“But I only believe in things I can see”: Why Everyone Uses Inferential Reasoning

On many occasions, while doing some outreach on a major college campus, one objection that comes up quite a bit is the “I Can’t See God!” objection. In other words, how can we expect people to trust in a being that can’t be seen as a material object. The argument is laid out in the following way:

1. If we can’t see God, God does not exist.
2. We can’t see God
3. Therefore, God does not exist.

What is wrong with this argument?

First, many people assume it is irrational to believe in God unless they can use the empirical method to verify that God exists. In other words, many skeptics reject God because they cannot verify that God exists by utilizing their five senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching). So for something to be real, it must be visible. The “principle of empirical verifiability,” which was formulated by the philosopher A.J. Ayer, was a dominant view in philosophy departments during the 1960’s. In critiquing this view, we need to use the principle of logic called self-refutation. In relation to empiricism, if we look at the proposition that we have to believe something is only true if it can tested by the five senses, this statement is self-refuting. The statement alone cannot be tested by the five senses. If I accepted the statement “I only believe what I can see,” then he or she would not be able to accept the statement itself, because the belief is not visible- it can’t be seen.

Second, it is a category mistake occurs when we by assign something a property which applies only to objects of another category. Hence, people confuse two categories- the made and the Unmade. Of course, to assume that there are no immaterial realities is patently false. Whatever is made has composition. Obviously, from the Orthodox Christian view, God has no composition. The Hebrew word for one is “echad” which leaves room for a plurality within a unity of substance- but there is no implication of a plurality of beings or parts within a being. Scripture admonishes mankind about making any physical image of God (Exodus 20:4). God is pure spirit ( John 4:24). He has no parts and is an immaterial Being. Hence, the God of the Bible is unmade.

Thirdly,

There are many different things that we cannot see (with our eyes) that we accept as being true. Some are: 1) Electrons, 2) Protons, 3) Neutrons , 4) Individual atoms, 5) Electric Fields, 6) Magnetic Fields, 7) Gravitational fields, 8 ) Justice , 9) Consciousness of other human beings, 10) The wind. None of these things are directly visible to us and they can’t be verified with our five senses. But we still are fine believing in these things even though we cannot see them visually or directly. Some might say “But yes, we can infer the existence of electrons by the behavior of charged particles, or you can infer the existence of electric fields (or magnetic fields) by the behavior of charged particles.” Or, they may say “I can infer the existence of wind by seeing the branches on a tree moving.” (1) The list goes on:

And my response is that we similarly infer the existence of God from his effects in the world which are all around us. Inferential reasoning wins the day. An inference is an idea or conclusion that’s drawn from evidence and reasoning or an inference can be an educated guess. It is true that if you are committed to philosophical naturalism (the idea that nothing exists outside the natural realm of the material universe), you’ll find a way to make an inference off every piece of data to confirm your naturalistic presuppositions, even if the best inference from evidence points to something else!

  1. I note that these issues were pointed out to me in the book God and Atheist Objections: An ex- atheist Scientist responds to 130+Objections.
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