Observations on life; particularly spiritual

God and Jesus

Conversation on God

Here is a conversation on God that is an extract from the comments after a blogpost. Check the post for the complete discussion that took place over a period of two months.

George 1 October

The new objection relates to the “proof of God” and the “divinity of Jesus”. These are big topics. I didn’t claim to prove the existence of God from the Bible. Instead, I would say that God is the most logical explanation of the existence and complex nature of the universe, the existence and complex nature of life, and the existence of the human conscience (innate sense of right and wrong). So, I agree that the Bible “is of itself not proof of God” – there’s lots of other evidence. However, the best evidence of the nature of Jesus is the historical record in the Bible. To investigate the “divinity of Jesus” one should study the most reliable ancient text about Him. Of course, one’s conclusion will depend on whether they have an open mind or not.

George 9 October

You say, “I would once again say that citing the Bible as proof of god amounts to nothing more than hearsay”. I didn’t claim to prove the existence of God from the Bible. Instead, I would say that the existence of God is the most logical explanation of the existence and complex nature of the universe, the existence and complex nature of life, and the existence of the human conscience (innate sense of right and wrong). So, there’s lots of other evidence available.

Commentator 9 October

Hi George I am curious if there is lots of other evidence that is not in the bible could you please point me in the right direction to find it?

George’s reply 19 October

You asked, “if there is lots of other evidence (of the existence of God) that is not in the bible could you please point me in the right direction to find it?”. The other evidence of the existence of God that I mentioned was: the existence and complex nature of the universe, the existence and complex nature of life, and the existence of the human conscience (innate sense of right and wrong). Look up any articles on the source or origin of these and see if they answer the question or not and see how many miracles they require.

For example, an article by Stephen Hawking on “The origin of the universe” says that the origin was due to “the spontaneous quantum creation of the universe (which) would be a bit like the formation of bubbles of steam in boiling water”. And at the more popular level the Khan Academy says, “In the beginning, as far as we know, there was nothing. Suddenly, from a single point, all the energy in the universe burst forth”. These sound like miracles to me.

On the other hand, an article by Dr Gregory Ganssle of Yale University provides evidence that:
– The existence of the universe is better explained by the existence of God, and
– The existence of objective moral values is better explained by the existence of God.

Commentator 20 October

Dear George This evidence you speak of can be interpreted in many different ways, not just yours. But thank you for your help.

Dear George in a specific response to your source of gods proof I have to point out the following holes in logic.

  1. If we see time as being linear there is no problem with the first few of Mr Ganssle’s premises but if you take into account the idea of circular time troubles pop up. (ganssle is a little goose in some German dialects 🙂). He obviously had no idea of these theories as he wrote this. But many cultures such as the ancient Mayans and Indians did. Or maybe he did understand circular time theories and choose to ignore them.
  2. This is a big one but if god created the universe what created god? How could he just spring or come into existence?
    Consider this:
    “About god, there are only three alternatives:
    1. God has always existed. and has an infinite past.
    2. God was popped into existence from nothing with absolutely no cause.
    3. God was caused to exist by something outside it.”
    By the author’s own reasoning god, herself must have an outside cause. He must have skipped his logic class as well.
    I should really just stop here because one needn’t read any further because #2 is the end of any rational discussion. In fact, the very idea of god is infinite.
    But since we are already here…
  1. Multiverse theory or the fact that every single being on this planet has an individual experience of all things based on his or her own store consciousness. This is in itself infinite. Therefore we could be living in a universe with one two, millions of gods or actually not at all. But there is no way to tell is there?

4. The idea of knowing good or bad does not presuppose a god. It simply means that humans can see the results of their actions and generally try to choose good actions resulting in good results.

