Atheism – No Proof of God
Rev. Dr. Erik E. Sandstrom
New Church Life
A MONTHLY MAGAZINE DEVOTED TO THE TEACHINGS
REVEALED THROUGH EMANUEL SWEDENBORG
Atheism supposedly exists now also among some young people of New Church upbringing, those who have been educated in our system! We do not wish to insult anyone’s intelligence by claiming how wrong they are, or how they are burying their heads in the sand, because they are of course absolutely right! There never was, never has been, any proof of God’s existence. Why should they believe what cannot be proved? There is however a childishly simple proof of God’s existence. More of that later.
Just think for a moment, how infinitely clever, indeed wise, God is for not leaving any witnesses for His existence. He created the universe so there is no signature! Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) called this thunderous absence of a “signature” a sign of the “anonymous author cunningly concealing himself” and no one can be “more carefully withdrawn from direct relationship [to people] than God.” Just look, he says in other words, how carefully He has concealed Himself! To the conclusion of this lack of a signature, Kierkegaard concedes that God “is not there.” But the proof, he continued in another direction, consisted in turning to one’s “inner self, and once only in the inwardness of self-activity, does he have his attention aroused, and is enable to see God.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript).
This inner self is also fallacious, however. This however has to avoid Ludwig Feuerbach’s (1804-1872) denial of God as worthy of discussion, since only “man himself, and nature” are proper objects of “philosophical study,” not God, a subject that “transcends human experience.” Here he is similar to his predecessor David Hume (1711-1776). The next generation from Swedenborg, Hume was an empiricist thinly disguised as a Deist. The mind alone was real, said Hume, but a miniature of God’s mind. We must therefore trust human reason. This however led to doubting that even the world was the way we saw it, a skepticism which lent fire to later naturalistic arguments, doubting God also. Biblical criticism had with Hume’s contemporaries, Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694 – 1768), and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) already used this approach to cast doubt on the historical existence of Jesus, Moses and Muhammad. There was a “ditch” between faith and history. The Bible could not be trusted as a source or description of any truth, let alone that of God. The Gospels were hence irrelevant as history because of the lack of miracles verifying the same truths today. Jesus himself was doubted as an historical figure, but was more the enthusiastic or kerygmatic projection of faith in some ancient outstanding individual.
These are just a few strands of the arguments paving the way for atheism. Only faith has maintained the Bible as the all time best seller for all centuries. That says something about the persistent clarity of truth, both concealed in scripture, but self-evident here and there as well. Astoundingly enough, it was in this Age of Reason era of final doubt in the Word of God, that all the self-evident truth was drawn out and published for all to witness, if they willed. Atheism today is easily read out of existence in the Heavenly Doctrines (1749-1771).
So it was up to around 1800 that everyone thought of God or the gods as controlling everything, from wind to thunder, to war and disease, to the stars in the sky. God caused everything, and His ways were often mysterious. But God was now relegated to a “god of the gaps” argued “from ignorance.” There are other explanations of everything today, and science provides them! Science has left only a few “gaps” where God might still exist, “growing smaller and smaller.” Lightning is caused by electrons, not by Thor or Zeus! Science explains and solves more things than God or faith in Him does. So they say.
The Writings warned against this whole line of reasoning, in fact ridiculed it, just when the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment were peaking: naturalism is not willing to acknowledge the possibility of “influx from the Lord’s Divine through the spiritual world.” That is why naturalism has “overwhelmed” the Church (Apocalypse Explained 1220) and favored thinking “about Divine things from things proper to nature, that is space and time” (Arcana Coelestia 5116:3). Then, however, “one infinite God” cannot be comprehended at all, nor the entire creation of the universe, which becomes a “foolish” notion (Canons 4). The consequence would be the “worship of nature” which leads “automatically to atheism” (True Christian Religion 771). That is why “naturalism and atheism rush forth together” (Coronis XVI).
We of course cannot condemn outright all that science does, nor the scientific principles which have “created” the world of technology we all enjoy, deemed to be the most advanced and civilized since the world began. We count “civilized” by such modern standards as electronic equipment and new model cars. What is denounced is eliminating God and heaven, just because they cannot be seen from the natural “lumen” of science (cf. Divine Love and Wisdom 69)! Just because the scientific method which is now a norm to all learning throughout the world, absorbs information just as easily as a sponge absorbs water (Interaction 9) does not mean that science is only harmful. It just should not deny God! For natural theology can never enter into “spiritual theology,” while the reverse, however, cannot be said. For spiritual theology easily enters into the natural scientific techniques (De Verbo 6:4). From spiritual things, all natural things can be seen in order, while from natural things, nothing spiritual at all is witnessed. There are indeed two foundations of truth, the Word and Nature (Spiritual Experiences 5709), yet from the foundation of truth based on nature, nothing of the foundation of truth based on the Word can be seen. “Nothing can be founded upon Scientifics except it be previously founded upon the Word” (Spiritual Experiences 5710). This is repeatedly given as the method:
“When a person’s basic assumption is to believe nothing until he sees and understands it, he cannot possibly believe; for spiritual and celestial things are neither visible to the eyes nor comprehensible in mental images. But the true order is for a person to become wise from the Lord, that is, from His Word. In that case everything follows as it should…. the premise of belief in the Lord’s Word and of confirming spiritual and celestial truths by means of natural truths, using as far as is possible the terminology of the learned world” (Arcana Coelestia 129).
Some have seen the need to see God from a premise of prior existence, as Barth, for example, who thundered “Let God be God.” There is no “regenerative soteriology” i.e. human approach to God that generates its own view of Him. This is because “God sought humanity, not the other way around,” he said. Similarly, to the extent that atheism is based on lack of proof of God’s existence, it is just declaring that the method of discovering reality obviates spiritual reality. You can no more prove that God exists than prove that the “idea of God” is itself real. After all how real is an idea? And so it goes.
It is supremely ironical that the Lord Himself on earth addressed the impossibility of proving God’s existence. Can you guess where? It is of course where He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe” (John 20:29) He was talking to Thomas, who had just fallen on his knees and said, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas having earlier witnessed the Lord’s crucifixion and death, had here witnessed the resurrected Lord. Here was the proof, the nail marks, he asked for. Still, the risen Jesus rebuked him: “Because you have seen Me, you believe.” Part of the irony, is that Thomas “saw” the Lord with his spiritual eyes. He was seen only with the spiritual eyes after the Resurrection, saying “their eyes were opened” (True Christian Religion 777, Conjugial Love 30, Apocalypse Revealed 36). Only when they are opened, is there any “proof” of spiritual reality. And every single night, that proof of spiritual reality is supplied to practically all human beings, as quickly and quietly as the earth turns from light into darkness. We dream. Where does the “light” of a dream come from? The room is dark, yet the dream has light! That is seeing with our spiritual eyes. Besides this “proof” which we leave you to ponder, the Lord when He said, “Blessed are those who do not see yet believe,” meant the very fact that no one can prove God’s existence: “They are blessed who do not see the Lord with their eyes, as Thomas did, and yet believe that He is; for this is seen in the light of truth from the Word” (Faith 10).
“Believe that He is.” That is God’s existence. The Only “proof” of God comes from the Word of God, which is the “light of truth.” Only the Word can “prove” God’s existence. Only revelation can tell us of God (Sacred Scripture 114). Well, does the Word of the Lord exist? Yes. The Word of God exists: Ergo, God its Author exists. We too “are because God is” (Divine Providence 46e)…
Another argument: How can such a majestic universe exist without proof of a cause or Maker? Who is clever enough to create a universe without leaving a trace, but God? And as if to have the last laugh, the Lord made His Advent by the same method: spontaneous germination in the womb of Mary: “Only by means of conception from His Divine and by birth from a virgin…” (Divine Love and Wisdom 234, Lord 29) To think the Lord could have come any other way is insane. (True Christian Religion 502)
Still, people ask “Where is the evidence? Unless I see it for myself…” However, because the “reaction appear[s] as though it were a property of the thing created because it occurs when the thing is acted upon,” (Divine Love and Wisdom 68) the spiritual acting on the natural is so subtle that it escapes empirical detection. Yet ever since paleo-history, man has known God was behind it all: wise people knew the land was “impregnated by the most subtle substances (which can have no other than a spiritual origin), and through this they have power to conjoin themselves to use, from which comes their prolific principle” (Divine Love and Wisdom 310). “There is present both the spiritual which provides a soul and the material which provides a body. Also within everything spiritual there is a conatus to clothe itself with a body” (Divine Love and Wisdom 343). People have known that for ages, as part of the wisdom and lore of culture.
Well, if so, is there in fact any tangible evidence of God being the source of life? What could constitute “empirical evidence” of God’s Creative hand? Can we see when life began? Was it suddenly? Would evidence of a sudden beginning of life constitute a “smoking gun” for Creation, a finger-print of the Intelligent Designer? Is there any hard evidence of a SUDDEN beginning? Well, ahem, ahem:
“The period of biological innovation occurred at virtually the same instant in geologic time all around the world….evolution at supersonic speed.” (Time, When Life Exploded, Dec.4, 1995, p.68)
Life did explode “instantly,” no not on Dec. 4 1995 but from 543 to 510 million years ago. That is a mere 33 “eons,” called by Time “virtually the same instant.” Now the current estimation of the age of the universe is 13.7 giga-years, i.e. billions of years. Dividing 543 million minus 510 million equals 33 million, into 13.7 billion, equals ca. one 400,000th.
The “instant” of 33 million years when measurable organic life began all over this planet, is one 400,000th of the total time elapsed since creation. That is awfully quick.
