When thinking about Christian doctrine one basic concern comes up over and over again. Authority. Who has it? What is it? How should we react to it? Ultimately the authority lies with God himself and for Christians His revealed Word is the timeless unchanging resource we trust for immediate guidance in all manner of issues. However, when we are challenged by unbelievers, skeptics and atheists to appropriately defend the Faith and give a reason for the hope that is in us, we must answer the challenge by appealing to the intellect. Scripture is not likely to satisfy the skeptic and personal experience, while valid evidence in itself, is not something the unbeliever can relate to in any way. As Paul was “all things to all men” we must meet these challenges on the grounds that are most likely to bear fruit for God’s Kingdom. Most of the time we will encounter those who are simply unaware of the arguments and evidence for God’s existence, but at other times we can expect to be confronted by vehement atheists who will offer confident sounding objections intended to make Christianity or the mere belief in God sound silly and nonsensical. For the most part, the common arguments presented by atheists are only effective upon those who have not yet seen the error in the mindset of emotional skepticism. In a modern post-Christian society we must be prepared, as we are charged in 1 Peter 3:15, to give an answer to every man that asks the REASON for the hope, for the knowledge we have. To deal with these types of objections we begin by pointing to God’s General Revelation.
There are two forms of revelation that God has given to mankind. Two ways that any man can come into knowledge of the truth. One is “General Revelation” and the other is “Special Revelation”. Special Revelation is the more specific provision of knowledge that comes to man through God’s Word, Jesus Christ, prophecy, personal experience with the divine and through miracles. When dealing with the committed skeptical denier, or perhaps the occasional college professor or YouTube sensation, Special Revelation will not be effective. The existence and nature of God is a metaphysical issue that cannot be settled with physical explanations. Therefore, we start with arguments for why anything exists at all. We appeal to pure cause and effect and work forward from there. We appeal to God’s General Revelation which is defined as: the revealing of a thing so that it can be seen and known for what it really is. General Revelation has been given in two forms:
- Nature (all of creation, the cosmos to the smallest forms of life)
- Conscience (innate awareness, the miracle of a mind capable of contemplation)
These forms of General Revelation are supported Biblically in Romans, chapters one and two, which cover nature as revelation and man’s responsibility for his conscious response. God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Those who seek God will find Him. Those who seek to deny Him will receive the limited knowledge they’ve requested. God will meet us all wherever we are. If we seek full knowledge of truth and consider all sources, including those that can’t be readily measured by science or the senses, He will lead us out of the darkness and into the light – truth.
What is this General Revelation?
Some Christians may initially object to this approach saying that a man can only be led to a saving knowledge of God through the Word of God and through the preaching of it. That is certainly the path we all prefer, myself included. But let’s consider the Old Testament and see if that is always true. Job was most likely a Chaldean from the land of Uz. What’s definite is that Job was not a Jew or among the Chosen People of God. Job is described as an “upright man” which is terminology similar to that which is used to describe Noah’s character. According the Word, Job was certainly favored by God and had come to his knowledge of God through General Revelation. It seems clear in Job’s own descriptions of God that he came to the knowledge of God through the things God has made, and Job gave thanks to God for the creation that sustained him. Likewise, the mysterious character, Melchisidek who knew Abraham. He was not of the Chosen People either but he is given the title, “a priest of the Most High God” so he was certainly counted as one of the righteous or what we would call “saved”. Neither Job nor Melchisidek had access to the Special Revelation that was available to God’s Chosen People in that day. Obviously neither one had access to the Special Revelation that is available to those of us who live after the advent of Jesus Christ. While Special Revelation is possible in these cases, none is mentioned in scripture. These just happen to be a couple of examples of how one can clearly respond properly to God’s General Revelation. While General Revelation is sufficient for all of mankind to come to knowledge of God, scripture and experience indicates that it is very rare. This is not necessarily a commentary on God offering His Grace in a limited fashion, rather this is a commentary on man’s inclination to stray from essential truth.
