Proofs for God’s existence

For natural science, to prove the existence of something means to manifest it to sensation. Regardless of whether one is trying to prove the existence of black swans or black holes, the proof is basically the same: you introduce something into sensation that wasn’t there before. You can point to a black swan for the first time, or point to some not yet seen effect of a black hole in a picture taken by a telescope, and viola, you have proved the existence of something.

In proofs for God’s existence, nothing new is introduced into sensation. The universe viewed as a “thing” and a universe viewed as as a “creature” yield identical pictures, experimental results, relations between events, etc. If  it is obvious that “to prove the existence of X” means “to manifest X to sensation” then it is obvious that there are no proofs for the existence of God. When I hear people speak of it being simply obvious that there is no God, and that there is simply no evidence for him, I suppose they are thinking something like this. For what it’s worth, no one who claimed to prove the existence of God claims to have that kind of evidence. Along with St. Augustine, everyone insists that nothing giving that kind of evidence is the divine nature. If you can imagine something, it is not God- at least not as the theistic proofs speak of the divine nature.

Proofs for God’s existence are based on sensation, but not in such a way that the difference between proving something and not proving it means being able to catch it on film or not- the way we can film a black swan or the trace on a metal plate that proved there were sub-atomic particles (there was a good deal of theory involved in showing that a sub-atomic particle would leave “trace X on a metal plate”, but the moment of truth is the trace on the plate, not the theory).

What the theistic proofs have in in common with the other kinds of proofs for existence is they are all necessary because of some weakness of our intellect. No one needs to prove the existence of trees since they’re just there. For the same reason, no one needed to prove the existence of black swans to Australians; and no one would need to prove the existence of black holes to a civilization which (somehow) could just look up and see one in the sky (like the passengers on the Disney movie The Black Hole). The difference is that the standards of what counts as proof are different in the case of natural science and in metaphysics. 



  1. April 22, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    another excellent post, James. well stated.

  2. larryniven said,

    April 23, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Wow are you full of shit.

    “For what it’s worth, no one who claimed to prove the existence of God claims to have that kind of evidence.”

    William Lane Craig: “The Christian’s hope is firmly founded … on the witness of the Holy Spirit.”

    Alvin Plantinga: It is sufficient for a Christian to have “a rich inner spiritual life, the sort described in the early pages of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections; it seems to her that she is sometimes made aware; catches a glimpse, of something of the overwhelming beauty and loveliness of the Lord; she is often aware, as it strongly seems to her, of the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart, comforting, encouraging, teaching, leading her to accept the “great things of the gospel” (as Edwards calls them), helping her to see that the magnificent scheme of salvation devised by the Lord himself is not only for others but for her as well. After long, hard, conscientious reflection, this all seems to her enormously more convincing than the complaints of the critics.”

    Not only do modern apologists (and, I strongly suspect, historical ones) want to introduce a new kind of sensation to their audience, they think this sensation alone is sufficient to disprove all contrary evidence (here meaning both scientific and philosophical). Get your facts straight.

  3. Eric said,

    April 23, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Larryniven, I don’t think you’ve understood what James wrote (or what Plantinga and Craig are saying, for that matter).

    “For natural science, *to prove* the existence of something means to manifest it to sensation… In *proofs* for God’s existence, nothing new is introduced into sensation…“For what it’s worth, no one who claimed *to prove* the existence of God claims to have that kind of evidence.”

    Neither Plantinga nor Craig, in the quotes you provided, are talking about *proofs* for god’s existence. Indeed, they both make it *quite* clear that they’re talking about how god can be known *in the absence* of such proofs.

    I think that, in the future, you need to make sure you understand both what you’re criticizing and what you’re basing your criticism on before you start telling someone he’s ‘full of sh*t’ or to get his facts straight.

  4. April 23, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Mr. Niven,

    There is no reference to sensation in the quotations you give from Craig or Plantinga.

  5. Mike Flynn said,

    April 23, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    An aside:

    FWIW, I doubt that the poster was the Larry Niven. It does not sound like him.

  6. April 23, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    …would be interesting to see the IP address for the comment 😀

  7. lambic said,

    April 24, 2009 at 9:43 am

  8. T. Chan said,

    April 24, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Pride blinds.

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