One of the things I hear over and over again when it comes to determining whether or not there really is a God is that there is just no good evidence that He is there. If God were real, then how come He seems so hidden? Wouldn’t God make his existence obvious if He was really there?…especially if His goal was to get people to believe that He was – shouldn’t we have more proof than we do?
Honestly, this is something that I think all of us struggle with. There are many times where it seems like God is disturbingly absent, and His reality is just not at all obvious. I would think that many Christians have found themselves at one time or another thinking something to the effect of, “God, if you’re there, just make my bedroom curtain move.” Or think of somebody like Job in the old testament, who experienced immense forms of suffering while it seemed like God was nowhere to be found. So what can we say about it? How do we handle this problem and why does God seem to be hidden and immune to evidence?
There are a couple of ways we can approach these questions, but first thing worth mentioning is that it doesn’t really seem to be the case that God IS so hidden from everyone, at least in the sense of nobody knowing about Him. According to the Pew Research center’s 2015 data, the vast majority of the world’s population believes in God or something like God – with over 4 billion people believing in a monotheistic God like that of Christianity…So it’s just not really true that God is as obscure as some people might think.
But maybe the thought is that since you can’t verify God’s existence through science or with your physical senses, then you can’t know that He is real. But there’s got to be more here than just that. This sort of thinking was actually the way a good many intellectuals coming out of the enlightenment would test for truth. If science didn’t verify it, then it wasn’t considered to be knowable. This view is actually called Scientism, and philosophers today have almost universally rejected it. Why? Because it is just demonstrably false. There are all sorts of things we can know to be true, but that can’t be verified scientifically. For example, how do you know that the past wasn’t created 2 minutes ago with memories built into your mind and everything having the appearance of age? You can’t use science to show that didn’t actually happen. Or maybe you’ve heard this before, how do you know that you’re not just a body in the matrix being programmed to think you’re watching this video and to have the sensations that you do? We all reasonably know that we aren’t in those particular situations, yet that fact cannot be proven by science. What’s even worse is that the idea that “science is the only way to show something is true” actually shoots itself in the foot. That statement itself cannot be scientifically proven, and so, by its own standard, is false. So if it’s true, then it’s not true, which is just a contradiction. That’s why most philosophers today reject this idea…so when we think about God, we need to think beyond just apprehending Him with science or the physical senses.
Ok, but maybe even given a broader understanding of how it is we come to know the truth, it could still be said that there is no evidence for God at all. A couple of things here: first, just because there is no evidence for something, it does not necessarily mean that thing does not exist. For example, the lack of evidence that the number of stars in the universe is even, does not mean that the number is not even. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Or the lack of evidence for their being gold on Mars, is not to say that there is no gold on Mars. Maybe we haven’t looked in the right spot, or maybe we haven’t looked at all. The lack of evidence for something can only count against it if the proper expectation of evidence is not being met. So if you should expect something in particular and don’t find it, that can be used as evidence against it. Take the gold example, if someone says there is gold in the jar on the counter and you look and see no gold in the jar, that counts as evidence against it because if there WERE gold in the jar, then you would see gold in the jar. So the question is, if God is real, what sort of evidence is proper for us to expect to find? Which leads me to the second point, the even bigger assumption lurking in the background is that there IS no evidence for God, and that is just not true at all! There are a ton of good arguments that make the existence of God more probable than not, these are discussed by a great deal of academics today. Just to name a few: arguments for a personal and necessary foundation of reality, arguments for a cause of the beginning of the universe, arguments from the fine-tuning of the universe to a designer, arguments for God as the basis of objective moral values and duties and a whole bunch more. These aren’t just fun speculations either, these are extremely well thought out ideas that have loads of scholarly study behind them. Even more, if Jesus was who he claimed to be, and he really did rise from the dead, then we have in our history an absolutely tangible revelation of God Himself. If you are interested in getting your feet wet with some of these arguments, take a look at Lee Strobel’s book “The Case For a Creator” & “The Case for Christ,” or William Lane Craig’s “On Guard.” If you want something a little more rigorous, check out William Lane Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” or a volume entitled “Two Dozen (or so) Arguments For God” – which is a compilation of a bunch of Philosopher’s works on arguing for God. And if you really want to convince yourself that this topic isn’t just a philosophical side project, check out the “Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology” which is a high-level academic discussion on the arguments for and against a theistic worldview.
But maybe some people still think that’s not good enough, maybe they think that God should make it super obvious that he exists so that no one disbelieves. Send some fiery chariots, or make the words “I exist” appear on the inside of everyone’s eyelids. Here’s the thing, on the Christian view at least, God isn’t interested in just getting people to believe that He’s real, but instead, He wants people to enter into a relationship with Him; that’s what will fulfill them and that’s why they were created. Even Jesus’ brother James noted that “…the demons believe that God exists, but they shudder.” So it’s not clear that if God’s existence were more obvious, that more people would choose to be in a relationship with Him. In fact, if you look at the history of the nation of Israel, the reports are often exactly the opposite. God’s existence was supposedly as clear as a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke to them. They heard his voice, they saw his power. It’s likely that no one in Israel doubted that God was real, but time and time again they rebelled against Him, rejected Him, and made their own gods to worship. This just goes to show that God’s existence being clear doesn’t necessarily mean people want a relationship with Him. (1 Samuel 8, Exodus 32, Exodus 16, Numbers 21, Numbers 16, Old Testament) And then you have cases like Job, where God IS hidden and silent, yet Job’s faith is unwavering. So if someone is gonna claim that if God’s existence were more obvious, more people would come into a relationship with Him, then they are the ones who need to show that that is in fact the case. Maybe God has carefully orchestrated every detail of the world and revealed himself in just the right ways to people all throughout history so that the number of people who freely embrace Him is maximized. One of Jesus’ followers, Luke, seemed to believe this was exactly what God did, he wrote ”From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us”
Lastly, I think it’s important to remember that, if our physical senses aren’t the only way to know something, if scientism is not true, then we shouldn’t limit ourselves to looking for just that kind of evidence. If God exists and He is a real person, then we could expect to be able to experience Him in a personal and intimate way. The same way that we know our friends and family are real people and not just biological machines made out of matter. If you feel God is absent from your experience of reality, reach out to Him. Talk to Him. Seek Him with an open mind. If you do, I think that God will become a part of your life in a way that is undeniably real.