In this final argument in favor of God’s existence, I will explore the questions that were asked in the introduction to this series concerning the view that if God exists, it would be obvious to all people, and he would somehow be directly accessible or subject to physical proof.
An atheist’s objection often comes down to this: there is no real, empirical evidence a theist can offer to prove that God exists, and if God does exist, he doesn’t seem to be willing to prove it himself on demand.
I would like to begin with an analogy: when an author pens a novel, he participates in an act of creation. Peculiarly, even though he is in control of every word and page, the characters tend to take on personalities of their own, and they can even surprise their own author with what they will do and say. Whatever causes this phenomenon, imagine for a moment that the characters do in fact take on a certain life of their own.
One character, Archibald, begins to philosophize from within the story that there is no God. The entire universe, he argues, is composed of ink and paper, and all of the people and objects and events that occur in the universe, even the emergence of matter and time, are explicable by the laws of ink and paper. The world we inhabit, he continues, may have the appearance of design, but it is useless to imagine some supernatural Author-God for whom no real evidence can anywhere be found.
His brother Roland acts the foil, arguing in return that paper and ink cannot explain every aspect of existence. For example, where did the laws of ink and paper come from? Also, how could mechanistic laws produce sentient characters like us, who are far too complex and intricate to arise by the chance blotting of ink on the page? And how do you explain that the world and its characters seem to be telling a story unfolding over time?
Archibald responds that Roland only believes in a God of the Gaps, that wherever there seems to be a blank page of understanding, Roland simply writes in his imaginary Author-God. As far as a story, well, anyone can look at history and concoct some grand story that it tells; it is the result of a character’s overactive imagination to look for design where it is not.
Now, you will notice that Archibald is quite correct in many ways. However much he and his brother examine the universe they inhabit, the physical evidence will only yield ink and paper. All conceivable empirical results will end in materialism if empirical theories are all that are allowed. The only thing Archibald is wrong about is everything. Because he refuses to examine the empirical for evidence of the ethereal, he will never see the fact that the Author is writing the story, even Archibald’s own words, at that very moment.
You may wonder, what could the Author do to disprove Archibald’s atheism? In whatever way the Author wishes to reveal himself, it will in the final result be composed of ink and paper, for that is Archibald’s own composition. The poor character, because of his inky nature, has no means of direct contact with any part of the world existing outside of the book. As long as he persists in his thinking, he will explain away any miraculous intervention by the Author, for he is trapped by his assumptions and his own limited perspective.
The Author, in a radical act, could write Himself into the story and confront Archibald face to face. Even in this, however, Archibald could easily accuse the Author of being insane, a pitiable character with delusions of grandeur. The Author could reveal all sorts of hidden information; he could even predict the future. But the more the Author intrudes on the natural order of things, the more he risks being misunderstood, hated, and even attacked by the other characters. His presence has the potential either to complete or to wreck the story and the harmony of the world he has built.
This is not, of course, a perfect analogy of the New Testament, but it is suggestive of how an atheist could be right about his observations and wrong about the big picture, and of what challenges God would face if he wished to interact as directly as possible with his creation.
One of the finest works of fiction I have encountered is Flatland, published pseudonymously by Edwin Abbott (as A. Square) in 1884. It is a tiny volume, easily read in a day. In it, Abbott brilliantly lowers the reader’s perspective from his own 3-dimensional world to that of the main character, A. Square, who inhabits the 2-dimensional world of Flatland. From this lower vantage point, it is easy to see how Mr. Square is able to master planar geometry while remaining oblivious, even with the most clear arguments and demonstrations from the Sphere, to the world both above and below his plane of existence.
There is a simple fact confronting both Archibald and A. Square: the only access these characters have to the beings who are above them, even if direct contact is made, is faith. The evidence is there, but it is imperceptible to an empiricist; to see the story of a higher realm unfolding requires a willingness to shift perspective.
In this series, I have constructed, based on my reading and understanding, four arguments for God’s existence. Here is the fifth: put the evidence together, and try to see the big picture that unfolds. This was C. S. Lewis’s purpose in his series of radio broadcasts during World War II that became Books 1 and 2 of Mere Christianity. He wanted a bombarded British people, who had alone withstood the Blitz, to see the big picture of their lives and understand that the evidence of a benevolent God was all around them. This is required reading for anyone who wishes to be educated on the topic of theism and atheism.
