Dear Father Joe: Why should I believe in God? Do you have proof he exists? And if he does, how do I know he gives a hoot about me?
You’ve got some great questions here and I think the best approach is to take them one at a time … let’s go!
Why should I believe in God? Well, because if God exists, then it would seem important that we acknowledge his existence. Blaise Pascal wrote something on this that boils down to a simple idea: If you don’t believe in God and he exists, you have lost something very important. If he doesn’t exist and you believe in him, what have you lost?
I think one of the challenges to having a legitimate discussion about the existence of God (or a god) is that many well-intentioned people are coming to see atheistic talk or belief as somehow more sophisticated or “scientific.” The problem is many great minds of the past and present have not only held that there is a God, but some have spent their lives in pursuit of that God. To believe in God is not anti-intellectual or anti-science. As Francis Bacon (the father of the Scientific Method) is quoted as saying, “Small amounts of philosophy lead to atheism, but larger amounts bring us back to God.”
The other challenge is the tendency to lump all believers in God into the category of “fundamentalists.” As Catholics, we simply aren’t fundamentalists and are comfortable exploring how God made the universe and what science can teach us.
The final challenge is that we live in a sound-byte world and right now, if you can’t communicate why you believe in God in a few words or simple sentences, you end up unable to engage many of the more aggressive non-believers. This one is not easily overcome and we must be patient, gentle, kind and well-informed.
With all that then –
Do I have proof that he exists? “Proof” is a funny word and gets thrown around a lot, even though we might mean something different. The dictionary defines proof as, “Arriving at a logical conclusion, based on the available evidence.” If we stick with that idea then, yes, I think there are many ways one can prove that there is a God. To go the route of arriving at a logical conclusion based on available evidence, we can explore the issue by using our experience and reason. When speaking about proof for God’s existence, Dr. Peter Kreeft spoke about how you and I tend to take most questions in life into “the courtroom of our minds.”
He said that every day, you and I make decisions by weighing evidence and making a decision based off of what is most likely. I like that, and find that to match up with most people’s experience, we weigh evidence and make a decision based on what is most likely.
We can do this with God in many different ways: I’ll look at my favorite way called the argument from design.
In this argument, we point to the fact that, whenever you and I see design, we assume a designer.
For example, let’s say that today is your birthday (Happy Birthday!).
Now, imagine that today, after work or school, you walk home and find a massive banner on your front porch that says “Happy Birthday!” When you see that sign, what would you think? Would you assume that there was an incredible chain of random events that all culminated in you finding the appropriate sign at the appropriate place? Of course not! Your reaction would be to assume that someone put that sign there intentionally. Why do you assume that it was intentional? Because that is the most reasonable conclusion to draw from the world you are in. How many different random events would have to come to together perfectly for a sign to be made that says “Happy Birthday” and then end up in front of your house on your birthday? The odds of this happening without someone intending it would be so staggering as to take us out of the realm of what is possible and into the world of “ridiculous.”
Now, look at you – your brain, your body and the way it all works. Look at the planet and the universe and how complex and interconnected all these things are.
The odds of all these things being random and undesigned are much, much greater than the odds of the sign on your porch on your birthday. The most logical assumption as you look at the evidence is that there is a designer to the universe, the planet and you.
This example will help with your next question as well.
How do I know he gives a hoot about me? How do we know anyone gives a hoot about us? We look at their actions, words, behaviors and we draw a judgment from that.
Going to the sign on your porch example, wouldn’t you assume that the person who went through all the effort for your birthday gives a hoot about you?
Look at the complexity of you and the world you live in. Look at the wonder, awe and beauty in the things God made. Does this seem like a cold, distant God to you or a God who loves beauty? The fact that he gave us minds that can explore and discover all that we have about creation can help us see further that this God wants to be known: what a blessing!
There are a lot of different ways to approach this question and I’ve only walked you down one path. If you’d like to explore many other arguments or proofs, you can look in numerous places. My favorite would be to go to www.peterkreeft.com and look at his lectures and writings. He has a whole section focused on the question, “Is there a God?” and gives 20 different ways to approach it. Check it out!
I hope this helps you in your journey. I have found faith in God a life-giving and amazing blessing in my life and this belief in God has pushed me to be a better man.
Enjoy another day and God’s presence!
If you’d like to submit a question for Father Joe Krupp to consider in a future column, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Father Joe is unable to personally answer questions.