October 13 2011

How God proves his existence

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The call to prove God’s existence is a common challenge put to Christians. And fair enough. If you told me there was a world-wide flood going to wipe me away and my only hope for survival was to leave everything I knew and get into this giant boat sitting in the middle of a field, I would probably ask for some proof that you were right, and not just crazy. Especially, if I couldn’t see any growing storm clouds or at least, if I had never experienced a flood. The request for proof is understandable. However, at times, it is still foolish. There may be a flood coming and the fact that you can’t see the clouds and you lack experience of floods, doesn’t change reality. You just may be blind, or inexperienced.

So the question remains. If requiring proof of God’s existence is understandable, then how does God meet that basic need?

IS PROOF RELEVANT?

Some Christians make the point that you can’t really prove anything and so the expectation of proof is unrealistic. If you required scientific 100% proof for every decision, you wouldn’t do anything. You wouldn’t sit on a chair because you couldn’t prove it won’t break, you wouldn’t eat food because you couldn’t prove it wasn’t laced with poisonous iocane powder, etc. Basically, day to day, we live by faith. But it’s not blind uninformed faith. It’s faith in our experience and faith in what people tell us and faith in our understanding of the world. We make decisions based on what we are convinced of. And so, for all intents and purposes, that is what most people mean when they say they want “proof” of God.

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There are some hard-core atheists that expect that Christians should provide scientific proof of God’s existence and acknowledge that even if all the weight of the evidence pointed towards God’s existence, they would still reject the idea of a God, simply because if there is any other possible explanation then that is preferable (I have heard Peter Singer express this view). This sort of blind commitment to atheism is to me a complete rejection of logic, science and common sense and in the end, a lot more “religious” than the most committed fundamentalist there is.

So should we throw out the word “proof” altogether? Well, I don’t think so. It’s such a part of our cultural language. If you want to return clothes you have to provide “proof of purchase”. If you want to buy alcohol you have to show “proof of age”. If you want to get a passport you need “proof of ID”. If you go to court you are innocent until “proven” guilty. Maybe we just have to think about the way we define “proof” and see if we can apply that to the existence of God.

PROOF #1 – JESUS’ RESURRECTION

I started thinking about writing this blog after I remembered how the bible uses the term “proof”. In Acts 1:3 it says, “After his suffering, [Jesus] showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” and then in Acts 17:31 “For [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Both of these passages refer to the resurrection of Jesus as the clearest and most convincing proof of God. The resurrection vindicates all that Jesus taught about himself and about God and is the best evidence for the reality of God and the truth of the gospel. Many philosophers and theologians, both secular and Christian, have realized that the historical truth of the resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity. If it didn’t happen, then Christianity completely falls apart, but the fact that it did happen proves Christianity is true.

Now this is clearly not the sort of proof that a scientist would consider valid. It is not reproducible and therefore can not be tested. It happened once, but if it truly did happen then once is enough. The resurrection is such an unbelievable event that Jesus knew that his disciples needed proof of its reality. He showed himself to them and allowed them to physically touch him and see him interact with physical things (like eating fish) to prove that he was physically and tangibly alive. This was proof to them and the message that Jesus was alive was the driving force behind the explosion of Christianity in the first century. All of the eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus went to their graves (mostly through murder and execution) professing that the resurrection was a true event.

This event happened. The proof that it happened was shown to the disciples by Jesus himself. They in turn wrote down their eyewitness account for us to read and be convinced by. Now this may not sound like a convincing proof to you but it’s like the question, “Can a man walk on the moon?”

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Think about that question. How would you answer it? Most likely you would say “yes”. But if someone asked you to prove it you would point to the fact that man has indeed walked on the moon. Six times in fact. The first time was in 1969 and the last time was in 1972. That’s the proof. It’s happened. The answer to “can man walk on the moon?” is yes.
But why do you believe that it happened? For many (including myself) all six moon landings happened before I was born, and even if they happened when I was born, I didn’t experience it myself. The idea that man could walk on the moon is absolutely crazy and unbelievable, and yet most of us (other than the rare conspiracy theorist) believe that it 100% happened purely on the basis of the reliability on the account. We read the eyewitness accounts of the astronauts, we see the photos, we watch the video, we listen to the famous words, “that’s one small step for man…” and we are convinced. No matter how unbelievable it may seem, we can confidently say that man can walk on the moon and it has been proven.

