Harvard University

Is There a God?

Utilizing an approach which is sometimes termed as “classical” Christian apologetics (Grk apologia “defense”), in this 1st part of the “IS Articles” I will attempt to present some classical arguments for the existence of God as they pertain to what Christian authors describe as “general” revelation (Romans 1:19-20). Similar to the other broad topics of apologetic arguments in defense of Christianity, few “theists” will rest on any one of these arguments for the existence of God as being sufficient in and of itself. On the contrary, these are typically presented as pieces of evidence for the existence of “a god” in accordance with what can be reasonably known to us even apart from “special” revelation.  The themes of this article by themselves do not pertain exclusively to Christianity. However, some of the subjects addressed here regarding the existence of “a god” resulted in the likes of C.S. Lewis (among many others) to have seeds of thought planted in their minds resulting ultimately in the embracing of the Christian belief in Jesus Christ. For others, the result has been a simple mental conversion to “theism” away from atheism or agnosticism (an  example being Antony Flew, the Oxford scholar and long time champion atheist debater who recently “changed his mind” resulting in the 2007 book “There Is a God – How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind).

The Cosmological Argument – Causation or “Cause and Effect”

The “Principle of Causality” states every finite thing is caused by something other than itself(Norman Geisler: Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics). The two general forms of the argument are; 1) the cosmos needed a cause at its beginning – called the “horizontal” argument and; 2) the cosmos needs a cause to continue existing – called the “vertical” argument (one of its most famous proponents being Thomas Aquinas – 1225-1274). The main focus here will be on the “cause” at the “beginning” argument, known as the “horizontal” or sometimes “kalam ” (Arabic: “eternal”) argument. One of its current proponents is philosopher William Lane Craig. Craig and others point to indicators such as the 2nd law of thermodynamics to demonstrate that in a closed, isolated system, like our universe, the amount of usable energy is decreasing. Hence, since the universe is running down, it is not eternal. The basic breakdown of the argument then progresses as follows:

                        1. The universe had a beginning

                        2. Anything that had a beginning must have been caused by

                            something else

                        3. Therefore the universe was caused by something else

                            (a creator)

                            (Geisler ECA)

 Detractors of this line of thinking (including Bertrand Russell and others) hold that there is a self-contradiction in affirming that everything needs a cause, while at the same time claiming that God  doesn’t need a cause. This can be answered by clarifying that the argument is not promulgating that everything needs a cause, but instead, that everything “dependent” (or imperfect) needs a cause (Peter Kreeft; Fundamentals of the Faith). Notice again, the clarified version of the premise: “Every finite thing is caused by something other than itself.” Fashioning it yet another way, William Lane Craig states “the first premise does not state, whatever exists has a cause, but rather, whatever begins to exist has a cause.” Some have suggested the universe is “infinite” by presenting such ideas as the “oscillating universe” (expanding and re-contracting forever), or even the chaotic, inflationary universe (which continually spawns new universes). The clear limitations of these are that they posit a potentially infinite future, while still ignoring the fact of the universe’s finite past. Take note of the following quote by Dr. Craig and his reference to Oxford scholar Richard Swinburne along these lines:

“In the case of cosmic origins, as Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne points out, there cannot be a scientific explanation of a first state of the universe, since there is nothing before it” (Quoted from Swinburne by WL Craig. “Why I Believe God Exists” from Why I am a Christian ed. Geisler / Hoffman)

 There are those who have gone so far as to say that the universe could have actually come into existence “by nothing and from nothing.” Explanations of this vary from the sublime to the outlandish. As Peter Kreeft points out, we have to become complex and clever when attempting to dispute the basic, simple, even intuitive “causation” argument. In a 2003 debate between William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith at Harvard University, Craig continued, repeatedly, to point out to those in attendance that Smith wasn’t addressing this “contingency” argument with any sense of cohesiveness. Some of the transcript of Craig’s questioning reads as follows:

 An Excerpt of William Lane Craig’s First Rebuttal (following Smith’s presentation of a “circular causation” theory): “I would suggest that this sort of circular causation ultimately doesn’t work. Imagine that our space-time is doughnut-shaped, so that time goes in a circle. In that case you could have every slice being caused by a prior slice. So ultimately the universe would be circularly caused. This is the sort of scenario Quentin envisions. But that still leaves the question unexplained: Where did the donut come from? Granted that all the slices of the donut explain each other, you’ve still got to answer why you’ve got a doughnut rather than nothing at all.And that is my contingency argument, which I don’t think Quentin responded to directly”

 An Excerpt of William Lane Craig’s Second Rebuttal (following Smith’s “elementary particles” presentation):“We can still ask: Why are there any particles at all, rather than just nothing? Anything (finite) that exists has an explanation for why it exists, either on its own nature or in an external cause. There’s simply no reason in his theory why we should have this cluster of elementary particles in existence rather than non-being. So we need to have a metaphysically necessary being which will explain why there is something rather than nothing”

 An Excerpt of William Lane Craig’s Conclusion (following Smith’s conclusion in which he still did not address the subject of Craig’s two above rebuttals): “Well the contingency argument, I think, has really gone un–refuted tonight. Why is there something rather than nothing? There must be an explanation, not for the beginning of the universe, but for why there is anything at all rather than nothing?”

