Have You Ever Seen God?

I imagine a conversation, perhaps with a Richard Dawkins, so proud of his atheism.

Have you ever seen God?” he asks. “No more than I have seen the wind,” I reply.

Have you ever heard God?” “No more than I have heard the sun set.”

Can you explain what you mean by ‘God‘?” “Explain God? No more than you can tell me what went Bang and why.”

Why do you believe in God?” “Because one day I woke up and was different than I had been the day before. The difference was startling, extremely pleasant, but completely baffling until I remembered that I had prayed a few hours before sleep. ‘God,’ I said, ‘if you’re up there please come down and let me see you so that I can know. Every step I take turns our wrong. Can you show me another direction?’ If you  had asked me at the end of that prayer, I would have affirmed my agnosticism. My prayer was not one of faith but it was honest. And the next day I knew I was different in some very profound way, at some depth beyond my intellect. And as soon as I heard the name of Jesus that day, there was an instant and overwhelming sense of recognition. Jesus is what happened to me! I went around for a week mumbling in awe, ‘I prayed and he answered; that means he is real and I am real.'”

“Do you expect me or anyone else to believe in God just because you had some sort of emotional experience? Can’t you give me a rational reason or is you faith just blind?”  “Oh no, I would never expect anyone to believe in God just because someone else has had an experience that cannot be well articulated or rationally explained. Whether you believe or not is something between you and God. It is something quite beyond the reach of any other person. All I would ask of you is that you try to be scientific about it.”

Scientific about God? What does that mean? Science deals with reality, not with mere thoughts or wishes.”   “I have in mind a particular strength of science, it’s ability to adapt its methods to be appropriate to its subjects. A paleontologist gets dirty using pick and shovel, dental prick and brush. These are tools that the chemist never uses. The astrophysicist uses powerful lenses, lots of mathematical formulae, and very sophisticated computer software. That software and that Hubble scope in the sky don’t help the geneticist. Isn’t one of the basic tenets of science that one must use tools and methods that fit the object of study? Tell me, which scientific method have you used to conclude there is no God?”

The point is not that we’ve proved there is no God but that none of the scientific methods we have lead us to God.”   “Could that be because you’re using the wrong tools? Have your tools led you to a deeper understanding of love, joy, peace? Or of evil? Which scientific tools explain Hitler and Stalin? Or music and art?”

I wonder where the conversation goes from there?

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About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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12 Responses to Have You Ever Seen God?

  1. It’s easy to win an argument with yourself.

    It’s fortunate that science doesn’t depend on our senses alone, or we would probably still think the sun goes around the earth. As it happens, the brains of people who feel they’ve been in contact with God have been studied. People at prayer and people in meditation go quiet in the parietal lobe, regardless of which god they pray to (or none at all). It’s something that can be learned and it definitely affects your sense of self, which is what that part of the brain does. Certainly it would feel real to you. If you wanted to be scientific, perhaps you could try praying to Allah or Zeus for a while and see if you get the same feeling.

    Of course that’s just being scientific about your brain, not God. What experiment would you recommend to prove God?

    • mthayes42 says:

      Thanks for the good note, Stan. You’re right — I can whip Dawkins every time. . . so long as I’m the one putting words in his mouth. My point, aside from having a bit of fun, is that our method of study has to correspond in some way to the subject we’re studying. Clearly, if one could devise some sort of experiment to prove God, that would prove there is no God. If God is subject to and therefore less than our mental powers, he is too puny to be of any importance. If there is a Creator God, he will not be one entity among others in the universe. And if God’s nature in any way like his portrayal in the Bible, he is personal, not ideological. Persons can be known only by self-revelation. A major part of the issue here, and a source of great frustration on both sides, is the question of whether scientific materialism accounts for all reality. If so, then — as B. F. Skinner argued long ago — our most cherished values (e.g. personhood, sense of identity, love, thoughts, and so on) are mere illusions.
      Concerning “religious activity” in the brain, I confess to being puzzled why some people think that identifying specific locations in the brain explains anything. If I say that seeing involves this or that particular part of the brain, does that mean sight is not real? If “religious moments” — whatever in the world that might mean — involve particular parts of the brain, does that have any bearing on the reality of God? I can’t see the connection. Can you?

