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“Perhaps Nietzsche was right when he said that God had died. Progressive theologians with German names seem to think so” ~ Malcom Muggeridge (1927–1990)[1]


Two teenagers sitting with their backs up against a garage door, knees sucked firmly into their chests discussing eternal verities might seem like an odd moment, but it happened. I was having a conversation with my high school friend, Kevin. As we discussed the existence or non-existence of God I declared my belief in God. “You’ve got to be kidding me, “ Joey,” he intoned. “I’ll tell you what,” he continued, “I’d believe in God right now if he would appear before me and show me he’s real.” When God didn’t appear after three seconds, Kevin boldly asserted, “See what I mean? I told you he doesn’t exist!”

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience; maybe you’ve uttered the same words as my friend.

Rehearsing that conversation in my mind got me thinking once again: Can we prove that God exists? Well, I think it depends on what we mean by “prove.”

When I was in high school, my unbelieving friends argued that science proved the non-existence of God. While some may still hold this conviction, most knowledgeable and fair-minded people can see that this view presupposes a certain kind of epistemology; and it is supported with a specific outlook on the sciences—what philosophers call scientism.

In two recent publications evangelical Pastor Tim Keller dubbed this approach to human knowledge “exclusive rationality,” or “strong rationalism.”[2] He defines this conviction as “the belief that science is the only arbiter of what is real and factual and that we should not believe anything unless we can prove it decisively using empirical observation.”[3]

Where does this position of “exclusive rationality” come from? Keller traces it back to British mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford. In 1877 he published a seminal essay titled “The Ethics of Belief.” In it Clifford wrote, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.” This statement provokes the obvious question: What counts as “sufficient evidence”? Apparently, by “sufficient evidence” Kingdon meant “empirical verification that would convince any reasonable person who is capable of assessing it.”

While Kingdon’s position may have held sway for many years, I know of no philosopher specializing in epistemology who advocates this view today. Many, no doubt, would kindly point out to Kingdon that his position cannot meet its own demand; that is, his “exclusive rationality” is not subject to empirical investigation; it’s not a scientific conclusion. Rather, it is a philosophical assumption.

If we’re willing to be honest for a moment, we’ll see that we can’t scientifically prove why we believe what we believe about many issues: justice, human rights, and human dignity, to name a few. As Keller says, “If we used the same standard of evidence on our other beliefs that many secular people use to reject belief in God, no one would be able to prove much of anything.” Hence his conclusion: “We should, therefore, stop demanding that belief in God meet a standard of universally acknowledged proof when we don’t apply that to the other commitments on which we base our lives.”[4]

So, can I prove the existence of God? As I said at the outset, it depends on what we mean by “prove.” Can I conduct an experiment in a laboratory somewhere that would decisively convince everyone of God’s existence? No, I can’t do that. But I can ask you the question that philosophers like Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716) and Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) asked: Why is there something rather than nothing? Furthermore, how do we explain the existence of the world? How do we explain the fine-tuning of the world? How do we explain beauty and the sense of transcendence that people live with?

I will not take the time to delineate the traditional arguments for God’s existence. And I will admit that those arguments may not “prove” that God exists. Still, I think there are pointers or clues to God’s existence and, as a committed Christian, I think there is plenty of evidence to trust that Jesus existed and that the biblical record is reliable.[5]

Thankfully, the gospel is the “power of God” to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). God is ultimately the one who grants new life (2 Tim. 2:25), belief (Phil. 1:29) and faith (Eph. 2:8–9), giving us eyes to behold the beauty of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4–6).

I cannot realistically expect such a short article to convince everyone of God’s existence, but I hope it will lead some readers to consider whether applying the scientific method to all areas of human inquiry is appropriate. For Christians reading this article, I hope it will fill them with patience, pushing them into the lives of their unbelieving friends, engaging them in conversation about the most important issues of life.


[1] Malcom Muggeridge, “Is There a God?” in Seeing through the Eye: Malcom Muggeridge on Faith, ed. Cecil Kuhne (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 34.

[2] See Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (New York: Viking, 2016), 31; The Reason for God (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 132.

[3] Keller, Making Sense of God, 31.

[4] Ibid., 33–34.

 [5] Most recently, I would direct interested readers to Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (New York: Image, 2016).