  1. The authors understanding of space-time is flawed. Just because something is outside of space and time does not mean it is outside space-time. We would need to be sure that we truly understand our space with our limited sense perceptions, for example, a bat or dolphin with sonar might understand space much differently than us. Our universe does not stop at time as the last dimension. There are other dimensions as well within our universe and without further study of all of them, this argument is mute. An understanding of the fourth dimension from the perspective of someone in the second dimension is hardly trustworthy.
  2. I quote “If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.
    There are moral values which are objective.
    Therefore, God exists.
    Before I discuss this argument, I must make it clear that I am not claiming that one must believe in God in order to be moral. I am not claiming that statistically, those who believe in God are more moral than those who do not. I am also not claiming that our knowledge of morality depends upon God. This argument is to the effect that objective moral values themselves are foreign to a universe without God. They do not fit.” George Bush believed in god and said on camera that he spoke to god every day. He said this while he was directing the U.S. Armed Forces to bomb Iraq to smithereens. Did god tell him it was ok? Even with god, one’s objective moral values are out of the window. So why should this presuppose a god? He simply believed that it was morally permissible to bomb Iraq even though most of the world did not.
  3. If the author lived in a completely racist society, unfortunately by default he would also be racist whether or not it was morally right or else the society would not be completely racist. Point made?
  4. Is morality transcultural? No, how would one explain the existence of head-hunters and human offering as we know exists in our world. One famous offering was even sanctioned by god, in Genesis 22. The bible and its god was not morally sound here. Oh, but isn’t he the same god who was the standard for the objective right and wrong? oops….
  5. This essay is really crap and written by someone who only sees right and wrong through a dualistic perspective of the bible and not from an objective scientific perspective, therefore it is a fail as proof that god exists.

George’s reply

Thanks for the comment.

  1. I understand that the idea of circular time has been held by some tribes (Inca, Mayan, and Native American) and some religions (Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism). But time as we experience it is linear because:
    – Time is irreversible – we can’t travel back in time
    – Things fall apart. Things in our universe go from a state of order to a state of (increasing) disorder, and not vice-versa. This is called the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy (or disorder) in the universe increases over time.
    Although there are daily, monthly and annual cycles, time is unidirectional. This is physical reality. The idea of circular time may be a perception or a belief, but it’s not a physical reality.
  2. You ask “what created god”? The answer is your first option, “God has always existed. and has an infinite past”. You say, “By the author’s own reasoning god, herself must have an outside cause”. But you fail to note that the author was only addressing, things that have come into existence, not things that are eternal. God is in a different category to the universe. God is eternal and has no cause, whereas the universe has a beginning and so has a cause (which is God’s will).
  3. Your idea of a Multiverse (multiple universes) is pure speculation. There is no evidence of this at all. It’s a philosophical idea that cannot be falsified.
  4. You say that people mainly choose good actions because they lead to good results. If this is the case, why do we need police to maintain law and order?
  5. You question the author’s understanding of space-time. We live in the 4 dimensions of 3D space plus linear time. That’s the universe we all experience and observe. We could also add an extra (spiritual) dimension that is revealed in the Bible that includes God, angels and demons. So the author understands 5 dimensions of space-time, which is more than you identify! You only allude to “other dimensions”, but don’t say what they are.
  6. Your example about George Bush doesn’t address the author’s claim that, “objective moral values themselves are foreign to a universe without God. They do not fit”. Just because someone may believe in God doesn’t mean that they will always follow their God-given conscience. The Bible says that our conscience can be “seared as with a hot iron” or “corrupted” (1 Tim. 4:2; Ti. 1:15). These consciences are insensitive to sin; they do not work properly.
  7. Your example of “a completely racist society” is similar to the example of George Bush, it doesn’t address the author’s claim that, “objective moral values themselves are foreign to a universe without God. They do not fit”. It’s just an example of a seared or corrupted conscience. For example, slavery was accepted in society for many years until the slave trade was abolished by the efforts of Christians such as William Wilberforce (who responded to his guilty conscience when he realized that the slave trade was an abuse of the moral truth that all races are equal).
  8. You don’t believe that morality is transcultural and cite the existence of head-hunters and human sacrifices as an example. But this isn’t what the author stated, which was “there is a morality that is trans-personal, trans-cultural and trans-temporal”. He calls this objective moral truth. Is head hunting and human sacrifice still practiced? The answer is no. When it was it was a case of a seared or corrupted conscience (like Hitler). In this case the objective moral value is that it wrong to kill (murder) another person.

