Viktor Petrovich Lega tells us whether it is necessary to prove the existence of God, whether such evidence will shake our faith, what arguments will confirm the existence of God, how to verify the truth of religious experience.
Hello dear friends! Today’s conversation, from a series of meetings devoted to Orthodox apologetics, will continue the topic that began last time — about the relationship of faith and reason.
As we have already seen, there is no contradiction between reason and faith that unbelievers, atheists love to talk about. Faith is fuller, more holistic than one mind. Faith includes free will, sensory perception, and emotions, so that it is such a comprehensive state of man, which includes, among other things, his rational ability. A serious conclusion follows from this: faith is not counterintelligent, but superintelligent. We came to this conclusion in the last conversation.
But one more important and serious conclusion can be made: the mind must take part in the affairs of faith. We can’t talk only about faith, talking about God - we must connect our mind to the knowledge of God. And the topic of our conversation today, as well as the next few, is this: is it possible and necessary to prove the existence of God?
Prove or just believe?
So, is it possible to prove that God exists? Or should this position be taken only on faith? But we came to the conclusion that it is necessary to know God not only by faith, but also by reason. Concerning the very proof of the existence of God, many different objections also arise. For example, this: why, in fact, prove the existence of God? Or this: is it possible to prove the existence of God? Is it necessary to prove the existence of God? Are we belittling our own faith by proving the existence of God? But the salvation of man is carried out by faith, we read in the Holy Scriptures. So will this not be a betrayal of our faith?
To find answers to such questions, let us turn to the heritage of the Church Fathers and see what they wrote about it.
Surprisingly, we will not see a unanimous opinion on these issues among the holy fathers. Many fathers did not even address them. For example, at the Monk Maximus the Confessor, one of the greatest Christian philosophers, we will not find reasoning about the proof of the existence of God. And St. Gregory the Theologian in his “Word on humble wisdom, chastity and abstinence” writes: “Inferences lead little to the knowledge of God, because for every concept there is another, the opposite ... and every thought about God always, like a gloom, measures something mine and visible,” therefore God "Himself comes to the pure, because the abode of the Pure is only pure." St. Gregory explicitly refers us to the arguments of ancient skeptics that another, the opposite can be applied to any argument, any concept. And so the conclusion suggests itself - it’s probably not worth proving the existence of God, it is better to perceive Him as pure faith.
St. Basil the Great: “The concept of faith in God is preceded by the concept - namely, the concept that God is”
However, his famous friend, St. Basil the Great, writes: “But the concept of faith in God is preceded by the concept, namely, the concept that God is, and we collect it from the consideration of creatures. For we know wisdom, and power, and goodness, and generally invisible to Him, enlightening from the creation of the world. Thus we acknowledge Him and our Lord. Because God is the Creator of the world, and we are part of the world, it follows that God and our Creator. And faith follows this knowledge ”(Letter 227 (235)). So, faith follows knowledge, says St. Basil the Great.
Who to believe? To St. Gregory the Theologian or to St. Basil the Great? Rev. Maximus the Confessor, who does not offer evidence of the existence of God? Or does Rev. John Damaskin, who, before starting to discuss God in his work “An Accurate Presentation of the Orthodox Faith,” provide some evidence of the existence of God? What, fathers contradict one another? Not! The Fathers of the Church have no contradictions. They just approach this issue from different points of view. Since, as we have seen, reason is not identical with faith, but is only an integral part of it, we, of course, can use reason and prove the truth of faith. So evidence of the existence of God is entirely possible. St. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Athanasius of Alexandria, Rev. John of Damascus write about this ... But at the same time, it is impossible to reduce faith only to reason. Faith is higher than reason, and it is completely impossible to prove the existence of God as a certain geometrical theorem. But neglecting the mind would also be wrong. As you can see, everything is not so simple.
It is impossible to prove the existence of God, but to prove it is possible and even necessary
And the conclusion we can formulate is this: it is impossible to prove the existence of God, but it is necessary to prove it, it is possible and even necessary. For, as St. Basil the Great said, "faith follows knowledge." And St. Gregory the Theologian also repeatedly cites arguments convincing the rationality of faith in God, for example, this: “On the contrary, we must believe that God is the Creator and Creator of all beings, for how could the Universe exist, if someone had not realized didn’t bring her into a harmonious composition? ... otherwise the world, worn by chance, like a whirlwind of a ship, should, due to random movements of matter, instantly collapse, crumble and return to its original chaos and disorder ”(Word 14. About love for the poor).
