How is it possible to know the truth about God?

This page last updated June 13th, 2022
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Are there good reasons to believe in God? Are believers just fooling themselves, holding onto an old belief that has now been shown to be mistaken, unscientific, and impossible to be true?

Or are there good reasons to believe that have so far escaped you?

How would anyone know?

On this page I discuss how we know truth, and the questions that may help us have more confidence in our conclusions about God.

Questioning: a gateway to a new understanding

Let’s start by acknowledging that questioning is healthy. We don’t learn much if we don’t ask questions about what we don’t know, and if we don’t question what we already think we know.

Hopefully this page will help you ask better questions that will in turn lead you to better answers.

Different reasons for disbelief

There are several different reasons we may find it hard to believe in God. These different types of doubt and disbelief are felt differently and will need to be addressed differently.

Lack of evidence

We may feel that our experience and knowledge of the world doesn’t provide sufficient reason for us to think God exists. This doubt can lead us to new understandings if we investigate further. Alternatively we may feel confirmed in disbelief. This website seeks to answer many of the questions raised by doubt about the evidence for God.

Religious doubt

We may doubt some or all of the teachings of the religion we were brought up in. This can be a disorienting experience that may lead us to doubt God’s existence and our religion. But it may also lead to a review or deconstruction of our faith, and then reconstruction on a firmer base. You can read more about faith deconstruction on the Way? website.

Personal doubt

Several types of personal experience may lead to doubt – disappointing experiences of God (e.g. unanswered prayer), disappointment in our own failure to live up to our beliefs, or hurtful or harmful experiences of christians, especially christian leaders. These experiences generally require personal support rather than answers, but there will likely come a time when we want to think about answers.

A good way to question

There is more than one way to question what we currently believe.

Don’t be determined to keep believing the same.

Some people, whether believers or non-believers in God, have few doubts and retain their current worldview untroubled. That’s fine for them, but if significant doubts are raised in our minds, stifling them seldom works. The doubts will keep returning, and if we don’t address them we will become uncertain and passive in our faith and life.

Don’t make it all or nothing.

Just because we have found some part of our belief unsatisfactory doesn’t necessarily mean it is all wrong. We may feel we want to make a complete change, but that isn’t treating our doubts fairly either. There are many different beliefs about God, and some may satisfy our doubts without wholesale change.

Follow truth.

The key to deeper understanding is wanting to know the truth, whatever it is. We need to keep an open mind.

These principles may assist:

  • Get information from those who know. Read scientists, historians, philosophers, etc, or those who report them accurately.
  • Read both sides of questions so you can judge each viewpoint fairly.
  • Discuss with trusted friends. Keep in contact with friends while you are making any changes. Don’t burn your bridges too soon.
  • Pray! If there’s a God and he cares about us, surely we can trust him or her to guide us. If (s)he doesn’t care or isn’t there, no harm will have been done.

How do we know what we know?

When a christian (or other believer) starts to doubt, they may realise they haven’t ever been given clear reasons why they should believe. Likewise many non-believers may have absorbed disbelief without ever really considering alternatives.

So let’s consider how we know the truth in everyday life.

Authority

We can usually trust someone who knows more than we do (e.g. a specialist doctor, a historian, an expert guide, etc). This is a significant component of most things we know about the world. It isn’t possible to experience or research everything, so we must rely on others.

We may get this information through various media, or directly from an expert. We may want to get several opinions, but in the end we have little option but to trust others’ knowledge. Failing to accept the conclusions of those who’ve devoted years of study to an issue leaves us open to ill-informed opinions and conspiracy theories.

In religious matters, this is an important way for many people to gain information. They trust parents, priests or trained specialists (philosophers, scientists, historians, theologians, etc). But in the end, most of us will want to make our own assessment, based on the information these experts give us.

Evidence

If something conforms to what we know about the world via science or history or observation we will feel more confident of it (e.g. climate change explains the extreme weather we have experienced lately, so we can be more confident it is a fact). Some evidence will be subjective, something only we know, but we will generally feel more confident about evidence if it is confirmed by others.

Evidence for or against God is hotly debated. Many theistic or anti-theistic arguments build on scientific or historical facts that are (it is argued) best explained by the existence (or not) of God.

Experience

Our personal experience is a very direct way of knowing something (e.g. an eye witness in a court case). It is hard for anyone to argue against someone else’s personal experience. People can be mistaken, but we couldn’t exist for very long if we our experience of the world was faulty. Nevertheless, we will feel more comfortable about our experiences if someone else verifies them.

Other people’s experiences are also powerful sources of information, especially if verified by several witnesses. But we will want to check if people have something to gain from collusion.

Religious experience is a strong basis for many people’s faith in God. They may believe God has spoken to them, directly into their mind or perhaps in a dream. Or perhaps a prayer for healing or guidance has been spectacularly answered. More often, perhaps, people may feel their lives just make more sense since they believed in God.

Some may believe in God because of the testimony of other people’s experiences of God. Non-believers will tend to want to critique religious experience, arguing there are natural, sometimes pathological, explanations. Believers, in turn, will look to support their experfiences with other evidence.

Track record

If something “works”, if it leads to a better world or a better life, we are justified in thinking it may be true (e.g. Nazism often leads to ugly behaviour, so we may reasonably reject it). Political and moral beliefs are often judged in this way. We also judge our relationships by how well they work out and how trustworthy the other person turns out to be.

Religion has had both good and bad effects on people and the world. Our assessment of this can be very subjective, for it is hard to disentangle religion from other causal factors in people’s behaviour. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot about the truth of religious belief from the impact it has on believers’ lives, and how it leads them to behave towards others.

Intuition

Sometimes we feel strongly that something is right or wrong (e.g. a relationship that needs to end). We may not have any clear objective evidence, but will often act on intuition. An uneasy feeling while walking in a lonely street late at night may be unreasonable, but we may nevertheless choose to act on it. Psychologists have found that while analytical (i.e. logical) thinking is best for resolving questions of fact with clear answers, intuitive thinking is often better at resolving complex questions where there is insufficient information.

Religious questions are complex and less amenable to factual analysis, so it is unsurprising that intuition plays a role in religious belief and disbelief.

Revelation

If God exists, it is possible he/she may reveal truth to us, through scripture or through experience – perhaps a vision or a dream, but more likely via a thought or a new understanding.

Making choices

This is how we make decisions about relationships, careers, politics, right and wrong, etc. For example, in deciding on a new job opportunity we will do our research (evidence), we may seek advice from someone we trust (authority) and we may talk to someone who works in that organisation (track record).

So in considering the question of whether we can believe in God, we may need to consider all these ways of making decisions about what is right and true.

Sometimes we may feel that we want it all to be objective evidence based, but it is clear that we employ many other means of knowing in everyday life. So more personal and intuitive reasons to believe in God will be important for many.

It is OK to live with uncertainty

We live our lives with many different uncertainties, about relationships and career and right and wrong. Even science is uncertain, based on probability, and may need to be changed if new evidence is found. These days so much of the old wisdom is being questioned as our culture re-thinks racism, sexuality, gender, and so much more.

Religious believers are often slow to react to these trends, and often react negatively. But it is OK to be uncertain, as long as we seek to believe the truth and live it out.

What to do with all this?

I’ve tried to cover most of these ways of knowing on this website.

I encourage you to loom around this website, at whatever type on information you think would help you most. Check out the references and see what other people are saying about these questions.

I hope you find truth and a deeper purpose in life!

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