I do not know how many times skeptics have nailed believers with that challenge - or have tried. It is as though it is the ultimate debate-ender because the assumption is it cannot be answered. The first time for me was many years ago in a Philosophy of Religion class at a public university. My professor posed the challenge this way: Any theory that cannot be falsified cannot be regarded as a factual proposition. My professor suggested that God is such a theory because believers will not admit to any evidence against the theory. In other words, what was needed to prove the theory that God is real was a way to prove the theory false. But wait. Is that right?
The test of falsifiability proposed by Karl Popper is usually applied to the physical sciences rather than philosophy. That is significant. The claim that God exists is not a scientific claim. The claim that God does not exist is likewise not a scientific claim. Yet one of those claims must be true even if it cannot be proven so by scientific methods or falsified by scientific methods. (See Falsifiability, wiki for addition criticism of Poper's criterion of falsifiability.) The criticisms of Popper's criterion of truth suggest that positive evidence or logical reasons in both science and philosophy are more important than the falsifiability test.
Is there then positive evidence for the proposition that God is real. As we consider that, the best approach is something like what W. V. Quine describes as "confirmation holism." That is, we should expect there will be many intertwined pieces of evidence and theories for any larger proposition such as God is real. They all must be considered together as opposed to considering one piece of evidence sufficient to confirm the theory. The theory of evolution is such a larger proposition. (Karl Popper did even not consider evolution a testable scientific theory.) No one piece of evidence is sufficient to establish the truth of evolution. The supporting theories, however, considered together give fairly solid support to the larger proposition that life evolved from a common ancestor.
On the other hand, one piece of evidence that seems to falsify the theory is equally inadequate. Falsification must be broad based as well. The apparently rapid morphological changes of creatures in the Cambrian raises questions about the theory of evolution but does not falsify it.
What kind of positive evidence for God is there? The first is expressed in the puzzle philosophers and scientists have chewed on for centuries: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
There is something, of course. But the existence of the universe - and any possible multiverse - is a brute fact. It cannot be explained. Science may be able to explain how the universe remains in existence, but not how it came to exist. In fact, the current thinking among some is that it did not come into existence , but more of that later. ScientificAmerican Some scientists are willing to ask only how it exists without asking why. Others are intrigued by the question as one of a very few big questions regarding reality that puzzles mankind. (One of the others is how life began.) Others avoid the question because of the clear metaphysical or theistic implications. godevidence.com
The question has likely been pondered by mankind for millennia, but it was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz a philosopher who in the era of the blossoming of science in the 1700s gave an Enlightenment voice to the intuitive explanation: God. God is the necessary self-existing reason and source of all things. Leibnitz expressed his conclusion in philosophical logic .leibniz-translations, but his conclusion is the same that most of mankind had arrived at by less sophisticated means: God exists, and God is the origin of all else.
Not everyone agreed, and not everyone agrees today. David Hume, for example, the 18th century philosopher, argued that the universe was a beginningless series of nonnecessary existent being. In other words, the universe exists, always has existed, and will continue to exist as an infinite series of things. There is no necessity for its existence. It just is. Joel Achenbach puts puts it the other way around in his Washington Post article, "'nothing,' [he means absolute nothing] for all its simplicity and symmetry and lack of arbitrariness, is nonetheless an entirely imaginary state, or condition, and we can say with confidence that it has never existed." Why is There Something Clearly that leaves the universe as the one and only existent being.
For most people Humes and Achenbach’s explanations are less than satisfying. Everything we experience in this time, space, physical universe is an event or thing that was caused by a prior event. But an infinite series of real things is unimaginable and according to many mathematicians is impossible Can Anything Real be Infinite?. [The author of this blog suggests that logically only nothing can be infinite.]
If there is not an infinite series of things, the series of events that led up to the present universe must have had a first uncaused cause. This common sense assumption led philosophers to formulate what is now called the cosmological argument.
The one thing that both the theistic and the naturalistic explanations have in common is that nothing comes from nothing so something must be eternal. [Only by fudging the definition of “nothing” as Lawrence Krauss does in A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing is it logically possible to overcome that axiom.] Either the universe/multiverse is eternal and self-existing or God is eternal and self-existing. The idea that the universe caused itself to come into existence from absolute nothing as absurd. The reasonable question is which of the other two is true? According to Amir Aczel in Why Science Does Not Disprove God those two propositions have a statistical probability distribution of 50%. But is it really a toss-up?
The logical difficulty of an infinite series of physical things in this actual world Infinity makes the self-existing eternal universe less than an adequate explanation for why there is something rather than nothing. But what about God? But the question posed by skeptics of the theistic explanation creates similar problems for theists: if nothing can be infinite what caused God?
That problem is best considered this way. We have the intuitive expectation of cause and effect because that is the nature of the time, space, physical universe. It is virtually a physical law of matter and would logically be a law in any physical multiverse of which this universe is a part or from which it was derived. But something that is not a part of or of the same substance as the universe of time and matter and thus not bound by the law of cause and effect -- let's call that the super-reality -- need not be limited by either the problems of an infinite series or the law of cause and effect. It could be eternal because it is of a different substance altogether.
[Alvin Plantinga makes the distinction between this actual world and a "possible state of affairs" in which there might be an infinite series. See The Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 44,]
This reasoning does not prove God's existence, but it does make such a God whose existence is infinite and self-existing a reasonable explanation for why there is something rather than nothing and by contrast the self-existing universe less probable. It also is falsifiable, at least in theory. If it can be shown logically or scientifically that the universe is self-existing (which is something many physicists and philosophers have tried to do) that would eliminate the need for a external self-existing creator and effectively falsify the theory. So far no one has done so, and many scientists do not think it will ever be possible.
That leaves the explanation that the existence of the universe is a self-existent Being outside the universe and who created this finite universe of time, space, and matter the more reasonable conclusion.
That is how God is described in the Bible. He is not of the same substance as the universe. He is not located in the universe. He is not limited by our time. He is not material in substance. He is described as self-existing and eternal.
Isn't it fascinating that God is described exactly that way as much as 3000 years before science developed the knowledge of the universe necessary to even grapple with the question?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)And in Exodus 3
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”(verse 14)
The second evidence for the reality of God is the design of the universe. That will be the subject of the next blog.