God’s existence. In case you don’t consider it a given.
When apologists try to make God appear in a puff of logic.
Properly speaking, God’s existence isn’t a theology subject. It’s an apologetics subject.
But for the sake of apologists, a lot of theology textbooks start with an obligatory chapter on God’s existence. The better-written books point out the scriptures take God’s existence for granted: Genesis starts with “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,”
The better-written books also point how we know there’s a God: Special revelation. God talks to people, and performs the occasional miracle, so we know from personal experience he’s around. He may be invisible, but his presence among believing Christians is so blatantly obvious, we don’t have to deduce him from nature or logic. In fact, if we have to resort to logical deduction to prove there’s such a being God, we need to seriously question our obedience, devotion, trust, and belief systems. ’Cause if God’s not living and active in our lives, ain’t his fault. We’re the ones who suck as Christians.
So why do apologists persist on using logical deduction to prove God’s existence? Well… they’ve been convinced they really oughta learn how to. By whom? By the sucky Christians I just described. Those folks lack personal God-experiences, or even believe we’re no longer meant to have such experiences, and have replaced obedient devotion with cheap grace and belief systems which justify an inactive, absent God. Really, logical deduction is all they have left.
I still find it bonkers when I meet someone who claims to hear from God, yet when they encounter skeptics, for some boneheaded reason they resort to apologetic arguments instead of, say, words of knowledge.
John 1.47-51 KWL
- 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said about him, “Look!
- An Israeli who’s truly without trickery!” 48 Nathanael told him, “How do you know me?”
- In reply Jesus told him, “Before Philip went to call you, I saw you standing under the fig tree.”
- 49 Nathanael told him, “Rabbi, you’re God’s son. You’re Israel’s king.”
- 50 In reply Jesus told him, “Since I told you I saw you beneath the fig tree, you believe me?
- Oh, you’ll see greater than that.”
- 51 Jesus told him, “Amen amen! I promise you all, you’ll see the skies have opened,
- and God’s angels are coming and going before the Son of Man.”
Didn’t take Jesus three hours in a coffeehouse to at least convince Nathanael he was somebody knowledgeable. Just took two statements which peered directly into Nathanael’s soul, and the lad believed. Beat that with a stick.
But I digress. Let’s discuss the usual arguments apologists pitch for the existence of God.
For thousands of years, philosophers invented ways which claim to deduce God’s existence. Ways which sounded reasonable to them, anyway. Now, try ’em out on nontheists, and they’ll think you’re looney. A word of knowledge will make them rethink their entire lives, but these arguments: They’ve heard ’em before. And learned how to rebut them. I know; I’ve heard their rebuttals.
For your convenience, I’ve included the rebuttals. Because I don’t want you to be yet another of those unprepared Christian apologists who are simply dumbfounded your brilliant argument got brushed away.
The unmoved mover.
Formal name: “The cosmological argument.”
Goes like yea: Hopefully you know about cause and effect: Everything in the universe was invented or started by something else. Someone invented and built the computer you’re reading. Some power plant generated the electricity running through it. (And workers built the plant, someone designed the plant, someone invented the dynamo, Benjamin Franklin figured out how electricity works, yada yada.) Everything can be traced to a cause. That cause can be traced to a previous cause. And so on.
All the way back, that is, to a point. At some point in the remote past, all these chains of cause and effect work back to one thing. One event which started the process. Some first cause. Aristotle of Athens called it the “unmoved mover.” Scientists call it the Big Bang—but even that doesn’t take us far enough, ’cause why’d the Big Bang go bang? Did something cause that?
Yes, Christians say; and that’d be God.
Rebuttal: Skeptics claim it can be mathematically proven the Big Bang could’ve happened on its own. It’s the first cause. Not some other behind-the-scenes operator. Nothing else had to make the Big Bang go bang.
Theists object to this objection by complaining “Could’ve happened on its own” doesn’t sound like a reasonable statement whatsoever: Things don’t happen on their own. The whole premise of science itself is there are causes to the effects in our universe, which is why we seek out the causes. But skeptics correctly point out the very nature of an unmoved mover—whether we mean God, or the Big Bang—is that it’s the one thing in the universe which happened on its own. Either before spacetime existed, there was God; or bang and then spacetime existed. It’s simply a matter of which idea you prefer most: Do you want there to be a God in the story, or not?
See, that’s the thing about all these rebuttals. And the rebuttals to the rebuttals. Eventually they all disintegrate into, “You’re just saying that ’cause you believe in God” and “You’re just saying that ’cause you don’t.”