I hope you can see where I’m going with this example. I think in the same way that we can say man has walked on the moon, we can say that Jesus rose from the dead and therefore his teaching and message about the reality of God and everything else are reliable. We believe that Jesus’ resurrection has been proved by his appearances and interactions with his disciples who then went on to proclaim and record their eyewitness account of that fact. Their account is still available to us in the gospels and in the book of Acts, and it is just as reliable today as it was when they wrote it. Now some may try to argue against the reliability of the gospel accounts, but I recommend you research the topic yourself to see that they weight of evidence greatly points to their reliability (check out “The Christ Files” if you’re interested). Either way, the issue then becomes “are the accounts of the proof of the resurrection reliable”, not “is there any proof of the resurrection”. The proof is there. Like the moon landings, the resurrection happened. You can either disbelieve the accounts or you can accept them for what they are – reliable records of historical events.

Now, although the resurrection is the primary proof of God that there is, there are also two more proofs which we can personally experience that do not rely on a historical record.

PROOF #2 – EXPERIENCING GOD

The first is the experience of the Christian themselves. Now I admit that this proof is not convincing for those who aren’t Christians who are looking for proof of God before they choose Christ or not, but that doesn’t make it any less of a proof. It simply means that it’s a proof for an audience of one, which incidentally, the person asking for proof is an audience of one and often they aren’t asking that you prove God’s existence on a global universal scale. They’re just asking you to prove it to them, and so the subjective, outwardly untestable, personally experienced proof is just as satisfactory.

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It’s like the old saying, “the proof is in the pudding”. This is actually a misquote. The original full saying is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. This makes more sense. It’s saying the reality of the pudding – it’s temperature, taste, whether it’s laced with iocane powder, etc – can only be proven when it is eaten. You could put it through the lab and test it with every scientific instrument, but the best proof of the pudding is in the eating.

This is true for God as well. I can’t speak of other Christians experience, but my experience of God is so real and tangible that it is the greatest reason why I don’t doubt the existence of God. I see and sense God’s daily interaction with me, I experience his guidance, his comfort, his joy and his strength. I notice his leadings as he directs me in life and I know through and through when I am stubbornly working against his Spirit. God’s presence is so real to me, and has been from the very day I gave my life to following and trusting Jesus, I can not deny the reality of my experience. It can be a very hard experience to explain or describe to those who do not have a relationship with Jesus, but those who have responded to the gospel often know exactly what I mean with no need for explanation.

It’s very much like trying to explain colour to a blind person. There is no language that can communicate it and there are no proofs that can convince the blind person that colour exists (other than the proof of a reliable account as mentioned earlier). You can’t prove colour to the blind, but if a blind person receives the gift of sight and looks around then you won’t need to prove colour. Colour will prove itself to the individual.

Is the proof that this person experiences any less valid simply because it can not be tested by blind people? Of course not! In some ways, my experience of God is like that. I wish my non-Christian friends and family members could experience God in the way I do. If they did, it would make believing in God’s existence a given rather than a possible option, and all arguments about which position is more logical completely null and void. As the great evangelist Billy Graham said, “I can tell you that God is alive because I talked to him this morning”.

A clear place where the Bible uses this sort of argument is in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, where Paul says,
“If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

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The terrifying reality if you do not see or experience any “proof” of God, is that you may be blind and perishing in your blindness, and it will take God to shine his light in your heart, remove the “veil” that blinds you and give you “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” If you realize that you are in this position and you are seeking God, but you just can’t see him, then I encourage you to ask him to remove your blindness, like blind Bartemaeus in Mark 10:46-52, call out to Jesus and say, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Maybe Jesus will be merciful and reveal himself to you, giving you every bit of proof that you need.

Now, I realize a problem here. If you don’t see proof that God exists, then how can you call on God to take away your blindness. It seems a convenient argument that anyone could use. Someone could say, “Oh, you would believe in the Mighty Chicken God if you weren’t blind to his glory. Pray and ask the Chicken God to reveal himself.” Now, I’m not going to pray to a giant invisible chicken just on the possibility that he exists and the fear that I might be missing out on something if I don’t pray to him, so I don’t expect anyone else to pray to Jesus if they’re in the same position.

