Over on The Gospel Coalition, James Anderson writes about logically proving the existence of God:
Here is my modest proposal: We should think of proofs in terms of proofs for a particular person. In much the same way that mathematical proofs are system-dependent, so proofs of the existence of God need to be seen as person-dependent. The question “Can we prove the existence of God?” then becomes “Can we prove the existence of God to so-and-so?” My suggestion is that if we can show, without begging the question, that the existence of God logically follows from propositions that a person already accepts, or is willing on reflection to accept, then we have indeed proven the existence of God to that person. If they fail to see that the existence of God follows from what they already believe or take for granted, or if they prefer to abandon other beliefs rather than to affirm the existence of God, the problem doesn’t lie in the proof.
What does this mean for our test-case argument? If we understand proof along the lines I’ve suggested, the argument is indeed a proof for particular people, not necessarily for everyone. What’s more, on this understanding there are numerous proofs of God’s existence. There are many arguments that demonstrate the existence of God from beliefs or assumptions that people already hold. … Some of these proofs might be deemed more effective or more persuasive than others, depending on the target audience, but as we’ve seen, proof and persuasion are two distinct things.
So yes, we can prove the existence of God; but how exactly we prove the existence of God will depend on the particular person we’re dealing with and what they’re willing to grant.
I’m not sure that I completely buy Mr. Anderson’s conclusions (or for that matter, completely understand them; cut me some slack, there were some big words in there). But, I think I would come closer to agreeing with him if he talked less about “proving” God’s existence and more about “convincing” people of it.
When atheists and Christians argue the existence of God, both sides are going to claim logic and facts are on their side. And both sides continue to claim it without making any discernible progress against each other, which I think demonstrates that that particular avenue of argument isn’t getting us anywhere.
Here’s the thing: Richard Dawkins and I are both educated men. I went to the University of Alabama, while he went to some fly-by-night correspondence school whose name escapes me. But nevertheless, we were both taught basically all the same things about the universe that surrounds us, and nothing was withheld from either of us. We both understand the same things about the fundamentals of astrophysics and celestial mechanics, biological principals, cell mitosis and meiosis, sub-atomic particles, and all that jazz. Every fact that man knows about the universe is known to both Richard Dawkins and me.
And yet, Richard Dawkins looks at that universe and doesn’t see God anywhere. I look at the same universe and I see God everywhere.
Clearly, the argument over the existence of God isn’t a fact argument. It’s a perspective argument. To get someone to look at the same set of facts and see a God where there was none before, you have to change their perspective.
And here’s where James Anderson hits on something when he says that “proofs” must be different for each individual. In fact, we may even be talking about the same thing in a different way. There is no one blanket argument to change the perspectives of a whole bunch of people, because everybody has a unique one. Any convincing that can be done to change it will definitely depend on the willing acceptance of the individual.