The famous philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked how he would explain his unbelief if he were to die and find out that God really does exist. "Not enough evidence, God," Russell allegedly replied. Russell had every right to his opinion, and a lot of people today share his view. But is it the correct response? Has God failed to leave us enough evidence for his existence?
We don't think God has failed in any respect. He has been generous in leaving us plenty of evidence for his existence, and that evidence is built into every person in two distinct ways. First, every person has a sense of God's existence that comes through the cosmos. Second, a sense of God's existence comes to each person's conscience. Together, the cosmos and the conscience comprise of what is known as general revelation because it is evidence that God has revealed to all people generally. The apostle Paul writes this about general revelation: through everything God made, can clearly see his invisible qualities Romans 1:20.
Open-Minded, Insecure, or Hungry for More
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Those then words are among the best-known and most controversial in history. What's amazing about that short verse is that it describes three foundational claims about the universe and how it came to be:
- There is a God
- God existed before the beginning
- God created the universe.
We want to address the concerns and questions of three kinds of people. First are the open-minded skeptics. These people are skeptical of God's existence, and they aren't closed to the idea. The problem is that no one has ever offered a reasonable explanation for God's existence and his creation of the world, not to mention his involvement in it.
Second, are the insecure doubters. These people consider themselves believers, but they have never actually explored the evidence for God's existence. They accept him by faith, but it's not a reasonable faith. Consequently, they have some doubts about God, but they're afraid to express their doubts to their Christian friends and family for fear that they will be criticized or ridiculed.
Third, there are those who are hungry for more. These people think their faith is reasonable, and they know there is good evidence to believe in God. But the problem is they don't know enough to answer the tough questions that people are asking about God these days.
We Know Who God is, but Do We Know God is True?
The Way, God has revealed himself – to the universe he created is called general revelation. Together the cosmos and the conscience comprise what is known as general revelation because it is evidence that God has revealed to all people generally. God is a personal, holy, transcendent Creator and sustainer of the universe.
- God is self existent. Everything that exists has a cause and the first cause of everything is God according to Genesis 1:1, who himself has no cause. Logic and reason dictate that for anything to exist there must be an uncaused, self existent being.
- God is eternal. God is not defined or confined by time. God is also infinite in that He is above and beyond his infinite creation (Psalm 90:2).
- God is holy. God is perfect. The Bible's term is righteous. In the negative term, He has no evil in him; in the positive context, He is completely pure (Isaiah 6:3).
- God is unchangeable. Unlike the gods of other religions, God does not change (Malachi 3:6). He is not capricious that is unpredictable. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
- God is just. We don't have to worry that God won't be fair with everyone. He doesn't grade on a curve and he doesn't play favorites (Revelation 15:3).
- God is all-powerful. No person, nation, or confederation – whether earthly or from the supernatural world – can conquer him (Revelation 19:6).
- God is all knowing. God knows everything about everything. Nothing exist that he doesn't know, including the details of your life, both good and bad (Proverbs 5:21).
- God is present everywhere. God is everywhere, but he is not in everything. God is not part of the universe; he is transcendent, meaning that he exist apart from his creation. Yet he is near to you every moment of the day (Psalm 139:7-12).
- God is love. God's holiness and his justice demand a penalty for imperfection. The Bible calls this sin. Yet the odds love motivates him to reach out to us even though we are imperfect, (Romans 5:8). The greatest demonstration of God's love is Jesus, his only son, who came to earth to die for our sins, (John 3:16).
- God is personal. He did not create the universe like a clock maker builds a clock. He didn't wind up, only to let it wind down on its own. God is personally involved in his creation, holding it together with his power. And he is personally interested in your life (Psalm 139:1-4).
- God is spirit. He cannot be seen. He is not composed of matter and does not possess a physical nature. Because he does not have a physical body, he is not limited to our dimensions of geographical location or space. He cannot be measured, calibrated, catalog, or experience by the five senses (John 14:16-18).
Believing Doesn't Make it True and Disbelieving Doesn't Make it False
God doesn't exist just because you believe he does nor does he ceased to exist just because someone else thinks he doesn't. God isn't Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. He's not a make-believe character. The reason people grow out of their belief in God is not that they once believed in the true God and now doubt his existence. It's because they once believed in a make-believe God. We're not saying that childlike belief is impossible. Jesus said, "let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children" Matthew 19:14. You can believe in God even if you don't know why you do. But at some point, as you get to know God better and better, you'll want to know why believing God exist is reasonable. Otherwise your faith will get stuck in neutral, more importantly, you will not appreciate the reality, the majesty, and the truth that is God.
