Recently, I experienced a significant malady. Due to recurring fever, my wife was finally able to persuade me to seek medical attention. The symptoms of the malady showed up primarily in stuffy sinuses and headache, with minor accompaniment from stuff in the chest. After the examination, I was given a prescription for a particular antibiotic which, it was hoped, would clear things up. The diagnosis was “sinus infection.” As I was leaving the facility where this all took place, the FNP accompanied me to the door and said the test for flu was negative. She went on to say that a negative test could not be conclusive. I might still have a flu virus. In such a case, the antibiotic would not accomplish the task and to let them know if that was the case. The term she used was “false negative” in that conversation. She said the lack of a positive indication did not completely rule out the presence of a flu virus. Had the test been positive, they would know to treat me for flu. As it came out, they did not know.
Many treat God that way. They use some rule they concoct by which to ascertain whether or not “there is a God.” Because the “test” they use yields no positive result (proof of God’s existence), they conclude there is no God. The problem that one encounters in such a situation is that there is no a priori reason to believe the test is accurate. If a poor test yields a negative result, does that mean the thing sought is not present? For example, if you “test” for the Spirit of God using some electrical device, you have to assert up front that His presence will yield a discernible electrical outcome. If, using such a device fails to produce a result, you will conclude there is no God. Alas, the real problem is in the science used, not in the reality of God.
When they gave me those antibiotic pills, there was an implicit agreement that if they did not correct the medical issue, we would move on to some other treatment that would be of an antiviral nature rather than antibiotic. In other words, if there was a virus present in spite of the negative culture result, we would rule it a “false negative” and proceed to treat for a virus.
Now, the consequences of concluding there is no God using a flawed test for His existence are a bit more serious than my medical malady. If one concludes there is no God based on a flawed test, and it turns out there is a God, that “false negative” could be a lot more serious than a case of the flu.
By the way, a “false positive” has not nearly as severe a set of consequences. If you treat for a flu that is not present, you wasted some time and money. If “finding God” results in a “false positive” you just made a mistake with no real consequences. It’s the “false negative” that produces a life out of sync with the Divine.
Something to think about anyway, in light of what He has had to say about Himself and the default state (John 3:17-18).
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