We are obsessed with proof. And our obsession goes far beyond the question, “Does God exist?” We want proof for everything—or as my friend Tommy says, we want the sauce. You think standardized testing isn’t efficient? You’re gonna have to back up that claim. You think the police officers were responsible for what happened to Eric Garner? Show me the evidence. You think U2 is the greatest band ever? Prove it.
Whether this need for evidence is a feature of our modernity or of our litigious culture, we’re expected to have it for most everything and we’re happy to oblige—lest we be wrong or, worse, be made a fool of. We want to have ultimate proof for what we believe.
And that is why proof of God is so important. To know whether God exists is the most coveted intellectual mystery because it bears on every other element of life (i.e. if we were wrong about that, we’re wrong about a lot of other things). In this one arena, we want to have undoubting certainty, unflinching confidence, unquestionable knowledge. And so we dialogue and debate.
The unfolding of this God-Debate can be seen simultaneously on a macro and micro scale, in the history of the last century and in the intellectual journey of individuals.
The argument’s evolution often begins with the germ of naturalism. This ideology, based in the framework of the scientific method, excludes any supernatural presence—particularly God—from its understanding of reality. Back-and-forths typically revolve around the age of the earth, the evolution of man and morality, or the historicity of the events described in Scripture.
Yet as we mature, we start to see this specific tension as increasingly irrelevant. Quickly we remind those who linger at that stage, “I think we all agree we’re past that, old friend,” and we begin to move on. And after a while, the very idea that we use to bicker about it at all seems laughable.
Once we’ve moved on, though, a new stage of the debate is waiting for us. This is the part of the argument centered on philosophy, logic, and ideas. It no longer dismisses the supernatural as a given but seeks for truth and tries to decipher where God may or may not fit in that truth. It asks questions like:
- “If God is all good and all powerful, why is there suffering?”
- “Does inductive or deductive reasoning lead us to God? If so, is it the God of Christianity?”
- “Can there be transcendence of naturalism without the ‘supernatural’?”
- “What is meaning and what is morality without eternal consequences?”
These questions may be where the debate presently rests in intellectual circles, though some seem to be moving past it, realizing that language and logic leave room for infinite complexity and seeing no end in sight. And so the debate continues to evolve.
Along the way, though, many people step off the track. They reject God, but they do so without the proof offered up either by naturalists or philosophers. They’re no longer compelled to participate in the debates going on around them.
This demographic may be hard to find in any study of religious trends since they continue to point with hollow hands to the arguments they’re familiar with, but chances are you know a few—or even several—personally. These are the people who have no room for faith in their lives because of stubbornness (due to the ethical change that would necessarily ensue if they backed down) or because of sincere inability (typically from heartache or trauma).
This frustrates me. These responses don’t lend themselves to mathematical apologetics; it is not about reason for these people, at least in their heart of hearts. Rejection based in obstinance and heartache is in some ways more robust and even understandable than its naturalist and philosophical sisters in disbelief. In that sort of dialogue, all the training and reading I undertake under the discipline of theology is of no use—except to offer a voice of love and comfort.