Proving God’s Existence Absolutely: The Atheists vs. Christians Debates Often Yield Rotten Fruit
Over the last several months, a lot of ink has been spilled in the ongoing debate between self-declared atheists and self-proclaimed Christians. This back and forth has taken the form of books, TV debates, correspondence debates, and who knows how many blog streams.
My concern in this here is with what appears to be one typical Christian-response to atheists—”I can prove God’s existence.”
Take, for instance, a recent example. On ABC, the 1990s TV star Kirk Cameron was joined with author and preacher Ray Comfort. They debated the existence of God with two members of the Rational Response Squad, a group of loud, self-proclaimed, and aggressive atheists that try to persuade people to denounce theism, record the confession and put it online.
Pastor Comfort opened his defense of God with these words:
“I believe God’s existence can be proven absolutely, scientifically, without even mentioning faith.”
A few points to consider:
1) In this formulation of God, any possibility of mystery is closed down. God is fashioned into a knowable and rationally explicable phenomena, like any other “scientific“ account. The very possibility of God is boxed in and well managed by Pastor Comfort.
2) Evangelicals arguing in favor of God are struggling to wear the mantel of “science” as a way of legitimating their claims. I think this appropriation of “science” into the Evangelical tradition of argumentation is a response to the exile of fundamentalist Christians after the Scopes monkey trial and their eventual resurgence after WWII. Appropriating “science” was an adaptation to the political and social circumstances at hand in the United States.
3) A desire for mastery and control exudes around this opening claim. Comfort wants the debate to be as controlled as God is manageable.
4) In our time, in large part, “science” is imagined to be the final arbiter of truth. Interestingly, as some Evangelicals see it, “science” can prove God; and, as many of the atheists argue it, “science” shows that evolution and life can form without God and that God is an irrational and superfluous idea. “Science” and its legitimacy as an arbiter of truth is the greatest beneficiary of this debate.
5) If the “rationality” or “irrationality” of faith is not of significance to you, then its probably the case that being able to explain God with “science” is not all that important either. To some people, while they may have a close, experiential and very personal relationship with God, God is ultimately ineffable. God is bigger than “science” and “rationality,” they might say.