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Suppose you looked out at the night sky and saw the stars literally spell out a sentence saying, “God is real.”

Now, as a thought experiment, let’s assume that you could somehow know that

a) this isn’t a hallucination

and

b) humans could not have designed this (after all, they’re stars)

and

c) no intelligent, physical life form that could possibly have been evolved elsewhere on another planet designed this

Would this be enough to conclude that a supernatural being designed this?

Intuitively, and instinctively, the answer to me seems yes. At the same time, why couldn’t the stars have simply spelled out that sentence for no further reason other than its preceding physical causes of star formation?

This seems irrational on the face of it, but after thinking about it, it only seems irrational due to our experience of (human) designers designing meaningful things. It thus seems like an instinct rooted in analogy but the analogy seems to fail once we’ve concluded that this is outside the bounds of human (or even extraterrestrial) production. Thus, despite intuition, I’m having trouble understanding why it would justify design.

So would it obviously justify design, no design, or is this something that is irredeemably subjective?

EDIT: From some responses to the question already saying that this would violate relativity if the pattern did not exist yesterday, let’s assume that it doesn’t theoretically violate any known laws of physics. If this still doesn’t work, then just take it to mean the occurrence of any recognizable pattern that is outside the capacity of human production but within the capacity of naturalism

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Philosophy Meta, or in Philosophy Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Feb 2 at 10:29
  • I think you'll find this article to be a good read, it's an Aristotelian-Thomist explanation for a similarly imagined scenario: Signature in the cell?
    – Mutoh
    Feb 2 at 14:46
  • 3
    Futurama has entered the chat.
    – RonJohn
    Feb 2 at 15:21
  • i'm not sure it would justify a designer, but they might feek kinda smug about it
    – user66697
    Feb 2 at 17:46
  • 2
    I feel like this question is just a tautology in the form of a question. The (a), (b), and (c) conditions imposed are pretty unrealistic. It seems like you're coming very close to asking, "If you could rule out everything except a supernatural being as a cause, would the cause have to be a supernatural being?" Feb 3 at 4:17

16 Answers 16

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There's no way to truly prove or disprove the existence of an all-powerful deity acting behind the scenes simply by observing the scenes themselves, so to speak. Unless you can "peek behind the curtain," you can never know if a god is really there pulling the strings or not, not in the same way that you can know there are rocks and stars and grass outside. In our world, we have no way to "peek behind the curtain" we know of; we only know what we can observe directly and what conclusions we can draw from those observations. Because of this, ultimately, as long as you don't adopt religious views that actively conflict with what you can observe, you can always find room to believe that a god was responsible somehow without doubting what you've seen. Then again, no observation can force such a belief on you either. So, I think the most important question is, "What does believing in a god or gods do for you?"

By and large, most atheists and agnostics don't assert that they can disprove the existence of gods, more that they see no particular reason to resort to them to account for what they've experienced. Seeing something and then concluding that a god was responsible raises all sorts of other questions: Who is this god? What are their motives? How do they affect the world? Much of what we've found through observation is that the world around us follows strangely abstract and totally unbreakable rules, which apply without discrimination or apparent intent, and are so mechanistically reliable that you can predict the future in certain ways based on them. As far as we can tell, the rules don't change a whit no matter what rituals you perform, nor does nature seem to object to us gaming them and pulling little tricks with them and such like we do with our technology; they just sit there unfeelingly and stay exactly the same all the time. If you like Occam's Razor, you might find it more comfortable to just say, "With such inflexible, self-contained rules, why waste effort believing in something behind them?" This comes with certain challenges—you might find yourself contemplating Camus' question in The Myth of Sysyphus about why we should bother living in such an unfeeling world—but it also comes with many opportunities for its own special flavor of awe: confronted with a flower, you might find it more deeply moving to trust that the natural laws we know, despite their apparently simplicity and inflexibility, yet have such complex implications that one outcome they might lead to is the flower you see, than it would be for you to trust that a sentient deity created the flower and placed it there; the latter explanation would imply that the diety is an artist of cowing skill, but in a way that's a less surprising idea.