Divine Wisdom is always greater than man’s ability to reason. For it is Divine Wisdom that has given mankind his ability to reason. God provides light to those who seek it; and more light to those who seek further. However, since the advent of Jesus Christ, God no longer winks at error. No man is excused for his ignorant rejection of God’s law and creation (Acts chapter 17). There is an idea common to modern skeptics that the more man learns about science the more he sees no evidence for God. In fact, the opposite is true. The more man learns about science the more evident God becomes and the more responsible man is for his denial of the Divine Wisdom that has created all the laws that govern science.
Natural Theology explores justification for God’s existence aside from Special Revelation and through the use of reason, arguments and evidence. In arguments intended for skeptics only, scripture would not be used. However, since the audience of this presentation includes Christians and skeptics, scripture is presented.
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”(Romans 1:20)
Man is able to come to know God naturally by reflecting on his world, the nature of his existence and by contemplating holiness. Sadly, we are bent toward rejecting objective truth and holiness is foreign to our nature. It is seductive and far easier to seek after one’s own will and one’s own desire. Interestingly, we find many occasions in the New Testament alone where unbelievers and those who reject God are addressed directly by the apostles. Here, we read a message from the sophisticated thinker and writer Luke:
“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”(Acts 14:15-17)
This is a Biblical endorsement of Natural Theology or the use of arguments to marshall the evidence for God. The understanding is clear that God’s General Revelation is always sufficient and always higher than man’s reason. It is God who has created the laws of reason after all. Likewise Paul seems to be clearly aware of and able to utilize the previous thought and writings of the great Greek philosophers who came before. Paul is one of them and is dealing directly with those people who are a part of that astute tradition of reason and metaphysical contemplation. Aristotle often spoke of the majesty of creation and many of the great Greek philosophers argued that the world itself declares a creator. With a foundation in place to build upon, let’s now consider another of the arguments for the existence and nature of God.
There are multiple cosmological arguments to offer however this presentation will focus on the broadest argument that provides evidence of an uncaused first cause, a transcendent, immaterial, timeless creator that has brought all of existence into being. The argument is based on a standard deductive syllogism style known as “modus ponens” or the “mode that affirms”. Premises are offered to deduce a conclusion. If the conclusion is to be true the premises must be shown to be more coherent than their opposite. So, the premises must defended with coherent rhetoric. This is where the evidence becomes apparent. If the conclusion is to be shown untrue one must show one or more of the premises to be untrue or less coherent than their opposite. If the premises are unassailable then one must reject logic in order to deny the conclusion and that would be a tenuous position to defend. In fact, it would have to be an emotional position rather than an intellectual one.
The broadest version of the cosmological argument is offered as such:
Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The first premise asserts one of the most essential truths that we are able to know. Quite simply, this is cause and effect. There is no effect without a cause. We do not observe trees, animals, planets or stars coming into existence out of nothing. Anything that has begun to exist, that is to say, anything that is not eternal or infinite must have a cause. We must surely be able to agree on one of the most basic tenets of logic and science; that it is impossible for something to come into existence out of nothing. It would be absurd to assert that anything could come into existence out of nothing. One objection to this premise might be to say that physics can show examples of things or particles that do seem to come into existence out of nothing. Certain quantum particles are described just this way. However, this proposed phenomenon requires the vacuum. The vacuum is not nothing. When the term “nothing” is asserted here it means the absence of any thing. No space, no time, no matter. It’s a difficult concept to comprehend. In fact, to be coherent, the only cause of such a thing as a universe from “nothing” requires a cause which exists necessarily. That which could create time, space and matter must certainly exist outside of it, which is why the terms “super-natural” (above, beyond, apart from nature, creation) and metaphysical are used in relation to that creator. The first premise is essential and not refutable unless one chooses to throw the logic of cause and effect out the window. A common mistake made by those who have rejected God even before contemplating God is that we, as Christians, revere and worship a “man in the sky” or a figment of imagination. The truth is we revere and worship a necessarily existent, transcendent, eternal (uncaused) creator. All of which is knowable through General Revelation alone. The scriptures are not even necessary for that essential knowledge of God. Man is without excuse.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”John 14:15
Pride is an easy intoxicant for a man who worships reason, that when imbibed obfuscates his ability to experience that which is divine.
