Is there evidence for the existence of God? How can we practically reconcile religion with science? Do purple elephants control us?
My good friend is an atheist. He argues that I have no way to refute him if he claims that purple elephants on another planet are controlling the earth. He doesn’t have proof that they are, but he likens that claim to my claim that God is real and exists. He says I can’t prove that.
Many atheists today are scientifically-minded. They say there is no proof of God and they only believe things that can be proven. Many, however, have no trouble fully believing in theoretical physics, as well as concepts such as sub atomic particles, quantum mechanics, string theory, and dark matter. Some of these concepts have since been proven, but long after scientists first imagined them, and believed in them, based simply on theoretical reasoning.
Those who believe in God, on the other hand, also base their convictions on calculated reasoning. They say that God wishes to test, challenge, or try the faith of mankind and so has made an incredibly complex material universe.
. . . the Almighty hath tried, and will continue to try, His servants, so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns. Even as He hath revealed: ‘Do men think when they say “We believe” they shall be let alone and not be put to proof? – Baha’u’llah, Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp. 8-9
Besides this testing process, I believe that human beings are left with the choice to account for their observations by either spiritual explanations or materialist ones. The former implies the existence of a spirit or soul. The Baha’i writings state that these have a place in both this life and the next (i.e. in both a material and spiritual realm), but also that the Kingdom of God is another reality. Abdul-Baha explains as follows:
It [the Kingdom of God] is a spiritual world, a divine world, and the center of the Sovereignty of God; it is freed from body and that which is corporeal, and it is purified and sanctified from the imaginations of the human world. To be limited to place is a property of bodies and not of spirits. Place and time surround the body, not the mind and spirit. Observe that the body of man is confined to a small place; it covers only two spans of earth. But the spirit and mind of man travel to all countries and regions—even through the limitless space of the heavens—surround all that exists, and make discoveries in the exalted spheres and infinite distances. This is because the spirit has no place; it is placeless; and for the spirit the earth and the heaven are as one since it makes discoveries in both. But the body is limited to a place and does not know that which is beyond it. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 241-243
Going back to my atheist friend, he would explain that our desire to be spiritual and to join with others in that quest is a human survival instinct left over from millennia of development. And there’s no way to prove or disprove that in my view. It’s opinion really. Believers, in contrast, might say it’s because when we get together, we find happiness in feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit. And we can’t “prove” that, either. Many observations seem to, potentially, have both a spiritual and a materialist explanation. But, which lens is the individual looking through?
The man without the spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. – NIV Bible, I Corinthians 2:7-8, p. 13-14
My friend argues that it’s very convenient of believers to construct a God who purposefully has made it impossible to prove His existence. But proof doesn’t have to be black or white to me, e.g. absolute vs. no possibility. And, for me, if God purposefully made the universe in such a way that His existence cannot be proven, then that’s just the way it is and I accept it. I don’t deny God because it doesn’t suit my notion of what God “should” do. He is God!
As for the scientific method, it is only a way of discerning the reality of things, not a belief system unto itself. However, one can still use the power of reasoning in a scientific fashion. Proper science starts by keeping an open mind to all possible explanations of a problem. Many simply start with the presupposition that God does not exist, and then use the intellect to provide alternate explanations! But, what if we were open to more options?
Most philosophers agree that, ultimately, we cannot fully comprehend a God who created us. We are lesser beings. So, all we can do is study the writings of God’s messengers (which is also an empiric scientific observation) and then try to figure out what they may mean about God, and His purpose for our lives.