For some people, though, the pain that Camus gestured towards is not worth whatever they might gain from that worldview. If you trust instead that a divine force acts through the world around you, weaving a sense of underlying intent into your experiences, then you can know that, whether you experience hardship or pleasure, it was in some sense meant to be, and you can take comfort in that. (And how can any observation prove you wrong?) One of the most eloquent expressions I've heard of a version of this idea is actually in this talk by an imam named Mohamed Abutaleb on the Islamic concept of tawakkul, or complete trust in God; at the beginning of that talk, he says:

The theme that we're rolling with is "The Missing Peace: Your Quest for Trust in Allah". And this is both a missing piece of our lives—P-I-E-C-E—but it's also a missing peace, as in serenity and tranquility, because when we lack this attribute, this issue of tawakkul or trust in Allah...then we lose that peace and serenity in our lives.

So, you can see immediately that without that kind of trust, he feels you are bound to feel restless and pained, discontent, doubtful, even depressed. Later in the talk he gives an example of a young person who feels they have to ace an important exam in order for everything to go right in their life after that, and despite making their best effort to study and prepare, gets a low grade and feels that their life is now ruined; he says that, if such a person has really made their best effort, they must trust the answer they have received from Allah in the form of their grade, relinquish their desire for total control of their life, and pivot to whatever follows without question. With a secular worldview, you have no guidance like this; if you feel your life is now ruined, well, maybe it is ruined, and whatever happens next is not the alternative God meant for you but simply another meaningless event in the random parade of billions of years of nature. Camus says,

All those lives maintained in the rarefied air of the absurd could not persevere without some profound and constant thought to infuse its strength into them. Right here, it can be only a strange feeling of fidelity. Conscious men have been seen to fulfill their task amid the most stupid of wars without considering themselves in contradiction. This is because it was essential to elude nothing. There is thus a metaphysical honor in enduring the world’s absurdity.

So, he too wants you to embrace whatever comes next, but not because it was meant to be—more as a kind of brave monument to how much it wasn't. I suspect that Abutaleb might pity Camus for holding this kind of perspective; he might feel that this "metaphysical honor" is a rather sad and mealy thing to strive for in the face of the deep peace and guidance he finds in tawakkul. Camus might call his tawakkul a kind of retreating or shying-away from the true challenge of human life. Who's right?

There is no scientific experiment or empirical observation that can pick between these perspectives (nor are they the only ones available). Choosing a worldview can't just be a straightforward matter of evidence or logic, but is necessarily one of desire and emotional resonance—in what spirit do you want to go forward?

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Ultimately, for a person of faith, what makes something a miracle isn't if it's rare, or inexplicable, or awe-inspiring, or impossible. It's that you see the hand of God in it, and that's more a question of how you see the world than what you see in the world. If you have a commitment to a purely naturalistic world, you can always hypothesize a naturalistic explanation, even if you don't know what it is. Conversely, if you believe in God, something doesn't have to present as supernatural for you to see God in it.

CS Lewis dramatizes an analogous situation in his Narnia book, The Silver Chair. The heroes, having gotten off-track in their divinely bestowed quest, are astounded to see giant letters carved into the ground saying "UNDER ME." As you might (in your example with the stars), they quite naturally assume a divine explanation. However, in a twist, they learn that there is a naturalistic explanation. The letters are all that remain of a monumental inscription carved into the ground by a vanished civilization. They didn't appear overnight, they were just too large to be recognized as letters when seen from a closer vantage-point.

Lewis' point is this: The letters are both. They are both a meaningless, naturalistically explained, fragment of a relic that is hundreds of years old AND they are a timely, targeted message, from God, for these particular children, at this moment, with regards to this quest. You might well protest, That's just because that's the way that Lewis wrote this. But that also demonstrates his point. If a good author can make a single event serve double duty, why can't a Creator God do the same thing? The message in the stars doesn't necessarily "prove" the existence of God, but even if there was a naturalistic explanation, that wouldn't disprove the existence of God.

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  • While I think this is a good answer, I wouldn't call the Narnia scene a miracle, though it may be providential from a theistic perspective. Miracles are supposed to be beyond the powers of created things i.e. they require divine causation, like a man being raised from the dead. Surely a naturalist will disagree about whether an event actually requires divine causation, but if he's right then even if he doesn't disprove theism the theist will still have to concede it wasn't a miracle (though it can still be what's called a "prodigy").
    – Mutoh
    Feb 2 at 14:44
  • Ugh; I remember that passage very well. The problem is the witch's argument is essentially correct; and it only means anything to Jill because she was told to look for it specifically.
    – Joshua
    Feb 2 at 20:17
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I have good news. If you look at the Hubble deep field pictures here

https://science.nasa.gov/mission/hubble/science/universe-uncovered/hubble-deep-fields/

I am sure you can pick out come subset of those stars in one of those pictures and spell out "God is real" with them. Hallelujah!

