In classical apologetics two major arguments for the existence of God are based upon observations of the natural world. The teleological argument argues that the evidence of design in the world is evidence of a God who created it all. The cosmological argument argues that because the universe exists it must have a beginning and a Being who brought it into existence.
The longer form of the cosmological argument begins with the statement that the physical universe exists. Everything that exists in the physical realm must have a cause. The cause cannot be the universe itself. The cause must exist outside the universe and have the ability to bring the universe into existence. The cause that brought the universe into existence is God. Because the universe exists, God exists.
This argument finds support in the observations of science. No natural mechanism is known by which something can arise from nothing. The normal arrangement of the world shows the things that exist in the physical world have their source in things with an earlier existence. Everything we observe is contingent upon an ancestor or a creator. The first law of thermodynamics seems to support this argument with its declaration that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Since the physical universe exists and it could not have risen from nothing it must have a source great enough to bring the universe into existence.
Like other arguments from classical apologetics the cosmological argument is primarily a philosophical argument. The proofs offered by this argument are not based upon physical evidences for an act of creation, but upon the logical necessity of a causative agent bringing the universe into existence. This argument is easier to understand and explain than the ontological argument because it is based upon premises which are more familiar to the average person. This line of reasoning may be reflected in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handywork.” All creation speaks to the necessity of a Creator. Because this universe exists there must be One who brought it into existence. To know the nature of this Creator a person must turn to the Bible. Genesis 1:1 simply states, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The reality of God can be glimpsed in creation, but the character of God is only found in the Bible. He has revealed Himself clearly through His Word. God’s command to all men is to believe His Word.
Those who attempt to defend the claims of the Bible generally use a couple major types of arguments. One group is called presuppositionalism, or presuppositional apologetics. arguments. The person presupposes the claims of the Bible to be true and then offers evidences to support that starting principle. The other group is called classical apologetics. The person attempts to show evidences for the claims of the Bible or the existence of God by using independent arguments for the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible.
Classical arguments for the existence of God include the teleological, cosmological, moral and ontological arguments. The ontological argument is different from the others because it offers evidence for God based only upon the philosophical reasonings of man. No proofs outside the thoughts of man are offered. Because of this the ontological argument can be challenging to understand. It is a logical and philosophical argument likely to be appreciated by someone who has studied those systems. The ontological argument can be briefly stated. Nothing can be imagined that is greater than God, therefore God must exist.
The ontological argument is not an empirical argument. It does not offer claims that can be examined using the scientific method. It does not make claims that can be supported by external evidence. The ontological argument seeks to show the existence of God based upon the definition of God. It is believed that Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury during the 11th century, first formulated this argument. The argument has been made in a couple different ways, but the strongest seems to be this:
- God, by definition, is a being greater than any other which can be imagined (No one can imagine a being greater than God)
- A being which exists in thought and in reality is greater than a being which exists only in the imagination
- If God exists only in thought, then men can devise a being which is greater than God
- No one can devise a being greater than God (we cannot imagine a being greater than the greatest being imaginable)
- Because men have a conception of God and can imagine none greater, God must exist.
To state the argument another way; the God of the Bible is conceived as having all perfections. He is infinite in being, eternal in existence and limitless in knowledge, might and presence. None can imagine a being that is greater than God. If God is that which is greater than any imagination of man, God must exist.
This argument is limited by a proper definition of God- a person can easily imagine a being greater than the god Thor, but one cannot imagine a being greater than the infinitely perfect God of the Bible, and it is limited by the philosophical complexity of the argument. Some have accused the ontological argument of being little more than an elaborate word game. The biggest problem with the ontological argument is its total reliance on human reasoning to attempt to deduce the existence of God. Because of the corruption of sin upon the mind of men none will turn to God by the power of logic. The Word of God makes that clear the things of God cannot be discerned by the unsaved man apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. (2 Corinthians 2:14) There is no being greater than God. We know of His existence and His greatness because He has made Himself known to man. In His grace God has given us His Word which tells us of His glory.
Recent conversations with a reader of this blog have prompted me to mention several of the major philosophical arguments for the existence of God. These arguments are not proofs in the empirical and evidential sense. They are philosophical proofs intended to show the belief in a supreme being is logical. There is, in fact, no direct proof for God’s existence. Instead there are logical deductions based upon reasonable inferences. These arguments seek to show the plausibility or necessity of a God by citing secondary evidences for God. These arguments are mostly cause and effect arguments that surmise because a particular reality is true there must be a Deity greater than reality who brought it into existence. In this article I will briefly explain four major philosophical arguments for the existence of God. These arguments merely argue for the existence of an all powerful deity without describing the character of God. I do not offer these explanations as an attempt to prove the existence of God, but to acquaint the reader with the basics of some of the most common arguments for God. Future articles will explain in more detail the particulars of each line of reasoning.
The ontological argument is an argument about the nature of being. This argument can be summarized as “nothing can be imagined that is greater than God, therefore God must exist.” The ontological argument relies on no outside evidences but draws its conclusion from what is possible for man to conceive. This argument is a proposition that is entirely conceptual, an argument from imagination. Because man conceives of an infiniitely perfect God who exists, and because it is impossible for man to conceive of anything greater than a a God of infinite perfections, then such a God must exist.
The teleological argument is also called the argument from design. The world shows evidence of design, therefore there must be a Designer. In daily living when one sees an orderly system that accomplishes a specific function the observer naturally concludes it has been designed. (A watch found lying in the woods is not believed to have evolved in those woods, but manufactured by watchmaker.) Randomness or lack of functionality shows lack of design. Because the universe as a whole and living creatures in particular are orderly and functional there must be a great Designer who created it all.
