Does God exist? I don’t think so. But can we prove that?
Proving that God doesn’t exist—or, more generally, that no supernatural beings exist—seems impossible. An omniscient being wanting to remain hidden would succeed. That’s a game of hide and seek we could never win.
Looking for parallels
To see what we can say about God, let’s look for parallels in how we handle other beings not acknowledged by science—Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, space aliens, leprechauns, fairies, or Merlin the shape-shifting wizard. Any evidence in favor of these beings is sketchy, far too little to conclude that they exist. Do we reserve judgment? Do we say that the absence of evidence is no evidence of absence? Of course not. There’s plenty of evidence (or lack of evidence) to make a strong provisional case. As a result, we typically say that these things don’t exist.
While we’re at it, note the error in the adage “absence of evidence is no evidence of absence.” Of course it’s evidence! Absence of evidence is no proof of absence, but it can certainly be strong evidence. If you’ve spent five minutes poking through that drawer looking for your keys and still can’t find them, that’s pretty strong evidence of their absence.
Examples in the animal kingdom
Note also the difference in the claim that Bigfoot doesn’t exist versus the claim that God doesn’t exist. Science has been surprised by new animals in the past. The gorilla, coelacanth, okapi, and giant squid were all surprises, and Bigfoot could be another. After all, Bigfoot is just another animal and we know of lots of animals. But the very category of the Christian claim is a problem because science recognizes zero supernatural beings.
As definitively as science says that Bigfoot doesn’t exist, how much more definitively can science say that God doesn’t exist when the category itself is hypothetical? Perhaps more conclusively, what about the claim that a god exists who desperately wants to be known to his creation, as is the case for the Christian god?
Let’s be careful to remember the limitations on the claim, “God doesn’t exist.” Science is always provisional. Any claim could be wrong—from matter being made of atoms to disease being caused by germs. Austin Cline observed that a scientific statement “X doesn’t exist” is shorthand for the more precise statement,
This alleged entity has no place in any scientific equations, plays no role in any scientific explanations, cannot be used to predict any events, does not describe any thing or force that has yet been detected, and there are no models of the universe in which its presence is either required, productive, or useful.
The Christian may well respond to science’s caution, “Well, if you’re not certain, I am!” But, of course, confidence isn’t the same as accuracy. That bravado falls flat without dramatic evidence to back it up.
Does God exist or not?
Now, back to the original question, Does God exist? Does this look like a world with a god in it? If God existed, shouldn’t that be obvious? What we see instead is a world in which believers are forced to give excuses for why God isn’t obvious.
Or, let’s imagine the opposite—a world without God. This would be a world where praying for something doesn’t increase its likelihood; where faith is necessary to mask the fact that God’s existence is not apparent; where no loving deity walks beside you in adversity; where natural disasters kill people indiscriminately; where far too many children live short and painful lives because of malnutrition, abuse, injury, or birth defects; and where there is only wishful thinking behind the ideas of heaven and hell.
Look around, because that’s the world you’re living in.
But this isn’t an anarchist’s paradise; it’s a world where people live and love and grow, and where every day ordinary people do heroic and noble things for the benefit of strangers. Where warm spring days and rosy sunsets aren’t made by God but explained by Science, and where earthquakes happen for no good reason and people strive to leave the world a better place than it was when they entered it. God isn’t necessary to explain any of this. Said another way, there is no functional difference between a world with a hidden god and one with no god.
Listen closely to Christian apologists and you’ll see that they admit the problem. The typical apologetic approach is to:
- make deist arguments (for example, the existence of morality or design demands a deity to create it), and
- argue that this deity is the Christian god rather than the god of some other religion.
Are these deist arguments convincing? If so, the apologist should be a deist, not a Christian. And why is the first step necessary? It’s because the Christian god is functionally nonexistent, and this step admits as much.
The God hypothesis isn’t necessary. God has no measurable impact on the universe, and science needn’t sit on the sidelines. There is enough evidence to render a provisional judgment (and scientific conclusions are always provisional).
Prayers are answered with the same likelihood whether you pray to Zeus, the Christian god, or a jug of milk. Religion is what you invent when you don’t have Science.
Can we say that anything doesn’t exist? With certainty, probably not. But with the confidence that we can say that anything doesn’t exist—leprechauns, fairies, or Merlin the wizard—we can say that God doesn’t.
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect
if there is, at bottom,
no design, no purpose, no evil and no good,
nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
– Richard Dawkins
Photo credit: Philosophy Monkey