More generally, there are lots of stars in the sky of varying brightnesses all over the sky so you could pick some subset of them by some criterion and spell out anything you like.

You should conclude that something exists if there is some explanation of something in reality that requires that thing's existence. If you came across a structure composed of one or more stars and the only explanation you could find is that it was designed by some intelligent beings, e.g. a Dyson sphere, then you might say that structure was designed.

You clarified by saying:

If this still doesn’t work, then just take it to mean the occurrence of any recognizable pattern that is outside the capacity of human production but within the capacity of nature’s production

If something can be produced by unaided nature then you don't need an intelligent designer. If there is an explanation of how something works within the known laws of physics, then it isn't supernatural. If there is no such explanation you just don't have an explanation. Saying there is a supernatural explanation is the same as giving up on any explanation because saying an explanation conflicts with known laws of physics is a criticism of that explanation and should lead to its rejection. Also there is no particular reason to think it is impossible to move stars around: this isn't forbidden by any known law of physics even though we don't currently know how to do it.

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  • "there is no particular reason to think it is impossible to move stars around: this isn't forbidden by any known law of physics even though we don't currently know how to do it." It just takes a whole, whole, whole lot of energy to move enough stars to clearly spell out "God is real" in a human language, as visible from Earth.
    – RonJohn
    Feb 2 at 16:05
  • But can you do it with one rectangle and one brightness cutoff filter?
    – Joshua
    Feb 2 at 20:14
  • 1
    @Joshua - In an infinite universe, sure. Eventually you'll find a picture and a filter that spell out a word, and it will be a total coincidence
    – Valorum
    Feb 2 at 22:23
  • @RonJohn Unless it's already there, and the pattern is merely a continuation of existing processes, and the existing processes will equally well erase that pattern and move onto something that we'd consider meaningless. You're arguing that the Gambler's Fallacy could be proof of the existence of God - but of course it's a fallacy, and matching any given pattern on random events doesn't (can't) tell you anything about the nature of the random events.
    – Graham
    Feb 3 at 10:34
  • @Valorum Even if the universe is infinite (we don't know), our position in this universe is fixed. If Joshua's "brightness cutoff filter" means a simple brightness threshold that keeps everything above the threshold and cuts everything below the threshold, then your argument doesn't hold. It's like the difference between "any sequence can be found in the digits of pi" (true and super cool) and "any sequence can be found in the digits of pi starting from the first digit" (obviously false, and boring). (Also, anything further than 14 billion lightyears might as well not exist)
    – Stef
    Feb 3 at 12:52
11

let’s assume that you could somehow know that a) this isn’t a hallucination and b) humans could not have designed this (after all, they’re stars) and c) no intelligent, physical life form that could possibly have been evolved elsewhere on another planet designed this

If you start off assuming that it could only have been due to God, it's not that much of a stretch to conclude that God did it.

The most plausible alternatives are a trick of your mind, and the actions of some intelligent natural beings (humans or otherwise). The biggest part of arguing that it was God would be explaining why it those alternatives aren't plausible. You just start off assuming those aren't the case, which is a problem. But let's move on.

If suddenly stars are arranged differently from how they were before, this may strongly suggest the influence of some agent. But we should still consider any natural effects that could give rise to that.

If we discover some new stars or look at some existing stars in a new way, and discover that they're in the shape of some English text, one might consider that they just randomly formed that way. People have a tendency to impose meaning and intent on randomness, but randomness is random, and sometimes that looks a lot like something that isn't random.

How exactly all of this would measure up would depend heavily on what the exact evidence is (and may involve a fair amount of subjectivity, especially between theists and atheists).

Which god?

Let's say we (somehow) sufficiently addressed all of the above, and concluded that there is some powerful being behind it.

Many theists may say this is evidence of their particular god, even though the beliefs of those theists contradict one another.

All we'd really know is that some powerful being is behind it. If they identify themselves further, we may be able to narrow it down.

But then we'd have the problem that whatever they say is merely what a powerful being wants us to know. Just because they say it doesn't make it true, and we should still consider whether it is indeed true.

