours. And I have seen as much arrogance, bigotry and “hooey” from the follwers of so called science as I have the worst Christians. I dont have time for either variety. An ashat is a asshat regardless of the faith.

Science can’t answer every question. In fact it cant answer most of the questions that are the most important. Philosophy is as much a valuable academic pursuit, or endeavor of the mind, as science.

JoshM Thanks John. I’ll take a blessing of peace from an %87 Athiest any day. Peace to you and yours.

John Stewart

Well, I don’t represent all atheists, as Josh doesn’t represent all Christians. However, I consider myself an atheist and (importantly) an agnostic. In other words, if presented evidence that there is a god, I will happily change my tune. I believe I’m right (thus atheist), but am open to evidence that I am not (as I am agnostic).

And thus the difference between religion and science. Science attempts to explain the world around us by testing it. Religion attempts to explain the world around us by invoking the supernatural.

Some people believe they can reconcile religion and science. Stephen Jay Gould claimed they were “Nonoverlapping Magisteria”.

I disagree. The very question of whether there is a god or not is a question of science. Either god exists, or god does not. That is a question about the universe in which we exist. Answering questions about the universe is the fundamental purpose of science.

Furthermore, if we’re talking about the evidence about whether Islam or Christianity is “right”, where is it? If you have some, I really am all ears; I am eager to hear evidence that god exists, or that the precepts of Christianity are somehow more “right” than those of Islam (or vice versa). So far all I’ve heard anyone do is point to a holy book and claim that is evidence of something supernatural, be it the Bible, Koran, or Torah.

The belief in something without actual evidence that it is so is called “faith”. Faith seems, sadly, to be considered a virtue by many.

Faith is what allows, eventually, someone to be so convinced they’re right in the cause of an imaginary being, that they’ll crash an airplane into the twin towers… or blow up a government building in Oklahoma, or murder a doctor in an abortion clinic.

I’d prefer my world to have a bit less of that stuff.


Well, John, humanists have had their share of horrors to cite. Marxism, some of the environmental extermists, etc. Consider for example how DDT was largely banned based on faith that scientists knew what they were talking about, and nearly all of the claims made about it have been refuted, resulting in millions of unessecary deaths due to malaria. Sensless, unreasoning faith in science as a institution has killed people as readilly as senless, unreasoning faith in God. George Washington had the very best doctors and science treating him, and they litterallly bled him to death. Its not religion that is responsible, it is the evil tendancies evident in Mankind, and science has no explination for that.
Everyone excercises faith to one degree or another, the question is what you put yours in.

Science cannot prove nor disprove a lot of things. For example, strictly speaking, science cannot prove Abaram Lincoln was president. History does that. Science is but one tool in a rational man’s tool box, and insisting that one use only it is as foolish as a man attempting to be a handiman using only a hammer. To try to limit the discussion of God to the realm of empirical science is as silly as trying to cut a board in half with a hammer.

Ill tell you what, you dont hold me responsible for the crusades and I wont hold you responsible for Stalin.

JoshM And looking for natural evidence of a supernatural god is like looking for polar bears in the canopy of the Amazon rain forest. I don’t think that’s a comfort to many Atheist or Christians, but non the less true in my view.

John Stewart

That people have blind faith in anything is not a valid criticism of science. The whole point is not at all that science is always right; the point is that science is self-correcting.

While Washington may have been bled to death by the best scientists of the day only shows how far medical science has come in 200 years. Contrast that with the progress of church doctrine.

You wouldn’t want, when you have a medical emergency, for your doctor to be using science from the middle ages, right? Yet you accept this from your church? It’s mind-boggling to me that transubstantiation is still the dogma of the Catholic Church. It’s beyond silly, and shows a terrifying ability to believe in magic, by those that accept it.

And to the idea of looking for god with science, means looking in the wrong places, I see three possibilities (please let me know if I’m missing something here):

– God does exist and had an effect on our world and universe (an “interventionist” god).


– God does exist and has no effect on our universe (which would include the “afterlife”). Perhaps also the “gaia” god.


– God does not exist.

To me the two are indistinguishable. If god doesn’t affect the universe in any way, then why do we call him God?

If god does exist, and does affect the universe, then he does exist in the rain forest, and the arctic, and the real world in which we live. To say he is unmeasurable and impotent and unreachable is tantamount to saying that he’s nothing more than an invention of our very human minds, and to that, I can agree.

And to the Stalin thing, that’s a straw man argument. Stalin had a mustache. Hitler had a mustache. Does that mean all people with mustaches are evil totalitarian mass murderers?

Contrast that with the crusades, which was mass murder/torture, explicitly in God’s name!


There’s a whole lot of things that are currently undetectable to science yet are accepted based on the effect they have on the world around them. Just because God is beyond science’s capactiy to measure, it does not follow He does not exist. Science has spent billions on discovering the Higgs boson with no more proof that it exists than I have proof of my God. Personally, i have no issue with believing either.

Of course the Stalin thing was a straw man…as is your using bad acts in the name of religion as a argument against God. Stalin was certainly acting in the name of science, as was the practice of Eugenics in Hitlers Germany (and in the US and Europe before that actually). Didn’t make the science wrong, just its interpretation.

Just because a belief in God can be manipulated and misused does not make it invalid, anymore than a reliance on empiricism is proven wrong by its nutcases and sociopaths.

