It’s the holy grail of all theologians… an iron-clad, irrefutable argument for the existence of God. Yet somehow, the knock-down proof that would convince an atheist like Richard Dawkins or Stephen Fry remains tantalisingly out of reach.
For those of us who approach God with a mainly right-brain-hemisphere mentality (i.e. show me the evidence, not your fuzzy feelings) the lack of a foolproof argument can be frustrating.
Yes, there are lots of good arguments for God which, taken together, in my opinion, make it more rational to believe in Christianity than to not believe. These would include the cosmological argument, the fine tuning argument, the moral argument and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. And there are many more besides.
But none of these arguments on their own, or even taken as a whole, will force anyone to believe.
For nine years I’ve run a weekly radio show which hosts debates between believers and sceptics (find it here) In all those years I’ve seen the arguments for God presented and debated from just about every angle imaginable. I find the evidence persuasive, but most of the atheists who come on to debate with the Christians guests do not.
The reality is that, no matter how watertight our argument may be, there is always room for one more objection. In short there is always room for doubt. No one will be forced, on the basis of the evidence alone, to believe.
In my experience, those who do cross the line to Christian belief tend to already be open to the possibility of the divine. Often they are on a journey. Something inside tells them that there must be more to life than a secularist, materialist, all-you-can-see-is-all-there-is worldview. Often there is an instinctive attraction to the person of Christ.
It is in these cases that the role of ‘apologetics’ (the intellectual arguments for Christianity) becomes clear. The arguments alone won’t force anyone down the road of belief, but they can be very effective at removing some of the intellectual roadblocks along the way. That’s why being prepared to ‘give an answer to anyone who asks about the reason for the hope within you’ (1 Peter 3:15) remains important. (hint: Getting along to the Big Questions seminars at Spring Harvest will help you do this.)
However, it shouldn’t come a surprise that faith in Christ is not accomplished on the basis of a logical argument alone. Firstly it would undermine our own freedom to choose God, if we were forced to believe. Secondly, faith in Christ demands our heart as well as our head, and the act of surrendering to Him goes far deeper than an intellectual argument can carry us.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. The same goes for arguing somebody into God’s Kingdom. But for those whose head and heart make them thirsty, there is a deep well they can drink from.
Written by Justin Brierley, host of the faith debate show Unbelievable? on Premier Christian Radio and editor of Premier Christianity Magazine. Big Questions will be running at all breaks, and Justin will be leading at Minehead 3.
Image by Adrian Snood via Flickr/Creative Commons.