My encouragement is not to the person who can’t see anything, but to the one that God is already working with. God begins to remove the veil and open our eyes, and we start to see things of God and if you are in that position then I encourage you to work with God, rather than against him. Hebrews 3:7 (quoting Psalm 95) says that the Spirit of God is calling to people saying, “If today you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. If you hear him, then respond. If you do, you will experience the proof of God that only those who know Jesus can experience. Like the kid covered in chocolate pudding, you will be able to know for yourself the words of Psalm 34:8,
“Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

But what if you don’t hear his voice? What if you can’t see the glory of God in the face of Christ? Is there no experiential “proof” for this person? Will God’s existence ever be proved to them?

Well, the reality is, not in this lifetime.

PROOF #3 – DEATH

Scientist are often looking for experiments that are reproducible in order to prove something. Well, when it comes to God, there is one experiment like that. It’s called death. Every person who has died has without fail, come face to face with God, proving in the most real way possible that he exists. It is an experiment that is reproducible and it will work every time. If you want me to prove that God exists, then all I have to do is say, “Sure, no problem. Just die.” You may not be very obliging, but that matters very little seeing as you’re mortal and will one day partake in the experiment whether you like it or not. As Paul writes in Romans 14:10-12,
“We will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: `As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, `every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
and in Hebrews 9:27 it says,
“Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”

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Everyone will stand before God, either as his friend or his enemy. Either forgiven or still under judgement. Everyone will see and know that God is real. The proof will be in the pudding for everyone. Of course, like my last point, this “proof” has a problem as well. The problem isn’t that some can experience it and others can’t – everyone will experience this one – the problem is obviously that on this side of death, we can’t access the results of the experiment. What we really need is someone to have died (really died, rather than just had a near-death experience) and then come back to life so that they can set the record straight about life and God and everything else. Of course, they would have to show us convincing proofs that they had actually risen from the dead, and then we would have to have some reliable record of what this person said so that all people for all time could know the proof that God exists as well…

Gee, that would be sweet…

CONCLUSION

In the end, this blog is not written to non-Christians who are looking for proof of God. It is written to Christians, who have for the most part, gotten into the habit of avoided using the word “proof” when it comes to God. Or, on the other hand, Christians focus on all the evidence in nature and science to show proofs of God. As much as I think that all those are wonderful evidences for God, I don’t think they are good enough. They are not proof.

In my life there are only three major proofs of God: The resurrection of Jesus, my own taste of God’s goodness and the experience of meeting your Maker when you die. One is in the past, one is in the present and the last one is in the future.

I hope you see and experience the first two, before you experience the third.

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Posted October 13, 2011 by Simon in category "Christianity", "Life", "Spirituality", "Theology

16 COMMENTS :

  1. By Tony on

    Simon, You raise a number of points. I’m just going to look at one – the analogy of the man on the moon and the resurrection. I think you are mistaken about why people believe that man walked on the moon and yet doubt the resurrection.
    The reason why people believe in the man on the moon is only partly to do with secondary evidence (photos, t.v. shows, newspaper articles and witnesses) which are of course much stronger than those for the resurrection. (Witnesses are living, there is physical evidence in the form of rockets etc, and images even in this digital age still carry more weight than words). Focusing on the relative weight of these evidences though is a distraction. The other reasons we believe a man walked on the moon are the real differences that lead to believing one and not the other.

    The other reasons are that there is nothing inconsistent between how we concieve a man walking on the moon with our conception of the world reinforced by more immediate experiences. So the moon is conceived of as an object similar to the earth which we walk on daily – it has a surface/dirt and even some gravity. The moon has no atmosphere however we believe people can wear suits to walk around underwater so its not incredible that they could do so on the moon. The moon is understood to be a finite distance away – a multiplication of trips we take all the time.Lastly we understand that going up to the moon (combating earths gravity) is hard but not impossible – we see planes achieve some of that upness daily overhead.

    This is important. A man walking on the moon was credible EVEN BEFORE IT HAPPENED. People did not believe (in our culture atleast) that a man couldn’t ever do it only to have their idea of how the world works turned upside down when they saw or read the reports.