I'll also note that there are things that could be said to preclude the existence of a god with certain traits (e.g. the problem of evil or divine hiddenness, or scriptural problems within a religion). Those would be good reasons to refrain from saying that powerful being is a deity of some specific religion, and to rationally conclude that it was that deity, there may be a significant additional burden to address those precluding problems.

We don't have evidence that's nearly this good

There is some use in talking about where exactly the line is for when we'd accept the existence of a god (and of a particular god). But it's worth keeping in mind that the skeptic's objection is that we're nowhere close to that line. And if an all-powerful being exists, they should trivially be able to show us things that go way beyond that line. And if a being exists outside of the observable universe, and they aren't powerful or bothered enough to clearly demonstrate their existence to some animals on a tiny rock among billions of trillions of stars, then there probably isn't much reason for us to care about their existence.

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    That first two para's seem to be pretty much it. The Q is basically just another "anything unexplained must be God" expanded into a proof (if anything unexplained must be god, and something unexplained happens, does that prove it was god?) Jan 31 at 23:30
  • Yes I agree. This question is acknowledging the most plausible explanations, and asking, "but what if we knew it wasn't them? What then?" I think this is a perfectly acceptable question, as long as said question isn't intended to display proof of god. I can certainly think of explanations that don't require supernatural intervention. Feb 2 at 15:02
  • After reading your comment, I want to ask one thing: why isn’t one of your plausible alternatives the universe just being determined in a way that the stars do happen to spell out a sentence. Note that I’m referring to a case where this is physically possible but just extremely improbable (similar to a dice rolling 6 1000 times straight by chance). This alternative at first glance seems implausible only because we are used to seeing improbable, meaningful things occurring by design. Feb 3 at 3:22
  • However, that’s an argument based on experience. And our experience suggests that we are actually used to seeing improbable, meaningful things within the capacity of human production being created by human designers. So if we did come across an improbable, meaningful thing that is possible under natural law but impossible for humans, I still see no reason to prefer god as an alternative to just nature doing it. Nature can simply create X for no further reason. After all, if God did X, His preferences to do X would also exist for no further reason. And nature is simpler Feb 3 at 3:26
  • A minor note: the argument of (un-)importance due to (lack of) size may be emotionally compelling, but is not logically founded.
    – Jed Schaaf
    Feb 3 at 4:54
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I think that this has some room for questioning, like how clear the selling of "god is real" Does it look like connects the dots or is it in the sense very clearly spelled out if it isn't very clearly laid out I think that the skeptic in all of us would just say that that is a coincidence but if it was more clear and think yes that would be very compelling to the belief in higher life. This also brings up another question where is it like is it visible to people on Earth or as someone else pointed out is it a picture from the Hubble telescope, I think going off of this you could see a very clearly and concisely written out a message saying "god is real" from just standing on earth not in space I think that would be considerable proof for the belief in god.

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The stars have spoken since time immemorial. Better and better we understand what they say:

Not “God exists", but “Science is working.” Celestial mechanics, Bethe-Weizsäcker cycle, stellar evolution, …

The concept of a designer appears as a lack of imagination about the power of self-organization.

The OP's hypothetical question seems to me a bit light vis-à-vis the weighty context of “faith” and the problem of the “hiddenness of God”.

1
  • "You will pay for your lack of vision!" Great point about lack of imagination. "I can imagine quite a bit."
    – Scott Rowe
    Feb 1 at 11:40
4

Would seeing the stars spell out a sentence justify a designer?

First, we need to rephrase the basic idea. For example:

Suppose someone looking at the sky tonight realises that the constellations that we would have seen last night have been somehow all replaced by one unique and perfectly aligned constellation apparently spelling "Water is one part oxygen, two parts hydrogen" or some such.

Whoa. That would definitely get the attention of most governments, most scientists, and, beyond, most people.

Would this be enough to conclude that a supernatural being put out this message for us?

Suppose you go out one night with friends. You have drinks in a bar, and you feel the need to go to the loo. There you discover scratched on the wall:

It's tough being a med student!!!

What are you likely to infer from the fact? That a supernatural being who is a med student put out this message for anyone having a leak there? Surely not.

If ever we found that stars in the night's sky now make out some cogent message, we would just be uncredulous and speechless. If the stars making the new constellation are in sufficient number to exclude accidental alignment, we would be forced to accept that it really is a message, i.e., a message from an intelligent being. Supernatural? Why? No. No reason. The message would only warrant the conclusion that there is an intelligent entity, perhaps several, perhaps very many, who created the message. Just as you would presumably infer that an intelligent entity scratched the message "It's tough being a med student!!!" on the wall of the loo.