      • You’re correct. The readings they’ve collected certainly have no bearing on whether God exists. It could also be the case that God exists but he’s impersonal and your personal interactions are imagined. The fact that prayer to any god or meditation to no god at all generates the same results may mean that all gods are equally valid or equally invalid. But again, that answer only applies to our perceptions and what may or may not be true.

        Plato really nailed it with his cave allegory. In the end our perceptions are all any of us have. That is our reality and we must hope that it has some bearing on actual reality. Some disagreement between perception and reality is harmless, but others can be fatal. If you believe you are experiencing God, that doesn’t seem harmful. If your religious moment tells you to kill me, it’s probably bad for both of us as I’m dead and you’re imprisoned. Since we don’t have to go far to find examples of this, it’s worth remembering that we sometimes need a standard outside of our perceptions to go by.

        Therein lies the value of science. It is the tool we have created to tell us the difference between our perceptions and measurable reality. And the set of things that are measurable grows all the time. Today we can see in a general way what happens in your brain when you experience God. Perhaps tomorrow we can play your experience on a screen for others to see. And wouldn’t that be interesting?

  2. mthayes42 says:

    Good note, Stan. It is clear that it takes either boldness or stupidity to commit your life to the Creator/Redeemer as portrayed in the Bible. And we can certainly see many examples of each kind of belief! Years ago I read an article entitled “Why I Am a Christian Agnostic” by a philosophy professor. I liked the article then and still find it a useful idea. I am certain enough to have staked my entire life (since becoming a Christian at age 20) on my trust in the biblical Lord. I’ve never had a moment of regret about that just a great deal of joy (in the midst of lots of challenges, of course). But I would never try to persuade someone else to believe in God. Faith is something between God and each individual. Once we do become people of faith, then of course there is a great deal of sharing and mutual encouragement. But never can one person talk another into real faith.
    Persons are known only by self-revelation. So, I would encourage and even try to persuade everyone simply to ask, “God, are you real and can I know you?” That prayer needs no faith whatsoever, just honesty.
    Hmmm, our cranial experiences shown on a screen. . . I think your word interesting is a real understatement! Science can do so very much already. . .maybe we’ll all walk around someday with a screen hanging around our necks, showing our brain’s activity in real time. And we’ll all run around saying “Too much information! TMI! TMI!”

  3. mthayes42 says:

    Hmmm, it looks like Stan’s second comment (to which my second comment is a response) has disappeared. I’m sure my total lack of computer skills had nothing to do with that. His not is too good for you to miss, so I’m copying it here:
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    You’re correct. The readings they’ve collected certainly have no bearing on whether God exists. It could also be the case that God exists but he’s impersonal and your personal interactions are imagined. The fact that prayer to any god or meditation to no god at all generates the same results may mean that all gods are equally valid or equally invalid. But again, that answer only applies to our perceptions and what may or may not be true.
    Plato really nailed it with his cave allegory. In the end our perceptions are all any of us have. That is our reality and we must hope that it has some bearing on actual reality. Some disagreement between perception and reality is harmless, but others can be fatal. If you believe you are experiencing God, that doesn’t seem harmful. If your religious moment tells you to kill me, it’s probably bad for both of us as I’m dead and you’re imprisoned. Since we don’t have to go far to find examples of this, it’s worth remembering that we sometimes need a standard outside of our perceptions to go by.
    Therein lies the value of science. It is the tool we have created to tell us the difference between our perceptions and measurable reality. And the set of things that are measurable grows all the time. Today we can see in a general way what happens in your brain when you experience God. Perhaps tomorrow we can play your experience on a screen for others to see. And wouldn’t that be interesting?
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Let me add just one brief comment to this exchange with Stan. I mentioned that faith requires of us either boldness or stupidity. The rest of my note (I hope) implied that humility is also essential. We an be completely convinced that we are right without somehow thinking that, since we are so sure, everyone who disagrees must be awful people. Religious folk have always been prone to this error. When we Christians forget that we believe we live by grace, then we fail to show grace to anyone else. It’s a bad but common perversion of real faith.