How do we Find Truth about God?
We've already talked about truth as an objective reality, not a subjective feeling. Therefore, when considering the truth about God, we need to think of him as an objective reality, not a subjective feeling. But that doesn't mean that you can prove God exists and you can prove the existence of a human being. God doesn't have a drivers license or some form of ID. As we said, God can't be seen. In fact he can't be detected by any of the five senses, that's why a naturalist has such a hard time believing God exist. But an emotion, such as love, can't be measured by any of the 5 senses either.
The Standard of Proof
J.P. Moreland says that asking whether or not it is possible to prove there is a God is the wrong question because the notion of a proof set such a high standard. Very few beliefs in the world are bombproof-that is, beyond dispute or disagreement. One exception may be a mathematical equation, but even then there may be people who take exception with "2+2 = 4." About the best we can do with 99.9% of the beliefs in the world – whether we're talking about belief in the aerodynamics of an airplane or belief in God – is to say, "it's reasonable to believe that." That's why we've been saying that Christianity is a reasonable faith. That's not to say that God isn't 100% true or completely trustworthy. He is. We can't offer 100% proof that He exist.
Making a Cumulative Case for God
What that means is that even though no one piece of evidence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists several pieces of evidence together make a reasonable case for the existence of God. Each piece of evidence doesn't have to bear the burden of proof. Instead, the preponderance of the evidence show that case to be true. Think of a rope and not a chain. The pieces of evidence in a cumulative case argument are not like links in a chain with the weakest link and destroy the effectiveness of the entire chain. They are more like different strands of a rope, where several strands help strengthen the role, and one week strand doesn't make the rope ineffective. Remember it's that combines strength of the arguments that matter, not the individual strengths or weaknesses of any one argument.
Three Cumulative Arguments for the Existence of God: Cosmological, Moral and Ontological
The Cosmological Argument
The name of this argument comes from the word cosmos – which means world. This argument has many moving parts and it can get very philosophical and complex. The basic question is: why is there something rather than nothing? At first glance that may seem like a dumb question, but the answer leads us to all kinds of serious implications, whether we're talking about something as basic as a chair, cellphone, or the vast universe. If you consider a chair, you might say well, the chair is there because I bought it at the store Target. That may explain how the chair came into the living room but it doesn't explain how the chair came to exist.
After thinking a little more, you would probably traced the chair's origin to the chair designer and builder who got the pieces of wood from a lumber mill which in turn got its raw material from a tree that grew in the ground which was made possible by seeds and dirt and water. Then you may ask where did the seeds come from? You get the point. The chair, which exist in your living room is there because of a series of events and things, each one dependent on the other one before it. You exist because of your parents, your parents exist because of their parents and so on. This has to do with contingency, which is part of the cosmological argument.
As it relates to the universe, contingency means dependency everything in the universe – a chair, a tree, a sunset, your dog is contingent on something else. And there something about contingent things that may surprise you. Something that is contingent is not necessary in other words, a chair does not have to exist. Neither does a tree. Neither do you. Everything that exists, including the universe itself, depends on something else for its existence. As such, everything is contingent and therefore not necessary.
But this idea contingency includes a big problem. You can't have an endless series of contingent things. At some point, the process started with something that isn't contingent if not, you would never arrive at the present moment where the chair, the tree, the sunset, and you exist.
The Impossibility of Crossing Infinity
The reason you can't have an endless series of contingent things is this: infinite regression is impossible. You can't keep going backwards in this series of infinite causes and events for the simple reason that you can't get from minus infinity to zero. It's not possible mathematically. To get to the present thing, you have to have a first thing; to get to the present event you have to have a first event. In other words, you have to have a starting point.
A Necessary Being
If the universe and everything in it is contingent on something else, then there has to be a "something else" that is not contingent. Philosophers call this something else in necessary being. By definition, this being must exist; it cannot not exist. This necessary being stands in contrast to contingent beings, which don't have to exist. By necessity, this necessary being must also be:
- Self existent
The only being that meets this qualifications is God. Doug Geivett, a philosopher list three major components in the contingency argument for the existence of God:
- Establish the contingency of the physical universe
- Show how the contingency of the universe entails the existence of a necessary being
- Show that this necessary being is God
Another component to the cosmological argument is the first cause argument, sometimes known as the "kalam" cosmological argument. Kalam is an Arabic word that means speech. At its core, the philosophical idea builds on the contingency argument by saying that because the universe cannot be infinitely old it must have a beginning. Furthermore it must have a first cause. Here are the basics of the argument:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Space therefore, the universe has a cause.