Of course, there are also subjective moral truths (a sense of right and wrong) that can differ according to person, culture and time. This means that all that is accepted and all that is prohibited will not be identical in all societies.

You say that human sacrifice was even sanctioned by God in Genesis 22, but you only quote half the story. After Abraham passed the test of obedience, God provided an animal sacrifice instead. So God never intended for Abraham to kill his son Isaac as an offering to God.

  1. You criticize Ganssle’s article because of its “dualistic perspective of the bible”. However, I don’t know in what sense you are using the idea of dualism:
    – Is it that our mind is more than just our brain? That it has a non-material, spiritual dimension that includes consciousness and that is eternal? Yes, that is what the Bible teaches.
    – Is it that there are two opposing forces of equal power called good (represented by God) and evil (represented by Satan)? This is false because God is omnipotent and Satan was created by God as an angel before he rebelled (Isa. 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:13-17).
    – Is it just opposite of the Buddhist idea that all phenomena inter-exist; nothing is separate? Unfortunately, I have not yet found a clear explanation of this Buddhist idea.

Commentator 19 October

As for god, god is nothing more than an idea like enlightenment both are the goal in one way or another. Christians wish to abide with god in their afterlife. And Buddhists seek to calm and abide in meditation and the all knowing truth that unites all beings. And yes one could use the word the “Devine” equally to both. Both are hard to explain and quite difficult to grasp. But nevertheless, they are both lofty but worthwhile ideals.

You said “Instead, I would say that the existence of God is the most logical explanation of the existence and complex nature of the universe, the existence and complex nature of life, and the existence of the human conscience (innate sense of right and wrong). So, there’s lots of other evidence available.” Is this already your Trump card? 😉 It is very well thought out and partly plausible. What is this evidence you have spoken of I would like to learn about it? Some would say that science is coming close to explaining the wonderful complexities of life.

“Creator – noun – a person or thing that brings something into existence”.
“James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming”
synonyms: writer, author, composer, designer, deviser, maker, inventor, producer, developer; More
used as a name for God.
noun: Creator; noun: the Creator
synonyms: God, the Lord, the Almighty, the Master of the Universe; one’s Maker
“the Sabbath is kept to honor the Creator”

“If” god is the creator and we are made in his image then we are creators as well his equals.

You have also mentioned god’s perfection in all he does. Ok so what about this. if we really were made in gods image Genesis 1:27 and yet we still are sinners, one can draw two conclusions 1. god who is perfect made a mistake or 2. god is also a sinner like us and therefore imperfect. When Christ came to fix or redeem us was god trying to fix his error? How can something so imperfect and sinful as man come from such perfection from a Christian perspective?

George’s reply 29 October

You say, “god is nothing more than an idea like enlightenment both are the goal in one way or another”. This is a poor summary of the God of the Bible. God is not only the end, but the beginning as well. He’s the source and ultimate cause of the universe. He also sustains the universe.

You doubt my statement that “Instead, I would say that the existence of God is the most logical explanation of the existence and complex nature of the universe, the existence and complex nature of life, and the existence of the human conscience (innate sense of right and wrong). So, there’s lots of other evidence available.” I will choose one part of this statement, the “complex nature of the universe”. There are two main ways to explain this observation.
Option 1:
– matter/energy came from nothing.
– matter/energy created the laws of the universe.
– The order and complexity of the universe came from an explosion of this matter/energy and the operation of these laws. This included producing life and producing the information stored in DNA codes.
Hypothetical “dark matter” and “dark energy” is proposed to explain the observed behaviour of the universe (otherwise it can’t be explained by the current laws of physics).
Option 2:
– An all-powerful God designed and created matter/energy, and the laws of the universe, and the order and complexity of the universe. This included producing life and producing the information stored in DNA codes.
Both options involve miracles. Ockham’s razor says that the simplest explanation is preferred because it involves fewer assumptions. Therefore, option 2 is preferred because it’s simpler.
A similar argument can be made for the origin of life, the origin of gender and the origin of morals (or conscience).

