There are a number of common arguments for the existence of God. But most of these arguments are not as effective as many Christians would like to think. Let’s consider a hypothetical conversation between a Christian and an atheist.
Christian: “Everything with a beginning requires a cause. The universe has a beginning and therefore requires a cause. That cause is God.”
Atheist: “Even if it were true that everything with a beginning requires a cause, how do you know that the cause of the universe is God? Why not a big bang? Maybe this universe sprang from another universe, as some physicists now believe.”
Christian: “The living creatures of this world clearly exhibit design. Therefore, they must have a designer. And that designer is God.”
Atheist: “The living creatures only appear to be designed. Natural selection can account for this apparent design. Poorly adapted organisms tend to die off, and do not pass on their genes.”
Christian: “But living creatures have irreducible complexity. All their essential parts must be in place at the same time, or the organism dies. So God must have created these parts all at the same time. A gradual evolutionary path simply will not work.”
Atheist: “Just because you cannot imagine a gradual stepwise way of constructing an organism does not mean there isn’t one.”
Christian: “DNA has information in it—the instructions to form a living being. And information never comes about by chance; it always comes from a mind. So DNA proves that God created the first creatures.”
Atheist: “There could be an undiscovered mechanism that generates information in the DNA. Give us time, and we will eventually discover it. And even if DNA did come from intelligence, why would you think that intelligence is God? Maybe aliens seeded life on earth.”
Christian: “The Resurrection of Jesus proves the existence of God. Only God can raise the dead.”
Atheist: “You don’t really have any proof that Jesus rose from the dead. This section of the Bible is simply an embellished story. And even if it were true, it proves nothing. Perhaps under certain rare chemical conditions, a dead organism can come back to life. It certainly doesn’t mean that there is a God.”
Christian: “The Bible claims that God exists, and that it is His Word to us. Furthermore, what the Bible says must be true, since God cannot lie.”
Atheist: “That is a circular argument. Only if we knew in advance that God existed would it be reasonable to even consider the possibility that the Bible is His Word. If God does not exist—as I contend—then there is no reason to trust the Bible.”
Christian: “Predictive prophecy shows that the Bible really must be inspired by God. All of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ, for example, were fulfilled. The odds of that happening by chance are very low.”
Atheist: “A low probability isn’t the same as zero. People do win the lottery. Besides, maybe the Gospels have embellished what Jesus did, so that it would agree with the Old Testament prophecies. Perhaps some so-called prophetic books were actually written after the events they ‘predict.’ Maybe certain gifted individuals have abilities not yet understood by science and can occasionally predict the future. It certainly doesn’t prove the Bible is inspired by God.”
Christian: “I have personally experienced God, and so have many other Christians. He has saved us and transformed our lives. We know that He exists from experience.”
Atheist: “Unfortunately, your personal experiences are not open to investigation; I have only your word for it. And second, how do you know that such subjective feelings are really the result of God? The right drug might produce similar feelings.”
It should be noted that all the facts used by the Christian in the above hypothetical conversation are true. Yes, God is the first cause, the designer of life, the resurrected Christ, the Author of Scripture, and the Savior of Christians. Yet the way these facts are used is not decisive. That is, none of the above arguments really prove that God exists.
None of the above arguments really prove that God exists.
Some of the above arguments are very weak: appeals to personal experience, vicious circular reasoning, and appeals to a first cause. While the facts are true, the arguments do not come close to proving the existence of the biblical God. Some of the arguments seem stronger; I happen to think that irreducible complexity and information in DNA are strong confirmations of biblical creation. And predictive prophecy does confirm the inspiration of Scripture. Nonetheless, for each one of these arguments, the atheist was able to invent a “rescuing device.” He was able to propose an explanation for this evidence that is compatible with his belief that God does not exist.
Moreover, most of the atheist’s explanations are actually pretty reasonable, given his view of the world. He’s not being illogical. He is being consistent with his position. Christians and atheists have different worldviews—different philosophies of life. And we must learn to argue on the level of worldviews if we are to argue in a cogent and effective fashion.
