Written by Lou Whitworth
[Note: “Why Isn’t the Evidence Clearer?” is the name of a chapter in the Probe book, Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question, an excellent collection of articles on Christian evidential apologetics. The chapter (pp. 305-17) was written by John A. Bloom (Ph.D. in physics, Cornell University, Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Dropsie College, and now Associate Professor of Physics at Biola College). This essay is an edited and condensed version of the chapter as found in the book. For the documentation of this material, please see the original. The book was edited/compiled by Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, who holds eight earned degrees in philosophy, law, and theology.]
Sometimes unbelievers complain, “If God really exists, why isn’t the evidence more plain and simple?” “Is God tricking us by making us hunt and search for answers?” They say, “Why isn’t the evidence for the God of the Bible clearer?” That is, why isn’t the evidence for the truth of the Scriptures so obvious and undeniable that virtually everyone would acknowledge it, repent, and accept Christ as personal savior?
In his book, Contact, Carl Sagan satirically asks why God doesn’t place a glowing cross in the sky at night to serve as irrefutable proof of Jesus’ resurrection? One could extend this line of thought further and ask why God doesn’t have His own television channel and toll-free “hotline”?
Despite Sagan’s ridicule, he has a legitimate point. Why must we read a two-thousand-year-old book and study ancient history for proof of the existence of God? Why isn’t the evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible made obvious to everyone, no matter how rebellious or blinded by sin? What we are really asking is, “Are there any reasons for the evidence to appear obscure other than the possibility that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist?” This question should be addressed seriously, and, as we do so in this brief discussion, I think we will find that the answer is more profound than many realize.
There are two reasonable demands for any set of evidence. First, the evidence should be clear enough to be intellectually sound at the same level of certainty one uses in making other important decisions. Second, the evidence must be clear enough to select one set of claims over another (that is, clear enough to select Christianity over other religions).
Some are tempted to apply the rule that “the more critical the decision, the clearer the evidence must be.” They demand that the evidence for Christianity must be extraordinarily and especially clear to win their allegiance. The problem with this standard is that it assumes that there are no consequences to the decision. If, however, there are cataclysmic consequences to the observer, he will have to settle for “sufficient evidence, or the most trustworthy evidence.”
The more appropriate rule is: “The more severe the consequences, the less we should take risks.” Therefore, even if biblical Christianity has a less than one-in-ten-million chance of being true, we should accept it because the possibility of an eternal Hell is such a great torment. If the available evidence shows that biblical Christianity is “the most trustworthy” of all religions, then we are on even firmer ground.
For the balance of this article, we’ll be looking at this issue of the clarity of the evidence from several perspectives. We’ll consider the scientific and historical perspectives on this question; we’ll attempt to look at it from God’s point of view and from our own human vantage point. Finally, we’ll summarize the results of our analysis in light of God’s grace and our human accountability.
The Scientific Perspective
The chief task of the scientist is to comb through “raw” data and attempt to extract useful information from which he constructs a hypothesis. He then tests the hypothesis against the original data and against new data from experimentation. Often the data are inconclusive or ambiguous preventing a rigorous conclusion. However, abandoning the research and pronouncing that no one can ever discover the answer is poor methodology. The fact is that the natural order rarely produces ideal data, and nature appears to be more far more complex the more we know about it. Is it logical to expect the Creator to be less complex than His creation?
The scientist should have a healthy skepticism and desire careful experimentation. However, the extremely skeptical position we mentioned aboveCarl Sagan in demanding a glowing cross in the sky as proof of Christ’s resurrection is not scientific. It is like not believing in galaxies unless someone has one in his laboratory. Some people may refuse to believe in the authority of the Ten Commandments because they aren’t written on the surface of the moon, but those same people would consider a person an idiot if he said he doubted the authority of the periodic table because it wasn’t written on the surface of the moon. The point is that clarity is relative, not absolute; thus skepticism must have practical limits.