You ask, “Is the god of Abraham alive? Can you prove it to a 5 sigma level? Could you even prove it in a court of law?”. About 2000 BC, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a nation that would occupy Palestine. This was fulfilled about 1,000 years later during the reign of king Solomon (970-930BC). But they were driven from the land by 586BC because they were unfaithful. And Palestine was ruled by other nations up to AD 1947. In the time of Isaiah (about 700BC), God promised that after the exile the nation would be restored in Palestine. But there was no evidence of this being fulfilled until over 2,500 years after the exile. So, the history of the nation of Israel proves that “the God of Abraham is alive”. Two promises that He made were fulfilled, one after a period of about 1,000 years and the other after a period of over 2,500 years. I know of no other god or prophet doing something like this. By the way, we are dealing with history here, not statistics (5 sigma level).

You say, “’If’ god is the creator and we are made in his image then we are creators as well his equals”. Yes humans are creative, but we don’t have the same power as God. Can we create matter/energy (from nothing)? Can we create life from chemicals? God is in charge of the universe (Eph. 1:20-22), whereas we have much smaller responsibilities (Ps. 8:6-8). And we can’t even fulfil these (Heb. 2:8). So, we are not equal with God.

When you looked at why humanity is sinful you left out the biblical explanation that Adam and Eve were created with a free will to either obey or disobey God. They were initially sinless (like God), but after they disobeyed God, they became sinful and their descendants inherited this sinfulness. So God didn’t make a mistake and God isn’t a sinner. When Christ came to fix or redeem us God was trying to fix humanity’s error (not God’s error).

You ask, how a perfect God could have created sinful people. God desires the love of His creation. But love cannot exist apart from free-will, which implies the choice to obey (do good) or disobey (do evil). So He created people in such a way that they had the capacity to choose to love and accept Him or to choose to hate and reject Him. So God Himself did not create sin, He only created Adam and Eve with the capacity to sin. So God allowed Adam and Eve the freedom to rebel and in so doing, pain-and-suffering entered the world.

The answer is that God gave humans the freedom to make choices, they are not His robots (it could be one of the ways they are made in the image and likeness of God, Gen. 1:26-27). As God knew that people would rebel against Him, He also had a plan of salvation through Jesus. Adam and Eve were not sinners until they decided to disobey God. After this time in history the universe was and is not as it was originally created by God. That’s why it’s wrong to blame God for the state of the world today. Yes, God is perfect, but the world is no longer perfect (Rom. 8:20-22). But its perfection will be restored in a coming day. In the meantime, we can be a part of this new creation by being reconciled with God (2 Cor. 5:17-21). That’s why Paul urged people to “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). The message of the Bible is a marvellous exchange, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus took the penalty of our sin (rebellion), so that we could receive His righteousness (be made perfect before God).

Commentator 30 October

Now in response to your last message, how about option 3: The universe is conscious of itself and we are the result of it. How is this for simplicity?

How could god make christ if they were one and the same along with the holy spirit? This is illogical but typical for all your arguments.

