I'll offer a response to this question from 2 perspectives:
- Theological perspective as a Latter-day Saint (see here)
- Epistemological perspective as a participant in the debate referenced in the OP (this answer)
As the careful reader will notice, my focus in the discussion referenced by the OP was not to prove the existence of God. When asked, I specifically suggested those who desire to know follow a process I have used--to find out for themselves. Based upon those processes (outlined in my other answer to this question), I believe the answer to the OP's question Do any Christian groups or denominations teach reliable methods for scientifically minded individuals to seek and find God? would be yes.
Don't get me wrong, I think teleological and moral arguments are fascinating & weighty, but although there were a few tangential detours, my focus in the discussion was on epistemology. The discussion was catalyzed by my demonstration that verificationism is self-refuting.
I pointed out that all evidence of any form rests upon a foundation of experiential evidence. Whether that evidence came from an equation, a machine, or human senses, take it back a few steps and you’ll end up with a human mind. A human mind developed the mathematical axioms and the machine, and a human mind interpreted information presented by the senses.
We cannot get around experiential evidence. Those who suggest it be excluded from consideration discard their own worldviews along with those of their opponents. Even the claim that something should be trusted because it is reliable is an appeal to experiential evidence.
Though my disputant downplayed the value of experiential evidence and critiqued tools that are not entirely objective, when pressed about his own views he appealed consistently to experiential evidence, and outlined subjective criteria for adjudicating reliability.
This illustrates what I believe to be the single greatest shortcoming in skeptical thought: inconsistency. One can apply a standard of tremendous skepticism to others' views and thereby assert intellectual superiority...but this façade comes crashing down when the same level of skepticism is turned on itself. If faith is belief sufficient to act, everyone has faith because everyone believes some things sufficiently to act on them.
Using reliable methods
My disputant, while at least partially acknowledging the accuracy of my position on experiential evidence, suggested that science & the 5 senses are to be preferred because they have proven reliable, whereas other methods have not.
We don't know anything about the track record of any method without appealing to experiential evidence...so claiming that something is reliable/helpful is a direct appeal to experiential evidence.
We both acknowledged in the debate that science doesn't prove things--in fact, at no point did my disputant offer a clear statement on how anything could be proven by any means. So the claim that something has proven reliable is contradictory to his position.
What does it mean for a method to be reliable? The 5 senses get fooled all the time (the discipline of illusion is specifically dedicated to that fact). Science gets the wrong answer all the time. Every time a headline says "new discovery rewrites xyz", it's a polite way of saying "old theory got it wrong".
That's not a bad thing--scientific inquiry is always discovering more, and there's always the possibility that some future discovery will overturn the conclusions of the past, giving us greater understanding of the universe. Science isn't discovering absolute truth so much as it's getting ever-closer to it (and even if science did discover absolute truth you'd have no way of knowing that it had).
My point is not to criticize science for errors but to applaud it for finding those errors (while acknowledging the need for more scientific inquiry because there are probably still more errors to be found). Given remarkably confident pronouncements by the leaders in science in the past that turned out to be wrong, I would not say scientific results are reliable so much as they are improving.
Just one historical example - one of the scientific reasons many rejected heliocentricity in favor of geocentricity is that stellar parallax had never been observed. This was a serious objection to people like Copernicus & Galileo, because stellar parallax was essentially demanded by their theories. It turns out stellar parallax is a real thing and it has been observed in more recent years--they just didn't have instruments sensitive enough to pick it up in the 17th century.
So, in the case of stellar parallax, science was useful not because it was reliable but because it was persistent.
But should we use a method that is sometimes unreliable in order to learn? Absolutely! Let's consider one of the most prominent examples.
Language is a helpful counter-example to my disputant's argument because it is not only one of our fundamental means of discovering truth (through crystalizing our own discoveries or coming to understand those of others), but it is specifically reliant upon the senses.
Language comes through hearing, sight (e.g. reading, sign language), and touch (e.g. brail). It has been argued many times that written language is humanity's most brilliant invention--it allows the mass-distribution and exchange of ideas. We would go nowhere in science without it. But should we really put confidence in language? Is language reliable?
I suggest it is abundantly self-evident that language is not always reliable. Misunderstandings occur in spoken language, reading, sign language, and brail, meaning a powerful method for discovering truth--transmitted through our senses--runs into errors all the time.
Stack Exchange has a whole site (Biblical Hermeneutics) dedicated to trying to figure out what certain words in certain contexts mean! People ask "what did you say?" or "say again?" all the time. Plays on words are funny because language isn't black-and-white. And don't even get me started on all the twists & turns of learning a foreign language!
Language is a powerful tool for learning almost anything, it is essential to the progress of science, it is exceptionally thoroughly studied, it is conveyed through the physical senses, and yet examples of its unreliability are almost endless.
Apparently we can use tools that are not always reliable, combined with reason, to great epistemological effect.
Responses to other arguments
My disputant suggested that he doesn't so much "believe" certain things are true as he finds them to be the best explanation given the evidence we have available. I respectfully suggest this is what the word "believe" means. We could certainly argue about what threshold different people employ to consider something believable, but I submit that "believe" is indeed the right word to describe "thinking something is the best explanation". The verbs believe & know are not synonyms for this very reason--they convey different levels of certainty.
using knowledge from one discipline to destroy knowledge from another discipline
This was a quote from my video here, which would make a little more sense if presented in context: I was explaining why some people are (unfortunately, in my view) wary of science--they've seen it used as a weapon for moral, philosophical, political, and personal attacks. I believe this is a poor use of science--I gather that my disputant probably feels the same way.
compare how often claims are verified to be true, and how often they're verified to be false, and whether the method has any means for discovering and correcting flaws within itself
This does indeed collapse back into verificationism. Earlier in the discussion we both agreed that science does not "prove" things.
As for a self-correcting process, any system which is closed to new information limits its ability to correct itself. Any system that decides to exclude a set of explanations before even looking at the data has self-imposed restrictions on its utility (this is one reason why I find reading the Bible with the pre-conception that there's no such thing as the supernatural to be a rather pointless exercise).
Those of my faith believe in ongoing revelation and that God speaks as authoritatively today as He did in the past. Thus, if people have misunderstood messages from the past (look at the doctrinal corrections given in the NT epistles--misunderstanding happens a lot), ongoing data from the source does allow for correction, clarification, and elaboration.
Claims of inerrancy for something that came through imperfect, human intermediaries, are not part of the argument I have made.
another problem would be that a non-believer would have no real reason to actually attempt to verify the existence of God for the same reason they won't attempt to verify that Allah or aliens exist
There have in fact been billions of dollars spent trying to determine if aliens/extra-terrestrial life forms exist.
I cannot say I have ever been given a particularly compelling reason to seek out revelation regarding Allah, nor am I familiar with a Muslim practice of challenging people to find out for themselves through direct, personal revelation (I'm happy to be further educated if this is in fact a practice employed by those of the Muslim faith).
Why should anyone take the time to test what I believe? I offer a method & a reason why it's worth the experiment here.
personal experiences that are indistinguishable from yours from an outsider's perspective
That is why I conclude the video in the previous link by telling people not to take my word for it, but to obtain an insider's perspective themselves.
We kind of go around in circles:...[experiential evidence, reliability, sufficient evidence, etc]...you reject this means because it can't apply to your belief that's based on your personal experiences, I say personal experiences aren't reliable means of discovering truth, etc.
Yes and no. Yes, the discussion did go around in circles a few times. But no, I showed that the method my disputant appealed to was based on experiential evidence and was being evaluated using subjective criteria - since these were the bases for his critique of my method, his critique is likewise applicable to his own method.
Anything either of us believe is going to be founded upon experiential evidence that has gone through the subjective interpretation of a human mind, so these criteria alone are insufficient grounds to reject a process as a plausible means of exploring reality.
