Know Why You Believe: Chapter 2 Is There a God?

Source: Know Why You Believe Book by Paul Little

First edition published in 1968 by Scripture Press Publications, Inc.

There is in human existence no more profound question demanding an answer than “Is there a god?” The question must be answered by every human being, and the answer is far-reaching in its implications.

Mortimer Adler, in his essay on God in the monumental Great Ideas Syntopicon, says, “With the exception of certain mathematicians and physicists, all the authors of the ‘Great Books’ are represented in this chapter. In sheer quantity of references, as well as in variety, it is the largest chapter. The reason is obvious. More consequences for thought and action follow the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.” He goes on to spell out the practical implications: “The whole tenor of human life is affected by whether men regard themselves as supreme beings in the universe or acknowledge a super-human being whom they conceive of as an object of fear or love, a force to be defied or a Lord to be obeyed. Among those who acknowledge a divinity, it matters greatly whether the divine is represented merely by the concept of God – the object of philosophical speculation – or by the living God whom men worship in all the acts of piety which comprise the rituals of religion.”1

We must be clear from the outset that it is not possible to “prove” God in the scientific method sense of the word. But it can be said with equal emphasis that you can’t “prove” Napoleon by the scientific method. The reason lies in the nature of history itself and in the limitations of the scientific method. In order for something to be “proved” by the scientific method, it must be repeatable. One cannot announce a new finding to the world on the basis of a single experiment. But history in its very nature is non-repeatable. No one can “rerun” the beginning of the universe or bring Napoleon back or repeat the assassination of Lincoln or the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But the fact that these events can’t be “proved” by repetition does not disprove their reality as events.

There are many real things outside the scope of the scientific method as a means of verification. The scientific method is useful only with measurable things. No one has ever seen three feet of love or two pounds of justice, but one would be foolish indeed to deny their reality. To insist that God be “proved” by the scientific method is like insisting that a telephone be used to measure radioactivity. It simply wasn’t made for that.

What evidence is there for God? It is very significant that recent anthropological research has indicated that among the farthest and most remote primitive peoples, today, there is a universal belief in God. And in the earliest histories and legends of peoples all around the world the original concept was of one God, who was the Creator. An original high God seems once to have been in their consciousness even in those societies which are today polytheistic. This research, in the last fifty years, has challenged the evolutionary concept of the development of religion, which had suggested that monotheism – the concept of one God – was the apex of a gradual development that began with polytheistic concepts. It is increasingly clear that the oldest traditions everywhere were of one supreme God.2

For our present purposes, however, it is enough to observe that the vast majority of humanity, at all times and in all places, has believed in some kind of god or gods. Though this fact is not conclusive proof, by any means, we should keep it in mind as we attempt to answer the big question.

Then there is the law of cause and effect to consider. No effect can be produced without a cause. We as human beings, and the universe itself, are effects which must have had a cause. We come eventually to an uncaused cause, who is God.

A further development of this line of thought has to do with the clearly observable order and design in the universe. No one would think a wrist watch could come into being without an intelligent designer. How much more incredible is it to believe that the universe, in its infinite complexity, could have happened by chance? The human body, for instance, is an admittedly astounding and complex organism-a continual marvel of organization, design, and efficiency. So impressed was he with this that Albert Einstein, generally considered to be one of the great scientists of all time, said, “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior Spirit who reveals Himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”3

Evidences of this design are abundant. It is unlikely that a monkey in a print shop could set Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in type. If we found a copy of it we would conclude that an intelligent mind was the only possible explanation for the printing. It is likewise incredible that water, for instance, with all its qualities, could have just happened. Bernard Ramm, quoting L. J. Henderson, enumerates some of these properties:

“Water has a high specific heat. This means that chemical reactions within the (human) body will be kept rather stable. If water had a low specific heat we would ‘boil over’ with the least activity. If we raise the temperature of a solution by 10 degrees Centigrade we speed up the reaction by two. Without this particular property of water, life would hardly be possible. The ocean is the world’s thermostat. It takes a large loss of heat for water to pass from liquid to ice, and for water to become steam quite an intake of energy is required. Hence the ocean is a cushion against the heat of the sun and the freezing blast of the winter. Unless the temperatures of the earth’s surface were modulated by the ocean and kept within certain limits, life would either be cooked to death or frozen to death.

“Water is the universal solvent. It dissolves acids, bases and salts. Chemically, it is relatively inert, providing a medium for reactions without partaking in them. In the bloodstream it holds in solution the minimum of 64 substances. Perhaps if we knew the actual number it would be a staggering figure. Any other solvent would be a pure sludge! Without the peculiar properties of water, life as we know it would be impossible.”4

A. Rendle Short makes this observation about water: “It forms more than half the body weight of most animals and plants. It is not readily decomposed; it dissolves many substances; it makes dry substances cohere and become flexible; with silts in solution, it conducts electricity. This is a very important property in the animal body. Then alone, or almost alone, amongst fluids known to us, it reaches its greatest density when cooled, not at freezing point, but at 4 degrees Centigrade. This has two important consequences. One is that lakes and ponds freeze at the top, and not from the bottom upwards. Fish life thus has a chance of surviving a very hard winter. Another consequence is that by its expansion on freezing, water disrupts the rocks (also, alas, our household water pipes), and thus breaks them down to form soil, carves out cliffs and valleys, and makes vegetation possible. Water has the highest heat of evaporation of any known substance. This, with other special properties, reduces the rise in temperature when a water surface is heated by the sun’s rays.”5

The earth itself is evidence of design. “If it were much smaller an atmosphere would be impossible (e.g. Mercury and the moon); if much larger the atmosphere would contain free hydrogen (e.g. Jupiter and Saturn). Its distance from the sun is correct-even a small change would make it too hot or too cold. Our moon, probably responsible for the continents and ocean basins, is unique in our solar system and seems to have originated in a way quite different from the other relatively much smaller moons. The tilt of the [earth’s] axis insures the seasons, and so on.”6

DuNoiiy says that “the chance formulations of a typical protein molecule made up of 3,000 atoms is of the order of one to 2.02 X 10231, or practically nil. Even if the elements are shaken up at the speed of the vibration of light, it would take 10234 billions of years to get the protein molecule [needed] for life, and life on the earth is limited to about two billion years.”7

In the light of all these things we can conclude with Ramm’s statement: “Genesis 1 now stands in higher repute than it could ever have stood in the history of science up to this point. We now have means whereby we can point to a moment of time, or to an event or cluster of events in time, which dates our present known universe. According to the best available data, that is of the order of four to five billion years ago. A series of calculations converge on about the same order of time. We cannot with our present information force a verdict for creation from the scientists, though that is not to be considered an impossibility. Perhaps the day will come when we have enough evidence from physics, astronomy, and astrophysics to get such a verdict from the scientists. In the meantime we can maintain that Genesis 1 is not out of harmony with the trend of scientific information.”8

This is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19, 20) .The psalmist says the same thing: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

But prejudice often prevents the most obvious conclusions. A most remarkable admission of unscientific bias, which precludes an admission that God is the only plausible explanation of the origin of the universe, is made by I. W. N. Sullivan. At his death, Time called him “one of the world’s four or five most brilliant interpreters of physics to the world of common man.” He said: “The beginning of the evolutionary process raises a question which is as yet unanswerable. What was the origin of life on this planet? Until fairly recent times there was a pretty general belief in the occurrence of ‘spontaneous generation.’ It was supposed that lowly forms of life developed spontaneously from, for example, putrefying meat. But careful experiments, notably those of Pasteur, showed that this conclusion was due to improper observation, and it became an accepted doctrine that life never arises except from life. So far as actual evidence goes, this is still the only possible conclusion. But since it is a conclusion that seems to lead back to some supernatural creative act, it is a conclusion that scientific men find very difficult to accept. It carries with it what are felt to be, in the present mental climate, undesirable philosophic implications, and it is opposed to the scientific desire for continuity. It introduces an unaccountable break in the chain of causation, and therefore cannot be admitted as part of science unless it is quite impossible to reject it. For that reason most scientific men prefer to believe that life arose, in some way not yet understood, from inorganic matter in accordance with the laws of physics and chemistry.”9

Here we have an example of how believing there is no God is also an act of faith. It is pure presupposition, as much as faith in God is a presupposition for belief. Unbelief is even more remarkable when it is admitted that the evidence, by which one is guided in science, points in the opposite direction! And science rejects the conclusion because it is an unpalatable one!

It is important to observe here that though there are many indications of God in nature, we could never know conclusively from nature that he is or what he is like. The question was asked centuries ago, “Canst thou by searching find out God?” (Job 11:7, KJV). The answer is NO! Unless God reveals himself, we are doomed to confusion and conjecture.

It is obvious that among those who believe in God there are are many ideas abroad today as to what God is like. Some, for instance, believe God to be a celestial killjoy. They view him as peering over the balcony of heaven looking for anyone who seems to be enjoying life. On finding such a person, he shouts down, “Cut it out!”

Others think of God as a sentimental grandfather of the sky, rocking benignly and stroking his beard as he says, “Boys will be boys!” That everything will work out in the end, no matter what you have done, is conceded to be his general attitude toward man. Others think of him as a big ball of fire and of us as little sparks who will eventually come back to the big ball. Still others, like Einstein, think of God as an impersonal force or mind.

Herbert Spencer, one of the popularizers of agnosticism of a century ago, observed accurately that a bird has never been known to fly out of space. Therefore he concluded by analogy that it is impossible for the finite to penetrate the infinite. His observation was correct, but his conclusion was wrong. He missed one other possibility: that the infinite could penetrate the finite. This, of course, is what God has done. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (Hebrews 1:1,2).

God has taken the initiative, throughout history, to communicate to man. His fullest revelation has been his invasion into human history in the person of Jesus Christ. Here, in terms of human personality that we can understand, he has lived among us. If you wanted to communicate your love to a colony of ants, how could you most effectively do it? Clearly, it would be best to become an ant. Only in this way could your existence and what you were like be communicated fully and effectively. That is what God did with us. We are, as J. B. Phillips aptly put it, “the visited planet.” The best and clearest answer to how we know there is a God is that he has visited us. The other indications are merely clues or hints. What confirms them conclusively is the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Other evidence for the reality of God’s existence is his clear presence in the lives of men and women today. Where Jesus Christ is believed and trusted, a profound change takes place in the individual – and ultimately in the community. One of the most moving illustrations of this is recorded by Ernest Gordon, now chaplain at Princeton University. In his Valley of the Kwai he tells how, during World War II, the prisoners of the Japanese on the Malay Peninsula had been reduced almost to animals, stealing food from their buddies, who were also starving. In their desperation the prisoners decided it would be good to read the New Testament.

Because Gordon was a university graduate, they asked him to lead. By his own admission, he was a skeptic – and those who asked him to lead them were unbelievers, too. He and others came to trust Christ on becoming acquainted with him in all of his beauty and power through the uncluttered simplicity of the New Testament. How this group of scrounging, clawing humans was transformed into a community of love is a touching and powerful story that demonstrates clearly the reality of God in Jesus Christ. Many others today, in less dramatic terms, have experienced this same reality.

There is, then, evidence from creation, history, and contemporary life that there is a God and that this God can be known in personal experience.

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