In addition, the clarity and conclusiveness of experimental data must be judged relative to competition, that is, alternate explanations. In our case, the clarity of the evidence for the truth of biblical Christianity would be obscured by competition from other belief systems if any of them had comparable evidence to support their truth claims. Scientists have learned that they cannot wait for irrefutable data.
The Historical Perspective
Arguments against the Bible based on a “Why isn’t it clearer?” foundation can appear stronger than they really are because of the distortions inherent in recording history. For example, a casual reading of the Bible might lead one to the conclusion that miracles were a daily occurrence in ancient Israel. Thus the absence of similar miracles in modern times could lead one to assume that “God is dead” or that those events which the ancients thought were miracles were only natural events which were not understandable at the time.
In fact, a close study of the Bible indicates that miracles were rare and mainly cluster around four specific points:
- Moses and the Exodus
- The time of Elijah and Elisha
- The lives of Jesus and the Apostles, and
- The still future Second Coming of Christ
The clusters of miracles appear in conjunction with some new aspect of God’s plan or new revelation and seem more prominent than they really are because of the historical compression of the biblical record.
We have been looking at the question of why the evidence for the truth of the Bible isn’t clearer, and now we will look at this question from God’s perspective. In other words, could God have reasons for not making the evidence so striking that even the most sinful and rebellious person would see it and repent?
First a few observations about God. Ancient thought often held that the gods made man because they were in need of servants. Much modern thought argues that God made man because He was lonely or did not have anyone around to love or appreciate Him. However, the God of the Bible is in no way dependent upon mankind even for love or worship. That He reveals Himself at all is for our benefit, not His.
But even if He reveals evidence of Himself only to benefit us, why isn’t He more forthright about it? This much seems clear: If He made His presence or the evidence too obvious, it would interfere with His demonstration, which is intended to draw out or reveal the true inner character of mankind. We know from several passages of Scripture that this is part of God’s purpose for maintaining a relative silence. For example, in Psalm 50:21-22 we read, “These things you have done, and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you, and state the case in order before your eyes.” From these statements we come to see that God is not struggling desperately to gain man’s attention. Actually He is restraining Himself in order to demonstrate to human beings something about our inner character, or tendency to evil. We might call this “the Sheriff in the tavern” principle—people tend to be good when they think they are being watched by an authority. If a sheriff wants to find out or reveal who the troublemakers are in a tavern, he must either hide or appear to be an ineffective wimp, otherwise the bad guys will behave as well as everyone else.
Of course we should not push this analogy too far: unlike the Sheriff, God doesn’t need to see men’s evil actions in order to accurately judge them. Moreover, He has not stated His full reasons for allowing men to demonstrate their evil intent through their actions. The point we are trying to make here is that there are reasons that we can understand that may explain to some degree why God has chosen to run the world the way He has.
So why isn’t the evidence clearer? To use another analogy, it is because God is like a good scientist who doesn’t want to disturb His experiment by intruding into it. The problem of disturbing an experiment while measuring it is the bane of the experimental sciences in that any and every measurement changes and thus distorts to some degree the system it measures. Of course God is not running an experiment because He already knows the outcome. It is more like a demonstration with the results saved for Judgment Day.
The Human Perspective
We have been dealing thus far in this essay the question of why the evidence for the truth of the Bible isn’t clearer, that is, overwhelmingly and inescapably clear. Now we want to examine this question from man’s viewpoint, that is, the human factor that is involved whenever a person tries to judge the quality of the evidence.
In Romans 1:1-8 Paul wrote that God has given human beings sufficient evidence that He exists. However, some people cannot bear to think that there is an authority or power greater than themselves, especially one that they cannot control and to which they should be subject. We should not be surprised, therefore, when we find that many people often distort the evidence that God has already given them (yet keep demanding more).
Given this tendency on the part of man, how clear does the evidence have to be before people would universally recognize the existence of the God of the Bible? Would a cross in the sky actually be sufficient to convert Carl Sagan? Would the performance of an undeniable miracle in a scoffer’s presence be enough? However impressive such feats would be, the records of history show that most people choose to ignore whatever evidence they have, no matter how clear it may be.
