Why doesn't God give us Proof?

Dear Glenn,

If I am right in thinking that the factual certainty of the TRUTH of Jesus's deity, and of the TRUTH of the existence of God, is something we do not have (since even the highest PROBABILITY of a claim/belief's truth does not necessitate the IMPOSSIBILITY of that claim/belief actually being false), then,

(1) why does God not provide us with PROOF?

There are a number of good issues here.

The first is the issue of CERTAINTY versus PROOF. If I understand your question (in the overall context of your email), you REALLY are looking more for 'certainty' (or more accurately 'confidence') than 'proof.'

Proof is generally considered to be

(1) a MEANS at arriving at 'certainty' (e.g. syllogistic logic) and/or
(2) a means of persuading other peers of the 'certainty' of an argument.
[We WILL need to get a bit more precise in our understanding of 'certainty', of course, to distinguish between epistemic certainty and psychological certainty, but we will work with the 'fuzzier' notion for a while first...]

But neither of these are airtight, if you think about it.

Logical proofs depend on how accurate the use of the terms are. A famous case is Anselm's Ontological argument. It 'looks' perfect, but some people (including myself) don't trust it--we just seem to 'sense' that something is 'off base' about using 'existence' as a predicate, or that 'concept' is an adequately precise term to function in the proof. [My 'sensing' itself may be off-base, of course, since there are substantial professional philosophers who accept this argument--such as Alvin Platinga.]

In math, for example, there are MANY things of which we are CERTAIN but which cannot be PROVED. And, conversely, there are proofs that 'stand' for decades until later disproven. PROOF is not all it's cracked up to be--vis a vis CERTAINTY.

But what about (2)--its use as a means of demonstrating certainty to others. Well, obviously, the same issue is going to apply. If somehow there are individual differences as to how 'comfortable we feel' with the assumption of the logical system and how appropriate the terms are 'filled in', then others may have the same reservations about an argument WE feel very ' confident' of. If something seems 'off' about a proposed proof, we simply 'suspend judgment' on it!

I need to make one technical point here. WITHIN logical systems--specifically symbolic systems such as calculi--there is no real doubt about truth or falsity; it is literally defined in the system. The problem for me comes when we take the abstract symbols "P", "Q", etc. and fill those variables in with 'reality' words--Socrates, humanity, love, despair, person, sacrifice, justice, etc. The terms themselves may be sufficiently 'concrete' for us to live operationally and to discuss for greater working precision, but not (in my opinion) necessarily 'clear and distinct' enough to use within a calculus.

And, with premise-based proofs, we have the infinite-regress problem. If I accept proposition Q on the basis of premise P, why do I accept the proposition P? Won't I need ANOTHER premise R, that supports P (which in turn supports Q)? And so on...In epistemology this is known as the problem of the Infinite Regress. The justification (or evidence) chain either (1) regresses infinitely--never repeating itself; (2) loops back on itself--becoming circular; or (3) ends somewhere--at some foundational beliefs/evidences that do NOT 'need justification.' [For one of the better analyses of this problem that I have seen recently, see Tim McGrew's, The Foundations of Knowledge, Littlefield Adams Books: 1995]. Once you get to these 'basic beliefs' you have technical and epistemic 'certainty' (although your psychological certainty may be lower than that!).

However, they may be those among us that do not agree with where we 'stop the chain'. And hence, for these, our argument may be unconvincing. Would that in any way diminish OUR 'certainty'?--probably not. I have had people frustrated to death to me over my inability to see a 'perfectly clear and obvious' Magic Puzzle image in a picture of pure-blur to me! To them, it was as plain as the nose on their face--to me, it was the idle speculations of a fervent imagination.

And let's not forget the difference between KNOWLEDGE and JUSTIFICATION (epistemic). I can know (with some serious psychological certainty) that I did NOT commit a crime that I am accused of, but be TOTALLY unable to prove that to others. I would KNOW for sure, but not be able to JUSTIFY that position to anyone (except those who trusted my witness--a testimony based argument).

