The Search for God.
This guidance is intended for anyone who has a genuine desire to find the truth about God. If you simply wish to argue, or are so sure that you are right that no evidence would be of any use, then it is not for you. But if you genuinely want to know then read on.
The first thing we must recognise is that nothing can be proved about anything, if by that we mean absolute proof. David Hume argued a long time ago that we cannot have absolute certainty that even we exist. All we can be certain of, he claimed, is that there are ‘perceptions’ going on.
The inference was that our idea of our own existence is just an interpretation from the fact of those perceptions.
It took the brilliance of Kant to demonstrate that this was not quite true. He pointed out that there was something that connected up the perceptions.
Consider it this way. When I see a cat with a dog running behind it, that is a perception. When I say the dog is chasing the cat, that demands an extra something that connects the perceptions. As a number of us might come to different conclusions, this shows a number of entities who connect perceptions in different ways. Thus we exist. But it is interesting that this is not scientific proof. It is a rational conclusion based on experience and testimony. Scientifically we cannot prove that we exist! We have just demonstrated that our ‘minds’ do exist, but that is something science cannot even begin to prove.
Of course, this immediately ties in with what we thought all along. “Why!” we now say, “I knew that I must exist, even though I could not prove it.”
But is ‘science’ somehow different. Surely here we have absolute proof? Again it was David Hume who pointed out that the basic principle on which science is based, which is the hypothesis of cause and effect, is totally unprovable. No one, he pointed out, has ever seen a cause or an effect. All they have seen is two things happening at the same time. They infer that one causes the other, but if the opposite were in fact the case there would not be anything different about the perception, so how can we say which is true? Or that one affects the other? All we can say is that they happen together. (This is a very brief summary of his argument. If you are sceptical about his view you should read his argument).
So science is based on something that is invisible and totally unprovable. Something that has to be ‘accepted by faith’. The reason that we are so sure that cause and effect is a true representation of reality, of course, is that we are often the cause of something and we know from experience that we have caused it to happen. But this is not based on scientific evidence, only on an inference from our own experience. How do we know that our ‘causing’ something to happen is not just our interpretation of the pattern of things? How do we know that we are not just caught up in a chain of cause and effect of which we are the effect? If we say, “It is because I willed to do it”, we are introducing free will, something outside the chain of cause and effect, and admitting that something from outside can affect the chain, which is not itself within the realm of science. But more of that another time.
Another factor we should consider is that science is based on observations. But how much of what we observe exists in itself, and how much is the result of what we ‘read in’ to ‘reality’. Scientists tell me that my desk is not brown, it only appears brown to me because my senses receive the reflection of light waves at a certain angle and interpret them as a brown colour. Those who are colour blind will see it differently. They also tell me it is not solid, but made up of atoms which mainly consist of space. But my senses tell me it is brown and solid. Who is right? The fact is that science today is not on the whole based upon observations, but on interpretations of observations. It deals with things that cannot be observed at all. But if it is true that things that seem external are not what they seem, how do I know that my desk exists at all? If one observation is what my senses read into what I ‘observe’ why should not the remainder be so?
So if my own existence can be questioned, and science is shown to be dependent for its basis on inference, I really cannot expect to find that the existence of God can be ‘proved’ without question. Indeed people who ask for such proof usually mean what they call ‘scientific proof’ (although we have shown that that does not exist). That is , of course, ridiculous. If God could be proved scientifically He would be a part of the material universe, and therefore not God at all.
The truth is that we accept our own existence and so called ‘scientific facts’ on the basis of inference and experience. They fit into the picture and appear to work. We must approach the search for God in the same way.
What evidence then is there for the existence and nature of God?
There are a number of avenues that we need to consider.
1) The evidence of existence - where we came from, and what we are. Can it really be true that we are the result of blind coincidence? Can we really believe that non-animate, non-rational, everlastingly existent matter produced our minds, our intelligence, our aesthetic enjoyment? And can we sensibly believe in matter that is everlasting? If it is everlasting it is at the end of infinity. But that is nonsense. The problems of time and space and matter must make us recognise that we are dealing with things that even Einstein could not comprehend. There must surely be something greater ‘outside’ it all, which is its source..
2) The evidence of design in the universe. Is it really possible to argue sensibly that the world with its intricacies of patterns, with so many ‘coincidences’ that all happened at the right time in the right way, with so much that fits in and with so much that contributes to the enjoyment of our existence, all resulted from the accidental explosion of accidental matter? That there are billions of universes ‘out there’, not only half formed, but in a state such that they will never be formed. I would suggest that the inference that there is ‘someone’ who was in control and brought our situation about, is a thousand times more likely.
3) The evidence of conscience - which in some sense can be seen as ‘the voice of God’. How do we explain man’s awareness of right and wrong, not just as the idea of what is useful or not useful to enable us to live together, but as an absolute, so that there are some things that we can say are morally right in themselves, whatever attitude society takes at a particular point in time. (It is interesting that no one makes a greater fuss about his ‘rights’ than an atheist!) If morals are merely relative, they are not morals at all, but appendages which suit our convenience, rules for living together which we find helpful, but which anyone has a right to ignore if he will take the consequences that society imposes. They are convenient. But in our most inward being we know it is not true that morals are just a convenience. We know the difference between what is ‘right’ because it contributes to our welfare, and what is right in itself. When Hitler ordered the massacre of millions of human beings in the most dreadful circumstances, we cannot accept that it was just that he had another viewpoint which conflicted with ours, that what he was doing was not morally wrong but merely unacceptable, because it did not fit in with our idea of things.
