Many atheists are fond of arguing that God does not exist. They claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but ignore the billions who experience a divine presence every single day.
As a scientifically-minded believer myself, I will show you below how the intelligent and anti-religious unconvincingly discount the existence of God, and I will show why they are wrong.
In the simplest possible terms, they do so by moving the yardsticks so as to make it impossible to score. It’s easy to paint God as a ridiculous pagan cariacture, complete with white beard and majestic hair, and then to ask:
Can we really believe in the Great Bearded One in the Sky? In the 21st century?
The truth of God’s existence isn’t found in beards or clouds. It’s found in the lives of real people across this great planet we inhabit. I’m not sure what evidence is could be more extraordinary than the fact that every day, billions of people shape their lives around the knowledge that there is more to our existence than just the short few years we spend on earth.
They build lives of meaning around many different traditions, but all circle all but obvious underlying truth: there is something more to our existence than what science can show us.
But don’t just listen to me. A recent Pew poll of scientists found that over half of scientists either believed in God, a universal spirit, or a higher power.
These are people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of science and logic, and over half of them accept that there is something bigger than them in the universe.
Among the regular population the data is even more compelling: a full 95% of the general public either believes in God, a universal spirit, or a higher power.
And it’s easy to confirm this with any one of them. You can simply ask them outright if they feel the presence of God in their lives. You can ask them directly if their lives would be different without this belief.
Billions of people will tell you, on any given day of any given week, that this is 100% true. And it is testable (see the Pew poll).
So we don’t actually have a lack of evidence for God: What we have is anti-religion types trying to define God in a way that makes it impossible. Sure, if you define God, or a universal spirit, or a higher power as something you can test and verify, there wouldn’t be evidence for that.
But that’s not the life that 95% of the world lives every day. That’s not how humans think about the world. To define God in that way is simply pedantic and impractical, and it accomplishes nothing other than congratulatory cheers from secularists.
When we speak of God, we do so within the context of real human beings on a real planet. These are people losing loved ones, people having children, and people readying themselves for death.
So, to the skeptics, rather than insisting on defining something out of existence, instead take a look from side to side. Look at your fellow doctors, policemen, baristas, and restaurant cooks.
They are the wellspring of the evidence you seek, and you only have to open your eyes to see it.
Regular readers will recognize the above as satire, but sadly there are many who, despite being scientifically-minded, would not detect the flaw.
I created this argument for God as an analog to the current debate within the scientific community regarding free will.
The position being put forth by people like Daniel Dennett, Tamler Sommers, and a couple of my friends in a five year email debate is essentially the following:
- We all experience free will
- It’s dumb to define it in a way that we already know isn’t possible
- So we should just call what we have “Free Will” and be done with it
This reduces to:
Free Will is the experience of having free will
Which maps nicely onto the notion that:
God is people’s experience of greater meaning in their lives
Or, stated differently, we should stop obsessing about reductionist definitions of “truth” and instead redefine truth from within the context of human experience.
I have a better idea.
To show why this is a problem, let’s take the following example:
- A red-haired orphan enters a small British village in 1214, and four days later the village leader’s daughter dies of dysentery. The town blames him, and he’s going to be put to death.
From the sky an alien shows up and says, “Actually, disease comes from germs, not from people bringing evil spirits.” The town elder responds by saying that “it’s not about what really caused the illness; it’s more about what the village thinks caused it”, he explains. “It’s about their experience as it pertains to laws and justice and order. Killing the red-haired boy will make Jenny’s parents, and the whole town, feel better. It’s just how the town understands the world.”
Let’s also put Jenny McCarthy in charge of vaccines. She has some strong feelings about what causes autism, and since that knowledge is almost as contagious as measles we can just skip the science and take a poll about what people “feel” about the topic after she does a few TV appearances.
Let me just state something that should be obvious: There’s often significant daylight between what people think is true, and what is actually true. And the differences often matter.
I am not arguing that we should stop enjoying the taste of our food, or stop enjoying laughter—just because we know these reduce to chemistry and physics.
I’m an atheist who thinks nationalism can be one of the greatest threats to human happiness, but I like Santa Claus. And I don’t mind people talking about Santa Claus with kids, or dressing up as Santa Claus and giving out presents.
It’s fun. It’s nice. It’s human.
But for the love of God, don’t start teaching that there’s no difference between him existing and him not existing.
And that’s where we are with free will today. Just as with the poll about believing in God, a universal spirit, or a higher power, most people today—even scientists—simply do not think deeply about these things.
They take the comfortable position of “not ruling it out” when the right question is actually, “Why even entertain the notion in the first place?”
People are merely products of their environment. If we would have taken this God poll in 100 BCE most scientists would have been pagans. Scientists are not superheroes immune from the absorbed group narrative on the meaning of life.
And so in 2015 many scientists believe in what they call “limited free will” without being able to point at any conceivable source for it. When prodded they respond that we don’t yet know everything about the universe, and they move on to thinking about something else.
To see the mapping more clearly, observe the following table:
|– Atheists try to define God in a clearly impossible way||– Free will skeptics try to define free will in an impossible way|
|– They turn him into a celestial pagan, which we know is ridiculous||– They say it requires a violation of physics, which we know is ridiculous|
|– The real God is an abstract concept of something greater than ourselves||– Free will is better explained as “not being constrained”|
|– The real and true God is the God that people experience every day||– The only kind of free will that’s possible is us experiencing it|
|– God is real, and the evidence is in the lives of billions||– Moral responsibility is legitimate because people behave as if we have free will|
For those who only casually think about this topic, I downgrade the fallback position of “we probably have limited free will” to apathy. But for those who are both scientifically literate and have considered it deeply, it quickly approaches intellectual cowardice.
Let’s be clear.
The red-haired boy did not make Jenny sick, Santa is not real, there is no evidence for the pagan or monotheistic gods humans have worshiped for millennia, and there is no reason whatsoever to believe in “limited” free will.
These ideas are baseless no matter how practical it is to believe them, and no matter how many people you can present that experience them.
Practicality and human experience are not the standards for truth, and when concerned with free will the truth should be the only standard we accept as a foundation for moral responsibility.
- Photo by Nilish Bhange