God is There

Notes I took from James Anderson’s Why Should I Believe Christianity? Chapter 4: God is There: 

Can God Be Proven?

Skeptics will often insist that there’s no more evidence for God’s existence than for the existence of Santa Claus

What these skeptics often fail to recognize is that the God the Bible is a fundamentally different kind of being than Santa Claus

If the Yeti is real, it’s a physical being that exists in time and space as part of the physical universe. It could be observed directly with any one of our five senses.

Even if the Yeti wasn’t directly observed, it could well leave indirect physical evidence: giant footprints in the snow

The way in which we might prove the existence of Yeti will depend on the nature of the Yeti, on what kind of thing it is

The God of the Bible, is not at all like the Yeti. God is fundamentally and radically different from every other thing in existence. God isn’t a being who exists within the universe, as part of it. Rather, God is a spiritual being who transcends both space and time. God isn’t part of the universe, because God created the universe. God isn’t constrained by space and time, because God created space and time.

How can God’s existence be proven? Even though God cannot be directly perceived like the other ordinary things within the universe, it turns out that we cannot make sense of the ordinary things we do perceive- and the universe as a whole- unless God exists. Only a worldview centered on a transcendent, perfect, personal Creator can make rational sense of the very things we take for granted all the time.

God and Existence

Something exists, even if you doubt everything else, you cannot reasonably doubt that you exist

Why does anything exist at all?

None of the things listed above had to exist, each of them might not have existed

The universe could have been very different; it could have existed without any of these things

What accounts for the fact that anything at all exists?

Contingent: things that exist but didn’t have to exist; it’s non-existence is logically possible

Everything in the physical universe is contingent. But it’s important to see that what is true of the parts of the universe is also true of the whole. The physical universe isn’t a fundamentally different kind of thing than its contents. The cosmos as a whole is an inconceivably large physical thing – and therefore it’s a contingent thing

Any contingent thing needs an explanation for why it exists, since it might not have existed. But that explanation can’t come from the thing itself. It has to come from outside that thing. It makes no sense to say that something brought itself into existence, since it would have to exist already in order to do anything at all. So the existence of every contingent thing has to be explained by some other thing- and that other thing must be either contingent or non-contingent

If the universe as a whole is contingent, there needs to be an explanation of why it exists, and that explanation cannot come from the universe itself or anything within the universe

Naturalism offers no explanation for the existence of the universe, and thus no explanation for the existence of anything, because according to Naturalism only the universe exists

Naturalism forbids any explanation for the existence of the universe, since it insists there’s nothing beyond the universe that could explain its existence.

In contrast, CT faces no such difficulty. For that worldview includes three fundamental tenets:

  1. God exists
  2. God is not a contingent being
  3. God freely chose to use His unlimited power to bring the universe into existence

The universe is not self-existent. It has to derive its existence from some other source. But God by His very nature is absolutely self-existent. If God had to derive His existence from some other source, He wouldn’t be the Absolute Being. So the Christian worldview can account for the existence of the universe in a way that the Naturalist worldview simply cannot.

The obvious truth that something exists gives us a compelling reason to believe in God. Existence itself points us to the existence of God.

Not only does the universe exist, it exists at multiple levels as a harmony of unity and plurality. The universe contains individual physical particles, but they all behave in a unified fashion obeying the same physical laws. There is both unity (laws) and plurality (particles). At a higher level, the human race is made up of billions of diverse individuals, but we’re unified by a common human nature that distinguishes us from other creatures.

Since the universe exists as a harmony of unity and plurality, we should expect the source of its existence to exhibit a similar harmony of unity and plurality. The Absolute Being is both One and Many: an ultimate unity (one God) and an ultimate plurality (three distinct persons) in perfect harmony.

God and Values

We make value judgments

Some value judgments are subjective and person relative

Some are objective value judgments, in this sense: when we make those judgments, we’re saying that something is good or bad regardless of anyone’s personal tastes or preferences. People may disagree about which things are objectively good or bad, but the fact that everyone makes some objective value judgments, whether they recognize it or not.

Any objective value judgment presupposes some objective standard or criterion of judgment: some objective standard of goodness by which things can be judged. That standard has to be independent of us, otherwise it wouldn’t be truly objective. It can’t be reducible to human desires, feelings or preferences. Furthermore, that objective standard must represent pure goodness. It must be absolute good, otherwise it couldn’t serve as the final standard of what is good or bad. If the standard weren’t absolutely good- if it were a mixture of good and bad- then there would have to be some higher standard by which we judge it to be less than absolutely good. The upshot is that our objective value judgments take for granted that there’s something absolute standard or measure of goodness by which everything else can be judged.

Which worldview make sense of our objective value judgments? Which worldview is most consistent with our assumption that some things are objectively good and other things are objectively bad? Which worldview affirms that absolute standard of goodness?

