A friend of mine was asked an interesting question this week.
“What would it take for you to believe in God?”
His response was equally interesting.
In other words, there is no scenario in which my friend would possibly be open to the possibility of the existence of God. None. No matter what the evidence was or where it led. He is closed to following the evidence wherever it leads because he is priorly committed to his current worldview in advance of the evidence (and I’m sure there are personal reasons for that).
Christians (along with people who hold other spiritual beliefs) are often criticized for having blind faith and being closed off to evidence and science. I always find this claim sad, frustrating and amusing all at once. I find it sad because often those who say this are closed-minded themselves. In other words, they hold their own beliefs in advance of the evidence and interpret the evidence in light of what they already believe. I find it frustrating because it’s a horribly unjustified generalization which simply cannot be applied to all people. And I find it amusing because these inconsistencies are rarely recognized.
In reality, there are people of all beliefs, whether Christians, atheists, Jews, Buddhists or agnostics, who are closed-minded. There are also probably representatives of each of those beliefs who are open-minded and who follow the evidence where they believe it is leading them (I hope). But in order to know whether one is open-minded about God’s existence (or any other significant question), one must be able to answer the above question: “What would it take for me to believe this?”
If your answer is “Nothing,” then you are not actually willing to follow the evidence where it leads. You believe what you believe for reasons other than evidence and you will make the evidence fit your worldview. If your answer is something along the lines of “I need proof,” then you are actually probably not willing to follow the evidence where it leads either. Proof does not really exist in anything other than math. If we required proof in order to believe anything reasonable, then we would never believe anything. What you are actually saying is “I refuse to alter my beliefs without complete, absolute certainty,” in which case you should probably abandon your current beliefs about God, politics, sports and human trafficking as well. You can be confident that something is true based on the evidence, but you can never prove it. Instead, you place your faith in the most reasonable explanation of the evidence. To do this even when the most reasonable explanation of the evidence disagrees with what you want to believe is what it means to be open-minded.
So what would it take for me to change my beliefs about God? It would take a more reasonable explanation of the evidence. The question is not whether God is a necessary belief, as is confused so often. Nor is the question whether it is possible for the universe, the world and us to be here without God (although I don’t think this is possible and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise). The question is: “What is the most reasonable explanation of the evidence?”
Science tells us that everything that has a beginning has a cause. It also tells us that the universe had a beginning in time. Is the most reasonable explanation of this evidence that the universe began from literally nothing (which is not itself a thing and therefore is not itself an explanation of cause) or from something immaterial, outside of space and outside of time (since Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity tells us none of these three things could have existed prior to the beginning of the universe)?
Science tells us there are 122 anthropic constants which specifically allow for humans to live on earth. If any one of these constants were to move in either direction, we would not be here to talk about it. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross calculated the probability of any planet possessing all of these anthropic constants by “chance” (which is not itself a thing and therefore is not itself an explanation of cause). The answer: 10^138. There are only about 10^70 atoms in the entire observable universe. Is the most reasonable explanation that our planet came to possess all of these 122 constants by “chance” with less statistical likelihood than there are atoms in the universe or because our planet was fine-tuned for life?
The Principle of Uniformity tells us that causes in the past were like they are today. Despite repeated intelligent efforts to create life from non-life (let alone non-intelligent “efforts”), there has been no success. Since science is based on observation, is the most reasonable explanation of this evidence that the first life came from non-life or that the first life came from other life?
Humanity’s inherent sense of right and wrong tells us that either morality is a human construct which is not actually real outside of us or there is an objective standard for which to compare right and wrong outside of us. Human behaviour tells us that we live as if we believe morality is real even if we don’t really intellectually believe in morality (we think it is wrong when our families are killed). Is the most reasonable explanation that we have made up morality or that things like murder and rape are actually wrong, independent of us?
My personal experiences tell me that I have seen personal prayers answered (as well as those of many others), that I have experienced great change and great joy and fulfillment in living according to the purpose I believe I was designed for, and that these experiences line up with the most reasonable explanations of the evidence above and more. Is the most reasonable explanation that all of my personal experiences are psychological, coincidental and comforting or that experiences can actually be valid tests of truth when multiple lines of evidence point in the same direction?
A common response to evidence like this is that we are just “speculating.” While in reality, this is not the case, it is also not the point. The point is whether one is willing to genuinely follow the most reasonable explanation of the evidence. Agnostic astronomer Dr. Robert Jastrow, who until his recent death directed the Mount Wilson Observatory, wrote in his book God and the Astronomers:
“There is a kind of religion in science…This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control. If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized. As usual when faced with trauma, the mind reacts by ignoring the implications—in science this is known as “refusing to speculate.”
Being open-minded means being willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.
What would it take for you to believe in God?