Here are a few questions to ponder while you read this essay. If you are a Christian, what if someone presented indisputable proof that Jesus never lived? There never was a man named Jesus, there was no crucifixion, no last supper, no resurrection, no sermon on the mount, nothing. Would you still be a Christian? For those of you who are atheists, letís assume for the sake of argument (I know you donít like assuming), that the universe and everything in it was created just 30 seconds ago. Also created at that time were fossils in rocks, stars at various stages of development, radioactive elements at various stages of decay, and your memories of a childhood you never lived. All this was done to give a more complete look to the universe. Kind of the same way an epic poet will begin his story in the middle of the action. Now, how do you prove that this assumption is wrong? Pretty tough questions, huh?
The Path of Reason
Many learned men have spent their time constructing proofs for the existence of God, the validity of the Bible, and so on. And many other learned men have spent their time trying to knock holes in these proofs. St. Thomas Aquinas proposed this proof for the existence of God. He first says that there are things in the universe that are moving. But, he says, nothing moves on its own. It must be moved by something else. That other thing is moving, and it must be moved by something else. This chain keeps going, moved to mover, moved to mover, et cetera. St. Aquinas says that this chain cannot go on forever, that would be absurd. So at some point you come to a Prime Mover. Let me use his own words, ďBut this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and consequently, no other mover. . . Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.Ē This at first seems to be a very stable and conclusive proof. It has been celebrated for centuries. But letís look at it a little more. The VERY big problem is that he doesnít prove the existence of God. He certainly proves the existence of the Prime Mover, but thatís a rather big leap from the Prime Mover to God. The Prime Mover could be anything. It could be a natural force that we just arenít familiar with. But a loving, personal, Creator? He didnít quite go that far with his proof.
That is just one example. There are many other proofs that suffer the same problems. And the critiques of these proofs are lacking as well. Take a look at this proof from St. Anselm. We begin with the definition of God. God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. God is greater than anything that exists. God is greater than anything you can think of. Now, by that definition, God must exist. If he didnít, then anything that exists would be greater than God, and that cannot be because God is greater than anything. So God, by definition, must exist. Just like a bachelor, by definition, is an unmarried man. To say God does not exist would be just as absurd as saying that 2+2=5. The critique of this argument is, the definition alone is not enough to prove Godís existence. I can think of a definition of anything, that doesnít mean it exists. I can think of a perfect chair. A chair than which there is none greater. That doesnít mean the chair actually exists. The counter to this critique is, only God can be thought of as perfect, so the proof can only apply to Him.
I actually disagree with the counter. I believe there is a perfect chair. For everything there is a perfect. For example, if I draw a circle on a piece of paper, I can tell if it is a good circle or a messy circle because I know what a perfect circle looks like and I can compare the two. I believe God has given us instinctive knowledge of perfection. We know what a perfect circle looks like, we know what it means to live a perfect life. We have this knowledge so that we will have a standard to judge ourselves by and we will be constantly encouraged to improve ourselves and our society. Therefore, Anselmís argument holds true. Perfection requires existence. Before I go on, I must point out that while God has given us instinctive knowledge of perfection, He has not given us instinctive knowledge of Himself. That would be a violation of our free will.
A Step of Faith
My point here is that we canít be certain of anything. Any rational argument, no matter how well constructed, will leave unanswered questions. St. Thomasí proof was lacking as was the critique of St. Anselmís proof. When I take a step on a bridge, I canít be absolutely certain that the bridge will hold me up. I might step on a weak spot and fall through. I can examine the bridge and see if it is constructed well. I can look up the maintenance records to make sure that it has been kept up well. I can send one of my friends across to test it. But I canít be absolutely sure that it will be OK when I step on it until I actually step on it. So what do I do? If Iím going to wait for conclusive proof, Iíll be waiting for a long time. I have to take a leap of faith (or in this case a step of faith). This may come as a surprise to my skeptical friends. But itís true. Everything you do in your life you do with a little bit of faith, because you canít be certain. Itís just that simple. How do you prove that the bridge will stay standing when you step on it? How can you prove that the universe wasnít created just 30 seconds ago? How can you prove that God does or doesnít exist? So yes, you live your life by faith, just like your Christian friends.
Before my Christian friends begin to celebrate too much, I come back to the question I asked earlier. What if someone proved that Jesus never existed? Of course, we know such a proof can never happen, but just for the sake of argument, what if? I think that as Christians we get bogged down with trying to prove to atheists and skeptics that the Bible is true, that God does exist, that Jesus really was raised from the dead. We get so caught up in this that we miss the whole point. What if Jesus never lived? Does that mean that God doesnít love us? Does it mean that ďLove your neighborĒ is no longer a good idea? Does it mean there is no Christ? Of course not. God loves us, and we should love each other. This is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. This is the Truth that we believe. We do not need physical evidence because our faith is not rooted in this physical world. OK, now you can celebrate.
Reason Guided by Faith
You see, to understand truth, you must first believe truth. Reason alone will send you in circles. Reason must be guided by faith. To understand, you must first take a leap of faith, then reason will teach you that your leap was correct. This is why St. Anselmís proof works, it begins with a leap of faith: the definition of what is meant by ďGod.Ē There is no evidence backing up this claim, but by simply accepting it we discover it is right. However, it will be impossible to explain what you have discovered to someone who has not taken the same leap of faith. To him, your reasoning will seem foolish. What you learn will be misunderstood by those who choose not to understand. Skeptics will demand proof before belief. Atheists have an even bigger problem. They demand proof of the existence of God. When none is given, they claim that lack of proof means that the negative is true. But when they are asked for proof for the nonexistence of God, they claim that a negative cannot be proved. But the proof they seek will never be found.
Some Christians have made the same mistake. At first they believed. When they found that their beliefs were true, they began trying to prove them. As a result, they abandoned faith in favor of proof. Yet, the proof they seek will never be found. Faith is the root of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). Everything we do, we do by faith. And only through faith do we become complete. To ignore faith means becoming stuck in the mud of uncertainty. To ignore the role of faith in Christianity, to treat Christianity like a science, is to miss the whole point of Christianity. Certainty cannot be achieved without faith. To treat Christianity as a science, in my opinion, degrades our faith. I would even argue that itís blasphemy. Now, we should have reason backing up our beliefs. But reason alone does not lead us to Truth. We believe so that we may understand. We are saved by faith, not by proofs.