Questions about God: Does God Exist? (Arguments For The Existence Of God)

There have traditionally been four basic arguments used to prove God’s existence. They are called the cosmological, teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments. But since these are technical terms, let’s just call them the arguments from Creation (cosmos means creation), design (telos means purpose), moral law (axios means judgment), and being (ontos means being).

Argument from Creation

The basic idea of this argument is that, since there is a universe, it must have been caused by something beyond itself. It is based on the law of causality, which says that every limited thing is caused by something other than itself. There are two different forms of this argument, so we will show them to you separately. The first form says that the universe needed a cause at its beginning; the second form argues that it needs a cause right now to continue existing.

History of the Argument from Creation

Paul said that all men know about God “for God has made it evident to them. For since the Creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom. 1:19–20). Plato is the first thinker known to have developed an argument based on causation. Aristotle followed. Muslim philosophers Al-Farabi and Avicenna also used this type of reasoning, as did the Jewish thinker Moses Maimonides. In Christian thought, Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Descartes, Leibniz, and others to the present day have found it valuable, making it the most widely noted argument for God’s existence.

The universe was caused at the beginning

This argument says that the universe is limited in that it had a beginning and that its beginning was caused by something beyond the universe. It can be stated this way:

1.   The universe had a beginning.

2.   Anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else.

3.   Therefore, the universe was caused by something else, and this cause was God.

In order to avoid this conclusion, some people say that the universe is eternal; it never had a beginning—it just always existed. Carl Sagan said, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” But we have two ways to answer this objection. First, the scientific evidence strongly supports the idea that the universe had a beginning. The view usually held by those who claim that the universe is eternal, called the steady state theory, leads some to believe that the universe is constantly producing hydrogen atoms from nothing. It would be simpler to believe that God created the universe from nothing. Also, the consensus of scientists studying the origin of the universe is that it came into being in a sudden and cataclysmic way. This is called the Big Bang theory. The main evidence for the universe having a beginning is the second law of thermodynamics, which says the universe is running out of usable energy. But if it is running down, then it could not be eternal. What is winding down must have been wound up. Other evidence for the Big Bang is that we can still find the radiation from it and see the movement that it caused (see chap. 10 for details). Robert Jastrow, founder-director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, has said, “A sound explanation may exist for the explosive birth of our Universe; but if it does, science cannot find out what the explanation is. The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation.”

But beyond the scientific evidence that shows the universe began, there is a philosophical reason to believe that the world had a starting point. This argument shows that time cannot go back into the past forever. You see it is impossible to pass through an infinite series of moments. You might be able to imagine passing through an infinite number of dimensionless points on a line by moving your finger from one end to the other, but time is not dimensionless or imaginary. It is real and each moment that passes uses up real time that we can’t go back to. It is more like moving your finger across an endless number of books in a library. You would never get to the last book. Even if you thought you had found the last book, there could always be one more added, then another and another.… You can never finish an infinite series of real things. If the past is infinite (which is another way of saying, “If the universe had always existed without a beginning”), then we could never have passed through time to get to today. If the past is an infinite series of moments, and right now is where that series stops, then we would have passed through an infinite series and that is impossible. If the world never had a beginning, then we could not have reached today. But we have reached today: so time must have begun at a particular point in the past, and today has come at a definite time since then. Therefore, the world is a finite event after all and it needs a cause for its beginning.

Two Kinds of Infinite Series

There are two kinds of infinite series, one is abstract and the other is concrete. An abstract infinite series is a mathematical infinite. For example, as any mathematician knows, there are an infinite number of points on a line between point A and point B, no matter how short (or long) the line may be. Let’s say the points are two bookends about three feet apart. Now, as we all know, while there are an infinite number of abstract mathematical points between the two bookends, nevertheless, we cannot get an infinite number of actual books between them, no matter how thin the pages are! Nor does it matter how many feet of distance we place between the bookends; we still cannot get an infinite number of books there. So while abstract, mathematical infinite series are possible, actual, concrete infinite series are not.

Now that we have seen that the universe needs a cause of its beginning, let’s move on to the second form of the argument. This argument shows that the universe needs a cause of its existence right now.

The universe needs a cause for its continuing existence

Something is keeping us in existence right now so we don’t just disappear. Something has not only caused the world to come into being (Gen. 1:1), but is also continuing and conserving its existence in the present (Col. 1:17). The world needs both an originating cause and a conserving cause. In a sense, this question is the most basic question that can be asked, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It can be put this way:

1.   Finite, changing things exist. For example, me. I would have to exist to deny that I exist; so either way, I must really exist.

2.   Every finite, changing thing must be caused by something else. If it is limited and it changes, then it cannot be something that exists independently. If it existed independently, or necessarily, then it would have always existed without any kind of change.

3.   There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes. In other words, you can’t go on explaining how this finite thing causes this finite thing, which causes this other finite thing, and on and on, because that really just puts off the explanation indefinitely. It doesn’t explain anything. Besides, if we are talking about why finite things are existing right now, then no matter how many finite causes you line up, eventually you will have one that would be both causing its own existence and be an effect of that cause at the same moment. That is nonsense. So no infinite regress can explain why I am existing right now.

