Is There A Way To Answer The Question?


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?

Steven Hoyt

Posted 2018-06-06T04:37:50.510

Reputation: 133

Question was closed 2018-06-06T19:01:49.353

1IMO, 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. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2018-06-06T06:51:49.417

1Either 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 – 2018-06-06T16:51:38.173

1I 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 – 2018-06-08T00:32:00.453

1thank 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. – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-08T13:24:10.773

@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 – 2018-06-08T13:28:13.130

theism and atheism are labels for folks with a belief about the proposition, "deity exist", where the belief is either yes or no. this is a philosophy site, so i suspect the usual definitions apply to these terms i've used. buddhists aren't theists and the hindu conception of god (one of many, but this is the general equivalent to a creator genre god) is brahman, and apophatic statements describe it; ala, god exists but does not exist. these too are common meanings to the terms you are using. in each field--philosphy and theology--you seem to be using very novel concepts and i'm not sure why – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-10T19:04:00.663

especially in trying to "correct" me. – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-10T19:04:15.480



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.


Posted 2018-06-06T04:37:50.510


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. – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-06T15:55:43.010

@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. – None – 2018-06-07T11:52:25.310

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. – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-08T13:08:56.703

@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. – None – 2018-06-09T11:06:48.330

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? – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-10T19:11:18.043

@StevenHoyt - The practices of mysticism bring knowledge and this includes a knowledge of God, Where the mystics use theistic language the formula is usually ' I am God'. In this case the universe without God is the one that has no sentient beings in it. Whether all this is true is for you to discover but if it is not true then nobody will ever know it is not. – None – 2018-06-11T10:11:19.240

it doesn't seem you're explaining anything by positing meditation or mysticism. you say that there are no sentient beings in a universe without god. well, in the scenario there are sentient beings in both. you're going to have make a case for that, and that's the entire point of this hypothetical. why do you think god is causal to sentience? – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-12T12:25:53.223

@StevenHoyt - I'm explaining a view, not arguing for it. I'm saying if this view is correct then the two-universes problem cannot arise as stated. .You're welcome to reject it. – None – 2018-06-12T18:06:09.820

i understand. i'm not concerned with who is arguing it but what is being argued and how. so what i'm saying is that i see a circular, or at best, a tautological argument that in that case doesn't explain anything. so again, if we can tell that gods do or don't exist by using meditation (mysticism et. al.), then why is meditation et. al. identical in affect and effect in the universe without god? that is, again, nothing differs phenomenally between either universe; one simply has a god and the other doesn't. with me here? – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-13T19:10:14.613

@StevenHoyt- Okay. So you reject the popular view that consciousness is God. Fair enough. Others would say that if a universe does not have God in it then it does not have you in it, making the thought-experiment incoherent. I was just noting this. You're welcome to believe what you want. . – None – 2018-06-14T11:31:04.803

this has nothing to do with rejecting or accepting god-as-consciousness. i'm saying that either position (that it is [true/false] that god-is-consciousness) requires justification. moreover, that if meditation and mysticism exist in both universes but god only exists in one, then how would mysticism or meditation be contingent to the existence of god? i fully realize that people say all kinds of things. the point here is how they would justify any, given two identical universes only differing in that one has a god and the other doesn't. there's nothing to guarantee the truth of any conclusion. – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-14T17:21:53.347

@StevenHoyt - I'm saying the thought-experiment is useless because it pre-judges the issue by assuming that consciousness is not God and also that human beings cannot verify or falsify God. These assumptions make the experiment philosophically unsound and wholly useless. – None – 2018-06-15T11:59:50.357

that's ridiculous! what the hypothetical does is not allow ANY assumptions about consciousness. so, if you want to claim it is proof that there's a god, then it must be justified ... but since in the other universe there is also consciousness and we know that only one universe has a god, how could such a claim (or DENIAL of such a claim) be justified? i'm not assuming or pre judging anything. the whole point is to show "god is consciousness [or whatever]" can't be a fact of the matter, nor it's negation. what exists is the fact of the matter, and it's presumption to say anything is contingent. – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-15T17:35:57.750

@StevenHoyt - The hypothetical situation makes an assumption that renders it pointless. It is just like Chalmer's zombie scenario - to accept the scenario is to pre-judge the issue. It;s like asking 'How does matter give rise to mind' and expecting sensible answers. If it doesn't then there are no sensible answers. On such questions it's surely best to start at the beginning and to stay clear of unnecessary assumptions. – None – 2018-06-16T10:51:21.040

it makes zero assumptions; hence, two universes where nothing is different between them simply because one assumes things should be different if there were or were not a god, peter. what assumptions exist in this scenario? – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-17T12:06:58.803

@StevenHoyt - Sorry but I'm becoming lost here. My answer to the OP's final question is consciousness. A study of it would be the only way to tell the two universe apart if it isn't already obvious. I struggle to see the point of two universe scenario when we could just ask about his one. My problem with the scenario is that the idea of a universe with consciousness in it but no God (by some meaning of this word) does not compute and pre-empts my answer. For me it is an impossible universe like Zombie-world. , . . – None – 2018-06-18T11:06:25.567

peter, there is consciousness in *** BOTH *** universes and it is *** YOU *** that presupposes for no reason at all that *** without god, consciousness is impossible *** so please, don't tell me the hypothetical entails presumption and is then invalid when your distinction offered is the presumption (and therefore, invalid). – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-18T19:16:59.033

@StevenHoyt - Don't you see that the assumption in the scenario pre-empts certain answers to the question? Does this not make it a poorly designed scenario? Not quite 'have you stopped beating your wife' but the same problem. Anyway. let's agree to disagree. – None – 2018-06-19T09:58:20.977

there are NO assumptions in the scenario. there are simply two identical universes in each and every phenomenal way. if there's consciousness in one, there is consciousness in the other. there simply is no god in one and a god in the other. the ASSUMPTION IS that a universe will be PHENOMENALLY DIFFERENT if a god exists or doesn't. so again, you're making the assumptions because that's no assumption of the hypothetical. – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-20T01:53:27.830


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.

Geoffrey Thomas

Posted 2018-06-06T04:37:50.510

Reputation: 34 276

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. – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-06T15:46:01.830

1@Steven Hoyt. Hi - thanks for critical comment. ' 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 – 2018-06-06T19:28:15.170