The second premise is nothing more than a restatement of the most commonly accepted cosmological model that modern science has to offer. Whether one accepts the Big Bang Theory or creation spoken into existence by a transcendent creator, there is strong scientific evidence that the universe is expanding. This fact itself is evidence that the universe is not eternal and had a beginning. In 1929 Edwin Hubble made the discovery of “redshift” which verified previous theories of an expanding universe. “Redshift” means that the light from objects moving away from an observer is “stretched” or “bent” toward the red end of the spectrum. The implication of the finding is that we can now determine when objects are moving away from us or toward us. The finding verified multiple theories of an expanding universe as Hubble was able to note that we seem to be in the center of a universe with galaxies moving outwardly away from us at unfathomable speeds. Once again, it is worth stating: the more man learns through science the more he learns about the existence and nature of God and therefore the more responsibility he assumes for his acceptance or denial. To be perfectly clear, this is not an argument for the validity of the Big Bang Theory, rather a simple observation of what man’s science appears to have revealed to him. If the universe (all of time, space and matter) is expanding it had to have originated from one point or what is commonly mis-stated as “nothing” and is expanding into the void of “nothing”. Since we know it is an absurd notion that flies in the face of reason, logic and science to say that something came from nothing then all of time, space and matter are obviously contingent upon a necessary, timeless, immaterial, transcendent cause. The second premise, that the universe began to exist, is not refutable given modern science and observation.
One objection that is sometimes offered to argue against the second premise, that the universe had a beginning, is the idea that the universe itself is eternal or self-caused or un-caused. In other words, this is to assert that the universe is infinite. These ideas are easily shown to be erroneous. Given modern science’s own observation that the universe is expanding it therefore follows that the universe is moving incrementally toward a state of total heat death. This implies that someday in the distant future the universe will be so sparse and remote that all heat and energy will dissipate to a state of frozen nothingness. No heat, no light, no life of any kind. This is the standard accepted model of contemporary astrophysics. If one wants to hold this model as true then there is a big problem with the notion of a self-caused or infinite universe. Primarily, if the universe were infinite this state of total heat death would already have been achieved. I will explain as best I can as someone who is not a philosopher or a mathematician or an astrophysicist: To assert that the universe is infinite in any way is absurd because the concept of infinity does not exist in physical reality. Infinity is a mathematical concept and it is well understood within mathematics as a useful method for representing sets or potential concepts. However, when one attempts to apply the concept of infinity to the physical universe immediately all sorts of absurdities arise. For example, an infinite number of past events cannot actually exist. An infinity is not a number nor a state of events. By definition, the components of an infinity and all its possibilities must all exist at once. This means that the number of infinite possibilities is greater than any FINITE number. What this means is that if the universe were infinite the heat death of the universe would already have occurred and the universe would have long since been lost to oblivion. Infinite oblivion – which is also absurd. Similarly, if you who choose to assert that the universe operates on a kind of infinite time loop, you have chosen to depart from rational thought and you have entered into the realm of theoretical self gratification. Plainly stated, the assertion of an infinite self-caused universe fails instantly. Inside an infinite universe, in order to get from one state of existence to the next, to be able to even count from one number to the next is impossible. One cannot even arrive at the next countable digits due to the infinity of digits required to reach the next digit. The best and easiest understood example of the absurdity of imposing infinity upon physical reality can be found in the illustration of German mathematician David Hilbert which is known as Hilbert’s Hotel. If you are one who considers or subscribes to an infinite universe it is suggested that you do a quick YouTube search for Hilbert’s Hotel. You will find several short videos that explain the absurdity of applying the infinite to physical reality. The universe, nature is not eternal. It had a beginning.
Another common objection to the various cosmological arguments is for the skeptic to ask, “Who created God?” What the cosmological argument clearly asserts and shows to be the best possible explanation is that God is not created, rather God is the creator. This is to say that God has no beginning and no end. Timeless.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.(Psalm 90:2)
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”(John 8:58)
It is self-evident that the being described through General Revelation and the cosmological argument is an immaterial, transcendent, and timeless being. That might seem difficult for the unbeliever to accept, which is why it is always urged to set pride aside and humbly seek that truth that eludes you. These are reasonable arguments that make logical inferences to the best explanation. Truth is not found in any other way. That which has the power to create time must certainly exist outside of time.
“…because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”(2 Timothy 1:9)
“…in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages Began.”(Titus 1:2)
But this is truly meant to be a rhetorical question, “Who made God?” The skeptic believes that the question cannot be answered. However, if we once again apply the tenets of sound logic and appeal to the well known and respected problem-solving principle of Occam’s Razor which states that “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” The application is an appeal to simplicity and inference to the best explanation. This is to say that to assert that anything could be greater than God, so as to create God, would in fact be God. Therefore there is no rational need for the imposition of an infinite regression of gods or universes or causes.
Inference to the best explanation is not necessary for a Christian who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God and follows his master Jesus Christ in faith and reason. But for those who have chosen to reject God as such, will not accept evidence such as the Holy Spirit. For this reason, as defenders of the Faith, we use reason, logic and evidence to make the case. The simplest form of getting to truth outside of the witness of God’s Holy Spirit, or for someone who rejects the notion altogether, is the inference to the best explanation. This is the method for how historical events are researched and understood, inference to the best explanation is how evidence in court is analyzed, it is the simplest and most effective means for finding truth. For the skeptic who is sincerely examining what has been placed before him, in addition to the obvious creation he treads upon and breathes within every day, without the Spirit of God founding his methods, his best chance at finding truth is inference to the best explanation and that explanation is that a creator has created the universe and all that is in it. God is a necessary being and his creation is contingent upon his action.
God of the gaps
Finally, a commonly misused argument against theism is that rotten old chestnut known as “God of the Gaps”. This is a reflex that skeptical deniers have regularly in debates and in the comments, chat rooms and blog forums of the internet. Essentially they will say that “whenever the theist cannot explain something they appeal to and insert God, which does not exist, because there is no evidence,” which opens up a carousel of circular reasoning that the skeptic hasn’t even realized they’ve taken a ride upon. Let’s take a look at why.
The God of the Gaps argument is most often invoked when a skeptic charges a theist with the method, “I don’t know therefore, God”. This is almost always a last ditch effort to refute arguments for God’s existence when there are no objections left. It is a last resort but when the opposition is unprepared for it and if the audience or viewers is unaware of the misuse of the fallacy it can actually work to confuse the circumstances just enough to buy the skeptic a little more time. Likewise in conjunction with the God of the gaps claim, the skeptic often offers a confident sounding comment such as, “one day science will figure out how the universe began and account for all of this with no need for God. Scientists have done this many times in the past, like when they figured out that lightning was not an angry god.” There are big problems with this approach and thought process.
First of all, the original God of the gaps fallacy was created by a Christian evangelist named Henry Drummond. It was not intended to be used with metaphysical theories (origin of existence). The fallacy of “God of the gaps” or inserting God where knowledge is lacking was a fallacy used in reference to biological processes when one would claim divine intervention for a biological process that was not understood. For example, when it could not be understood how a modern animal evolved from primitive mammals of different species it was deemed to be miraculous. Or when the structure and function of subatomic elements were not fully understood it might be explained by divine intervention. This is a fallacy and was pointed as such. So what is the difference? The argument for God’s existence is a metaphysical one, not a biological one. This is a key point because often atheists and theists will find themselves talking past one another on a point in which they are both misunderstanding the others argument. Arguments for the existence of God are philosophical in nature. That is to say that we analyse scientific data and infer a philosophical or metaphysical explanation. In other words, the simplest inference to the best explanation. On the same note, materialism is also a metaphysical theory, and atheism is a metaphysical claim, meaning that it is also considering the nature of reality. Materialism is not a scientific theory. Materialism is an ideology which holds that reality is only comprised of matter and the complex arrangements of it. This cannot be proven scientifically because it is a metaphysical assertion. The assertions of materialism can only be inferred philosophically. Theists are not actually arguing from a gap in their knowledge of natural processes. Rather, we are arguing for a metaphysical theory of reality to explain why there are natural processes in the first place. Metaphysical theories offer to explain the nature of reality. The how, the why and the who? In its purest understanding we are not arguing from a gap or lack of knowledge and inserting God where we do not know what else to do. Rather, we are arguing from our full understanding of science and showing how the data we do have supports a theistic worldview, or that God is the best explanation for what we DO KNOW – not that God is what we use when we DO NOT KNOW. This is how the God of the gaps fallacy claim is often misunderstood and misused by the skeptic. The skeptic claims that we insert God where we do not know, when the truth is we are appealing to all that we do know to show why God and the truth of Christianity is the valid worldview. That is quite a different thing than filling gaps with guesses as the skeptics erroneously suggest. Perhaps the most important note you can take from this presentation is that the best arguments for the existence of God have come to us from modern advancements in science over the past hundred years. This fact undermines the materialist argument that theists are ignorant and lost in an ancient mindset of fables and superstition. These modern arguments for the existence of God simply do not compare to ancient beliefs in gods of nature that can throw lightning bolts. In fact, to state it once again, the more science reveals over time the more evident God becomes and the more responsible man is for his denial of the Divine Wisdom that has created all the laws that govern man’s science.
