Proving God’s Existence is Impossible

November 16, 2011

Among your humbler atheists and typical agnostics, common phrases can be overheard. “Show me the evidence for God,” they say. “I’m not close-minded, just skeptical” is another cliché. Some atheists may be so bold as to announce, “Sure, I’d admit there’s a proof for God, if clinching evidence were presented to me.”

I’m not that open-minded about God. In fact, there’s no way to prove to me that there is a god. Not if we are talking about God, of the sort worshipped by billions nowadays. You’ve heard of this God: entirely supernatural, infinitely powerful, perfectly intelligent, etc. That God is impossible to prove. To anyone.

It’s not just my own personal problem. I’ve already explained why “Not even God could make Me Religious.” But my problem with God is everyone’s problem. It’s actually impossible to prove to anyone that this God exists. Here’s why.

It is possible to ‘convince’ lots of people that there’s a God. Religions have been accomplishing that for millennia. But I’m not talking about establishing psychological certitude. Persuading someone of something is hardly the same thing as proving it. People staunchly believe all sorts of things for poor reasons, or no reasons at all. Also note that the actual existence of God, if God really does exist, is not proof that there is a God. A proof of X is a sufficiently rational demonstration of X that can be understood by people and hence believed by people. A proof is a relationship between the thing to be proven and a person offered that proof. Look at it this way: water has always been composed of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms, but there was no proof of that until the nineteenth century. Until modern chemistry’s demonstrations, no one could know this natural fact. Where is the demonstrable proof for God?

The basic issue is whether a human being of ordinary perceptual and cognitive powers could ever be supplied a proof that God exists. I deny that possibility, forever. It’s not just a temporary obstacle. It’s not like waiting for science to get there eventually. Not only won’t science ever supply a proof of God, no other rational method will either. Mystics and existential theologians have been saying this for a long time, and they seem satisfied with just abnormal states of awareness or profound emotions to draw them nearer to what they call God. They abandoned reason long ago, and everyone else needs to similarly realize that reason won’t ever reach God.

Here’s the basic argument showing why there’s no proof for God (as defined above).

1. Humans will never have the cognitive capacity to directly understand anything with infinite powers or qualities.

2. Humans will never have intellectual reasons to indirectly demonstrate the existence of anything with infinite powers or qualities.

3. There are only two kinds of proofs for God: direct understanding or indirect demonstration.

Conclusion: Humans will never have any proofs for God.

On the first premise, it is common enough for theologians to deny this, instead claiming that some people have had direct experiences with the Almighty. The issue is whether any of those people actually experienced some infinite properties or qualities of God, or only thought they did. Could they understand what is really happening to them? Mystical experiences are frequently described as involving losing all sense of embodiment or finitude, so that one’s consciousness seems to inflate beyond all bounds, or disappears altogether into something inexpressibly vaster. This psychological phenomenon happens to some people, sure. But these experiences can easily be induced by meditation, isolation, drugs, falling asleep, or blows to the head. Naturally, theologians claim that people of the ‘right’ religion do encounter God. But this is just a bluff: they could not possibly know this. No human has the cognitive capacity to understandably distinguish some genuine encounter with God from a pseudo-encounter. The mystical experience itself can’t display the difference between a genuine encounter with God from some impressive psychological phenomenon. By definition, mystical experiences don’t come pre-labeled with some God’s name on it – if they have anything in common, they are just infinitely mysterious. That’s why mystics end up disagreeing over which God they experience, or (more wisely) they just agree that nothing can be proven.

Theologians are aware of these obstacles. One typical trick is to claim that God endows special people with unnatural powers to know divine matters. Such tricks beg the question, requiring the prior assumption that God exists, so no proof is possible in this manner either.

On the second premise, theology has busily offered all sorts of indirect “proofs” for God. They are all failures, and their inadequacies will never be remedied. As my book The God Debates (www.goddebates.com) explains, evidence now available to us can’t justify belief in God. This is a permanent situation. No matter how far we are driven to rationally admit that something extraordinary requires a very special explanation, a sufficient explanation always falls far short of any God. Miracles can never be good evidence for God; at most we might have to say that something very powerful is interfering with known laws of nature (it’s probably just a newly discovered natural force anyways). The origin of the universe can never be good evidence for a God; if a creator is really ever needed (which it won’t be, since the simpler hypothesis is just more Nature behind the big bang) then this creator only need be slightly more powerful than the universe’s own total energy and much smarter than us. You see how this works: no matter what indirect demonstration is offered by theology, simply ask, “Is an Almighty Supernaturally Infinite God really necessary to do any explaining here?” and then supply the answer yourself: “Not at all.”

Not at all. That’s the appropriate response to the question, “Is God needed to explain anything?” In fact, and this is a point for another time, I doubt whether invoking God is even an explanation at all, much less a dubious explanation.

Should atheists or agnostics ever have to say, “Well, you could prove to me that God exists, if...”? Nope, not at all. And no one else should, either.