Beyond Reasonable Doubt
In view of Ravi Zacharias' extensive travel and speaking schedule, this issue features an article by Joe Boot, executive director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Canada. The following is excerpted from Joe Boot's Searching for Truth: Discovering the Meaning and Purpose of Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003). Excerpted by permission of Publisher. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized use of the material is strictly prohibited.
"More consequences for thought and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other question." Mortimer Adler, coeditor, Encyclopedia Britannica
God in the Shed
Ben was only eight and afraid of the dark. One evening his mother was cleaning the kitchen and wanted to sweep out the hall; so she asked him to fetch her the broom from the shed. Startled by such a suggestion Ben turned to her and said, "But, Mum, I don't want to go out there; it's really dark." His mother looked at him with a reassuring smile and said, "Now you know you don't need to be afraid of the dark, Ben. God is out there. He will protect you; so go on, and sing on the way." Looking quizzically at his mother, Ben sought further confirmation. "Are you sure he's out there?" "Yes, of course I'm sure. God is everywhere, and he is always ready to help if you need him," answered his mother confidently. Ben thought about this for a few moments and then walked cautiously toward the back door. Slowly he opened it halfway and peered through the gap. Then, raising his voice, he called out, "God? If you are out there, would you please fetch me the broom from the shed?"
In order to begin we must start at the beginning! The most fundamental of all questions that can possibly be asked is, "Does God exist?" That is not to say that it is the foremost question on everybody's mind. You may well have decided that there is a God and have other questions that are far more important to you than this one: How can I find peace and happiness? What does the future hold? How can I solve my personal problems? Other questions of this sort may be far more prominent issues to you. However, the existence of God has huge implications for all these others. It is with this ultimate question that our hearing must begin. Either God exists or he does not. There is no middle ground. Both cannot be true. No amount of philosophical trickery can hide from the greatest antithesis of them all. Either God is or he is not. We cannot leave this question for the intellectuals, scientists, philosophers, and theologians alone; we must answer it as well. We must answer it for ourselves.
Believing in God, however, is not like other things we can "believe" in:
The Loch Ness Monster is merely "one more thing."? God, however, is not merely "one more thing." The person who believes in God and the person who does not believe in God do not merely disagree about God. They disagree about the very character of the universe. 1
Everything that can be said about human life and behavior comes all the way back to this. Our convictions on this point unavoidably determine what we can or cannot legitimately believe concerning all other fundamental questions.
Many surveys have been conducted worldwide on the subject of religious belief. These statistics are at the best of times ambiguous because any question about God needs qualifying. For example, some people believe in a personal God of creation, whereas others believe God to be a "life force"-impersonal and unknowable. Some scientists have even smuggled into a materialist worldview a god of cosmic dust, mysteriously interwoven with the fabric of the universe. So a definition of what we mean by God is crucial. We shall consider this later.
However, universal belief in a Supreme Being is still as persistent as ever. A worldwide poll taken in 1991 has the global figure for atheists at just 4.4 percent. 2 Another category titled "other non-religious" added a further 16.4 percent-agnostics in the "don't know" camp probably account for most of these. That leaves nearly 80 percent of the world's population professing belief in some sort of God.
In the United Kingdom at the end of 1999 a British survey conducted by Opinion Research Business suggested that 38 percent were "not religious." 3 This figure would again include both atheists and agnostics.
What do these figures tell us? Perhaps many reasonable deductions could be made, but the obvious one is this: Most people instinctively or intuitively believe in God. If the poll had included a question on one's familiarity with the major arguments for the existence of God, I suspect 99 percent would have denied any such specialized knowledge. So belief in God goes well beyond reason and argument; it seems to reside in our very nature. The atheist often finds that he is at odds with himself and the world around him. He must continually search for reasons to reject the existence of God. He must deny his own intuition and try to rationalize the notion that the universe has sprung into being without cause, without mind, and without design.
On the other hand, people who believe in God rarely find themselves wrestling with their intellects, desperately trying to find some shred of evidence that may point to the reality of a "Supreme Being." Their heart tells them he is. Conscience shouts it, and reason seems to demand it. Of course, big questions still remain, but the essential conviction that he is real is common and hard to dispute.