Why prove it?
Of course, some people who are passionate about science and trusting the mind to a greater extent than others, to prove the existence of God, really, is simply necessary. But another objection is often raised here: it is impossible to prove the existence of God, because God is unknowable. The essence of God is unknowable - it is a theological axiom. But here comes a simple substitution of concepts. Yes, the essence of God is unknowable, and we cannot know what there is a god. But we can say that God there is - and this is a completely different idea. We can know about the existence of God, but not about His essence. Therefore, such an argument is still incorrect.
Often there is another argument: why prove the existence of God? To a person who already believes in God, it is pointless to prove this: he does not need any evidence. And to someone who does not believe in God, how do you prove? Let us recall the words of St. Gregory the Theologian that the opposite can be opposed to any statement. And every more or less savvy atheist will always offer our argument, proving the opposite, that there is no God. So it turns out that it is impossible to prove the existence of God and all our attempts to convince an atheist will be meaningless.
In other words, evidence will not help an atheist, and a believer no longer needs it. But in this seemingly logical sequence of reasoning lies one serious mistake. We perceive a person as something static, ready-made. The believer, according to such a concept, has no doubt, he is not overcome by temptations and doubts, and the atheist is a person who, as it were, is not already reflecting, not looking for the truth. However, all people think, seek, doubt. Evidence of the existence of God can help an Orthodox person at times of some sorrowful doubts to maintain his faith, while atheists can, on the contrary, help to think. Maybe not immediately, but after a year, after ten years, this person will suddenly remember those arguments that he heard or read in some apologetic book, and, being in other circumstances, at a different level of his spiritual and intellectual development, can come to faith. So the evidence for the existence of God still needs to be taken seriously.
In the Orthodox Church there is no teaching stating that it is impossible to prove the existence of God and that God must be perceived only by faith. Let me remind you that the words "only by faith" - "sola fide" in Latin - were not spoken by the Fathers of the Church, but by the famous reformer of the Church Martin Luther, who contrasted his understanding of God with the Catholic. Only by faith is man saved, only by faith is God known, according to Luther. According to Orthodox teaching, God must be known by faith and reason. Reason helps a person to understand that God may exist. And that He really exists, you can see, having already experienced his own religious experience.
When impossible without God
So, you can prove the existence of God. But another question arises: how to prove it? Our usual life practice will help us with this.
How do we prove the existence of a certain object? If I say, “Please prove that I am sitting on a chair,” any of you will grin: “What is there to prove ?!” Everything is obvious. You see, feel this chair. That is, the best evidence is direct sensory experience. As the people say, it is better to see once than hear a hundred times. Therefore, one of the methods of proof is experience, observation. But not always and not everything can be directly seen and felt. Therefore, sometimes we turn to indirect arguments. Such evidence is very successfully applied, in particular, in the natural sciences. How, for example, experts in the field of cosmology prove the existence of "black holes", distant planets? These objects are not observable in principle. "Black holes" are proved by the deviation of the movement of some stars. The existence of planets orbiting some stars is proved by the unusual flickering of these stars. The existence of electrons in the wires is proved by the fact that light is burning in this room. We prove the existence of some objects, which for some reason cannot be observed, by the manifestation of some of their properties, by some visible phenomena, which we can only explain by assuming the existence of something unobservable: "black holes", planets, electrons ... - any of us can offer many other examples.
We are talking about the hypothesis of the existence of God, for true conviction in the existence of God is not achieved by reasoning
In the same way, the existence of God is proved. The atheist often says that he does not need the existence of God, that he can explain all the phenomena in this world without resorting to the hypothesis of God. Recall the famous words of the mathematician and astronomer P.-S. Laplace about God, allegedly told them to Napoleon: "Sir, I do not need this hypothesis." Laplace did not need God's hypothesis to explain the rotation of the planets around the Sun. However, we will object, it is impossible to explain so many phenomena in this world without the assumption of the existence of God. This is precisely the meaning of the proof of the existence of God. We will go this way: we will point out those properties of our world that impossible explain without a hypothesis of God. I insist on this word: "impossible." It is “impossible” and not “difficult”, as one often hears: it’s difficult to explain such a phenomenon without the hypothesis of God. These words are the best gift for an unbeliever, as an atheist will immediately say: “You are lazy people, you don’t want to follow the path of complex scientific knowledge. It’s easier for you to explain this with the existence of God, because you are illiterate ignoramus. ” The conclusion is drawn from this: religion is the lot of people lazy, illiterate, ignorant, obscurantists, etc. So it’s not going to be that “difficult,” namely impossible explain without a hypothesis of the existence of God. And exactly without hypothesis, because a true conviction in the existence of God is achieved not at the level of reasoning, but at the level of experience - that same religiously experienced evidence that I spoke about above.
