I want to offer an a posteriori argument for God’s existence. (An a posteriori argument is “dependent on experience or empirical evidence.”) This may seem odd, because the usual purpose of arguing for God’s existence is to argue that there is a God to experience in the first place. But I want to begin the other way round, as a thought experiment. Specifically, I want to argue from the Christian experience of God’s existence, because this is the experience I have. (Whether starting from the experience “I” have poisons this whole argument from the beginning I leave aside for now.)
Things can be known in two ways. They can be known as fact (e.g., Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939) or they can be known as something one is familiar with (e.g., in the sentence, “Greg knows that part of the city.”). This is preserved in other languages, such as French (savoir, connaitre) and Spanish (saber, conocer), but lost in English. I’m dealing here with the second kind, what I will call “familiar knowledge.”
Now, when someone becomes familiar with something–comes to know something, in this sense–they are aware of its characteristics. Say I have a favourite bench in the park: I know this bench’s location, its colour, its supportiveness and comfort. But there is also something else–slightly more difficult to consider–I know about the bench: I know it could potentially not exist. I know that there was a time before this bench was assembled and there will be a time after it has fallen apart. I know it did not have to be–the fancy philosophical term for this is the bench’s “contingency.”
The same is true, in a darker way, of our familiar knowledge of persons. I know, for example, a certain close friend. I know her appearance, her personality, her loves, her quirks and habits. And on a certain, perhaps inarticulable level, I also know she is contingent. Not despite my familiarity with her, but precisely because of my familiarity with her–this being the crux of my argument–I know she did not have to exist. I also experience, on the edges of my conscious knowledge, that she will one day again come to not exist (in a certain sense. I leave that argument aside for the moment.).
Now I come to my argument proper: this sense of contingency, the not-having-to-be-ness which we experience of things, of places and sadly even of persons, is just what is not experienced in the familiar knowledge of God. The same knowledge of characteristics present in our familiar knowledge of things and persons is present in our knowledge of God: we know God’s power, God’s proximity and God’s care. But there is no sense of God’s contingency; to the contrary, we experience God as mercifully necessary–“necessity” being the philosophical opposite of “contingency.” There is no sense in our familiar knowing of God that God might not be.
And from what the Christian faith has always taught, this makes sense. For God is not another “thing” in the universe, perhaps an extra large or hidden or mysterious item. As Sarah Coakley writes, “God is, rather, that-without-which-there-would-be-nothing-at-all” (p.5). And so, one would not be able to experience the could-not-be-ness of God, as we are some of the things which would not be at all without God. God is, instead, the Source of all of this, the one without which there really would be nothing–the Necessary Being. But further, in our Christian experience, we find that this Source is a personal Source–a something who is actually a Someone. A Someone who, in fact, loves.