A Series: Christian Theology—Answers to Questions: Three: Can God’s Existence Be Proved?
Christian theology often begins with what is called “prolegomena”—“things that go before”—and that often includes some discussion of “natural theology”—what can be known about God before and apart from the special revelation Christians believe God has given in Jesus Christ, the Hebrew prophets and earliest Christian apostles and in scripture. Natural theology has had its “ups” and “downs” in the history of Christian theology. Here I offer some points about it without offering any definite conclusion about its value. I will just say that I agree with those Christian theologians who are wary of it because of its tendency to predetermine the nature of God—apart from God’s self-revelation. At the same time I am not willing to throw it out as having no value at all. So here, for now, I simply offer some “talking points,” as it were, about the so-called “arguments (or proofs) for the existence of God” which usually form the core of natural theology. I am of the opinion that this knowledge should be acquired by all mature Christians. It’s just good to know. I don’t think there is anything crucial to Christian identity in forming an opinion about the subject. But to ignore it completely is to diminish one’s potential for understanding Christianity. So here are my “talking points” about it—following the usual disclaimer.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
TRADITIONAL ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
- The “Cosmological Argument”
Why is there something rather than nothing? The universe does not explain its own existence. Various evidences point to a beginning of the universe. The universe is not necessary. There must be a necessary being “behind” the existence of the universe—a “first cause.” Not necessarily “first” in time (“before”) but first in order of causation—something or someone that is eternal and powerful enough to bring into existence the universe which is not itself infinite.
- The “Teleological Argument”
Otherwise known (in contemporary discourse) as “intelligent design theory.” The universe, including every part of it, individually and as a whole, displays evidence of “fine tuning” by an intelligent mind. It could not be as it is without intelligent design and that intelligent designer would be God. The “anthropic principle” says that nature, the earth, seems to be “made” as a “home” for human beings. More or less oxygen, more or less distance from the sun, more or less of this and that chemical in nature, all would make human life impossible.
- The Argument from Good and Evil
Without a transcendent source, standard, of moral good and evil they would only be ideas created by human beings and then nothing could be absolutely good or absolutely evil. Morality, ethics, would have to be merely relative if not subjective without a transcendent and personal moral governor of the universe. Also, in the absence of God, there would be no reason to believe in objective meaning, purpose of life itself. Without belief in God one would only be justified to believe in nihilism.
- The Ontological Argument
God is by definition “the being greater than which none can be conceived.” The very idea of God includes God’s existence. A person cannot conceive of God without conceiving of him as existing because to exist in reality is greater than to exist only in the mind. If a person says “I understand the idea of a being greater than which none can be conceived but I do not believe such a being exists outside my mind” he or she is contradicting himself/herself.
- The Argument from the Human Desire for Spiritual Fulfillment
Human beings have a natural need for self-transcendence. Unlike animals, they seek to go beyond nature in discovery, creativity, enjoyment of beauty, etc. Without God or something like God this spiritual desire and this pursuit of transcendence would be meaningless and empty. And it would have no explanation. Humans transcend nature toward God. They are “spirit in the world” (Karl Rahner).
SECULAR AND CHRISTIAN RESPONSES TO THE ARGUMENTS
- A Common Modern Secular Response
Every argument for God’s existence contains in it a fatal flaw; each one can be shown to fall far short of proof and each one is even logically flawed.
- Another Common Modern Secular Response
Even if some of these arguments have some weight, the reality of evil in the world undermines them. The God they allegedly prove might just as well be an arbitrary, uncaring, capricious “God” unworthy of worship or praise.
- A Christian Response
The arguments for God’s existence may be valid arguments but they fall far short of bringing people into a relationship with God which is what Christianity is about. In fact, dwelling on them too much is a distraction from true faith which involves commitment to the God of revelation. Emphasizing the arguments can put God into a “box of logic” that then pre-determines what God can be, do and say.
- Another Christian Response
God’s existence does not need proof or even logical or evidential argument for. We (Christians) are fully justified in affirming God as “basic belief.” Arguments for God’s existence can be helpful with those who have been told there are no reasonable grounds for belief in God, but the “burden of proof” is not on the believer in God; it is on the atheist. (Reformed Epistemology)
- Another Christian Response
“The ‘God’ of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Pascal) The God allegedly proved by logical and evidential arguments is an idol. (Calvin, Kierkegaard, Barth) The true Christian “knows” (subjectively) with proper confidence by means of faith that God is real on the basis of faithful reception of God’s self-revelation. Theology/dogmatics much eschew all natural theology and appeal solely to Jesus Christ and the Bible who are known and believed in on the basis of faith alone.
- Finally, Another Christian Response
The real rational ground for belief in God is that only God’s revelation of himself in Christian sources (Jesus Christ, scripture, Christian tradition, experience) answers life’s ultimate questions in a satisfying way. All alternative belief systems are inferior to the Christian life and world view drawn from scripture and this can be demonstrated by reason. However, all that does is open a pre-believer to belief.
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