12/06/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Ben Love ~
A few days ago, a person who I once would have loosely referred to as a friend sent me a scathing Facebook email, a portion of which has been included here (typos in the original):
“...trying to make sense out of your asinine posts but as so far I’ve not been unable to. The best I can say is that your writing, while mediocre, does make one have deeper thoughts. Deeper thoughts of what? Your idiocy. You keep throwing the word ‘evidence’ around as though you own the word. Has it ever occurred to you that we all have evidence of your stupidity but, unlike you, have refrained from saying so? If you follow where the evidence leads, as you say, then you must come to face to face with your own retardation. I am, as of this moment, unfriending you...”
What is particularly insightful about this little blurb is that the author, who feels free to use words like idiot, stupidity, and retardation in reference to me (it’s so mature to revert to name-calling when we don’t have better ammo, isn’t it?), is the youth pastor of a small church in Billings, Montana. In other words, this is fresh from mama’s teat. If you’re an atheist, there’s nothing in the world like hate mail from church leaders; it tells you you’re on the right track.
Among my “friend’s” most enlightening of remarks, however, was a little nugget of interest that I think calls for closer examination. He suggested, and rightly so (I don’t begrudge him his accuracy on this small point), that I love to throw the word “evidence” around. Conceded. I don’t hide it. In fact, I’ll state it loud and clear: I’m a man of evidence. Strong evidence moves me. Weak evidence wastes my time. No evidence, well...you get the idea. Personally, I think it is folly to pretend as though each and every human being is not obsessed with evidence; it’s just that different people prefer different kinds, different interpretations, and different methods of verification. For instance, if you’re in a relationship with a person you love very deeply, don’t pretend that you’re not constantly on the lookout for evidence that confirms whether or not this person loves you back just as much. Or take the regular day-to-day living of life. Why do you save that receipt when you buy a new television? Isn’t it because, if you have to return it, you need evidence to prove you deserve some money back? Why do you record your debits in a ledger? Isn’t it so, when it’s time to reconcile your bank statements, you have evidence of what you spent and when you spent it? Take any example from life you want and I bet you can find how, in one way or another, it relies on evidence of some kind. Even something as mundane as a simple compliment is really just a form of evidence. You might feel like you’re looking good today, but when someone else notices this and comments on it, you’ve received evidence regarding your suspicion.
The point is that every aspect of our daily lives relies on evidence in some capacity. To pretend otherwise is utter nonsense. Every time you check the expiration date on your milk, look at the temperature, lock your door at night, or any one of the other million little things you do throughout your life, you are either relying on, searching for, or interpreting evidence. So, how could I possibly be vilified for demanding suitable evidence for something as important as the existence of God when not to do so is a deliberate shutting of one’s eyes to the fact that this question, perhaps more than any other, calls for such demands?
What do I mean by that? If God is real, and if he is involved in the salvation of humanity, and if missing this salvation somehow results in some sort of eternal punishment, then doesn’t it seem somewhat illogical and irresponsible for God to erect a faith-based system for that salvation and then deny humans the suitable evidence they need to verify that salvation? (“God did give us suitable evidence,” I can hear you saying. Well, we’ll get to that.) In other words, if God is real, and without him, we are doomed to eternal punishment, then this makes the question of God’s existence, by far, the most important question any of us humans could ever possibly ask. To be “obsessed” with the evidence (or lack thereof), then, is to do the most sane thing imaginable! If there is a God, then isn’t the most logical, imperative, and reasonable question a human can ask this: where is the evidence for this? How can I know this God? What is this God like?
To accuse me, then, of throwing the word “evidence” around is to pay me the highest compliment. It means you’re acknowledging that I’m asking the right questions, that I have the right priorities. So, based on that, tell me...what questions are you asking? Are you looking at the evidence? And if so, how are you approaching it? Are you trying to prove what you already believe? Or are you trying to objectively discover what can be known and what can’t?
That said, let us ask this question: just what exactly would constitute suitable evidence for God’s existence and what would not? Who gets to decide how that question is answered? It’s actually rather simple. We have to observe what makes God a “God.” How do you define “God?” If you have a definition for God, then it is that definition that gets to decide what constitutes suitable evidence and what does not.
