This post grapples with a requirement that Christians should think—and speak—from within our worldview by alluding now and then to our worldview as though (as Focus on the Family’s Del Tackett would put it) we believe that what we believe is really real.
So, let’s start--
Are we humans able to prove the existence of God?
No, said Blaise Pascal, and he was correct; we can’t. Pascal was a seventeenth century philosopher and mathematician, the author of Pensees (“Thoughts,” published after his death in 1662).
Even Christians can’t prove that God exists, if the proof must be persuasive to a doubter, a doubter who will not be persuaded by evidence brought forward by Christians…since that evidence, this modern doubter would say, proves God’s existence only to those who already believe in God’s existence.
Therefore, God’s existence is a logical fallacy, a circularity—again this doubter would say—in the same way love or art or anything else which claims to be ultimate is a circularity.
There isn’t any such thing as ultimate truth, this doubter would say…and, even if there were, it wouldn’t be your ultimate truth.
Humans who are secularists only prove things they can record as data, study for pattern, repeat for completeness, explain logically, and place into an accepted cultural context—and not into a context that relies on the supernatural for its verification.
It is their senses that must prevail.
Yet every one of us has evidence we cannot trust our own senses!
“I saw my keys on the hall table, just yesterday. How can they possibly be in the refrigerator right now?”
Some of us believe in the religion of God, and some others of us believe in the religion of No-God. Still others keep their feet in each camp, and they resist making a choice.
Pascal kept his feet in each camp, until he logic-ed himself into selecting one of the two camps.
His choice is described in Section 233 of Pensees in the form of a wager. Here’s how his wager stacks up.
It is impossible to prove that God exists, that heaven exists, that Jesus is the Christ. Nevertheless, Pascal felt he must make a choice in order, purposefully, to live.
Choice One is to act as though nothing is ultimately true and to live accordingly, basing decisions only on personal desire and anticipating after death no mighty thing.
Choice Two is to act as though the Christian assertion is true and to live according to its injunctions, anticipating after death a very mighty thing.
If you select Choice One, and you’re right…no harm done, since nothing, really, was at stake after all. But if you are wrong…well, then, you have lost your soul.
Or the other consequences
If you select Choice Two, and you’re wrong…again, no harm done. And on the positive side, you may have been of some help to people around you while you played your role as a helpful person in a world in which neither help nor harm is of any great matter. But if you are right…ah!
Eternal life in Heaven!
Pascal concluded that the only rational choice is to proceed through life as though God does exist, as though morality has a basis more ultimate than our own desire for sensations, and that Jesus is the Christ.
This, he said, is the rationalist’s proper choice.
Doubters who struggle against Christianity usually do so because they feel most comfortable when distance is maintained between themselves and a powerful choice and its consequence, that is, any choice which resounds with absoluteness. God has His judgement-through-eternity thing going on, and they resist subjecting themselves to that.
They comfort themselves by taking the stance neatly articulated by Lawrence Durrell in Justine, Book One of his tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet (1957):
“For years one has to put up with the feeling that people do not care, really care, about one; then one day…one realizes it is God who does not care: and not merely that he does not care, he does not care one way or the other.” (emphasis in the original).
How world-weary and sophisticated a stance this is! If even God doesn’t care, then we are free men and women indeed.
All is permitted!
Durrell’s four interconnected novels are about Egyptian life from the late 1920s through the mid-1940s. He has said that, principally, the books are about religion and sex. Indeed, there is much written on both subjects in the books, particularly regarding the first.
What is revelatory, though, for my purpose here, is that despite the existence in the novel of a myriad of religions, all of them well articulated and forming the bases for the actions of a score of major characters, no character reacts to any of the novel’s lurid events on the basis of the moral code of any of the religions. They react, yes, but on secular bases alone.
The novel throbs with marital infidelity, drunkenness, chicanery, false prophesy, child prostitution, incest, financial skullduggery, political corruption, even outright murder.
The city of Alexandria, and its environs, as seen through the eyes of a supreme prose stylist--Durrell—and a world-weary, British, mid-century ex-pat--his protagonist, Darley—is an agnostic carnival.
Too, this same thing could be said of a world larger than just Egypt--of our entire western world.
From about 1850 through to the present—we in our world have had one hell of a time. The Christian church has been under the same management for 2,000 years—but recently it has been impeded by a strong headwind.
We Christians have struggled with whether, and how, we can prove the existence of God.
We Christians have struggled over what to do with, and how to evaluate, that proof—or lack of proof—about the existence of God.
We Christians have withstood about 160 years of culture crises that auger in one direction of the other regarding the existence of God.
What are we to do?
Here’s a potpourri of lurid headlines--
Human events in the West: the Franco-Prussian War irritated the perpetual antagonism between the French speakers and the German speakers and left them both, with their neighbors, bristling. Then the Great War slew ten million over possession of a few hundred yards of bombarded mud on either side of the line. Though the Great War stopped, no one truly won. The Great War dribbled out into the Spanish Influenza, which slaughtered many more millions who had survived the guns.
Germany suffered hyperinflation and glanced more favorably at that scoundrel Hitler. As the Great War wound down, Soviet Russia reared up Red, defeated the Whites, and, in 1929, Stalin instituted Collectivization, which slew another ten million in just its first three years alone. Then the Great Depression, worldwide. Following this, the Second World War, which slaughtered its own millions, and which introduced the world to genocide of such industrial magnitude and human depravity as to stagger the imaginations of all except Hitler and Stalin.
Intellectual events in the West: there are the God-debunking theories arising from Darwin’s survival of the fittest, and of Marx’s dialectical materialism. There is the challenge of Freud, of his assertion that God Himself--the very belief in God—is just the Id against which the Ego mightily struggles: that Christianity is all about sex and about the Ur family—that Oedipal one.
There are the aesthetic challenges against artistic standards—modernism in verse, cubism and Dadaism in painting, mere cacophony in music. There is Fraser also, who, in The Golden Bough, showed us that all peoples of whatsoever culture have the same structure of myths, indeed the same myths of dying and then rising gods, the same propitiations of the divine to secure a more favorable harvest…next time.
Jung is there, too, explaining the ubiquity of dying gods as archetypes of the collective unconscious, further lessening and humanizing what before had been numinous. Spengler is in the mix, who taught that history isn’t going anywhere, just around in circles. Too, there is Einstein, who showed us that even the security of a Newtonian universe is not to be counted upon, and that time itself is curved, light is susceptible to gravity, and nothing you thought you could point to is really quite there.
More recently, there is the worldwide challenge from slaughter-hungry Islam, the so-called “Religion of Love,” with its urgency to destroy all things western and to re-establish the seventh century.
Any sensible doubter might wonder how Christianity could survive under such a cacophony of attack, since it cannot prove the existence of God.
Yet it did survive—and it has survived—and not only did it survive, its orthodox, fundamentalist divisions have thriven. As compared to the dwindling fate of its accommodationist divisions with their hand-wringing self-doubt.
The doubters have every secularist reason not to believe. It would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, if their unbelief were right?
We Christians do not need to prove God exists.
Secularists need to prove things. We don’t need to prove things. We know things.
Does God exist?
When we Christians are confronted by a secularist who is amazed at the idea of a griffon, along with G. K. Chesterton, we may persuasively respond--
“I am even more amazed at the existence of a giraffe.”
[Expansion of a post originally published in 2014.]