The goal of the Kalama argument, which is popular with both Christians and Muslims is to show that the first cause is God.
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
We've already covered this in the contingency argument, but let's throw a little Latin into the mix to make it sound even better: ex nihilo, nihil fit. Simply translated, this reads, "From nothing, nothing comes."
2. The universe began to exist.
Even though the Kalam argument is ancient, the actual evidence for this second premise didn't emerge until the last century. Before this evidence for the beginning of the universe came to light, scientists believed the universe was infinite. Then a series of discoveries prompted the vast majority of scientist to come to one conclusion: the universe had a beginning. Just because science can't prove something to be true – such as the beginning of the universe – doesn't mean it isn't true. Thousands of years before science figured it out, the Bible said the universe had a beginning.
Let's look at some discoveries that prove the universe has a beginning:
1914 – American astronomer Vesto Slipher studied the galaxies and found that they were moving away from the earth at high speeds.
1922 – Alexander Friedmann, a Russian mathematician, speculated that the entire universe was expanding as galaxies moved away from each other.
1929 – American astronomer Edwin Hubble used the 100 inch Hooker telescope on Mount Wilson in California to prove what scientists believe could not see: Galaxies are rushing away from each other at high rates of speed. His findings meant 2 things. First the universe is expanding. Second, everything in the universe came from a single, unbelievably powerful explosion. Astronomer Robert Jastrow wrote called Hubble's discovery "one of the main supporters of the scientific story of Genesis."
1992 – If the universe and everything in it began with the detonation of unimaginable proportions, scientists believed that the ripples from that explosion beginning could be measured. On April 24, 1992, the chemo astrophysicists led by George Smoot at the University of California at Berkeley announced that the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite had measured the ripples scientists were looking for. Stephen Hawking called this "the discovery of the century if not of all time." George Smoot declared, "what we have found is evidence for the birth of the universe. If you're religious, it's like looking at God." The second main components of this series of discoveries – the expansion of the universe and background radiation are primarily features of the Big Bang theory, now widely accepted by scientists.
The Big Bang and creation
The Big Bang has caused some scientist to use words like created and creation in their description of the Big Bang event. The esteemed astronomer Robert Jastrow, a self proclaimed agnostic, writes this:
The astronomical evidence proves that the universe was created 15 billion years ago in a fiery explosion. The seeds of everything that has happened in the universe since were planted in that first instance; every star, every planet and every living creature in the universe owes its physical origins to events that were set into motion in the moment of the cosmic explosion. In a purely physical sense, it was the moment of creation.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This is a logical conclusion: if the universe had a beginning, then the beginning of the universe had a cause. Remember nothing comes from nothing. The only question that remains is whether this first cause is a impersonal event or a personal agent. But it can't be an event, because the Big Bang event was the first event in the history of the world. The only other conclusion is that the beginning was caused by a personal agent. By definition, such a personal being would have to be, independent of the universe, all-powerful, supremely intelligent, infinite, supernatural, and purposeful.
The Moral Argument
This argument for God's existence follows this line of thinking: objective moral laws exist, and they must come from an objective moral lawgiver. There are two parts to this argument. The first has to do with conception. The very idea that we as humans can universally conceived of goodness and agree on what is ultimately good and conversely, what is ultimately evil. This means a being must embody this ultimate goodness. The second part of the moral argument has to do with obligation. All people have a moral obligation to do good and avoid evil, so a being must have put it there.
Conceiving of ultimate goodness
- It is possible to conceive of an objective moral law that is true for everyone at all times.
- An objective moral law can exist only if there is an objective moral lawgiver.
- Because we can conceive of an objective moral law, and objective moral law giver must exist.
Having a Moral Obligation
C.S. Lewis approaches the moral argument from a slightly different perspective in his book Mere Christianity. He proposes that an object if lawgiver must exist, not only because we know what is right and wrong, but also because we feel an obligation to do what is right. If it weren't the case:
- Moral disagreements would make no sense (but they do).