This does, of course, pose a problem. How can we define an object or entity whose existence we are trying to prove? We can only know what God is once we have observed him, but how can we observe him without proving he is there to begin with? This is a loop that seems to have no end. Fortunately, there is one crucial aspect we are overlooking. Who invented the word “God?” Isn’t the word “God” a human word of the English language (just like its counterparts in all the other various languages)? Since the word “God,” a term conjured by humans, points to a supposed, as of yet unproven entity that is responsible for creating the Universe and the life therein, maintaining it, and existing somehow within but also without this created Universe, we can, based on our own projections, definitively say what this entity must possess to qualify for the role. According to the human standard (it is the only one we can responsibly use), to qualify as a “God,” an entity must possess the following:
- Absolute Perfection
- Infinite Knowledge
- Infinite Power
We immediately have a ton of problems to contend with, but none of these matter for the topic of this particular article. It should also be noted that this is not an exhaustive list. There are other traits we could observe; but for the purposes of this article, this list will suffice. Now, if there was one word that screams out to you based on these four attributes, what would it be? Just think about it. Here you have a being who is eternal, perfect, and infinite in both power and knowledge. Add to that the fact that this being supposedly created the natural world (i.e. the Universe). What, then, is the ultimate word we can use to describe this being? It is this: supernatural.
Pasted here is Wiktionary’s definition of the term supernatural:
- Above nature; that which is beyond or added to nature, often so considered because it is given by a deity or some force beyond that which humans are born with. In Roman Catholic theology, sanctifying grace is considered to be a supernatural addition to human nature.
- Not of the usual; not natural; altered by forces that are not understood fully if at all.
- Neither visible nor measurable.
Thus, we have a defining determinant as to what would constitute evidence for God. What is it? This: the evidence must be supernatural.
Now, my many Christian friends tell me that the Universe itself screams that it was created by a being (this “being” is almost always their version of “God”). They will say, “Look at trees! Look at the beauty of a flower! Look at the complexity of life! Look at that wonderful sunset! Look through your telescope at all that crazy-big stuff zooming around out in space! See? There has to be a God!” What is interesting is that they are observing the natural and using that as proof of the supernatural. I will grant you that the complexities and beauty and stunning wonder of the natural world all beg for a suitable explanation, but the natural world itself is not evidence for the supernatural. One does not necessarily imply the other. Besides, if one looks at the Universe and says, “That is too complex to be random; it must have a designer,” cannot one also then say this: “God is too complex to be random, God must have a designer?” The argument from design is therefore incoherent. The natural world, while requiring a suitable explanation, does not intrinsically point to the supernatural. And if it did, we would be able to observe the supernatural from our vantage point here in the natural world. As it is, we cannot. Everything we can see through our most powerful telescopes, while possessing stunning characteristics, falls into the purview of the natural world. Could there be stuff beyond what our telescopes can see? Sure. But until we can see it and thus discuss it in a meaningful way, it doesn’t make any difference. Evidence is not evidence if we are not in possession of it.
My question is this: has anyone ever actually seen a miracle?
Have you really?
Be honest, now.
What is even more interesting is that I have many Christian friends who tell me all the time that such and such happened to them, and that it was “totally supernatural!” By this, they mean a miracle. Sadly, the term miracle is thrown around so loosely that it has almost become devoid of meaning. But a miracle, by its original definition, must be something that violates or suspends the natural laws of physics. Thus, a true miracle, if we were to witness one, would indeed be solid proof of the supernatural. Question: has anyone ever really witnessed a true miracle? Now, don’t hear what I didn’t ask. I did not ask if there are reports of miracles written down somewhere (which can only be described as second-hand hearsay). No, my question is this: has anyone ever actually seen a miracle?
Have you really?
Be honest, now.
Remember what the definition of a miracle is.
