If God, Then…
The other day, I was listening to Larry Mantle’s show AirTalk on my local public radio station. His guests for one of the segments that day were Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic Magazine, and William Lane Craig, philosophy professor at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. Their discussion was based on the recent opinion piece in the New York Times about whether atheism is irrational, an interview conversation between philosophy professors Gary Gutting and Alvin Plantinga.
Shermer, not surprisingly, made the claim that there is no evidence for God, and that the lack of evidence is a tenable position upon which his skepticism is based. At one point in the conversation, he stated, “For an empiricist like me, it’s like, well where’s the evidence? The intervention of the deity in our lives, the healing of people that were sick, the growing of a limb of an amputee, something you can measure…” He later continued by saying that if there is a God there should be some empirical evidence for it, not just some philosophical arguments. Scientists everywhere should be able to look at the evidence and say, “Ah, yes. I see that there is indeed a God who exists.” Mantle questioned whether God, by definition, might be outside of the realm of empirical data, to which Shermer replied that God would therefore be outside of the realm of human knowledge and thus unknowable. “If it’s true that God is out there in our world somewhere, we should be able to measure him somehow,” Shermer stated.
I know and care about plenty of people who would agree with Michael Shermer and I’m often at a loss for how to take their needs and doubts seriously while also trying to introduce them to the God they don’t think is there.
When Shermer stated that he wanted evidence of “the intervention of the deity in our lives,” my mind flashed to the biblical Exodus and the Law the Israelites were given that was to daily remind them of the presence of the LORD in their lives. I thought also of John’s gospel and his opening description of the God-man Jesus: “So the Word became human and made his home among us… No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (Jn. 1:14a, 18 NLT). The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures both testify to a very clear intervention of the deity in the human experience. What is more, a resounding theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is God’s desire to be known by his creation (the phrase “then they will know that I am the LORD” is repeated many times from Exodus to Ezekiel).
It seems like each person, from Michael Shermer to my neighbor, has an answer to the question, “If God, then what?” To Shermer, God’s existence would mean that there is some kind of irrefutable, empirically verifiable and universally acknowledged proof of that existence. Thus, he flips the causal arrow to argue that the lack of such proof means that therefore God most likely does not exist. To my neighbor, if God exists then evil shouldn’t, so the fact that evil does exist means that God probably doesn’t. It need not be limited to agnostics or atheists, either. Those who believe that God exists may associate his presence with prosperity or freedom from strife. It seems that what we think God should be like can be one of the fiercest stumbling blocks to discovering what he, the Existing One, is actually like.
Maybe one way we can approach the philosophical divide is by asking wonder questions. If we encouraged those who don’t know God to take a few moments to reflect on what they think a world with God should look like, what might they say? Their answers might give us a framework for understanding their barriers to belief and show us how we might love and meaningfully engage them in the midst of their skepticism.