Is There a God?
By Merle Hertzler
We come now to the big question. Is there a God? I will be brief. I don't know. If you have been reading up to this point, you probably understand that I don't find much left for him to do. I don't think he created the world in seven days. I don't think he wrote the Bible. I don't think he controls the world. I don't think he punishes certain behaviors. I don't think he speaks to us in a personal way. I don't think there is an afterlife. Is there anything left for him to do?
Some might suggest that he is performing occasional miracles, but I would tend to doubt that. Why would he limit himself to occasional miracles? If he loves everyone, knows we suffer unjustly, and is in the miracle-working business, why does he so often ignore our pleas?
But there is a bigger problem with believing in a behind-the-scenes miracle worker. Why is that power not readily seen?
Do you remember the story about Elijah demonstrating God's power? The Bible says Elijah gathered the people together and set up a contest to see who could call fire down from heaven. According to the Bible, Elijah won the contest. Fire came down and burned up a water-soaked sacrifice on an altar. Can you duplicate that feat? Why not? If God did it once, why won't he do it again?
If you could get this miracle to occur again, you would be a rich person. James Randi has offered a million-dollar prize to anyone who can set up a demonstration of supernatural powers (offsite link). Certainly fire from heaven should be adequate to win the prize. You can't call down fire and claim the million? Why not?
You might say that you are not allowed to test God. Then why does the Bible say that Elijah was allowed to do that test? If he was allowed to do it, why not you? Why wouldn't God want to make his power clearly known?
You may tell me that you have personally seen God answer prayer. Please understand that I have heard personal testimonies for many kinds of claims, but a testimony doesn't prove that a treatment works. Let me illustrate: On The Beverly Hillbillies, Granny had a cure for the common cold: Anybody who took her herbal treatment was usually cured within ten days. You can see right through Granny's argument, can't you? You understand that those who did not take her treatment were also cured within ten days. To prove that her treatment worked, Granny would have had to show that people who took her formula did better that those that did not. One would need to set up a test in which some people received Granny's cure and some received a bogus placebo cure. And to be sure that personal bias did not influence the observations, both the subjects of the experiment and the experimenters who were doing the evaluations would need to be blinded as to whom was actually receiving Granny's cure until the study was over. For if they knew who was receiving Granny's cure, their observations could be biased. If nobody knew who was receiving which cure, bias could not affect the results. This type of study, known as a double-blind study, is a standard requirement for any new drug approval. A group of subjects is divided into two groups; one gets the new drug; the other group--known as the control group--receives a placebo. At the end of the treatment, the results are compared. The drug must show that it works significantly better than a placebo to be accepted. Testimonies alone are not sufficient to establish that a treatment works.
How would prayer work in a double-blind study? Would it work better than a placebo?
Recently two studies have been reported, and it has been claimed that they scientifically support prayer. However, when the methodology and statistics are examined, the case for prayer is practically nonexistent (see sidebar). Why does prayer not show a clearly significant effect when tested in a scientific study? Many drugs clearly show significant effects when tested; why not prayer? Can you understand why some of us are not convinced?
And so, although your experiences may be very convincing to you, many of us see it as a case of special pleading. We would not allow a new drug on the market based solely on the testimony that somebody once tried it and got better. Why should we accept the claim of miracle with no better evidence than the quack cure?
God as Creator
Okay, maybe you cannot prove God in daily life. But many will claim that our very existence proves God. Does this prove that God exists?
We have seen that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life. Some think modern life is so complicated, that it could not have evolved without God's help. But many have studied evolution, and think it could have happened on its own. Now we all agree that life is very complex. It is difficult to believe that complex life can evolve without divine guidance. Does belief in a God explain the evolution of the complexity of life? Well, belief in God would help to explain how evolution could occur, but then there would be an equal problem with believing in the existence of God. God is certainly more complex than people. If you do not think evolution can produce people without external guidance, how could a God exist without an external cause? So we find ourselves with two seemingly preposterous possibilities, that God exists without an external cause, or that humans exist without an intelligent creator.
Was evolution directed by a creator? When we look at the fossil record, it appears that the development of life was largely random. We do not see a clear plan. If we look at horse evolution, for instance, we find that there were many branches that eventually died out. If the whole purpose of all those horses was to develop modern horses so humans could have pony rides, why were there so many side branches in horse evolution that did not lead to the modern horse? It looks very much like it was a random process of variations and natural selection. Evolution took many dead ends. Not all steps of evolution led directly to modern life forms. Some lines went nowhere. If God had been guiding the process, wouldn't we see a clear trend from simple to complex? Why all the side trails?
So I don't see the need for God in creation, or the evidence for his working in daily life. What is left for God to do?
There are a few gaps left where God may be. First, he may have initiated the big bang that started the universe. Nobody really knows. But an intelligent creature could have done it. And if an intelligent creature did it, it seems that it would be appropriate to call that creature "God."
Second, God might be working behind the scenes as a mysterious force for good. I don't know. But how would we distinguish such a God from a law of nature? So the gaps are small, but God could be there. I cannot eliminate God.
Regardless, I have no way of knowing what he wants for me. Everywhere I find people with different ideas of what God wants, but I find no way for anybody to prove that they know their view is correct. So with no credible way of knowing exactly what it is that God wants, I have no way of setting out to please him. So it is meaningless for somebody to tell me to do what God wants me to do. What does he want me to do?
So I will move on. We need to ask one more question before I complete this series. Are we lost in hopeless despair without God? I will finish by looking at hope.
CopyrightÓ Merle Hertzler 2002, 2004. All rights reserved.