Can We Be Certain of God’s Existence?

Doubt is the common experience of saints and sinners alike.

Depositphotos Image ID: 5872621 Copyright: ccaetano

Can we be certain of God s existence? The short answer is, no. If the question is whether we can have something like mathematical certainty or proof, we have to answer that question in the negative. There is no evidence, no proof or argument that can provide certainty that God exists for finite beings such as ourselves.

Such evidence, proof or argument would have to be built on premises that are 100% certain, and that kind of certainty is impossible for beings that are not all-knowing. The best we can do is to put forth evidence, proofs and arguments that suggest a probability that God exists – to show that the likelihood is more probable than not that God exists.

To this extent, doubt is the common experience of saints and sinners alike.

To put this another way: Can we be sure that God doesn’t exist? The only certainty is that we can’t be certain.

Many believers have doubts, and many nonbelievers have their own doubts.

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From Fiction to Faith

Science and reason and the measures available to finite beings can take finite beings only so far in determining the existence of a non-finite God.

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I recently had a short exchange with an atheist friend over an article I wrote about science and faith. He is from the world of science, his father being a scientist, and he making a living on scientific principles. He found my article and analysis of atheism and science to be colored by my faith. And, of course it is, just as his view of religion and science is colored by his atheism.

He views God as a fiction. I view God as reality, transcending all the reality I think I know. We couldn’t be more opposed in our views of the world, though that doesn’t mean that we cannot be friends and learn from one another.

I suggested to him that both theism and atheism are rational conclusions, but the conclusions depend on the starting places. I remember from my philosophy class in college, and the study of Immanuel Kant and Søren Kierkegaard that theism and theism can both by logically “proven”. Syllogisms reaching both conclusions can hold up logically. The only difference is the starting premise.

To put it more simply: if you start with a premise that assumes God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the existence of God. If you start with a premise that assumes no God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the nonexistence of God.

How, then, does a rational person resolve the tension between these diametrically opposite conclusions? Logic cannot suggest an answer to this conundrum because logic can only operate on the basis of a premise, and the premise with which we start makes all the difference.

If we could determine which premise is correct, we would be well on our way, but it turns out that this is easier said than done. What then?

Science doesn’t help us either. Science is, by definition, the study of the natural world. God is, by definition, “Other” than the natural world.  Science can take us back to nanoseconds after the Big Bang, but we can peer no further into our past. We can’t see the very beginning, and we can’t see beyond it.

We can’t see through the lens of science and our senses beyond this natural world, and this leads many, like my friend, to conclude that nothing exists beyond the natural world. It’s a fair conclusion, to be frank.

But it’s a bit short sighted. Why we do assume that we and our physical senses are the measure of all reality?

How do we know if there is anything beyond the natural world? How do we know if there is a God?

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There Is No Proof of God?

Where does our sense of self, love, purpose and inclination to worship come from?

Photo from RV Fine Photography

A popular skeptical notion about spiritual things is that there is no proof of God. But is that a reasonable statement?

What does the skeptic mean by proof? Does he mean strict proof, mathematical proof or proof beyond a doubt? If that is what the skeptic means, then the skeptic will always remain a skeptic, because that kind of proof is unattainable.

There is nothing inherently bad or wrong in being skeptical. Skepticism or doubt is not a sin as some might suppose. “Doubting Thomas” was a disciple of Jesus after all! Honest skepticism is not a problem. In fact, honest skepticism is healthy; it drives us to test truth claims and weed out falsity.

The demand for strict proof that God exists, however, is not honest skepticism. While we might attain to some proof beyond a “reasonable” doubt, strict proof, mathematical proof, or proof beyond any doubt is impossible. I will try to explore why that is in this blog article.

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Are Reason & Faith in God Contradictory Terms?

Looking for a Sunset

I began taking notes on a series of hard questions posed to Tim Keller by some heavy hitting interviewers that is posted to the Veritas Forum. I thought I would take my notes and create a series of quick answers to these hard questions, but I got sidetracked by the first question: Aren’t faith and reason contradictory terms?

The question took me back to college when I first began to wrestle with this question.

Implied in that question is an assumption that the only rational conclusion of reason is disbelief in God. Reason is defined by Merriam Webster as “the power of the mind to think and understand in a logical way.” Faith is defined as the “strong belief or trust in someone or something.” Note that faith is not defined in relation to evidence or reason, but the common definition of faith is not antithetical to evidence of reason either.

Reason (logic) depends on a premise, and premises are often tautological. Many premises are susceptible of proof, but many are not. The premise that the natural world is the totality of all reality is a premise many believe to be true, but it is not susceptible of proof (at least not scientific proof, unless one believes that science, which is limited to the study of the natural world is capable of proving that nothing other than the natural world exists by limiting the study to the natural world).
Continue reading “Are Reason & Faith in God Contradictory Terms?”