We know that he was morally wrong. But as Kant pointed out, the corollary of this is that there exists one who will call to account, a lawgiver and judge. Otherwise how can this conception of morality be meaningful? Our knowledge of right and wrong, imperfect though it may be, demands a moral source.
4) The evidence of our nature as it reaches out for the infinite. Why does man reach out for God at all? Why does the question of His existence have such an importance, deep down, for the vast majority of people, at least on occasions? Why do men get this sense of the infinite at various times in their experience? Do we not all know deep within that there must be some meaning to life? That it cannot just be an empty and futile experience in which we simply try to ‘make the most of it’and grab what enjoyment we can, and the devil take the hindmost? Why is it that those who find the deepest satisfaction are those who do find such meaning in existence. Why is it that we are that way? To suggest that man believes in God because he wants someone to look after him or because he is somehow frightened of the unknown, is contrary to all the evidence of how man’s belief in God developed. Men took risks because they believed God had spoken to them, and not vice versa. God made demands that were costly, and they responded. The idea that God ‘would look after them’ was a concept that arose when the impact of religion was weak, and was soon proved wrong as the Old Testament prophets pointed out continually. When men only look to God from fear, or because they hope to gain something, it is a recognised sign of the deterioration of a religion, not its basis. Man reaches out to God because there is something within him which cries out for satisfaction, for fulfilment, something which can only be found in God.
5) The evidence of the experience of God of men through the ages. We can look back at writings of different religions and find that within them there have been those who have had special experiences of the infinite. This does not necessarily make the religion they were involved in right, it means that their experiences have transcended their religious background. Often it has resulted in a ‘new’ religion which for a time has transformed its adherents. It is interesting that, apart from Jesus, the greatest moralists have not embraced ‘accepted’ religion. Confucius mocked the Chinese gods. Buddha taught enlightenment. It was his later followers who introduced the idols, and made him into an idol! Buddha’s concern was the search for the infinite. We can say quite definitely that men have often experienced God in spite of their religion, not because of it. And when we look at the religions we can often see why. But it is these men we look back to when we genuinely begin to seek the truth about God. It is vital religion, not decaying religion, that proves the existence of God.
6) The supreme evidence - the life and teaching of Jesus. How can He be explained without admitting the existence of God? I challenge anyone to try genuinely to make the attempt to really immerse themselves in the moral teachings of Jesus and not recognise his supreme superiority in the moral field. I do not ask anyone to accept ‘the Christian religion’. That is expressed in a multiplicity of ways, some good and some bad. I ask them to consider Jesus. No wars have ever been started by following the teaching of Jesus. Those who have truly followed him have relieved suffering, not caused it. It is when men lose sight of Jesus and get caught up in their own opinions and desires that war and strife and misery occurred. It is my genuine conviction that no one can read the life of Jesus with a sincere desire to know the truth and fail to recognise his genius and his ‘otherness’ - in the way he handled difficult questions, in the way he changed people’s attitudes with a ‘simple’ story, in the way he got to the root of men’s hypocrisy, in his gentleness with the needy, especially with sinners who were ready to turn from their sin, in his reinterpretation of ‘old’ truths in a way that undoubtedly imroved them. Jesus comes over to the genuine reader as a giant among men. But that leaves us with a problem. For while he revealed himself to be supremely sane and wise, he also made statements that revealed him to be more than just another teacher. These were not added on by later believers. They are an essential part of his teaching. The sermon on the mount, that pearl of wisdom and beauty, has interwoven within its finest parts claims of his uniqueness. Men should rejoice to be persecuted and reviled for HIS sake. He claimed the right to say, “I say to you” when interpreting and expanding what men saw as God’s revealed truth.
He pointed out elsewhere that he was greater than Solomon, and greater than the prophet Jonah, and people did not laugh. He stated that he would judge the world, that he would come in glory and be seated on a glorious throne. He stated that God was ‘his own Father’ which the listeners recognised as a claim to deity. He claimed that through the Spirit of God he had authority over spiritual powers of evil.
These claims were not made in the bald way that would have been the case if someone had added them later. They come over naturally and with force. He waited patiently for the time when his disciples, after much gentle guidance, recognised him as the ‘Son of the living God’.
He knew it had to be something that established itself in their hearts, otherwise it would have been a nine day wonder. When he could have saved himself at his trial by denying the charge that he was ‘the Christ, the Son of God’, he instead agreed and pointed out that they would yet see him seated in power and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’.
Once you have absorbed his life and teaching, then you can ask yourself - ‘Was he mad and deluded? Or am I willing to face up to the clear alternative - he is my Lord and my God. The fact is that if you would know God you must seek Him through Jesus.