Correspondingly, I can KNOW God without being able to JUSTIFY that claim of knowledge to others. And, curiously, to some others, my being able to describe the way He has worked in my life, my understanding of His character, what He values, what He loves, how He approaches problems, etc. would constitute PROOF to THEM that I truly KNEW the same Person they did! Accurate personal knowledge of someone's character generally constitutes evidence (but not proof--I could be an exceptional biographer, for example) that I KNOW a person.

But at the end of the day, God is much more interested in us KNOWING HIM, than in being able to provide argumentative-type evidence to others. Remember, the Christian is supposed to demonstrate the reality of God through our lives. The world is supposed to see 'Christ in us.' For many of us, that is EXACTLY how we came to see the character and confrontation of the Living and Loving Lord--through the lips and lives of those 'conformed to His image' (Col 3.10; 2 Cor 3.18).

Our Father DOES want us to live in 'quietness and confidence' but NOT to the point of constructing some Procrustean idol out of 'certainty' or 'proof'...

So, forget the technical ''proof" thing in this context--it is purely a means to an end, and only 'works' in certain situations.

Now, on the other hand, let's talk about 'evidence for', 'confidence in', and probability/possibility of falsification.

Let's start with the case of an orphan. Let's take a common case of an orphan who has never seen (nor ever will see) his biological mother or father. Would we ever consider him sane if he took a position that "I have never seen my mother, therefore I cannot be sure I even had one?" Of course not. Irrespective of his personal lack of access to data, we expect him to know that his existence would not have even occurred without there being an actual mother! If I exist, then there ABSOLUTELY must be the 'ground' from which I came.

Now, some use this type of argument as evidence for God's existence. If WE (the universe) exist (or 'began to exist'--the Kalam argument), then ABSOLUTELY there must be an ultimate 'ground' from which we came. Although there may be some subtle differences between the two arguments, they are similar enough to gain ready assent from the vast majority of people. What this would amount to is an absolute epistemic certainty (almost self-refuting to deny: "the ground of my existence has never existed"!).

The Kalam argument goes like this:

A. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
B. The Universe began to exist.
C. Therefore, the Universe has a cause (outside of itself).

There is a REALLY strong probability that this argument is air-tight, but how much psychological certainty does it give you? For those that have studied this argument inside and out, it probably carries a higher PSYCHOLOGICAL certainty for them than it does for ME. But, regardless of that, it has the EXACT SAME level of epistemic certainty. [For discussion of this argument, see Reasonable Faith and Reason & Religious Belief]

The reason I mention this is that I get the impression you are looking for psycho-certainty PRIMARILY (and that you think epistemic certainty of a certain sort is the only way to attain that.). My point here is that this kind of psycho-certainty is a progressive thing anyway--it is false to conceive of it as an 'either you have it or you don't'. It is much more akin to a word like 'confidence.'

Now, on to more of your (1)...

[An omnipotent and omniscient God IS able to find such means as to carry out such an endeavor without necessarily resorting to full, face to face, therefore physically destructive to human vessels, revelation]. This would not neutralize our free will, neither would it necessarily entail an accompanying responsibility for martyrdom (angels and select humans have been said to have been offered such revelatory proof; some angels proceeded to "disobey", and not all said humans martyred).

[First let me recommend the work by William Alston on Perceiving God and the critique of it in Reason & Religious Belief.]

Subject to the issues I raised above about narrow definitions of 'proof', He probably has. If 'proof' itself is simply a FORM OF EVIDENCE, then God has provided a number of such supports. The Kalam-type arguments are probably premise-based proofs, the 2nd version of Anselm's ontological proof (or Platinga's modification of it) are probably premise-based proofs, the "appeal to design" are ostensibly-based proofs, and the vast amount of high-psycho-certain data about the resurrection of Christ would have AT LEAST AS much persuasive power as the premise-based arguments. [Indeed, in the history of skeptics-turned-believers, the dominant persuader has been the historical arguments.]

