Over the years I have talked to many people about the existence of God. In many cases, both theists and skeptics can grow frustrated with one another on the lack of agreement. I have come to the conclusion that when people attempt to discuss the evidence for the existence of God we must remember these five issues:
1. Proofs are person-relative. While I have discussed elsewhere the definition of proof and evidence, it is evident that while one proof may be a home run for one person it may result in little more than contempt for someone else. Whenever an individual evaluates the evidence for the existence of God, it must be acknowledged that a person’s response to an argument will always be influenced by his/her past and present personal history.
2. An individual’s presuppositions play a large role in how they evaluate the evidence for God. A presupposition is something assumed or supposed in advance. If someone presupposes that God must not exist or that miracles are not possible, in many cases they will seek out evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and dismiss evidence that might challenge or overturn their position. Likewise, if someone presupposes that God does exist, they will seek evidence to support such a claim as well. This does not mean there is no objectivity involved here. But in many cases, we can’t avoid presuppositions. They aren’t going away! I have also discussed the factors that are involved with how people change their beliefs.
3. Humans are not only intellectual beings, but emotional and volitional (involving the will) creatures as well. Hence, it is folly to divorce the objective and subjective nature of evaluating the evidence for God’s existence.
4. If the God of the Bible does exist (and I am not dealing with evidence and arguments here), we can’t overlook the fact that sin and a hardened heart can dampen a person’s receptivity to the evidence that is already available to them.
5. Some people have not had the time to develop their intellectual virtues to the place where they are in a position to understand and evaluate the evidence for the existence of God. This does not mean some people are stupid and some people are just really smart! The reality is that many people don’t have the time or resources that is needed to evaluate the arguments for and against the existence of God. I am not advocating laziness! But in reality, does someone need to master philosophy, theology, history, science, or linguistics to find a relationship with God? No!
Following Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):
1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.
2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.
3. A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.
4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.
5. It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).
Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.” Elsewhere, Aquinas lists three basic reasons why divine revelation is needed.
1. Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.
2. Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”
3. It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts. Even in demonstrated propositions there is a mingling of false. (1)
1. Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1999, 242.