The Beginning of an “Unapologetic” Argument for God

Faith is the inevitable position of a finite being who does not know all there is to know.

I really like apologetics. I find it interesting to think about, but apologetics has limited power as a tool to convince people to believe in God. It is not a magic bullet. There is no magic argument to prove the existence of God.

When I see article titles or social media posts that make claims of proving the existence of God, I cringe a little bit. It’s a promise we can’t deliver. We really shouldn’t “go there”. I feel that we should be more honest than that.

Of course, the “promise” depends on the definition of “prove”. The Oxford online dictionary defines the word, “prove”, as follows:

  1. demonstrate the truth or existence of (something) by evidence or argument. (“The concept is difficult to prove.”)
  2. demonstrate to be the specified thing by evidence or argument. (“Innocent until proven guilty.”)

If everyone accepted and applied these definitions, perhaps, we could find more common ground. A “proof” in the first sense is just evidence or argument that demonstrates the truth of the existence of something. Whether that proof actually, definitively and absolutely provides the truth or existence of that something, is another matter. A proof in this sense is still open to judgment whether it accomplished the goal.

A proof in the second sense is similar, and the example includes a standard of proof (one that we use in criminal proceedings). This example raises a key point: Without agreement on the standard of proof, the determination whether a proof is successful in proving that point is a moving target.

The success of any evidence or argument in proving a point depends on what standard of proof is applied. Two people may apply two very different standards of proof and, therefore, arrive at two very different conclusions on the determination whether the proof was successful.

Most of the arguments between theists and atheists gloss over and fail to recognize this fundamental issue. Not only do they apply different standards of proof, they make all kinds of different assumptions, and worse: they define their terms differently. It’s no wonder the debates and discussions produce so much disagreement. They are basically talking in foreign languages to each other.

Wikipedia defines “proof” as “sufficient evidence or a sufficient argument for the truth of a proposition.” What is “sufficient” evidence, though, depends on the standard of proof that is applied. Different standards of proof will yield different results.

For instance, we generally apply different standards of proof in the American legal system in different contexts. In civil cases, the applicable standard of proof is “more likely than not”, and in criminal proceedings, the applicable standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Proving a case under the “more likely than not” standard is much easier than proving a case “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The higher standard (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) is designed for criminal cases with the purpose of causing “the system” to err on the side of finding a guilty person innocent (rather than erring on the side of convicting innocent people).

At least, that is the theory. People still disagree on the outcomes of criminal cases, and innocent people are sometimes found guilty, even when applying the much higher standard of proof. I am reminded of the axiom: to err is human.

These problems of proof are inevitable for finite beings. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we are always prone to “getting it wrong”. If we don’t take that limitation seriously, we become arrogant and prideful.

Therefore, I am reminded of the propriety of maintaining humility. Even if we are certain in our own minds of the truth of a matter, we should be mindful of the human tendency to get things wrong.

This is where faith comes in. Faith, in part, is an exercise in humility. Faith is the inevitable condition of being human, and that goes for faith in the truth that science reveals and faith in the truth that the Bible reveals. Let me explain.

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J. Warner Wallace on the Limited Usefulness of Personal Testimonies

Experience and testimony can move people, but it doesn’t tell us whether something is true.

J. Warner Wallace, the “cold case detective”, has become a leading Christian apologist. He brings a unique perspective to the world of faith. Having grown up in an atheist family, he didn’t come to faith until well into adulthood.

He didn’t grow up in the church, obviously. The traditional focus on personal experience and testimonies in evangelicalism was not part of his background. He didn’t come to faith through experience or the influence of personal testimonies. For him, it was simply a matter of the facts.

Wallace observes that the most popular answer people give for being a Christian is that they were raised in a Christian family. The second most popular answer people give for being a Christian is some experience that demonstrates that Christianity is true.

Wallace criticizes these bases for Christian faith because because Mormons give similar answers to explain their belief in Mormonism. The number one answer people give for being a Mormon is that they were raised in a Mormon family, and the second most popular answer is some experience that demonstrated for them that Mormonism is true.

Christians don’t think Mormonism is true, but their stories are the same as ours. Thus, Wallace concludes, experience can be a powerful thing, but it doesn’t necessarily settle the truth of the matter. People who rely on experience are relying on weak anchor to faith.

More important than experience is whether something is true.

Wallace goes on to share his testimony in the short interchange linked at the end of this article with the caveat given above – don’t put too much faith in his (or anyone else’s) testimony.

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