EVIDENCE  NOTWITHSTANDING

(Investigator 136, 2011 January)


Bruce Bennie


We should hardly begrudge anyone who demands some form of proof before they believe in God. Who would spend a large amount of money on something they are not convinced will be worth it? Or trust themselves on a life and death issue to someone they are steeped in doubt about? In many areas of life we often seek for evidence to reassure us we are not deceived, or that what we think is true is actually true. Proof is indeed the catalyst that often swings us from skepticism to belief.

Bob Potter affirms the need to be able to look for reasonable answers in the face of doubt and uncertainty. He quotes the late physicist, Richard Feynman, as observing that there "is no learning without having to pose a question. And a question requires doubt...most of your actions are based on incomplete knowledge and you really don't know what it is all about, or what the purpose of the world is." (#134, 20-21)

It is natural to ask questions about the existence of God. Yet for the person of ‘faith' this looking for evidence can seem to dishonor the character of God. We should not demand a perfect, infinite Being prove its existence to us. To which some may respond, well, why should we trust a perfect Being if we are skeptical such a Being actually exists? Trust in what? Are reasonable, rational human beings simply to be reduced to blind faith after all? What is the great crime in atheists, skeptics, and doubters asking for some kind of evidence God exists?

For some, the answer to this question is quite simple. There is no God, they would assert, and so he cannot provide proof of his existence, and nor can anyone else. Isn't this the very point of why so many have not found sufficient reasons to believe in God? This is why it is often frustrating that some Christians seem content to uncritically accept things by faith. They often do not even try to have evidence to back up their views about God, or seem to feel the need of it. Potter again notes that even Jesus Christ affirmed people who would believe in him without requiring proof – "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20: 29). To which Bob marvels that it is only the atheists who appear to require evidence! (#134, 22). This echoes Dawkins' displeasure on the view of a President of a New Jersey historical society, who had stated: "As everyone knows religion is based on Faith, not knowledge" (Dawkins 2006, 16). Or again, Harris asserts that "we convince ourselves that our beliefs…can float entirely free of reason and evidence" (Harris 2005, 17).  

Most thinking people long for conclusive evidence. Mysteries exist to be solved, theories exist to be tested, claims exist to be substantiated. To seek and not find is a sure path to disillusionment. The human mind and heart can find a plethora of questions and wonders, quests and discoveries that promise to reveal answers that convey new significance into our world. It is at the top of Mount Everest that the victory is celebrated. It is the depth of the questions that have the potential for the highest understanding. And God is the biggest question of all.

So why does God appear so hesitant to give us the proof many are seeking? Yet perhaps there is another way of looking at this question. That is, by asking another one.

What if we did, in fact, discover 100% certified scientific evidence that God did exist, what would we do with it? Would we be satisfied with the knowledge we have finally got the answer? Would we then move on to the next intriguing scientific question to be answered? Would it perhaps spark further investigation to see which religion came closest to the scientific data in their understanding of God, so we would not only have reliable evidence that God existed, but be able to extrapolate which religion was the right one after all? Or would we put God "into the dock" as C S Lewis wrote, and call him to account for the atrocities we have found God guilty of allowing or causing? Would the great Case of Humanity Versus God finally have its day in court?

Lewis wrote: "The ancient man approached God…as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock…if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it…the important thing is that man is on the bench and God in the dock" (Lewis 1979, 100).

Assuming we are in the position to judge an infinite Being from a finite perspective, would we seek to convince God that outdated forms of morality and truth need a good overhaul through the mix of a new relativism and tolerance? Now that God has finally stopped ‘hiding' would we demand he finally ‘get with the program'? Namely, ours.

Or would we be caught up short with this approach, discovering that an infinite, moral Being was not quite so easy to take to task after all?  Our consciences, for one thing, might suddenly take on a new sensitivity and the issue of what is really good or bad (and not simply convenient for us) might resurface as issues that were not so easy to sweep under a politically correct carpet.

This sort of thing could be viewed by many as a fast track back from the liberating progress society has achieved in the last hundred years or so. Indeed, this finding evidence for the existence of God could upset the apple-cart terribly.

Are we sure we actually want to find such evidence? Isn't ignorance bliss, as they say? Isn't the freedom to choose our way and make our own moral decisions the kind of freedom we are most comfortable with? Isn't even the freedom to doubt the existence of God the kind of freedom that lets us feel we are our own persons? No one wants to be bludgeoned into some form of moral servitude. So how might incontrovertible evidence that a perfect, moral God exists affect our sense of personal freedom? Would we then feel we were going to be held to account?

And if we knew God did indeed exist, would we feel we had any choice in the matter?

Perhaps it is that God does not force his presence upon us because he has chosen not to overwhelm our dignity or freedom; to allow that our choices do matter and that we are entitled to them. By not providing absolute proof of his existence we are actually being treated with respect, not disdain. As Lewis again has remarked: "When the author walks on the stage the play is over…God is going to invade alright…this time it will be God without disguise…either irresistible love or irresistible horror to every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you are choosing to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up…it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen" (Lewis 1969, p. 123).

Now is the time of God's "persuasion", not of forcing or coercing. The apostle Paul under house arrest in Rome spent his days "trying to persuade" his listeners and "some were persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe" (Acts 28: 23, 24).

The choice not to be persuaded is a freedom that remains ours. But if it is true that there is a God and that this God allows us the freedom to reject him, then though we are fully persuaded no such God could exist, we may still find we are simply operating in the freedom that very God has given to us. There is still no "safety", and we may yet be taken by surprise. Yes, some might acknowledge, and the religious believers may be taken by surprise by the ‘fallacy' of their own dogmatic assertions! Indeed, just as some skeptics may be busily courting their own dogmatic assertions.

If the existence of God is to have any real meaning to us then it serves us well to remain open to all avenues of understanding. Science and philosophy will continue to ask their questions, theology will endeavour to shape a perception of the divine. But how will the marshalling of the evidence and the arguments be heard? Will they hit closed walls or minds and hearts seeking to understand? Jesus said we must come with the receptivity of children (Luke 18:17), which can ruffle, even insult, our adult pride. Yet that pride may close us off from encountering more than we know.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dawkins, Richard 2006, The God Delusion, Bantam Press, London.
Harris, Sam 2005, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, W. W. Norton, New York.
Lewis, C S 1969, A Mind Awake An Anthology of C S Lewis, Clyde S Kilby (ed).,  Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc,. New York.
Lewis, C S 1979, God in the Dock, Collins, Great Britain.

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