4.   Therefore, there must be a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.

This argument shows why there must be a present, conserving cause of the world, but it doesn’t tell us very much about what kind of God exists. How do we know that this is really the God of the Bible?

Argument from design

This argument, like others that we will mention briefly, reason from some specific aspect of creation to a Creator who put it there. It argues from design to an intelligent Designer.

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.

The first premise we know from experience. Anytime we see a complex design, we know by previous experience that it came from the mind of a designer. Watches imply watchmakers; buildings imply architects; paintings imply artists; and coded messages imply an intelligent sender. It is always our expectation because we see it happening over and over. This is another way of stating the principle of causality.

Also, the greater the design, the greater the designer. Beavers make log dams, but they have never constructed anything like Hoover Dam. Likewise, a thousand monkeys sitting at typewriters would never write Hamlet. But Shakespeare did it on the first try. The more complex the design, the greater the intelligence required to produce it.

History of the Argument from Design

“For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knows it very well” (Ps. 139:13–14). Responding to the birth of the Enlightenment and the scientific method, William Paley (1743–1805) insisted that if someone found a watch in an empty field, he would rightly conclude that there had been a watchmaker because of the obvious design. The same must be said of the design found in nature. The skeptic David Hume even stated the argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, as have several others. However, there have been at least as many objectors to it as there have been proponents of it. The classic exponent was William Paley, and the most noted opponent was David Hume.

We ought to mention here that there is a difference between simple patterns and complex design. Snowflakes or quartz crystals have simple patterns repeated over and over, but have completely natural causes. On the other hand, we don’t find sentences written in stone unless some intelligent being wrote them. That doesn’t happen naturally. The difference is that snowflakes and crystals have a simple repeated pattern. But language communicates complex information, not just the same thing over and over. Complex information occurs when the natural elements are given boundary conditions. So when a rockhound sees small round rocks in a stream, it doesn’t surprise him because natural erosion rounds them that way. But when he finds an arrowhead he realizes that some intelligent being has deliberately altered the natural form of the rock. He sees complexity here that cannot be explained by natural forces. Now the design that we are talking about in this argument is complex design, not simple patterns; the more complex that design is, the greater the intelligence required to produce it.

That’s where the next premise comes in. The design we see in the universe is complex. The universe is a very intricate system of forces that work together for the mutual benefit of the whole. Life is a very complex development. A single DNA molecule, the building block of all life, carries the same amount of information as one volume of an encyclopedia. No one seeing an encyclopedia lying in the forest would hesitate to think that it had an intelligent cause; so when we find a living creature composed of millions of DNA-based cells, we ought to assume that it likewise has an intelligent cause. Even clearer is the fact that some of these living creatures are intelligent themselves. Even Carl Sagan admits:

The information content of the human brain expressed in bits is probably comparable to the total number of connections among neurons—about a hundred trillion, 1014 bits. If written out in English, say, that information would fill some twenty million volumes, as many as in the world’s largest libraries. The equivalent of twenty million books is inside the heads of every one of us. The brain is a very big place in a very small space.… The neurochemistry of the brain is astonishingly busy, the circuitry of a machine more wonderful than any devised by humans.

Some have objected to this argument on the basis of chance. They claim that when the dice are rolled any combination could happen. However, this is not very convincing for several reasons. First, the design argument is not really an argument from chance but from design, which we know from repeated observation to have an intelligent cause. Second, science is based on repeated observation, not on chance. So this objection to the design argument is not scientific. Finally, even if it were a chance (probability) argument, the chances are a lot higher that there is a designer. One scientist figured the odds for a one-cell animal to emerge by pure chance at 1 in 1040000. The odds for an infinitely more complex human being to emerge by chance are too high to calculate! The only reasonable conclusion is that there is a great Designer behind the design in the world.

Argument from moral law

Similar arguments, based on the moral order of the universe rather than the physical order, can be offered. These argue that the cause of the universe must be moral, in addition to being powerful and intelligent.

1.   All men are conscious of an objective moral law.

2.   Moral laws imply a moral Lawgiver.

3.   Therefore, there must be a supreme moral Lawgiver.

History of the Moral Argument

This argument did not gain prominence until the early nineteenth century after the writings of Immanuel Kant. Kant insisted that there was no way to have absolute knowledge about God and he rejected all of the traditional arguments for God’s existence. He did, however, approve of the moral approach, not as a proof for God’s existence, but as a way to show that God is a necessary postulate for moral living. In other words, we can’t know that God exists, but we must act like He exists to make sense of morality. Later thinkers have refined the argument to show that there is a rational basis for God’s existence to be found in morality. There have also been attempted disproofs of God’s existence on moral grounds based on ideas coming from Pierre Bayle and Albert Camus.

In a sense, this argument also follows the principle of causality. But moral laws are different from the natural laws that we have dealt with before. Moral laws don’t describe what is; they prescribe what ought to be. They are not simply a description of the way men behave, and are not known by observing what men do. If they were, our idea of morality would surely be different. Instead, they tell us what men ought to do, whether they are doing it or not. Thus, any moral “ought” comes from beyond the natural universe. You can’t explain it by anything that happens in the universe and it can’t be reduced to the things men do in the universe. It transcends the natural order and requires a transcendent cause.

