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Why “Science can’t prove God” doesn’t really work

“I’m under no obligation to believe in a God that science can’t prove to exist”

“My rejection of all gods is common sense backed up by the absolute lack of evidence.”

These sound like very reasonable justifications for not seeking God. But unfortunately it’s not that easy. The truth is that we don’t need science to prove God because he’s already done that without science.

In Paul’s argument to the Romans, he writes “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Creation is God’s visible testimony to his invisible being. Just as a work of art, let’s say a painting, is the artist’s visible testimony to his being. You don’t need to see the painter to know that he exists if you have the painting in front of you. Even if there’s no historical record of who painted the painting, you still know that someone did. But how? Did science prove that to you? No. Science can’t. Science can take a sample of the paint and measure its chemical composition, but it can’t offer any evidence whatsoever that a painter ever existed. However, that’s still no valid reason not to believe in a painter. The painting itself is the visible testimony giving knowledge of the invisible painter, and that sure knowledge is gained apart from the scientific method.

In the same way, lack of scientific evidence for God is not a valid reason not to believe in him. We can still know that he exists without science having to prove that to us. There are other sources of sure knowledge apart from science.

Thus atheism is not a natural belief system for any creature. History in fact shows us that atheism was only ever a reaction to theism of various forms (hence “a-theism”). To illustrate, take a hypothetical human being who’s had no contact with any other humans. He’s had no indoctrination, never been exposed to another person’s ideas or writings – a completely clean slate. Now plonk him in the middle of untouched creation. What would he think? – when he considers the stars and the mountains towering above him, when he considers how his body works, and the food growing from the ground to perfectly nourish it, the ordered sequence of day and night… he would of course naturally assume it has been designed that way. The fact that the designer is not immediately observable would cause him to seek one out, to give due recognition. It would come as a shock to him to hear that no designer exists. In any event, atheism would not be a natural first assumption.

Why then do we not naturally seek out our creator, and give him the recognition that should be instinctive? The bible says it’s because we don’t want to. To recognize our creator would be to obligate ourselves to obey him, and it’s much easier to obey ourselves. In fact, we know we can’t obey God like we should, and so it’s much easier to alter what we believe rather than believe what is true about him. It is that burden of obedience to which atheism is a reaction. But not just atheism – we all have a tendency to choose what to believe to support our lifestyle, rather than taking on the burden of believing what is true.

But there is another way to deal with the burden of obedience, which doesn’t involve running away from it. The other way is to recognize that Jesus became one of us to take that burden on himself, and carried it perfectly for us. And so instead of suppressing the truth, we can now embrace it…

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus

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About Nick

Nick is the Pastor of St Mark's church in Plumstead, a suburb of Cape Town.

2 comments

  1. James Logan says:

    So let’s leave out Occam’s razor and the regular logical rebuttals to your argument; and let’s assume that pixies, leprechauns, gods and fairies do exist. How do you know that the Abrahamic god is the one that is the right one? If you really need a creation myth then can I suggest that the universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure as was written in the great book of Hitchhiking.
    Yes of course atheism is not a natural first assumption – we have brains that evolved for fighting and fornicating on some ancient African savannah. A primitive person will wonder where he and the universe came from, however with improved education and communication we are slowly working our way out of that darkness and through the scientific method we are figuring out the answers to some of those questions. Just because a primitive person wonders about where he comes from and draws the conclusion that he lives on a giant god turtle flying through the sky doesn’t mean that he is right – no matter how many people he kills trying to convince them.

    Sometimes we make mistakes, science is hard, but those are corrected over time; it is a progression. The joy of science is that no one cares whether you believe in that the Earth circles the sun or the other way around – one theory is clearly demonstrable, the other is forced upon other people by the church. As Galileo said “Eppur si muove”. You can’t just make stuff up and keep telling people it is true, no matter how much you want to.

    • Nick says:

      Thanks for your input James. You may find it surprising that I agree with you! You can’t just make stuff up and keep telling people it’s true. But I would argue that is exactly what atheism is doing. Atheism is a made up faith system, no matter how people might like to dress it up in science. In fact, science has no ability to confirm or deny either atheism or theism. We need answers to those theological questions from somewhere other than science. As another writer put it, to explain how the car works is no good reason to deny the manufacturer. Science and theology are, contrary to popular belief, not in opposition to each other as I explain in my sermon here. Anyway, I’m glad you mentioned Occam’s razor – and let’s not leave it out. Occam (or Ockham) was in fact a friar and theologian as well as a philosopher (it just so happens that his day of commemoration in the Church of England is in a few weeks, on 10 April). Occam’s principle states that the hypothesis that requires the fewest assumptions should be selected. Are we to believe that he failed to apply his own principle to his belief in God? No. He in fact concluded that his principle supports theism, not atheism. Given the intricate workings of the body, the information inherent in creation (which incidentally cannot come about by unguided evolution as this defies the second law of thermodynamics – a point that atheists tend to avoid), and given the apparent design in the world, Occam must’ve concluded that the hypothesis that requires the fewest assumptions is that a Creator exists. Thus the burden of proof still lies with the atheist, according to Occam himself.
      You do ask a very good question though, in that why do I choose the God of Abraham and not, say, the Great Green Arkleseizure. Of course, to imply that the real God doesn’t exist because people are able to invent false gods is a logical fallacy – it would be like saying there’s no such thing as real Ray-Bans because the pair I bought from the guy on the street corner was fake. Similarly, if you sit 100 students in a room with a maths problem to solve, even if they all get the wrong answer, it doesn’t mean a right answer doesn’t exist.

      But you’re right that I must still explain why I choose to believe in that particular God, as described in the bible. Well the reason is simply because of Jesus, who affirmed the reality of that God and then backed up his claims with real credentials, as recorded in the gospels. Furthermore, it is through the teaching of Jesus alone that the world makes absolute sense to me (as C.S. Lewis said, “I do not believe that the sun exists because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”). And finally, it is through my own experience of real relationship with the God of the bible through Jesus that I know he exists. I know I can’t technically prove that, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And, besides, I share that experience with millions of Christians, including professional scientists, philosophers, doctors, mathematicians and other people who are not easy to fool and who wouldn’t believe unsubstantiated myths (not least of all Mr. Ockham).

      The fact is, if an atheist is honest he can at best be an agnostic. And a true agnostic is bound to explore all options. I suggest you start with the life and teaching of Jesus. But let me warn you – he will challenge what you think you know.

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