Is there proof for the
existence and activity of God?

 and if not,

Why isn't God more obvious?

by Craig Rusbult
 ( and C.S. Lewis ) 
 


SUMMARY:  God seems to prefer a balance of evidence, with
reasons to believe and disbelieve, so a person's heart and will
can freely (not coerced by overwhelming evidence) make the
decision, and so we can develop a "living by faith" character
with a trust in God serving as the foundation for all of our
thoughts and actions in daily living.
 
      Does God want us to be certain?
      Sometimes debaters, using logical and philosophical arguments, try to prove or disprove the existence of God.  But proof seems impossible.  And I think that a "state of uncertainty" is the way God wants it to be, even though a lack of proof may feel frustrating for those who seek certainty.
      Consider the most important event in Christian history, the resurrection of Jesus.  If God had wanted everyone to be certain, most doubts would have been erased if the risen Jesus marched through downtown Jerusalem, showing everyone (not just Thomas) his hands and feet and side, asking the Roman soldiers "Was I dead three days ago? Am I alive now? Are you convinced?", and doing amazing miracles that would clearly demonstrate His power.  Why wasn't this done?  Why was the evidence merely impressive — with the testimony of many eyewitnesses whose lives were dramatically changed, a lack of disproof (no dead body could be produced,...), and more — instead of overwhelmingly decisive?
      Or we can ask:  Why doesn't God give everyone a Damascus Road Experience (Acts 9:1-31) that would convince each of us, not just Paul, that there is a theistically active God?
      Or, when we examine the Bible and nature, we can find some evidence to support views across a wide range that includes young-earth creation, old-earth creation, theistic evolution, and atheistic evolution.  Again, we can ask "Why isn't God more obvious?"  Currently there is no clear and obvious theory about origins that is accepted by everyone.  But if God wants us to recognize Him as Creator and to understand how He created, why is there evidence that would lead rational people to propose such a wide variety of explanations?
      Although it isn't stated directly in the Bible, God seems to prefer a balance of evidence:  there is enough reason to believe if we want to believe, but not enough to intellectually force belief against our will.  Instead of overpowering us with undeniable logic or mighty miracles until we grudgingly give up and give in, God wants us to want to come to Him.  With this balance there is authentic free will, and the choice is primarily made not by intellect, but by heart and will. *  A balance is also needed for developing the "living by faith" character so highly valued by God.  In a world where it may seem justifiable to be intellectually agnostic, God wants a non-agnostic faith, a total spiritual commitment, a true repentance followed by a complete trust in God that is manifested in all thoughts and actions of daily living.   {* God also draws us to himself through the loving power of the Holy Spirit; this page won't discuss questions about Calvinism, re: human responsibility and divine sovereignty }

      Yes, Evidence is Available
 
    But authentic faith is not blind faith;  it is not "trying to force yourself to believe what you know is not true."  Strong evidence for Christian faith can come from four sources:  recorded history, science, and human experience that is first-hand (personal experience) or second-hand (interpersonal experience).   History: The main basis for Judaic and Christian beliefs are the historical claims recorded in the Bible, which include miracles (concentrated in some time periods with selected people, especially Moses, Elijah & Elisha, Jesus & his disciples) and on rare occasions other attention-grabbers like angels who become visible and audible.   Science can also provide evidence to support theistic beliefs.   Personal Experience: God can interact with individuals to supply personally customized evidence for His existence and activity.   Interpersonal Experience: We can talk with other people, or read what they write, to share in their experiences and thoughts.
      For me, all four sources have provided strong reasons to believe.  For example, before becoming a Christian I had concluded — based on my study of the origin of life (it seems highly unlikely that natural process could produce life) and the many amazing life-allowing properties of the universe — that life and the universe probably had been designed and created by a designer/creator whose intelligence and power far exceeds our ability to comprehend.  Also, God provided evidence (in many personal experiences) that He exists and is active in my life.  I remain a Christian because I'm confident that The Gospel of Jesus is true, and because I want the grace and life offered by God.   { But others can claim that these four kinds of evidence, when combined, give them reasons to not believe.  And in recent years, proposals for a multiverse (plus anthropic principle) seem to let disbelievers rationally say "so what" to evidence for a fine-tuning of nature, because it makes a non-designed multiverse one of three plausible explanations — along with an intelligently designed multiverse or intelligently designed universe — for the life-allowing properties of nature. }
      When I claim that "nothing can be proved" I'm not advocating intellectual laziness or a radical relativism that denies the relevance of careful logical thinking.  Even though there can be no proof, evidence can provide logical support for a rationally justified confidence in "a good way to bet" so only a moderate intellectual agnosticism is justified.  An extreme agnosticism — as in the claims of radical postmodernists who propose an absolute skepticism (that since we cannot know the truth of a particular truth-claim with certainty, we can know nothing about it) — is not logically justified, and is not a wise strategy when choosing a foundational worldview for living.
      Because each person gathers different evidence, and because our interpretations also vary, each of us will develop a different estimate for the plausibility of various worldviews.  In most cases the evidence is not conclusive, and there may be several intellectually respectable options, including theism (of several types), deism, nontheistic religions (based on polytheism, pantheism, animism,...), atheism, or agnosticism.  Usually, adjustments can be made to achieve logically consistent harmony.  For example, I think the most reasonable explanation for apparent design in the life-allowing properties of our universe is actual design and creation by God, but other options (such as a theory of eternally existing matter with "an immense number of universes" so that even the extremely improbable becomes possible) are available for those who want to reach other conclusions.

      A Summary
 
    In an effort to avoid misunderstanding, I want to emphasize four points:
      First, absolute truth does exist, even though we cannot know with absolute certainty what this truth is.  For example, claims made in the Bible — that God created the universe, Jesus rose from the dead,... — are either true or false, and this truth or falsity does not depend on what you or I think.  We do not "create our own truth."  We create only our beliefs, which then influence our thoughts and actions.
      Second, evidence (personal, interpersonal, historical, scientific) can affect our estimates for the plausibility of various worldviews, even though proof is impossible.  As rational beings, we should try to rigorously analyze evidence (from observations and scriptures) in an attempt to find the truth.  Therefore, I strongly support the activities of those who gather evidence that supports the truth-claims of Christianity.  In fact, I am one of these people.   { And I defend the rights of those who gather evidence against the truth-claims of Christianity. }
      Third, God does miracles, but usually they are personal rather than general.  For example, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to his followers but not the entire population of Jerusalem or Rome;  God provided a spectacular Damascus Road Experience for Paul (and his traveling companions) but not for others;  God gave Peter the temporary power needed to raise a woman from death (Acts 9:36-43) and "this became known all over Joppa" but the experiences arising from this miracle — for Peter, the woman and her friends, and the people of Joppa — were direct, personally customized, and localized, and were different than the experiences of people in other cities.
      Fourth, I'm not advocating a spiritual agnosticism that claims "if there is not enough evidence for certainty, the most rational decision is to not decide."  I agree with the premise (that evidence is inadequate for proof) but not the conclusion (that "not deciding" is the wisest choice);  a moderate intellectual agnosticism is justified, but a commitment agnosticism seems unwise.  I'm merely suggesting that we humbly recognize the limits of logical persuasion and the impossibility of proof, and see our world as an environment that permits free decisions and provides opportunities for living by faith in whatever worldview a person has decided to construct and accept.

      Living by Faith
      For those who diligently seek evidence and carefully examine it, there will be answers for sincere questions about the plausibility of Christian theism;  then a decision can be made by the heart and will.  The importance of the will continues in everyday living.  An intellectual assent to theological propositions is only the beginning of an authentic Christian "born again" decision that leads to living by faith — with spiritual support from God, who promises to provide believers with whatever they need (faith, hope, love, joy, courage, strength, mercy, wisdom,...) for a full life — by making decisions, throughout each day, on the basis of trust in God's character and promises.  How do you respond when, through the experiences of life, God implicitly asks you the faith-question: "Do you trust me?"  If your answer is truly "yes" then you (and others) will see the evidence in your emotions, thoughts, and actions during everyday life.
 


