‘I’d believe in God if someone could prove it to me…’ is a proposition that is voiced in all sorts of ways by lots of different people. And it is one which, as a Christian with a scientific background, I have often felt compelled to have something of an answer for.
I used to respond by getting the coffee pot on and walking people through a quick summary of modern physics and the latest cosmological theories… but as interesting as that may be (for some!) it’s not really what is being questioned. There is a much deeper inquiry that needs to be engaged with about what it means for us as human beings to know anything at all.
When someone asks for proof of God, usually they are expecting either a deeply miraculous experience – like the clouds opening and a voice from heaven pronouncing “Yes Tim, it’s all true!” – or, in contrast, a deeply rational experience – some experiment that undeniably detects the divine substance at the core of creation.
Both very different ‘proofs’, however, are related by the same thing: they are both about the laws of nature, in one case being violated and the other corroborated in order to point to the divine. That observation is interesting because if breaking the laws of physics and satisfying the laws of physics are both satisfactory proofs for the divine, then it suggests that the proof for which we are actually looking is not contingent on the laws of physics in the first place.
To look at it another way, most people today would say they believe in human rights; so much so that they would look a little puzzled were I to say, “I’ll only believe in humans rights if you can prove them to me”. The reason of course is that human rights are simply a fundamental part of our culture, the historical development of which came about in part as a response to some of the purely rationalistic endeavours of science like eugenics and social engineering, the darker side of which we had come to see. We believe in human rights now but certainly not because they are empirically proven.
A better example might be the couple I married at St. Mary’s a few years back – both scientists at university labs, working each day at the cutting edge of research. But on their wedding day, there was not a test tube in sight. They made their life changing declarations of love without conducting any experiment to ‘prove’ they were in love or that they had found ‘the one’ for them… they just knew. And that’s the reality of it.
Human beings believe in things for all sorts of reasons, some of them evidential, historical, intuitive, cultural, experiential or, in many cases, a mix of all of the above. And that is where we come back to the proof of God question. Where can we find a ‘proof’ that speaks to all of the above? What proof are we really looking for?
What if, in answer to that question, God didn’t send an equation on a chalkboard but a person; a person in whom all these questions of truth and meaning and purpose come into focus, not just as a set of propositions, but as a life lived in beauty and truth. A life which could say “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) not just because he alone had dealt with the sin which stood between us and God but because in him alone was a revelation of God which could speak to every aspect of our being.
Last month we had the first of our Big Questions events – afternoons spent looking a little deeper at some for the big questions of life and faith. Last month it was God and suffering. It went well and we are likely to be repeating the event later on in the year. But this month we are doing God and science, so if these questions interest you, why not come along and spend some time exploring the rationality of Christian faith today.