Testing the Existence of God
by Alan F. Zundel
In the summer of 1970 as I was nearing age 18, I did an experiment. I tested the existence of God by hitchhiking from Michigan to California and back with two friends.
I know, it was not a well-designed experiment. Give me a break, I was only 17.
Besides, I didn’t decide I wanted to test God’s existence and choose hitchhiking across the country as the best method. It was the other way around. I was drawn to the idea of hitchhiking to California and decided that giving in to this inner directive would test whether some kind of higher power would be along for the ride to help me.
And it was. Or at least it seemed to be. Things kept happening that felt like a higher power was with us. After two nights on the road we thought we were stuck for good in Nebraska, but then a grizzled old guy in a VW picked us up and drove us straight through to Los Angeles. On the way back we were threatened by some cowboys at a gas station while the car we were in refused to start, when suddenly a plump grandma type pulled up, chased the men away, and got under the hood and started our car. And so on.
(You can read more details of that trip in my memoir.)
I know those could have been coincidences that I just interpreted as signs of a guiding force with us. Millions of people lose the lottery, but the one who wins believes it is evidence of God’s hand at work.
But the experiment was persuasive enough to cause me to continue to seek the guidance of a higher power in life, and I’ve come to believe through four decades of such experimentation that (1) there is a guiding higher power in life that you can learn to follow by a kind of intuition, (2) that intuitive sense can be developed and refined, and (3) surprising “coincidences” will happen the more you give in to that guidance. The handiest word for such a guiding higher power is “God.”
I know this is not proof. But it is evidence. If you are inclined to believe in God, the evidence helps strengthen that faith. If you are not so inclined, the evidence is grossly insufficient.
Anyway, I can’t even imagine what a knock-down proof for the existence of God would look like. But for me it is not a philosophical debate, it is a question of how you live your life: seeking out guidance from God, or charting your own course. As I get older, I marvel at people who try to chart their own course through life in the face of all the evidence of how much is out of our control.
Probably just as they marvel at someone who follows some kind of inner sense of God’s guidance. Either choice–God’s guidance or charting your own course—is risky and, when you come down to it, make on other than rational grounds.
Not irrational grounds, other than rational grounds. Those are not the same thing.
The reason people assume disbelief is more rational is that modern science has progressed by setting aside any recourse to God’s intervention as an explanation for the way things happen. In other words, scientists look for “laws of nature.” And in many fields they have been spectacularly successful in coming up with reliable explanations using the scientific method.
In other areas, not so successful. Particularly in the area of human behavior. Some aspects of human behavior, yes. But overall? No. History, social science, psychology and the like are far from being able to explain human actions in any adequate way, on either an individual or social level.
I think Aristotle said it best: the method has to be appropriate to the subject of study. And from what we know of human beings by being them, we act from a sense of free choice. And free choice contradicts any assumption that some laws of nature could fully explain what we do.
Granted there is evidence that we do not always choose freely when we think we do, but it is a giant leap to assume against the fact of our common experience that there is no free choice at all. We all have the sense of free choice. And it is exactly the dilemma of how to make our choices which makes this question of God’s existence so interesting.
To repeat myself, the question is not primarily philosophical: does God exist? It is practical: what will guide our choices?
There is no rational answer to that question. As far as I can tell, it has to be decided on other grounds.
For me anyway, the answer is simple. Seeking God’s guidance has made my life more satisfying, more fulfilling, more interesting, and happier than when I resist seeking it. And that seems to me to be a good enough reason to do it.
And to think all that came from a hitchhiking trip when I was a teenager.