Naturalist worldview faces real difficulties in this area. If the universe came from nothing and has no objective meaning or purpose, what sense does it make to say that some things in the universe are objectively good or bad? If everything reduces to physical particles and forces, what basis could there be for objective value judgments? What sense does it make to say that one arrangement of physical participles is any better or worse than any other arrangement of physical particles?

If we say that some aspects of the universe are objectively good and other aspects are objectively bad there must be some standard of goodness independent of the universe by which we’re judging those different aspects of the universe. And that standard must be pure goodness. But according to the Naturalist, nothing exists except the universe. It’s precisely this problem which has led many Naturalists to deny that our objective value judgments have any meaningful connection with reality.

According to CT, God is absolute good and God exists independently of the universe. So there is indeed an absolute, ultimate, objective standard of goodness by which things can be judged to be good or bad. In short, something is objectively good if it reflects the character of God, and conforms to the will of God, and something is objectively bad if it’s opposed to what is objectively good.

God and Morality

We make decisions based on moral values, and we make moral judgments about other people’s decisions and actions. We believe some actions are good and right, while others are bad and wrong

Some of these moral judgments are based on subjective tastes or personal interests, but many times they aren’t. They’re objective moral judgments. It’s not just a matter of different personal preferences or cultural traditions. What these murderous people have done is objectively immoral. Indeed, it’s absolutely immoral.

The moment we say that, however, we’re assuming there are moral standards that are objective and absolute. We’re presupposing there are moral laws which transcend human individuals and human societies. So who or what accounts for these moral standards or laws?

According to Naturalism, the universe has no ultimate meaning or purpose. In the end, there’s no right or wrong way for the universe to be. It simply is what it is. The only ultimate laws are the laws of physics. But the laws of physics have nothing to say about morality, of course. The laws of physics tell us how things do behave, but not how things ought to behave.

CT makes sense of our moral judgments. There are transcendent moral laws because there is a transcendent moral law-giver. Moral laws cannot come from an impersonal source. They must come from a person source, and one with moral authority. If the universe is God’s creation then God has authority over us. He made us for a purpose and therefore He has the right to say how we should live. God’s laws have a real moral force, but they aren’t arbitrary or capricious, because God only commands what is consistent with His perfect love and His good purposes for His creation. God gives us moral laws for our own good.

God and Reason

Our very ability to reason presupposes the existence of God.

We take for granted our very ability to reason: to judge between truth and falsehood, to extend our knowledge of the world using logical inferences and evaluation of evidence, and to decide what’s reasonable and what’s unreasonable.

Not only are we able to reason, we’re able to recognize and reflect upon our ability to reason. We can reason about reason itself.

CT makes sense of this fact. The ultimate reality is a rational reality. God is the supreme intellect. Since God is both perfect and personal, He knows and understands how every truth relates to every other truth. What this means is that our universe has its source in a rational mind.

Naturalism faces great difficulties in accounting for our rational faculties. Naturalism is committed to the idea that reason came from non-reason. The physical universe as such doesn’t have a mind. It doesn’t have an intellect or any rational faculties. At the beginning of time, the universe was just a highly compressed lump of matter- and lumps of matter have no thoughts at all, never mind rational thoughts. So the Naturalist has to believe that rational beings arose out of entirely non-rational materials and processes.

Most common explanation is an evolutionary one: we humans gradually developed the ability to reason over millions of years by a process of natural selection. Our reason gives us a clear survival advantage, so it is argued. This explanation faces several formidable objections, one of which I’ll develop in the next section: only conscious beings can reason, but there’s no good evolutionary explanation for how physical processes alone could produce conscious minds. Another objection is that most of the organisms on this planet survive and reproduce perfectly well- far more efficiently than humans! – without the slightest ability to reason. If evolution is driven by natural selection, as Darwin’s theory dictates, then evolution doesn’t care a whit for what an organism believes. It only cares about how an organism behaves. For an evolutionary perspective, it doesn’t matter whether an organism has true beliefs, false beliefs, or no beliefs at all, as long as the organism can effectively preserve and pass on its genes. Evolution isn’t truth-directed. It’s only survival-directed.

But our faculty of reason is truth-directed. The very purpose of reason is to guide us toward truth. Either evolution is truth-directed or it isn’t. If evolution isn’t truth-directed, then the Naturalist has no basis for assuming that his intellectual faculties can be trusted to guide him towards truth, in which case he ought to doubt the truth of his own beliefs- including his belief in Naturalism. But if naturalism is somehow truth-directed, we have to wonder why most people today are religious. Why has evolution tended to favor beliefs which, according to Naturalists, are so radically out of step with reality?

If our very ability to depends on God, nothing could be more contrary to reason than denying God.

