Have you ever heard a person who feels relieved or pleased at some development call out flippantly, “There is a God!“? This is often used in jest, even profanely. However, this logical connection actually constitutes a valid train of thought when one is evaluating the case for God’s existence. Read on to learn how this works.
Previously I introduced the topic Is There Evidence for God? with this 3-minute YouTube video clip from a Creation vs. Evolution debate at Portland State University. A sixth-grade atheist asked for evidence that God exists, but the answer was neither clear nor compelling.
How would I answer the student’s question in the video? What would I say if asked, “What is your evidence for God?” or “How do you know God exists?”
If I were asked these questions, I would give this 2-point response, and illustrate each point with examples and stories:
1. Argument from Design
2. Argument from Personal Experience
The prequel, 2. Evidence for God – Design, covered the Argument from Design. The basic idea is that complex designs require a Designer to produce them. The kind of information the designs contain can only come from an intelligent Agent.
It’s obvious, for example, that natural forces of erosion, wind, and rain did not shape Mt. Rushmore to resemble presidential faces. The stone faces obviously required a creator, as did the far more complex living men who are represented on the mountain. Similarly, the many examples of complex design we see in nature offer strong evidence for a Creator.
Argument from Experience
For the Argument from Personal Experience, I would testify of my own experience with God, including an instance where I saw God act (see story below). I would add that millions more throughout history have testified to a personal relationship with the Creator.
Scripture itself uses the Argument from Personal Experience. The Bible is full of the records and testimony of men and women who met God over a period of some 4,000 years.
Jesus explicitly commissioned the apostles to testify of their experience with Him. He sent them into the world to bear witness to Himself (John 15:26-27; 17:18; 20:21).
The four Gospels are records of personal testimony regarding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The book of Acts records apostolic testimony before crowds and courts that Jesus is Christ, Lord, and Savior (Acts 2:22-36; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 9:10-22; 10:34-43; 13:16-38; 17:22-31; 26:1-23).
The apostles themselves appealed to their personal experience for credibility. The apostles believed their testimony to be compelling evidence. The Apostle Peter wrote,
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”– and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16-19)
The Apostle John wrote,
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us– what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
(1 John 1:1-3)
Since Scripture uses the Argument from Personal Experience so extensively, it must be a valid and compelling argument for Christians to use.
Story – Lost in the Woods
On literally thousands of occasions God has answered my prayers. One example that might be relevant to a 6th-grader is an event that happened several years ago with my daughter, then a 10-year-old 5th-grader.
On a camping trip I sent her into the woods to gather firewood. Sometimes I give her a compass and remind her how to use it to find her way back, but this time I didn’t.
After about an hour I began to get very concerned when she hadn’t returned. I began praying. Eventually she appeared coming out of the woods with a load of firewood.
Me – “Where were you? What happened?”
Daughter – “I got lost.”
Me – “Were you scared?”
Daughter – “Yes.”
Me – “What did you do?”
Daughter – “I prayed and asked God for help. God told me to leave the field I was in and go back into the woods. I walked a long way and finally saw the old rock wall and followed that back to camp.”
My daughter was in a scary situation where prayer to God was her only resource. She prayed and asked God for help. God’s direction to leave the open field and re-enter the woods was contrary to the impulse most kids would have when lost. Yet she obeyed. We saw God act in her life to rescue her and answer our prayers.
A story is told of a fellow who fell off a cliff. Just as he yelled, “Lord, save me!” his belt caught on a branch. Relieved, he said, “Never mind, God, a branch caught me.” Many times, like this fellow, we fail to recognize the hand of God in our lives.
Personal experience is powerful testimony. It is accepted as the best evidence in law courts. It is true that any single witness’s testimony to a personal relationship with the Creator is subjective. However, the sheer number and diversity of witnesses nullifies the subjective element. Witnesses abound in many countries, cultures, and time periods.
The cumulative testimony of the human race is overwhelming and compelling. Throughout history, millions testify of direct personal knowledge of a Creator. That is weighty evidence.
Some may respond that there are also many who testify to no experience with a Creator and claim that this offsets the conflicting testimony. This, however, is not the case. Negative testimony does not cancel positive testimony. For example, suppose two mushroom hunters return from a day in the woods. One says, “There are no Morel mushrooms in the woods.” The other says, “I saw Morels in the valley behind the big hill to the southeast.” Which one’s testimony is more believable?
More Reasonable to Believe
The Argument from Personal Experience provides evidence that it is more reasonable to believe in a Creator than to believe there was no Creator. While a person may not believe the throngs who testify of the Creator, one can’t deny that it is legitimate evidence that must be considered.
This Argument from Personal Experience approach is one that a 6th-grader could understand. With examples and stories, he might even find it of such compelling interest that he would think about it in the days, months, and years to come.
Questions to Ponder
- Do you think the Argument from Personal Experience is persuasive evidence (but not proof) for the existence of God? Why or why not?
- If you believe God does not exist, how do you answer the Argument from Personal Experience?
- Have you ever had a genuine “There is a God!” experience? What experiences have you had that made you inclined on a personal level to believe in God’s existence?
Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the third post in the Evidence for God series that discusses the question,
“Is There Evidence for God?”
Read the prequels:
1. Evidence for God – Can You Answer a 6th-Grader?
2. Evidence for God – Design
Read the sequel:
4. Evidence for God – Can You Prove God Exists?
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday July 3, 2013 A.D.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:18-23)