Even if God exists and has directly interfered with human affairs, there is no deductive logic (i.e. scientific experiment) that would prove his existence. The thing is impossible and inconceivable. Assuming for argument’s sake that a personal God exists, the only way to reach the correct conclusion is through inductive reasoning, which is to say, evidence-based faith. Just as a reader of Frost’s The Road Not Taken must transcend the physical imagery of nature to grasp the poem, so an atheist must take the leap out of materialism to infer what the material suggests.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
A few common atheistic arguments fall into this topic of perspective, one of which we received from Archibald.
The “God of the Gaps” issue is particularly fascinating to me. I do not think that most atheists who pose it understand its inherent dishonesty. Their argument is that faith is only needed where gaps exist in scientific understanding, but if there is any demonstration that would persuade an atheist to believe, wouldn’t it have to be an event that defies scientific understanding? As I have detailed in this series, there are numerous such cases all around us, but atheism is a philosophy that refuses to infer the supernatural from the incredible.
Atheism functions in this manner exactly as faith does, and as any other philosophy does. The power of a worldview is its ability to fill in the ubiquitous gaps in human understanding with its own explanatory features. This is what every theory, scientific or spiritual, is designed to do. Every philosophy is a “[That Philosophy] of the Gaps.” The argument is an utter triviality. We all face an abyss on every side of the unexplained, and we all must choose a worldview that fills in the gaps, or else we relinquish the capabilities of human thought.
A similar issue of perspective is the famous double-blind prayer experiment in which scientists have a prayer group attempt intercession for a sick beneficiary group, with no contact between them. These experiments typically yield no relation between prayer and recovery. Their foolishness is fundamental to the problem of perspective. If God is a person who answers prayers, as the hypothesis implies, then he is another person involved in the experiment over whom the scientists have no control. What is needed is a triple-blind experiment, in which God is unaware that the scientists are attempting to probe him. I would not admit these futile efforts as an argument even if they showed a positive correlation.
I suspect that atheists have trouble seeing such issues because they do not take the hypothesis seriously enough to think analytically about it. My argument on the human perspective is crucial to this debate: God cannot be proven scientifically because the scientist is not in control. The reason humans cannot experiment on God is the same reason that mice cannot experiment on men: the latter is by nature superior to the former.
God’s superiority to man is also the answer to why he does not reveal himself on command. I think many people who wish for this have no idea what they are asking. His silence is pure mercy and patience. It is an issue of authority. I cannot command the President of the United States, or even the mayor of my own city, to come into my presence to satisfy my curiosity. If I made such a demand of the Being who created the Andromeda Galaxy, and he chose to arrive at my door, I don’t know why I should expect anything but to be utterly crushed by the enormity of his presence and power. When any person in the Bible beheld God or an angel face to face, the immediate reaction was sheer terror.
As it happens, I believe he is merciful and patient, and so no harm usually becomes the demander. I am not against asking God, humbly and sincerely, for a sign of his presence, although I do not think it is the wisest thing. I know quite a few former unbelievers who made this request and are completely convinced that they were answered. Some of the stories are amazing. Still, an answer is in no way guaranteed and the wiser course is to stand in awe of creation and simply worship.
G. K. Chesterton wrote his story of conversion to Christianity by inductive reasoning in Orthodoxy, published in 1908. It is a masterpiece of philosophy and wit. In the 2nd chapter he traces a certain connection between materialistic philosophy and madness. I have abridged his argument here.
The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours.
Nevertheless he is wrong. But if we attempt to trace his error in exact terms, we shall not find it quite so easy as we had supposed. Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. There is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity.
That unmistakable note I hear from the madman, I hear also from half the chairs of science and seats of learning to-day; and most of the mad doctors are mad doctors in more senses than one. They all have the combination of an expansive and exhaustive reason with a contracted common sense. They are universal only in the sense that they take one thin explanation and carry it very far. But a pattern can stretch for ever and still be a small pattern. They see a chessboard white on black, and if the universe is paved with it, it is still white on black. Like the lunatic, they cannot alter their standpoint; they cannot make a mental effort and suddenly see it black on white.
As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman’s argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out. His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cog-wheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world.
For we must remember that the materialist philosophy is certainly much more limiting than any religion. The materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle. The poor fellow is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. Perhaps the road is least traveled by the one who turns back, and takes the other.
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”