In these days of science, unless we can be certain about something, we do rather tend to remain sceptical. For example how many people believe in fairies, UFOs, or ghosts? Likewise without proof of God some people are non-religious.
The book Proof of Heaven describes alleged experiences of the afterlife. Best selling author Dr Eben Alexander, an American neurosurgeon, described visions of heaven he had seen during his seven-day coma in hospital. Some scientists have argued that deep sleep still allows brain function during which it is normal to dream and so perhaps not surprisingly Alexander’s claims have been seen as hallucination rather than any proof of God and a supernatural realm.
Interest in proof of God
Perhaps Alexander’s high book sales are because many people want proof of God as real. And so there are religious writers who have tried their utmost to show this must be so. They have used examples from nature, and have provided logical arguments based on both scientific and philosophical considerations: but the doubters continue to doubt and the sceptics remain sceptical.
Maybe part of the reason these days is there is no scientific theory containing God as a variable. Mystical experience is dismissed as illusion, angels demoted to myth and miracles relegated to superstitious fantasy.
Proof of God by science
There are a lot of people around who have some level of doubt that God exists. Recent research published last year at NORC University of Chicago reveals that this is so for 90% of Swedes, 83% of British people, 73% of West Germans, and 39% of Americans.
If God exists why is this not obvious to science? Why cannot it prove the reality of God? I would like to suggest that to ask this question is to assume that only things that are provable can be real. We all accept what physicists, chemists and biologists tell us about what they study with their sophisticated equipment. A lot of it seems very far removed from our everyday personal lives, our experience of relationships, meaning and purpose and right and wrong. The following question seems obvious to many. To understand the deeper side of life do not we need to engage a different way of thinking, a higher level of mind?
Proof of God not possible?
It seems that mere knowledge about scientific theory does not guarantee our comprehension. The same could be said for our knowledge regarding spiritual theory such as what religion says about God. You can remember information but lack understanding. In addition to what we are taught or read, do we not also need to engage our feelings and intuition before we feel we can understand profound ideas? In other words are not our values involved in the way we perceive and think about some things?
According to Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher, you cannot possibly believe in God if you assume that you should believe in nothing until you see it. One reason he offers is that the deeper dimension of life that gives meaning and purpose is neither visible to one’s eyes nor comprehensible in mental imagery: to know the creative origin of all that is good in our lives requires inner illumination. God cannot be proved to exist because what is nonmaterial cannot be measured and so there is no scientific data that could be examined.
What seems to count is an affirmative rather than a negative attitude towards deeper issues. From a religious perspective, facts exist in the light of the world, and if they are not lit up by the light of heaven, they bring darkness.
Proof of God not desirable
Swedenborg also offers us the idea that proof of God would compel our belief and thus take away our freedom to think and be what we want. He distinguishes between belief that is instilled along the outward path and the inward path. An example of the outward path is when you believe something to be so because someone in whom you trust has declared it — someone such as a charismatic religious leader or a well-known scientist.
Beliefs that are not arrived at from values that are developed are only skin deep: what one is compelled to believe does not remain but is thrown to the winds. Enlightenment can only come from freely turning towards what is good rather than being forced in this direction.
Conclusion about proof of God
I take the view that the existence of a spiritual source and origin of our lives – what religious people call God — can neither be proved nor should it. This doesn’t mean that a deep faith need not be subject to rational thought rather than being merely superstitious. It’s just that having a reasonable appreciation of the spiritual does not amount to proof.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems