Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Divine Invisibility

One of the more common objections to Christianity concerns God’s “invisibility.” Many atheists insist that if God existed, we should expect his presence to be undeniably obvious. For instance, if God is all-powerful and wants us to believe in him, why not provide a steady stream of miracles, that we might see and believe?

There are many problems with this argument. One is simply that miracles are always open to interpretation. No matter how improbable an event, its very improbability makes it open to doubt. The atheist can always insist that even the most far fetched natural explanation is “infinitely more probable” than a miracle. Jesus himself highlighted this, saying: “If they do not believe Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

For sake of argument, however, let's assume this is mistaken. Let’s assume that if only God provided enough miracles (say one every week for every person in the world) that would be enough to prove his existence. Is that really the kind of world in which these atheists would want to live?

Many atheists claim that, if God exists, they just want him to prove it to them. Perhaps this is true of some of them – genuinely open-minded people who would be glad to find evidence for God – but I don’t think this makes up the majority of atheists. No, for most atheists the absence of God is something to be glad of. With no God, we are free to choose our destiny as we see fit (unless we’re not free, of course), whereas if he did exist, we’d have to submit to his authority. The existence of God, to many atheists, would forever reduce us to the status of children, unable to care for ourselves.

I do not say this in a derogatory manner, nor am I assuming that all atheists think this way, but many do, and it is to these that this argument is directed. The problem is that these two objections work against one another. For what would it accomplish, really, if God were to provide us with a constant stream of miracles? It might convince us of his presence (or perhaps we would simply dismiss it as another, rather odd, law of nature), but it would certainly reduce us to infants.

If God were to bombard us with constant miracles, what would be left for us to do? What motivation would we have to study or grow, what need would we have to advance or learn? For instance, why would anyone become a doctor, if they knew that God would cure every illness within a week? Why would anyone avoid getting sick or injured at all? How could we learn to take care of ourselves in any way, if God did it for us? Indeed, if he ever failed to do so, would we not complain: “you perform miracles every day, can you not take care of this as well”?

Occasional miracles are one thing – they can give evidence of God’s power, even if only to those who look for them – but if God were to reveal himself as constantly and predictably as many atheists demand, he would in fact be denying us the very thing these same atheists treasure: our freedom to live and learn for ourselves.


Anonymous said...

Good post.

I get fed up of the constant demand to "prove" God exists. There are documented miracles and there are historical texts as well as witnesses to go by, these are ignored however.

It's like me asking you to prove that Mick Jagger can sing by ordering you to bring him round to my house for a private audience.

I can simply choose to ignore the recordings/fans/album sales because I haven't personally met him. Therefore, because I have selectively chosen my criteria for evidence, you are at a loss to prove he can sing unless you are Mick Jagger himself.

The other stupid argument is comparing God to flying teapots and spaghetti. God was not created as a counter-argument to atheism. The bible makes no effort to prove the existence of God, it's just a given that He exists (rather, the bible focuses on how we should live with God).

Prove to me man has set foot on the moon- BUT you are not allowed to refer to historical documents (written before my time), personal testimony (unreliable), videos (subject to manipulation). Pretty soon you will be exasperated trying to prove to me that man set foot on the moon because of my limited selection criteria for verifiable proof.

You say man has set foot on the moon, I say there is no more proof that man has set foot on the moon than he has set foot on Wookieland (a fictional planet I have just made up to ridicule your claim).

Ken Brown said...

Thanks Alex, and I like your illustrations.

I was thinking about writing a post on Bertrand Russell's "cosmic teapot" for tomorrow, but Bill Vallicella has already discussed it better than I can here and here.

There does seem to be this strange disconnect when it comes to "evidence" for God's existence. On the one hand, atheists will insist that "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence" such that the theist can never meet the burden of proof they demand. But if it is pointed out that this merely begs the question in favor of naturalism, they then claim that we should at least expect the same kind of evidence for God as we would demand for any other claim. Yet even this latter requirement is absurd: God is not just another "fact" about the universe; if he exists, he is much more akin to the universe itself - the ground upon which all other "facts" rest.

BTW, I wrote a post on this subject last summer at Signs of the Times.