“There is no evidence for God,” many would tell me. By this, they mean there’s no scientific evidence for God, the only kind of evidence many will (irrationally) accept as evidence for God—physical evidence of a spiritual Being.
But I would disagree that there is no evidence for God. While I can agree that there’s no direct scientific evidence for God, there is indirect scientific evidence for God. It’s not strictly true that a lack of evidence for the one alternative is not evidence for the other alternative. It’s called the process of elimination, and it’s a good tool logic gives us for arriving at true conclusions. The evidence ruling out one conclusion is indirectly evidence for the other alternative if there are only two alternatives. And I believe the evidence of science would rule out the possibility of a purely accidental origin of everything. That leaves an intentional origin of everything. And only persons can do things on purpose. Only intelligence can have intent.
So, as stated last post, I see science leading us in the direction of theism.
But that’s not the only evidence I see for God. I believe we can get our hands on some direct evidence for the existence of God. Not scientific evidence, but as mentioned last post, accepting nothing other than scientific evidence as true evidence is the religion of scientism. And scientism is not a religion that any of its adherents are capable of living out consistently. We all accept many different kinds of evidence and ways and means of knowing things outside of science in many areas of life.
So in this post, I want to examine the direct evidence I can see for the existence of God. Today’s subject is the direct evidence I see for God, and it also answers the question, “Which God?”
It’s all very well to get as far as, “There must be a Creating Intelligence back of the universe,” based on the indirect evidence of science, but if that’s as far as it gets us, it doesn’t get us very far. Inquisitive human nature will want to know something about the One who is responsible for it all. If one of the arguments that convinces us there must be a God is the truth that only persons can do things on purpose, and our natural order screams to us of purpose, then we’ll naturally want to know about our own purpose. Why were we created? Why was I created?
We’ll want to know more about this Creator God than science—the study of the physical—can tell us. Fortunately for us, there are more ways to learn that purely scientific ones. Humanity has always searched after the knowledge of the supernatural, and logic and philosophy are two of the tools we have in our belt to try and learn the truth about life and the One who started it all off.
So how are we doing, all on our own, using only our own brains, learning more about God?
Not so hot, it turns out. A brief study of history should be enough to convince us that our own thinking might not be the best path to discovering God.
There are a plethora of ideas we’ve come up with. I’ll call these the “best guesses” religions. They boil down to, “Do your best. Get by as best you can. Try to live right. Don’t hurt other people.”
A few problems with the “best guesses” religions (including your own personal version if you’re relying on your own best guesses): They don’t seem to be working out very well.
We instinctively understand that our ideas about right and wrong must be tied into these bigger ideas about life or religious truths if there are any such things. If there is a Creator God that made each one of us with purpose, then He may have a vested interest in how we live our lives. He may actually have a purpose He wants us to fulfill. And if there is such a thing as a real right and a real wrong, there must be a God who knows what they are. Otherwise, we have just our own divergent and widely differing ideas about morals. We all seem to recognize the importance of their existence, but we can’t agree on what they are.
And to put it baldly, the world is a mess. Always has been. We’re terrible at figuring out right and wrong on our own. We can’t agree on what’s really right and what’s really wrong. What’s more, we’re incapable of carrying out even our own ideas of right and wrong.
And if this wasn’t so messy, maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But when I say “mess,” I mean, a gigantic mess. I mean the world as it is. I shouldn’t need to go into detail. Just turn on the TV and watch the news for half an hour. Our best guesses are a fail. On an epic scale.
The “best guess” religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism and all the various flavours of paganism, (including our own individual, “This is what I think God is like. This is how I should live my life,” best guesses) I’m not tempted toward. I wouldn’t be satisfied with my own little ideas about God. I’m not arrogant enough to think I could arrive at all the really important truths all on my own. But why would someone else’s best guesses be better than mine? We’re all just human, after all.
But there are more ideas about God out there than just the “best guess” kind. There are also several religions that claim to be divinely revealed. Seeing I think we must have been created for some kind of purpose and we’ve done a terrible job of figuring it out on our own, I would start my truth search by looking into the “divine revelation” religions. I would expect a creating Intelligence who created us for a purpose to communicate that purpose to us somehow.
But there are two problems I’ve noticed with all the religions claiming divine revelation (except for one). The first is that its adherents are expected to take these claims on blind faith. They’re told, “God spoke to me and revealed the truth, and you should just believe what I say,” but no further evidence (or very slight and unconvincing evidence) is provided.
The second is that the lives of all of the founders of these religions claiming divine revelation (except for one) don’t end up looking like I would want my life to look. Their moral failings recorded by history, either distant or very modern, reveal some common patterns. Some of these religions have been very successful and have had great staying-power, but really digging into the life-stories of their founders shows them to have much in common with the life-stories of the founders of the more obviously disastrous, modern “divinely-revealed” religions by the likes of the Jimmy Joneses and David Koreshes of the world.
So (except for one) the world’s religions seem to have been founded by the sincere but guessing or the insincere and power-seeking.
And now we come to what I see as that one exception. It is, in a sense, a two-part religion. I’m speaking, of course, of Christianity and its predecessor, Judaism. They both have their roots planted in a book. Both acknowledge the first part as God’s divinely-revealed book (the Hebrew Tanakh or Old Testament), and Christians accept the addition of a New Testament as also part of God’s divinely-revealed book.
The reason I accept the Tanakh as God’s book is because of the New Testament and the evidence for its truth (that direct evidence of God’s existence I referred to earlier), so let’s start with the New Testament and consider the evidence for it. In fact, let’s examine just one small part of that Testament—the four Gospel biographies of Jesus’ life—and examine the evidence for their truth. If they end up looking likely to be true, the implication follows that the rest of the Bible is also true, but we’ll get there. Let’s start with that process of elimination and consider all our options regarding the Gospels and their truth or falsity.
There are two: Either the Gospels are true (for now, let’s define “true” as “largely reliable in their most basic claims” and start there), or they’re not. To sum up, the basic claims of the Gospels assert that one, Jesus of Nazareth, lived in first-century, Roman-occupied Israel/Judea, that He went around teaching and working miracles of all sorts, sizes, and descriptions, that His teaching revolved around His own person (He tacitly claimed to be God-on-earth: the God-Man), that He died by Roman crucifixion on account of these claims (perceived as blasphemy and punishable by death to the Jewish mind), and that He rose from the dead three days later to lend credence to His claims of divinity. These are the basic facts of Jesus’ life as told in all the Gospels. Either they are basically accurate, or they’re not.
Let’s examine the implications of the Gospels being basically accurate. Can we agree? If this itinerant teacher named Jesus resurrected bodily after being solidly dead and buried for three days, most of us would have a hard time denying this as solid proof that His professions of Godhood were (however astonishing), in fact, true! In this case, the Old Testament Scriptures that He proclaimed as God’s (yes, His own) infallible and unbreakable words would also be true. We would have found that authoritative and divinely-revealed communication to tell us our purpose on earth.
But the first part of that book isn’t complete without the second part. The New Testament completes the Old. It’s in the New where the point of the Old can be seen. Without it, the Tanakh tells a very partial story. If God wrote a book and that book starts off with the Old Testament, I would have to accept the New Testament as part of that book if my reasons for believing the Old are the evidence for the truth of the Gospels. As far as I can tell, these are the inevitable, logical implications of the basic truth of the Gospels. If the Gospels are mostly reliable in their foundational claims, then the Bible is entirely, infallibly true. If the Gospels are basically accurate, then God wrote a book, and the Bible is that book.
But is there good evidence for the basic accuracy of the Gospels? Again, let’s consider that question by considering all our options—the Gospels are true… or they’re not. Under b) “The Gospels are not true,” there are again only two options. The Gospels are intentional falsehoods, or they’re uninentional falsehoods. People may be sincere but sincerely wrong. People make mistakes. So let’s rule out the “mistaken” option first.
Is it possible that the writers of the Gospels thought they were telling the truth, but they were just mistaken in their facts? Not very. The kinds of things they wrote about leave no room for mistakes. The supernatural aspects of the Gospels that many would like to do away with can’t be got around this way. The miracles recorded by those writing the Gospels (claiming to be either eyewitnesses or the interviewers of the eyewitnesses) were of a different order than the dubious acts of the supernatural happening at many of today’s “healing services.” When a man the whole community knows to be blind from birth is suddenly made to see right in front of your very eyes, you can’t very well be mistaken. You know what you saw. When a man you knew well and saw very thoroughly put to death on a Roman cross (and the Romans were very thorough in these matters) is suddenly alive three days later—sharing a meal with you, having lengthy conversations with you, inviting you to plunge your fingers into his puncture wounds—there’s not a lot of room for you to be mistaken. So let’s rule out the “mistaken” option. If the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses (or those closely connected as they claim), they couldn’t have been mistaken.
And if the Gospels are intentional falsehoods, there are (yet again) two options. Intentional falsehoods that aren’t meant to be believed are called fiction. Intentional falsehoods that are meant to believed are called lies.
Could the Gospels be fictional? Again, no. Again, the claims of the Gospels do not leave any openings to interpret them as fictional. They claim to be the truth and nothing but the truth. John 20:30-31 and 21:24 contain the most solemn declarations that the things found in the Gospel of John were meant to be believed and that they were written by an eyewitness.
The options boil down to two: The Gospels are true, or they are lies. Once all the alternatives are examined, these are really the only two options left. Let’s see if we can rule out one of these options, and then we’ll have to accept the one that’s left. Which is more likely?
Of course, the claims of the Gospels (God coming to earth as a man to die for sin and be resurrected the third day), being so far removed from our everyday experience, look vastly unlikely to us. If they happened at all, these events would surely only happen once. So we can’t look to mathematical probabilities to tell us if it’s likely they did happen once. We would look for legal or historical probabilities. And once the alternative—that the Gospels are lies—is fully examined and followed to its logical end, the wildly unusual claims of the Gospels look far more likely to be true.
This is because of the behaviour of the eyewitnesses—the first disciples. If we decide that the Gospels must be lies, we are left with no explanation for the (otherwise) very puzzling behaviour of the alleged eyewitnesses: the first-century followers of Jesus. It’s only the truth of the Gospels that fits with what history tells us about the first-century church.
Roman historians don’t have a great deal to tell us about the penniless rabbi/carpenter/criminal, Jesus of Nazareth (why would they, after all?), but in very short order after His death, His following had grown so large and so rapidly, it could no longer be ignored by Rome. Secular, contemporaneous historians do have something to tell us about what happened with the early church. And it wasn’t pretty. Jesus’ followers became Public Enemies No. 1., and this under several different Roman emperors. The early Christians were beheaded, crucified, thrown to the lions, burned as torches for Nero’s garden parties, etc. A violent martyrs’ death was the expected norm for the early Christian, history tells us. In spite of this, the early church mushroomed.
If the Gospels are nothing more than lies about whose origins we can really know nothing, we would then need to find some kind of alternate explanation for the facts of history. If the Gospels are lies, who was Jesus of Nazareth, really, to inspire this kind of devotion? The usual explanations for those who don’t accept the truth of the Gospels are a) a fictional character, b) a great moral teacher, c) a revolutionary, d) a great moral teacher who was mistaken for a revolutionary.
Of these four, only the last is even plausible in my opinion. Historians don’t take the first alternative seriously. Not only is there some evidence of the historical fact of a personage called Jesus of Nazareth from secular sources, the notion that a movement like Christianity could spring out of thin air and snowball spectacularly immediately following the time a fictional character was supposed to have lived and died, His followers willing to lay down their lives for their fictional faith, requires extreme credulity (and wanton bias) to accept. Then, as to b), the one fact of Jesus’ life that is validated by secular history is His crucifixion under the Romans. First-century Israel had many peaceful and non-political rabbis, teaching their moral teachings and gathering their followings. The Romans weren’t in the habit of crucifying them. Moral teaching has never been a crime anywhere. How can Jesus’ crucifixion be explained if the Gospels are lies?
Jesus as a political Messiah or a revolutionary zealot explains His crucifixion nicely. The Romans were in the habit of crucifying would-be kings of Israel and insurrectionists. But this theory of Jesus explains nothing about the behaviour of Jesus’ following after His death. History records no political movement on the part of the early Christians. If they were dying for their faith anyway, and they had started as a resistance movement, why wouldn’t they have tried to resist? Why would a movement that had failed so spectacularly (if it started as a revolutionary attempt) grow the way it did in the decades that followed? Yes, history has a way of admiring successful revolutionaries through the winners who write the history, but who ever hears a word about the failures?
So d): some combination of b) and c), looks like the only credible alternative. Perhaps Jesus was ever only a peaceful rabbi, but His teachings were so wildly popular and His following grew so large and so quickly that the Romans mistook Him for a revolutionary (maybe with a little help from a jealous religious establishment). Although the best effort, this one is also too weak to stand examination. Many of the peaceful Rabbis of Jesus’ day had large followings. They didn’t get themselves crucified. The Romans seemed able to tell the difference between a peaceful Rabbi and a revolutionary. The only explanation would have to be that Jesus’ own leaders lied about Him to the Romans to get Him crucified. Their jealousy of His following could be one possibility. But again, we’re left with the question, “Why Jesus, particularly?” If there were other peaceful moral teachers with large followings who weren’t attacked by Israel’s religious leaders, what made Jesus different? What could have angered them so greatly in the case of Jesus? It’s hard to imagine His own people turning on this peaceful rabbi without some powerful motive, like, their perception of His teachings as blasphemy. In other words, I can’t find a likely explanation for the circumstances of history other than Jesus’ claims to divinity. These alone can explain the chain of events that could lead a peaceful rabbi to a cross.
Of course, Jesus may have claimed to be God but have been delusional or a deceiver. But if He did claim Godhood, the subsequent behaviour of His following makes no sense unless there was a dramatic, direction-changing event like His bodily resurrection, witnessed by many eyewitnesses.
The Gospels themselves tell us that after Jesus’ death (but before His resurrection), His disciples were done. They had packed up discipleship shop and were returning to fishing. They were crushed. They were fully convinced that their hopes in their Messiah hadn’t come through, and they thought they’d been taken for fools. And this would be far more likely to have been the dead end of the short-lived religion of Christianity if something extraordinary hadn’t happened to change the course of its history. And of the history of the world.
You know what I believe that extraordinary something to be. And when I really look into all the alternatives and try to imagine their realty, the only one that stands up to close scrutiny is the truth of the basic claims of the Gospels. For me, this witness of the Gospels when combined with the witness of secular history is solid evidence for God’s existence. And if the Gospels are true, the Bible is true. If the Bible is true, there’s quite a lot we can know about this God who created us for a purpose and the purpose He created us for.