George’s reply 10 November

You give a third way to explain the complex nature of the universe as “The universe is conscious of itself and we are the result of it. How is this for simplicity?”. It seems simple, but is it reasonable? Like option 1, it doesn’t explain the cause of the universe (the universe can’t create itself). According to the Cambridge dictionary, the adjective “conscious” means to be “awake, thinking, and knowing what is happening around you”. For example, “She’s out of the operating theatre, but she’s not fully conscious yet”. So, it’s usually applied to living creatures with a mind and nervous system. The Bible describes human beings as being comprised of spirit, soul and body (1 Th. 5:23). It is the spirit which distinguishes us from animals; they do not have such an eternal spirit. As the soul is comprised of the mind, will and emotions, it’s a characteristic of living creatures. To say the universe is conscious seems to be a contradiction to me. How can non-living matter, like rocks, sand, dust and dead things, be awake, thinking and knowing what is happening around it? How can it have a mind, will and emotions? I know that some people speculate about whether the universe is conscious. Whatever they mean, it’s nothing like the dictionary definition. Instead they are making up their own definition. But I would rather trust in something that is robust and reliable instead of speculative ideas.

Commentator 15 November

The next one is my favourite. “the universe cannot create itself” Finally we agree on something. This is not what I said, but since you did the same must also apply to god. How does she exist? She could not create herself either, could she?

George’s reply 19 November

You ask how can God exist if something can’t create itself. The answer to this question is that God is in a different category to everything else. God is eternal and so had no beginning.

You propose that the “universe” is equivalent to “God”. This seems like a version of pantheism to me. I can’t see how the universe can be personal, holy, righteous, just, benevolent, gracious, and merciful. God is everywhere, but He is not everything. The Bible forbids the worship of anything except God and calls it idolatry.

Commentator 20 November

Dear George if god is all-powerful and omniscient it seems very perverse that all beings have to suffer and wait in this hell that he created for us for millennia in order to experience his so-called benevolence, grace and mercy and his second chance to fix it. I really mean this, it is sick to torture untold billions of beings here in hell if you have the power to fix it now, this is not in any way shape or form mercy no matter what the bible says. The only two conclusions that are possible is that he is sick and perverse or he cannot fix this because he did not make it in the first place.

George’s reply 28 November

Once again you criticize God because of the suffering in the world. I have already answered this point in detail above. God often delays judgment so that more people will repent and turn to Him. God is both merciful and just. If there was instant judgement, there would be no mercy. Your ideas of what God is like are different to the reality described in the Bible.

Discussion with second commentator

George’s reply to second commentator 11 October

You  say, “there is no current scientific proof that God exists at all”. This is not surprising because science only deals with the physical world and not the spiritual world.

George’s reply to second commentator on 9 November

You say, “You cannot prove god”. Likewise, you cannot prove that God doesn’t exist. But we can see the evidence of God’s handiwork in the complexity and fine-tuning of nature, in the genetic language in the DNA code, in the uniformity of the laws of nature, as the ultimate source of life, as the ultimate source of gender, as the ultimate source of objective moral values, and as the ultimate source (cause) of the universe. There is no other more likely explanation of these characteristics of our world. So, it’s reasonable to believe that God exists.

For example, the ultimate cause of the universe can be explained as follows:
– Whatever begins to exist requires a cause.
– The universe (space, time, matter/energy) began to exist.
– Therefore, the universe requires a cause.
So, whatever caused the universe to appear is not physical (outside space), is eternal and timeless (outside time), and is immaterial (outside matter/energy). The cause is a supernatural (because it creates nature) mind (a non-material entity that can cause a response) with immense power. The Bible says, “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen” (Heb. 11:3).

Second commentator 10 November

George says: “You say, ‘You cannot prove god’. Likewise, you cannot prove that God doesn’t exist. But we can see the evidence of God’s handiwork in the complexity and fine-tuning of nature, in the genetic language in the DNA code, in the uniformity of the laws of nature, as the ultimate source of life, as the ultimate source of gender, as the ultimate source of objective moral values, and as the ultimate source (cause) of the universe. There is no other more likely explanation of these characteristics of our world. So, it’s reasonable to believe that God exists.”

Here you go again George. My statement is that “you cannot prove that god exists”. This is 100% true George. You cannot. Maybe someone else will be able to one day but YOU cannot. Your answer is an example of what I mentioned above. Just because Nature and DNA are complicated in no way does that mean that god must of created them. That is just your “opinion” George which differs greatly from fact. You can say that god is one of the possible explanations in the multitude of explanations that exist. There is no proof that god created anything and that is a fact!