    Similarly in Jesus time and certainly afterwards resurrection was a FEASIBLE idea. There was no conception of cell death for example that was contradicted by resurrection. Resurrection was not common but it was understood to occur and be possible (in Jewish lore, and Greek/Roman myth) Death was concieved of as a place which could be returned from. It was still certainly more amazing than walking on the moon but it didn’t require an overturning of conceptions of the world as they are reinforced more immediately.

    Nowadays those who struggle most with believing the literal resurrection of Jesus are those who can’t fit it into their conception of the world/death/physicality. If you were a scientist attempting to establish the resurrection as true you would be showing how its mechanisms occur in other forms that we can see – even on a much smaller scale. You would be dispelling the conceptual dissonance of disbelievers.

    Aagh. Must go now. Librarys gonna log me out. Will write more later.

  2. By Paul H on

    Of course the resurrection was amazing and important precisely because it isn’t repeatable scientifically! The need for scientific evidence for God is a strange one, it presupposes that scientific evidence is the necessary evidence, better than any other – why should it be? The example I often use is a court case with a murder weapon. For example, via scientific methods evidence is provided – the DNA of two suspects for example. Both can be shown, scientifically, to have used the gun. How do you know who actually shot the gun at the victim? You need eyewitnesses. Very important things often require something other than scientific evidence, and we all know it.

    Then again, what about the idea that people disbelieve, rarely, over intellectual issues – rather it’s do with value judgements and challenges to our own self-identity?

  3. By Simon (Post author) on

    Hey Tony, you site two main reasons why people believe in the moon landing and not the resurrection:

    1. You say the secondary evidence is so much better. I agree that over time, the secondary evidence for anything becomes less reliable, but your examples are problematic. Firstly, you point out that the “witnesses are living”. That’s a bit unfair. Does it mean that when the witnesses die out then the event becomes less reliable? Do you, by that standard, believe that everything 100 years ago and beyond are just as reliable as the resurrection, when judged by that standard? Why isn’t the account written by eyewitnesses that they died defending just as reliable as if you sat down and heard it from their own lips? Also, have you actually talked to anyone who has walked on the moon? Or is the only reason you believe that there are actual eyewitnesses, because you believe in the reliability of their account (whether that be a video or audio recording or an autobiography or history text book). I do concede that to claim that there are living eyewitnesses is a powerful claim to make because it can be verified. Paul made this claim about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” Paul is clearly claiming that Jesus physically died, physically resurrected and that there were living eyewitnesses who you could verify the story with.

    Secondly, you say there is physical evidence for man walking on the moon (rockets etc.), but clearly the resurrection has a glaringly obvious piece of physical evidence – the empty tomb. In the decades and centuries that Christians claimed that Jesus rose from the dead, including in those first few years when the claim came from supposed eyewitnesses, surely the easiest way to disprove their claims was to just produce a body. The fact that no body or bodily remains has been produced as physical evidence against the resurrection, leads to one of three options – either the disciples stole the body (no one else would have a motive), Jesus wasn’t actually dead (commonly called the “swoon theory”) or the disciples eyewitness claims are true and Jesus did actually rise from the dead. I can go into why the first two options are not really possible some other time if you like, but the physical evidence of the empty tomb remains to this day and is just as reliable as a rocket or moon rock.

    Thirdly, you point to the reliability of photos and video rather than words. This is a valid point, as I find a photo much more reliable than a story, although this does depend on the storyteller. I did not witness, or see any photos of the way the police assaulted you, but I believed your story because I had no reason to mistrust you. Your character and reliability made all other evidence redundant, and whether your story was believable or not was irrelevant. You experienced it. I believe you. Case closed. The question is, why are the eyewitnesses to the resurrection unreliable? Just because we only have their account and don’t have any photos or video, do we have any reason (other than the believability of their account) to mistrust them? It is clear from the accounts that they aren’t meaning to talk about the resurrection as some sort of mythological analogy or expression of how Jesus lives on in our hearts or something. They believed he was physically alive. Their accounts are full of things pointing to that claim. The only other alternative is that they made it up, that it was an elaborate lie invented to scam people. That view shows an ignorance of the experience of the 1st century church and how those who claimed Jesus was alive were beaten, ridiculed, tortured, imprisoned and murdered. And yet they would not recant, because they had seen it with their own eyes and they could not deny their own experience. The proof, for them, was in the pudding!

