This semester I am teaching a Intro to Philosophy course at our community college. Right at the beginning of the course I fess up and reveal that I am a local pastor. I do this because I believe it is important to be up front, and also to assure them that I am not there to push religious views. The class is a survey class. There are no expectations of anyone buying into what is being taught (though there is the expectation of students being challenged to think better).
This weeks unit is on religion and philosophy. Today we were talking about William James "The Will to Believe" lecture where he introduces a way at looking at choices that have no empirical evidence. Without going into it (though I encourage you to read it here), I said that William James believed that choosing to believe in God was one of the many decisions that just did not have the evidence. No one can prove that God is exists with 100% certainty. To this one of the student's objected. "How can you say that as a pastor? Isn't that a contradiction?" I gave a short explanation and then moved on as to not take up class time giving a personal belief (though it did fit in with the philosophical discussion).
So I wanted to take time to answer the question. Is it a contradiction for a pastor to admit that there is no way to prove God's existence with 100% certainty? The answer, to me, is an obvious no. Let me begin my explanation with this. Faith plays a huge role in Christianity (and many other religions). If God enabled us to know he existed without any uncertainty this would take away from our faith. I believe that God has made it difficult to objectively prove his existence. With that said I do believe that a person can have 100% assurance that God does exist with both objective evidence and subjective experience (a form of evidence for the individual). Many people have come to the conclusion that God is real when objective evidence is coupled with subjective experience, or what some might call religious experience.
So how might this work? I do not have conclusive empirical evidence (evidence that you can perceive) that God exists. I do have, what I believe, to be good evidence. I believe that there is sufficient evidence that points to the Bible being one of the most unique books ever written (I will not go into here). I believe that the world is too finely tuned and shows a level of workmanship that surpasses what evolution is supposedly capable of. I believe there is sufficient evidence that shows Jesus was much more than a mere man. Etc... This is all circumstantial evidence. Even though I believe it is pretty good evidence that points to God's existence it does not prove God exists with 100% certainty. For me, I must add my personal experiences. Experiences such as answered prayer, seeming miraculous events, deep seated conviction, hope that surpasses understanding, peace that surpasses understanding and joy that surpasses understanding. My experiences coupled with what I see as good evidence gives me 100% certainty that God exists, but because my subjective experience plays a large part in my certainty there is no way for me to prove to you with a 100% assurance that God exists.
For me it is not a contradiction to say that the proof for God's existence is just not fully there. Faith plays a part in the relationship experience with God. I can give you as much of the evidence I have, and it will probably never be enough. There comes a point where you are going to have to decide whether to believe or not. I do believe that when you have made the decision to believe you will start accumulating the subjective evidence you require to make your believe in God firm. God is real and he continually reveals himself to those who believe and trust him.
If there is anyone reading this who is not a Christian I challenge you to look at the evidence that does exist. Just like many things in our life, weigh the evidence and make a decision. My prayer is that you will make the decision to believe. When you do I truly believe God will confirm his existence to you in ways you never thought possible.