The Christian in the above hypothetical conversation did not have a correct approach to apologetics. He was arguing on the basis of specific evidences with someone who had a totally different professed worldview than his own. This approach is never conclusive, because the critic can always invoke a rescuing device to protect his worldview.1 Thus, if we are to be effective, we must use an argument that deals with worldviews, and not simply isolated facts. The best argument for the existence of God will be a “big-picture” kind of argument.
God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists
The Bible teaches that atheists are not really atheists.
The Bible teaches that atheists are not really atheists. That is, those who profess to be atheists do ultimately believe in God in their heart-of-hearts. The Bible teaches that everyone knows God, because God has revealed Himself to all (Romans 1:19). In fact, the Bible tells us that God’s existence is so obvious that anyone who suppresses this truth is “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). The atheist denies with his lips what he knows in his heart. But if they know God, then why do atheists claim that they do not believe in God?
The answer may be found in Romans 1:18. God is angry at unbelievers for their wickedness. And an all-powerful, all-knowing God who is angry at you is a terrifying prospect. So even though many atheists might claim that they are neutral, objective observers, and that their disbelief in God is purely rational, in reality, they are strongly motivated to reject the biblical God who is rightly angry with them. So they suppress that truth in unrighteousness. They convince themselves that they do not believe in God.2 The atheist is intellectually schizophrenic—believing in God, but believing that he does not believe in God.3
Therefore, we do not really need to give the atheist any more specific evidences for God’s existence. He already knows in his heart-of-hearts that God exists, but he doesn’t want to believe it. Our goal is to expose the atheist’s suppressed knowledge of God.4 With gentleness and respect, we can show the atheist that he already knows about God, but is suppressing what he knows to be true.
Exposing the Inconsistency
Because an atheist does believe in God, but does not believe that he believes in God, he is simply a walking bundle of inconsistencies.
Because an atheist does believe in God, but does not believe that he believes in God, he is simply a walking bundle of inconsistencies. One type to watch for is a behavioral inconsistency; this is where a person’s behavior does not comport with what he claims to believe. For example, consider the atheist university professor who teaches that human beings are simply chemical accidents—the end result of a long and purposeless chain of biological evolution. But then he goes home and kisses his wife and hugs his children, as if they were not simply chemical accidents, but valuable, irreplaceable persons deserving of respect and worthy of love.
Consider the atheist who is outraged at seeing a violent murder on the ten o’clock news. He is very upset and hopes that the murderer will be punished for his wicked actions. But in his view of the world, why should he be angry? In an atheistic, evolutionary universe where people are just animals, murder is no different than a lion killing an antelope. But we don’t punish the lion! If people are just chemical accidents, then why punish one for killing another? We wouldn’t get upset at baking soda for reacting with vinegar; that’s just what chemicals do. The concepts that human beings are valuable, are not simply animals, are not simply chemicals, have genuine freedom to make choices, are responsible for their actions, and are bound by a universal objective moral code all stem from a Christian worldview. Such things simply do not make sense in an atheistic view of life.
Many atheists behave morally and expect others to behave morally as well. But absolute morality simply does not comport with atheism. Why should there be an absolute, objective standard of behavior that all people should obey if the universe and the people within it are simply accidents of nature? Of course, people can assert that there is a moral code. But who is to say what that moral code should be? Some people think it is okay to be racist; others think it is okay to kill babies, and others think we should kill people of other religions or ethnicities, etc. Who is to say which position should be followed? Any standard of our own creation would necessarily be subjective and arbitrary.
Now, some atheists might respond, “That’s right! Morality is subjective. We each have the right to create our own moral code. And therefore, you cannot impose your personal morality on other people!” But of course, this statement is self-refuting, because when they say, “you cannot impose your personal morality on other people” they are imposing their personal moral code on other people. When push comes to shove, no one really believes that morality is merely a subjective, personal choice.
Another inconsistency occurs when atheists attempt to be rational. Rationality involves the use of laws of logic. Laws of logic prescribe the correct chain of reasoning between truth claims. For example, consider the argument: “If it is snowing outside, then it must be cold out. It is snowing. Therefore, it is cold out.” This argument is correct because it uses a law of logic called modus ponens. Laws of logic, like modus ponens, are immaterial, universal, invariant, abstract entities. They are immaterial because you can’t touch them or stub your toe on one. They are universal and invariant because they apply in all places and at all times (modus ponens works just as well in Africa as it does in the United States, and just as well on Friday as it does on Monday). And they are abstract because they deal with concepts.
Laws of logic stem from God’s sovereign nature; they are a reflection of the way He thinks.
Laws of logic stem from God’s sovereign nature; they are a reflection of the way He thinks. They are immaterial, universal, invariant, abstract entities, because God is an immaterial (Spirit), omnipresent, unchanging God who has all knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Thus, all true statements will be governed by God’s thinking—they will be logical. The law of non-contradiction, for example, stems from the fact that God does not deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). The Christian can account for laws of logic; they are the correct standard for reasoning because God is sovereign over all truth. We can know some of God’s thoughts because God has revealed Himself to us through the words of Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ.
However, the atheist cannot account for laws of logic. He cannot make sense of them within his own worldview. How could there be immaterial, universal, invariant, abstract laws in a chance universe formed by a big bang? Why should there be an absolute standard of reasoning if everything is simply “molecules in motion”? Most atheists have a materialistic outlook—meaning they believe that everything that exists is material, or explained by material processes. But laws of logic are not material! You cannot pull a law of logic out of the refrigerator! If atheistic materialism is true, then there could be no laws of logic, since they are immaterial. Thus, logical reasoning would be impossible!
No one is denying that atheists are able to reason and use laws of logic. The point is that if atheism were true, the atheist would not be able to reason or use laws of logic because such things would not be meaningful. The fact that the atheist is able to reason demonstrates that he is wrong. By using that which makes no sense given his worldview, the atheist is being horribly inconsistent. He is using God’s laws of logic, while denying the biblical God that makes such laws possible.
How could there be laws at all without a lawgiver? The atheist cannot account for (1) the existence of laws of logic, (2) why they are immaterial, (3) why they are universal, (4) why they do not change with time, and (5) how human beings can possibly know about them or their properties. But of course, all these things make perfect sense on the Christian system. Laws of logic owe their existence to the biblical God. Yet they are required to reason rationally, to prove things. So the biblical God must exist in order for reasoning to be possible. Therefore, the best proof of God’s existence is that without Him we couldn’t prove anything at all! The existence of the biblical God is the prerequisite for knowledge and rationality. This is called the “transcendental argument for God” or TAG for short. It is a devastating and conclusive argument, one that only a few people have even attempted to refute (and none of them successfully).5
Proof Versus Persuasion
Though the transcendental argument for God is deductively sound, not all atheists will be convinced upon hearing it. It may take time for them to even understand the argument in the first place. As I write this chapter, I am in the midst of an electronic exchange with an atheist who has not yet fully grasped the argument. Real-life discussions on this issue take time. But even if the atheist fully understands the argument, he may not be convinced. We must remember that there is a difference between proof and persuasion. Proof is objective, but persuasion is subjective. The transcendental argument does indeed objectively prove that God exists. However, that does not mean that the atheists will necessarily cry “uncle.” Atheists are strongly motivated to not believe in the biblical God—a God who is rightly angry at them for their treason against Him.
The atheist’s denial of God is an emotional reaction, not a logical one.
But the atheist’s denial of God is an emotional reaction, not a logical one. We might imagine a disobedient child who is about to be punished by his father. He might cover his eyes with his hands and say of his father, “You don’t exist!” but that would hardly be rational. Atheists deny (with their lips) the biblical God, not for logical reasons, but for psychological reasons. We must also keep in mind that the unbeliever’s problem is not simply an emotional issue, but a deep spiritual problem (1 Corinthians 2:14). It is the Holy Spirit that must give him the ability to repent (1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Timothy 2:25).
