A friend of mine noted today that in a very small sense he is an atheist, because he does not know 100% that God’s exists, nor can God be so proven. On the other hand, he is also a strong believer because he believes God exists from all the evidences that he has experienced which he cannot deny. He allows this belief and faith to direct his life.
I agreed with him. God’s existence cannot be proven, just as we cannot prove Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is true. It cannot be done. Why is that? Why all the hassle? This is what I said:
It’s true that you cannot prove 100% that God exists, at least in this life, for to do so defeats God’s purposes, if He does exist. Proving God exists is therefore a logical fallacy, and is invalid. Some might argue if only God would show Himself, or give a certain proof of His existence, we could be done with all the questioning. But again, that denies what He is fundamentally, and what He wants us to be. In other words, you cannot prove something to exist which thing has the power to withhold itself from such proof. That thing will hold out its certain existence until it chooses otherwise. Some may hold this against believers as evidence of absence, and even proof of nonexistence. But, of course, absence of evidence, in this case certain evidence, is not evidence of absence. Quite to the contrary. How many other things do you not have certain evidence of, yet still believe or know to exist? Likely many.
I know with high degree of certainty (but not 100%) that the country Madagascar exists, even though I’ve never set seen it with my eyes nor ever set foot there. The abundance of evidence have tipped the scales, as it were, in favor of belief in its existence.
Another commentator replied:
To say that “to [prove 100% that God exists] defeats God’s purposes” is question-begging. It assumes that God’s purpose is merely for people to know his existence. But Christians should have reason to disbelieve this, because even the scriptures point out that “even the demons believe [that God exists].” That doesn’t really help them.
So, it doesn’t follow that proving God’s existence is “therefore” a “logical fallacy” or invalid (I don’t know how you would assert it to be a logical fallacy, anyway…)
For example, if we knew incontrovertibly that God existed, that would lead every person to answer the far more important question: do they agree with God? Will they follow God and trust in him?
In such a case, it wouldn’t be about whether God has shown himself…but whether God has shown himself to be good.
God’s purpose is not merely for people to know his existence, it is for them to NOT know incontrovertibly his existence, so that they might exercise and develop faith in Him, wisdom through experience if you will, a fundamental quality gained through God’s purpose. It is only through developing one’s faith through following God that one can come to know God, and He will reveal Himself (e.g. John 7:17).
It is a logical fallacy to prove God’s existence, because if He really does exist, He wouldn’t allow it to happen, at least not for those without the requisite faith. Attempting to prove something that refuses to be proven is a vain pursuit.
Additionally, if we knew undeniably that God existed, and was indeed our Creator, it would be sublimely presumptuous to look Him in the eye and disagree with Him. It would be like a sculpture disagreeing with its sculptor, or a song disagreeing with its composer. Most would agree with the hand that made them, for their own existence depended upon it. God’s will would rule. Hence man’s free will or agency is also lost in such a proposition. Free will can only fully operate when God is not fully in focus.
This is the reason why we needed this Earth life, sent packing from our heavenly home, to gain experience, to exercise our free will, to develop faith, and choose whether or not we would follow God (2 Nephi 10:23, 2 Nephi 2:27–29, Helaman 14:31). This is why we needed leave the immediate presence of our Father in Heaven, so we could do these things. Furthermore, a veil of forgetfulness was placed so that we cannot even remember having been in His presence. Here, left alone, we are given glimpses of God and allowed to choose for ourselves.
Do we seek evidence of God’s existence, or proof? What might help tip the scales in favor of belief and better certainty?
Is there proof for it? No. Is there plentiful evidence? Absolutely. Apologetics is not necessarily seeking to establish the absolute truth, as much as to elevate the validity of our position, which gives grounds in which the seed of faith may be planted (Alma 32).
Update: Our commentator replies:
I think you’re still begging the question. Knowledge of God’s goodness is not assured for knowledge of God’s existence, so therefore it does not follow that if one incontrovertibly knows God’s existence, then one cannot exercise and develop faith in him. The scriptures are actually full of folks who incontrovertibly know of God’s existence, but who still struggled to follow his commandments.
In fact, from some Mormon POVs (e.g., Cleon Skousen’s “intelligence theory” of atonement), the entire purpose of the Atonement is that God precisely MUST “persuade” intelligences of his goodness…in other words, the sculpture certainly CAN disagree with its sculptor, and the song certainly CAN disagree with its composer, if the sculptor and composer do not act appropriately with their stature.
So, I mean, your hypothesis is fine too…but you are far too certain about it when there are other hypotheses that could be true as well — and which, in fact, are more supported by scripture.
If one knows with absolute certainty that something is true, then how is there still room for a faith belief in that thing? For once you know, you’ve seen. If we return to Mormon theology, the Brother of Jared saw the Lord, after which it is said that “he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting” (Ether 3:19). Of course, he did not arrive at that state until he had acquired “such exceeding faith” as had not been seen before in man (Ether 3:9), unto almost a perfect knowledge (Ether 3:20). All that was left was for God to reveal Himself.
