Of Mermaids and God

165919_5884Awhile back I was amused to see that the BBC had a news story entitled, No evidence of mermaids, say US government. According to the article, a broadcast on mermaids, which was a work of fiction, was mistaken as a documentary. This led to people questioning if mermaids actually existed, and the National Ocean Service stating, “No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.” While mermaids have been a part of mythology across the centuries and in various cultures, they are nothing more than characters in ancient stories.

Of Mermaids and God

It hardly seems newsworthy to point out that there is no evidence of “aquatic humanoids.” Obviously they’re a work of fiction, a myth! Yet the more I thought about it the more I realized that this is the same way many people approach God’s existence – it’s outrageous. I can almost see an article saying, “No evidence of a Supernatural Being has ever been found.” He’s a myth that’s been passed down through the centuries. He’s just a character in an ancient story.

But is this the case? Is there “no evidence of God?” Is the belief in God similar to the belief in a mythical aquatic humanoid?

Is There Evidence for God? Looking for the Clues

This question of God’s existence is critical for the Christian faith. If God does not exist, than Jesus was not God. And if Jesus was not God, then everything Christians believe about him, humanity, and the world is a lie. In the words of Tim Keller, How can we believe in Christianity if we don’t even know whether God exists?[1] Unlike the question about Mermaids, this is no laughing matter.

For all the assertions today that God does not exist, there is good evidence that says otherwise. There are strong clues, or “divine fingerprints,” which lead on to his existence[2] There are reasons to believe. Alister McGrath has said, “It can be affirmed with complete sincerity that belief in God is eminently reasonable and makes more sense of what we see in the world, discern in history, and experience in our lives than its alternatives.”[3] What are these clues? McGrath helpfully summarizes eight of those clues for us.[4]

Clue #1: The origins of the universe. As science has progressed it has become increasingly clear that the universe had a beginning. This is commonly called the Big Bang theory. Whatever one believes about this theory, the scientific consensus that the universe had a beginning fits well with the Christian belief in God. Something had to cause the Big Bang to happen. Couldn’t that cause be God?

Clue #2: A universe designed for life. The “fine-tuning” of the universe recognizes that conditions were just right for intelligent life to occur. McGrath notes,

Nature’s fundamental constants turn out to have been fine-tuned to reassuringly life-friendly values. The existence of carbon-based life on earth depends upon a delicate balance of physical and cosmological forces and parameters. Were any of these quantities slightly altered, balance would have been destroyed and life would not have come into existence.[5]

This fine-tuning is what one would expect to see if God exists and is the Creator of the universe and life.

Clue #3: The structure of the physical world. There is an order and structure to our world and universe that we are able to discern, without which science would not be possible. Where does this order come from and how are we able to discern it? If God exists, then it’s rational to believe that he would create a universe with structure and enable us to learn and discover that structure.

Clue #4: A longing for justice. While morality is often seen as subjective in our culture, there are still objective morals we all hold to. We all believe murder is wrong. We all get upset when we someone lies to us, or when someone steals from us. Where does this objective morality come from? Can it be sustained without a Moral Law Giver? “For Christians, God alone offers an objective foundation for moral values, which is not subject to the whims of the powerful or the changing moods of public opinion.”[6]

Clue #5: Desire. This clue looks at the longings of every human heart as a clue for God’s existence. In all of us there is a desire and deep longing for something we do not have and can never obtain on our own. The Christian belief in God argues that this deep sense of yearning for something transcendent is ultimately grounded in the fact that we are created to fellowship with God, and will not be fulfilled until we do so.[7]

Clue #6: Beauty. There is great beauty in the natural world. Whether it is a sunset that paints the sky in hues of pink, orange, and purple, the majesty of mountains, or the delicacy of a flower, we daily catch glimpses of beauty. This beauty is a clue, a signpost, to the greater beauty of God. It points us to him.

Clue #7: Relationality. Human beings have a fundamental need for relationships with each other. Our deep longing for love indicates that we have been hardwired to love and be loved. The Bible consistently portrays God as a Person who created humanity in his likeness to have a relationship with him. Our deep longing to know and be known is a clue that God created us with this longing for the intended purpose of knowing him.

Clue #8: Eternity. There is a deep intuition in us that life does not end at death. Many people, no matter their religious faith, believe in an afterlife. It’s a life they hope is better than the one they are presently experiencing. While this could be passed off as wishful thinking, couldn’t it also be a clue to reality? As McGrath puts it, Maybe God has planted the idea of eternity in our hearts as a clue to the true meaning of the universe. Maybe we are meant to think such thoughts and experience such longings because that’s the way God created us.[8]

These clues in and of themselves prove nothing. They cannot prove that God exists in the same way we can prove a mathematical equation. Yet taken together they present a very strong case that there is evidence for God’s existence.