This intuitive belief is found in children all over the world. I was sent an e-mail about an eight-year-old boy from Chula Vista, California, who was given a stretching homework assignment, a challenge beyond the reach of the greatest minds. He was asked to explain God! This is what he wrote:
"One of God's main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn't make grown ups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn't have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk, he can just leave that to mothers and fathers. God's second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times besides bedtime. God doesn't have time to listen to the radio or T.V. because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off?. God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere, which keeps him pretty busy. So you shouldn't go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad's head asking for things they said you couldn't have?. If you don't believe in God you will be very lonely, because your parents can't go everywhere with you like to camp, but God can. It is good to know he's around you when you're scared in the dark or when you can't swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids. But you shouldn't just always think of what God can do for you.
I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases. And that's why I believe in God." 4
Anthropologists have discovered this sort of thinking in children everywhere, even in places where the religious culture teaches something different.
The Burden of Proof
Now obviously just because the vast majority of people believe in God or a god of some kind, we cannot conclusively say, "God exists." Universal belief in God throughout known history is a significant argument, but it doesn't amount to proof.
There is a huge problem with the issue of proof. Due to our limited minds, the nature of the issue we are dealing with puts proof practically out of the question. Some philosophers believe that even to attempt to prove the issue is futile. It is fair to say that the question of the existence of God can be neither philosophically proved nor disproved by human reason alone. By that I do not mean that we cannot be convinced about God's existence. We certainly can be. I simply mean that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated so as to convince everybody.
The media, as well as our own schooling, can give us the impression that science and scientific laws are provable, whereas God, the Bible, or Christianity are not. This is a misconception (though a forgivable one)! To do justice to our discussion we must take a brief look at this issue. If you don't want a gentle mental workout and have no interest in the nature of proof, you may wish to skip the next few pages, but do not miss out on what is being said here!
Logic demands that only deductive knowledge is strictly provable. To deduce something we must start with a truth definitely known and then by the logical process of inference arrive at certain facts that bring us to a conclusion. But what do we definitely know in order to begin this process? You may have heard the philosopher René Descartes' famous inductive argument about his own existence: "I think; therefore I am." He believed this was all he could be certain of as a basis for deductive reasoning. Though not exact logic (i.e., who is "I"?), we know what he was getting at. Others have even doubted that! However, insanity is not our current inquiry, so let me get to the point. Some philosophers and thinkers believe there is no a priori knowledge, no innate, intuitive truth. In other words, they believe that nothing is simply known. Many others dispute that, as I do, but it highlights an important point. Much of what we believe to be certain knowledge is not deductive at all. This is particularly important when considering the claims of some scientists and the popular belief that science only deals in certain knowledge.
The essence of the scientific method is what is called empiricism (the acquisition of knowledge through the experiences of our senses). Science, then, does not begin with what is definitely known. Instead, it allows evidence, which must be interpreted, to lead the inquirer where it will. Our scientific laws are simply the result of observed uniformities. If I let go of my car keys, they fall to the ground. This happens each time I drop them; so we theorize and construct the Law of Gravity. Although we accept this as a fact, it is not proved as such. Instead, we have reached a conclusion (or proposed a theory) by induction, not deduction. Induction is a philosophical term given to the process of using evidence to reach a wider conclusion: The evidence infers that your conclusion is the best explanation.
Sherlock Holmes is often thought of as the detective who solves his case by brilliant deduction (where the conclusion logically follows the premise). However, this is not entirely accurate. Despite the claims of his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes's methods are nearly always inductive. In the story "A Study in Scarlet," Holmes describes the secret of his own work:
"Like all other arts the science of deduction and analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study?. On meeting a fellow mortal, learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or profession to which he belongs?. By a man's finger nails, by his coat sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt cuffs-by each of these things a man's calling is plainly revealed. 5
It is by careful observation that Sherlock Holmes gathers evidence to reach a wider conclusion about a certain character to solve his case. And this is induction, not deduction! In truth, this is the process by which both science and history operate. Neither can be "proved" in the deductive sense. Scientific and historical propositions are accepted or rejected depending on how convincing the evidence is and whether independent testimonies are competent and reliable.
A lot of our human knowledge is acquired through the process of induction. Think how children learn. Simply telling a child not to touch the fire or not to stand up on the chair is often not enough; they have to find out for themselves! They soon learn that fire is hot and burns when you touch it and that the ground is hard and hurts when you fall on it from a height. When we are young, our time is spent finding out about the world we live in; in fact, this process never stops. Largely unconsciously, we gather millions of bits of information and become certain about many things we now take for granted. For example: rain is wet and cool. This becomes a certain premise. We then make deductions based on that reasonable fact. For example: rain is not hot and dry. If you stand in the rain, you will get wet. If you leave your washing on the line when it rains, it will get soaked. These deductions are logically valid as they are deduced from what, for all practical purposes, is a known fact-they are deduced from a known quantity. So, provided my initial exercise in induction is correct, my deductions are valid.