God and Mind

You’re not merely a conscious being- you’re a self-conscious being. You’re conscious of your own consciousness. You’re able to reflect on your own conscious experiences. You’re able to think about your own thought processes.

There is a close connection between mind and reason. A mind is a prerequisite for reason. Only beings with minds have the ability to reason, because reasoning necessarily involves beliefs and ideas. Reasoning requires thoughts, and thoughts exist only in minds. Furthermore, minds exhibit consciousness, which offers a distinctive first-person perspective on the world. Each of us have a conscious perspective on the world that’s unique and distinct from everyone else’s.

How did we come to possess the minds that we do? How is it that there are any conscious minds within this physical universe?

Did mind precede matter? Or did matter precede mind, such that mind is a product of matter?

According to the worldview of naturalism, matter preceded mind. In the beginning of the universe was pure matter, but over the course of billions of years, through gradual, undirected evolutionary processes, physical organisms developed conscious minds. On this view, mind is a product of matter – more precisely, an accidental by-product of blind material processes.

Some naturalists deny that there really are such things as distinct from matter.

The difficulty is that it’s very hard to conceive how minds could arise out of purely material processes. Conscious minds have very distinctive features, such as first-person subjective perspective on the world and a capacity for thoughts, feelings and experiences. Such features are so thoroughly different from physical properties such as mass, energy and size, that there seems to be a fundamental discontinuity between the mental and the physical. Increasing the complexity of something doesn’t result in a fundamentally different kind of thing coming into existence: a self-conscious subject of thoughts and experiences. A highly complex physical structure is still nothing more than a physical structure.

Naturalists will often appeal to evolution to explain our advanced mental capacities. They’ll argue that possessing a conscious mind gives an organism an evolutionary advantage, and a more sophisticated mind offers an even greater advantage, thus evolution can explain how our remarkable minds came into existence. The basic flaw in this argument: Naturalistic evolution cannot explain how consciousness appeared in the first place. Evolutionary forces can only operate on things that already exist. Natural selection can only favor a conscious organism over a non-conscious one if a conscious organism is there to be favored.

Naturalists also point to the fact that human mental activity is closely related with physical brain processes as evidence that our minds are the product of purely material causes. Neuroimaging technologies, for example, reveal that certain kinds of thoughts and experiences correspond with neurons firing in particular areas of the brain. However, as statisticians often have to remind us, correlation doesn’t imply causation- even if it did, it wouldn’t tell us the direction of the causation. Observing that two very different things are closely integrated doesn’t show that one is the product of the other, but it does invite us to consider how and why they came together in the first place.

God is an eternal, self-existent, transcendent, personal being with a mind- and not just any mind, but a perfect, absolute, infinite mind. God created a universe that had both material and mental aspects from the outset: He created humans with minds as well as bodies. Not only can we physically manipulate the universe with our bodies, we can think about the universe with our minds. Our finite minds aren’t the first minds to exist in the universe; on the contrary, our human minds are dependent on- an eternal mind.

God and Science

Science rests on a whole host of philosophical assumptions about the universe and about human beings that science itself cannot justify. No scientific experiment can prove these assumptions; rather, scientists have to take them for granted. But if those assumptions were false, science itself would be futile.

Scientific work takes for granted the existence of objective moral values. For example, scientists have a moral duty to more honest and accurate when they publish their results. The whole scientific enterprise is driven by a value judgment, that it’s good to understand how the natural world operates, and that we ought to pursue and promote truth and knowledge in the natural sciences. Furthermore, we take for granted that science should be used for objectively good purposes

Science is founded on the assumption that our sensory faculties are equipped to give us accurate empirical information about the universe we inhabit. Scientists take for granted that how the world appears to us is a generally reliable picture of how the world actually is. That’s not something science itself can prove, precisely because science has to presuppose it. It would be circular reasoning to use our sensory faculties to prove the reliability and accuracy of our sensory faculties. So on what rational basis do scientists make this crucial assumption?

Scientific investigation rests on two further assumptions: first, that the universe is an orderly and rational place, and second, that the orderliness and rationality of the universe aligns with the orderliness and rationality of our minds. The idea that our minds are equipped to discover and understand the basic laws of the universe rests on both of these assumptions. The universe didn’t have to be an orderly and rational place. There’s nothing logically contradictory about the idea of a universe that is chaotic and unpredictable, without rhyme or reason. When we formulate theories about the laws of nature, such as the laws of gravity, we assume those laws apply in the same way across space and time. We assume those laws will be the same in the future as they have been in the past. We assume those laws operate in other galaxies in the same way they operate in our galaxy. We assume that nature is basically orderly and uniform, such that we can discover general laws of nature and exploit them for technological purposes.

(Why Should I Believe Christianity? Anderson)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s