In the first part of this series I shared some commonly used arguments for the existence of God that I wish Christians would stop making. It was kind of a downer, and at the end I asked how we might still fulfill this instruction from Peter:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15-16
Keep a clear conscience, be gentle and respectful, but don’t shy away from explaining the reason for our hope. With that in mind, let’s discuss lines of reasoning I think are more fruitful – with the caveat that ultimately it is experience, not argument, that brings people to Christ (more on that below.)
Full disclosure: I am not a theologian. I have no academic training in theology or Biblical studies. But I am a former atheist, so I can give an inside view on what it’s like to do God Talk from a position of unbelief.
Kalam Cosmological Argument
This one is fairly simple. Getting its name from the kalam, or medieval Islamic theology, the argument goes like this:
- Everything that exists must have a cause.
- The Universe began to exist at some point.
- Therefore, the Universe must have a cause.
This may seem self-evident, but let’s back up for a moment. The ancient Greek philosophers thought the Universe was un-created and eternal. Their cosmology had room for a divine principle which shaped matter but did not create it. In contrast, Hebrew theology saw a distinct starting point to existence: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1)
We in the 21st century enjoy the knowledge that the Universe is not beginningless, but did in fact have a start in the form of the Big Bang. That leaves us with a question – what caused the Big Bang? Nothing can happen without a cause, so it is reasonable to presume the existence of an un-caused entity who set things in motion. We can call this God.
Related arguments have been made by others across cultures. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of an “unmoved mover” and “first cause,” in that God is a Necessary Being whereas all other beings are contingent beings. (For example: my life is contingent on my parents’ decision to create me, therefore I am a contingent being. I would not pop into existence without a cause.)
The Universal Search For More
Humans have been searching for ways of understanding ourselves and our world for as long as we’ve been human. The oldest human civilizations developed astronomy to study the stars. Mathematics goes back to at least 3000 BCE, used for political administration and natural observation. In India, ancient geographers mapped terrain and theorized on the physical origins of the earth. We are a species of seekers. Something in us innately wants to understand. Learning the answer to one question only begets further questions.
We may laugh at hilariously inaccurate maps from centuries past, but no one would claim that geography isn’t real. Many pioneers of the social sciences advanced racist theories, but that doesn’t negate the value of social sciences. Our efforts to gain knowledge might be totally off-base, but the subject is still something worth knowing. I think we can extend that principle to the question of God.
Our ideas about divinity change – few people today envision God as some old dude sitting atop a mountain. And of course we have differing opinions about divinity too, expressed through different religions and denominations. To me that’s a feature, not a bug.
C.S. Lewis said it best when talking about unrealizable desire:
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water (…) If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The term “near death experience” was coined by Raymond Moody in his 1975 book Life After Life, though the phenomenon goes back further. They occur when a patient is approaching death or is actually clinically dead, yet report having an awareness they should not be able to have. These patients report a profound shift in consciousness and experiences of Spirit/Love/God outside their understanding. In many cases, they report a bird’s eye view of their own resuscitation – often with startling accuracy.
Of course, the scientific community is nowhere near a satisfying explanation of what an NDE actually is. There are materialist hypotheses that don’t require the existence of an afterlife/nonphysical world. Yet I think the fuzziness of the phenomenon should give us pause. A purely naturalistic explanation is possible, but there is enough gray area here that we should stop and wonder whether the human mind lay solely in brain tissue or if there is something else that makes us “us”, something that transcends our mortal bodies.
Personal Revelation & Witness
My final “argument” isn’t really an argument. In fact, I found it most unconvincing as a non-believer. Someone would tell me I, too, could experience the presence of God in my life if I asked for it sincerely, and I would laugh it off. But my conversion story didn’t happen because I read a really good book that logically convinced me to accept God’s reality. I didn’t deduce a theological framework out of first principles.
I prayed, and God answered.
I came to Christianity because I felt God pulling me in that direction. I stayed because of the transformative effect that faith has in my life, and because of the Christians I know whose faith is translated into action through love. The only reason I got to that point is that I found a community of believers whose lives were a witness to the powerful change offered by Jesus Christ. So when you go out to demonstrate God’s goodness, let your actions do most of the talking.