Does God Exist?
By David Feddes
Does God exist? If you’re an atheist, your answer is no. If you’re an agnostic, your answer is, “I don’t know.” If you’re a believer, your answer is yes.
Does God exist? It’s a vital question, and it can make some people nasty. But there’s no need to get nasty about it. I’ve learned that I’m not helping anybody if I insult people who don’t believe in God rather than trying to understand them. I’ve also learned that not all atheists and agnostics are against believers. Once, while I was speaking on the radio, I said that atheists don’t want people to pray. I was wrong to make such a sweeping statement, and someone wrote to correct me. This person said, “I’m an atheist, and I don’t mind if people pray. If prayer makes them feel better, it’s just fine with me.”
Some atheists go to court to prevent any mention of God in public schools, and some take the attitude of an in-your-face atheist website which says, “The world holds two classes of men—intelligent men without religion, and religious men without intelligence.” But not all atheists are so hostile to believers. Many think it’s just fine for religious people to do their thing. Some even give money or volunteer time for faith-based charities because they like the good things the charities do, though they don’t believe in the God the charities believe in.
I remember a veteran radio personality who coached me during my first year as a radio broadcaster. He was eager to help and charged me far less than his usual training fee. After several conversations, it came out that this friendly, helpful guy was an atheist. He didn’t believe in God, yet he wanted to help me tell others about God. Why would an atheist want to help a preacher? He said, “I think you help a lot of people and make their lives better.” He added with a gentle smile, “I don’t agree with your basic premise—but I still think you do a lot of good.”
If you’re an atheist or agnostic, maybe that’s how you feel. You don’t go around attacking religion. You don’t believe in God yourself, but you’re not aiming to hurt believers’ feelings or keep them from enjoying their faith. You figure belief in God might do some people good, help them feel better, and cope with life. Even if God isn’t real, why try to get others to stop believing in him—especially if you still believe in some ideals that are often connected with belief in God?
At some point, though, even if you’re friendly toward people who believe differently than you do, even if you think their belief has a positive effect on them, you need to face the question squarely, “Is God real?”
Philosopher Stephen Evans tells of his five-year-old daughter asking, “Dad, is there really a Santa Claus?” Evans didn’t want to lie and pretend that he believed in a real Santa, but he didn’t want to wreck a child’s pleasant belief either. So he replied, “Christmas is a time of giving and sharing, and the story about Santa is a fun way to express this.”
The little girl wasn’t satisfied. She wanted a straight, factual answer. “The spirit of Christmas is all fine and dandy,” writes Evans, “but she wanted to know if there really was a man who comes down chimneys. If so, how does he pull off the trick?”
When it comes to the question, “Is God real?” some folks might answer that whether or not God actually exists, we ought to believe in good ideals that religious people associate with God. But we can’t be satisfied with that. “We want to know if God really exists,” says Stephen Evans. “Is there really a Person who made the universe? Does he know about us and care about us? Are the ideals we reverence simply our own inventions, or are they grounded in a reality and a power higher than our own?” The factual answer to the Santa Claus question is, “No, Santa doesn’t exist.” But what’s the answer to the God question?
Why believe in God but not in Santa Claus? Some folks would put both beliefs in the same category. Santa is a nice made-up story, linked with generosity and goodwill, but it would be foolish for mature adults to believe in Santa when the facts indicate otherwise. Likewise, some say, God is just a made-up story—a gripping story, perhaps, but still just a story—and it would be foolish for mature adults to believe in God when the facts indicate otherwise. Isn’t God just wishful thinking?
Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychology, rejected belief in God and pictured religion as a crutch for emotionally needy people. According to Freud, people are afraid of the wild world around them and the wild urges within them. They yearn for a father figure to protect them from dangers and to direct their urges in proper channels. This longing is so strong that it moves people to believe in God, without evidence or reasoning. They are moved by primitive longing, not rational thinking.
Freud was on to something when he pointed out the power of wishful thinking. People sometimes make themselves believe what they want to believe. But is this true only of religious people? Isn’t it just as true of those who don’t believe in God? Many people find it more convenient to be atheists than to believe in a God who might limit them or disapprove of their behavior.
Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, admitted that his unbelief was not just a rational result of scientific research or philosophical reasoning. He said that he and many of his fellow atheists wanted the world to have no God and no higher meaning. Why? Because they wanted freedom to do their own thing without answering to any higher Being or higher standard. “We objected to the morality,” said Huxley, “because it interfered with our sexual freedom.” Huxley’s atheism was wishful thinking.
Another leading atheist, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god? Hence there are no gods.” Nietzsche didn’t use evidence or reasoning to prove that there is no God or supernatural reality. He was so eager for his own will to be supreme that he found God’s existence unbearable, and what he couldn’t bear, he wouldn’t believe. Nietzsche’s atheism was wishful thinking.
So if you dismiss belief in God as wishful thinking, keep in mind that not believing in God can also be wishful thinking. And if you agree with Freud that religion is really just a yearning for a father figure, don’t overlook the fact that many atheists (including Freud himself) had serious problems relating to their fathers. Their rejection of God may have been their way of rejecting any sort of father figure.
