G?DEL AND GOD….Via Kieran Healy, I took the Battleground God test to find out whether my religious beliefs are internally consistent. It turns out that about half the people who take the test do pretty well in this regard, so it’s actually no great shakes to come out with a good score.

Still, it’s kinda fun, and helps get your mind of war, SARS, and neocon grand plans. In the end, I took one “direct hit” based on these two questions:

Question 10
If, despite years of trying, no strong evidence or argument has been presented to show that there is a Loch Ness monster, it is rational to believe that such a monster does not exist.

Question 14
As long as there are no compelling arguments or evidence that show that God does not exist, atheism is a matter of faith, not rationality.

I answered True to both questions, and the test makers said this was inconsistent:

Earlier you agreed that it is rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does not exist if there is an absence of strong evidence or argument that it does. No strong evidence or argument was required to show that the monster does not exist – absence of evidence or argument was enough. But now you claim that the atheist needs to be able to provide strong arguments or evidence if their belief in the non-existence of God is to be rational rather than a matter of faith.

I guess this is right, but I wonder. The Loch Ness monster is an ordinary physical being, and it’s reasonable to believe that if it existed it could be discovered by ordinary physical means. Therefore, if these means have been tried and failed, the monster is probably a fable. A belief in the physical existence of the Loch Ness monster is almost certainly inconsistent with a belief in the laws of physics.

But even as an atheist myself I understand that the nature of God is rather different. Nobody has ever suggested that physical tests could detect the existence of God, so the fact that these tests don’t in fact detect God doesn’t really prove anything, does it?

I’m perfectly happy to base my nonbelief on the lack of plausible physical evidence for God’s existence, but it still seems like an example of one of G?del’s undecidable questions. Both belief and nonbelief are consistent with all the other axioms of the world, so you can choose whichever one you want. To that extent, belief and nonbelief are simply matters of one’s worldview ? or faith ? not something that’s really amenable to rational argument.

POSTSCRIPT: Another way of putting it: in the first question, I think an unstated assumption is that the laws of physics completely describe the world. In the second question, however, that is most decidedly not an assumption. In fact, it’s the very question at hand, and I doubt that there are any purely rational grounds for insisting on it one way or the other. A supernatural God doesn’t seem necessary to me to explain the world, but “not necessary” is hardly proof of nonexistence. And I say this having been brought up in perhaps the most spectacularly internally consistent religion ever conceived….