      Ideas from C.S. Lewis
      The main theme of this page was inspired by my own questions and some insightful answers from C.S. Lewis in Chapter 8 of The Screwtape Letters.  In the excerpts below, an experienced old devil is teaching his young apprentice:

      You must have wondered why the Enemy [God, who is the devil's enemy] does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment.  But now you see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use.  Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless.  He cannot ravish.  He can only woo.  For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it;  the creatures are to be one with Him, but themselves.  ...
      He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand;  and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.  Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

      Life as Educational Drama
      It's interesting to think of "life as drama" with humans as the audience, actors, and (maybe) co-authors, with the script written by God (in a hyper-Calvinist view) or (in other views) being co-written by God and humans.  Here are brief-and-tentative comments about two questions:
      How does life produce drama?  For drama, some uncertainty and suffering is necessary, to make decisions difficult (due to uncertainties) and important (because there are significant consequences in terms of suffering, pleasure, relationships, and other things affecting quality of life).
      Why would God create life with drama?  Maybe (yes, I know this is speculation, because none of us fully understands the "why" of God, in the purpose for our life) the drama performs an essential educational function, helping us learn how to live by faith and giving us opportunities to "practice" and improve our skill through our dramatic experiences with faith-based living.

      But one reason for "uncertainty and suffering" is the sinful disobedience of humans, which produced three results for humans:  loss of relationship with God (in Genesis 3:7-13) plus two judicial results decreed by God (in Gen 3:14-24) in a decreased quality of life (Gen 3:14-19,23) and (Gen 3:22,24) losing the gift of immortality, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."  But the grace of God, in Jesus, gave us back the gift of life through His sinless human life, obedient death (when God personally participated in human suffering), and victorious resurrection.  In the future, believers will regain "the tree of life" (Revelation 2:7) and (in Rev 21:4) "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain."  (paraphrased from Death before Sin)
      Think about contrasts.  When do you most appreciate being warm and dry in your home — when you've been warm and dry all day (like Phoenix in July) or (like Seattle in January) when you've been cold and wet during a long walk home?  In a similar way, you really appreciate being healthy after you've been sick, and waking up feeling strong & rested if you went to sleep feeling weak & weary after a hard day of work.  Yes, a transition from bad-to-good can increase our enjoyment now, but try to imagine the much bigger transition to our glorious future life in heaven when there is "no more death or mourning or crying or pain" and we will truly appreciate how wonderful this is, by contrast with the dramatic uncertainties and suffering of our present life.

      Appropriate Humility (not too little, not too much) is a useful attitude for thinking about proof-and-faith, and for living.  It reduces a tendency to be a "debater" who wants to win every argument, including attempts to prove or disprove the existence of God.  And it's related to Accurate Understanding and Respectful Attitudes.
      Here is a description of appropriate humility (or you can think of it as appropriate confidence) from Bertrand Russell: "Error is not only the absolute error of believing what is false, but also the quantitative error of believing more or less strongly than is warranted by the degree of credibility properly attaching to the proposition believed, in relation to the believer’s knowledge."



 
This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
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Here are other related pages:

  The area for WORLDVIEW EVALUATION asks "Can we be certain?" and  
describes apologetics (to defend the rationality of Christian faith)
and evidence that includes Jesus on the cross and out of the tomb.
{ Also check "Tolerance and Truth" on the right side of the page. }

Reality 101:
Postmodern Relativism & Reality, Truth, Theory

useful lessons from a teacher:
Accurate Understanding and Respectful Attitudes

Christian Education: Glorifying God in Our Thoughts and Actions
is written by me, and pages by other authors are described in
Education for Living a Christian Worldview by Faith

This page is
http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/views/proof.htm

Copyright © 1998 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved

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