by Bill Meacham
Copyright © 2008, William Meacham. Permission to reproduce is granted provided the work is reproduced in its entirety, including this notice.
I wrote this in the March, 2008, in hopes of publication in Philosophy Now, a popular journal of philosophy. The assignment was to write 400 words or fewer on the topic.
First, what do we mean by "God"? Let's assume the standard Judeo-Christian meaning: an all-powerful, benevolent creator of everything. (Hindus would add maintainer and destroyer as well.) Such a being would be conscious, intelligent, intentional and willful and would be analogous to a human person, but much more powerful.
Second, what would count as evidence for or against the assertion that such a being exists? One type of evidence is public evidence, inter-subjectively verified by scientific observation and experiment. There are no public, replicable experiments that can prove – or disprove – the existence of God. Hence, from the objective, scientific point of view the concept of the existence of God is either meaningless (because not disprovable) or an unneeded hypothesis (because all the physical facts can be accounted for without it).
But not all evidence is public, and not all facts are physical. Evidence can be private, or subjective, and facts can be mental. One can perceive the effects of something one may call God in one's own life, and indeed humans seem to be prone to do so. Some examples of such evidence are the following:
This last is most important. If one adopts a stance of relating to one's idea of God as if God exists and is person-like, and one can plausibly interpret events as embodying the actions of that person-like being responding to one, and particularly if those actions are to one's benefit, then one does have compelling evidence.
None of these types of evidence prove the existence of God publicly, but if others report experiencing them as well, as many do, then they have more weight. In the absence of scientific proof, one may choose to believe in God on the basis of subjective evidence. If the effects of such belief are beneficial – if, for instance, one is happier and functions better as a result of such belief than without it – then one is justified in saying that, yes, there is a God.
About the Author: Bill Meacham lives in Austin, Texas, USA and is an independent scholar in philosophy. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.