Proving God

Over the years, I’ve read several works dealing with logical proofs of God’s existence, including a survey of the history of such proofs and William Hatcher’s Minimalism, the chief Baha’i entry into the field. My most recent foray into the subject is New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy by Catholic philosopher Robert Spitzer, which I finished a couple of weeks ago.

Proofs of God’s existence typically begin by demonstrating that there must be a singular precursor to everything in existence. In past times, going back to Aristotle, this singular precursor was thought of as a “first cause.” After the concept of causation fell into disrepute among philosophers, different terminology was introduced to make essentially the same point. Spitzer speaks in terms of conditions for existence. For example, two of the conditions for table salt to exist are that sodium atoms and chlorine atoms must exist. For atoms of any kind to exist, protons, neutrons, and electrons must exist. Without much difficulty, it can be shown that for anything to exist, there must be a singular reality that exists unconditionally.

Although Spitzer includes some scientific discussion, he does so primarily to show that science and philosophy converge in certain ways. But logical proofs of this sort do not require scientific input. Instead of using empirical evidence to develop models of physical reality, as science does, philosophy seeks to determine which of a finite set of mutually exclusive statements representing all possibilities happens to be true. In the above case, either there is no unconditioned existence, there is one unconditioned existence, or there is more than one unconditioned existence. There are no other possibilities. If the first or last of these is true, it can be proven that nothing else can exist. Thus, there must be exactly one unconditioned existence, because that is the only possibility that doesn’t lead to contradiction.

‘Abdul-Baha mentioned that logical proofs are important to people today and gave a few examples of His own to demonstrate God’s existence, the reality of the Manifestations of God, and various aspects of human nature. That said, people are very good at finding fault with logical proofs, particularly when they don’t like the conclusions. Moreover, logical proofs are not sufficient, because although they may be able to show what is, they don’t offer any insights into what to do about it. And that, really, is the heart of religion: not to merely know that God exists, but to know God, to enter into a loving relationship with Him and live one’s life accordingly. Logic, therefore, can be no more than a starting point.

Some even get along nicely without it. They don’t need a logical proof of God’s existence because they have experiential proof. Such proof may not satisfy either the logician or the empiricist, but it can’t be so easily discounted. Baha’u’llah stated:

He Who is everlastingly hidden from the eyes of men can never be known except through His Manifestation, and His Manifestation can adduce no greater proof of the truth of His Mission than the proof of His own Person.
(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, XX, p. 49)

The life and teachings of Jesus or the Buddha or Muhammad or Baha’u’llah or of any other Manifestation of God speak for themselves, and the experience one has through accepting and following them likewise speaks for itself.

Even so, most of us have moments when we doubt our own experience, and in those times it may be of value to know that logic backs up our intuitions, at least generally. It shows that at the very least the foundation is firm. We still have to build on that foundation, but so long as we know it can’t fall apart under our feet, we can have the confidence to build.