I want to make a point early on to clarify something that trips up most people around the “Is there a God?” debate. Arguing over whether “a God” exists is the wrong question entirely, and it leads both sides down a path to nowhere good. Let me explain…
During my undergraduate days as a philosophy major (yes, I have a real job now, beyond writing a blog, thank you), we obviously spent some time on the issue. Throughout history, philosophers have ping-ponged the argument back and forth, and every one of them were smarter than me. A pro-God philosopher would say, “God does exist, and here is proof…” Then, an intelligent anti-God philosopher would come along, poke holes in that “proof”, and say, “No, God doesn’t exist, and here’s proof…” Then, as expected, another pro-God philosopher comes along, pokes holes in that “proof”, and offers up another option. And so it would go, back and forth, until, after a few centuries of battling it out in the ring, each side scored so many points against the other that no reasonable person could call the contest anything but a draw.
Sidebar: one philosopher (whose name is buried somewhere in a box of college notes in my parents’ house) raised the point that saying “God exists” is nonsense. His rationale? The word “exist” is a verb meaning, “to be”, comparable to “is”. No one would say, “That dog is.” They would say, “That dog is brown, or sleeping, or chewing on my ankle.” The word “exist” by itself is incomplete. Instead, users of language should be talking about “God existing in things – love, nature, our lives, etc.” Okay, sure, but that kinda ducks the question.
I had once caught the tail end of a conversation among friends. The Christians were trying to convince the Atheists that God existed. I had stumbled in just in time to hear one Atheist (moderately annoyed with the conversation) say, “Fine, if that bush over there catches fire right now and burns up, I’ll believe there’s a God.”
Apparently, both sides negotiated to the middle ground that that would have sufficed as “proof”. Like Gideon asking God to “prove” Himself by wetting a fleece overnight while keeping the ground dry.
First, if that bush did catch fire, what do you think the follow-up would have been? The Christians would have said, “See? Now you have to believe.” And the Atheists would have said, “Ha! That’s one hell of a coincidence. Too bad it doesn’t prove anything,” especially if it was later discovered that a leftover firework that had been smoldering for hours finally ignited, setting off the bush. But read the Old Testament… that’s exactly how God works.
Second, hypothetically speaking, if there were some type of test, some hoop that God could jump through, that would cause any atheist to completely believe (probably not a burning bush, maybe pealing open the sky and showing His face from outer space, I don’t know), where would be the “faith” component in that? The Judeo-Christian-Muslim God as we’ve come to know Him created the entire universe – all knowing, all powerful, and (fortunately for us) all loving. He has the ability to overpower any of us with reason so that it would be impossible to believe something other than what He said. But how would that show God’s love for our free will? Wouldn’t that be making slaves of us by “forcing” us to believe? God doesn’t force any of us to do anything, especially have a relationship with Him. And really, as Christians, have ANY of us come to the Lord that way? “Here’s a test, Lord, and if you pass, I’ll follow you.” That’s not faith. That’s compulsion.
Finally, looking for “proof” of God’s existence seems like it should fall outside the realm of our five senses. To most people, if something can’t be experienced with any of those senses, it doesn’t exist. Philosophical sidenote: second-century-AD philosopher Sextus Empiricus would disagree with the whole idea – his take on our senses is that they’re notoriously faulty for describing what is “real”, and all we can gather from them is that “we’re being appeared to green,” or “we’re being conveyed warmth”. A normal person would say, “I see green grass,” and “I feel the warm sun.” And while his level of skepticism is impractical for everyday life, I think he’s on to something regarding God.
In various ways, our five senses fail us on things that we consider “real”. We can’t see sound, or hear color. We can’t taste “far away”. For all practical purposes, we can’t touch the inside of a volcano, but we believe we know what it’s like. Yet, people demand a similar “contactual” relationship with God… Maybe not literal “touching” or “seeing”, but nonbelievers demand to experience Him with one of their five senses. And that’s problematic.
In the same way “touch” isn’t the best sense by which to experience lightening, our five senses are inadequate to experience God. (Think about how much power it took to wrought the entire universe from nothing, and in some way, these feeble, flimsy bodies of ours could be durable enough to 5-sense-experience the Being that made it all possible? Seriously, bacteria can take us down, for crying out loud.
What, exactly, would someone have in mind as a viable way to experience God with any of our five senses? (especially in a world where Hollywood can make anything look believably realistic.) And in a way that would compel the nonbeliever to believe, but not so powerful an experience to overshadow all doubt (because, after all, that would be slavery)? Maybe I’m close-minded on this, but “faith” strikes me as the only option.
There is no “proof of God” that would satisfy the rationality and logic of someone who chooses not to believe – that freedom of choice has been a gift of God since Eden. Instead of arguing through logic and trying to beat someone into belief (conversion by the sword, anyone?), we as Christians should be humbly offering our lives as terrestrial evidence – not proof – of God. If someone wants to sue us and take our tunics, we should let them have our cloaks as well. Imagine a world where every Christian acted that way.
Oh, and as for proof that there is no God? That doesn’t exist, either, but for a different reason…