The cosmological argument is an argument from the existence of a physical universe. Everything in the universe has to have a beginning, therefore there must exist a Being outside the universe that brought it into existence. Observational science has shown that something cannot come from nothing. The universe is something and thus could not have come from nothing. Because the universe exists, there must exist a Creator who brought all things into existence.
The moral argument is an argument from the conscience of man. Since everyone has a perception of right and wrong, there must be a Lawgiver who has built into the heart of every person a basic moral understanding. Without a Supreme Being there would be no universal concept of right and wrong. Without a Lawgiver morals would be subjective and changing based upon the interests of the person or the society. Because there is cross cultural, multi-generational agreement upon basic concepts of right and wrong there must be One who placed the moral law in the heart of all men.
These logical arguments can help understand if belief in God is reasonable. Deductions from nature, reason and conscience can help discern the plausibility of asserting the existence of an all powerful Deity. While such arguments may be helpful, the Christian does not need to “prove” God exists. The Bible itself does not seek to prove God’s existence. Scripture declares the existence of God. “In the beginning God created.” The Bible asserts God’s existence and demands its claims be believed.
Today’s essay is a follow up to the article I posted Wednesday and to some of the replies given to that article. One commenter said, “repeating a story is not going to convince an atheist to start believing it.” I agree. One who has rejected the Bible is not likely to suddenly start believing because of a restatement of the Biblical stories. Should Christians seek to find proofs that will conclusively show the Bible to be true and dependable?
Many proofs of Christianity can be shown, and proofs have been given over and over again. Evidences can be given, but is that the real issue? Do those who reject the Bible refuse to believe because the evidence is not convincing? As I said in the previous article, lack of information is not the problem. Nor is lack of evidence the problem. The reason for unbelief is simple. Unbelievers start from the presupposition that the claims of the Bible are not true.
Everyone brings a personal bias to truth claims and the supporting evidences offered. Evidence is always filtered through the hearer’s own worldview. Those who assert that truth can be discovered only through naturalistic means are expressing a presupposition about truth. Naturalism presupposes there is no spiritual agency at work in this world. It presupposes the absence of a Creator, a Divine plan or an eternal purpose. No one examines evidence in a completely impartial fashion. Every evidence is viewed from the foundational assumptions of the viewer. As a result, God is not proven or disproven based upon increased evidence or a recitation of the facts
Those who refuse to believe the Bible will not believe regardless of what evidences are presented to them. This is declared in Luke 16. Jesus tells of a rich man who dies and goes to hell. He asks Abraham to send one back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham respond, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” The rich man says his brothers will not believe the Bible. Abraham replies, “Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Even the most irrefutable evidence of Divine power will not convince those who have refused to believe the truth of the Bible. This is born out further in the life of Jesus. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead the Pharisees response to the undeniable miracle was to plot the death of Jesus in attempt to prevent others from believing. When Jesus rose from the dead the priests knew He had been restored to life but they bribed the Roman guards to spread the story that the disciples had stolen His body. The evidence did not change the heart. Those who refuse to believe, will not be persuaded by the most convincing evidence.
From the human perspective the repetition of the Bible will not change the presuppositions of another. Yet there is no hope for faith apart from the Word of God. True faith is only produced by the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the person. Until the spiritual eyes are opened the heart will remain blinded. Only when God gives sight can the spiritually blind see the truth of the Son of God. Until then no evidence in the world will change the mind of the one who refuses to believe.
This question was posed by one who does not believe god exists as an argument against the reality of God. If God really exists and really wants everyone to go to heaven, why is there so much confusion about how to get to heaven? If God is all powerful and infinitely wise, why doesn’t He tell everyone how to get to heaven? Among professing Christian churches there is disagreement about how to reach heaven. Some teach salvation is received by faith alone, some teach good works are required for salvation, others teach baptism is necessary and still others teach that salvation is dependent on attending the proper church. Beside the disagreements between Christian churches are the many different religions in the world that teach many different ways to heaven and present many different versions of heaven. If God really wants us all to go to heaven, why are there so many contradictory opinions about to how to get there? Wouldn’t a loving God make the way to heaven very clear?
This question may seem to be a strong argument against God. It is not much different from the old atheistic declaration, “If God exists, I want Him to prove it by striking me dead with lightning right now.” Arguments like this are breathtakingly arrogant. What reasonable person would expect the all powerful God to do what I want when I want Him to do it? More importantly, a thoughtful consideration of the Bible’s teaching leaves no doubt that God has made the message of the gospel very clear. Throughout all of human history God has been actively revealing Himself and the message of salvation to the world. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned God promised a Savior. As the human population expanded, the message of salvation continued to be preached. Noah’s massive building program was a platform to preach the truth about God. Later, after the flood, God called Abraham out for Himself to be the father of a nation which would be the centerpiece of the display of His power, glory and truth. Since the generation after Christ, the Bible has been the clear record of salvation declaring the gospel to all men. The problem has never been a lack of information, but a rejection of the truth.
The account of Cain and Abel gives a perfect example fo the problem. Both Cain and Abel almost certainly knew what God required of them. Cain rejected the truth about God and of what God wanted. He did not lack information, he rejected the truth he was told. Today, the confusion and disagreement among Christian churches stems from a willful misunderstanding of the truth. Man’s rejection of God and refusal to believe the gospel is not from lack of information. Men do not believe because they do not want to believe the truth. The Bible is not unclear. The message of salvation is declared with all plainness throughout the New Testament. Verses like Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”; Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”; and John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” state the gospel in crystal clear terms. God has made the message of salvation plain for any to understand. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)