“I need proof for God. Real proof.”
“Hey, how do you know the God you’re worshiping is real?”
“You could be wrong about your God, you know.”
I’ve heard those challenges often enough to know that atheists have a terrible aversion to believing something that might be false. They don’t want to be fooled. My best example comes from Peter Boghossian, Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence Krauss, all of whom have said something like this: “Suppose all the stars lined up to spell out to everyone in their own language, ‘I am God. Believe in me.’ That would be suggestive, but it could also be a delusion.”
That’s being very, very careful to commit to believing since, you know, you still could be wrong.
The Science Connection
One thing you notice if you hang around enough atheists is how much they love science. I’m not convinced they love it any more than Christians and Jews. But they certainly seem to love it more exclusively — especially as their test for truth. For them it’s the one reliable source of trustworthy knowledge. I bring that up because science also operates on the standard of, Don’t get fooled. Don’t believe (or at least don’t publish) anything unless you’re really sure it’s for real.
In science that’s a very sensible standard: When scientists publish, they’re generally reporting it as a finding everyone can count on. They’re saying it’s true — so it had better be. Granted, it doesn’t always work that way in actual practice, but that’s the standard, the ideal.
So the word in science is,”If you’re going to make any mistake, make the mistake of missing some real truth rather than the mistake of calling something true when it isn’t.” It’s far better to be wrong by believing too little, than to be wrong by believing too much.
What Works So Well for Science Doesn’t Work for Everything
In science that standard works great. What works for science, though, doesn’t work for very much else we deal with on a daily basis. Everyone chooses to believe things that have a significant statistical chance of being wrong. I’ll demonstrate by listing just a few beliefs that may likely be held by atheists at one time or another in their lives.
- “My education will pay off for me.”
- “My stock market investment is a good idea.”
- “This man or woman will be a great life partner.”
- “My decision to partake in casual sex comes without any negative consequences.”
- “This person I’m hiring will be a positive addition to our team.”
Relationships, Future-Oriented Decisions, and Richness-of-Life Decisions
All of these fit in one or both of these categories: They’re either about human relationships, or else about the unknown future. They all involve risk. They’re not scientific questions; they’re out of science’s reach. So there’s no proof for any of them except in the trying.
And they all fit into one more category: Right or wrong, they’re the kinds of decisions that may well determine the richness of a person’s existence. (Actually, I’d say it’s certain that the one about casual sex is wrong, but we’re looking at it from the atheist’s point of view.)
So with that in mind, let’s add one more to the atheist’s list:
- “There is no God, or at least no God that matters to me.”
This belief-decision fits in exactly the same three categories as the others I’ve listed. Christians are clear that the decision is about a relationship, it’s about each person’s future, and it can make all the difference to the richness of their lives.
The Question of God Doesn’t Fit Within Scientific Parameters
Of course I can hear atheists shooting back, “No it’s none of those things, because it isn’t true in the first place. You’re just imagining it!” But still it’s a question in those three categories. The atheist is saying, “No, the relationship you describe isn’t real. No, my future doesn’t depend on what I think about God. And no, my life’s happiness doesn’t depend on it, either!” When he does that, he’s saying the decision fits into each of those categories, right or wrong.
But how does the atheist know these things are true? For many, it’s because there’s no scientific proof for God. But there’s no scientific proof against God, either — just as there’s no scientific test for the truth of any other relational/future-oriented things the atheist may choose to believe.
The decision to believe or not to believe in God can’t be made the same way scientists make their cautious, never-publish-anything-that-might-be-false belief decisions. Their standard is irrelevant for these types of questions. Yet atheists use it anyway.
The atheist might want to retreat to probabilities: “I didn’t marry her because I knew for certain that she’d be a great person to be with for keeps. I married her because the probability seemed so high. And scientists use probability testing, too. So we’re actually making decisions the same way after all!” But that’s pushing your love for science too far. Sure, you’re making an informal sort of probability assessment when you decide to marry her. Science uses probability assessments, too. But you don’t go into dating, much less marriage, with an absolute commitment to avoid any possibility of getting it wrong. Which actually is the way you seem to be going at the question of God.
Some Questions for Atheists Who Demand Certain Proof
All these observations lead to a simple set of questions for those atheists who won’t believe in God without certain proof:
Why do you require certainty for God, but not for other beliefs that fall into the categories of relational, future-oriented, and potentially life-enriching?
Why do you want something like scientific proof for something that’s so obviously not a scientific question?
Why are you so afraid of being fooled?
What if that fear of being fooled is leading you to the most disastrous false-negative error anyone could possibly make: the commitment not to believe in God unless he proves himself on your terms?
What if God wants to show you his reality on his terms instead? Would you be open to seeing him if he showed himself to you in some different manner than you’ve demanded?
Would you be open to the evidence that God has actually given? There’s a lot of it. If you’re willing to look at it with an open mind, that is.
Image Credit(s): Susan Olsson/Flickr and Tom Gilson.