Myth became Fact

While there are clues that point to God’s existence many still believe he is a work of mythology, similar to mermaids; the similarities between pagan myths and the biblical account of God show that the Christian belief in God is simply part of the larger ancient, and fictitious, superstitions of the ancient world.  C.S. Lewis was familiar with this line of reasoning. Yet he pointed out that perhaps there were similarities because Christianity was the true myth that all other myths pointed to. He observes,

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences.[9]

There is no evidence for mermaids, but there is evidence for God’s existence. There are clues in the world around us -and within our own hearts and souls – that point to him. Far from being a fantastical creature in an ancient myth, he is the True Myth that gives meaning to every story, including our own.

[1] Tim Keller, The Reason for God, chapter 8
[2] Ibid
[3] Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics, chapter 6
[4][4] Ibid
[5] Ibid, p. 98
[6] Ibid, p. 105
[7] Ibid, p. 109
[8] Ibid, p. 120
[9] C.S. Lewis, Myth Became Fact,” in God in the Dock, p. 66

14 thoughts on “Of Mermaids and God

  1. VERY well written Sarah 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts and insights; I’ll have to keep this “bookmarked”

  2. Hey, Sarah!

    Excellent blog post. I only clicked on it because I knew it would be more about that silly mermaid “documentary” (Wikipedia calls it a “mocumentary,” same as the Spinal Tap movie) on Animal Planet. You’d think a network that purports to run real life shows about wildlife wouldn’t put something like that on without strong disclaimers, but I guess ratings mean more to them than truth.

    Love the post! Seriously.

  3. I was listening to A. C. Grayling in Oxford recently and he said that belief in a Deity is the same as belief in “fairies at the end of the garden”. He suggested that we can dismiss belief in God with the same rationale with which we dismiss belief in those fairies.

    Grayling is a highly educated, esteemed philosopher and yet this was his argument!

    He should read you blog! Great thoughts. Thanks.

  4. Pingback: Belief in God: It's Just Wishful Thinking | The CVM Blog

  5. Pingback: Belief in God: It's Just Wishful Thinking | Jonathan Sherwin

  6. This is a another clear case of rain dance argumentation, of confusing cherry picked ‘clues’ with and correlational assertion followed by a raft of assumptions based on it. Yes, there’s dancing. Yes, there’s rain. But how do you connect these ‘clues’ to argue in favour of causation? Well, simple: you provide a link that can be tested in some way by reality. This link is utterly missing from such a theology as what you’ve provided here. Without the link, without reality’s backing of the rain dance or christian god assertion, all you’ve got is the faeries at the end of the garden assumption. That’s the sum total of McGrath’s long and repeatedly discredited set of misnamed ‘clues’ and the preordained conclusion he arrives at.

    • Thanks for the comment. You’ve made the assertion that the ‘clues’ listed above are not backed by reality. What links to reality can you provide me to prove your conclusion that belief in God is the same as belief in faeries? What link can you provide me to disprove causation?

      • Sarah, I’m making no positive claim for causal effect; you are. The burden is on you to link the dancing to causing the rain, to link your god to causing the clues. This link is what’s missing. And when you think about it, you’ll find reality offers us no evidence for this supposed link. You, and you alone, are making the assertion of agency here… not reality.

        This absence of any kind of linkage is identical to the same absence of evidence to support the claim that faeries cause mischief in the garden, identical to the same absence of evidence to claim water retains a memory to cause restorative power, the same absence of evidence to claim ghosts cause bumps in the night, the same absence of evidence that therapeutic touch causes energy realignment, and so on. There is no end to clues for all kinds of claims about what is known as woo. Without the required link, you can equate any claim to any cause your imagination selects and this is not reasonable to support a claim about some supposed agency active and causing effect in reality. Sure, the effects are as real as rain, but the problem lies with attributing the dancing to be the cause. This is a mistake you’re making.

      • Here’s the thing. We live with the reality of cause and effect every day. Isn’t it vastly different to say, “I danced, therefore it rained,” than to say, “I’m driving my car. What’s the cause that makes it work?” or, “The universe is vastly complex and intelligent. Who, or What, behind it?” If there’s no cause, what do we link the effect to?
        Also, you’re claiming that I’m making the assertion of agency and not reality, that the burden of proof is on me to prove my God is causing the clues. Yet, when I look at those ‘clues’ I’d say the burden of proof lies in the opposite direction; to look at the complexity of the universe and humanity and to see no cause whatsoever.

      • You’re making a classical mistake assuming that because you see causal effect between the universe and humanity that you can slip in your claim for agency behind the universe and assume it means the same thing as the universe. It doesn’t. There is no linkage here between the claim for agency and evidence for agency other than complexity. And this is why when we find how complexity rises from local units obeying local rules, we show there is no need for any agency. The agency hypothesis becomes an obvious and unnecessary assumption, which dismantles the claim that it is required. It’s not. That’s why the burden now falls to you to show otherwise.

  7. There are days when I am tempted to say God does not exist. There is too much pain in the world. It seems to come in waves on a daily basis. I assume that people who don’t feel pain probably do not see any need for a belief in God. But for me, the pain can, if felt long and hard enough, make it seem entirely plausible there is no God out there or at least one who actively intervenes in the lives of men. At times it appears seemingly that the best men can do is find something –anything– to help them cope with the pain of life and get from one day to the next.

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