George says: “For example, the ultimate cause of the universe can be explained as follows:
– Whatever begins to exist requires a cause.
– The universe (space, time, matter/energy) began to exist.
– Therefore, the universe requires a cause.
So, whatever caused the universe to appear is not physical (outside space), is eternal and timeless (outside time), and is immaterial (outside matter/energy). The cause is a supernatural (because it creates nature) mind (a non-material entity that can cause a response) with immense power.”

Your first statement is straight out of the Buddhas teaching “Whatever begins to exist requires a cause”. If you read the two books I mentioned above you will see that scientists question if “time” exists at all. “So, whatever caused the universe to appear is not physical (outside space)” Here you go again George making a statement as if it were fact when there is no facts backing it up. There is no proof that the universe had a beginning. The big bang is a theory George. I am sure when you are trying to argue that the world was created in 6 days that you use that very fact to support your argument. One of the possibilities is that the universe is infinite and has always and will always exist. Right now there are many theories of where the universe came from and if or how it began. I am sure that if you query most scientists, the world being created in 6 days will probably not be on the top of the list.

George’s reply 26 November

You say, “Just because Nature and DNA are complicated in no way does that mean that god must of created them. That is just your “opinion” George which differs greatly from fact. You can say that god is one of the possible explanations in the multitude of explanations that exist. There is no proof that god created anything and that is a fact!”

If there are other explanations of the cause of the complex information coded in the order of the nucleotides in the DNA molecule I would like to know one. It certainly can’t come from random processes or mutations. And it needs to be more intelligent than the human brain because we don’t understand how it works. Each nucleotide includes a particular nucleobase (adenine, thymine, guanine, or cytosine). Similar to how the order of letters in the alphabet can be used to form a word, the order of nucleotides in a DNA sequence forms genes, which in the language of the cell, tells cells how to make proteins. The human genome contains about 3 billion paired nucleotides. So each cell has 6 billion nucleotides.

Conclusion

God does not force us to believe in Him. Instead, He has provided sufficient proof of His existence for us to willingly respond to Him (Ps. 19:1-4; Rom. 1:20). There is plenty of evidence that God exists (Appendix A and B). This evidence is so strong that it’s more sense to believe in God than to believe He isn’t there. It takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe that God exists.

Appendix A: Arguments for the existence of God

The following summary of arguments for the existence of God comes from Tom Murphy.

Firstly, there are general arguments for the existence of God. These arguments don’t demonstrate that Christianity, specifically, is true. They show that belief in a supreme God and Creator is more rational for a person to believe than Atheism. These arguments include the following.

The Kalam cosmological argument

  1. All things that begin to exist have a cause of their existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: The Universe has a cause of its existence.

You might wonder, where is God in this? But when you unpack what this cause must have been like, it must be outside time and space, be immaterial, extremely powerful, and most likely be a personal being. And this is a lot like the God of the Bible.

The Leibnizian cosmological argument

  1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.

Conclusion 1: the universe has an explanation of its existence.
Conclusion 2: the explanation of the existence of the universe is God (from 2, and Conclusion 1).

The teleological (“Fine-Tuning”) cosmological argument

  1. The universe is finely tuned to make life physically possible.
  2. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  3. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

Conclusion: The fine tuning it is due to design. And the designer is lot like God.

These first three arguments reflect the thoughts of David in Psalm 19 and Paul’s words in Romans 1. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4).

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

The moral argument

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values (right and wrong) and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

Conclusion: God exists.

This helps us see God’s moral nature. God is the foundation of moral values. Paul reflects the basic premise of the moral argument in Romans 2 when he says that the Gentiles who didn’t have the law of Moses, “are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them” (Rom. 2:14-15). The moral law is clearly perceived by all people.

