Douglas Jacoby on Answering Skeptics: Prove It!

Monday, 20 July 2015 10:48

Douglas JacobyToday we continue our series Answering Skeptics with advice on how to respond when someone challenges you to "prove God." Before that is the recap from last week's topic, "The Old Man in the Sky."

Recap: the Old Man in the Sky

  • Sometimes unbelievers protest that they don't believe in "the old man in the sky."

  • We should heartily agree. The caricature depicts nothing more than a superhero with human limitations (think Zeus, Jupiter, or Thor) -- a god made in man's image. In addition to disarming them with this response, it allows us to contrast inferior concepts of God with what we know of the true God.

  • A reasonable concept of God is found in scripture: an infinite being who operates outside space-time; who is spirit, not flesh; and who is personal, though without human weakness. He is almighty, all-knowing, everywhere present, holy, righteous, and good.

The Answering Skeptics series: Hypocrisy, Scripture, Morality, Nonsense questions, God, Science, Suffering, Miracles, Christ, and Religion

Prove there's a God!

Skeptics proclaim, "There's no proof for God!", or they demand, "Prove God!" But what sort of proof are they looking for? Usually they clarify that they are seeking empirical (scientific) proof. Yet this isn't the only kind of "proof" there is. In a court of law, forensic evidence isn't always a photo, fiber, or matching DNA. Eyewitness testimony can be highly persuasive. So can the triple conjunction of motive, means, and opportunity.

Insisting on empirical (scientific) proof when God is an immaterial being is itself illogical! Many things cannot be empirically proven, yet are real nonetheless—logic, numbers, justice, love, beauty, and science itself:

  • The axioms of logic, as of geometry, must be assumed. They cannot be proven. Using logic to prove logic would be circular. Some element of faith is therefore involved at the fundamental level.

  • Numbers, whether integers or fractions or those special numbers like e and i and pi, are well known to all of us. Mathematics is the "language" of physics (formulas, ratios, coefficients...), and numbers make up the "words." Yet, though useful to scientists, their existence cannot be proven by them.

  • Justice and love are real -- and all of us demand or seek them! -- yet they cannot be quantified. Who ever heard of 2 kg of justice, or 12 cc of love?

  • Aesthetics, whether artistic or musical, speaks powerfully to every person. Even thought we cannot always define beauty -- the attempt tends to be clunky and detracts from the object of our admiration -- we experience it as real.

  • Like logic, science is not self-verifying. There are always assumptions. Thus we see that many things in our world are real (miracles also fall into this category), even though they cannot be proved empirically.

I am often asked how we as believers can "prove God." We cannot prove him scientifically, but this is no problem, as we now understand that much of reality is beyond the reach of empirical analysis. It is possible to experience God, and to persuade others of his existence, yet there is no way scientifically to prove God.

Moderate evidence
But is this necessarily a point against biblical faith? I think not. Faith is not only a response to evidence, but also trust in a higher power. And faith is relational. Several centuries ago philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal had an exquisite insight: "[God] so regulates the knowledge of himself that he has given some signs of himself, visible to those who seek him and not to those who seek him not. There is enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition" (Pensees, 7.430).

In other words, the amount of evidence God provides of his existence is moderate -- just right. He neither overwhelms the seeker with signs of his reality, nor provides so little evidence that anyone can reject him with good reason. The Lord respects our free will. He could force us to believe, yet he refuses to disrespect us. It is only in providing a moderate amount of evidence that our response can properly combine free will, rational response, and trust.

God may not be provable scientifically, yet this doesn't mean he isn't real. Many things in the real world are beyond the reach of science, which after all only explores the realm of matter and energy in space-time. If God were scientifically verifiable, he would be in some sense part of the physical world -- which would make him part of the creation, as opposed to the Creator who by definition exists outside of / apart from his creation. Finally, maybe God doesn't want us to be able to prove him. This allows for faith and a free will response. Thus what may have seemed a weakness in the biblical position turns out to be a great strength!

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