    2. Your second reason for why you say people believe the moon landing but not the resurrection, is because the moon landing fits into our present understanding of reality. That doesn’t give God much of a chance! We ask God to prove himself and when he does something that only God could do, that could have no other explanation that God being behind it, we don’t believe it because it isn’t something we are used to!! There are many examples of things in history that totally and completely seemed unbelievable, but actually true and were proven to be true by the evidence. One example of that is Galileo arguing that the earth wasn’t flat and that our planet revolved around the sun, not the other way around. The authorities of his day didn’t have any framework in which to accept his claim and so they rejected it and him, despite the evidence. Sure, the resurrection of Jesus is even more unbelievable than that because it defies all that we know and believe about the nature of life and death. This is why it is probably the most significant event in the history of mankind and why it is the foundation of Christianity. It’s why people died defending it’s reality even though they knew people would sneer at the concept (see Acts 17:32).

    If we hold to the principle that we will only believe that which we can understand and explain within our own framework of reality, then we will shut our eyes to the evidence. It’s like if Thomas had put his fingers in Jesus’ side and still said , “Yeah, but resurrections can’t happen, so I still won’t believe it.” Those who ask for proof of God have to be willing to look at the evidence with the mindset that they are willing to be convinced, even if the concept seems less believable than a man walking on the moon.

  4. By tony on

    But wait. They have found the body of Jesus. They find it all the time on those HBO specials. 🙂 And yet noone really knows its the body. Credible historians just say “we can’t say” It’s just a grave with a similar name and all.
    So if they can’t be sure they have ever found the body how do they know they haven’t found it.

    To be fair though I don’t really understand how to respond to the biblical accounts of the resurrection. I put them in pretty much the same category of documentation of witches and werewolves or demonic possession or all sort of eyewitnessed events that just don’t correspond with my reality. Ever met someone who sees ghosts? How do I respond to them? Awkwardly.

    (The real problem with dead witnesses is not being able to look into their eyes to get a feel for their meaning, sanity, certainty. It’s not a fair test but its a pretty basic basis for trust.)

    I’m just saying that jesus going to Hell (or just death) for three days and then returning physically yet being able to walk through walls, chatting with Moses and whatsit before ascending into heaven again is so at odds with anything you can show me whereas I can learn how a rocket works. The former is even a mystery to you (you can’t tell me how it works).

    None of this was a problem before we adopted the metanarrative of physics with its universal laws binding all phenomenon. That may be a false metanarrative but we all use it to good effect so often it gains our trust. Now we do expect that what is possible occurs inside a framework of possibility. That framework can be tested even when the exact event can’t be repeated. Nowadays it can even be computer modeled!

    Seeing as you raised the violence I copped it’s not just my credibility that convinced you. It’s the whole plausibility of the affair as well as the social context around my telling you (if I’m lying you’ll know soon enough so you know I’d better not). Certainly theres nothing against the laws of physics in my description. If there was (if I’d said and then he picked a car up and threw it on my head but magic saved me) you would probably have no idea what to make of it. It would lie outside your conception of reality and yet you wouldn’t understand how I could be entirely lying. I am touched you would ultimately trust in my credibility and should I have anything crazy to tell someone.. youse my man.

    Now I do want to say I think your point about the subjective as evidence in the blog was really well put. I think notions of proof usually exclude this perspective. In my blog I said this type of proof is reduced to less than seeing. This happens all the time and mostly to good effect. We want police following evidence not hunches. I think though theres something noble and authentic, if a little mad, when we let ourselves know in this way. You put it brilliantly.

  5. By tony on

    Note. A really good example of the problem the gospels have in an age of physics universal laws is Jesus walking on water. If this were any other mundane historical event such as the raising of those big heads on Easter island we could get all Mythbusters on it and show how its done. We could demonstrate the principles of it atleast with a two inch jesus in a bathtub.

    Of course this means miracles in an age of physics are in trouble. Maybe they shouldn’t be but they are.

  6. By Simon (Post author) on

    It’s funny to disregard Jesus’ act of walking on water because we can’t reproduce it. I think the reason why Jesus did it was exactly because we can’t reproduce it. The disciples knew it was impossible and that’s why they thought he was a ghost and after he has calmed the storm these completely impossible acts inspire their question, “Who is this? That even the wind and the waves obey him?”

