by Dr. Hendrik van der Breggen
A few years ago, advertisements on buses in London, Toronto, and other major cities stated this: THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE. I respectfully disagree with the atheist view about God, not the bits about worry and enjoyment. In a two-part series I’ll set out why.
I’ll make some clarifications, then sketch a cumulative case for God based on science, history, and philosophy. Often these get intermingled.
Ways of Knowing
Through intuition—direct awareness—we know some truths without arguments. I simply know (intuit) that I exist, I’m not dreaming, and that my ordinary perceptions are connected to reality (there is a tree outside my window).
We also know by inference. We gather evidence and then use reason. By seeing the empty cookie jar on the counter and cookie crumbs on my son’s shirt, I infer it’s probably true that he ate the cookies! Sherlock Holmes and scientists do this much more carefully.
Special and General Revelation
The God described in the Bible makes Himself known by special revelation and general revelation.
Special revelation includes Scriptures, the Holy Spirit’s personal witness, and the fact of God stepping into physical-space-time history as a human being—Jesus. He confirmed His claims to be God by not staying dead after being killed.
General revelation consists of clues God leaves of Himself in His creation. These clues can be discerned by looking at the world’s awesomeness: gazing at a sunset, enjoying a flower, or using scientific instruments to examine living cells and distant stars.
Proof Versus Evidence
Proofs are limited to formal logic and mathematics. Here we’re concerned with evidence, as in a court of law. Evidence may not provide 100% proof, but can provide a powerful case—enough for reasonable belief.
Collections of Arguments
Cumulative case arguments are collections of arguments that individually may not provide decisive support for a conclusion, but together do. Think of legal arguments. One line of evidence isn’t enough to convict, but several lines can be enough because they accumulate and converge onto the conclusion: guilty! Just as prosecutors and defence lawyers argue for and against a verdict, cumulative case arguments consider pros and cons.
Our cumulative case argument attempts to discern the objective truth (reality) concerning God through evidence and our best ways of knowing. We’ll examine some objections along the way, and we’ll see how the positive reasons for our faith outweigh the objections.
At this point radical post-modernists might object: Reason is socially constructed, so cumulative case arguing is a dead end. My reply: The careful use of reason leads to knowledge of truth. Even critics of reason must assume it to reasonably persuade us of their view!
A Compelling Case
Our cumulative case argument for the existence of the Christian God consists of several arguments. Each argument isn’t 100% conclusive, though some are stronger than others. But, significantly, together they provide a compelling case. As mentioned, this is a sketch. For further investigation, check the recommended reading list.
A Transcendent Cause
This is known as the cosmological argument. Contemporary science (big bang cosmology) tells us the universe began to exist. All matter, energy, space, and time began a finite time ago. Philosophy tells us whatever begins to exist has a cause. It follows logically that the universe has a cause for its beginning.
This implies the cause of the universe is powerful. It caused the universe! It is nonphysical—it caused all physical matter and energy to come into being. And it’s eternal; it’s beyond time because it caused time to begin. Therefore the universe has a powerful, transcendent cause. This clue points, like a partial fingerprint, to God.
Stephen Hawking objects that laws of nature, not God, caused the beginning of the universe. But Hawking is mistaken. Laws of nature describe or base predictions on nature. So if there is no universe—no nature—there would be no laws. Laws can’t be a cause.
The Universe is Dependent
The contingency (dependency) argument goes like this: Everything in the universe is dependent. It can not-be. Infinite contingency isn’t possible. Otherwise there could be nothing. But out of nothing, nothing comes. Therefore something must-be: a ground of being. If this ground of being is personal, it would appropriately be called I AM. Yes, think of the burning bush and Moses.
Objection: This mistakenly thinks the property of a part transfers to the whole. From everything in the universe is contingent, it doesn’t follow the whole universe is contingent.
Reply: This error occurs in some cases, but not all. It depends on the property in question. “Seeing better” doesn’t transfer from one person standing up to better see the football game to all spectators standing up. This would be an error. But here the property of contingency is additive; it transfers from parts to whole. If each cubic centimeter of space in my gas tank is full of gas, then my whole tank is full of gas. If each part of the universe is dependent, then so is the universe.
The universe has features that point to an intelligent designer. The universe’s initial conditions are exquisitely fine-tuned for life. That’s true whether life emerges through some sort of evolutionary process or is subsequently created more directly. This fine-tuning suggests that the previously mentioned powerful and transcendent cause of the universe’s beginning is highly intelligent.
Also, living cells smack of intelligent causation because of their complex machinery. Also, life’s blueprint—DNA’s code—smacks of an intelligent cause. Bill Gates of Microsoft says, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” It’s of interest to note that the famous atheist Antony Flew came to believe that a creator God exists because of DNA.
Objection: Some people say there are a near-infinite number of universes, so by chance, not design, we ended up with one that looks designed. Roll the dice long enough, we’ll get by chance a series of, say, 100,000 pairs of sixes. The dice look weighted (designed to get the pairs), but in fact aren’t.
Reply: The multi-verse view hasn’t got much, if any, evidence for it. It also lacks simplicity. It’s simpler to suggest one designing mind than a gazillion universes that also would have intelligent minds.
To be continued. In the meantime, some of you might check out the recommended readings.
Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is the associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Man.
Part two of this series can be found here.
Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom
William Lane Craig, On Guard
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed.
Antony Flew, There is a God
Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity