Faith, Theology — October 1, 2012 12:42 pm

Evidence For The Existence Of God?

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Father Dwight Longenecker is a blogger and parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Recently Father Longenecker responded to one of the more frequently asked questions on his blog. His response concerning the evidence for the existence of God is worth a read.

The most frequently asked question by atheists who come to this blog is “What evidence do you have for the existence of God?” My reply is always to ask what sort of evidence they require, but not one of them has ever given me a straight answer. My question is an honest one. What sort of evidence would someone be looking for if they wanted evidence for God? I ask this because there are many things in life that we know exist, or whose existence we accept without question for which there is evidence, but the evidence is not of a scientific nature. I’m thinking of Love, Beauty and Truth for example. These virtues are very real, and the evidence for them is solid, but someone who wished to ‘prove’ their existence to a doubter would be hard pressed.

Similarly, we know that certain historical figures existed and certain events took place in the past, but the evidence for them is slim. Historians believe King Arthur existed, for example, but there is scant evidence for him.

We believe in certain scientific principles or properties, but the evidence for them is of a certain kind which is appropriate for that particular principle or property. See here, for example, a discussion on whether energy exists.

Until atheists are willing or able to discuss what they mean by ‘evidence’ and what sort of evidence would be appropriate to show the existence of God it is impossible for theists to answer their question.

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1 Comment

  • I don’t think Father Dwight Longenecker will find a homogenous answer from atheists on the question of a satisfactory proof, because atheists don’t necessarily hold to the same philosophy on this score. They might share a commonality regarding the non-existence of God, but as far as their philosophy of ‘proof’ they might be completely disparate. It’s possible for an atheist to even share Plantinga’s epistemology on proper basicality, and therefore state that proof itself is irrelevant to the warrant attached to their belief in no God. Of course, this will have evidentialists shaking their head. Then the New Atheists bring a new spin on this by adhering to scientism. Dennett and Dawkins are evolutionary naturalists. Sam Harris takes more of a sociological approach, as did Hitchens. If you read more philosophically sophisticated atheists like Graham Oppy, Howard Sobel, Paul Draper, or Michael Martin, you’ll notice the disparity widen even more. But this isn’t just an atheist phenomenon. Christians are just as disparate. William Lane Craig’s notion of ‘knowing God exists’ differs from Plantinga’s, who uses the idea of a cognitive faculty called the sensus divinitatus, which produces belief in God; yet Craig objects that such a faculty isn’t Biblically justified – all Craig advocates is the ‘internal instigation of the Holy Spirit’. And on and on.

    From my standpoint, if I play devil’s advocate, this is the evidence I’d need if I were an atheist on the issue of history. I would need good historical evidence for the existence and resurrection of Christ. Perhaps some rational scholars believe that a present reasons X for that conclusion C. Okay. The next step would be to dialogue about how X demonstrates C. And that would be the study for a lifetime. Suppose such a study can be represented graphically by designated stages of study, 1 through 10. 1 would represent a casual reading of, say, Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. 2 might be purchasing the books in Strobel’s appendix or ‘further reading’. 3, if time permits, would be rational interaction with the ‘further reading’ AND their appendices. 4 might lead one to read just as far on scholarly opposition to whatever one has read up to this point, which might dig deep enough to level 7 or 8. 9 and 10 might be reserved for the scholars themselves, experts in their field, frequent contributors to peer-reviewed journals, harbingers of knowledge capable of writing a book on par with N.T. Wright’s trilogy. But even on level 9 and 10 there is rational disagreement. This is where the interesting stuff happens. You can see much more clearly how prejudice, bias, and psychological factors play a role in belief formation. Suppose, as an atheist, I’ve honestly followed this route, all the way to level 10, and I’m still an atheist, like perhaps Richard Carrier(PhD in ancient history from Columbia University in 2008) who wrote a book like, “Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus”, or Bart D. Ehrman’s (James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer”. Each of these scholar’s journey down the path to level 9/10 is different. Each is a subjective portal toward their own perception of rational fulfillment. So, to me, for Dwight Longenecker to long for some standardized account of sufficient evidence from the atheistic community is naive. The account is as multifarious as there are atheists, with some overlap.

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