Furthermore, Antony Flew, the long-time atheist debater conceded to the Cosmological argument of John Leslie as referenced in his following statements:

“Leslie asserts that ‘the existence even of an infinite series of past events couldn’t be made self-explaining through each even being explained by an earlier one.’ If there is an infinite series of books about geometry that owe their pattern to copying from earlier books, we still do not have an adequate answer as to why the book is the way it is (e.g., it is about geometry) or why there is a book at all. The entire series needs an explanation… In a recent discussion with Swinburne, I noted that his version of the cosmological argument seems to be right in a fundamental way. Some features of it may need to be amended, but the universe is something that begs an explanation” (Antony Flew “There is a God – How the World’s most notorious atheist changed his mind” pp. 144 – 145)

The Teleological Argument: The Argument from Design

 The major premise of this argument affirms that where there is “design,” there must be a “designer.” What is called the “minor premise” of the argument is the existence of design throughout the universe. The conclusion of these premises is there must be a universal designer. Another way of stating the argument in a broken down form is seen in the following syllogism:

                        1. All designs imply a designer. 

                        2. There is great design in the universe.

                        3. Therefore, there must be a great designer of the universe

                            (Geisler ECA)

As a proponent of this argument, William Paley’s somewhat rudimentary “watchmaker” analogy focuses not only on the theme of design, but also the issue of “complex design.” Paley submitted that the more complex the design is, the greater (or more intelligent) the designer is. This served as an early precursor to “specified complexity” which is one of the hot topics of our time, and a basis for what is called the “Intelligent Design” movement. William Dembski in his book “The Design Revolution” explains specified complexity in the following manner:

“An event exhibits specified complexity(citing an example from pop culture – to illustrate how the secular world seems to understand this) “The combination of complexity and specification convincingly pointed the radio astronomers in the movie ‘Contact’ to an extraterrestrial intelligence” (Dembski, The Design Revolution) 

Another key player in this debate is Michael Behe who was at one time an avowed evolutionist – or what could be more particularly described as a “theistic evolutionist.” In his purely scientific studies as a biochemist and professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Behe’s views changed – and he consequently published the book “Darwin’s Black Box” (1996). On a very simple level, here are two quotes – one from Darwin (Origin of Species) and one from Behe, which present the “crux” of the issue:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely breakdown” (Darwin, Origin of Species, p.159) 

“No one at Harvard University, no one at the National Institutes of Health, no member of the National Academy of Sciences, no Nobel Prize winner—no one at all can give a detailed account of how the cilium, or vision, or blood clotting, or any complex biochemical process might have developed in a Darwinian fashion. But we are here. All these things got here somehow; if not in a Darwinian fashion, then how?” (Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, p.187)   

In case there is an attempt to marginalize people like Dembski and Behe as the lone exceptions among scientists regarding this, the following web location might be taken into consideration which presents a list of growing “dissenters” who are skeptical of Darwinian dogma. These “dissenters” were asked to sign a simple stateent which reads as follows:

 A SCIENTIFIC DISSENT FROM DARWINISM: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian Theory should be encouraged”

The statement is now signed by nearly 1,000 holders of PhDs in various fields of science, including teachers in secular universities all over the world. Granted, a mockery list of “Steves” who are staunch evolutionists has been presented by those in opposition to this “dissent” list. This ignores the point, however, which is to; 1) demonstrate that there is no grounding to state dogmatically there is “consensus” within science – and; 2) to demonstrate that the number of outspoken dissenters is continuing to grow. There has also been telling research by Jerry Bergman (PhD) which sheds even more light on the subject regarding numerous scientists being hesitant about “coming out” with their views for fear of retaliation.

