I moved on from our recent, very brief Facebook exchange, thinking it would never come to mind again. I thought, “He’s not even trying, why bother?”
But it keeps circling back. You made me think about how my beliefs might look from your point of view, and you asked a couple of questions that deserve answers.
I’ve decided this, though: I’m not going to try to answer your questions in the messy, more-heat-than-light environment of social media. Instead, a friendly open letter.
One disclaimer: I’m not good at finding things on Facebook once they’re no longer in my face. So I’m answering what I remember as the gist of your questions.
- Can you prove that there is a God?
- If there is a God, why should I think I owe Him obedience?
I want to offer a challenge before I dive in to my answers. You seem to be a pretty open minded person. You were open minded enough to consider, at some point, that there might not be a God.
Can you be open minded enough to consider how it could make sense to believe there is a God? Let me clarify. I’m not trying to change your mind here. What I mean is open minded enough to imagine my point of view and understand the basics of what I believe and why. Some atheists have gone to the trouble to do this with Christianity. (This article in The Atlantic may provide some examples.)
We should be able to agree on this much: Understanding a belief and the reasons behind it isn’t the same thing as accepting that belief as true. So I want to make a small effort here toward increasing your understanding.
Question 2 is relatively easy, so I’ll tackle the more complex one first.
1. Can you prove there is a God?
It may surprise you to know that I often hear Christians say, “Well, it’s impossible to prove there is a God.” Part of me always recoils when I hear that—but not so much as in the past. What they usually mean is something more like this: “It isn’t possible to provide a sufficient quantity or quality of evidence to convince an unbeliever that God exists.”
They’re still not quite right, but this is close to the truth.
Some Christians who say you can’t prove God exists mean something more like this: Looking at the question somewhat objectively, and using the normal standards of proof people accept for most things in life, you can’t prove God exists.
This is absolutely untrue, and it’s a serious problem that so many Christians apparently think this way. It exposes a huge gap in the worldview of many believers.
So what’s the answer to the question, then? It’s this: Using the standards of evidence people normally require for belief that something is true, yes, I can totally prove there is a God.
So why does the question keep coming back? Why are atheists and agnostics so convinced that there is no proof that God exists?
Let’s return to my goal and what I’m asking from you: My goal is to explain my point of view and I’m asking you to accurately understand it. My point of view includes a couple of things I’ve experienced. If you like, file them as “things Aaron incorrectly perceives.” But if you know them, you can understand how I see things.
(1) In my experience, most who ask for proof that there is a God choose a more rigorous standard of proof for that question than they do for almost every other question in life. In some cases, when proof is provided, they just keep moving the goalposts. (I can’t tell from our brief exchange if this is true in your case, though a statement or two seemed consistent with that.)
For these God-skeptics, a complex, inductive case that arrives at high probability isn’t enough. But how do they arrive at their belief that all the species of life on earth evolved by chance from a few cells that also evolved by chance, over a sufficiently long period of time?
I understand evolutionary theory. I don’t believe it, but I don’t caricature it. A person can make a complex, inductive case for unguided, naturalistic evolution that makes sense from their point of view (and with certain premises as givens). But for belief in God, many demand simple, direct, irrefutable evidence that can’t be explained any other way.
(2) Also in my experience, many who are persuaded of naturalistic evolution haven’t worked through questions like, “How do we know what we observe is real?” or, “How do we know that empirical evidence is the only valid evidence?” or the old (e.g., Heidegger, before him, Leibniz) “Why is there something instead of nothing?”
So having avoided philosophy, they’re coming to the question, “Is there proof that God exists?” with an unexamined philosophy already in place.
This is why, taking the question as, “Can I provide sufficient quantity or quality of evidence to convince you that God exists?” The answer is almost certainly no.
There are other reasons also.
I realize you don’t accept the Bible as true, but if you’re going to understand my beliefs this is a vital piece.
The Bible asserts that humans are badly damaged—every last one of us, myself certainly included. One aspect of that damage is that we don’t want there to be a God in the biblical sense. Part of us does. Part of us longs for it, but by default humans are dominated by the part that says, “I don’t want there to be a superior being who is entitled to tell me how to live and judge how I’ve lived.”
If you want to see where the Bible teaches this, you can find it in many places, but here are a few: Ephesians 4:18, 2:12; Colossians 1:21. These are from the Apostle Paul, but you can find “corroborating evidence” all over the Bible, going as far back as Adam and Eve hiding themselves from God after their rebellion against Him (Genesis 3:8).
I don’t want to put words in your mouth, and you didn’t say this, but I suspect part of your view of Christianity is that humans tend to believe what they want to believe—and God is an easy explanation for lots of things.
I’ll not debate that point here except to say that in the Christian view—in my own view—you also believe what you want to believe, and this is part of why you don’t see “proof that God exists” in the evidence so many have pointed out over the centuries.
2. If God exists, why should I think I owe Him obedience?
This one is relatively easy. If there is an all powerful God who made the universe, He must have made me as well. And if He made me, I’m His. He has the right of ownership and gets to decide how things are going to work.
Of course, Christians also believe God is good—the best! But even if He wasn’t good, He’d be in charge. It would be irrational to try to resist that kind of power. Even in pure self-interest it would make sense to find out what makes Him happy as best you can and do that.
Our brokenness as humans, our sinfulness, is a problem that can only be solved by God’s generosity and power. We can’t overcome our natural desire to reject Him. We’re that bad. We can’t be good enough for Him. He’s that good.
The death of Jesus was God providing His own solution. It was God offering a way for people who aren’t good enough to get credit for God’s goodness instead. It was also Him making a way to eventually transform those who accept His offer—so that they really are good enough. (Read about it: Isaiah 53:6; John 3:16, 5:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21). But none of us get there in this life. The best of us are still sinners.
I imagine that, from your point of view, this story seems very unlikely. Fair enough. From my point of view, the story that the world and all life in it came to exist completely by chance—and there is no God, ultimately no right or wrong or good or bad—seems quite unlikely.
Can we agree on this much, though? The world seems broken. At the very least, life in this world seems weird.
We live some decades that our hearts tell us are full of meaning and importance, then suddenly we’re old, with a long line of mistakes—but usually also many joys—behind us. But we still feel like we’re just getting started and that there is so much more living that we ought to do. But at the same time, life is full of fear and longing and struggle and contradiction—why do we want more of it so much? Why do we love, rage over injustice, weep in response to great beauty, and care how we’re remembered?
I can’t see how naturalistic evolution in a godless universe can account for the wonderful weirdness of being alive. The explanation the Bible provides doesn’t banish all the mystery from the universe. Far from it! But it fully explains why the universe, and why our experience of life, ought to be mysterious and often puzzling (read Ecclesiastes).
It isn’t possible for me to lay out in one letter everything I believe and all my reasons for believing it, but I hope this increases your understanding a bit.
If you have more questions, fire away!
Aaron Blumer, SharperIron’s second publisher, is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in a small town in western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. He is employed in customer service for UnitedHealth Group and teaches high school rhetoric (and sometimes logic and government) at Baldwin Christian School.