    Jesus is greater than all the laws of physics because he invented the laws and he can re-invent them as he sees fit. The fact that Mythbusters can’t demonstrate how it’s possible to be done by just anyone, is the reason why we have to relate to Jesus differently. the miracles are “proof” of Jesus’ divinity.

  7. By tony on

    Funny it may be, and possibly wrong, however we do it all the time. Not only do we discount the power of witches to explain still-births ONCE we have other explanations, we assume an explanation consistent with “laws of nature” even BEFORE we have one. We discount witches without proof. What I referred to as methodological naturalism.

    Actually that’s not entirely true. Remember all science does is “disprove” hypothesis rather than prove anything. Witches have been disproven numerous times by failing to perform “under glass” so to speak. From a pro-witch perspective this can be explained as an off-day but even when scientists account for the moons cycles magic doesn’t reliably work.

    My question to you Simon is can you come up with an experiment that is achievable (preferably without death) that COULD DISPROVE Gods existance? When it doesn’t (if it doesnt) you still won’t have proven God but your hypothesis will be that much stronger.

    If you can’t how do you answer the logical positivists and their “weaker” versions who would say this means a belief in God is at best a personal preferance like aesthetics?

    I raised this in my blog and I think its a real question that plagues contemporary theism.

  8. By Simon (Post author) on

    So, let me understand this…

    I need to come up with an experiment that could prove that something that is true, isn’t actually true. And if that experiment doesn’t exist, it proves that God is less likely to be true?? Is that like trying to prove that 1 + 1 actually equals 5, and if you can’t then maths is just as subjective as aesthetics!

    Or consider the Universe. The whole thing we believe to be true and we experience it to be true (at least I do). Now can we develop an experiment that could prove that it all isn’t true? I can’t think of one. Does that make the existence of the Universe as petty as a personal preference?

    I would say that you can ALWAYS appeal to personal preference. Someone might show you an experiment that conclusively proves that God exists (or doesn’t) and your personal preference may just point out that we have no way of knowing if all the scientific laws that we hold so dear and base all scientific experiments on, are actually consistent across the universe or maybe they’re different in one of the so-called multi-verses that scientists have invented to explain what they don’t like about what they see in the universe. Scientific proofs are painfully useless when talking about anything as big as God.

    The logical positivists argue that all statements that can not be conclusively proven are meaningless, but doesn’t that philosophy relate more to the atheist than the theist. The atheist needs to prove that every religious experience, every event that has ever been said to be supernatural, every phenomenon in the universe (both objective and subjective) has a completely physical and non-spiritual cause. They need to prove that, otherwise, for the logical positivist, the statement that their is no metaphysical or spiritual reality is meaningless. All I need to say is that I talked to God this morning. Unless you have some proof that my experience was actually a physical manifestation then the empirical evidence has to point to the reality of my experience. I sensed the experience. Unless you can prove that my senses are faulty, then you have to concede.

    Now it would be nice if we could do a little dancing monkey trick for you, and I ask God to tell me what number you are thinking of (because he would know and have the ability to tell me the answer). That might be pretty strong evidence (although some would say that many options were still possible). The problem is that God is as you quoted, “an untamed lion”. He is not a dancing monkey and he doesn’t do tricks when we want and how we want. Jesus dealt with people like this in Matthew 12:38-41, where he says that the only conclusive miraculous sign people will get is… you guessed it, the resurrection! And that after that the world will have no excuse.

    Basically, you can only do an experiment to prove God exists, if God wants to co-operate with the experiment, and the presumption that God is just trying to prove that he exists and why doesn’t he use the opportunities we give him, is once again a very small and weak view of God.

    God not only reveals himself, but he also conceals himself. He allows people to walk around blind and even hardens some people’s hearts so that they will not understand the gospel. As Romans 9:18 says, “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Jesus explained in Matthew 13:10-17 that this actually was the point of why he used parables. Not to explain things and make tricky ideas easier to understand. It was to separate those who God was bringing to Jesus and those he wasn’t. Jesus told cryptic stories and those who were blind just wouldn’t get it, and those God was giving sight would begin following Jesus to hear more.

    This seems mean if God’s purpose is to make everyone know him and like him. But that isn’t what he is doing. The world is under God’s judgement. Part of God’s judgement is how God hides himself from us. He “gives us over” (as Romans 1:24 says) to the life without God that our independant hearts want. To many people who don’t know Jesus, God seems distant and even non-existent, and that is a sign, not that God is not there, but that we have been estranged from God, and there is need for reconciliation. The amazing thing is that God did not leave us in that state of hopelessness and distance. He has come near to rescue some.

