A skeptic might say, “Prove that God exists.” or, “Science has proven God does not exist.” Many of us have heard that demand or statement and may have been at a loss on how to respond. The truth is we can’t prove God exists any more than an atheist can prove He does not exist. How can anyone prove, one way or another, the existence of a non-material being?
In today’s culture, the word proof or proven has taken on a meaning that goes beyond its definition. Open any dictionary and you will see proof defined as a proposition, assumption, or an argument used to validate. When science looks at empirical evidence to see if something is true, it is often just measuring the number of trials in terms of success vs. the number of trials that were unsuccessful. When you hear the term ‘a proven track record’, it simply means someone or something has had a significant number of repeated events that help us determine or expect a certain outcome. Not an absolute outcome, but simply a likely outcome.
Every day I drive to work, I plan on it taking me an hour to drive from home to school. After years of making the same drive, I have little doubt about the length of time it will take. I have had some mishaps after hitting a few deer, a couple flat tires, running out of gas once, (yes I admit it), and unexpected snow falls, but apart from those rare occurrences, the drive is about 60 minutes long. We could not function in our world without spotting patterns and creating expectations we can plan by. William James, a psychologist in the 1800’s, called these patterns we naturally search for “a working hypotheses”. 1 I have had plenty of evidence, or proof’s, that my drive is about an hour long.
We form a working hypotheses for every routine in our lives. Every routine we participate in allows us to formulate an expected outcome. Frustration comes when the unexpected interrupts our routine. Most of us have experienced walking out to our car to drive to work, and for some unexpected reason, it will not start. Suddenly, we are in uncharted territory and are unsure of what to do next. It is our nature to seek patterns which allow us to figure out our world. When our patterns are disrupted, we have to reevaluate our proof’s.
When talking about predictions and proofs, Alister McGrath says, “Here we see the classical outline of the scientific attempt to make sense of our observations of the world. Things don’t just happen. They fit into a pattern, a bigger picture, an overall scheme of things. What theory makes most sense of what we experience and observe in the world?” 2
When someone says, “Prove to me…” often their standard of proof is often too high, even beyond what science would require. Most things can’t be proven to the extent skeptics want. Let me explain by asking a question. Can science prove that elves do not exist? No, it is not possible. Science can only claim that the observations which have been made have not come across any elves. Making the claim that elves do not exist would require omniscience, (all knowledge). Without omniscience science can only claim elves have not been found in the areas searched. Yes, of course we can come to reasonable conclusions about the existence of elves, dwarf’s, and orks, but no one can prove they don’t exist unless they have searched under every rock, in every cave, in every trunk of every car, on top of every mountain, in every closet, trash can, etc. You get the idea.
We might hear someone was proven guilty in a court of law. That kind of proof is beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond ‘any’ doubt. A few years ago, I was a juror, who along with my peers found a man guilty of inappropriate behavior. He flatly denied it, but the proof, (arguments and evidence), were beyond a reasonable doubt. When someone asks you to prove God exists, they are frequently asking for a proof that goes beyond what we require even in a court of law. They want something that is beyond any doubt and that is far and away above what science requires.
What does science prove in the same way that a skeptic or atheist requires of you to prove God exists? Nothing. Science works in inductive reasoning, not deductive reasoning. Science looks at hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of examples and they come to conclusions. That is inductive reasoning.
On the flip side, deductive reasoning starts with a general statement or hypothesis, and then examines the possibilities. Inductive reasoning starts with thousands of examples and then makes general or broad generalizations from those observations. 3 To know something for certain, or without any doubt, is called an ‘apodictic certainty’, and you must use the deductive method.
Someone who asks for proof of the immaterial realm, (God), often requires proof that is impossible to live up to. For one, they are asking for material or tangible evidence of God who by definition is immaterial. To put it bluntly, they are demanding tangible evidence for something that is intangible. For example, someone might ask for direct visual evidence of something that is invisible. Obviously, that is not possible. And how can they claim that science has proven God does not exist, when science can’t even prove elves don’t exist. Science can conclude that elves don’t exist, after considering the thousands of trials where elves were not found, but science can’t prove elves don’t exist.
Science is limited by its inductive reasoning. You can only test something so many times, but if we use the deductive method there are things someone can claim do not exist, and we know it to be true. For instance, I can say there are no married bachelors. I know this, not because I have searched every inch of this earth, or because I am omniscient, but because of deductive reasoning. I could also say there are not any square circles, and because of deductive reasoning, and the law of non-contradiction, I know this to be true. Don’t ever let someone tell you that science is the only way we can test things to be true. Science is actually quite limited because of its empirical methods.
There is one famous argument for the existence of God based on inductive reasoning that I would like to share. Dinesh D’Souza mentions this in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity. “Aquinas argues that every effect requires a cause, and that nothing in the world is the cause of its own existence. Whenever you encounter A, it has to be caused by some other B. But then B has to be accounted for, so let us say it was caused by C. This tracing of causes, Aquinas says, cannot continue indefinitely, because if it did, then nothing would have come into existence. Therefore, there must be an original cause responsible for the chain of causation in the first place. To this first cause we give the name of God.” 4
Ray Comfort uses reasoning when he asks the man on the street who built the building. Obviously a builder. Who built the bridge? Obviously an engineer. Who painted the painting? Obviously a painter. Who made the laws of physics? Obviously a lawmaker. Who created creation? Obviously a creator. We know this to be true not by scientific inductive reasoning and empirical methods, but by simple deductive reasoning.
Philosophy is a game with objectives and no rules.
Mathematics is a game with rules and no objectives.
I would say religion has rules and objectives, but is not a game.
1. Lowe, Victor. “The Journal of Philosophy.” jstor.org. Journal Storage.org. 1941. Web. Nov. 11, 2013.
2. McGrath, Alister E. Surprised by Meaning. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, Print.
3. Staff, LiveScience. “Deductive Reasoning vs. Inductive Reasoning.” livescience.com. Live Science. July 10, 2012. Web. Nov. 11, 2013.
4. D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great About Christianity. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008. Print.