‘Proving’ God’s existence


14 Apr 2015

I recently received an email from a gentleman asking if I could spare five minutes to answer his question: Are you certain that God exists, and, if so, what is the main proof that convinces you?

‘If possible, the shorter and simpler the answer is, the better’, the man added.

Never one to shirk a challenge, I decided to try to answer the gentleman’s question as best I could (although it took me a little more than five minutes):

I’m not a priest, nor have I had any particular theological training other than what I’ve picked up along the journey. However the question you ask is one that I’ve wrestled with, like most people of faith. I’m not sure there’s a succinct answer, but I’ll attempt something brief.

I recently read an article by a Catholic who noted that people often talk about ‘proof’, but what they’re really talking about is ‘evidence’. I’m the first to admit that there’s no scientific ‘proof’ of God’s existence – because I don’t think you can prove the existence of something that exists outside of space and time in a scientific or even mathematical way. We have no instruments with which to perceive or measure that kind of phenomenon.

The only tool we have that can point us to the existence of God is our own consciousness – because that’s what’s unique about our own experience in the universe (and gives us the ability to ask the question about God’s existence in the first place). So to me the path to understanding God begins with seeking to understand what it means to be a conscious human being, to look deeply at our feelings and reactions to the people and the universe around us, and to seek to discern if those reactions can be sourced in something beyond our selves.

This is not a mode of inquiry that science would deem valid – it sits outside its modus operandi. However, I would argue that it’s no different to science in being a lens through which we can view and interact with the world – one that can lead us to truth or lead us astray, depending on the strength of reason that we bring to it. 

From this perspective, ‘evidence’ of God’s existence is everywhere – from the pervasive influence of love, to the existence of the universe and consciousness itself, to the formulation of our societies around universal moral laws (pointing to a shared human experience of what it means to be ‘moral’ or ‘aligned with God’). It’s not ‘proof’, but it’s as close to proof as we’re likely to get.

There is always the possibility that God doesn’t exist, but to me that would conflict with all the evidence of my own human experience. It seems far more likely to me that God exists, in fact, than that what we know as the universe is no more than energy collected into matter that has somehow organised itself into conscious beings.

A day or so later, I received a thoughtful reply, which included the following:

It seems to me that you are perhaps doing what many people do – performing mental gymnastics to get the answer you want about God. I tend to want some concrete evidence that God exists. There are no end of philosophical ways to arrive at the conclusion one wants, but that is not proof and can be erronious.

As someone who once studied science, I can sympathise with people who demand proof of God’s existence before they can embark on a journey of faith.

I’ve spent much of my life wondering if there was any point to praying to God. It seemed to do little to help those in my life who were suffering from illness, nor did it seem to do anything to bring peace in the midst of conflicts around the world.

But one of the things I’ve discovered as I’ve made a habit of praying is that it’s more than just a worldly experience. Sure, it can bring comfort and solace in the midst of crisis. And it may even have an intercessory power with God. But my experience of prayer is that it also opens my perception to God in a way that can be difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves.

One of the difficulties in explaining faith to those who spend so much time trying to think their way to God – to ‘prove’ God’s existence – is that the only way to really perceive God is to take the leap of faith in the first place.  This to me is not about doing ‘mental gymnastics’, as my correspondent alleged, but the opposite of that. It’s about finding a place of mental stillness, where a true communion with God can take place.

Prayer only works when we take that initial leap. But it is, to me, the only valid path we have to finding evidence of God’s existence. And the amazing thing is that, if we make a habit of prayer in our life, the evidence of God’s existence reveals itself.

The experience we have of God in prayer could be simply described as a sense of ‘love’ or ‘joy’, but it’s also greater, more profound and otherworldly, than those words can encapsulate. It’s a love that prevails over any violence or hatred, and a joy that shines through amidst any loss or sadness. It’s an experience so profound and powerful as to change everything about the way we see the world around us.

If only I could somehow put that evidence in an email, I might be better able to answer people’s questions about God when they arise.

Michael McVeigh is the Editor of Australian Catholics magazine, and senior editor at Jesuit Communications.
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