Back before this whole road trip of ours began, we were looking at some of the common objections that people have about the Christian faith. Most recently, we looked at objections regarding the very existence of God and some of the arguments that support our faith.
We looked at the Argument from Contingency and the reason for our very existence. Everything that is contingent ultimately has to be traced back to a non-contingent first cause. Being non-contingent, that cause must itself transcend time and space. It must be immaterial and self-existing. Basically, it has to be God.
We then looked at the Cosmological Argument and the cause for the beginning of the universe. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. Since the universe itself began to exist, it had to have a cause that transcends the universe. Again, it would have to be God.
We looked at the Teleological Argument and the incredible fine-tuning in the world today, but more importantly at the fine-tuning in the initial conditions that allowed the universe to exist in the first place and for any form of life--not just human life, but any life--to exist at all. The universe is and was much too fine-tuned to be explained by necessity or chance, which means it must have been by design. And a design points to a Designer.
We looked at the moral argument and how if there really are objective moral values--things that are really right or wrong, good or evil... things that are always good even for those who think they’re evil, and things that are really evil even for people who think they are good--if objective moral values exist then the only viable explanation for their existence is the existence of God.
We then looked at the Argument from the Resurrection. If the Resurrection really happen--and we looked at the evidence that supports it--then a miracle occurred. And if a miracle occurred, that is evidence for the existence of God. Sir Lionel Luckhoo was a famous defense lawyer who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for winning 245 consecutive acquittals for murder. This is what he had to say for the evidence of the Resurrection...
“I have spent more than 42 years as a defense trial lawyer appearing in many parts of the world and am still in active practice. I have been fortunate to secure a number of successes in jury trials and I say unequivocally the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”
~ Sir Lionel Luckhoo
So there was the argument from the Resurrection. And then we finished up with the argument that you don’t need arguments. You can believe in the existence of God in a “properly basic” way. That means that your belief is intrinsic to who you are, reasonably based on your experiences and your observations of the world around you. Like your belief that the external world exists. You can’t prove that we’re not all just figments of your imagination, but--unless you’re presented with some kind of a defeater--you’re perfectly justified in believing that we do actually exist.
Those are the six we’ve already looked at; let’s look at one more... from the existence of reality. Put simply, “Why do we have something rather than nothing?”
The Argument from Reality: Why do we have something rather than nothing?
This is a very basic metaphysical question. It’s one that has been discussed and debated for centuries. It’s not just, “why do we have this instead of something else? Why does this world exist and not some other kind of world?” That’s not the question. The question is, “Why do we have something--anything at all--rather than nothing?”
In considering that, there are four possible answers:
• Reality is an illusion.
• Reality is/was self-caused.
• Reality is self-existent (eternal).
• Reality was created by an external self-existent cause.
So which of those is true? Let’s look at the first possibility... that reality is an illusion. This is actually the perspective of some eastern mystic religions. Reality is not really a reality, it’s just an illusion. But is that correct? Centuries ago, a famous philosopher and mathematician named Rene Descartes came out with a very profound statement that I expect you’ve heard before. [NOT IN POWERPOINT]
“I think, therefore I am.”
~ Rene Descartes
In other words, he was saying that the very fact that he can question his existence is evidence that he does exist. An illusion can’t think. I think, therefore I am a reality. Reality exists.
So how about the second possibility? Was reality self-caused? Did reality create itself? Well, that’s a self-defeating concept. You can’t exist before you exist. Reality would have had to exist already in order to be the cause of reality. But that’s a logical impossibility. Since nothing comes out of nothing, reality could not have caused itself. Even David Hume—a famous atheist from the 1700s—denied that something could come out of nothing. [“I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause.”]
So two down. How about the third possibility... that reality is self-existent? That it has always existed? That it’s eternal? Well, for the atheist, this is really the only possibility. Very few would hold to the first two possibilities, and they obviously reject the fourth, so all they are left with is that the universe itself is eternal. Since nothing comes out of nothing, the universe must not have come out of anything. It must have always been there. It must be eternal, right? But as we’ve already seen during this series, modern science itself points toward the universe having a beginning. The evidence that scientists use to say that the universe had a beginning include... [NOT IN POWERPOINT]
• The Second Law of Thermodynamics
• The radiation echo of the Big Bang
• The expansion of the universe
• Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
All of these point toward the universe having a beginning. That means it is not eternal, it does not exist out of necessity, it is not self-existent. Even beyond that, a self-existent universe cannot explain how out of its amoral, impersonal, non-intelligent nature emerged morality, personality, and intelligent beings like us. (Well, most of us.)