So we must keep in mind that it is not our job to convert people—nor can we. Our job is to give a defense of the faith in a way that is faithful to the Scriptures (1 Peter 3:15). It is the Holy Spirit that brings conversion. But God can use our arguments as part of the process by which He draws people to Himself.
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1) The Universe Creation Argument
God is said to be the Creator of the universe and all that exists. There I have my first issue. In A Rational Cosmology, Chapter II, subtitled, "The Universe," I write:
The universe cannot be created.
If the universe is “everything that exists,” and it could be created, then, whatever entity could create the universe, would be outside that universe. It follows, then, that such an entity would be outside “everything that exists.” An entity “outside” existence does not exist! A non-existent entity cannot do anything. Creation is an action that an entity must perform; it cannot be performed if the entity that would perform it does not exist!
It is instructive to note that this principle automatically refutes both the theory that “God created the universe” and that “the Big Bang created the universe.” Even if it were possible that all currently known entities were intelligently designed, they could not have been designed by a being that is somehow “beyond existence.” Rather, this being would need to be a delimited entity in its own right, with its own peculiar attributes (qualities) and capacities for action (relationships with other entities). Let the reader recall that everything which is or happens must in some manner involve some entity or entities. There are no such things as “pure” qualities, “pure” relationships, or “pure” creation, apart from the entities that exhibit, relate, and create.
Any Creator of other entities would thus need to exist and be a part of the universe (and it would need to relate to other entities in some manner, as a human creator relates to the entity, “brick,” when he constructs the new entity, “building”). The Creator would not be able to create the universe, the latter being a contradiction in terms. But God is not defined as an entity. As a matter of fact, God is defined precisely as a non-entity, something which does not only lack any set qualities, but which cannot possibly be understood or perceived by anyone anywhere in the universe. God clearly fails the third corollary of identity, which states that any entity must have some relationship to everything else that exists. (God also fails the first and second tests, as it is not defined what qualities God has; if God created the universe, He cannot have any qualities whatsoever, because the universe encompasses every entity that exists and thus every entity that can have qualities.)
2) The Infinity Argument
There are many corollary reasons to the above argument as to why I reject the existence of God. God is typically defined as “infinite” in his capacities: omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc. Infinities (or, more properly, simultaneous infinities) are not logically admissible, as I demonstrate in A Rational Cosmology, Chapter IX, subtitled, “Mistakes Concerning Infinity.”
The true infinity, or a simultaneous infinity, concerns either coexistence of infinite and finite measurements or the presence of all infinite measurements within an entity. God has been defined by the religious as an object of allegedly infinite quantities of everything, i.e. omnipotence and omniscience. However, the rational man would need to reject God by this definition, because it implies a simultaneous infinity: the technique of measurement-omission cannot be applied to the formation of the concept, “God,” and, thus, “God” cannot be a legitimate concept unless it is a hypothetical God that does have a finite age, and exhibits delimited qualities and abilities. (And, simply because something is conceivable, does not guarantee that it exists; the existence of such a conceptually legitimate God would still need to be proven to be within the realm of reason.)
3) The Infinite Regress Argument
This is the argument: Assuming God created everything that exists, then what created God? What created the thing that created God, and so forth? We can ask this question an infinite number of times and still have the question remain valid (and parts of it unanswered), assuming that we grant the existence of God. This is also logically impermissible, as the rationalist school of thought holds that anything can be understood in a finite series of observations and logical deductions.
The answer to this dilemma is to employ the technique of Occam’s Razor. (William of Occam himself was a theologian, it is true, but, in his studies, he inadvertently developed a method which, when taken to the extreme, challenges the very foundations of religion.) Occam’s Razor says that we must always take the simplest working explanation for anything, within the context of the evidence that we have available. If the simplest explanation for why letters are appearing on my computer screen right now is that my hand is typing them into the keyboard, it is logically impermissible to then have a theory which is more elaborate. An example of such a theory might be that there is an invisible green hippopotamus somewhere in the Alpha Centauri star system which is telekinetically manipulating the keyboard of my computer, while I have in reality been knocked out by the hippopotamus’s minions here on earth, bound, gagged, and given a hallucinogenic drug to make me think as if it is my hand which is typing this right now. There is no evidence to contradict the above theory directly, but there is also no evidence to support it. In the absence of evidence to support anything, we always presume its absence and embrace, as per Occam’s Razor, the simplest working explanation for anything whatsoever-- provided that the explanation is consistent with the rest of reality.