Now obviously we cannot show that there is a known quantity greater or further back than God from which he can be deduced-the very idea is a contradiction because God is the name we give to an ultimate being who is logically required. He is therefore the necessary cause and source of all things. So proving the existence of God deductively is impossible. Equally, proving God does not exist is impossible. Science, which seeks to define and categorize our reality, as we have seen, is not provable. In science there is no certainty, only high or low probability. Any scientific hypothesis only requires one contrary instance to pull the whole thing down. For several hundred years Newton's theories seemed to be proven, and then along came Einstein. Who knows what will be next? Molecular biologist Dr. Andrew Miller says, "It is certainly not a scientific matter to decide whether or not there is a God." 6
All our knowledge, then, is an intricate combination of intuition (first truths), induction, and deduction. Philosophers will always argue about which comes first and how much we can truly know. I believe the truth can be discovered in each of these ways and that it is foolish to exclude any of them. In reality, the way we arrive at the truth is not complicated at all. We deduce things from what we innately know (a priori), and the experience of being alive in this world gives us compelling evidence to reach, by inference (induction), reliable conclusions.
I am in no doubt: I feel as certain of the existence of God as I am about my own existence. God is a logically required being; I am not! However, my confidence is not based on a scientific experiment in a laboratory or on a brilliantly reasoned argument from a philosopher. My convictions are the result of the above combination of factors. Reason (inductive and deductive), faith, experience, revelation, history, conscience, and intuition all play a part. As human beings we are more than pure reason. Mind is more than merely intellect. Life is more than an equation. For example: I am in love with my wife. I know this to be true. I am as certain of this as I am of the fact that I was born in London and grew up in the West Country. I can't prove that to you. I cannot give you an equation for love. I would be a wealthy man if I could. I cannot conclusively demonstrate this love with a scientific experiment, but it is no less true. Blaise Pascal hit the nail on the head when he said, "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." 7 In the same way, while conclusive philosophic "proof" may be forever out of reach, being convinced of God's existence is not.
One of the most important things that reason and intelligence can do for us is make us aware of our own limitations. Some of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world have endeavored to point this out.
In 1932 Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, "As a human being one has been endowed with intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists." 8 We should avoid at all costs an arrogance that believes human intellect alone can plumb the depths of the mysteries around us. The advice of Einstein must surely be applied to this great consideration of the being of God. We cannot reject the existence of his being simply because we are unable to comprehend him fully. That would be like throwing away a priceless book simply because it was written in a language we have not yet learned.
No human being will ever master God, for he cannot be reduced to an equation on a chalkboard, handled and classified by a scientist or philosopher. If that were possible we would be the gods. If God is real, then he is the giver of mind, thought, and intellect. Our very ability to reason comes from him. The created, and consequently finite, minds of people are incapable of fully comprehending the infinite and self-existent. As Pascal wrote, "Reason's last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it. It is merely feeble if it does not go as far as to realize that." 9 The cosmos is full of great wonders. The more marvels we uncover, the more awestruck and perplexed we are. The more of nature's shoreline we find, the greater the vast waves of the unknown that break upon us. We are like children playing in the rock pools of knowledge, while as far as the eye can see an incalculable ocean of mystery thunders, roars, and overwhelms.
As we explore a fraction of our amazing universe, we come face to face with a profound truth: Someone infinitely more marvelous than we can possibly imagine is the architect of our reality. So while we admit we cannot have deductive proof of God's existence, we have evidence that amounts to an overwhelmingly compelling case-we can achieve a balance of probability that goes way beyond reasonable doubt.
Who is out there? Who is God? Before we look at a few simple reasons why God is both real and relevant, we must define our terms. What do we mean by God? About whom are we talking? When I was studying philosophy of religion and moral ethics at college, our teacher came up with a name for God in which each letter represented one or more of his characteristics. It was an extremely helpful way of remembering who we were talking about when we referred to God. We reverently called him PHILCOG.
God is not a thing, energy, or force. He thinks, he feels, he acts; he is a person.
God is morally perfect. He has no failing or deficiency. He is utterly flawless in his being and his actions.