I don't think that we could explain scientifically how it would be possible to spell a message in the night's sky using stars, but the more reasonable interpretation would have to be that there is in the universe a non-human entity which not only is sufficiently intelligent to send a message to us, and in one of our own languages, but is also sufficiently intelligent to be able to use stars in this rather improbable way.

once we’ve concluded that this is outside the bounds of human (or even extraterrestrial) production.

We don't actually know that there is a limit to the engineering feats of an intelligent species.

I cannot imagine any particular occurrence which would be proof of a supernatural entity.

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    This means that if the end of the world comes exactly as prophesied in a certain prominent religion, with the resurrection of the dead, with angels descending upon the Earth, and God personally arriving to perform the final judgement, you'd conclude that some alien intelligence with vastly superior technology studied our largest religion and is playing a prank on us?
    – vsz
    Feb 1 at 11:17
  • @vsz by that point, it wouldn't make much difference what we think.
    – Scott Rowe
    Feb 1 at 11:46
  • @vsz How would you justify a god doing it being more likely than a superior technology playing a prank on us? You quite literally have no data to work with to make that conclusion either way. Feb 1 at 13:57
  • 1
    @vsz I'd agree that this is the right call, from a logical perspective. The acts you describe do not require an upheaval in the laws of physics - it'd only need an alien intelligence with a few hundred years on us in technological development. God, however, requires a complete rethink of observable natural laws, and is infinitely complex. If, however, some guy in a robe shows up with a wheel that just keeps spinning faster and faster, I might trust the god explanation more.
    – lupe
    Feb 1 at 14:12
  • @vsz "you'd conclude that some alien intelligence with vastly superior technology studied our largest religion and is playing a prank on us?" I said that this would be no proof of any supernatural entity. I cannot guaranty that my brain wouldn't make me believe, but even so my belief would still not be proof. Feb 1 at 17:31
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The answers here reinforce the point of the Quine-Duhem thesis. All theories are underconstrained by observation. What this means is all advocates of a theory are able to find patches to rationalize rejecting or explaining away every contrary observation.

If constellations tomorrow spell out clear English words that they did not yesterday, then God hypotheses and macro-simulation hypotheses should be among the more serious alternatives that we humans should consider. The rejection of this by most posters here, is characteristic of how dogma will always attempt to use Quine-Duhen to maintain itself.

The silliness of a God scrawling a short sentence in stars, rather than the much lower energy and more effective communication of direct telepathy, would suggest that Trickster God hypotheses should gain more credence than those of rational and goal-driven Gods — as well as “drunk programmer” simulation hypotheses.

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  • If anything, this would be a very good evidence in favour of the simulation hypothesis. Canonical reading: a short sci-fi story by Eliezer Yudkowsky, That Alien Message: lesswrong.com/posts/5wMcKNAwB6X4mp9og/that-alien-message Feb 2 at 14:16
  • Yeah... short "star sentences" are Trickster God; Jesus appearing American Physical Society’s (APS) March Meeting and letting Lawrence Krause and everyone else poke through his piercings, and see the crown of thorns embedded in his skull while he speaks, would be a pretty impressive public miracle.
    – RonJohn
    Feb 2 at 16:18
  • I mean, obviously. To be clear, as far as we know, this has never happened and probably never will happen. But when faced with something that would challenge our existing models of reality as much as that hypothetical situation, people find aliens with the ability, time and inclination to move stars and hold them in a gravitationally unstable inclination—who indeed, as far as we understand physics, might well have needed to start before English as a language existed—to spell out a message about divine existence to be possible, and a divinity to be impossible.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 3 at 4:02
  • Why? Well, clearly not because we view either of these situations to be at all likely, and certainly not because one is physically possible and the other is not—the alien hypothesis can pose incompatibilities with physics, particularly superluminal propagation (in fact, the question more or less implies that the scenario should be set up in such a way as to generate these problems) whereas there are ways to conceive of a deity that would be perfectly compatible with physics while still retaining very good practical approximations of omniscience, omnipotence, creation and so forth.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 3 at 4:07
  • It seems clear that it is simply because "aliens" are socially coded as rational, but "gods" are not.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 3 at 4:08
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If you follow Dawkins, then God is a delusion, i.e. it is objectively false. In that case no level of evidence will convince you otherwise, and it is more likely that you will think it is an optical illusion or a chance alignment or a mental aberration of some kind, purely because they are more consistent with your complete prior disbelief.