What have you seen in your life that is on par with the parting of the Red Sea, the cessation of the Sun’s movements around the Earth (even though we know the Sun doesn’t actually move around the Earth; it was the Earth that allegedly stood still), or a corpse rising from the dead after three days of decay? Have you ever seen a few pieces of bread and fish literally feed 5,000 people? Have you ever witnessed water turn into wine? Or, to use nonbiblical references, have you ever seen an amputated limb grow back? Have you ever seen a severed head go on living? Have you ever seen a human being jump into the air and then soar into flight? Have you ever witnessed someone move a mountain with their mind? Have you ever seen a man stop a cannonball with his bare hands? Have you ever actually witnessed a woman sawed in half who survived? The answer is no. No, no, no, no, no. I have not. You have not. If anyone ever had seen anything like this, it would be life-changing news and the entire world would hear about it. And hearsay wouldn’t be good enough to prove it to the world. It would have to be recorded, examined, measured, studied, verified, and deemed to be something other than a hoax. Show me one instance in recorded history outside the pages of religious propaganda that allude to something of this nature. You see, humans know the supernatural when they see it. That is why they know they have never seen it.
That is what it would take to prove the existence of God. Something that cannot be quantified in any way by the scientific method. Something that so violates the natural laws that it cannot be explained (there are a lot of things that happen within the natural world that cannot be explained, but having a lack of knowledge regarding A, B or C within the natural world is not the same as witnessing something that violates the natural world). Something that is truly “out of this world.” Something that is truly “super.”
It’s not good enough to say this may or may not have happened at some point in the past (as in, 2,000 years ago) and then point to a non-historical, religious text (whose writers do not cite their sources or even their identities and who admit that they are writing religious propaganda) as ironclad proof worthy enough to justify the complete reorientation of one’s entire life. No, sorry, not good enough. Not when there is no other historical source to corroborate this claim. This does not constitute suitable evidence of anything other than the gullibility of the human being when he so desperately needs something in which to believe.
A friend of mine recently said this to me: “I was driving around the parking lot and I asked God to give me a space near the door, and as I turned the corner I saw an open space right in front of the door! See? God does answer prayer!” The sad assumption my friend is making is this: “That open space would not have been there without my prayer.” Is this really justifiable? If there was an open space, there was an open space. What does “God” have to do with it? My friend could just as easily have turned the corner to find no spaces available. What then? God doesn’t answer prayer? This is too arbitrary and absurd to count as anything other than overt and rampant superstition gone amok. And Christians do this all the time. “I have proof of God,” they say, “because he did...such and such.” Usually this amounts to God having located some lost item or making their cold mysteriously disappear or having a long lost friend contact them soon after hoping they would. These are random coincidences that happen just as often to atheists and Buddhists and Muslims and all humans. We all encounter random phenomenon. Just the other day my wife and I observed that we needed to have a new key made for our front door, but later that day, when we were moving our couch, we found one sitting underneath it. A curious matter? Indeed! Evidence of the supernatural? No. Evidence for God? No. That key was sitting there on its own. God didn’t put it there. Besides, as an atheist, I wasn’t praying for God to help me with a key. It’s too arbitrary to connect random dots in life and use these coincidences to justify belief in God. This does not constitute suitable evidence for God (and to conclude anything else is highly irresponsible). And even if it did, how could you possibly verify that the God responsible for this is the God you happened to believe in?
Besides, what can we say about God when one of his “children” prays for an open parking spot and receives one, while another one of his “children,” say a woman tied up in a man’s basement, prays for God to magically remove her chains so she can escape...and this prayer goes unanswered? God cares more about Person A’s parking experience than he does about Person B’s captivity and eventual murder? Is it really justifiable and respectable to say God answers the little prayers but leaves the big ones alone? Does this mean your God is only capable of little feats? The magical breaking of chains without explanation would indeed be something supernatural. And, of course, these prayers are never answered. The finding of an open parking space is merely happenstance. And, of course, these prayers are sometimes “answered.” Couldn’t it be said, then, that there really isn’t anyone out there answering prayer at all? Couldn’t it be concluded that random events interpreted as answered prayers, while being interesting, do not constitute evidence of God when the more serious prayers go unanswered? Aren’t we responsible to be as fair-minded and judicious as possible?
The atheist is precisely what he is because he admits that nothing in the way of suitable evidence has ever really been experienced. This does not mean he isn’t open to new evidence. Part of him probably even longs for such evidence. But until he has it, connecting random dots just to feel good on the inside doesn’t cut it. Not at all. Evidence for God? The verdict must be this: wanting.