Was there an experience?
As you can see, all evidence of the existence of God can be divided into two groups: religiously experienced, that is, a direct meeting with God, and indirect evidence that follows from observing the world around us. We read about the possibility of such proof with the apostle Paul, who writes in the Epistle to the Romans: “His eternal power and divinity ... are visible through the consideration of creations” (Rom. 1: 20). The great apostle also claimed that we can know the existence of God, His greatness, by observing our world.
But the most convincing, most certain evidence of the existence of God is, I repeat once again, a direct meeting with Him. Every Orthodox Christian has undoubtedly experienced such a meeting with God. This is the joy of prayer. This is the grace that each of us can feel while in the temple of God ... And some saints experienced a meeting with God, as they say, face to face, but usually they were silent about such an experience. We find the best-known evidence of this experience with the Apostle Paul, but he also prefers to speak of himself in the third person: “I know a person in Christ who is fourteen years old (in the body - I don’t know if it’s outside the body - I don’t know: God knows) was delighted to the third heaven. And I know about such a person (I just don’t know - in the body, or outside the body: God knows) that he was delighted in paradise and heard indescribable words that a person cannot be told ”(2 Cor. 12: 2-4). The apostle does not know how he was delighted, he says that the words he heard cannot be retold, but he is absolutely convinced that he was delighted in paradise. And the fact that what was seen and heard cannot be described is one of the main properties of religious experience. Because it is a meeting with something completely different, not like anything in our sensual, material world. That is why it is impossible to tell about this experience. After all, the concepts that we use apply to our sensual world.
As we see, the meeting with God is inexplicable. The atheist, of course, will grin and say: “What is this“ meeting with God ”? This is probably a hallucination or deliberate deception - it's hard to figure it out, but it's obvious. And such an experience cannot be verified! Normal experience in science is one that can be repeated. And how can I repeat the experience of meeting with Christ that the apostle Paul, while still Saul, experienced on the way to Damascus? I can go to Damascus hundreds of times and feel only the scorching sun ... ”Therefore, atheists explain Saul’s incident as a sunstroke, hallucination: fell off a horse, hurt his head ... But how do we explain that Saul became an apostle after that, went to death for your faith? What, all the people who fell from the horse and experienced hallucinations due to sunstroke, so dramatically changed their lives?
One of the criteria for the truth of religious experience is a sharp change in human life.
One of the undoubted criteria for the truth of religious experience is a sharp change in human life. This phenomenon has not been fully explored, if at all possible investigated. This is a phenomenon of man’s inner life. How and why does a person suddenly change dramatically? And often it changes so dramatically that it goes to death, refuses the blessings of life. Becomes completely different! If before this experiment he could have been completely immoral, now the immoral act is simply unthinkable for him.
One of the first questions about the identification of religious experience was posed by the American philosopher and psychologist William James in the book “The Variety of Religious Experience”. It provides a lot of examples from history, including the example of the apostle Paul, as well as cases known to James of such an amazing transformation of man, which can only be explained by a meeting with some other reality. After hallucinations, after a sunstroke, after falling from a horse, a person does not change his life, a person just recovers and recalls his painful condition precisely as a disease.
Meeting with God does not need proof. The person who survived this meeting perceives it as the best evidence. Let us recall the words of St. John Chrysostom that true faith consists in the fact that it is impossible not to believe the invisible. This is the result of a true meeting with God.
And I emphasize: this experience of meeting with God can take place only in the Church. It is there that grace can descend on a person. I am always to those atheists who say: “Prove the existence of God - and maybe we will believe” - I advise you not only to listen to various arguments in favor of the existence of God, but to change your life, come to the temple and feel the full power of grace .
But still, before convincing a person to go to church, you must first put him before the hypothesis that God is, that not everything in our world can be explained without God. But such arguments - indirect evidence - we will consider at our next meetings.