There are two identical universes that differ only in that one has a God and the other doesn't. One may say that no universe can exist without a God, so, this hypothetical isn't valid. One may say no Gods are required for any universe, so again, this hypothetical isn't valid. But both can be dismissed as empty criticisms; both are bald and would appeal to facts of the matter that can't settle who would be right; this is the crux of the problem itself in the hypothetical.

The challenge of this scenario is to imagine that you've been placed in one of these universes and you are asked to say which. Given that the universes are otherwise identical -- each has logic, morality, order, math, god-talk, numinous experience, miracles, meaning, and so on -- to what would one appeal to tell?

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    IMO, there is no simple way to answer... If the two worlds are "identical", except for the presence/absence of God, all depends on the "manifestation" of God itself : miracles, scriptures, etc. Jun 6 '18 at 6:51
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    Either the universes are identical, and then nothing can be appealed to to tell the difference, or they are not, and then what to appeal to depends on the difference that God is supposed to make. So the question is either pointless or answered by one's idea of God.
    – Conifold
    Jun 6 '18 at 16:51
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    I think this is a beautifully constructed thought experiment that ought to make it very clear to a rational theist that at the very least God / god is a god that makes no difference. Take it of hold, for God's sake :-)
    – Baby Boy
    Jun 8 '18 at 0:32
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    thank you. what i really hope to outline is the fact that neither theism nor non theism can claim a leg up, because there may be a god after all ... the question for both is simply how we'd tell either way. Jun 8 '18 at 13:24
  • @StevenHoyt Theism / atheism does not at all deal with the existence of god(s). That belongs to deism and agnosticism. Theism is adherence to faith-based doctrine. Atheism is rejection of faith-based doctrine. In other words: deism and agnosticism is about knowledge; theism and atheism is about faith. You can have theism without a god (for instance Buddism). You can have atheism with a god (suppose for instance that Vishnu and all the Hindu gods do exists; that makes all Christians and Muslims atheists in relation to the Hindu doctrines, and vice versa).
    – MichaelK
    Jun 8 '18 at 13:28

Many people would argue that where there is consciousness there is God. If so then while your Godless universe might exist hypothetically it could not contain you or me. It would be like Chalmers' Zombie-world, not nomically possible.

The most common method for determining which sort of universe we inhabit would be meditation and contemplation and apart from some sort of fortunate revelation there would be no other way. The alternative would be having faith that we are in one or the other universe - which is the most common approach but may lead to dogmatism, much hot air and ten thousand inconclusive arguments.

As to which universe we are in right now, this would depend on how you define God. Yor question assumes a distinct and objective phenomenon apart from the universe but this is only one idea of God and not a very plausible one.

  • there's meditation in both universes and identical experiences related to the practice. i'm aware that folks make such claims about consciousness, but again, the entire exercise is meant to unhide the hidden premise that god is a phenomenon in a causal chain of other phenomenon and can hence be proven, or disproven by a lack of need to say at least one phenomenon requires such a cause as god. it's a faulty premise and gainsay to say without god, there can be no consciousness (logic, math, morality, et. al.). the same holds for denying god because of some feature he transcends, as it were. Jun 6 '18 at 15:55
  • @StevenHoyt - I may be missing something but your comment seems to make no difference to my answer. People make claims about Consciousness being All or (in theistic language) God because they meditate, not because they have some speculative theory of causation. The point is simply that many people would argue that the OP's godless world is not a possible world since they equate consciousness with All, Unity and God. Whether they are right could only be established by meditation, realisation or revelation, and only by them personally.
    – user20253
    Jun 7 '18 at 11:52
  • the difference is being able to say mediation and its experience are sufficient to warrant thinking there is a god, rather than merely saying so. it seems to me to be less relevant, these private matters, when it comes to justification. if i myself had some numinous experience, i would forever doubt or be skeptical that it is truly indicative of something more, something other than or beyond meditation as causal to it; specifically for the fact that i'm the only judge of an unfalsifiable, subjective experience. to belive is one thing, to determine, another. Jun 8 '18 at 13:08
  • @StevenHoyt - Buddhists say that our ideas of God arise from misinterpreted meditative experience and (from a monotheistic pov) they are atheists. The point is not that meditation proves or disproves God but that it's the only way to do either. It is not done by way of subjective experience but by transcending such experience.
    – user20253
    Jun 9 '18 at 11:06
  • which makes no sense because it begs the question. i asked how you'd know which universe is which and you said meditation. you then said that it doesn't prove god but it's the only way to prove "either". the question is, can meditation tell is if in one universe or other, there is or isn't a god. in both universes in the scenario, there is meditation. but there's only a god in one of those. so ... help me out here. how does meditation do anything for the question? Jun 10 '18 at 19:11

At a time, t1, if two persons, X and Y of equal cognitive and perceptual capacity, were placed one in one universe and the other in the other, I don't think there is a way for either to tell which universe, with a God or without a God, they were in.

But if we introduce temporal duration, the situation might be different. Here I merely scout a possibility.

If there is a belief in God in both universes (A and B), but God in only one universe (A), one would expect a belief in God to continue indefinitely in A since God would be the continuing author of religious experiences in A, experiences which would sustain a belief in God. What is to prevent a belief in God from dying out ? The fact that God exists in A and is the continuing author of religious experiences in A. Not all religious experiences need actually be real experiences of God, but some would be : and if all other religious experiences faded out, the real experiences would remain and so therefore would a belief in God. I assume you cannot have an experience of God without recognising it as such and hence believing in the existence of God.

In B, by contrast, there is no God. If religious experiences were to disappear in B, one could reasonably infer that there is no God because if there were a God then God would be the continuing author of religious experiences, experiences which would sustain a belief in God. No religious experiences, no God : a safe inference.

Note carefully that this is only meant to sketch a scenario, the persistence of religious experiences in one case and the disappearance of them in the other, which if were to occur would enable one to tell which universe one were in. If it didn't occur, then one couldn't tell. My point is simply that conditions are imaginable in which one could tell; those conditions might never be realised. My argument has no pretensions to go beyond that - to show that your question does not present an impenetrable wall of permanent ignorance as to which universe one is in. There are putative conditions in which one could tell.

This argument, lightly outlined, strikes me as more convincing than an appeal to divine miracles, since it seems to me impossible to tell whether a miracle has a divine or some other explanation or even whether a miracle actually has occurred or is merely falsely believed to have done so.


To anticipate an objection, I recognise that some religious will hold that God is the author of (some) religious experiences and that the genuineness of divine authorship of such experiences is self-evident : if they were in universe A the self-evidence would continue while it could not occur in universe B. I have no desire to enter into a dispute on this point. My reply is that for such people, the question above is not a philosophical question since it has been settled; it does not have the quizzicality of a philosophical question.

  • not an objection really, but a new question that comes from your temporal distinction. since there is no necessary means to say we should expect belief in god to die off or sustain respective of the actual existence of god--noting that such beliefs exist at all in both universes independently of such a fact--how would we then know that because there is no god-talk any more, there is no god? isn't it as likely people could lose interest in the concept of, and there is still a god? belief is an attitude, a disposition and can't be illusory; only perhaps mistaken. Jun 6 '18 at 15:46
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    @Steven Hoyt. Hi - thanks for critical comment. '...how would we then know that because there is no god-talk any more, there is no god?'. I have now answered or at least addressed this perfectly fair question in my revised paras. 3 & 4. I am only flexing my logical imagination in these paras. They are thought-experiments meant to test whether there are contingencies in which we could tell which universe we were in. It's a nice question. Wish we had more like it. Best - GT
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 6 '18 at 19:28

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