    God will not and does not need to jump through hoops to prove he exists. The historical evidence is there and the empirical experience is enjoyed by those he choses in his mercy to rescue. God is not and will never be a bug under a glass.

  9. By tony on

    You may have misunderstood me.1+1=5 is an eminently disprovable statement. Lift up one finger (count carefully). Lift up just one more. Count them together. If you count to anything but 5 then 1+1=5 is disproven. Atleast where we mean 1+1 always = 5.

    Equally 1+1=2 is disprovable in the same way. It doesn’t fail the experiment (whenever I run it) but there are scenarios where it would (if we counted 5 for example). Note this doesn’t absolutely prove 1+1=2 as we can only run the experiment so many times and then generalise from those results. But our experiments do show 1+1=2 is resistant to disproof.

    No-one can prove God. But it seems no-one can even show their existance to be resistant to disproof. Every instance of disproof is meaningless.

    Of course you can still believe in God.

  10. By Simon (Post author) on

    I disagree that no one can prove God.
    God can prove God.

    No one can “prove” me. You could show evidence of me – photos, birth certificate, driver’s license. But in the end, all those things are just showing my effect on things that aren’t me (even a photo is showing my effect on a digital camera rather than the reality of me).
    If you want to prove that I exist to someone, you have to introduce me to them. Even then, they are only trusting the effect I have on their eyes and ears as proof, but I’m sure that would be proof enough.

    God is the same. I can show you evidence of God in all the effect he has on things that aren’t God (from everything as grand as the origin of the universe and as down to earth as his effect on my own life) but in the end if I want to prove God exists then I have to introduce him to you. And how does an eternal, invisible, omnipresent being introduce himself to us? In Jesus.

    Meet Jesus and you meet God.
    Reject Jesus and you reject God.

    And on your last statement, I have to say I don’t believe in God.
    Saying I “believe” in God seems as empty as saying I believe in aliens, or as fluffy as saying I believe in romance.
    I believe in God in the same way I believe in you, Tony.
    I have met you. I experience you. I know you. I love you and I enjoy your love in return. Saying I just believe that you exist seems a little obvious, almost insulting to my relationship with you.

    It’s exactly the same with my relationship with God.

  11. By tony on

    Simon, very well put.
    I don’t share your emotional loading of belief though. I wouldn’t necessarily feel insulted if you didn’t believe in me… I don’t know if I believe in me (for both Humean and more so buddhist reasons). If I don’t exist no point being offended is there. In fact believing in me is quite the chore sometimes.
    Hmmm. By this I don’t mean you can kick me in the shins btw but they’re not the same thing in my opinion.

    Similarly I think you’re playing the guilt card by saying one either accepts or rejects Jesus. You’re emotionally loading the question. I think God is not best depicted as if they were the last kid to be chosen for a cricket team on sports day.

    Still perhaps such emotion is a viable way to escape the isolating metanarrative of empiricism – something I think your comments do. Kudos.

  12. By Dru on

    A very interesting read, post and comments.

    The Bible is often used as the primary source of evidence. The prevailing logic usually goes along the lines of ‘if we are to take the Encyclopedia Britannica or the New York Times as solid evidence that an event happed, then we would be able to accept the Bible as all three are documenting accounts’. While I can go into several reasons why I hold the evidence from those publications above many other publications (the Bible included), as I am in no way a Biblical scholar I don’t think I’m in a strong position to comment on it.

    The trouble I see, is that on the face of it you are presupposing a veracity in the Bible. From an outsider’s view, most all religious texts would have to be accepted as giving the ‘facts’ unless there was an independent reason for holding one above the others.

    If an individual believes that Muhammad ascending to heaven is a fact, then naturally the text that states that he did just that is the one that speaks the truth, thereby allowing the next step to be that it can be used as a primary source of evidence on what’s happened and how things work.

    But if that initial belief is required to take the text as true, upon what can that initial belief be built?

    I’ve always viewed that initial spark as the most critical. Generally I find it comes from upbringing and exposure; sometimes from researching and thinking and praying or meditating; and in rare cases it can come from moments of epiphany, a near death experience perhaps (they say there are no atheists in foxholes).