So does that do it? Is this proof? “Life” began suddenly, everywhere, simultaneously! Is this not only God’s signature, but entire palm-print in creation? What else could cause such a sudden arrival of life all at once all over the planet? It is scientifically verifiable evidence. The Lord made His Advent only on this planet (Earths in Universe 113) just because here it can be known that God is Man both from the Word and from experience (Spiritual Experience 4782). God the Creator of the universe was born onto our planet, but 543 million years ago, He left His mark already. Now we can appreciate why the Lord “loves this earth more than others” because here “heavenly truths can be rooted in truths of nature.” (Spiritual Experience 1531) Fossils and mathematics match revelation, the foundation of nature matches how creation happened as revealed in Divine Love and Wisdom, published by Swedenborg in Amsterdam, at the print-shop of Fran ois Changuion, in 1763. “I AM” acts and the time and space universe began.
If Theists and Atheists met and discussed belief, no solution would likely ensue. There just is no proof. The decision to believe, however, is in the New Church dependent on reading the Writings or not. When Theists are also New Church members, the discussion would revolve around what proof there is that Heaven and Hell or all of the Writings are, in fact, so? However, that is one question that can only be answered by reading for oneself! As Swedenborg himself advised, “Read my books and see for yourself.” After reading them, another question can be asked: who has any shadow of a doubt left that everything said there is so? There is no doubt left whatever. “Life after death is a dead certainty.” Generations of New Church people have faced death content with the certainty of what is said about the afterlife. It is true.
The same goes for God’s existence. After the Lord is studied in all the Doctrines, the question of God’s existence becomes pass . God is the Divine Itself, the Father, acting as the soul to the Divine Human, the Son, who is the risen Lord. The Holy Spirit comes from Him when He, as the visible God, One both in Person and Essence, speaks. That Divine speech is the “Spirit of Truth leading to all truth,” the source of the Writings, the Heavenly Doctrines. The only proof of God comes from all that He has now said, namely the Word of God in the Heavenly Doctrine.
We close with the childishly simple proof of God. There have been so many proofs of God put forward that they become frivolous. But there is some substance to them.
The Transcendental Argument says (1) If reason exists then God exists, (2) Reason exists, (3) Therefore, God exists.
The Cosmological or first cause Argument says, (1) If I say something must have a cause, it has a cause. (2) I say the universe must have a cause. (3) Therefore, the universe has cause. (4) Therefore, God exists.
A couple more:
The Argument from Beauty or Design (Teleology): (1) Isn’t that baby/sunset/flower/tree beautiful? (2) Only God could have made them so beautiful. (3) Therefore, God exists.
Finally a rather cynical argument from the Bible: (1) [arbitrary passage from OT] (2) [arbitrary passage from NT] (3) Therefore, God exists.*
All of these can be stated more philosophically, but also easily be disproved and so discounted.
But there is a new argument we mentioned at first: How can people for thousands of year, all over the world, without contacting or even knowing of each other, all reach the same doubt over God’s existence, unless there does indeed exist a God as the object of all such doubt? You just cannot doubt something that actually does not exist, not for that many millennia, in so many scattered locations. In any case, if God actually did not exist, then the doubt of His existence would not even arise. There would be no belief to begin with. This is proved by children who are taught nothing, ending up believing – nothing! However, if God really did not exist, then there would be no universe nor people who could believe, either! But doubt of God has persisted. God has become the permanent object of human doubt. The very persistence of human doubt thereby makes God’s existence permanent! One could put this in Cartesian terms, using Dubito, ergo sum. Transposing, we have, Dubito Deum longeque per orbis terrarum, Ergo Deus est. I doubt God over time and through all the earth, therefore God is.
However, the only proof of God is found from the “light of truth from the Word.” There is also an influx into the souls of all people that there is a God and that He is one (Canons 4). This influx can only reinforce a true belief when this is expounded from the Word. You can’t see it in your inner self, as Kierkegaard postulated, since the inner self has no answers which have not entered through the senses. There too there is a proof of God, since the idea of God has to enter through the senses. That means God has to reveal Himself in order for anyone to see and then believe in Him. Once the Word has come about through such experiences, the Word of God stands in for the original personal presence and revelation of God. And the existence of the Word of God cannot be denied, however strongly anyone is confirmed in Atheism or not. If the Bible’s existence cannot be denied, neither can God’s existence be denied, since only the Word shows God to be. For God’s existence, His nature, Advent, Salvation of the human race, all this must be revealed from the Word of God alone (Sacred Scripture 114, 115). No one can come up with this information on one’s own, by natural deduction. “No one can see from below the things which are in the heavens” (De Verbo 6:4). They must be revealed. With the Second Coming having taken place in the revealed Writings, the conclusion that “God is” and that “we are because God is” (Divine Providence 46e), is almost a foregone conclusion, but apparently not with 100% of witnesses. Therefore, “Blessed is the man who has not seen, yet believes” (John 20:29, Faith 10)