This past week I began a 3-week class at RLC called “Ask Anything.” It’s a Q&A format centered on whatever people want to talk about, but each week I’ll tackle one of the “big questions” lots of people seem to be asking. I’ll post my reflections on those questions here on the blog each week. We started with a question that seems foundational to many: How do we know God exists?
First we have to acknowledge that we don’t know for sure that God exists, any more than we know for sure that he doesn’t. Absolute certainty about whether God exists or not is impossible.
Some say God doesn’t exist because God’s existence can’t be proven “scientifically.” But if anything like what we mean by the word “god” does exist, there is no way science could answer the question one way or another. Others might say that God has to exist because we’ve experienced him; but there is no way to know for sure that our experience matches the reality we’re claiming is behind it.
It is impossible for us to find a place or perspective from where we can look down and determine God’s existence either way. This would only be possible if God were below us, which would make him something other than God.
Instead of certainty, we are dealing with probability. Those who affirm or deny God’s existence are looking at the world, gathering information, and making an educated guess about the best explanation for what they see. Some think the world is best explained by the existence of a God. Others think the opposite. But neither position is inherently more logical, and both involve faith – a risky commitment we each have to make given our limited knowledge and perspective.
Within this, there are many reasons I think it more likely that God exists than that he doesn’t:
Design – When I consider the brilliant and complex design of our world, I believe it makes most sense to believe in an intelligent designer. (BTW, this is different from the specific position in modern scientific debates called “Intelligent Design”.)
First cause / Final explanation – If you continually ask the question Why? or How? of our world (like a 2-year old), eventually you must answer either ‘God’ or ‘That’s just the way things are.’ I think it is probable that God is the first cause, rather than mere chance.
Moral Conviction – While it is certainly true that morality differs among different cultures, there is always some sort of moral expectations among human beings. Something is seen as right (or commendable) and something is seen as wrong (or punishable). I think that ‘moral law’ implies a ‘moral lawgiver’ (even if I don’t think those terms best describe God or what God asks of us).
Spirituality – Throughout history, the majority of human persons and societies have sought some form of spiritual or transcendent experience. Either 99% of human beings are stupid and/or deceived and/or not ‘scientific’ enough to believe that science can and must explain everything, or there is some reality beyond us that calls out to us.
Beauty and goodness – Much is made of the problem of evil and suffering, but I think the opposite question is equally powerful and poses a problem for those who deny God’s existence: Why is there so much beauty and goodness in the world? How do you explain the way we feel when we stand on top of a mountain, or what we experience in authentic friendship or romance, or when people selflessly sacrifice for others? Of course there are many possible explanations, but I think the one with God in it seems most likely.
Jesus’ resurrection – Most importantly, I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, and this would not be possible if God didn’t exist. I believe that it can be shown historically that, as wacky as it sounds, God raised Jesus from the dead; this event is unexplainable apart from the reality of God.
Personal Experience – I must also add that I believe in God because I believe that I have come to know him personally. God is not just an idea to me; he is a friend. I have had experiences in my life that I believe are best explained by the reality of a transcendent personal being. I can also testify to the transformation of my character; I have become something other – something better – because I have walked with Jesus. I have no desire to prove this last bit logically or scientifically; I simply offer it as what it is – personal testimony.
We should note that the Bible never tries to prove God’s existence to us. The Bible simply assumes we’ll believe in some form or idea of god or gods, and it tells us a story of the One it claims to be the True God. It ignores the question, ‘Is there a God?’ in favor of the question, ‘What is God really like?’ The difference between our world and theirs is that we can believe in, for instance, the value and authority of democracy or individual liberty (freedom), and yet separate these beliefs from any talk of ‘God.’ Biblically, these things simply are our gods, and we are all idolaters. In other words, from a biblical perspective, idolatry is much more interesting than atheism, because atheism is simply a disguised form of idolatry (since all people give allegiance to something, even if only self or reason).