The problem with evidence for God is that there is (and can be?) no agreement on what constitutes valid evidence.

The problem is that many form definite opinions in either direction without a great deal of solid evidence, and confirmation bias is ubiquitous.

The solution is to be comfortable with uncertainty and non-extreme degrees of belief.

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  • What is your degree of belief in the idea that belief should be represented as degrees rather than binary? Feb 2 at 17:23
  • @Baby_philosopher 1-epsilon (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_epsilon) Feb 2 at 18:20
  • Belief in philosophy can be represented in a tertiary way (Belief, Disbelief, Suspension) or as degrees of belief as you stated. How can you justify representing belief in degrees vs. absolutes? You can’t use a degree of belief to justify that since that is the very notion in question. Feb 3 at 3:13
  • @Baby_philosopher Belief and Disbelief are not distinct, there is a spectrum with complete belief at one end and complete disbelief at the other. Suspension is denial of having a belief, so you can't call that a belief either. Philosophy seems to like exploiting vagueness in definitions, I am primarily a statistician with an interest in philosophy and I don't tend to find that kind of discussion productive or interesting. It is easy to justify degrees rather than absolute beliefs, "je pense donc je suis" shows we can't have completely certain knowledge of anything regarding the real world Feb 3 at 15:17
  • 1
    hence there is no rational basis for claiming absolute (dis-)belief. Feb 3 at 15:18
2

Would this be enough to conclude that a supernatural being designed this?

That would not be enough for me to conclude that a supernatural cause was behind it. The big hurdle there is I do not know if (nor do I have good reason [yet] to suspect) anything supernatural exists or could intervene in our physical reality.

We could investigate a wide range of possible natural causes (which we can reasonably conclude are extant in our universe based on previous observation), but even if we could not find a natural cause, then we're left with "we don't know" and not "it was probably something supernatural". I don't know how we clear that hurdle, as I don't know how one COULD demonstrate that supernatural causes exist.

So would it obviously justify design, no design, or is this something that is irredeemably subjective?

Given my answer to the first question you asked, I would say none of the above.

I also have a suggestion: a better example might be "god is real" spelled out on the surface of the moon in letters visible to us (no relativity needs to be violated there), with the condition that we could KNOW that humans/human-created machines didn't cause it. (Aside: if it's against guidelines to both answer the question and provide a suggestion for an edit in the same answer, I apologize.)

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  • 1
    But we do have a natural cause already, no? The laws of physics creating that formation or in your example, the laws of physics creating the spelling on the surface. Jan 31 at 14:28
  • @Baby_philosopher yes, that'd be a candidate explanation. My point was, even if we ruled out all the natural causes we could imagine, that wouldn't then confirm a supernatural cause.
    – microondas
    Jan 31 at 14:31
2

One way framework I havn't yet seen this discussed in (at least formally) above is formal statisitcs.

When we you say

Intuitively, and instinctively, the answer to me seems yes

what you are really saying is that the event E (the stars spell out "God Is Real") cannot happen if god didn't exist. We can formalize this as:

P(E | not god) == 0

You then go on to say:

At the same time, why couldn’t the stars have simply spelled out that sentence for no further reason other than its preceding physical causes of star formation?

So the probability isn't 0, its just very small. That is

P(E | not god) < e

where e is a very small number.

So, the likelihood of seeing that message if god doesn't exist is small. But that's not actaully what you are interested in - you are interested in the probability that god doesn't exist (i'm going to use not god because its easier, but just not that the P(God) is simply 1 - P(not god), given that you've seen the writing. That is:

P( not god | E)

not we can't calculate that directly from the probabiliy of seeing the writing in the sky. Instead, but bayes theorm, we can do it:

P( not god | E) = P(not god) * P(E | not god) / P(E)

where P(E) = P(not god) * P(E | not god) + P(God) * P(E | God)

Importantly in this there are two bits of informations we need - the prior probability that god exists and the probability of god writing a message in the stars, that we see, if god does exist. That is we need not just to know if what we saw was unlikely if god doesn't exist, but how likely the alternative explanation is, given that we have observed the event.

People of faith will set the prior probability of god higher than people that already don't believe. In fact, ardent believers will have P(God) = 1 and ardent atheists (e.g. Dawkins) will probably have P(God) ~ 0.