And then when you couple these 'external' or 'public' types of arguments with the 'internal' or 'intersubjective' types of arguments, one might be amazed at the extent of 'argument' God has given us. The arguments from moral notions, from regularity in nature, from the dominance of natural good over natural evil (cf. Acts 14.17: Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy."), from some 'inner sense' of God that responds infallibly to the witness of a created universe (Rom 1.19f: since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.), etc.--these are 'proofs' that 'work' because there is an IMAGE of GOD still within humanity. One might train skeptical arguments on each of these, but between the inner-contradiction of skepticism (e.g. "how can you be SURE you have ever been mistaken?!") and the 'stubbornness' of our inner responses to external reality, these 'proofs' stay with us. This range of arguments, proofs, evidences are strangely comprehensive: there are arguments for the "rationalists" among us (e.g. Anselm, Kalam), for the empiricists (e.g. the resurrection of Christ, the fulfillment of prophecy), for the mystical (e.g. inner religious experience, when correlated to external factors), for the idealists (e.g. appeals to design, teleology, and patterns), for the existentialists (e.g. God as the ONLY meaning-authenticator, URP-type arguments), for the pragmatists (e.g. anthropological arguments, the importance of absolute moral structures)...God has reached down into EVERY apparent area of discourse and investigation--to meet with us...

Strangely enough, the one area that is MOST ambiguous--personal appearances of the numinous--He has used only sparingly! A divine appearance (even if corrected for its devastating effect on life-forms, as you note) would NOT do the trick--it is TOO susceptible to counterfeiting. The NT, for example, is very aware of this--cf. 2 Cor 11.14: And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.. If, as may well be the case, malignant, super-human intelligences exist in the universe (e.g. evil angels), which could appear in similar 'convincing' forms--these experiences (in many ways having the same ambiguity as that of numinous experience-events), would be of limited revelatory usefulness.

Indeed, even 'miracle' (approximating a divine manifestation in epistemic vividness!) is not 'compelling'. The parable told by Jesus in Luke 16.19ff makes the point that if the people in the story did not believe the writings of Moses, then they would not believe on the basis of a resurrection either! This can also be seen in the miracle of the raising of Laz from the dead in John 11&12--some of the bystanders believed in Jesus on the basis of the miracle, while OTHERs went and told the rulers, who plotted to kill Laz again!

And, as might be predicted from the above point, God's use of the miraculous was VERY rare and ALWAYS within a much broader context. For example, when John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to ask if He were the Messiah (Mt 11), Jesus did NOT refer to isolated miracles, but rather to His miracles IN THE CONTEXT of MESSIANIC PROPHECY (Is 29-35-41, cited in the Matthew passage). It was NOT isolated religious experiences/events (which can be notoriously difficult to interpret) but a VERY LARGE and UNMISTAKABLE pattern of such events.

It is probably not such a big issue to God that a 'miracle' overrides our will (although I obviously believe this can and does occur), but rather that it is ineffective at really producing COMMUNICATION and CONFIDENCE for cognitive creatures like us!

God seems to concentrate on:


Unlike the personal, overpowering appearance method, these other means of God's confronting us REALLY treats us as responsible epistemic agents. (BTW, I am not at all convinced that a non-destructive visible appearance of God COULD still leave our will's 'free' to reject that reality!)

(2) If believing in God after seeing him narrows the issue down to acceptance of his SOVEREIGNTY whereas desiring, seeking, wishing for him and accepting his LOVE-concept glorifies him due to the magnificence of his loving essence, why, nevertheless, doesn't he confirm the truth of what we are hoping for (his existence) now that we HAVE accepted, and loved him?

He does. The nature of the Christian experience of God is that of a Father/child, Lord/follower, Counselor/seeker. The nature of daily interaction with this invisible Person generates an ever-increasing sense of His reality and presence. After twenty-five+ years of seeing the patterns of Scripture apply in my life, in seeing prayers answered and anti-answered, in seeing my plans thwarted for the best, etc.--His reality to me is AT LEAST AS certain to me as my own. One of the major functions of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of the New Testament believer is that of mediating confidence and increasing certainty of our relationship/experience with/of our Father (cf. I John 2.20-27; I Cor 2). This is NOT something important that God just seemed to 'forget about'! He has made explicit provision for it--both from an abundance of external data as well as from internal processing of our personal experiences. "That you may know the certainty of what you have been taught..." is the prologue of the Gospel of Luke--there's a message in there for us!