Pushing a button 1000000 times
Edison made numerous attempts to construct a commercially viable light bulb before he succeeded. His failed attempts did not show it was impossible to make a light bulb, it showed that that specific approach was not a way to make a light bulb. So he varied his approach. If he had never succeeded he might have been reasonable to believe it could not be done, but he would not have proven the negative it can't be done.
For those who find the light bulb a poor comparison, I'll offer 2 thoughts:
- I suggest most world-changing discoveries involve processes more complex than "pushing a button", which in any event is far too simplistic a comparison to any process I've outlined in my arguments
- Perhaps an analogy more accessible to a modern audience would be debugging computer code. If one person ran an algorithm and it worked, and another person ran a similar algorithm and it crashed, I'd go into debugging mode long before re-running the same code a million times to see if I could get a different result. I'd want to see what is different in the sets of code, not just keep "pushing a button".
Several hypothetical questions were asked. I'm making an argument from experiential evidence; a hypothetical is by definition something for which I have 0 experiential evidence, therefore the appropriate, epistemologically-grounded response to these hypotheticals is: "I cannot offer a conclusion because I have no data upon which to do so".
The power of reasoning in the absolute
One of the strengths and weaknesses of experiential evidence is that one individual's experience is not directly accessible to other individuals. If someone else appeals to experiential evidence I may not know if the claim is true or false; this is one reason why aggregators like language and scientific inquiry are so powerful. Language allows people to convey their experiences using mutually understood symbols (like words). Scientific inquiry calls for outlining a process that can be repeated, allowing others to learn--through the experience of testing--what someone else has already learned.
I am not the least bit bothered by the possibility that someone may claim an experience that wasn't real, or may interpret an experience incorrectly--just like I'm not bothered by the possibility that language is sometimes misinterpreted or that good scientific practice sometimes leads to erroneous conclusions that are later overturned. But if the reliability of anything flowing through experiential evidence is subject to error, how can we be sure of anything?
2nd best method: Induction. If something is repeatable, with successive iterations we can raise our level of confidence.
Best method: Reasoning in the absolute. One who can reason in the absolute can rule out all competing possibilities (we fallible mortals cannot do this). If there is an Omniscient & Omnipotent Being who can reason in the absolute, information learned from Him would be epistemologically superior to anything learned from sources that cannot reason in the absolute. The claim that I have learned something by revelation from God would be the most secure statement epistemologically possible for a non-omniscient being (such as myself) to make. Truths learned in this manner then serve as the axioms from which all else is derived.
A claim that is one step removed from Someone who can reason in the absolute is epistemologically inferior--that is, between:
- Abraham says he met with God
- God says He met with Abraham
Both statements may describe the same incident, but claim 2 is epistemologically superior.
For the same reason, any epistemological claims made by other people--supporting or opposing the existence of God--will never be so powerful as obtaining that answer directly from the source. A Being that has all power would necessarily be able to make Himself known unmistakably.
Some suggest that second-hand reports of revelation from God, or other people's experiences encountering God are not persuasive evidence of God's existence. Of course not! Though man may devise many supporting arguments for God's existence (flying buttresses to a belief in God, if you will), giving unmistakable demonstrations of God's existence (the foundation) is the business of God, not of man. I claim that He has done so, and I make that claim on a first-hand basis.
(Although that claim is second-hand to those reading this post, it is first-hand to the writer, thus the writer has more compelling reason to accept the claim than the reader does)
No scientifically-minded individual can escape the powerful & foundational role of experiential evidence. The value of science is not demonstrated by science, it is demonstrated by our experience using science.
Do any Christian groups or denominations teach reliable methods for scientifically minded individuals to seek and find God? Yes, but:
- We need to be careful about what is meant by "reliable". Perhaps we could avoid confusion by saying they teach effective methods
- They need not commit the errors of verificationism, rejecting the beliefs of others for failing to meet a standard that one's own beliefs cannot meet
- They need not reject experiential evidence
I hold the beliefs I do because I have tested them through methods such as these.