by ProfDave, ©2021
(Oct. 14, 2021) — Most Americans believe in a transcendent deity who is the creator of heaven and earth and at least occasionally pays attention to temporal affairs. These things appear most probable on the basis of reason and experience. For Christians, this is all revealed clearly, explicitly and in detail in The Book of God. Christianity (Judaism and Islam, too) teaches us that Providence supervises in some way all human affairs. All that happens is by His permission. On the other hand, He cares about our behavior. Most of us believe that prayer matters.
A loud minority deny the existence of God or any non-material reality. How could one go about scientifically proving that there is no God? Is it possible to prove that something does not exist? For example, prove that a pink rock with purple spots does not exist. You would have to look in every corner of the universe, and every corner of time as well – you would have to be God! On the other hand, over the centuries, philosophers and theologians have come up with several ways to demonstrate the existence, or at least the overwhelming probability, of God: causality, design, information, morality, and history.
Is God real? Can He be real for you but not for me? Do you choose who God is for you? Does He stop being real (like Santa) when you don’t believe in Him? Or is He the same whether you know about Him or believe in Him or not? Different people believe in different gods or have different ideas about God. They disagree. Can they all be right? Probably not. Can they all be wrong? Possibly – since He is so big and our minds are so small.
What evidence do you have that there is a real God beyond our understanding of Him? Is anything real – including you? This is called the ontological argument – the logic of being. The laws of logic were known by the ancient Greeks and come down to us from Aristotle. The most basic laws of science are even older (who wrote them?). Several “proofs” of God (Aquinas) are related to this. The basic laws of logic and of science are: nothing comes from nothing, every effect has a cause, and the law of inertia – things at rest will remain at rest unless something moves them. Reality is something that could not come from nothing, the cosmos is an effect that demands a sufficient cause – ultimately an uncaused First Cause – and all the stars and planets in motion require a Prime Mover – Someone or something started it all moving. Hmmm.
Is God real? Let’s conduct a thought experiment. I got this from the late R.C. Sproul. Do you have your watch on? If not, go get it. … Ready? Hold it up in front of your screen and look at it. That’s good. Do you agree that it exists? Now ask the ontological question: how does it exist? There are three alternatives: 1) it always existed, from eternity, 2) it brought itself into existence, and 3) it was brought into existence by something else. Can you think of any other possibility? Don’t feel bad, in his long career as a professional philosopher and apologist Sproul never found anyone who could come up with a fourth alternative that didn’t break down into the other three. Do you agree that the three are the only possible answers? Which answer is most probable? Do you agree that your watch had a beginning? Given infinite time it would have run down and rusted away before you were born. Do you agree that it did not make itself? Something that doesn’t exist cannot cause something new to exist. You are right: somebody made your watch – mine says Casio – and the materials from which it was made as well.
The same experiment would work with your shoe or any other physical object. How about the whole cosmos? Science agrees that if the cosmos were eternal, its physical and chemical processes would have run down eons ago – run down, burned out, disintegrated into dead and inert materials at absolute zero. Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics decrees that all things naturally run down and organization moves towards disorganization without the addition of energy (and intelligence?). Hmmh – just like a teenage boy’s bedroom. By the most fundamental of all laws of science and logic, nothing comes from nothing. So all things, like your watch, have a Maker. At the end of a series of makers of makers, causes of effects – long or short – must be an uncaused cause. What or Who might that be?
Logically, if there was ever a time when there was nothing, there would still be nothing. If you found a watch on the beach would you believe it was designed by the wind and the tide?
Do you still have that watch? Does it have a design on its front, a band and a buckle of some sort? If you could get the back off, you might see a circuit board or a complex system of gears and springs. Would you agree that it has a design? The manufacturer didn’t just pour odd bits through a funnel and out came a working timepiece. Did it design itself or did it have a designer? Somewhere in the patent office there is a patent for it belonging to a patent-holder. Every cell in your body is a molecular city far more intricate than that watch. Who holds the patent for that? Guaranteed it isn’t Casio! The physical cosmos is chock full of intricate things that even Steven Hawking admitted appear to be designed – although he labored mightily to argue that they were not. Every year science discovers new complexity. You have to have a really brilliant mind to avoid the obvious.
The popular atheist alternative is to put your faith in time and chance. Briefly, time and chance are very limited designers. First, time began at the Big Bang along with space – see the ontological argument. Besides, what is impossible at one moment would probably be impossible at any other moment in eternity. Second, chance is not a thing, but the name we give to effects that we cannot predict and when the odds against something (like life) exceed the number of atoms in the cosmos we have to concede that it is impossible. You, your watch and the cosmos are impossible by time and chance. Objectively, the more probable answer is a Designer of incomprehensible intelligence.
You may find all sorts of things on the beach, but if you see a heart shaped figure scratched in the sand with the words “Joe loves Mary,” you would not attribute it to winds and tides. Nor would you believe that Webster’s dictionary resulted from an explosion in a print shop. Does information, as in a computer program, have to have an intelligent source? Did Windows 11™ just happen? Did you know there is more information written in the language of DNA, in each cell of your body than a set of encyclopedias?
The proofs of God from being, from motion, from cause and effect and from design were summarized by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century and were even older. The argument from information and language emerged from the modern discovery of the detailed instructions written in our DNA. Your body is not just a random accumulation of atoms, but something assembled and governed by a program infinitely more complex than Microsoft can imagine. Which is more probable, that program was written by chance or by intelligence – an Author?
Every particle in the cosmos is fine-tuned and every cell in living material is programmed to grow, develop itself and operate like a well-ordered city. The instructions are written in four-molecule code. Nothing random about that.
Other strong evidences of a divine Being are found in our own sentience. Early in science it was determined that life does not come from non-life. Maggots are not generated by rotting meat nor slime by wet rocks. If life is ever really “created” in the laboratory, you may be sure it will be with the most sophisticated equipment and the massive use of intelligent design. Biochemicals can be made in the laboratory, but all the king’s reagents and all the king’s techs cannot make them wiggle or reproduce with intelligent intervention, let alone without. Can intelligence come from non-intelligence or sentience from non-sentience? Good question, but the jury is still out as to what those things are.
But how about our moral sense? Another form of evidence is moral. Why do we talk about right and wrong at all? Where does it come from? In English the words are “should” and ‘ought.’ Raisins “ought” to be sweet. Husbands “ought” to be faithful. I “ought” to sweep my floor regularly. ‘Ought’ is different from ‘do’ or ‘don’t’. ‘Should’ is not the same as ‘is.’ Most of the time we know very well what we “ought” to do and to be but our performance and status is often somewhat less. The arrow should go where we aim it, but it doesn’t. Sometimes we don’t even aim at the target but at the neighbor’s cat. Wrong! Where does wrong come from?
The most dedicated and doctrinaire atheist cannot escape making moral judgments. Just try stepping on her toes. She is very fond of citing the crimes of the church. If there is no moral law, why shouldn’t a priest play with a choir boy? The late Ravi Zacharias often used this proof: 1) If there is wrong then there must be right. 2) If right and wrong exist, there must be a moral law. 3) If there is a moral law there must be a moral Lawgiver. Q.E.D. That may seem a bit too easy, but how else can you explain why moral distinctions are hard-wired in our brains – most of the Ten Commandments, in fact? Morality seems to come in with sentience – with self-conscious decision making. Hmmm.
One more. How about an historical proof for the existence of God? Throughout history and in almost every culture many of the best and brightest have claimed to have experienced an intelligence supernatural being and/or supernatural events. The vast majority of mankind have believed them and believed in such a being and such events. Could it be that the vast majority are stupid and gullible? Are you? The idea of God explains so many things, could it be that the vast majority are just lazy or intolerant of uncertainty? Which is it? Is it more likely that the vast majority are, in general, right or the small minority who do not believe?
When I went for my drivers’ test some time ago, they made me look at a screen covered with colored spots in which I saw numbers. Remember? Most of us could see them, but color-blind folks could not. That could be a problem, if you could not tell a flashing red from a flashing yellow light, right? How would it be if they insisted there was no such thing as red? Could one be god-blind?
God and spiritual realities are not visible to the naked eye, but most of us can “see” them to some degree or another. We can see our own selves and our consciences without a mirror! Jesus-followers have that moment when their “eyes” are opened, they see themselves as they are and the forgiveness and arms of Christ open for them. Once the light has come on, they have no trouble “seeing” God. I talked with Him this morning. But the first Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin failed to see God in orbit. Of course. He was god-blind, poor fellow, groping in the dark. Several American astronauts did see God up there and down here, too.
We have reviewed just a few of the arguments for the existence of a transcendent God. People have denied all these “proofs.” Perhaps none of them are absolute – particularly if you have personal reasons for not believing. On the other hand, belief is clearly not a leap in the dark, contrary to reason. Indeed, “the dark” is on the other side in a world without spirit. Is it more probable that there is a real God or that there isn’t? The late R.C. Sproul held that in formal logic His Being is unassailable. What have you experienced that would make you think there probably is a God?
To wrap up this discussion, it is more than probable that there is a real, transcendent, infinite, eternal Creator “out there somewhere,” whether we like it or not. What difference would it make if you tucked that fact into your operational worldview? In the first place, it would relieve you of the responsibility to reinvent your world. You could relax and just discover it, one day at a time. Furthermore, you could actually discover it. Since it was made by an intelligent being, you could expect it to be intelligible – infinitely complex, but intelligible. It would be worth trying to figure things out. Your science and learning would be optimistic, not fatalistic.
Secondly, there would be meaning and purpose to your existence. Whatever your condition, your Creator meant you to be. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. He must have meant you to have a mind and heart to make choices. Love Him or hate Him. It is not too much of a stretch to think that you have a mission, should you choose to accept it. All the Abrahamic faiths agree, though they debate the degree of choice you have. At the very least, you can embrace it or fight it. Is it your mission or your fate? Will you embrace your Maker, “seeking only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out,” or spend your time seeking to make up your own destiny, in contrast with that for which you were made – a destiny without God? Do you want to be your own god? Either way, God will be huge in your worldview – as your Father or as your nemesis.
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.