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  • What’s the point of using Bayes’ theorem for this if it comes down to a difference in prior probabilities which are in turn undefined anyways? Feb 2 at 17:25
  • @Baby_philosopher it's still useful to formalize probabilistic logic, so at least people can clearly communicate about their priors and discuss their reasoning for assigning various probabilities. Anybody who assigns non-0 and non-1 probabilities to the relevant variables can at least compare notes with other people.
    – TKoL
    Feb 2 at 17:31
  • @TKoL What is your prior probability in God? It seems inscrutable to me since there’s no obvious base data to work with. It seems more worthwhile to just compare theories and marshal reasons for and against, which is what you’re doing when trying to calculate a prior anyways Feb 2 at 17:37
  • @Baby_philosopher I'm not very smart so I wouldn't be great at quantifying it. It would probably have something to do with comparing the kolmogrov complexity of physics with the same complexity of a god capable of creating the laws of physics.
    – TKoL
    Feb 2 at 18:32
  • @Baby_philosopher: If you truly have no prior beliefs whatsoever, then presumably you'd go with the principle of insufficient reason and call it a 50/50 either way.
    – Nat
    Feb 2 at 21:26
1

If we saw such a thing, we could conclude nothing at all.

The exact location of stars and galaxies are for all means and purposes a random process, there is a non-zero possibility to find any combination of "pixels" in there, somewhere (this does not necessarily mean that we positively will find every combination; just that any combination is at least possible, technically).

This is the same as the (unproven) assumption that every combination of digits will appear somewhere in the number Pi. If this assumption is true, you would find "God is real" spelled out in ASCII somewhere in there.

It is the same for any random process: generate an endless stream of random numbers between 0-255, and there is a very non-zero chance for any 11 of them contain the ASCII numbers for those letters.

This game has been played many times already, for example I remember in the 80s a phase where people would report all kinds of "magic" or "supernatural" number combinations in places like the Egyptian pyramids or Aztec ruins ("those old civilizations could NEVER have known about XYZ; but their buildings conform to those numbers -> there must be aliens/god/...").

For completeness sake: Even your argument c) is not required or useful. We have no particular reason to assume that it is absolutely impossible for any advanced civilization to move stars. The stars in question would need to be quite close to allow for the light to travel in at most a few hundred years (to allow for the "font" to still be recognizable), but if we're ready to accept a super-natural being stooping down to such a thing, we can also accept that physics somehow allows for this, and it is easy enough for some alien to pull it as a prank on us.

Furthermore: if you want God to be "all-powerful", then being able to move stars is just not enough. Cool, there is a supernatural being that can do such a thing, but there would be no reason to conclude much more.

Finally: If God does exist and is all-powerful, they would not need to use such a crude mechanism; they should be able to make every last human being believe in them. They would not even need to use any object out there that we could witness, they could simply tweak all our brains and memories etc. directly; including our DNAs to make sure that this belief/"knowledge" would be there until eternity.

5
  • This assumes that God would want us to believe in Him and that too in a very obvious way. None of this follows from just the idea that God is All Powerful Feb 1 at 10:49
  • Which part of my answer do you reference with that comment, @Baby_philosopher?
    – AnoE
    Feb 1 at 11:11
  • I don't completely agree with this answer. Though technically any message is possible to be result of chance, this gets exponentially less likely the longer the message. The message might well have a chance of like 1 / 10³⁰ to appear in a given spot of the sky just big enough to be able to in principle capture such a constellation given bounds imposed by minimum star size and limits of the observable universe. There will be a finite number of such spot we can possibly observe, say 10¹². That means it's 1 / 10¹⁸ unlikely that we would end up in such a universe. ... Feb 1 at 21:41
  • ...Basically we're just refuting a null hypothesis here. How much unlikelyness is required to justify this will depend on what prior likelihood you assign to the existance of god, but for any prior un-likelihood there will be a message-length that demands this conclusion anyway. Feb 1 at 21:41
  • Finding something in the digits of pi is different, or at least it would be if it were proven that pi is normal as conjectured. In that case, we could consider its digit as a properly infinite resource in which an arbitrarily unlikely subsequence still has probability 1 to eventually appear. But this kind of argument is not possible with anything we actually need to observe physically. Feb 1 at 21:48
0

If such an event is possible where stars spell out “God is real” then it would collapse our understanding of the theories of how the world works or how the universe works. It will initiate a new wave of theories about the nature of reality but all theories will now essentially involve at least a hand of intelligent being or beings because “God is real” is not only a sentence but it also claims to solve a major philosophical riddle.