So that leaves the fourth possibility as the only possibility. Reality was created by some kind of an external cause that itself must be self-existent. Expanding on that, the cause must have been supernatural since it created nature, must be intelligent since only intelligence can create intelligence, powerful enough to cause reality to come into existence, timeless since time is part of the universe, purposeful because there was a choice to create, moral as reflected in objective morality, immaterial existing outside of the physical universe, omnipresent and not bound by the space that was created, and personal because something impersonal cannot create personality. In other words, that external self-existent cause is and was God.
“Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. Those leaps of faith were simply too big for me to take, especially in light of the affirmative case for God’s existence… In other words, in my assessment the Christian worldview accounted for the totality of the evidence much better than the atheistic worldview.”
~ Lee Strobel, former atheist and author of “The Case for Faith”
Okay, so that gives you seven different arguments for the existence of God... each of which is expressed in a coherent logical way.
Is a belief in the existence of God just a blind faith? Obviously not. There are reasons to believe. There are other arguments that you can make, too, but I think these seven are pretty convincing. Actually, I think each one by itself is pretty convincing. But put them together... well, I think you can build a pretty strong case for the existence of God.
Psalm 14:1 (NLT)
“Only fools say in their hearts, ”There is no God.”
[Video - “I’d Like to Buy an Argument”]
For the skeptic or atheist who refuses to accept those arguments, it’s not enough for them to just say they don’t agree. Like in that Monty Python skit... arguing is not just saying the other person is wrong; it’s stating your case. Atheists who claim that Christians are wrong and that God does not exist must show what’s wrong with each of these arguments. Otherwise, they will only be rejecting them out of their own biases and prejudices. They will have formed their opinions without even considering the evidence, which is really pretty close-minded, illogical, and arrogant.
New Atheists have frequently accused believers of being delusional or brainwashed, claiming that there is no good reason to have faith in God. I think what we’ve seen, though, is that you can have a rational, logical, reasonable faith. You don’t have to be programmed to believe in God; the evidence already points to Him and His existence. When atheists refuse to consider the evidence, it makes you wonder who’s really delusional or brainwashed.
And listen... we’ve talked before about the difference between a skeptic and a cynic. A skeptic asks honest questions; a cynic will not accept honest answers. Well, there’s a difference between an atheist and an agnostic, too. An atheist is making a truth claim. They are taking a position that God does not exist. It is not only on the believer to give reasons to believe in God; the atheist has to present arguments for their case, too. They have to do more than just scoff and say things like, “You’re wrong. You’re deluded. I disagree.” No, they have to show the evidence for their case, too.
An agnostic is the middle ground. They’re the ones who don’t have to defend their position because they’re not taking a position. However, any statement by an agnostic should include the word “yet.” “I don’t know... yet.” “I’m not convinced... yet.” “I haven’t decided if I believe God exists or doesn’t exist... yet.” Being an agnostic should be a temporary condition. You’re waiting to make up your mind, but eventually you’ve got to do it.
Okay, so those are six arguments for the existence of God plus one argument simply for belief in God wholly apart from any evidence. But what will you hear from the other side? What arguments will you hear against the existence of God? And how can we as Christians respond? Here are two of the arguments you might hear...
Arguments Against the Existence of God
Argument 1: Believing in God is like believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
There actually is a religion about this... it’s called Pastafarianism. Seriously. It’s a religion that was created by an atheist named Bobby Henderson. Henderson was upset that the Kansas State Board of Education had decided to teach the theory of Intelligent Design alongside the Theory of Evolution, so he created Flying Spaghetti Monsterism or Pastafarianism in protest. In his view, teaching Intelligent Design was all about religion and not about science at all, so he intentionally created this ridiculous religion and insisted that the school board give it equal time in the classroom, too.
Actually, that’s kind of funny. But is there any validity to it? I mean, is believing in the existence of God comparable to believing in some sort of flying spaghetti monster?
Well, the main premises behind this argument are...
• There is no evidence for the existence of God.
• There is no evidence for the existence of a flying spaghetti monster.
• Therefore, believing in God and believing in a Flying Spaghetti Monster are equally valid (or invalid).
So how about that first premise? I think we’ve already seen pretty clearly that there are in fact evidences for the existence of God. There are several arguments, in fact. Now, a person may not be convinced by the arguments, but to say there is no evidence is obviously wrong. Just choosing to ignore or reject the evidence out-of-hand and to not give the evidence due consideration is itself a kind of blind faith.
Plus, remember that the vast majority of serious thinkers throughout history and today have believed in God... have contemplated His existence... and have argued in favor of His existence. That by itself does not prove God’s existence, but it does point to the fact that serious scholars have believed that there is good evidence for God’s existence.
So that first premise is obviously wrong. Therefore, the conclusion is wrong. This is simply not a valid argument against the existence of God. Oh, it’s comical, so it appeals to us on that level. And because it sounds witty, it can be convincing to those who don’t actually think about it. But it’s really just a house of cards. That first premise is wrong, so the whole argument collapses around it.
