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Belief In God Wouldn't Be So Widespread If God Didn't Exist
Less than two pages for the entire chapter, Armin Navabi's fifth chapter of Why There Is No God attempts to provide a short answer to the challenge, "Belief in God would not be so widespread if God didn't exist." Navabi calls this argument, argumentum ad populum. In other words, something is true because a large number of people believe it.
Framed in this way, I would agree with Navabi's ascertain. Just because 1.5 billion people believe in Islam doesn't make it true. Just because millions believed in communism didn't make it true either. As Navabi points out, "Simply stated, the truth is true even if no one believes it, and untrue claims are still untrue even if everyone believes them."
Navabi's application of this principle is applied to the wrong argument. Navabi applies this argument to God, specifically, instead of where is belongs: the supernatural realm. The two are not the same.
C.S. Lewis once argued for God's existence from the presence of need. Lewis noted that people do not feel a need for something that doesn't exist. In Lewis' own words, "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists…If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
What the global history of man demonstrates is that there is a desire for spiritual things. Universally, virtually all societies have had one or more religious systems or worldviews where the supernatural, or otherworldly is a felt need. The Bible agrees with this idea when it says, "[God] has put eternity in their hearts" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Certainly, throughout the ages, societies of all kinds have had some kind of belief in the supernatural. Those societies may not agree on the specific form of the supernatural, but the fact is, it is desired, it is a genuine felt need. If Navabi is correct about evolution and the supernatural is fiction, then what evolutionary advantage is there for man to believe in, and desire something that doesn't exist? In other words, from Navabi's argument, evolution's purpose is meant to have us believe in a lie. This means that, taken to it's logical continuation, nothing that we think of as true may be true. Our own evolution advances deception and we could never trust that anything is true. This is absurd.
Rather, I think the opposite of Navabi's original argument is true. The general widespread belief in the supernatural points to something that exists, even though we may not know or understand its full form. Just as we cannot know by experience or observation what took place before the Big Bang, so too, we cannot stretch ourselves into the spiritual realm to find out what exists there. The only way of knowing it is for it to somehow reveal itself to us that we might know it. In Christianity we call this Special Revelation. It means that God has revealed himself by accommodating us in our understanding, so that we might know him. We see a brief explanation of this in Hebrews 1:1, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." Without an intentional act of God to reveal his identity, we could never hope to know the truth about him. The Bible's argument is that God has made himself known, "What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse" (Romans 1:19-23).
One of my favorite axioms is, "If it can't be measured, it doesn't exist." The atheist would argue that God cannot be measured, therefore he doesn't exist. I think, however, that the contrary view is correct. God can be measured. He is measured in the revelation of general existence through the design of creation (as the earlier Romans passage points out). Here is another favored axiom of mine, "It is not possible for God to work in the world and not leave any evidence that he is the one doing what he is doing." The many books of the Bible form part of the evidence of a real God at work in a real world.
God does not desire to hide himself from us. It is his desire that he be known. He, therefore, has revealed himself in various ways so that we can recognize his attributes and discover his reality.
Just because many people believe in atheism doesn't make it true. What is true is what there is evidence for, and the overwhelming evidence of history swings in favor of the supernatural. If the supernatural realm is real, then we should ask the question, "Who's in charge of it?"