The promise of Jesus in John 14.21 is interesting in this connection: Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." 22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" 23 Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. . Notice that Jesus does not actually give the reason to Judas, but simply restates that the display of the presence of God will be to those who love Him. In other words, 'certainty' of God's living presence IN ONE's LIFE is a function of the quality of the relationship. (This is in addition to the evidence/proof issues discussed above.)

This psycho-certainty IS available to the believer, and grows as the relationship with the Living Lord deepens.

(3) This question runs along the same lines with "(2)": Paul says "living is Christ and dying is profit". I can live according to the first part of the sentence because I do not need to KNOW that Jesus's story is true in order to love him and conform to the magnificence involved in the "story" concerning him. But I do need to know if he exists if I am to TRUST him (he cannot fulfill his promise of eternal life if he does not exist). So, how can I trust him? How can James call me "double minded" for doubting when there is legitimate room for doubt (even a 2% chance of nothingness after death is big enough source of worry to one who is dying? And we all are dying ever since we were born.)? How can I see death as "profit" when I have not a 100% certainty?

A couple of points here:

Summary: God has given us strong data/evidence for trusting Jesus Christ. And, once we have 'validated' Him, we then have access to all the data about 'other things' that He brings with Him.

(4) Hebrews 11:1 says (if my Koine Greek is not too rusty) "Faith is the SUBSTANCE ("hupostasis") of what we hope for, the TESTABLE, INSPECTABLE, CONTROLLABLE, CRITIQUEABLE EVIDENCE ("eleghos"; also found in John 16:16; 2 Tim. 4:2) of what we do not SEE (hence the importance of reason, hence Thomas's lack of faith being not due to reason but rather due to empiricism - why touch the scars of someone who has already walked through a solid door and whose presence is seen by all those present, and who died three days before?). Isn't this why we read "HOPE..." [NOT "faith"] "...that is seen is no hope at all; for who hopes for what he already has?"? In other words, while eternal life has to commence after death if I am to HOPE for it, don't I need to KNOW the truth-value of the claims concerning it in order to not doubt for what I hope for (for what I hope for to have "SUBSTANCE"?)?

First of all, the Hebrews passage needs a little more examination. This verse is generally understood along one of two different lines. One view (objective) sees faith as the 'guarantee' or 'evidence' of the reality of the spiritual realm. In other words, the fact that Christians have come to believe so completely in a future and/or spiritual reality is ITSELF evidence of the invasive reality of that 'other side'. Alternately, it is understood in a subjective mode (as in NIV and NAS) as being 'confidence' or 'being sure'--connoting psycho-certainty. In this case, the believer's life of faith would generate confidence over time--a firm experience of those spiritual realities which we will experience FULLY in the future. The second clause serves only to point out that 'seeing' is inadequate a foundation for apprehending the totality of existence---that some of the best things in the Universe can only be known (pre-death) through trust in the revealing and disclosing God (and His word). It is not in ANY WAY a commendation of 'reason' nor rebuttal of 'seeing'--only a commendation of recognizing that the universe is bigger than we are (and that, correspondingly, we need to depend upon the revealing God for guidance and instruction.)

Secondly, empiricism WOULD HAVE finished the job and touched Him...the visual experience (even coupled with the corroboration of the other witnesses--a non-empiricist method, I might add) would not have been enough--IF OTHERS WERE ALSO AVAILABLE (e.g. tactile).

Third, the hope-vs-faith issue needs slight refinement. Hope has to do with 'possession'; Faith has to do with apprehension, knowledge, trust, belief. We can "know" the object of our faith (e.g. Jesus) WITHOUT 'having' the object of our hope (e.g. Heaven). Hope is ontic (e.g., it uses the word 'has'); faith is epistemic (or pistic).