The psychological argument against God says that belief in God comes not from rational analysis but from a deep, non-rational urge. But the question remains: why do so many humans have this urge? Why, in almost every human culture, is there an urge to believe in Someone higher than ourselves? Atheism seldom comes naturally; you must talk yourself into it. Skeptics try to explain God away and claim that the deep urge to believe in God is an irrational instinct and a sign that God is a human invention, not a divine reality. But what would you expect if God is real and made humans for fellowship with him? Wouldn’t you expect people to have powerful religious longings that often go much deeper than rational analysis and explanation?
Almost all babies are born with a sucking instinct. They have this instinct without doing any rational analysis about the existence of mothers. Would anyone claim mothers are not real because babies have an urge to suck that isn’t based on logic? Of course not. The sucking instinct is a sign that babies come from mothers and are designed to thrive on mother’s milk. So why claim that God isn’t real because people have an urge to believe that isn’t based on logic but on a deep, basic longing? What if this longing is a sign that humans come from God and are designed to thrive on fellowship with him?
The Bible never pretends that believers in God follow logic alone without any deep cravings. Rather, biblical writers say, “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:2). “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2). The Lord is a living reality, not just a philosophical proof or a mathematical formula, so a craving for God is a strong indicator that he is there, not a proof that he isn’t. Saint Augustine once wrote, “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Even agnostics and atheists wonder about God sometimes and feel an urge to believe in him, though they may continue to suppress this urge. The craving for God arises at some point in almost everybody.
If you’re a skeptic, you might point out that having a craving doesn’t prove that what you crave is really there. As Stephen Evans puts it, “A shipwrecked sailor on a life raft may have a desperate need and a burning desire for pure water. He may want it so badly that he hallucinates its reality. Clearly this doesn’t mean there is water available to him. Likewise, a person may need or want God, but God may not be there for her or anyone.” Craving something doesn’t prove you’ll get it.
Fair enough. But, as Evans goes on to point out, “The sailor as an individual may not get any water, but it would be very odd if he had this need and water did not exist. The fact that people in general have a need for water is strong evidence that there is such a thing as water, though this does not imply that an individual person will get water on a specific occasion. In a similar manner, the fact that we have a deep need to believe in and find God strongly suggests that God is real, though of course this does not mean that any one of us will actually discover God and establish a relationship with him. It would be very odd indeed if we had a fundamental need for something that did not exist” (p. 57-58). It doesn’t work to use psychology to explain away belief in God. Indeed, the fact that most people seem hardwired to seek a higher supernatural reality appears to be an indicator that God is real.
But let’s not just focus on inner motives and urges. If we want to know whether the God urge is just an accident of biology or psychology or a longing for our Maker built into us by God himself, we should look beyond our own feelings and desires. To find out whether God is real, let’s focus on two key events: the creation of the universe and the resurrection of Jesus. If these things never happened, then the God of Christianity doesn’t exist, and you should become an atheist or agnostic or else look for God in a non-Christian religion. On the other hand, if the world bears the marks of creation and design and if the resurrection of Christ is a real event accompanied by solid evidence, then God does exist, and you should believe in him and get to know him in Jesus Christ.
You may have all sorts of questions and objections to belief in God, but first things first. Make up your mind about creation and resurrection. If you have the God urge in your heart, and if your head accepts evidence that creation and resurrection really happened, then its makes sense for you to be a believer. Any lingering questions or objections may be areas for you to explore further, but these can’t be used to deny God’s reality. Before dealing with other questions, first settle the two biggest questions: Is this world a creation or an accident? Did Jesus rise from the dead or didn’t he?
Creation or Accident?
When we inquire whether creation really happened, we’re limited by the fact that none of us was present when the universe began. But we can still ask a simple question: Is this world a random accident or the product of intelligent design?
Consider the earth’s distance from the sun. If it were much closer, we would all fry. If it were further away, we would freeze. But earth is exactly the right distance from the sun. Is that just an accident?
The earth spins once every 24 hours. If it took, say, 5,000 hours for each rotation, as some planets do, no living thing could survive. The days would be so long and hot that all moisture on the planet would boil away, and the nights would be so cold that if anything survived the day, it would freeze to death during the night. But the earth rotates once every 24 hours and is hospitable for life. Is that just an accident?
Even the simplest living cell requires over 200 complex enzymes, and the likelihood of those 200 enzymes being produced and combined by chance has been estimated as 1 with 40,000 zeroes behind it. Commenting on life popping into existence by chance, the brilliant scientist Sir Fred Hoyle said that such a thing was as ridiculous and improbable as a tornado blowing through a junkyard and producing a jet aircraft.
Each human cell contains enough DNA information to fill at least 1,000 books of 500 pages each. Could such information be encoded and transmitted by an accidental process? If you found a library containing about half a million pages of detailed information, would you assume it was all written by accident without any intelligent author? It would take a huge leap of faith to believe such a thing.
Nobody in the world knows more about human DNA than Francis Collins. He led a team of more than two thousand scientists in the Human Genome Project, mapping the genetic blueprint for human life. Francis Collins is a Christian who believes in the Creator. He regards DNA as The Language of God and published a book by that title.