I don’t know if the scriptures are as full of people with incontrovertible knowledge of God’s existence as one might think. Yes, many of the prophets saw the Lord (i.e. Christ), but then again, many only saw an angel, or a burning bush, or a pillar of fire, or heard a voice. These are strong evidences of His existence, but not God Himself. It is often noted by the early rabbinic authors that it was Moses alone who spoke with the Lord face-to-face, and even then that seems to have been a rare occurrence, and, it should be noted, with God the Son, not the Father. Even Jesus did not reveal His ultimate glory while in the flesh except perhaps to a chosen few. Instead, he gave evidences of his divine nature, yet appeared to most as a simple Judean.
Yes, God must persuade intelligences of his goodness, because he has NOT revealed Himself to them. He does this in a myriad of ways, but not by certain knowledge. For it seems to me that certain knowledge would compel one to know of God’s goodness, for one’s own existence depends on it. If God is not good, then one should not exist, for God would not be God.
Update 2: This conversation is intriguing, and turning out to be quite a philosophical discussion.
Our commentator says, and this one’s long:
You’re confusing the point of faith. There is a difference between belief that a thing exists and belief IN that thing. Believing in God does NOT mean to believe that God exists, because even the demons believe (and tremble.) Believing in God means following God, trusting in him, etc.,
Even if we knew for a fact that God existed, we would still have to trust God on faith — we would have to trust that his ways (which are not our ways) and his thoughts (which are not our thoughts) are good ways and good thoughts. We would have to do that on faith.
Pay attention to the note on “faith” in the scripture for Ether 3:19…it points to Alma 32:34 — “And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.”
Emphasis added. If one’s knowledge is perfect in knowing that God exists, then yes, faith is dormant in believing that God exists…BUT Alma 32: 35 and 36 point out that just because you have knowledge in this one area doesn’t mean that you can lay aside your faith. You having knowledge in ONE thing does not give you knowledge everywhere.
Similarly, pay attention to the notes on “such’ for Ether 3:9…what is it that one expresses “such exceeding faith” in? It’s not in the EXISTENCE of God…but in trusting the commandments, power, and goodness of God. That’s what the goal really is. It’s whether you will follow God, not whether you will believe that he exists.
So, each of these scriptures makes a distinction that you as of yet have not made — there is a difference between knowing God’s existence and God’s goodness. Faith is the stuff of trusting and believing in God’s goodness — not in believing in God’s existence. The latter is a smokescreen.
I don’t think you have any support for the idea that God has NOT revealed himself to the intelligences. He has revealed himself to everything that is NOT behind the veil…intelligences, by virtue of not entering mortality as humans, are not behind the veil. Think about pre-mortal existence…God was not hiding himself there…and yet, still, a third of the hosts of heavens chose against the plan of salvation.
“For it seems to me that certain knowledge would compel one to know of God’s goodness, for one’s own existence depends on it. If God is not good, then one should not exist, for God would not be God.”
This is begging the question. It is not necessarily the case that one’s existence depends on God existing, or even on God being good. One could exist as a cruel joke of God…or one could exist in a universe without god. I would say that your faith is not in believing that God exists, but in believing that God must be good or else he is not God. And it is also not necessarily the case that certain knowledge[of God's existence] would compel one to know of God’s goodness. Free will is not constrained by knowledge of God’s goodness…and that’s precisely why there are “Sons of Perdition.”
You’re probably right. Faith in God is a combination of believing He exists, and believing in Him (as in trust). But there is a connection between the two. It seems to me at present that if one knows incontrovertibly of God’s existence, it has a tremendous impact on our relationship with Him. How much easier would it be to trust God if one knew incontrovertibly that He exists, is omnipotent, omniscient, and is the Creator of the known universe (basic definition of God)? Little would be required on our part to test God’s truths to know if they are true, because God is truth, and God is light by most definitions. People could accept and trust His truths based solely on His existence alone. On the other hand, to know God, and not trust in Him is perhaps the worst known condition, with the worst punishment, as you note is the result with the sons of perdition. Where much is given, much is required. Therefore, a sure revelation of God’s existence pushes the extremes on both ends, something which I conceive God does not desire, and is one of the reasons why we are here to begin with, outside of God’s immediate presence. His purposes could not and would not be fulfilled by revealing Himself expressly. This is the reason why God stayed Adam’s hand from partaking of the tree of life which would have prevented this mortal experience (Alma 12:23; Alma 42:5). In order for God’s plan of salvation to be accomplished, we needed to live by faith, and not by sight. Hence, my original proposition that God refuses his own existence to be proven to those without faith first (both types), for to reveal Himself would either diminish their ability to gain faith by experience, or damn them for distrust. God wants us to gain faith (both types) by uncertain knowledge and experience first for a time before any sure witness. That is the probation spoken of in the scriptures.
