“I can’t believe in God. There isn’t enough evidence. If he would just broadcast his existence in the clouds, then maybe I’d believe.”
Versions of this objection to the existence of God are ubiquitous. This objection has the advantage of making the skeptic seem to be open-minded and scientific. “I just follow the evidence, and sadly, god has fallen short of the minimal requirements.” This objection has numerous problems. The principal problem with this objection is that the roots of unbelief for many skeptics are in the heart and not the head such that no amount of “evidence” would prove sufficient to be convincing. But I’m going to bypass these problems and come at the issue in a different way.
Remember when you were a little kid and you would go outside on a warm summer day and just stare into the clouds looking for shapes and figures? If you look long enough, you will see all sorts of things: a bunny one minute, a horse the next, and finally…is that Homer Simpson?
Now, think for a moment. If you “saw” Homer Simpson in the clouds, would you be justified in believing that Homer Simpson was literally in the clouds? Of course not. What you actually saw was an accidental/coincidental correspondence between a figure in the clouds and another figure that you were familiar with in the real world. In other words, any potential meaning was located only in your mind. It would be irrational to try to objectify this experience – “Guys, surely you saw it. Homer Simpson literally appeared in the clouds this morning!” Maybe step away from the Simpsons marathon on FXX for a little while, buddy.
But why would this be irrational? It would be irrational because pure randomness cannot confer meaning. We aren’t justified in deriving meaning from something that comes about as a product of chance. It seems to be common sense that meaning can only be derived from those things produced by intelligent, intentional processes. Even subjective meaning (Well, it looked like Homer Simpson to me.) relies on my own intelligence to conjure the meaning. There’s just no meaning without intelligence.
Imagine now that instead of seeing Homer Simpson in the clouds, you saw “The Simpsons” in the sky written with yellow, puffy letters. What would you conclude? If it is random and coincidental, it is not more meaningful than seeing the image of Homer Simpson. If it is random and coincidental, you are unjustified in believing that these cloud formations actually mean anything. But of course most of us are smart enough to recognize the clear difference. To see the word “Simpsons” written in the sky is obviously the work of intelligent agents. It would be more irrational here to believe it were merely random. To see this word in the sky is not just subjectively meaningful. It is meaningful in an objective sense.
What does any of this have to do with the existence of God? I’m glad you asked. It’s not controversial to say that we reason with our brains. I don’t believe that our minds and our brains are the same thing, but there is an obvious relationship between brains and minds. So what does it mean for our capacity to reason if we conclude that the tool with which we think – our brains – is simply the byproduct of millions of years of random mutations and natural selection? No matter how much naturalists try to anthropomorphize evolution, our brains are the most current product of unguided, unintelligent, and quite random chance. This is a problem. If our brains are the product of random chance, and if we are not justified in deriving meaning from the products of random processes, then this would seem to imply that we are not justified in trusting our own reasoning. Any correspondence between our reason and the way things actually are in the world would have to be coincidental. We would also be imprisoned in subjectivity. Things would appear a certain way to me, but I would have little reason to be confident in any sort of objective reality.
But our rationality is a brute fact of our existence. We cannot deny it without relying on it at the same time. Rationality is inescapable even if evolution has no way of accounting for it.
So, God may not write “I am here” in the clouds, but He has given you the rationality to make sense of the sentence “I am here” in the clouds. This fact alone provides evidence for God’s existence.
By the way, these ideas are by no means new to me. Thinkers MUCH smarter than me have been making versions of this argument for a very long time. David Bentley Hart offers a version of this argument with a lot more adverbs in his book “The Experience of God.” Even a prominent non-theist philosopher like Thomas Nagel agrees that rationality is a problem for those who have adopted a strictly naturalist worldview. I’d encourage you to read this short summary of the argument from Peter Kreeft here.