Finally, one caution here. On this side of death, the believer has a mixed character--we partly embrace God and we party avoid Him. This shows up in the experiences of Romans 8 and Gal 5.16ff: 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.). The IMPLICATIONS of this dual-response to God and His revelation is that IN ANY GIVEN SITUATION we may experience a 'duality' in our psycho-epistemic responses to God. In other words, in any presentation of positive-God data, 'part' of us will receive greater certainty; and 'part' of us will try to ignore/reject/twist the data (generating anti-certainty). Doubt, therefore, will be a perhaps pervasive aspect of our experience before death. Granted, over time it can be radically minimized through the experience of God, it nonetheless should be recognized as being real, but not decisive for our epistemic judgments.

(5) Isn't it a sign of bad parenthood when a father does not make himself physically available to his child, even if the father in question provides for everything even to the point of sacrifice? Don't we need more than money-cheques and phone calls from our fathers? Don't we need them to be there and to LITERALLY talk to us? ["which of you, if your son asked for bread, would give him a stone?"; "ask and you shall receive, seek... knock..."].

This is a considerably different issue, but a very important one. Let's look at it from a number of angles.

The interesting thing about this discussion for me, is how 'strange' the question seems to me now. My waking life is spent in vivid awareness of God's consciousness in my life. I am never aware of being away from Him--even in those occasional moment when I wish to 'flee from Him'--Psalm 139! I live in an incessant stream of in-audible dialogue with Him, in which His responses are increasingly obvious over time, and in which my sensitivity to His patterns of disclosure grows. I am not at all sure how this transpires, but I know that my invisible "Room-mate" is constantly leaving messages coded ONLY for my eyes: Love notes, work assignments, instructions, moral comments, encouragement, rebukes, 'directed readings'.

The point of all this is simply this: God's means of communicating with us is substantially more robust and developed than our familial ones, but are nonetheless VERY cognizant of our needs as human beings.

(6) Isn't happiness different from pleasure? Isn't happiness dependent on the Giver and not on the gift? Am I happy because of the life-style and education my parents provided for me or because of the fact that they EXISTED and LOVED me? Would I be equally happy if I were an orphan and won all those provisions and education through the lottery? Why would my heavenly Father, then, leave me guessing, studying apologetics and crying bitter tears in my pleas for his appearance, instead of HIMSELF saying (not through some guy who said that what he had written was a prophesy from God) "Fear not for I am with thee; be not dismayed for I am thy God..."? Where is my Father (or, as the case may well be, where am I messing up?)?

While I can absolutely sympathize with this anguish (since I personally experienced the same crisis in my college days!), I must urge you to not set restrictions on HOW God delivers His information to you. Remember, one of the major lessons He is trying to teach us is that we are COMMUNITY and that we NEED ONE ANOTHER (I Cor 12-14; Eph). This means, that for people who perhaps tend to be individualistic (or in my case, reclusive!), He will AVOID answering directly, and DELIBERATELY put the message in the mouth of a fellow Christian--JUST TO TEACH us this lesson!

And, He HASN'T given you His gifts instead of Himself--indeed, the gifts don't come til later! He HAS given Himself to you--your attitude toward Him, in spite of the bondage imposed on you by these definitions of 'proof' and 'communication', shows His work in your heart. You are surrounded by His overtures of love and certainty, and indwelt by an element in your consciousness that is prepared to develop psycho-certainty (I Cor 2.10ff) as you 'look' for His messages in your experience. We are to 'grow' in knowledge, and with that comes the depth of knowing God interpersonally. The gift of the Holy Spirit was SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to meet many of the needs you have articulated here. Cf. John 14.16f: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever -- 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit (elsewhere called the 'Spirit of the Father' and 'the Spirit of Jesus'!) so we would not experience our spiritual lives--the deepest aspect of human existence!--without a family.

I also know that He really goes much slower than we typically like, in doing His work in our lives. Your tears of anguish and searching for answers may take some time to work through, but the process itself will grow your depth and sensitivity to His 'still, small voice'. He has indeed given us "everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him" (I Peter 1.3)--this is PERSONAL knowledge, but one that is enlightened, informed, and enlivened by His self-disclosure to us of His values, His loves, His way of viewing reality.

Hope this helps,
glenn miller (4/21/96) 


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