I-Infinite, Immanent, Immutable
(a) God is self-existent. Nobody created him. He had no beginning and will have no end. He is dependent upon nothing and nobody for existence. As such, he is over and above everything. He is distinct from the universe, living outside space and time, and unrestricted by them. (b) While separate in being from the universe, his presence fills and permeates it. (c) God is totally unchangeable in every aspect of his being.
The essence of God's character is love and selfless kindness. He cares for all his creation and desires the ultimate good of the universe, especially of human beings.
By his own choice, in perfect wisdom, and by his unlimited power, God has brought all reality outside himself into existence. As the Creator he is the rightful ruler of the universe and is perfectly equipped for this task with a morally flawless character.
(a) There are not two gods or many gods. There is only one true God. God's name is plural, as there are three distinguishable persons within a single Godhead. As we conceive reality as matter, space, and time, distinct and yet inseparable, so the one God consists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (b) God knows everything; so he can never learn new information. He knows the past, the present, and the future. Time relative to one who is timeless is not time at all.
God is good. There is no mixture in his character. He is forever and unchangeably good. Because God is good, he is just and true. Everybody is accountable ultimately to him.
This is whom I mean when I speak of God. This is not a random selection of attributes pulled out of the air. This definition reflects the conviction of millions of people throughout known history and represents the belief of the largest religious grouping the world has seen thus far.
When I speak of God I am referring to him as revealed in the Bible, which is, I believe, the greatest book in existence and the oldest teaching about God. It is not my purpose in this book to critique other world religions or philosophies about God; if the Bible is true, and if Jesus is who he claimed to be, the conclusion on this point becomes inescapable. Christianity and other beliefs about God may appear superficially similar, but they are actually fundamentally different. They cannot all be true at the same time. If Jesus and the Bible are the final truth, then contradictory claims are false. More hard evidence for the reality of the God of the Bible will be presented as we look at how he has spoken and acted in history. Now, however, having defined what I mean by God, I want to present two simple, plain evidences for his existence.
The Voice of God in the Soul
The Russian writer and thinker Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his classic novel Crime and Punishment tells the story of a young man who rejects the existence of God. This young man murders an old woman. Believing there is no righteous God who will judge, and therefore no absolute standard of right and wrong, he knows that he should not feel guilty. However, he is consumed with a sense of guilt until he confesses his crime and hands his life over to God. It seems that there is truth forced upon us long before we encounter any theoretical knowledge or argument in life. This is called intuitive or a priori knowledge, truth obvious to every one of us, truth that cannot be doubted. We are conscious of feeling moral obligation to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong. We have a deep sense that some of our thoughts, words, and actions are praiseworthy and that others are blameworthy. Each of us is inescapably aware that we are moral beings with moral character.
When we do things that we somehow know to be wrong, we feel a sense of guilt. We may try to escape that guilt by ignoring it or by trying to intellectualize it away, like the character in Dostoyevsky's novel, but the hunter is relentless. We are hunted down by our own conscience. We do not just feel this obligation; we understand it with our minds. People will often talk about having a sense of duty. We speak constantly about what other people "ought" or "ought not" to have done. We instinctively know what we ought and ought not to do. The only reason we can understand what we ought to do is because our conscience tells us!
We can never know that we ought to do something until we understand what is right. Why else do we have a duty to do anything? How else can we say that anything is right or that anything is wrong? Some claim that there is no objective standard of right and wrong and that we should all do whatever we feel like doing. However, this kind of subjective morality is never lived out consistently. The modern conviction "if it feels good just do it" always dies when people run into injury or injustice in which they have to suffer. Invariably they then call for justice the loudest. This sense of moral obligation is universal and is often referred to as moral or natural law. No human being seems to be born without it. Our legal system and courts of law depend upon the power of it, and society suffers when men and women suppress and violate it.
In his book The Abolition of Man C. S. Lewis illustrates the universality of the moral law by citing examples of moral conviction in diverse cultures and places throughout history. 10 Pointing to Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian, Jewish, Chinese, Roman, Old Norse, American Indian, Anglo-Saxon, Greek, and Australian Aboriginal sources, it can be clearly seen that natural law or moral obligation has consistently and universally gripped the human race.
Despite modern people's considerable effort to shake free from this apparent inconvenience-notably in the forms of materialism, atheistic evolution, fascism, and Freudian psychology-nothing has succeeded in destroying or silencing this voice of God in the soul. We still understand that murder is wrong, that we should not lie, steal, betray each other, or live a life of total selfishness.