Moral Law Argument: Oughts and Ought Nots

This argument does have a correlative Biblical basis found in Romans 2:12-15, addressing that which is “written” on people’s “hearts” with their “consciences bearing witness” to the existence of right and wrong. According to a Christian worldview, even though our consciences are tainted, this does not deny the reality of the conscience itself. Though other authors have had similar trains of thought along these lines, one of its most famous modern era proponents was C.S. Lewis as introduced in his book Mere Christianity. One form of the argument maintains that even when one speaks against the belief in “oughts / shoulds,” one betrays himself through his own words (e.g. “there ought not to be ought nots”  “you should not say there are should nots”). Similar to the denial of there being such a thing as objective truth, when people attempt to deny there is such a thing as objective “oughts,” they quickly betray themselves in everyday life and conversation. Lewis noted:

Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real right and wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair’ before you can say Jack Robinson” (CS Lewis – Mere Christianity)

Likewise, if one has rejected the basic premise of the existence of objective morality, one really has no foundation to make a statement such as “Adolf Hitler was evil “or even “wrong.” One may meaningfully ask, “why would you say he was ‘wrong’?” – Or “by what ‘basis’ was he ‘wrong?‘” People bear testimony daily of the existence of not only such concepts as right and wrong but that there is some kind of standard which we inherently know exists. In short, the fact of there being a moral law assumes there is some kind of moral lawgiver. Peter Kreeft summarizes Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts down these lines in the following manner:    

“Thomas Aquinas stated that we rank things as more or less perfect, or good, or valuable. Unless this ranking is meaningless… there must be a real standard of perfection to make such a hierarchy possible, for a thing is ranked higher on the hierarchy of perfection only insofar as it is closer to the standard, the ideal, the most perfect. Unless there is a most-perfect being to be that real standard of perfection , all our value judgments are meaningless and impossible. Such a most perfect being, or real ideal standard of perfection, is another description of God” (Thomas Aquinas as summarized by Kreeft) 

Norman Geisler breaks it down in the following way:    

(1) There is an absolute moral law; (2) all absolute moral laws must have an absolute moral lawgiver; 3) therefore, there is an absolute moral lawgiver. In support of the crucial first premise, the theist points to the following evidence: (1) we cannot know injustice unless we know what justice is; 2) we cannot measure the progress (or lack of it) of society unless there is a standard outside society by which we can measure it; (3) if there is no objective moral law, then no real moral disagreement can ever be possible; (4) the fact that we do know Mother Teresa was better than Adolf Hitler reveals an objective standard by which we are making the comparison. In short, if there is even one absolute moral law, then there must be an absolute moral lawgiver (Geisler – Why I Am A Christian)  

As with the subject of the relativity of truth (“what is true is what is true for me“), the supposition of the relativity of “right” and “wrong” betrays itself. Almost nobody would concede that Hitler’s actions should be considered “right” so long as he “believed himself to be right.” The concept of objective moral values, on the other hand, has to do with values being valid and binding whether certain individuals hold to them or not. The argument is also strong when presenting itself from the negative vantage point: “If (a) ‘god’ does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.” Some have attempted to argue for what is termed “atheistic moral realism.” Their notion is that moral values and duties do exist in reality and are not dependent on evolution or human opinion, but they insist that they are also not grounded in God. Thus, they just exist. Along these lines, various attempts have been made to build “meta-ethical” foundations without the aid of ultimate meaning – or a giver (God) of ultimate meaning. An example is John Stuart Mills’ “Utilitarianism” (1863) – a form of “Epicureanism,” or the “greatest happiness” principle (Good = Pleasure / Evil = Pain). As Mills’ argument plays itself out, however, in order to be able to maintain a moral code distinct from supporting merely an ongoing “frat party” – Mills saw to it the need to apply a “test of quality” regarding those things which prompt “pleasure.” The quality control “judges,” as stated, end up being people of Mill’s own knowledge and expertise, which simply moves the intrinsic need for the lawgiver “god” to a lawgiver of another variety – namely, Mills and his peers (Wiker – TBTSUW). In other words, Mills essentially replaces this “god” with himself, and plays out the point made by ethicist Richard Taylor that “a duty is something that is owed… but something can be owed only to some person or persons. There can be no such thing as duty in isolation” (Taylor – quoted by J.P. Moreland in PFCW).Other professing atheists, to their credit, have honestly acknowledged the bankruptcy of the position of “atheistic ethics.” Michael Ruse writes:

“Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond  themselves. Nevertheless, such references are truly without  foundation . Morality is just an air to survival and reproduction… and any deeper meaning is illusory” (Ruse from “The Darwinian Paradigm” as quoted by Craig 

Ruse’s comments, again, would infer that claims about Hitler being morally “wrong” are unjustifiable, and atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1884 – 1900) would wholeheartedly concur:

“Christianity… not sufficiently noble to see the radically different grades of rank and intervals of rank that separate man from man: such men, with their ‘equality before God,’ have hitherto swayed the destiny of Europe; until atlast a dwarfed, almost ludicrous species has been produced, a gregarious animal, something obliging, sickly, mediocre, the European of the present day” (Friedrich Nietzsche from Beyond Good and Evil pp. 56-57)

Ted Turner, on the other hand, representing optimistic humanism stated “people of this age shouldn’t be told to do anything.” Once again, the ethic of the “should/shouldn’t” reappears in the very statement, and is thus self-negating.  

