For two seasons, National Geographic’s The Story of God With Morgan Freeman has taken us behind the curtain to see the world’s religions, both great and small, at work. This Monday in the second season finale, Freeman and his crew tackle the biggest question of all: Is there a reason for all this religion? In other words, is there a God?
But proof of God, as Oxford Theoretical Physicist Ard Louis says on the show, is impossible to find through scientific means.
“God is not a thing in the universe that we look for,” he tells Freeman. “It’s the other way around. God is the reason there is a universe. That means I can’t prove God the way I can prove something scientifically.”
That makes sense: A being who made the universe wouldn’t necessarily be subject to its laws, any more than a baker would be subject to the oven he’s using to bake his cookies. As such, The Story of God doesn’t even attempt to answer its own question. Instead of asking its subjects for proof of God, the show asks, “what do you accept as proof?”
The show points to a beautiful but sometimes frustrating aspect of the religious experience: It’s incredibly, intensely personal. And as such, it can be really difficult for “outsiders” to understand.
It can happen among people even inside the same religion: The Pentecostal Christians we see on the show speak in tongues—proof, they’d say, that God is touching them in a special way. And that’s great, I suppose. But for me, who grew up in a staid Presbyterian church and has never so much raised a hand in service, it all looks a little odd. I don’t understand. I can’t.
The problems of cross-communication become even more difficult when religious and non-religious people get together and, often, try to convert each other. It can feel a little like Schrodinger’s cat: One person can look at the world in one way—through a lens of faith—and see God in everything. Another, more secular person can look at the same world and see no evidence at all.
For whatever its worth, I find evidence for faith in a lot of places. Some are scientific: I unpacked a few, in fact, for a previous blog on The Story of God. The universe itself is outlandishly improbable. The fact that life exists in this universe is equally improbable. We should not, according to science, be here at all. And yet we do.
Some are much more personal. I’ve seen people who’ve been changed by faith, giving up their whole lives to serve their God in unexpected, beautiful ways. I’ve seen signs and wonders in my own life that I attributed to God. I feel like I’ve felt His presence at times. Not often, true. But sometimes, unexpectedly, I can be walking along and it feels as though a film has been lifted from my eyes and everything feels clearer. More colorful. More beautiful. It feels as though God has taken me in His hand, just for a moment or two, and allows me to see the world as He made it. As He intended it.
But if you asked me why I believe in God and my faith, I might instead of giving you answers, I might ask questions.
Why are we moved by music? What evolutionary reason do we have to cry over a wordless sonata?
Why do we laugh? What purpose does it serve?
Why do we feel awe when we look at a mountain range, or wonder when we watch the ocean crash against the rocks? If we are merely animals, I can understand why evolution would’ve taught us to like or hate certain places. But why are we so moved simply by looking at them? Why do we feel these things?
Another question, this one from author Annie Dillard: “No; we have been as usual asking the wrong question. It does not matter a hoot what the mockingbird on the chimney is singing…. The real and proper question is: Why is it beautiful?”
Music. Laughter. Awe. I feel like these are the languages of heaven. The words of the soul. There are others. For me, these things give voice to an unseen truth. They speak of a spark that makes us more than what biology and chemistry can explain.
None of this is “proof,” of course. No self-respecting atheist would come with me to the top of Pikes Peak, look at the vista, turn to me and say, “well, I’ll be. You were right! There is a God!” As Freeman says in the show, “It’s not evidence you can take to a scientist, but it’s evidence you feel inside.”
But for me in times of both peace and trouble, I think of these things. And in them, I see not just evidence for Creator, but a loving God who designed us for a purpose. Who gave us the ability to see and appreciate His creation. Who instilled in us wherewithal to think and feel, to question and doubt.
Is there a God? The fact that we’ve all asked that question—and that we care so deeply about the answer—is evidence to me that there is.