Faith and Reason: Proving God Exists

Ever since the 18th Century European Enlightenment and the rise of the Age of Science, those who believe in God have been put to the test by non-believers who demand some kind of proof that God exists.  This has become standard fare in the debates between faith and reason, with believers having to explain on what basis their belief in God rests.  Believers often argue that ultimately God wants us to accept Him on faith and in love, not on scientifically verifiable evidence.  Faith in God is after all the ultimate sign of love given freely, not a reaction to what has been done for us, but an action of the will in which we respond in love to the Creator of the universe who exits beyond all proofs. The argument says God so respects human free will that He does nothing to force belief in Him; God has created us in love and invites us to love Him in return, but leaves the choice up to us.

This argument has often brought derision on believers from the non-believers – a price that we have to pay for choosing to believe in God.   And many believers would say that their faith is in fact based in personal experience, and so is based in fact.  Christianity for example is based in the claim of a number of witnesses who say that Jesus did rise from the dead.  We believe not only God, but also His chosen witnesses, the Apostles and the Church.

As a person who once considered himself an atheist, I find the criticisms of atheism regarding religion often to be valid and reasonable objections.  I sympathize with their incredulity as they really do have a different worldview than believers.  The gap between the two perspectives is not easily bridged as both begin with different assumptions and are reinforced by differing experiences.

I also must admit that one of the most humorous things I ever read poking fun at believers was written by Douglas Adams in his THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.    This book is (in my opinion) a hilarious mix of science fiction and ultimate questions.  (Hilarious if you can appreciate the totally twisted, whacky bizarreness of the story).  In it there is the Babel fish described as “the oddest thing in the universe.”    The Babel fish when place in the ear enables you to understand the speech of any language in the universe.   Here is what Adams wrote about the amazing characteristic of the Babel fish:

“Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-boggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the nonexistence of God.

‘The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

‘”But,’ says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it?  It could not have evolved by chance.  It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t.  QED.”

‘”Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.”

God is not a proposition that can be proven or disproven by logic or evidence or the scientific method.  But faith in God certainly is subject to human critical thinking and to rational discourse.   “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”  (1Peter 3:15-16).

The Mustard Seed – Just Like God’s Kingdom

This morning as I was doing my daily reading of the scriptures, I came across Mark 4:30-32

Again the Lord Jesus said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?

It is like a grain of mustard seed,

which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

 We get so used to hearing the parables of Jesus, that they don’t have that THUNDERSTRUICK impact on us that I think they had on His listeners. 

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed?  Give me a break!  I want a kingdom which comes in power and glory with armies of angels and lightning and thunder and trumpets and judgment  and where evil is overthrown!

Like a grain of mustard seed

We often overlook the awesome power in the smallest and simplest of things which are all around us, and all visible signs of the Hand of God.

Go ahead, put a grain of mustard seed in the palm of your hand (you can buy mustard seed grain in many grocery stores).   And behold, the KINGDOM OF GOD is like that tiny speck of a seed sitting on the palm of your hand that a mild wind could blow away.  But meditate on this mystery anyway – how such a seemingly insignificant seed buried/hidden in the ground is like the Kingdom of God.  It is imperceptible and yet will produce a great bush.  That is the mystery of God’s Kingdom, or of being filled with the Holy Spirit

It is as Jesus says, having eyes to see.

St. Basil the Great in the 4th Century wrote,

Look at a stone, and notice that even a stone carries some mark of the Creator.  It is the same with an ant, a bee, a mosquito.  The wisdom of the Creator is revealed in the smallest of creatures.  It is he who has spread out the heavens and laid out the immensity of the seas.  It is he also who has made the tiny hollow shaft of the bee’s sting.  All the objects in the world are an invitation to faith, not to unbelief.

For St. Basil as in the time of Jesus, there was no microscope, nor knowledge of atoms and subatomic particles.  So for them the smallest things that could be seen were things like bees and mustard seeds.  And in these tiniest of things, they could see the handiwork of the Creator.  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20).