I still think that knowing God is to know of His goodness, for He would not be God if He were not good. We could not be a cruel joke of God, because God cannot be cruel and be God. If God exists, then I exist because God is good.
Yes, the universe might exist without God (most are not 100% certain of his existence), which is the naturalist position, but the proposition I put forth is that you cannot prove God exists, because if He does, He would not allow it to happen because of who He is, the very definition of God. I agree it is perhaps a paradox, and begging the question, but I see no other way around it. One must believe in God to know He exists, and there is no way to prove His existence. I perceive He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Update 3: The commentator notes:
I agree that it if we knew incontrovertibly of God’s existence, it would change things considerably…but I don’t think it would necessarily make things easier.
After all, the scriptures tell us that God is not easily understandable. His thoughts are not our thoughts; his ways are not ways. Even more, we are naturally inclined to be enemy to him (natural man is enemy to god). So, even if we knew God existed, we wouldn’t know whether he was omni-benevolent, and that’s the crucial thing that must be tested…the crucial thing for which faith is required. If you are spiritually blind, or if you “see through a mirror, dimly,” then how can you know that “God is light” just from knowing that God exists? You can’t. If you do not have eyes to see or ears to hear, then how can you know just from the existence of light and sound?
You use the example of Adam’s fall to show that God must hide himself for us to have faith…but you have to remember: Adam and Eve had choice before they fell. And they chose to transgress…what was different before the fall and after fall is that before the fall, they did not have knowledge of good and evil…but after the fall, they did. Before the fall, they had knowledge of God’s existence.
Indeed, it may not make things easier; it may render them impossible or null and vain, because of the immediate limitations of our choices in that case, again, to the extremes (2 Nephi 2:11–12). The scriptures seem to describe things as they are in this fallen state, not in God’s presence. Being brought into God’s presence is to be redeemed from the fall, in which conditions are very different. I perceive we’d know that God is light solely by being in His presence, by beholding His glory, feeling His matchless power and Spirit, and witnessing Him (Moses 1). Indeed, the very light that would accompany Him would destroy us if it were not for God Himself, which inherently manifests His goodness. Joseph Smith worried the very trees would burn with fire at the First Vision. How can one deny the Light when they see it plainly before them? He exists, for there He is, indeed, the great “I am.” This is why I believe the condition of the son of perdition is so damning, because there are few who would so choose to deny existence itself, so their reward becomes a vacuum of existence, leaving them utterly devoid of sensory perceptions, aware of their consciousness only for eternity.
Did Adam & Eve truly have choice before they fell? Could they choose between good and evil before they knew what it was? Could they do any good or evil? Isn’t agency the ability to choose between those alternatives? If Satan had not come tempting, they very well might have continued in the Garden of Eden forever (2 Nephi 2:22–25). I think their choice before the fall consisted of one thing, and one thing only – the option to partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or not. God commanded them not to, which they obeyed because they trusted Him who they knew. They trusted in God perfectly until they were tempted otherwise. Before the fall they had knowledge of God’s existence, but they were not yet in any gainful probation, and were not living by faith. They were still living by sight, for they walked and talked with God in the garden, and without the fall they could not obtain this faith experience for their own and their children’s salvation.
Update 4: Our commentator friend continues:
From Moses 1, keep in mind Moses 1:11 — Moses saw God with his spiritual eyes, and not his natural eyes…so there is still that dichotomy there. Notice the note on “beheld” — that points to D&C 63:10–13…verse 12 and 13 there point out:
“Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind. (13) Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected.”
Again, so even if you are in God’s presence…that doesn’t mean you will necessarily accept God. Rather, you have to be perfected, you have to turn away from the natural man; turn away the carnal mind.
Adam and Eve truly could choose. Agency doesn’t require that you know the consequences of your actions. (If you are parched and there is an unknown substance before you…you have agency to drink it even though you don’t know if it’s water or a poisoned substance.) You say: If Satan had not come tempting, they very well might have stayed in the Garden forever…but the fact is (at least, according to the narrative) that Satan *did* come tempting, and therefore, they had choice among the alternatives.
What you have to reconcile is why, even though they knew God existed, they listened to Satan’s temptation. When Satan came to tempt them, he didn’t hide knowledge of God’s existence from them.
I think the reason Adam and Eve didn’t have faith wasn’t because they had knowledge of God’s existence, but because they didn’t have knowledge of good and evil yet. How could they “trust” that God would be good, if they didn’t know what “good” and “evil” were. So, they had a choice between God and Satan, but they couldn’t evaluate what each choice meant because they didn’t know good or evil.
…but after they fell, they still knew God existed. They just couldn’t speak interact face to face with God…only through sacrificial intermediaries.
Indeed, “ye are not able to abide the presence of God now… wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected.”
We cannot abide the presence of God now, nor would God want us to, only until we have experienced what He wants us experience, and have perfected ourselves in faith. Then will He reveal Himself. And that is why I believe proving God exists cannot be done, for He does not allow it according to His will and purposes.