Arguing for the Existence of God

Should Christians attempt to argue for the existence of God?  After all, from the outset the Bible takes His existence for granted and continues throughout without any apparent need to justify the assertion that God simply is.  The nearest Scripture comes to an argument in support of God’s existence is in the odd places where a fairly negative standpoint is taken; i.e., that it is foolish not to believe (e.g., psalm 14:1), or that to disbelieve is to be ‘without excuse’ (Rom 1:18ff).    

Of course, the idea that it is foolish not to believe is a pretty powerful argument.  A moment’s thought should tell us that it is absurd for a human being to categorically assert that God doesn’t exist.  It’s fairly obvious that there will always be a great deal that even the cleverest of us will never know.  If modern science is correct in telling us that 85% of the universe is made up of ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, without having any idea what these things are, then I think we can safely conclude that it would be impossible for anyone to know for certain that God doesn’t exist.  

But in making such observations, we don’t prove that God does exist. To attempt this, we would need some positive arguments.  There have been countless such over the ages:  for example, the so-called Ontological Argument, the Teleological Argument, the Anthropological Argument, and many more. 

Personally, I find the best of the bunch to be the so-called Cosmological Argument.  (Let’s call it CA from here).  This takes a similar line to that taken by Paul in Romans 1.  As there clearly is a creation before us, it’s obviously the result of some cause. If we go back far enough, we’ll come to the first cause, God.  It’s obvious that there must be a first cause or nothing would exist.  And if we started with nothing – however many billions of years subsequently passed by – we’d still have nothing. This principle is summed up in the Latin phrase ex nihilo, nihil fit (out of nothing, nothing comes).

Through most of history, the CA has been a powerful ally for those attempting to ‘prove’ the existence of God.  However, in our advanced scientific world, those who think on such things have found what they think is a loophole and would now say that the best the CA can be said to prove is the existence of something.  In other words, the atheist or sceptic believes it’s logical to suggest that what has always existed is (say) “atoms”. After a long enough period of time, they’ll say, the random movements of these atoms could have developed into a gas (or whatever), and from here, their evolutionary explanation is well under way and they’ve conveniently written God out of the storyline. 

But these counters to the CA are not as reasonable as they seemed a few years ago. Quantum physics tells us that the atomistic view of the universe which stems from Newtonian physics does not apply in the microcosmic realm of electrons, photons and the like.  Here, a different kind of physical law rules. And this minute world ‘behind’ our seeming solid reality is very strange indeed, having a great deal in common with the philosophy of Idealism (see The Nature of Reality elsewhere on this blog).  At the micro level, science can only predict the outcome of experiments, because merely trying to observe the actions of the smallest particles affects the outcome.

Of course, there are theories as to how this microcosmic world operates.  Some of these assault our common sense and leave us bewildered. It’s been shown beyond doubt for example, that it’s possible for subatomic particles – such as photons which have interacted with each other – to remain interconnected when distanced from each other by light years. When such a particle is affected, its associated particle behaves in an opposite way at the same time.  This is mind-boggling stuff!  Not that long ago, the idea that tiny particles could dispense with the constrictions of light-speed (and a basic law of Einstein’s theory of relativity) would have been unthinkable. The links between things in our universe may be much more complex than we ever imagined.
Or consider the so-called ‘Many Worlds Theory’, which states that there are an infinite number of universes. Every movement, from the quantum level upwards, leads to  junctures with possibilities which can lead in different directions.  It is suggested that both ways can continue, each in a different universe.  For example, I may die in this universe, but in another one, continue to live (heaven?). Theories such as the Many Worlds theory, and the ‘interconnectedness’ which particles can display over vast reaches of space have led many scientists to reintroduce God, or at least, an Intelligent Mind guiding all things, as an explanation for what seems otherwise inexplicable (1).

It seems then, that the CA is not quite dead and still has its place in suggesting the existence of God in the 21st century. If anything exists, something, something has always existed.  And that something, that someone, is God. This seems like common sense and about as bomb-proof an argument as we can get.

However, even if we find this or some other argument convincing, what kind of a God do we end up ‘proving’? We ‘prove’ the likelihood (a contradiction in terms perhaps) that a Creator or an Intelligent Designer exists. And this doesn’t rule out the possibility that  both the Designer and atoms (or whatever) always existed! We certainly haven’t ‘proved’ the existence of the kind of God we read of in Scripture, who creates from nothing and interacts with, and loves, his creation.  We’re still left with the big question we began with hanging in the air: if the Bible doesn’t see any necessity to try and prove God’s existence, should we, bearing in mind the frailty of our most ingenious arguments? 

My own answer to this question is a resounding yes!  We do not live in biblical times, but in a scientific, post-Christian world.  Our 21st century world has been sold the idea that the existence of the universe can be explained scientifically, without reference to a Supreme Being. Two thousand years ago – without the science – such a claim would have been seen as most implausible. 

In trying to convince people as to the possibility and reality of the existence of God, should we start with such devices as the Cosmological Argument, or from some other angle? Today, many begin arguments about Genesis, Scripture in general, Christ (2), or some other starting point. In the Alpha course for example, the first section gives teaching about the Messiah, the second about the crucifixion. There follow sections on the reliability of the Bible and huge, (disproportionate, many would say) sections on the Holy Spirit, and so on.  But there’s very little argument about whether God the Creator actually exists. 

Why is this?  In my own experience, the first objection most people have to any kind of evangelistic effort is “If there’s a God, how come there’s all this suffering?” or something along those lines.  This is the bottom line, and unless people are willing to be open to the possibility that God may exist, our evangelistic efforts aren’t likely to get past first base. If we quote the Bible, our hearers are most likely to look pained, patronized or both, and tell us that we’re wasting our time because they don’t believe in the Bible either!   In fact, in today’s climate, they’d be more likely to believe almost any other holy book, or (even more likely) the medium making contact with the dead on some satellite TV station.  People today are also instinctively unhappy (especially in our current multi-faith nation) to accept the claim that Jesus is the Son of God.

In my view, arguments beginning with Scripture, or Jesus as the Son of God may have been useful three, four or five decades or more ago, when this was a ‘Christian country’ and a much higher percentage of people had some background knowledge of the Christian faith. Then, people were more open to the possibility of God.(2)  This situation probably still held good (for the general public at any rate) until the early 20th century, when the media, science etc, had not so undermined the whole notion of God and the Christian Scriptures; a time when people actually knew some of these Scriptures and maybe even whispered the Lord’s Prayer as they fell asleep each night.  But we are no longer in this kind of situation. The people of Britain for example, live under a constant barrage of propaganda from the media which suggests that science has all the answers; that we have no need for God (the biggest lie they constantly put forward); that the Bible is outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo and therefore unreliable in all it says, and so on.

When we seek to witness, it is my belief that we must begin our dialogue by discussing the existence of God.  If a person flatly denies the existence of God, it’s likely (though not impossible of course) that we’ll get no further. As usual, I find myself inexorably led back to Scripture, and in this case, to that wonderful text from the letter to the Hebrews: “… Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (11:6)

(1) But you would never guess that this tendency of many scientists towards belief exists by referring to the British media. Here, science, humour, and most other areas are dominated by those with extreme atheistic philosophical starting points and agendas.

(2) As, for example, did Blaise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher and mathematician, who believed we couldn’t begin to talk about God without first talking of Christ.

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