Here is what Occam’s Razor tells us on the question of what created the universe: The simplest working explanation is that the universe did not need to be created. The universe just is, always was, and always will be. Granted, particular entities in the universe changed. Star systems formed and disintegrated. The Earth was once a cloud of dust particles, and our distant ancestors were once single-celled organisms. But existence itself (i.e., the universe) always existed. We do need to undertake infinite regress to speculate as to what created the Creator, because even the very question is not a logical one to raise. The universe can be explained just fine without God, or without the Big Bang, or without any theories whatsoever about universal creation and/or destruction. (I demonstrate both the idea that the universe can be created and the idea that it can be destroyed to be a logical fallacy in A Rational Cosmology, Chapter II.)
4) The Omnibenevolence Argument
If God is both all-powerful and all-good, why did he permit for so many of his loyal followers to endure unspeakable suffering, or to inflict unspeakable horrors, often in the name of God? Why did he permit the Catholic Church to establish the Holy Inquisition in the Middle Ages, or to embark on Crusades, or to burn heretics at the stake? Why did he permit the armies of Islam to ravage the Mediterranean world and their successors today-- the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists-- to attack Western civilization, including many sincerely religious individuals? Why did he allow millions of Jews to perish during the Holocaust? The standard response is that God gives people free will to act as they please. But is it just on God’s part to allow some people to use free will to violate his strongest moral commandments? Can such a God exist and be called just?
By the way, religious texts say that divine intervention on the behalf of victims is quite within God’s capacity. For some reason, he was partial to Moses and the Jews when he allowed the Red Sea to part before them in their exodus from Egypt. He was partial to Joshua when he allowed the walls of Jericho to crumble. Yet he was unable to save far greater amounts of his followers at later dates from perishing due to greater crimes and dangers. What explains the contradictions, or the pickiness, on his part?
I get, from this, the following ideas about God. Either 1) he is all-benevolent, but not all-powerful, and sincerely wishes for his followers to endure only good, but is not able to intervene at all times due to limits on his capacity, in which case this is not the picture of God advanced by any major religion. As a matter of fact, one could say that any charitable businessman, like Bill Gates, is God under this model. He is benevolent, he helps people a lot of the time, but he cannot help everybody or save everybody. Option 2 is that God is all-powerful, but not all-benevolent, in which case there is no reason to worship such a creature. (The Vikings had a religion of malevolent gods who would eventually destroy themselves and the world in a massive last battle, but I do not think anyone wants to emulate the Vikings.)
There is a third option here, and it is the one I embrace. God is neither all-powerful, nor all-benevolent, because he does not exist. This is the model that logically reconciles the fact that religious people are not protected from harm by divine intervention with the fact that these people are often moral and worthy of such protection. It is unfortunate, yes, but true.
5) The Free Will/Omniscience Argument
God is said to be all-knowing. This means that God knows everything that will happen at any time, including the future. But that implies that God knows what we will choose in the future. If God knows what we will choose in the future, how can we have free will, since our choices are already determined by what God knows them to be? But then, it is also said that God gave people free will, so how can this contradiction be reconciled?
My answer is that free will undeniably exists. It is what is called an epistemological axiom; we cannot even attempt to refute it without implicitly confirming it in the process. In the attempt to deny free will, we are exercising our free will. But, to consistently embrace the existence of free will, one must reject the possibility of anybody being omniscient about the decisions anybody else will make in the future. Thus, God, by the standard definition, is ruled out.
G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent filosofical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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