Proof of God: Introduction (1)


Here’s a homework assignment for you: Corner any adherent of any religion, and ask for proof that their God or gods exist.

They’ll refuse, with odds better than chance.

They don’t need proof, they say, because they feel his presence within them, or because nothing else can explain how well this world fits together.

I have moments when I realize things like this [Comfort’s argument, reproduced below] myself. Personal moments, when something very physical and small reminds me that the world can’t be an accident. Reminds me that the world fits together too nicely.

Good sex. Hard boiled eggs when you’re in a hurry. What salt water does to my hair. Peanut butter and milk. Giving birth. Aloe. Fingernails.

Now, I don’t get into debates with atheists, and I don’t think one can prove God to anyone else, but I feel it’s worth taking a second to admit to this… since I post a lot of sarcastic bits on this site, and this is a chance to cheese out.

The way a banana fits the hand is exactly the kind of thing that makes me believe… in something. As good an argument as anything, when one isn’t making an argument out of it.

Call it God, or call it lucky agriculture… either way it makes me think the universe has an order I can believe in.

(Laurel Snyder, May 14, 2007,

I understand that a lot of people do not believe in God because of the simple fact that there seems to be no evidence of Him. I believe the majority of atheists would believe if God showed Himself. So I’m just curious if you have ever asked the Lord into your heart? Because you can’t find God, if you are simply looking for proof. You can only find God when you truly seek after Him. Even just a small amount of faith will due.Even [sic] if you don’t sense His presence immediately. Simply by asking, “God I want to believe in you, so could you show up in my life?” Some people who don’t believe say, “Alright God, if you exist, then show yourself.” As in if they don’t see God show up, then they automatically rationalize that God isn’t real. But the truth is, you have to invite Christ into your life and then He will show up. You WILL feel His presence only when you invite Him into your life. God says draw nearer to me and I’ll draw nearer to you. You can’t see God face to face on earth, but you can feel Him.

(“Violet”, )

Only a select few will go farther, but those proofs are somewhat lacking. Ray Comfort, for instance, invokes what he calls the “Atheist’s Worst Nightmare”: the banana.

This fruit fits perfectly in your hand, and has a non-slip texture to help keep it there. You can judge when it’s ripe to eat by the colour of the outer skin. It’s easy to peel open, with the help of a well-placed fingernail. There’s a gentle curve for easy insertion into the mouth. The taste is pleasantly sweet, with no seeds to interrupt your enjoyment. Once finished, the skin is easily discarded and bio-degrades.

A pop can has many of the same attributes, and we know it was designed by humans for humans. Bananas are plants, though, so who could be the designer?

Humans, as it turns out.

Originally, the wild banana had large seeds, and was almost inedible to us. Over 7000 years ago, the residents of what is now Papua New Guinea began cultivating them for food anyway. By keeping only those plants that grew the best-tasting bananas, they gradually improved the taste and reduced the size of the seeds. The new-improved banana picked up fans throughout South-East Asia. Islam then spread the fruit across the Middle East, and may have introduced it to Africa[2] . Portuguese sailors discovered the banana in West Africa around 1500 AD, and began importing it to Europe. It slowly grew in popularity there, eventually requiring large tropical plantations to satisfy demand.

Bananas come in a wide variety of colours, from red to purple, and the majority of them have to be cooked before eating. The yellow “dessert” banana was discovered on a Jamaican plantation in 1836, and its unusually sweet taste and softness made it a hit in the United States of America. Modern agricultural techniques and refrigeration have turned this rare treat into a staple.

The banana is dependent on us for reproduction and protection. The lack of seeds means it can only spread by having a certain portion of the root deliberately cut off and replanted elsewhere. Selective breeding and our desire for a consistent product have robbed the banana plant of genetic diversity, making it easy prey for disease and parasites. In fact, the tastiest variant of dessert banana was killed off by a fungus in the 1960’s. Our current sub-standard replacement is being ravaged by the same disease.

This has been known for some time. If Comfort had only done a little research, he would have been spared the nickname “Banana-man.”

Or take Michael Behe’s argument about the bacterial flagellum. These look like little hairs but act like little propellers, whipping around in circles to drive the bacteria forward. The design of these flagellum is fragile, however; remove any one component, and it’s useless as a propeller. However, evolution works via small, incremental changes, not large leaps; having every piece simultaneously click into place by chance is so unlikely, it would be like tossing some metal into the air and having it land as a bicycle.  If the flagellum was designed, not evolved, Behe proposes that the culprit was an “intelligent designer.” While he’s careful not to use the “g” word, the only potential being that could pull off such a design coup would have to be a god.

One problem: evolution doesn’t force a component to have only one use. Wings began as limbs with a flap of skin, which were useful for gliding, and slowly got better at flying and worse at supporting weight. Limbs are fins that stretched out via 500 million years of evolution, and so on. The flagellum bears a strong resemblance to a “secretion system,” generally a long needle-like structure used to stab other cells and inject them with poison, that has had one or two extra bits added on that allow rotation. Those extras are easy to mutate into place, so the flagellum could evolve after all.

Not only did Behe misunderstand evolution, an embarrassing gaff for a biologist, but he did it in a courtroom, so his mistake has been permanently etched into the public record.

Three Objections

This puts me in a bit of a bind. I could spend an entire book jumping from specific proof to specific proof, only to have my work dismissed as merely “cherry-picking” the worst of the bunch. Even worse, new proofs are easy to manufacture. Behe has move on to more subtle arguments surrounding the rate of evolutionary change, while Comfort can rapidly shift between dozens of well-practiced alternate proofs, deflating any rebuttal longer and deeper than a sound-bite.

And so far I’ve just considered Christian arguments. There are thousands or hundreds of thousands of other religions that have existed on this planet. Even within a single religion, there’s an incredible variety of beliefs. Returning to Christianity, depending on your sect God comes in a trinity or in singular form, God is Jesus, Jesus is the Son of God (and thus only partially god-like), or you yourself could become a God. He may actively alter the universe, passively sit by and provides comfort, or any mix in between. In the Old Testament, God is portrayed as a physical being:

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
(Genesis 3:8, King James translation)

And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
(1 Kings 22:19, King James translation)

Modern Christians reject this, and agree more with the New Testament’s view of God as a purely spiritual being, outside the physical world. That fits well with Daoists, who put it more poetically:

The revealing of great virtue all comes from the guidance of the Dao.
The Dao is so fleeting, so alternating.
Alternating and fleeting, there are signs in between; fleeting and alternating, there are forms in between.
It is so deep and so very dark. In between, there lie feelings of life. And feelings of life are real, latent with trust.
From ancient times until today, the name of the Dao stays; it has been guiding us to the origin of the manifestations of all things.
How do I know the very origin of the manifestation of all things? It’s through the Dao.

Things rapidly get worse for me, though. The conflicting views on god imply that some of them must be incorrect. This in turn opens up the possibility that none of them are correct, and the true description of the divine order has yet to be discovered or was contained in an extinct religion.

So not only am I facing a Hydra[3] of proofs, I must also factor in multiple definitions of gods that don’t mesh well or have yet to be thought up! Looming over it all is the biggest problem of them all, the one I began with. Why is any sort of proof necessary in the first place?

This is a slightly daunting task. Obviously I can’t claim to be definitive, but as impossible as this sounds, I think I can make a reasonable go of it.

[2]  There is some recent evidence that Africans may have domesticated the banana themselves, on or around 1000 BCE.

[3]  An old Greek monster that grew two heads for every one you chopped off. It likely went extinct because of ever-increasing brainpower, which in turn led to ever-increasing boredom.