And speaking of evidence for God, here’s Matt Rossano putting forth an interesting idea:
Now this may seem too whimsical to be taken seriously, but the important point is this: however one envisions convincing scientific evidence of God, let’s suppose we’ve got it. Let’s further suppose that this god is pretty much the god we all expected to find — not Aristotle’s reclusive thought-contemplating-itself god or Plato’s disappointingly limited Demiurge, but the “golden rule,” Ten Commandments kind of god with whom we are all pretty familiar. This God is now on the same footing as gravity, evolution, and the germ theory of disease. He is an accepted scientific fact. Now what?
Well nothing major — only the end of both atheism and Christianity.
Now, as I recall, Paley and his fellow natural theologians thought they had precisely such evidence. Somehow they overlooked that their arguments represented the end of Christianity. Let’s see what Rossano has in mind.
The part about it being the end of atheism seems clear enough. But how does it imply the end of Christianity:
For those who find Christianity to be a stubbornly abhorrent strain of the religion virus, this ought to be a moment of much rejoicing. How so? A fundamental tenet of Christianity is free will. It is no stretch to say that Christianity without free will is simply not Christianity anymore. The Christian God grants humans free will and will not interfere with its exercise. Humans are free to believe or not believe, free to follow God’s laws or free to sin and separate themselves from God. God condemns no one. People condemn themselves. This is all standard, mainline Christian theology and it all gets utterly demolished by convincing scientific evidence of God.
We really aren’t free to believe or not believe in germs, gravity, evolution or other firmly established scientific facts. We can foolishly try to deny them, but their effects are with us and their laws hold regardless of our attitude. If I jump off a cliff, it matters not a whit whether I believe in gravity; I’m gonna fall. The laws of physics, Mendelian genetics, viral contagion, etc. — my beliefs about these things are irrelevant. I follow their dictates. I suffer or enjoy their consequences.
The kindest spin I can put on this is that Rossano is using the term “free will” in a very nonstandard way. Evidence is never a threat to free will. Whatever God-supporting evidence Roassano is imagining, people will have entirely the same choices after hearing it as they did before.
The effect of the evidence, and this seems to be what Rossano has in mind, is to make certain choices seem more or less reasonable than they would without that evidence. But that is entirely separate form concerns about free will. Close to half the American population flatly rejects evolution, for example. I am sure they will be surprised to hear that actually they are not free to make that choice. People like Rossano (and myself) might think they have made a foolish decision, but that is neither here nor there.
Even taken on its own terms Rossano’s argument is very weak. Let us suppose we really do have evidence that is so strong that every reasonable person is now convinced of the truth of Christianity. Does that imply that humanity does not need a savior? Does it imply that God did not assume human form and later die on a cross? Does it imply that our fate in the afterlife does not depend on decisions we make in this life? The evidence Rossano imagines would not mean the end of Christianity. It would only mean the end of the notion that belief by faith alone is admirable.
Since Rossano intends his essay as in part a rebuke to “scientific atheists,” I would add that overwhelming evidence of the sort he describes, while it would be nice, is not really what we are asking for. I would settle for something strongly suggestive of God, like the sorts of evidence Paley offered. You could certainly accept Paley’s argument that the interlocking complexity of organisms points strongly to an intelligent designer without also accepting Christianity. Likewise for the arguments of modern ID proponents. It is just a pity that their arguments turn out to be completely fallacious. Without any such physical evidence, and with contrary evidence in the form of evil, suffering and divine hiddenness, we are left wondering what exactly is the reason for according any plausibility to the notion of God.
The Christian God is not supposed to be like that (at least not in this life). His laws are not the laws of physics. One believes in him and follows his laws out of love and gratitude, not because of being compelled by necessity. It’s my choice if I want to hate my neighbor. If I see a greater immediate gain from not doing unto others, then I should be able to do that and God can’t get in my way. But if God is like gravity, then I will suffer the consequences of breaking his laws just as surely as I’ll break my neck if I step off a cliff. Love of God is as meaningless as love of the inverse square law.
This is just completely wrong. According to traditional Christianity, you absolutely suffer the consequence of not believing in God regardless of your opinion on His existence. There is no “I didn’t believe in you!” exception when receiving your fate in the afterlife. The atheist is in precisely the same position in the afterlife as the gravity-denier is upon stepping off a cliff.
Moreover, how does love of God become meaningless just because it is based on evidence? The usual thinking is that God lays out his laws and commandments with our earthly happiness in mind. You do not unhappily follow God’s laws because you are pondering your fate in the afterlife, you follow them happily because you know He has your best interests at heart, and He is much smarter and more farsighted than you. If this is true then the effect of a mass awakening to God’s reality would be a far more just and contented society. That hardly seems meaningless to me.
If the scientific atheist is sincere in claiming that it is a lack of evidence that compels disbelief, then he or she ought to be able to specify the type of evidence necessary to reverse this situation. What are the conditions under which the God hypothesis gains support and are these conditions even possible?
I think I have already implied my answer to this question, but let’s look a bit more closely.
First, to reiterate, it is not just lack of evidence that compels disbelief, though it is certainly a big step in that direction. There is also the existence of evidence against the Christian notion of God.
More to the point, Paley believed he had strong evidence for God, and it was evidence of a sort that convinced virtually everyone who considered it seriously. Now let us suppose that all of the lines of evidence that support evolution had turned out differently. Suppose the fossil record showed us that modern animals were all there, in their present form, right at the start. Suppose instead of a universal genetic code we found instead numerous, fundamentally different codes, and that the distribution of these codes corresponded to some reasonable notion of created kinds. Suppose we had discovered that the universe really is just six thousand years old. Science could very easily have discovered all of those things. If it had would anyone today think Paley was being foolish?
Conclusive proof that God exists? Certainly not. You could always hold out hope that further research will reveal a naturalistic explanation. But it would certainly get me thinking!