God Sistine Chapel ImageCan God be proved to exist?

Overview

An exploration of some of the proofs for the existence of God. Exploring what we mean when we say proof and the difference that can make to the arguments.

What does it mean to 'prove' something?

To answer that we need to step in to the world of Philosophy (because this is a philosophical question), but don't panic I'm not going to confuse you with lots of philosophical terms. Well, I might mention one (so you can impress your friends): meta-physics. Meta-physics is philosophy which is about things that are not physical and so when we are thinking about God we are thinking about meta-physics. You can now impress your friends by telling them that you are a metaphysician.

Anyway I'm getting off the point.

There once was a nice man called Rene Descartes (he was French) and he set out to find the one thing that we could not doubt. He felt if we could get back to one absolute truth we could then build up proof for other things (like the existence of God) from this one thing. Although he thought he had done it (in essence, 'I think therefore I am' - this was his basic truth) in fact he didn't. What he ended up doing was to prove that you can't prove anything, not even your own existence. This is important because it means we will not be able to absolutely prove the existence of anything - including the existence or non-existence of God.

Of course this is something that 'clever' people who don't believe in God like to use to confuse those who have never looked into philosophy. Like some wild west peddler of a cure all snake oil they declare that it is of course impossible to prove the existence of God so therefore God doesn't exist (although this argument is itself flawed but we won't go there now). They then ask the person who does believe in God to offer absolute proof and the believer, of course, cannot because it is not possible to do so (as Descartes demonstrated). What they fail to tell you is a) it is not possible to absolutely prove anything and b) it isn't even possible to absolutely prove they exist. If we then follow their argument we would have to conclude that nothing exists, not even them. This is of course a waste of time and effort (philosophy and common sense are not often found in the same place) and so we have to come to something called probability.

What we have to do is to look at the arguments and the evidence and make a decision based on how probable something is - just like in a court of law.

Belief in God is not something that requires you to stop thinking. In fact the first scientists were people trying to understand how God had made everything and some pretty clever people have believed in the existence of God.

What atheists also will fail to tell you is that there have always been atheists. There have always been those who have doubted the existence of God and they have always been trying to claim that clever people don't believe in God. This is utter nonsense - belief (or non belief) in God has nothing to do with how clever you are. Atheists are not some modern day phenomenon of super clever people who have evolved into a state of perfect thinking (although many would like you to think that they are). Atheists have always existed and always will - this does not disprove the existence of God and there is nothing extra clever in not believing that God exists.

So let's go back to our court of law and probability. What we have to do is to look at the arguments and consider the evidence and then make a decision - it is that decision that we call belief or faith. This is not belief despite the evidence but because of it.

So where are the arguments? To make things simple I want to keep the arguments here very short. Proving the existence of God is not the aim of this course but I've offered some help here for those who might like it. If you are not convinced by what I say then I encourage you to take some time investigating the issue and the arguments for yourself. The truth is that every person who believes in God has a different amount of confidence in what they believe. Some are absolutely convinced yet others have severe doubts but believe the evidence is just enough to come down on the side of God.

The arguments (or at least a few of them)

Argument from design.

If you consider the complexity of the Universe - perhaps even just the complexity of an eye or a finger. How did that complexity come about? Was it just by random chance or does it imply that there is a design and if a design then there must be a designer e.g. God. This is not an argument about evolution by the way - it is quite possible to believe that the designer used evolution as part of their design. The universe is very complex and the chances of it forming in such a way as to develop and support life are according to many mathematicians infinitesimal (as near to impossible as you can get).

Moral Argument

This argument contends that there is a morality that goes beyond mere social convention. This is not just about the details (we can argue over what is good or bad) but about the commonly held idea that there is such a thing as right and wrong. If there is no right or wrong then everything is permissible - which it clearly isn't. No one would agree that we should empty the prisons and everyone can do what they like from now on (at least no one who is sane).

So where does this idea of right or wrong come from? It is not enough to say that it has evolved either within society or as some means of self preservation because the idea of right or wrong goes beyond this. Because this idea of right or wrong exists we must find a source for it that is beyond people and this source we call God.

We can extend this argument to cover things like beauty, love etc. Things beyond us that must have a source other than just being made up by people. We call that source God.

Cosmological argument

This is the argument that everything must have a cause right back until we find the first cause. Things exist because something caused them, however we must reach a point where there is a first cause, a beginning. If we go back far enough in the chain then we would have to come to a first cause (e.g. something that has always existed and has no cause for itself) and this first cause is what we call God.

I could go on with many other arguments but I think this gets a bit boring.

The Evidence for the existence of God

Then we have to consider the evidence. The best evidence comes in the vast number of people who believe in God. By far the vast majority of the world believes that God exists. It is possible that they are all wrong, of course. I guess if all of those who believed God did exist were uneducated, then we might draw the conclusion that although most believe it is the educated ones who don't. However this would be completely wrong. A large percentage of the God believing world has access to education and higher education and yet still believes.

Then there is the evidence of those who say that they have experienced the presence of God. If this were a small number of people then we could dismiss it, and if this was down to mass meetings of people who were stirred up by a very good speaker then we might dismiss it as mass hysteria, but we are talking about people on their own and sometimes even in very difficult circumstances.

If those who believed in God also were always very superstitious or vulnerable to persuasion then we might discount the evidence - but they aren't.

There are even some scientists now who are starting to claim that there is evidence for the existence of God from science. Einstein, for instance, believed that there was scientific evidence to prove the existence of an intelligent creator behind the Universe.

Again I could go on with this but I hope I've made the point.

Conclusion

So we have to make up our mind on just how probable the existence of God is. I'm not making the case for a good god or a personal god but just that a god exists. I believe that the arguments for the existence of god can be pretty persuasive. I also believe that there is a weight of evidence for the existence of god that is pretty hard to deny. I've never seen a blue whale (except from pictures on a TV and in books yet as an avid film watcher I know how easy these things are to fake) but the evidence tells me that the blue whale exists. I believe the same can be said about god.