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  • 1
    Why would it collapse our understanding of the theories of how the world works? What in physics says that this is impossible or goes against these laws? Jan 31 at 13:10
  • According to physics stars are giant sun sized stars. And they are billions of light year apart. It is impossible to perform such a feat from physics point of view. Jan 31 at 13:14
  • It is impossible for humans to perform it. Why is it impossible for nature to produce it? Jan 31 at 13:16
  • 1
    @curious_cat What in physics says that this is impossible or goes against these laws - the scenario you describe quite literally violates relativity. If I go to sleep tonight without those words spelled in the sky, and I wake up and the words are there, spelled out in stars, stars would have to travel faster than the speed of light to come to that arrangement.
    – TKoL
    Jan 31 at 13:20
  • 1
    If they were spelled out since the birth of civilization, then it would seem like it's not a coincidence that it matches human language. Rather than it being a message to humans, the more parsimonious aspect in that situation is that we developed our written language to match what we see in the sky. In other words, "God exists" is spelled in the sky because we saw some shapes in the sky and decided to make those shapes mean "God exists".
    – TKoL
    Jan 31 at 13:25
0

Intuitively, and instinctively, the answer to me seems yes.

Why?

First, in which language and writing system? Why would a hypothetical creator use that, specifically?

Two, how clearly? Humans have been seing constellations among the stars for thousands of years. Letters isn't that far from it, especially if you need to squint to see it. (e.g. the round part on the R isn't all that round, the dot on the i could just as well be connected with a line to make a lower-case l, etc.)

Three, where? Northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere? Why that one?

There's a lot of questions to ask before just going "ah, my instinct says ..."

Now assuming the most extreme case - the whole thing appears suddenly one night and we have proof it wasn't there the night before, it appears straight over Jerusalem and is written in Hebrew as clear as a dot matrix printer would write it.

From everything we know about the universe it is STILL orders of magnitude more likely that an alien civilization with incredible technology we can't even begin to understand is playing a joke or making an experiment than there to be a creator.

Ockham's Razor: Here is an explanation that requires far fewer assumptions and is compatible with our understanding of the universe.

0

Presumably a violation of a law of nature, but the definition varies

Beyond all of these considerations, some authors have made a case for the restriction of the term “miracle” to events that are supernaturally caused and have some palpable religious significance.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/

I like this condition, and would consider it, religious salience, as essential. In which case what do the stars spell out something facile

  • you are dumb

or dumb

  • I like money

or potentially meaningful in a religious context

  • He is not with you
-1

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, including the complete works of William Shakespeare.

The issue with the theorem is that it requires an infinite amount of text: And our letters - each a constellation of stars observable from earth - is not infinite. However, the amount of stars is huuuuge, so the amount of letters in the stars is huge, too.

All in all it's a game of probabilities - but so is our existence as human species, isn't it?

A number of commenters have pointed: The amount of Starts clearly visible to the naked eye is not that huuuuge, reducing the probability of random letters or sentences drastically.

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  • 1
    This is not what the question is about. It's not about selecting some stars so that we can draw imaginary lines between them and form any text we want. It's about a hypothetical scenario where such a text was obviously and prominently visible.
    – vsz
    Feb 1 at 11:21
  • 1
    This is exactly what the question is about: Since there are huge amount of stars, seemingly random distributed, there should be a huge amount of them which cluster to obvious and prominent letters. (Those might be only visible from Hubble or similar, but that's beside my point.)
    – m.reiter
    Feb 1 at 12:06
  • But in the question it was about looking up into the sky and seeing that message prominently visibly. Not looking through billions of stars through Hubble looking for patterns, but looking up and seeing the message made up out of the handful most visible stars by the naked eye.
    – vsz
    Feb 1 at 13:00
  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Feb 1 at 13:51
  • The only stars we can make out individually are the stars in the milky way galaxy. I'm not entirely up to date with astronomy but I think a good number of "stars" we see are actually far-away galaxies. And most of the galaxies in the sky are too faint to be seen by the naked eye. So while there's a near-infinity number of stars, the number of stars actually visible to us is less than 10,000.
    – Tom
    Feb 2 at 8:27

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