The Argument from Religious Need

This argument asserts that the “desire” for God is not a mere “illusion” (as Freud suggested) or as a psychological wish, but is instead a real existential need – where the need itself is an evidence for the existence of “God.” From a Judeo-Christian standpoint, Psalm 42:1 / Matt. 4:4 are scriptural texts which bear evidence of our inherent need for God. Augustine summarized this by stating “the heart is restless until it finds its rest in God.” Although rebuttals would hold that not everyone senses this “need,” there are even many self-professed atheists who bear astonishing evidences of this through their own self-disclosing statements. Julian Huxley once spoke of “the possibility of enjoying experiences of transcendent rapture, physical or mystical, aesthetic or religious… of attaining inner harmony and peace, which puts the man above the cares andworries of daily life.” Geisler comments “what is this, but another description of reaching out for God?” (Huxley as quoted inGeisler – ECA) 

The Argument from Joy

 This argument entails the anticipation of “heavenly” joy or bliss. A famous proponent of this argument was C.S. Lewis as asserted in his books Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Surprised by Joy. Lewis contended that creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. In Surprised by Joy he stated:

“If I find myself with a desire that no experience in this world can satisfy , I probably was made for another world. If no earthly pleasures satisfy the need , it does not mean the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it” (Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 120)   

Even Bertrand Russell, the famous unbeliever, toyed with this idea in his own memoirs:

“Even when one feels nearest to other people, something in one seems obstinately to belong to God, and to refuse to enter into any earthly communion – at least that is how I should express it if I thought there was a God. It is odd, isn’t it? I care passionately for this world and many things and people in it, and yet… what is it all for? There must be something more important, one feels , though I don’t believe there is” (Russell Autobiography, 125-126 as quoted from ECA)

In conclusion, remember that few theists would rest their entire “case” on any one of these arguments. Also, this article is not intended to be a comprehensive presentation of evidences for theism. Nevertheless, these arguments alone can collectively paint a captivating picture of the truth of the Christian scriptures presented in both Romans 1:19-20 and Romans 2:14-15. From a theological standpoint, these arguments also demonstrate different attributes of God (Cosmological – infinitely powerful; Teleological – intelligent; Moral argument – moral). Still, these notions in their totality do not necessarily present the “God,” so to speak, of the Judeo-Christian scriptures.  Certainly, in many respects, these same arguments could be (and have been) presented by other “theistic” religions (e.g. Islam). I’ll attempt to address the subjects pertaining to the particulars of Christianity in the upcoming “IS” articles. For now, I will conclude with two quotes. First, this one from author Ravi Zacharias which appropriately summarizes several of the previous points made regarding the existence of (a) god:

 “We have, then, an… ‘ontologically’ haunted universe – an uncaused reality that exists which is unlike any other physical reality that we know. There has to be something more than physical or ‘natural,’ something quite different in character from which or from whom this physical universe derives its existence” (Zacharias, Can Man Live without God)

 Now lastly, a word from the respected Oxford scholar and former atheist Antony Flew:

 “I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest whatscientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine source… My departure from atheism was not occasione by any new phenomenon or argument. Over the last two decades, my whole framework of thought has been in a state of migration. This was a consequence of my continuing assessment of the evidence of nature. When I finally came to recognize the existence of a God, it was not a paradigm shift, because my paradigm remains, as Plato in his Republic scripted his Socrates to insist: ‘We must follow the argument wherever it leads'” (Flew – There is a God – How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind pp. 88-89)

Sources:

Norman Geisler: Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics

Peter Kreeft: Fundamentals of the Faith – Essays in Christian Apologetics

Geisler / Hoffman (William Lane Craig) Why I am a Christian

C. S. Lewis: Surprised by Joy

William Dembski; The Design Revolution

Charles Darwin; The Origin of Species

Michael Behe: Darwin‘s Black Box

CS Lewis: Mere Christianity

Benjamin Wiker: Ten Books that Screwed Up the World

William Lane Craig debates

Antony Flew: There is a God – How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind

William Lane Craig: The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality

Friedrich Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil

J.P. Moreland: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview

Ravi Zacharias: Can Man Live Without God?

        

 

                              

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