This is why apologetics only work up to a point. Foundation of sand, remember?
Formal name: “The teleological argument.”
Goes like yea: The universe tends to sort itself out. Things go from chaos to order.
Now, that fact shouldn’t be true. Not in a closed universe, where natural laws indicate things oughta be moving towards chaos, entropy, devolution, disorder, muck. Yet for some reason the universe keeps breaking the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and things arise in it which are highly complex. Like deoxyribonucleic acid. Like self-sustaining biospheres. Like stable stars which won’t collapse for billions of years. Someone is obviously, continually interfering with the universe to create order out of chaos, to make it work where it shouldn’t.
’Cause that’s what we’d deduce in any other situation. Fr’instance if the dishes were dirty in the morning, but clean in the afternoon, somebody washed ’em. Either your kids did their chores for once, or the dog hopped up on the counter and licked ’em clean, or 100,000 files managed to get in and out of the house without anyone noticing. But somebody cleaned those dishes.
When a thousand-piece puzzle is assembled, it’s because someone put it together, not because we can throw the pieces into the air and they naturally fall into place. When I find an iPod in the woods, I’m pretty sure it didn’t grow there, and it’s gonna take a vast leap of evolution before squirrels figure out how to make replica iPods.
Same’s true of the universe. When life arises on a dead planet, it’s because someone seeded the planet with life. Yeah,
It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye with a telescope. We know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued efforts of the highest human intellects; and we naturally infer that the eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man? […] Further we must suppose that there is a power, represented by natural selection or the survival of the fittest, always intently watching each slight alteration in the transparent layers; and carefully preserving each which, under varied circumstances, in any way or in any degree, tends to produce a distincter image. We must suppose each new state of the instrument to be multiplied by the million; each to be preserved until a better one is produced, and then the old ones to be all destroyed. In living bodies, variation will cause the slight alterations, generation will multiply them almost infinitely, and natural selection will pick out with unerring skill each improvement. Let this process go on for millions of years; and during each year on millions of individuals of many kinds; and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man? Darwin 146
Rebuttal: Basically theists are pulling the common non-scientific argument, “I can’t explain it; you can’t explain it either; therefore it happened by magic!”
True, the universe is unbelievably complex. So much so, we’ve not yet figured out how everything works. This doesn’t automatically mean it can’t be figured out. Humans can do whatever we set our minds to.
You realize the Laws of Thermodynamics aren’t actually laws. They’re scientific theories which have been proven so often, scientists treat ’em as if they’re proven, fixed things. You know, like gravity. Which Albert Einstein redefined top to bottom, ’cause sometimes scientists have better ideas which define the universe better than our existing “laws.”
So things tend to fall apart. But in the process of falling apart, sometimes they come together in ways which look like order. When you play Yahtzee, and roll a full house on your first try, it looks like order. It’s not; it’s entirely random. But for a moment, for the purposes of the game, it looks like order. Same with ice crystals. Same with fractal shapes. Same with a lot of things. The existence of life in the universe is simply a much, much bigger random arrangement.
Of course, Christians are gonna have trouble wrapping our brains around the idea of life on earth as random dumb luck. Like the old Christian saying, “It’s too coincidental to be a mere coincidence”: Our brains are rigged to find and recognize patterns, and when we identify patterns we next try to identify a Designer. Skeptics are pretty sure we shouldn’t bother. But once again, we’re dividing into camps of those who want there to be a Designer, and those who don’t.
Where’d our morals come from?
Formal name: “The anthropological argument.”
Goes like yea: Somehow, every human culture has independently deduced rules for how we humans oughta behave towards one another. And these rules not only have nothing to do with our self-preservation instincts: Sometimes they downright violate them.
Fr’instance “Don’t steal” does me little good when I desperately need certain things for my own survival. Yet because I believe stealing is wrong, sometimes I risk my own survival because I refuse to steal food, things that’d keep me warm, things that’d provide me shelter. Plenty of people put this cultural moral code above their own lives.
True, sometimes there’s great personal satisfaction in being moral. But more often not: We can lose power, prestige, and advantage. Yet people try to be moral anyway. And if we don’t, we try to rationalize our immoral behaviors, rather than admit we were immoral. Even if we’ve broken no civic laws, we’re pretty sure there are gonna be dire consequences (either in this life or the next) if we continue on an immoral path.
So where’d these moral laws come from? How’d the human psyche develop a conscience which is so insistent on conforming to morality? A moral being, like God, has to be behind it all.
This one’s a big favorite with Christian apologists, mostly because C.S. Lewis used it as the basis of Mere Christianity.
Rebuttal: Morals don’t have to do with individual self-preservation, but societal self-preservation: They may not be in the best interests of one single person, but they are in the best interests of the entire culture:
- Respect for parents is useful for child-rearing.
- Respect for elders takes advantage of the wisdom which often comes with age.
- Banning theft encourages private ownership, which is practical, and suits our greed in the least harmful way.
- Banning murder encourages life, and security in one’s surroundings.
- Banning adultery encourages stable, committed relationships and families.
And so on. Behaviorists point out we pass along this societal wisdom by conditioning our children to respect it. Your conscience doesn’t bother you because God put it in there, but because Mom and Dad did. Unless they didn’t, ’cause they didn’t raise you, and left you to fend for yourself. In such cases (and we see a lot of ’em in the United States), these people grow up immoral: They don’t care about society’s values, and only care about themselves. And if there are enough of these selfish people, society collapses.
Now, speaking for myself I gotta side with the behaviorists. Not C.S. Lewis. Sorry. People sin far too often for me to believe anyone has a built-in moral code. Total depravity is a little too total.
Yes, God’s commands resemble society’s morals. It’s why Paul could say if a culture lacked the Law, at least they had cultural standards which function much the same.
If cultural moral standards were enough, God could’ve let the newly-freed Hebrews continue doing as they did. But instead he gave Moses the Law, told the Hebrews to pass it down, and got really irritated when they didn’t.
“God put an idea of himself in me.”
Formal name: “The ontological argument.”
Goes like yea: Can you imagine the greatest being ever? The strongest, the smartest, the mightiest, the holiest, the most truthful, the best? Go ahead, imagine such a being. (And just for fun, let’s name it Frank. Why Frank? It’s a nice name. Robin Day’s got a hedgehog called Frank.)
Frank’s the most amazing being we can picture, but Frank has one little flaw: He’s imaginary. He’s not real. Therefore Frank isn’t the greatest being ever. The greatest being, after all, has to be.
Now, what if you can’t get the idea of Frank out of your head? What if, no matter how much you try to dismiss him, Frank keeps popping up as a perfectly reasonable explanation (well, to you, anyway) for various odd things in the world? What if Frank explains everything? Brings order and stability to your life? What if—bear with me—the reason Frank’s in your head, is because Frank actually does exist, and put this idea of himself into your head?
What if this is the very same reason you believe in God? What if this is how we’re meant to know there’s a God?
Rebuttal: You forgot to refill your Clozaril prescription, didn’t you?
The brain, as I said, is meant to make connections. Recognize patterns. Figure things out. The brain’s so good at this, sometimes it sees patterns and connections and links where there really aren’t any. In most people, it’s mild paranoia or minor suspicions. In extreme cases it’s schizophrenia, a mental disorder where you imagine things are real because you trust your brain’s faulty wiring instead of reality.
Just because you can imagine God—or Frank, or space aliens, Bigfoot, vast shadowy conspiracies between banks and governments—doesn’t automatically mean such things exist. That’s delusional thinking. And worrisome: If someone follows their delusions, the last thing you want is such people making vital decisions on your behalf. Like offering medical opinions, or running the military, much less trying to explain God’s will to others. Their flights of fancy are not worth risking your life, and eternal destiny, upon. And yet a disturbing number of Christians think this way: “My ideas about God had to’ve come from somewhere. I think it’s from God. So I trust it.”
This argument was originally pitched by St. Anselm of Canterbury. Anselm based it on Plato of Athens, who believed the way memory works is we humans were born with a vast number of built-in ideas, possibly placed there by God. According to Plato, I learned to speak not by learning sounds and words, but by hearing sounds and words which triggered my preexisting memories. The reason I can recognize any dog I see, despite the wide variations between dog breeds, is because my brain was implanted with an idea of what a dog is. We don’t really learn; we remember.
Nope, I don’t buy that. Neither do most people. Mostly because our culture didn’t raise us to be Platonists: Our schools instead taught us Aristotle’s idea that the brain’s a blank slate, and we do learn new ideas. Problem is, a lot of ancient Christian philosophers were totally Platonists. Such Christians loved the idea of God embedding himself into every human brain for us to rediscover. Plenty of Christians still do love it. But—other than certain odd religions which like to monkey around with Plato’s old theories for fun and profit—almost the whole of western civilization adopted Aristotle’s view. Not Plato’s.
So this is why the ontological argument sounds insane. (Unless you grew up hearing it, and also love the idea of God embedding himself into everybody’s brain.)
“There are no valid absolutes unless there’s a God.”
Formal name: “The transcendental argument.”
Goes like yea: Say the nontheists are right: We’re the product of chance. We happened by happy accident. We got ridiculously lucky, and now here we are. Nice.
But since my brain is the product of chance (in fact, it’s at the end of an extremely long chain of lucky breaks, from the first appearance of life in the universe, to now), how can I be sure about the quality of my brain? How do I know it works properly? I mean, what have I got to double-check it against? Another human brain? Which might be just as defective as mine?
I could double-check it against a computer, but who invented computers? Humans. Using our brains. Same problem, right?
How’m I expected to get an accurate diagnostic, when every single diagnostician is probably just as broken? Impossible. The only way I could be sure my brain isn’t malfunctioning is if there were an absolute, perfect, objective standard. Like God. Then God could tell me, “Nope, you’re fine.” (Or, which is more likely, “Nope, you’re wrong.”) With God in the universe, I can be certain my quest for truth isn’t an utter waste of time. But if God doesn’t exist, I guess I’ll never know.
Rebuttal: Okay, say we accept that whole crazy argument. Just because we figure we need a God to double-check our brains against, it doesn’t logically follow he’s gotta exist, or will suddenly appear in a puff of wishful thinking. (Didn’t we already deal with imaginary beings in the ontological argument?)
But let’s deal with the iffy premise: “Since my brain is the product of chance, how can I be sure it works right?” It’s not the product of chance; it’s the product of millennia of natural selection, in which defective brains were weeded out through the harshest forms of trial and error. True, dumb luck kills clever brains too. But statistically, way more of ’em survived than didn’t.
And let’s deal with Christianity. Christians believe we live in a fallen universe. Fallen humans. Fallen brains. Even though they’re God-created brains, they’re defective whether he made ’em or didn’t. And even when we compare them to God’s absolute, perfect, objective standard… we frequently misinterpret God’s standard, rendering us just as wrong as before. If not more so.
Frankly, there are a lot of things Christians claim are absolutes, which really aren’t. ’Cause for all their talk about God’s perfect standards, they don’t know God’s perfect standards. They’ve been so long substituting their own for his, they don’t know the difference anymore. Whereas there are certain things in science and mathematics, which everyone knows to be absolute standards. The number of protons in a hydrogen atom. The movement in absolute zero. What you get when you multiply 10 by 10 (even if you do it in binary!). The first twelve digits of pi.
Ultimately we can never prove the transcendental argument one way or the other. Seems there’s little point in even making it.
Subjective arguments: They work way better.
Well, so much for trying to deduce God through objective reasoning. (I know; I’m no fun. I’ve hung out with far too many atheists.)
So if we can’t prove God’s existence with objective arguments, what do we have? Simple: We have subjective experience. I know there’s a God ’cause I’ve met him. And I know other people who’ve likewise met him. And I’ve witnessed a miracle or two. (Or a thousand.) And God gives me prophecies to share with others. And so on.
If you crack a bible, you’ll notice the scriptures tend to point to testimonies. Jews still point to God’s rescue of the Hebrews in Exodus. Christians point to Jesus’s resurrection, when the first apostles discovered Jesus is alive, and died proclaiming and believing it. Centuries of followers since have experienced Jesus for ourselves and let him change our lives. We may not be able to fight for God’s existence through reasoning, but we surely know what we’ve seen and heard and felt.
So the best way to bypass logical arguments is to stick with testimonies. Share your God-experiences! I tend to stick with my most recent interactions with God. When they believe in God just a little, and are actually looking for him, this tends to have a powerful impact on them: They’re seeking God, and I might just be able to lead them to him.
True, if they want nothing to do with God whatsoever, their response is some condescending variation of, “I give up; I’m not wasting my time on madmen. For your sake, I’m glad you’ve had what you think is an experience with God, and find it comforting. Good for you. I think it’s all rubbish. Enjoy your rubbish. Hope it works out for you.”
And they leave, angry… ’cause they’d recently learned some really great atheist apologetics, and were hoping to try some of it out on me. But they’re totally unprepared to debate personal experiences, so I ruined all their fun.
Still, these are far more decisive results than spending a few hours arguing over why God exists. So stick to testimonies. And, if the Spirit permits you, blow their minds with a prophecy or two. Way more effective than arguing.