On Proof for the Existence of God.

“To oppose something is to maintain it. …To be an atheist is to maintain God. His existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof.”[1] Ursula K. Le Guin.

If God exists, why does He not provide incontrovertible proof of His existence? I believe in the existence of God. I have been blessed by experiences that constitute, for me, proof. But those experiences do not (and indeed cannot) prove God’s existence to you. I believe, but I cannot believe for you. I have had certain experiences, but those experiences were meant for me, and me alone.

One definition of a miracle is that it provides access to the divine. It is, therefore, personal. Even when a miracle is performed in public, that miracle is interpreted individually. The individual may choose to internalize or rationalize what they have seen, to accept or deny the event. A person’s response to the miracle is what is important, not the miracle itself.

In the case of Jesus’ miracles, we see at least two reactions. Some people were astonished and praised God. Others argued that Jesus performed miracles by the power of Beelzebub. The same miracle occurred before all, but it was interpreted and assimilated differently.

What if God were to provide incontrovertible proof of His existence? What then? The interpretation and assimilation of that proof take place within each person. Some would love God, some would hate Him. But, having provided absolute and incontrovertible proof would be to end the question. Each person’s reaction would, at that point, be fixed and immutable. For some, the love of God would be paradise; for others, the love of the God whom they hate would be a torment. And so God, in His mercy, leaves the question open and provides the opportunity for true repentance.

Russell's Teapot

Russell’s Teapot

In an earlier post,[2] I discussed Bertrand Russell’s teapot. I must confess to have misunderstood what Bertrand Russell was driving at. He writes:

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

What Bertrand Russel was getting at can be summed up in the following quotes:[3]

  • “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” Carl Sagan
  • “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.” Pierre-Simon Laplace
  • “A wise man … proportions his belief to the evidence,”  and “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.” David Hume
  • “An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.” Marcello Truzzi

The problem with this is that it requires the existence of something outside a particular domain to be proved by only the evidence that exists within that domain. To put it another way, the materialist assumes God to be part of the material world, and thereby must be proven by material means. The Christian God not only exists outside the material world, but created the material world. By that standard, the God who exists outside space-time cannot be proven solely by evidence that exists within space-time.

In 1884, the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott published the book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. This book begins with an exploration of a two-dimensional world. One of the characters, A Square, visits a one-dimensional world, where his descriptions of life in a two-dimensional world arouse suspicion. After this, A Square receives his own visit from a three-dimensional sphere, and the story goes on from there.

The point of all this (an unintentional pun, BTW), is that in a two-dimensional world, they might indeed be evidence of a three-dimensional world, but no proof. A two-dimensional being cannot experience three-dimensions, just as a one-dimensional being cannot experience two. Thus, we can say that a miracle provides evidence for the existence of God, but does not constitute proof.

But we do not have to postulate higher dimensions to discuss the difficulties with the concept of proving God’s existence. All we have to do is ask what constitutes proof, and within which domain. Within the historical domain, I can prove the existence of Abraham Lincoln, but I cannot scientifically prove his existence. The two domains have very different ideas about what constitutes proof. I can use the tools of science to provide evidence for Lincoln’s existence, yet within the scientific domain that evidence does not constitute proof. And within the legal domain, I may prove someone’s guilt, yet both history and science may yet demonstrate and/or prove that person’s innocence. Scientific tools may be used to provide evidence of either proof or innocence, yet that innocence or guilt exists outside of the scientific domain.

So does God exist? There is evidence, but no proof. Or to put it more precisely, there are miracles that prove to me that God exists, but those miracles cannot serve as proof for someone else. A miracle happened to me and one other person and was witnessed by a third. I realized it was a miracle and was completely nonplussed by it. The witness saw it too and was equally nonplussed. The second person the miracle happened to didn’t seem to even notice it. The event constituted conclusive evidence for the existence of God for me, yet had no effect on the second person. Was I predisposed to believe? Was he predisposed to disbelieve? Am I gullible and he discerning? Am I discerning and he unaware? I know the answer, but I cannot prove it to you.

  1. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ursula_K._Le_Guin
  2. http://www.whymarymatters.com/archives/645
  3. https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Extraordinary_claims_require_extraordinary_evidence