- All criticism of immoral behavior would be meaningless(which is not)
- It would be necessary to keep promises or legal arguments (which we do)
- We would not make excuses for breaking the objective moral law (which we do)
Based on observations, Lewis comes to three conclusions:
- An objective moral law requires an objective moral lawgiver
- This objective moral lawgiver must be absolutely good. Otherwise all moral effort would be futile in the long run.
- Therefore, there must be an objective moral lawgiver.
We are aware of objective moral law, not because of the behavior of others in forming our actions, nor because society tells us what to do. Yes, society creates laws to manage our behavior, ultimately each person knows without compulsion what is right and wrong and feels an obligation to do right, even if that doesn't always happen. Bottom line is that we know that certain things are right and others are wrong. We don't need laws to tell us that, we don't need laws to encourage us to do what is right because of this moral obligation, commonly referred to as a conscience.
Thomas Jefferson recognized this when he wrote this first line in the declaration of independence: "We hold these truths to be self evident." That means people know certain moral actions to be objectively true and right, and they are internally compelled or obligated to do what is right not because they have the desire to deduce what is right, but because they know what is right. Such obligation to objective moral law is rooted in the objective moral lawgiver. It's connected to the fact that the objective moral lawgiver – the creator God – has made us in his image for a purpose higher than ourselves.
Where Does Our Conscience Come From?
Have you ever thought about your conscience sometimes referred to as your inner moral compass? Where did this conscience come from? It couldn't come from something less than us or something equal to us. It couldn't come from just us. The only viable option is that our conscience comes from something greater than us, which is God.
The Ontological Argument
The most controversial of all arguments for the existence of God is the ontological argument. The root word ontos means being, so the argument has to do with God as an absolutely perfect being. Anselm was the originator of this argument, but they have been many variations through the centuries.
Basically the argument goes something like this. First, God is the greatest being anyone can think of. If we could think of a being greater than God, and that being would be God. Therefore, nothing greater than God. Second, it is greater to really exist than to merely exist as an idea. In other words, you could think about a being like God, but your thoughts about God are not greater as God. And Salemme gives the example of a painting. An artist could have an idea for a painting, or he could actually paint something. Which is greater? The painting, of course, because the painting exist not only as an idea but also in reality.
In the same way, if God existed only as an idea, then something greater could the conceived, namely God existing both as an idea and also in reality. Here is the conclusion: God is the greatest conceivable being, so he must exist not just as an idea but also in reality. Therefore God exist.
To Extremes to Avoid
On one hand, don't get discouraged if you aren't getting all of this first and second time around we've been studying these arguments for years and we still struggle with certain aspects. Always keep Augustine's quote in your mind: "A God you can understand completely is an idol." On the other hand, if you are really excited about these evidences and you think you finally have the ammunition you need to confront your unbelieving friends, always keep Peter's quote in mind: "Do this in a gentle and respectful way."
- The Way, God has revealed himself through the University created called general revelation. And through both the written word of Scripture and the living word of Jesus – special revelation tells us that he is much more than an idea, a force, or a feeling.
- God is spirit and cannot be seen. He is not composed of matter and does not possess a physical nature. So how do do we know God exist?
- You can believe in God even if you don't know why, but at some point, as you get to know God better, you will want to know why it is reasonable to believe God exists.
- A cumulative case for God's existence means that even though no one specific piece of evidence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists, several pieces together make a reasonable case for his existence. These pieces of evidence include the cosmological, moral, and ontological arguments.
- The cosmological argument has two major components: contingency and causation. The argument from contingency means that everything in the universe is contingent or dependent on something else. This being the case, then "something else" – called a necessary being must not be contingent. The argument from causation the, cosmological argument says that because the universe cannot be infinitely old, you must have a beginning therefore a 1st cause.
- Evidence for the beginning of the universe did not emerge until the 20th century, when a series of discoveries by scientists around the world led to the conclusion that the universe began with a bang in a single moment in time.
- The moral argument says that objective moral laws exist, so an objective moral lawgiver must exist as well.
- The ontological argument has to do with God as an absolutely perfect being. God is the greatest conceivable being, so he must exist not just as an idea but also in reality.
Reflection and Discussion
- List three reasons why it's important to know why it is reasonable to believe God exists.
- Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is this a good first question to ask when trying to show God exists?
- Why is it necessary for there to be a necessary being? What is the definition of a necessary being? Why is God the only being that meets this definition?
Bickel, Bruce and Stan Jantz. Evidence for Faith 101:Understanding Apologetics in Plain Language. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008, 63-88