The evidence of God’s power and wisdom is so abundant in created things that the Bible doesn’t bother trying to prove that God exists. It simply starts by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Bible says that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20).
If we don’t believe in a Creator, it’s not for lack of evidence. God has sprinkled evidence around us and within us. We know something doesn’t come from nothing. We know living things don’t pop out of dead matter. We know rational intelligence and moral conscience aren’t just chemical reactions. We know the God urge is a longing for Someone real, the ultimate Being. We know these things, even if we tell ourselves we don’t. It takes a huge leap of atheistic faith or a lot of brainwashing to overcome our strong sense that we have been designed by someone wise, brought into being by someone powerful, and held accountable by someone good. The facts tell us we are not an accident but the Creator’s handiwork.
Alive or Dead?
The facts also tell us that this Creator of life has power to overcome death. The central demonstration of God’s reality is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If you think faith is only a matter of opinions and feelings, think again. The resurrection of Jesus is not a question of feeling but of fact. Either it happened or it didn’t. Christian belief isn’t just spiritual; it’s physical. The Bible says that God became flesh in the person of a Jew named Jesus. After Jesus was tortured, killed, and buried, his dead body came to life again by God’s power. That’s a definite, physical claim. If it’s not true, the Christian God does not exist. But if the resurrection is physical fact, then God is real and alive, and you can trust Jesus as the one who gives eternal life.
Did the resurrection happen? Is Jesus dead or alive? If you already know the risen Christ personally and experience his presence in your life, you don’t need to prove his existence any more than you need to prove the existence of someone standing in front of you. You have direct knowledge that they are real, and further proof is beside the point. But if you don’t know Christ personally, would you be willing to consider evidence that he’s real and alive, even if you haven’t gotten to know him yet?
Consider the facts. Jesus was dead and buried, yet a few days later his tomb was found to be empty. What happened to the body? Jesus’ enemies didn’t have it, or they would have put it on display and squelched the rumors that he was alive. Jesus’ enemies claimed that his friends stole the body and lied about his resurrection. But how likely is that? What did the disciples have to gain by stealing the body and preaching Jesus’ resurrection? They were persecuted and killed for saying Jesus was alive. People would die out of loyalty to their living Lord, but would anyone die out of loyalty to their own lie? Of course not. The only explanation that makes any sense of the empty tomb is that Jesus actually came back to life.
The only thing that explains why Jesus’ disciples were willing to die rather than change their story is that they were telling the truth when they said they had seen Jesus alive. Jesus appeared to many different people after his death, and these weren’t just mysterious visions. No, Jesus spoke with his followers, he broke bread with them, he ate fish with them, and he even invited Thomas, the most skeptical of the disciples, to touch his scars. When Jesus appeared to some women, they fell before him and actually held on to his feet and worshipped him. Sometimes he came to individuals, sometimes to small groups, and at least one time he came to a large group of over 500 people.
They couldn’t possibly all be dreaming or hallucinating at once. They were so sure of what they saw and heard and touched that they chose to die for Christ rather than change their story. If you were part of a jury, and you had the testimony of hundreds of reliable, level-headed people who all said they saw a certain person—and those people were willing to die rather than change their story—wouldn’t you believe them?
Simon Greenleaf was an expert on evidence at Harvard Law School. He was quoted by the Supreme Court and revered in legal circles. This Jewish professor laughed at the resurrection, but then a student challenged him to check the evidence. Greenleaf applied the methods of sound evidence, became convinced that the resurrection really happened, and committed his life to Jesus.
Seeking and Finding
So then, believing that God exists is not a matter of ignoring your brain but of facing facts. God created the world and his reality shines in the things he has made (Romans 1:20). Jesus rose from the dead and “gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3). The living God is real, and only he can satisfy our longings and meet our deepest needs.
God says in the Bible, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Lee Strobel was an atheistic journalist who started wondering if God just might exist, so he did something strange: he asked God for help. He said, “God, I don’t even believe You’re there, but if You are, I want to find you. I really do want to know the truth. So if You exist, please show Yourself to me.” And God did. Lee began reading the Bible to find out what it said. He studied arguments for and against Christianity. At the same time, he was in touch with people who believed in God and followed Jesus. Lee didn’t make up his mind right away, but after two years of searching, he became convinced that God is real, and he entered into a relationship with Jesus.
Right now you might not believe in God or know him, and you might not change your mind right away or get to know him immediately. It can take time. Sometimes God introduces himself suddenly, sometimes gradually. Even if you’re not ready to make up your mind just yet, you can keep searching. If you truly look for him, God will make sure that you find him.
How should you start? Ask God to help you in your search, even if you’re not sure God is there to hear you. Listen for God’s voice in the Bible, even if you’re not sure the Bible is God’s Word. (The Bible book of Luke is a good place to begin; you’ll get acquainted with Jesus and with many things he said and did.) Ask God to remove any blinders that keep you from seeing his reality, and be prepared for surprises as you get to know him. You might question whether the search will pay off, but Jesus promises, “Seek and you will find” (Luke 11:9).
Resource: C. Stephen Evans, Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.