I will say it seems you think science and faith cannot both be embraced, and that is quite demonstrateably false. The vast majority of the basic scientific discoveries of modern science were discovered by men who were at the minimum deists.

John Stewart

The vast majority of science was developed by deists is undeniably true, but that’s because the vast majority of everyone has been deists. The more people know about the universe, the less likely they are to believe in a supernatural cause.
I don’t have any actual stats to back me up off the cuff, but I’ll bet that you can see a steady, continuing decline in the percentage of “scientists” who also believe in god.

This is not a coincidence.

That something is currently undetectable by science does not mean that it will never be. You’re dancing around the question, but I ask again – do you believe that the god you believe in has an impact on our universe?

If so, then this means the existence of god is a question of science, and that there is no reason his effect can’t be measured, even if we don’t yet have the tools to do so.

This is not without precedence, many times over, in the history of science… something is predicted which cannot be verified until much later (Einstein versus Newton, for example).

If you don’t believe your god has an effect on the universe, then it seems you believe in a god that doesn’t matter in any real way.


The very fact that Christians did so poorly on the question of transubstantiation in the survey shows that it is not being taught by the church even if it is still on the papal books. And don’t forget that there are a variety of Christian denomonations – all with their own interpretation of scripture. Nearly all of them don’t say the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.

I don’t think there are any scientific efforts focused on looking for effects of God’s work. Today’s science is not in that paradigm. There’s a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn which makes the arguement that it is nearly impossible for scientists in a particular paradigm to work outside of that paradigm.

JoshM Also, regarding the idea that religion causes people to do evil, I would direct you to the podcast of my church’s sermon this week. It a message that I think represents the sentiment of today’s religion.–The_Hard_Part_of_the_Message.mp3


Of course I believe that God has a impact on the universe. That is not the same thing as believing a scientist in a laboratory using the scientific method could prove or disprove His existence. Heck, I cant even prove or disprove Abraham Lincoln’s existence using the scientific method. Wrong discipline. Back to using a hammer to cut a board in half.

Again, a good comparison is the Higgs boson. They have never found direct evidence of its existence, yet it is considered a near certanty it exists, simply because it is the best explanation for a number of questions. Thats still considered rational.

Point is that one can have a rational belief in something and still not have that something be provable/disprovable in a laboratory. I have no issue with a person who chooses atheism/humanism, but I do have a problem with the position that belief in God is not rational.

I think you’s be wrong on the decline of people who believe in God in science. I have found academia in general is hostile to religious faith and therefore its a good idea in those circles to keep ones mouth shut about their religious affilitation. Thus any data if it were even available would be skewed.

Purely anecdotally I know a couple dozen or so research scientists in various fields and only one of them is a true athiest, a couple would consider themselves agnostic. Half a dozen buddhists, and even a pagan. The rest are Christians of various denominations or Jewish.

John Stewart

You completely make my point by analogizing God to a Higgs boson.

Yes, it hasn’t been directly observed. But it has been predicted, and now we’re looking for it.

We’ll never be able to put our hands on it, smell it, see it, or hear it. But if it exists, there is some chance the LHC will show its existence.

If God is a part of our universe, and affects it, then you can’t also say there can exist no evidence for him in this universe.

Or, you have to define him so narrowly, as the spotlight of science keeps brightening the dark corners of our world, that he can’t possibly really be a part of our existence.

A thousand years ago, he had lots of places to hide. In fact, it is very human to come up with a supernatural explanation for the unknown in a dark and scary world. But as the known grows, and the unknown shrinks, the places he can exist (in the sky? before the Big Bang?) grow smaller.

It would be brave to admit that he might be provable. But instead you seem to be avoiding the issue by arbitrarily defining him as outside our universe (but you’re also avoiding doing that).


I think your not understanding my position. Im sure I’m not explaining clearly.

I think theres plenty of evidence for God’s existence. Just not “scientific” in the traditional, hard sciences sort of way.. I don’t think science currently or for the forseable future has the capability of having an empirical, experimental demonstration of Gods existance. Any observances one could chalk up to God are as easilly explained by random chance or something else. For example, the observable fact that the universe is expanding and that its expansion is accellerating ( a apparent violation of Newton’s laws). My explanation in a nutshell…God did it. Can I prove it? Not really. Can you disprove it? Probably not anytime soon. A opinion not provable nor disprovable belongs not in science but rather in philosophy, where the standard is not provableness but reasonableness.

Its not that I dont think He has a effect on the universe. I just don’t have a high enough opinion of science to believe it is capable of dealing with such a problem. Science is stretched to answer much simpler problems.

This is the realm of philosophy. And there is a place for philosophy in the entirety of human knowledge. Hard science will only get you so far.

And Beth, youare awesome at starting Epic threads 🙂


I think John’s criticism regarding evidence of God in the universe came from my silly statement about polar bears in the rain forest, which I admit was not well thought out.

John, why are you concerned that people have beliefs that are notscientifically based? I think archeological evidence shows that religious belief in one form or another has been with us since the beginning of our species, and yet we continue to progress. Have you considered that religion could be an important part of the evolutionary process?

And Beth, I agree with the other Josh. You are awesome but I don’t want to wear out my welcome so I probably will be done with this thread. 🙂