G.K. Chesterton, a notable convert to Catholicism from the 20th century, once rightly pointed out, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” So are atheists open-minded? If not, is their mind shut on something solid?

In some of my experiences, if asked whether atheists are open-minded, they will state that they are. They say that if you show them the evidence that God exists, they will believe. However, if presented with evidence for the existence of God, they’ll often reject it thinking you are putting forth a flawed God of the gaps argument. They don’t want to rush to put God as the explanation when we can just wait for science to explain things.

At first, this seems rational. Science has a great track record of explanatory power. For example, it can help us explain the evolution of life, show that the universe began to exist 13.8 billion years ago and help us to cure complex diseases. However, the nature of evidence for God takes on a philosophical form rather than scientific. If one says any possible evidence for God isn’t good enough because there must be an undiscovered scientific explanation, then that’s not really open-minded. That’s just assuming no evidence is good enough unless it’s scientific evidence. It’s making up your mind before you’ve given God a chance.

If you are an atheist reading this, answer the following question: What specific evidence would make you believe in God? I’m not wondering what type of evidence, but come up with a specific example of something that would change your mind. One reasonable answer to this I have heard is to request a miracle. For example, one might pray and then have an amputated limb spontaneously regenerated. However, this doesn’t exactly solve the problem if we are to avoid an argument from ignorance. Calling a spontaneously regenerated limb after prayer evidence for God is just saying, “I don’t know what caused it, therefore God.” It’s a God of the gaps.

No serious defender of the existence of God would put forth an argument in the form of, “I don’t know, therefore God.” Instead, he or she would simply point out the fact that there are good reasons to believe certain things will never be explained naturally, so they must be explained supernaturally. In particular, we have reason to believe the origin of the universe will never be explained naturally. Because the beginning of the universe was the beginning of all space, time and matter, its cause must transcend these. And because space, matter and time are the mediums through which we do science, the original cause of the universe cannot be explained scientifically.

If you believe that amputated limbs won’t grow back from nothing without a divine cause, then why is the universe different? If you are truly open-minded, then go look at reasons that God exists from the best philosophers, past and present — Edward Feser, St. Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, etc. — If you find them unconvincing, at least after you have examined the reasons critically, you can say what is wanting about the arguments. That’s a lot better than just assuming they don’t succeed and not bothering to do some critical thinking on one of the most important issues there is.

9 COMMENTS

  1. The naive irony in this article shows some of the fundamental flaws in assuming that some things require a divine explanation when the best answer is “we don’t know.” The author makes a tremendous and flawed leap of logic. Claiming that the beginning of the universe must transcend our knowledge of space and time does not mean that the mechanism must be supernatural. The only coherent and supportable answer is “we don’t know.” The author has used the all too human discomfort with not knowing to support the same god of the gaps argument he claims is an unfair characterization of religious belief.

    There are some questions that may never be answered by anyone living nor any of our descendants. Aquinas in Summa Theologica put forth a reformulated version of the classic Greek arguments for the existence of god as well as several argument for “natural law.” All of these arguments make fundamental assumptions about the nature of the universe and causality which cannot be assumed to be true. If we have learned anything from Quantum mechanics and relativity it is that our basic human perceptions in no way explain the nature of things. Using arguments like the uncaused cause, the prime mover, etc., are based in logical fallacies. For believers, it confirms their understanding of god, for the open minded seeker he or she will be left scratching their heads. Consequently, I find it truly ironic that the author claims that open minded leaves room for god when true skepticism and a curious mind should lead at best to agnosticism.

    • Hey Chris, I appreciate the feedback. I must point out the fact that many people are not left scratching their heads when faced with the actual arguments for the existence of God, not caricatures of them. In fact, Edward Feser, whom I mentioned in the article, is one of many people who were over time convinced of God’s existence. Hope you can take a good look at his recent book: https://www.amazon.com/Five-Proofs-Existence-Edward-Feser/dp/1621641333

      The book has good reviews, even from people who disagree with him.

      Best,

      Alex

    • //Aquinas in Summa Theologica put forth a reformulated version of the classic Greek arguments for the existence of god as well as several argument for “natural law.” All of these arguments make fundamental assumptions about the nature of the universe and causality which cannot be assumed to be true//.

      What assumptions did they make and with what good reason have we to doubt them?

      //If we have learned anything from Quantum mechanics and relativity it is that our basic human perceptions in no way explain the nature of things//.

      I haven’t learnt that. All of science, including QM and relativity, merely describe reality, it does not tell us what reality is.

  2. For those still prepared to search out an answer to the God question, there’s a new place to explore. The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ has been published. Radically different from anything else we know of from theology or history, this new teaching is predicated upon the ‘promise’ of a precise, predefined, predictable and repeatable experience of transcendent omnipotence and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to reveal Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His Command, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine Will and ultimate proof!

    Thus ‘faith’ becomes an act of trust in action, the search along a defined path of strict self discipline, [a test of the human heart] to discover His ‘Word’ of a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power that confirms divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our mortal moral compass with the Divine, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” Thus is a man ‘created’ in the image and likeness of his Creator.

    So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists, and carries all the implications that suggests. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? I’m testing this now for myself. More info at http://www.energon.org.uk

  3. I hope I would be compelled by evidence that would convince the majority of people of all faiths to convert based on that evidence. That is- say Christianity is true. Jesus the savior the whole bit. Whatever would convince all the Jews, Muslims and Hindus to all convert to Christianity would be strong evidence IMO.

  4. It’s easy to prove that God exists. Does prayer work? Surely if it works there is some objective experiment we could do to prove it. Let’s pray for a crystal clear sign from god. He’s omnipotent, right? Let’s pray for a unicorn to appear somewhere. Or a purple tornado to show up on the national mall. Have him place a 100ft cross in the middle of Times Square. Does God not work that way?

    Let’s have a more scientific example. 20000 cancer patients. We’ll have everyone pray for one group, and not pray for the other, neither group knowing if they’re being prayed for. Surely we’ll see a demonstrable increase in the survival rate of those being prayed for.

  5. To answer your question of what evidence would convince me of a God. My answer is I don’t know have any idea… but if there was a God, it should know what would convince me.

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