During the wilderness wanderings, the Israelites, who had personally observed the miracles in Egypt and who were being fed and guided daily by miraculous means (manna and the pillar of fire), repeatedly rebelled against the God-directed leadership of Moses. The miracles performed by Elijah and Elisha were not sufficient to convert he Northern Kingdom of Israel to unperverted forms of biblical worship. In the New Testament Jesus healed the lame and the blind and even raised the dead, yet the Jewish leaders, who could not dispute the genuineness of His miracles, wanted to kill Him.
In His account of an unnamed rich man and a poor man named Lazarus, Jesus Himself makes our point clear: The rich man, now in hell, pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers so they will not face the same torment that he is experiencing. Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
From the human perspective, why isn’t the evidence clearer? Because God knows, and has already demonstrated, that no matter how clear He makes the evidence, it will never be sufficient for some. More evidence by itself will not convince people whose minds are already emotionally attached to an opposing view, because people are not always rational. The mind is all too often the servant of the desired fantasy.
Is God frustrated and defeated by the fact that man is so sinful he will not pay attention to God no matter how big the flag is that God waves in front of him? Only if we assume that God’s purpose in giving evidence is to convert everyone.
God’s Grace and Man’s Accountability
In this discussion we have observed that the God of the Bible does not intend to make His presence so obvious that it curbs the actions of evil men, and that most men will ignore whatever evidence they receive anyway. This being the case, why does God bother to give any evidence at all? Why doesn’t He hide Himself even better? From the Bible we deduce that God gives the level of evidence He does because He is both a gracious God and a God who holds men accountable for the evidence they receive.
Some people will repent on seeing even a low level of evidence; for others a higher level is required. Some people will get much more evidence than is needed to convert others but still not repent. Despite the varying levels of evidence to which people are exposed throughout various times and cultures, God states that He has given each person enough so that they know better than to continue doing evil. Given the willful rejection of the evidence which they do receive, God is not obligated to provide more.
At the very least, the evidence which God gives includes His glory as seen in nature, evidence which in our day we tend to obscure by ascribing it to less personally demanding causes like “chance” or the “laws of nature.”
However we might personally feel about it, God says that He has provided evidence clear enough that every human being is morally responsible to respond to it. The evidence He has provided is sufficient; therefore, He is saddened but not frustrated that many do not respond. Those who choose to ignore His evidence will have to answer to Him and it is not an enviable task—somewhat like arguing with a Judge over a speeding ticket: How can we say we did not see the sign when the Judge himself posted it? How foolish would we be if we tried to argue that we saw the sign but thought it was too small and too quaint to take seriously?
This points out the main purpose for miracles and biblical evidence: they are warning signs to get us to pay attention to the message associated with the sign. A traffic sign may simply advise us to slow down around a curve, but it may also warn us that a bridge is out ahead. We would be foolish indeed to accelerate past a “Bridge Out” sign because the sign seemed a little too small or too old. But the warning God gives through miracles and biblical evidence is far worse than a bridge being out. Man is accountable to God, and there is eternal torment ahead for those who brush aside God’s warning signs and refuse to repent.
On the other hand, humble seeker for truth will find that the evidence is indeed sufficient. Why? Because the biblical data, when compared to that offered by other religions or by atheism, is clear enough to show that the God of the Bible really exists and that His warnings should be heeded.
In Matthew 12:38-39 the Pharisees challenged Jesus by demanding that He perform a sign impressive enough to force them to believe His warnings. But God does not feel obligated to cater to the egos of the morally and sexually corrupt who bend whatever evidence they receive to suit their own ends.
These demands express a sovereignty over God at the opposite extreme from repentance. Should we expect God to jump through any hoop we set up to please us? Is God so insecure that He needs our approval? Yet some people deal with the Creator of the universe as if He were a dog. But in spite of such attitudes, God provides sufficient evidence for self-centered people.
© 1994 Probe Ministries.