The Sufficiency of Proof and Human Longing

Thinking on a Rock Cliff (Fraley) - Copy

I have seen videos, books and assertions claiming that no one can remain an atheist after viewing, this, or reading that or considering something else. As with any hype, the assertion is simply not true. Claims of indisputable truth will always fall short of convincing someone who will not be convinced. Some people watched Jesus perform miracles in their presence, and they did not believe. What proof is there today that could be more indisputable than the miracles Jesus performed all over the area during his time?

Now, 2000 years later, it is easy to dismiss them by calling into question the accounts, themselves, questioning the authenticity of the Gospels, claiming they were trumped-up stories written down decades or centuries later by people with an agenda, by calling into question that a person named Jesus of Nazareth even ever lived at all. The basis for skepticism seems much more compelling today than it might have been at the time of Jesus.

To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to believe that such a man lived, that he claimed to be the Messiah and that he died by crucifixion. Even some non believers accept the historical accounts. There is good proof of the historical accounts, as far as historical accounts go.

There is also good reason to believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. A very small group of people claiming to be eye witnesses of his life and resurrection from the dead literally changed the world. The gospel that Jesus preached has spread throughout the known world. People today claim spiritual experience with that same God Jesus described, including miracles, speaking in tongues (described in the Book of Acts) and other things. No doubt there are charlatans too.

Richard Dawkins explains spiritual experience as “hallucinations”. Some people are certainly delusional, but that is small segment of society. You can visit them in mental institutions. You know who they are; they are “not quite right”; they are divorced from obvious reality. Hallucinations do not explain the believer who has had an encounter with God.

On the other hand, it could be said of a materialist like Richard Dawkins that he clings to intellect. He demands proof of the infinite that a finite being cannot get ones hands around. Does it make sense for one person, as small in the universe as a single human being, to cling to finite intellect as the total explanation of reality? Even the entire population of people and all of mankind together are utterly infinitesimal in the vast universe that we know, not even considering the rest that we do not know. It seems quite foolish to think that all of reality, as vast as we know it to be, can be measured by our own finite understanding.

Further, those who reject faith and spirituality outright reject any basis to understand it. C. S. Lewis, in his autobiographical account, spoke of the rationalism that he had come to embrace, as a young man that “it might be grim and deadly but at least it was free from the Christian God.” Reflecting back, he recounts that he had rejected a God and spirituality that he did not understand and did not see accurately.

There are some religious people who have not employed the intellect God has given them. On the other end of the spectrum are people who have put everything in the intellectual basket. Both extremes seem clearly prone to error. We are intellectual beings; but we are also spiritual beings. The very fact that people have had spiritual experiences and have innately believed in something Other than the material world and our own finiteness since the beginning of recorded history suggests the reality of such an Other.

If reality were limited to things we can measure and know with our minds, how would we even have the sense that there is something else? If this life is all there is, and therefore all we can know, why do our “minds” wander so easily to imaginings of something else?

Many great writers and great writings in history reveal an occupation with longings and musings of life after death, immortality and other worldliness; it is one of the more prevalent themes of great works of art, even if sometimes reflected from the point of skepticism. The fact that people have had such conceptions suggest some strain of reality to them. How could we conceive of something that is utterly unreal?

An accurate view of the mechanics of the world in which we live comes into greater focus with each discovery. Those discoveries have debunked and called into question many uninformed beliefs, superstitions and mythologies, but they do not rule out God the Creator, the Supreme Mover. In fact, the complex yet intricate order of the world suggests a great intelligence behind it.

The collective intellectual knowledge of people has grown and been refined over thousands of years, from fire to quantum physics. Many people point to the Old Testament as “proof” that the claims in the Bible are unreliable and based on crude and inconsistent principles. The same people would not say of science that our understanding of the material world should be dismissed merely because our scientific forefathers were inaccurate in their understanding 4000 years ago.  Does it seem credible that man has grown so much in scientific understanding, but not in spiritual understanding? The Bible purports to reflect a history of God’s revelation to people and the growth of people in that revelation over a long period of time.

Intellect, a finite intelligence, alone does not provide an accurate or complete understanding of human life, let alone “reality” or even the material world. The longing in the human soul for something greater, something beyond, something not quite attained is sufficient proof for me that there exists something greater, beyond and ultimately attainable and “knowable”.

Just as questions about the material world point to facts that are not yet known , so the longing that is the collective experience of human kind suggests  an Object of that longing that is not yet completely known.

I doubt there is any proof that will convince every person of the existence of a God so great that He is beyond the known, expansive universe that we cannot see to the end (or the beginning). I suspect the unconvinced are driven by motivations and inclinations we cannot see, like the Pharisees in whose presence Jesus performed miracles in His time. God and miracles do not, did not, fit into the worldview, preconceived notions and the investment of personal energy into those things. As with C. S. Lewis, who found relief in materialism from the wrong notions of God he rejected as a child, materialism today provides similar relief from whatever boogeymen gods a person has rejected.

To those who have witnessed the miracles, who have embraced a God who reveals Himself to people, who have experienced the Other, the object of human longing, if only through a glass darkly, the glimpses are sufficient proof.