    I’m not quite so interested in proving or disproving the existence of God (I believe in many things I cannot prove, the fact that I cannot prove them makes them no less valid to me)…but I find the ‘proof’ between one religion (or even one branch of the same religion) and another quite intriguing.

  13. By Simon (Post author) on

    Hey Dru,
    Thanks for your comments! You bring up some great points.
    You are right that I take it that the Bible (and for this discussion we’re focussing on the New Testament gospel narratives) are accurate depictions of literal history.
    I do not relate to every part of the bible that way though. There are some parts that are prophetic or poetic and are not to written to be taken literally. The gospel records are different though. Time and time again the write in such a way to make the claim that these things really happened and that there were eyewitnesses to these events.
    Now this contrasts to many other holy writings from different religions. Most don’t put an emphasis on making sure you understand that the events they are talking about aren’t mythical or allegorical. Also, most don’t point to eyewitness accounts. The bible is quite unique in that emphasis. Take these passages for example,
    “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (These are the opening lines from Luke’s gospel 1:1-5)

    “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’ ” (From Luke 24:36-48. Notice on how much Jesus emphasises the physical reality of his resurrection?)

    “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (This is from 2 Peter 1:16-18. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest companions)

    Now just because the bible makes the claim that the resurrection is literally true, doesn’t mean that it is. But I think there is much literary, historical, archeological and even empirical evidence that supports this claim.
    And the resurrection is the fundamental issue at the heart of Christianity and deals with the issue that fundamentally all religions have to deal with – the issue of death.

    In the end, although Islam believes that Muhammad ascended to heaven, they believe he only did for a short time and after that came back to earth and eventually died in 632AD.
    Siddhārta Gautama (the man who began Buddhism) died in 483BC. Joseph Smith Jr (founder of Mormonism) died in 1844AD.
    The claim that the founder of Christianity rose from the dead and is presently still alive, having beaten the power of death once for all, is something that makes Jesus stand out from the crowd. It’s why every religion, although they don’t always think much of Christians, they pretty much all respect Jesus and honour him in some way.

    I like your comments on the “initial spark” idea. I like to think about those original 1st Century Christians. Their initial spark wasn’t their upbringing or indoctrination or a belief in the bible, it was their personal experience of meeting Jesus, and talking to Jesus, and journeying with Jesus, and seeing Jesus truly die, and seeing Jesus truly come back to life. That was their initial spark that inspired them to go to as many people they could and tell them this amazing news, even if they faced rejection or doubt or torture or death. Now, that’s an initial spark I wish everyone could experience.

    For me, I had that experience when I was 16 and I put my trust in Jesus and what he had done for me and began my relationship with God. That wasn’t exactly my “initial spark” (mine was probably a mix of upbringing and personal research and a little bit of epiphany) but when I met Jesus it brought into my life the real and personal experience of the reality of God that I had for most of my life believed in (in my head), but had never experienced.

  14. By tony on

    Simon, I would have thought every religion that honours Christ would be more likely to do so for the ethical content of his teachings (which they often share in) rather than his declared resurrection (which they probably wont believe). Certainly that’s so in the case of Buddhism.

  15. By Simon (Post author) on

    I think your probably right Tony.
    People often like Jesus because he said many things that all religions acknowledge as good and right. The importance of compassion for the poor, the power of forgiveness, the virtue of humility etc.
    It’s funny how selective people are though. Most people like to pick and chose Jesus’ teaching to design a Jesus that suits them, as if Jesus’s words were a smorgasbord at an all-you-can-eat restaurant.
    We like what Jesus says about justice for the abused, but we don’t like the fact that Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else in the Bible.
    We like that Jesus says he has come to save the outcast and the broken-hearted, but we don’t like it when Jesus says that no-one can be saved except through him.
    We like that he has come to give us life to the full, but we don’t like it that he said that he was the only source of life there is.

    I love this C S Lewis quote from his book, “Mere Christianity”. It expresses this point well, I think:

    “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

  16. By tony on

    Who says a “lunatic” can’t be a great moral teacher?

    I quite like the Buddha but don’t buy into reincarnation either. That would be many Christians attitudes. In fact don’t you find it strange that cherry picker is a slur. Think about it.

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