Response: The first premise is wrong; there are evidences for the existence of God. On the other hand, not even “Pastafarians” actually believe there is evidence for a Flying Spaghetti Monster. The two are not comparable, therefore the conclusion is wrong.
So how about another argument against the existence of God? This one I take a little more seriously than the first, because the people who raise this objection are not just scoffing at faith like those who talk about a Flying Spaghetti Monster; usually, this objection is raised by someone who has really struggled with it. The argument is this...
Argument 2: An all-powerful loving God would not allow the evil that exists in the world.
Basically, you’ve got these three statements:
Three (Seemingly) Contradictory Statements:
• God is all-powerful.
• God is all-loving.
• Evil exists.
This argument would say that these three statements are incompatible. If God is all-powerful, surely He could rid the world of evil. If God is all-loving, then He would naturally want to get rid of all evil. If God is both all-powerful and all-loving, then, why does evil exist?
Well, there are a few responses to this. First of all...
• The existence of evil is evidence for God, not against God.
Without the existence of God, there’s no such thing as good and evil. We saw that when we talked about the Moral Argument for the existence of God. Without an objective standard established by God, it’s not good or evil; it’s just like or dislike. You can’t say that the genocide in Rwanda was evil; you can just say you didn’t like it. Same with natural evils... you can’t really talk about tsunamis and tornadoes and hurricanes and volcanoes as being good or bad. All you can say is that you personally would have preferred they didn’t happen. When someone dies in a car accident or is diagnosed with a terminal disease... it can’t be described as really being evil without there being an objective standard of good and evil. If you really believe there is such a thing as good and evil, that is evidence for the existence of God, not against it. Apart from God’s existence, there’s no real reason to label anything as good or as evil.
So, if God exists and evil exists, doesn’t that just leave us with a God who is either vindictive or powerless? Or worse, both? No, it doesn’t. Here’s why...
• For evil to be an indictment against God, it has to be shown that He does not have good reason to allow it.
God has a way of taking evil things that happen and turning them around into something good. Sometimes that happens fairly quickly; other times it happens over the course of several centuries. Our problem is that we often lack the perspective to see what God is doing and how He is working things out.
Plus, you might expect an all-powerful all-loving God to create a maximally great world. What would that world look like? It would include Free Will... the freedom to choose to worship Him or reject Him... the freedom to do good or do evil. So the potential for evil has to exist simply because God is all-powerful and all-loving. And in a maximally great world, as many people as possible would freely choose to follow God. Well, how do you evaluate that? I don’t think we can really argue that this isn’t a maximally great world... where we have the freedom to reject God but as many as possible freely choose to follow Him. Connected to this...
• Free will creates the potential for evil and its consequences.
People do evil things because they have free will. Sin happened and corrupted all of Creation because of free will. Most of us, though, would agree that it’s better to have free will even with the potential for evil rather than not having free will and existing only as mindless automatons. Free will is a wonderful gift, but when that gift is abused it results in evil. As one great philosopher said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” (Uncle Ben from Spider-Man)
• While God does not remove the potential for evil or its consequences, He does offer help and comfort to its victims.
When people ask me why specific bad things happen, I don’t always have an answer. Oh, sometimes the answer is obvious. Sometimes people die in accidents because some idiot got drunk and got behind the wheel. Other times, though, the reasons aren’t so obvious.
What I do know, though, is that God is there and He cares. He wants to provide comfort for those who are suffering and strength for those who are mourning.
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NLT)
“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
Psalm 23:4 (NLT)
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
One more point that I don’t think is insignificant...
• For God to eradicate all evil, He would have to eradicate you and me.
Compared to the holiness of God, we are all evil. We all fall far short. You may point to some of the villains in our world and think you’re better than them, but it’s only a matter of degrees. We are all tainted with sin. We are all evil. Now aren’t you glad that God doesn’t eradicate all evil?
Does God exist? I think there are pretty convincing arguments that say He does and pretty weak arguments that say He doesn’t. What are you going to do with that? You know, I think one of the scariest passages in the Bible is found in the book of James.
James 2:19 (NLT)
“You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”
You see, it’s not enough to just believe. You’ve got to act on that belief. You’ve got to follow. There are far too many people who are religious and who attend church and who say they believe in God, but it makes no difference in how they live or where they place their priorities or how they relate to God. They believe, but it makes no more difference than if they didn’t believe. A faith that matters is a faith that makes a difference. What difference does your faith make for you?
All right, we’ve spent a lot of time with a few interruptions trying to get through this section. We’re going to move on next week with something I’m affectionately calling, “God Loves You; Everyone Else Thinks You’re a Jerk.”
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson