An Experimental Approach to Religious Proof
December 9, 2020
In this article I will introduce a new proof for the existence of God. The problem of proving the existence of God goes back to biblical times. In the Old Testament, we are told in Psalm 14 that the fool says in his heart there is no God. And in the New Testament, we are told in Romans 1 that they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened. In the history of the church, proofs for the existence of God have been several. Anselm encouraged us to have an attitude of faith seeking understanding. His ontological proof emerges from that framework. Aquinas brought forth his famous five proofs for God’s existence. Edwards utilized evidence and reason to argue for God’s reality. More recently, within this same broad reformed tradition, presuppositional arguments have claimed greater adherence to original biblical assumptions.
Now, I want you to imagine a different approach, one that I think is closer to biblical assumptions. Imagine someone born blind and deaf. How would you seek to prove to this person that sounds and sights exist? You could seek to communicate through touch and by that means gradually teach braille. And then, in that context, eventually begin to use words to describe sights and sounds. However, would the person born blind and deaf be genuinely persuaded of the existence of sight and sound? Perhaps, more likely, if they are surrounded by lots of other people who can also communicate with them through braille and equally describe sights and sounds.
Now imagine further that this person born blind and deaf is not the odd one out but is a part of a large community of people born blind and deaf. Maybe in some futuristic dystopian reality, a chemical weapon has been released that has caused countless thousands to be born blind and deaf. Would such a large group of individuals—assuming they learned braille and could be communicated to in that way—be able to be persuaded of the reality of sight and sound by those who could still see and hear? Perhaps if those persuading, or even the sole individual persuading, is particularly inspired and influential.
Now take one further imaginative leap and imagine a community of people who are all born blind and deaf, and none of them can see or hear. Perhaps those who could see and hear have gradually died out, and the children who were born to subsequent generations were all blind and deaf. Would these people, this community of entirely blind and deaf, ever likely be persuaded in the long run that sights and sounds were real? And even if they were persuaded at some intellectual level that they were real, what meaning would it have to them?
Similarly, in this experimental approach to religious proof, my postulate is that the likelihood of someone—born spiritually blind and deaf—being persuaded that there is spiritual sight and sound (that God really exists and that the spiritual realm is real) is in direct proportion to the quality and quantity of countervailing experimental communication regarding the sights and sounds of the spiritual world.
Let’s put it in an equation. Say we let f stand for faith in God. And we let bd stand for those (us all) who are born spiritually blind and deaf because of the fall. And further, we allow s to stand for the work of the Spirit through the witnessing community of real Christians as they communicate the gospel and God’s Word to the world around. With those terms in mind, we could formulate this experimental approach to religious proof as follows:
Or, to put it in words: the likelihood of someone coming to faith (f) is in direct proportion (=) to the quality and quantity of their exposure to God’s Spirit through the witness of Christians (s) minus their exposure to the countervailing experience of their own spiritual blindness and deafness and that of others around them (bd).
The implications for policy in church planting, evangelism and mission are obvious: a significant impact of s needs to be present for a significant proportion of bd to be persuaded. It would be a valuable task for someone to confirm this thought experiment by data analysis of the effectiveness of outreach in missiological as well as evangelistic circumstances.
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