Recently I had an unexpected clash with some atheists online. The conversation started from an innocuous post that I created and developed into a conversation ranging from history, science, religion, Jesus and the church. Honestly, it was refreshing to dialogue with people of a different perspective than my own and I found (for the most part) the conversation to be stimulating.
The greatest request these atheists had was for me to “prove” God and his existence. Yet, it seemed like the more rational and reasoning I provided, the less they were willing to listen and take in. At one point, I thought it best to ask them a couple questions to build understanding that some important matters are inherently not reducible to physical demonstration. The question were as follows:
- How do you define love?
- Can you prove love scientifically?
Now the first question was meant simply to develop a baseline for the second. Defining love is an important task if we are to try and prove that it exists scientifically or philosophically for that matter. Truth be told, there can be many different variations for the definition of love. Some would say it’s a commitment. Others would say it’s an emotion or feeling. The variety of ways we use the word love can also be misleading. We love chocolate chip cookies and we love our grandmother. Which love are we talking about here?
How a person (and in this case an atheist) defines love is really not the point. Define it how you will, that’s not where you want to contend for truth. The only thing you want to do here is establish the fact that there is such a thing as love. Now if a person says, “I don’t believe in love”, then you can simply say, “I’m sorry to hear that” or “Do you really live as though love is not real (just curious)?” But just like God, the large majority of the world, regardless of culture or religion believes in love. Love is universal. So for someone to say they do not believe in love, really shows they are heartless or hurting, or maybe a bit of both. Empathize don’t condemn.
Once you get to the place of establishing that there is such a thing as love (no matter what definition), you then ask if that love can be proven scientifically. Now here is where insight may come for the atheist. You see, love can be demonstrated in many ways – through story, feelings, experience and maybe even some logic. But proven scientifically? Internationally respected physicist Erwin Schrodinger writes,
I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives us a lot of factual information, puts all of our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.1
The problem is that love is so much greater and grander than science that it cannot be contained within a beaker or set of laboratory heuristics. Love is too broad, wide and evasive to be proven mathematically or scientifically. Love is bigger than our intellect and often works in a way that is counter-intuitive to reason or theories of self-preservation. So, while you can demonstrate love, tell stories of love, feel love and know the reality of love, you really cannot “prove” love because love is larger than knowledge (science) and greater than rationalism (understanding).
So the next time an atheist asks you to prove God exists, just tell him, “I will prove He exists if you can prove love exists.” In so doing, you will bring home the point that some things in this life are real, true, can be experienced, felt, believed and even trusted, but cannot be “proven” in a laboratory. It is not because love or God are unreal or a figment of our imagination, but because their reality is greater than our little minds can fathom. “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
- Schrodinger, Erwin. Nature and the Greeks (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1954)