But it gets worse. Not only is this God of the gaps claim errant in its application, it also exposes an obvious fallacy in the thinking of the one who is using the claim. To say that science will someday in the future reveal all of these things and render theism and God irrelevant is itself a fallacious “future science of the gaps” argument! They are filling in a gap of knowledge with a vague assertion about the future. Is it not evident now how silly that claim is? The skeptic attempts to use a claim against theism, does so fallaciously, and then turns right around and uses that same fallacy to fill a gap in his own knowledge. The skeptic is saying, “We might not have the answer right now, but I am sure that more intelligent people in the future will solve it and prove my atheist worldview.” Is this coming clear now? It is simply an attempt to ignore a clear problem in one’s own worldview and to fill that gap with a hope. This is in direct opposition to the arguments of Natural Theology. They are employing blind faith. Now let that notion sink in for a moment… How many times have you heard someone say that Christians “believe without evidence”; that believers in God have “blind faith”? It is easy to see where the materialist, atheist worldview is sadly bankrupt and reliant upon faith and hope where the evidence for the worldview being superior, or even good, is sorely lacking.
What they are saying without knowing they are saying it is that their atheistic worldview cannot explain or account for the data and arguments that theists have offered. Their hope is that it will someday in the future be explained away. Does that sound like a rational worldview? Does that even sound like a good idea? I think not. In fact it is an extremely unfortunate worldview lacking in any good reason to have hope at all. They have no better explanation, no superior alternative worldview to offer. We never get to hear all the wonderful attributes of the atheist lifestyle. We never get to hear what it is they love about atheism. They will tell you that they are free because they have rejected religion. But, this method they have for refuting theism is itself religious. A man who only has himself to rely upon when he’s down or on his death-bed is not free. That man is in chains of his own creation. A christian is free to follow the evidence wherever it leads and that is exactly what we do. The materialist atheist is subjectively limited to what matter can offer him, limited to the narrow experiences of the physical world, stuck within the relativism of subjective morality, and unable to allow himself to recognize or participate in the beauty of a miracle. Is that really a worldview worth having? For any Christians who have found yourselves doubting your faith or maybe leaving your faith because of confident sounding arguments for an atheistic worldview, does this really sound like a good way to live your life? Does it sound worth it?
To my fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, once again I say to you, you do not have to allow skeptics to get away with making claims without presenting their own evidence. Do not be mesmerized and do not be hypnotized nor intimidated by their confident sounding rhetoric. The character of God and the truth of Christianity can be fully defended with reason, logic and evidence. Therefore there is no reason to doubt or question your faith in Jesus Christ because someone with a hundred thousand YouTube subscribers or a PhD in astrophysics tells you that there is NO EVIDENCE. THAT is an emotional argument and not an intellectual one. When the worldviews of theism and atheism are held up beside one another and carefully scrutinized with objective analysis, it is clear to see that atheism is an incoherent worldview with no reason for hope beyond what time and matter have to offer; while Christianity provides the answer to the meaning of life and the victory over death!
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!