The Great God and Creator of the entire universe is made known in the tiniest of things.   This, as I said before, is also why even DNA is another scripture giving us a written record of what God has been doing through His human creatures from the earliest beginnings of humankind.  The tiniest of genes speak to us as loudly about God and His Kingdom as does the greatest and most fantastic objects and events in the universe.   God has planted His seed – His Word – His purposefulness in everything in the universe, and invites us to discover them. 

The heavens declare the glory of God;
         And the firmament shows His handiwork.
 Day unto day utters speech,
         And night unto night reveals knowledge.
 There is no speech nor language
         Where their voice is not heard.
 Their line has gone out through all the earth,
         And their words to the end of the world.

(Psalm 19:1-4)

Separation of Church & State: God Will Do Just Fine

This is my third and last blog commenting on Steven Waldman’s FOUNDING FAITH: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America.  My other blogs can be found at The First Amendment and Freedom of Religion.

In the final analysis it appears that the notion of the separation of church and state was most strongly supported by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom served as presidents of the United States and both of whom are founding fathers of our country.   However, neither appears to have favored the separation of church and state because of what we today would refer to as atheistic or secular values.  Both seemed to have held to some degree that, in what Waldman calls the “marketplace of ideas, reason would prevail.”  Good ideas and good forms of religion would prosper, and any religion that needed state support to survive wasn’t worth saving anyway.   Waldman thinks neither Jefferson nor Madison wanted Christianity to fail, and both believed that when Christianity is left free of government interference – either support or suppression – it will do just fine.  And to the degree that each valued his own understanding of Christianity, they wanted Christianity to succeed, but not a form of it that was reliant on the government to survive.  And in this, these two men were most supported by the evangelical Christians of their day.  It was the evangelicals who for the most part were the dissenters who had no government which favored their independent ideas.  It was they who felt it most advantageous to their form of Christianity to separate the Church from the state.

Thomas Jefferson and his supporters felt “God does not need the support of government to triumph.”    In his own handwritten notes when his opponents objected that religion would decline if not supported by the state, he jotted, “Gates of Hell shall not prevail…”

James Madison like Thomas Jefferson opposed presidential proclamations for days of fasting or thanksgiving because they both felt the commander in chief was not the “preacher in chief.”    Madison felt that every presidential act is in fact political – an act of a politician, and that when politicians begin invoking God, you can no longer trust God!  His attitude Waldman sums up as “How on earth does it follow that if you treasure religion, you’d want government touching it?” Madison believed the very role of religion was to call people to prayer and fasting, and so no president should ever do so.

Madison, in Waldman’s words, thought relying on the state to support religion showed “a profound lack of confidence in God and a disconcerting shallowness of personal faith.” 

As an Orthodox Christian living in America, I have certainly benefitted from the separation of church and state that was hammered out by America’s founding fathers.  I belong to a minority religion, and a very tiny one in America.  And yet I am freely able to practice my faith.  To the extent that Orthodoxy has attracted converts in this country, I have to say that Madison’s ideas that freedom means the better ideas will win in the marketplace of religious debate has benefitted the Orthodox Church.  Certainly Orthodoxy is given full opportunity to show how its way of following Christ is the continuation of the ancient and historic Christian Church and Orthodoxy is given opportunity to defend its claim to be true Christianity.   Orthodoxy however has been slow in understanding free market principles when it comes to religion in America, and has continued to embrace some “old world” ideas when it comes to understanding the importance of exemplary leadership and how the Orthodox Church is not the only item available in the religious marketplace.   Madison felt government support allows weak faiths to survive, while freedom encourages strong faiths to thrive.   That is a challenge to the Orthodox way of thinking – for the Orthodox like to think they have the superior product in the market, and that self assessment should not have to be put to the test of open competition.   But in our American homeland, free market thinking applies to religion just as it does to all other aspects of our lives.  And if we believe we have the superior Christian faith, we are going to have to prove our claim or watch our ship sink, for the state will not keep us afloat.