Does God Exist? How Do We Know?

Michael A. Covington Ė Beech Haven Baptist Church Ė 1999 October 17

 

1. What kind of God are we talking about?

The Omnipotent Creator who reveals himself and offers salvation in Jesus Christ.

Not an impersonal abstraction (First Cause) or "hands-off deity" (Deism).

Not a hidden God who does not reveal himself and is therefore undetectable.

(If God did not reveal himself, He would, in my opinion, be undetectable.)

Not a "God of the gaps" who stands in for some missing piece of scientific knowledge.

Not a tribal deity associated only with our church, nation, or political party.

(If God is real, then the concept of the divine, anywhere it occurs, is from Him.)

Not a goddess who gives birth to the universe through a natural process.

Not one of a pair (God and the devil are not equal and opposite).

2. How do we know that anything exists?

a. We cannot "prove scientifically" that God exists... or that President Clinton exists...

b. We cannot do a controlled scientific experiment to compare a universe with a God to a universe without a God. Only one of the two can exist. Our mental picture of the other one is not guaranteed to be accurate!

c. If you make enough auxiliary assumptions, you can disbelieve anything. I could believe that you are a figment of my imagination, if Iím prepared to believe enough other odd things.

d. Our job is to weigh many kinds of evidence.

3. Some arguments for the existence of God

(You do not have to accept all these arguments to be a Christian.)

a. Cosmological argument (St. Thomas Aquinas): Everything in the physical universe is temporary and requires a cause. Either there is an endless chain of temporary things caused by other things, or there is, at the beginning, something that is not temporary and does not require a cause (namely God).

b. Ontological argument (St. Anselm; I may have misunderstood it): We could not get the idea of God from anywhere except from God. More precisely, it would be inconsistent to have the concept of God (who necessarily exists and is perfect) and at the same time deny that God exists. This applies only to God because He is supreme and perfect ("than whom no greater can be conceived"); it does not apply to our ideas of other things.

c. Argument from design (Paley): Discovering the orderly universe, especially biological life, we are like someone finding a watch on an uninhabited beach and inferring that a watchmaker exists somewhere. Nothing but intelligent design can explain the order of the universe. (Supposedly demolished by Darwin.)

d. Argument from common consent: Virtually all the human societies that have ever existed have had some concept of deity which, when refined (e.g., by Socrates or Aristotle), comes to resemble the God we know. (And why would evolution produce this?)

e. Argument from changed lives: People who claim to have encountered God have often come out with their personal character greatly improved, with improvements other life-changing experiences (e.g., "mind-expanding drugs") do not produce.

 

4. Against the existence of God: The problem of evil

(1) God is all-powerful;

(2) God is all-good;

(3) There is pointless suffering in the world.

Apparently, these lead to a contradiction. What gives?

a. This is indeed a serious difficulty for belief in God. However, in my opinion, it does not wipe out all the evidence on the other side. Instead, it shows that thereís something we donít understand. How much do we actually know about what itís like to be God?

b. Some suffering is obviously attributable to human sin. Other suffering isnít; the Bible indicates that angelic sin somehow disrupted the moral order of the earth, but details are unclear.

c. Even if caused by sin, suffering ought to be preventable by Godís intervention, right? So why doesnít He?

d. I think the key has to do with the free will that God allowed us (and angels). If God intervened to keep sin from having any effect, weíd live in a strange world: baseball bats would go limp when you tried to hit people with them, and bullets would deliberate in midair about whether they had a right to proceed to their target.

e. Others argue that the suffering that we see is not as pointless as it appears, that itís a means to a greater good.

5. Is belief in God purely psychological?

a. Point of logic: You must establish that a belief is false before you "explain" it as an illusion.

b. Yes, we can magnify our concept of earthly parents, authority figures, creative artists, etc., to arrive at a picture of God. Does this mean there is no God? Or does it mean that parents, rulers, artists, etc., are made in Godís image?

c. Psychological factors can also make someone an atheist. Obvious psychological factors working against belief in God are adolescent rejection of parental authority and desire to be exempted from moral principles.

Recommended books:

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (some very technical theology made very easy to understand)
C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (on the problem of evil)
Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (addressed to professional philosophers, thorough but readable)