  4. ==Whether you believe or not is something between you and God. It is something quite beyond the reach of any other person. All I would ask of you is that you try to be scientific about it.”==

    The scientific method drives us to follow the evidence and base our conclusions on the evaluation of the evidence. There is no credible evidence for the existence of any god. You ask that we adapt our tools and methods yet that simply biases the results. What is overwhelmingly clear is that any god is not real except to those that believe in that god and not even to all those that believe or want to believe. Your god is not real to the adherents of other religions. The ‘evidence’ that you find compelling is found lacking by those that believe in a god that is not yours. Likewise you find their evidence lacking for their god. The adherents of two different religions can’t agree but I agree with both of them – I don’t believe in either of your gods.

  5. mthayes42 says:

    It is true in a sense that the scientific method “drives us to follow the evidence and base our conclusions on the evaluation of the evidence.” That sounds very admirable but, as it seems to work out in fact, there is a prior commitment on the part of some which limits the value of “following the evidence.” That prior commitment is the conviction that only measurable evidence will be considered. That puts a severe limitation on the value of the scientific method.
    I am a great fan of modern science and marvel at all it has learned and achieved. What bothers me is when, without any evidence to back up the claims, some people decide, first, that only certain kinds of evidence will be legitimate and, second, that only science can determine what is the whole of reality. Where does one get the idea that reality must fit into our concept of scientific method? On what basis would one believe such a thing?
    Certainly, no one lives by that conviction. We all live by higher values than science can explain or justify. A chemist in his lab works by one set of standards but when he/she goes home at night, of necessity another set of standards comes into play.
    Your comment, myatheistlife, “any god is not real except to those that believe in that god” suggests that you, too, find the scientific method inadequate.How can we say that something is “real” to those who believe in it? Does our belief create reality? My conviction — and yours as well, I assume — is that the earth revolves around the sun whether I believe in it or not.
    You say that adapting our method of study to correspond with the subject being studied results in biases. Perhaps so, but can you suggest an alternative? Must a paleontologist use the same tools and methods as a chemist? Must the chemist use the tools and methods of a neuroscientist? In each case, the methods and tools must, absolutely must be adapted to the subject. I for one would not want my neurosurgeon coming into the operating room with a paleontologist’s shovel. . .
    Let me put some words in your mouth — if I’m unfair about it, please let me know. I believe that behind your comments lies a concern that when we allow non-“scientific” evidence into consideration, we lose control over things. Anybody can claim anything based on all sorts of false “evidence.” That, it seems to me, is a real concern but it is not something which can be entirely avoided. We each have certain reasons for choosing this or that husband/wife and few if any of those reasons may meet scientific standards. The decision is of extreme importance but it cannot be helped by science. Science is simply too limited in scope to help us with the full breadth of reality.
    Would you agree?

  6. Bunnet says:

    I really enjoy your articles, but there one thing like to add.
    Yes, others could say it imaginery connection but what is the connection between child and it mother, two lovers, are they real? I never seeing love, never held it. But do believe I experience it.
    As colorblind person I have truly never seeing some colors, but others tell me they exist, would say they are mad or would it be more prude to think they are perhaps capable of seeing something I can’t.
    I think that how we should approach God, with equal open mind.

    • mthayes42 says:

      Well put, Bunnet. No one is in a position to see all the truth. I remember once asking my wife to tell me how many colors she saw in an apple. I had looked at it and saw three. She named 17 different colors! Guess which one of us is the artist? The problem arises when a person says, “I see all the truth and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong.”

      • Bunnet says:

        And that a thing not a scientist can do, because forty years from now they be new facts, new tools and even deeper analyses

      • mthayes42 says:

        The beauty of science is that it is self-correcting. . . . eventually. Today’s mistakes will be corrected tomorrow. And that again is cause for the scientists to be humble. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

      • Bunnet says:

        That lots of true in those words, and wish some of them would be more humble in there opinion and maners

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