Prove It!

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about the existence of God.  We never said it that way, as in: “Do you believe in God?” – but that’s what it was about.

We were discussing a recent research project in the news, from which scientists had discovered the part of the brain that collects memories, thereby explaining that eerie sensation of deja vu. In response, this friend – let’s just call him H – said he believed that science would eventually explain everything, and that all the myths and “hocus-pocus” we’d been taught by our parents would one day be laid to rest – proven, for once and for all, to be completely untrue.

He said that 95% of the members of the National Academy of Science are atheists, and that all the progressive, intellectual people he knows are moving that way, too – an all-out migration to the sensible world of unbelief. “People of faith should have to prove their positions,” he said, “the same way scientists have to prove hypotheses.”

This entire conversation I had with H totally depressed me. I haven’t been able to shake it. And not because I was suddenly moved to atheism, or because I wanted to damn anyone to hell, but because his own perspective was just as boxed in and immovable as those with whom he disagreed.

As a person of faith, I am constantly challenged to reconcile the world’s tangible and intangible inconsistencies.  Living in a culture no longer drawn to imagine and question the unknown would be like having a birthday surprise perpetually spoiled.  The opportunity to merge a progressive, thoughtful faith with science (or social responsibility, or any other secular point) is a gift. It is an impetus for forward thinking, expansion and enlightenment. It is an invitation to become more open-minded and all-encompassing than before, driving out mean and narrow preconceptions, lifting up a shout to the unknown with joy and trepidation – a salute to what we all know already: that we are not in control.

And while my faith might be strengthened by this grappling as another’s is challenged to the breaking point, how terrible to silence those conversations, to so limit the scope of the human spirit that it becomes something that can be read on a data chart.

I didn’t want to argue with H because I wasn’t in the mindset to respond thoughtfully.  He’d caught me off-guard, and our conversation wouldn’t have been productive.

But if I had responded, really responded, I would have turned to Annie Dillard, who wrote, “No; we have been as usual asking the wrong question. It does not matter a hoot what the mockingbird on the chimney is singing. The real and proper question is: Why is it beautiful? ”

How do you prove the existence of love? Or of mercy? Beyond the realm of science, what, exactly, can anyone prove?

When it comes to faith, my hope is for curiosity, for more probing with less vexation.  My hope is that we might have the bravery to sift through our world’s inconsistencies without shutting down; to wrestle with them, knowing we may never know the answers.

In time, with discernment, perhaps we can find ourselves on a place in the path that is marked less by fear than by wonder, with an ultimate respect for the unknown, and an appreciation for surprise.

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2 thoughts on “Prove It!

  1. Towles,

    I am so glad I read your essay about your friend “H” today. It momentarily depressed me to think of a world in which science ruled predominantly above faith, love, mercy, and grace. I started to think of what my days would be like if I were living simply for the transient life that we are given on earth. I envisioned a world of selfishness, rage, anger, bitterness, jealousy, and envy. Almost a scene from “Independence Day” when people are bustling through traffic to try and escape a world coming to a supposed end.” But then I thought about our world and realized that to many, that is what the world is already like. It is necessary for me to believe something else. I think it was Pascal who asked what would be worse: to live a life not believeing in the existence of God and then to die and realize that we were wrong, OR to believe in God, realize we were wrong, but end up in the same place as everyone else? OR to believe and to die to realize that it was all true? –I don’t think we can deny ourselves of that option.

    Recently, at McKittrick’s grandfather’s funeral, I began to think a lot more about death than ever before. It hit me that life is really transient and that we should be living not for “to stay in this world,” but to think about how we will soon be “leaving this world.” To start thinking where we want to be when we die is a much better idea than to live day to day and hope that we make it.

    I think C.S. Lewis is my favorite person to quote when I am put on the spot. His idea about the human conscience is amazing. I am sure you remember it. It is basically that we all (whether we people of faith, atheists, unitarians, etc.) know the difference between right and wrong. Somewhere it is engrained on our souls and in our hearts. That voice that whispers in our ear to do the right thing (not to murder, not to steal, not to lie etc.) is certainly louder in certain people’s minds than others. However, everyone has a conscience. He makes the claim that this conscience is a form of the Holy Spirit–why do animals not have these same thoughts? I love that.

    About the existence of God…I think you are right. It is the wrong question. I think we need to simply choose to believe it based on the idea that if we did not–what else would we do?

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  2. If you are like me, you have probably read Hebrews 11:1 many times. (“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”) I usually think of it something like: faith enables you to see the proof of God’s existence, like CS Lewis’ example of not seeing the sun, by seeing everything by the sun.

    I read through Hebrews 11 more carefully recently, though, and faith is not the enabler; it is the proof itself (Greek word: elegchos), or the actual evidence. You don’t see the evidence BY faith; you see that the evidence IS faith.

    That being said, there really is no “proof” we can offer the skeptic. Faith is the proof. They don’t have it; it is a gift from God.

    It doesn’t make conversation useless or futile, but it does make it limited in what it can accomplish. Hopefully, it also makes us humble.

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