Same, Different, or Similar?

How much like God are we? How much can an effect tell us about its cause? Some have said that the effect must be exactly the same as its cause. Qualities such as existence or goodness in the effect are the same as those qualities in its cause. If that is true, then we should all be pantheists, because we are all God, eternal and divine. In reaction, some have said that we are entirely different from God—there is no similarity between what He is and what we are. But that would mean that we have no positive knowledge about God. We could only say that God is “not this” and “not that,” but we could never say what He is. The middle road is to say that we are similar to God—the same, but in a different way. Existence, goodness, love, all mean the same thing for both us and for God. We have them in a limited way, and He is unlimited. So we can say what God is, but in some things, we must also say that He is not limited as we are—“eternal,” “unchanging,” “nonspatial,” etc.

Now some might say that this moral law is not really objective; it is nothing but a subjective judgment that comes from social conventions. However, this view fails to account for the fact that all men hold the same things to be wrong (like murder, rape, theft, and lying). Also, their criticism sounds very much like a subjective judgment, because they are saying that our value judgments are wrong. Now if there is no objective moral law, then there can be no right or wrong value judgments. If our views of morality are subjective, then so are theirs. But if they claim to be making an objective statement about moral law, then they are implying that there is a moral law in the very act of trying to deny it. They are caught both ways. Even their “nothing but” statement requires “more than” knowledge which shows that they secretly hold to some absolute standard which is beyond subjective judgments. Finally, we find that even those who say that there is no moral order expect to be treated with fairness, courtesy, and dignity. If one of them raised this objection and we replied with, “Oh, shut up. Who cares what you think?” we might find that he does believe there are some moral “oughts.” Everyone expects others to follow some moral codes, even those who try to deny them. But moral law is an undeniable fact.

Argument from being

A fourth argument attempts to prove that God must exist by definition. It says that once we get an idea of what God is, that idea necessarily involves existence. There are several forms of this argument, but let’s just talk about the idea of God as a perfect Being.

1.   Whatever perfection can be attributed to the most perfect Being possible (conceivable) must be attributed to it (otherwise it would not be the most perfect being possible).

2.   Necessary existence is a perfection which can be attributed to the most perfect Being.

3.   Therefore, necessary existence must be attributed to the most perfect Being.

History of the Argument from Being

When God revealed His name to Moses, He said, “I AM THAT I AM,” making it clear that existence is His chief attribute (Ex. 3:14, kjv). The eleventh-century monk Anselm of Canterbury used this idea to formulate a proof for God’s existence from the very idea of God, without having to look at the evidence in Creation. Anselm referred to it as a “proof from prayer” because he thought of it while meditating on the idea of a perfect Being; hence, the name of the treatise where it is found is the Monologion, meaning a one-way prayer. In another of his writings, the Proslogion, he dialogues with God about nature and develops an argument from Creation also. In modern philosophy, the argument from being is found in the writings of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hartshorne.

To answer the first question, necessary existence means that something exists and cannot not exist. When we say this of God, it means that it is impossible for Him not to exist. This is the most perfect kind of existence because it can’t go away.

Now this argument succeeds in showing that our idea of God must include necessary existence; but it fails to show that God actually exists. It shows that we must think of God as existing necessarily; but it does not prove that He must necessarily exist. This is an equivocation that has confused many people, so don’t feel stupid for having trouble with it. The problem is that it only talks about the way we think of God, not whether or not He really exists. It might be restated this way:

1.   If God exists, we conceive of Him as a necessary Being.

2.   By definition, a necessary Being must exist and cannot not exist.

3.   Therefore, if God exists, then He must exist and cannot not exist.

All Roads Lead to a Cause

We have seen that all of the traditional arguments ultimately rest on the idea of causality. The argument from being needs the confirmation that something exists in which perfection and being is found. The argument from design implies that the design was caused. Likewise, morality, justice, and truth as principles of an argument all assume that there is some cause for these things. This leads us back to the argument from Creation as the basic argument which proves God’s existence, for as one student said, it is the “causemological” argument.

It is like saying: if there are triangles, then they must have three sides. Of course, there may not be any triangles. You see, the argument never really gets past that initial “if.” It never gets around to proving the big question that it claims to answer. The only way to make it prove that God exists is to smuggle in the argument from Creation. It can be useful, though, because it shows that, if there is a God, He exists in a necessary way. That makes this idea of God different from some other ways to conceive of Him, as we will see later.

Now for the $64,000 Question: If all these arguments have some validity but rely on the principle of causality, what is the best way to prove that God exists? If you answer, “The argument from Creation,” you are on the right track. But what if we can combine all of these arguments into a cohesive whole that proves what kind of being God is as well as His existence? That is what we will do in the following pages.[1]

[1] Geisler, N. L., & Brooks, R. M. (1990). When skeptics ask (pp. 14–26). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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