The reality of these first truths, written on our conscience, is still as potent as ever. This moral obligation, which makes demands of us all, leads us to an inevitable conclusion, to an inescapable deduction: This law within implies a law without. The existence of our moral nature and this moral law implies a lawgiver and a judge. The creator of our nature must also be a moral being. That being is God, who is both Creator and Judge.
We also find it difficult to resist the conviction that we are accountable for our actions. We sense that how we respond to our conscience is important because we shall have to answer for it one day. This is not a comfortable thought, but again it is a feeling that we carry with us. The fact that we feel accountable implies that accountability is part of our nature, and that there is a ruler who will hold us ultimately accountable.
In summary, what does our sense of moral obligation point to? It is simply this: We are all moral beings who have a conscience. This is a fact, even for the atheist, and any pretense to the contrary is dishonest. Our conscience places us under a moral obligation that we obey or disobey as each circumstance presents itself. We feel that we shall ultimately be accountable for all that we say and do, which is why we feel guilt when we violate our conscience, yet are often pleased or happy when we obey it. All this implies a moral governor who gives us a moral law; this governor is God! So the existence of God is demanded and implied by the very fact of our moral nature. The voice of God in the soul echoes the fact that there is a God.
This is a closely reasoned argument that has been used for many years in different forms to demonstrate, independent of any academic or theoretical knowledge, that God's existence is plain to us all by what we know about ourselves. To me, along with the Bible's history, this is a most compelling argument for God and one that can bring us beyond reasonable doubt.
The Lord of the Dance
I vividly remember what it was like as a child to have overwhelming questions running through my head about existence. Sometimes I would sit and think and try to get my head around why I existed at all, until my mind simply quit and went blank. Who am I? What is life? How did it begin? If life goes on after death, what is eternity? Surely even that must end? The one thing we cannot accept as children or rationalize as adults is that things just happen by themselves. In my family, like most others, lots of things happened inexplicably. Food went missing from the cupboards, rooms messed themselves up, fights were started by phantoms, dirty footprints appeared across the carpet on their own, and all sorts of things were broken by the invisible man! All of us when questioned by Mum or Dad usually denied responsibility. "I don't know! It wasn't me!"
Why did this reasoning never get us off the hook? Because people cannot accept that things happen by themselves-something causes them to happen. That room did not get messy by itself; something or someone messed it up. This is a rule of common sense and common knowledge; all events must have a cause. No reasonable person would dispute that. This is the source of the persistent questioning of a child who asks why. If one asks why enough times, eventually you either get back to God or you simply have to assert something like, "It just is; that's all" or "Because I said so." The latter response is rather unsatisfactory, and even reference back to God will often prompt the question, "But who made God?"
This fact is telling. What it shows is that our minds demand a principle often referred to as "cause and effect." Philosophers call it "efficient causality." We all notice that some things cause other things to begin to be, to continue to be, or both. A woman may pick up and play the violin. She is causing the music that we hear. If she stops playing, the music stops. This can be said of everything we do. Every event must have a cause. For example:
Statement: I have just knocked over my cup of tea. Question: Why? Answer: Because my arm knocked it over. Question: Why? Answer: Because my brain told my arm to move. Question: Why? Answer: Because electrical impulses moved the muscles as I willed to move my arm. Question: Why? Answer: Because that's how the body works. Question: Why?
If we go on like that, we either get back to God or we resort to something irrational. What exactly do I mean by that?
As we have said, our senses tell us that the universe is real and that our world is a system of events and changes. These events, like the music from a violin or the spilling of a cup of tea, cannot cause themselves-this would be absurd. Something causes them to happen. Think hard for a moment. Everything at this moment is caused to be by something other than itself. All those things that cause other things also need a cause. But what is causing them if everything at any given moment needs a cause? The only reasonable solution is that there must be a first cause that is uncaused, self-existent, independent, and eternal. A cause that is not dependent on anything else to be its cause. This must be God. He is not an effect of something else; instead, he is the ultimate cause of all other effects. God is not an event that occurs at a given time like everything else; he has always been and always will be.
Imagine that existence is a present given from Mr. Cause to Miss Effect and so on down the chain of receivers, like a game of Pass the Parcel for however long the music plays. Unless someone has the present to start with, it cannot be passed along the chain. If there is no God who exists by himself, with an eternal nature (the one with the present), the gift of existence cannot be passed down through the chain of creatures, and we shall never get it.
But of course we exist, are here, are alive, and have got it-which means God must exist. He is the only one who always had the gift to give; it was not passed to him by anybody. This is the answer to the child's question, "Who made God?" For even a child knows that the gift of life came from someone and was passed to all from somewhere. So doesn't that include God? God by definition is the giver of the gift. No one made God, for God by his very name is the only one who just is! He is the great assertion, the only one who can truly say, "Because I said so."
The Bible begins with that very assertion: "In the beginning God." It does not argue about it or seek to persuade the reader by clever argument that it is true. It is simply stated. Human consciousness nods its head to this fact-God is! This is a constant theme in the Bible. It tells us that people intuitively know they have been given the gift of life from the giver of life who is eternal. King Solomon, famed for his wisdom, wrote, "He [God] has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11, nlt). The Lord of the dance, the one who gives life to and sustains everything, has placed in the human heart a sense of immortality. Despite the fact that we cannot understand or explain an infinite, self-existent God, a persistent awareness that he is the source of all life remains embedded in the very essence of what it means to be a human being.
Do You Want to Bet?
At the beginning of this [article], I said that conclusive philosophic proof cannot be offered to decide the question of God's existence. This does not mean that it is perfectly reasonable to reject God's existence. The law of gravity cannot be "proved" as such, but that does not make it reasonable to jump from a tower expecting to fly. I believe the two plain, logical arguments I have discussed, quite apart from the unique revelation of the Bible or the life of Christ, put the case beyond reasonable doubt.
You may feel unconvinced by what you have read so far. This is understandable and has to do with my limited ability, not an absence of evidence for God. However, it is worth considering a final thought before going on. As people we often make decisions by weighing conflicting possibilities. For example, I need to go out. The clouds are gathering, and it looks like rain, but I don't want to carry an umbrella. It will be tiresome, and I may leave it somewhere. And it might not rain, and then I've carried it for nothing. So I set off without it. The skies open, and I get drenched. Why did I not just pick up the umbrella? I would have lost nothing by being prepared.
Similarly, Pascal suggested to those unconvinced by arguments about God's existence that they should take up his "wager." He encourages them to continue seeking and not to be lazy in this vital matter. He asks us, "Where will you place your bet?" If you place it in the existence of God and determine to seek him, you lose nothing, even if it turns out that God does not exist and there is no life after death after all. But if you bet against God and abandon searching for him, and he does exist and rewards those who seek him, you lose everything! Pascal's solution is simple: Bet on God!
"Since a choice must be made, we must see which is the least bad. You have two things to lose: truth and happiness. You have two things at stake: your reason and your happiness. And you have two things to avoid: error and misery. Since you must necessarily choose, your reason is no more affronted by choosing one rather than the other. How about your happiness? Let us weigh up the gain and loss in calling heads that God exists. If you win, you win everything. If you lose, you lose nothing. So do not hesitate; wager that God exists." 11
This may at first appear rather clinical, but it should be looked at in the following way: If God exists and is the Creator of the universe who is infinitely good and true, then I owe him my love, obedience, and faith. To reject him, ignore him, and live as though there is no God would be to do unthinkable injustice to God and the entire universe. This is neither an argument for God's existence nor an attempt to force people to believe, but it should cause us to pause if we are tempted to stop seeking the truth. Those who never seek never find-an unreasonable and unhappy place to be. The Bible on the other hand offers this encouragement: "Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him" (Hebrews 11:6, nlt).
Anyone can say a prayer to God. If we can sincerely say, "God, if you are real, please show me who you are," we are taking a wager that the Bible says God accepts and will respond to! To seek God will never be a waste of time and can take us far beyond reasonable doubt.
Joe Boot is executive director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Canada
1 C. Stephen Evans, Quest for Faith (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 28.
2 International Bulletin of Missionary Research (January 1991), cited by John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000), 18.
3 Daily Telegraph (16 December 1999).
4 Email from a friend, 1999-source unknown. For a detailed survey and exploration of belief in the existence of a supreme God in diverse cultures, see Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1984).
5 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes (London: Penguin Books, 1981), 23.
6 Quoted by R.J. Berry, ed., Real Science, Real Faith (Worthing, England: Monarch Books, 1991), 94-95.
7 Blaise Pascal, Pensées (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1973), 59.
8 Albert Einstein, Personal Correspondence to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, 1932.
9 Pensées, 101.
10 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (London: Fount Paperbacks, 1978), 49-59.
11 Pascal, Pascal in a Nutshell (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997), 66-67.