There is an important misconception that often gets attached to the moral argument; That a person can only do morally good things if they believe in God. The moral argument does not say that a person must believe in God to be able to do morally good deeds. Indeed the verse just quoted from Romans even says this. What the argument says is that if any act is truly good or bad, it is because God exists and is the foundation of moral goodness. A non-believer can still do good things.

The ontological argument

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

Conclusion: a maximally great being (God) exists.

Here, “maximally great being” means the best possible being (person) that could ever be described. This is the kind of being that has all the qualities that make a being great and excellent, and it has those qualities to the fullest possible extent. These would be qualities like moral goodness, power, knowledge, wisdom, and self-sufficiency. These are all the qualities typically associated with being God. The term “maximally great being” is used in the argument to avoid any misunderstandings that might occur because people often have their own assumptions or ideas about God based on past experiences. The term is used to avoid all that baggage people might attach to the word God.

This is a rather abstract argument to get your head around at first, but what it shows is that if it is even logically possible that God exists, then He exists necessarily, and it would be impossible that He doesn’t exist. In order to defeat this argument and show that God does not exist, the critic of the argument would have to show that it is logically impossible for God to exist – that there is not even the slightest possibility that He exists. The most controversial premise in this argument for philosophers who specialise in modal logic is premise 1. All the other premises (2-5) are just conclusions drawn from premise 1 and the rules of modal logic.

These arguments give a very strong cumulative case for the existence of God. Something that you might notice about these arguments is that there are premises in all of them that some people might not accept; either because they don’t want to accept the conclusion of the argument, or because they haven’t really heard or considered any evidence that might make them accept the premises. What we would do when sharing these arguments with people is also share the evidence that makes us believe the premises in them are true; and therefore, that the argument is true.

Appendix B:  6 Arguments for God’s existence

  1. The universe must have a cause. It was caused by a supernatural Creator.
  2. Design demands a designer. The universe looks designed. It demands a supernatural intelligent Designer.
  3. Life demands supernatural life-giver. Life doesn’t arrive from non-lifegiving chemicals.
  4. Moral law demands a moral law-giver.
  5. Free-will exists.
  6. Human reasoning.

Written, September 2019

Also see:
How can we know that God exists?
Evidence for God’s existence
Is faith blind?


Search for the real Jesus

“Believers revere Him as the Son of God. Skeptics dismiss Him as a legend. Artists cast Him in images that reflect their own time and place. Today, archaeologists digging in the Holy Land are helping to sift fact from fiction”. That’s the introduction to an article in National Geographic magazine (December 2017) by Kristin Romey on what archaeology reveals about the life of Jesus. Romey hoped to discover how Christians texts and traditions compare to the discoveries of archaeologists.

Could Jesus have never existed?

Is it possible that the story of Jesus is pure invention and He never really existed? Although this is the view of some outspoken skeptics, it’s not that of scholars such as archaeologists. Professor Eric Meyers of Duke University says, “I don’t know any mainstream scholar who doubts the historicity of Jesus. The details have been debated for centuries, but no one who is serious doubts that he’s a historical figure”. And professor Bryon McCane of Atlantic University says, “I can think of no other example who fits into their time and place so well but people say doesn’t exist”. Even scholars who disbelieve Christ’s miraculous deeds believe that Jesus did certain things in Galilee and he did certain things in Jerusalem that resulted in his execution.

The evidence that Jesus existed is conclusive. Ancient Roman and Jewish extra-biblical literature confirm that there is a historical basis for the existence of Jesus outside the Bible and outside early church history. These independent extra-biblical sources are consistent with the biography of Jesus given in the gospels of the Bible.

Historians and archaeologists agree that Jesus existed, but not all of them believe Jesus was the Son of God who died and rose from the dead. New Testament historians  talk about the quest or search for the historical Jesus, which seeks to answer the question, how much of the New Testament  portrait of Jesus is historically accurate and how much (if any) did the early church make up?

Jesus in Bethlehem

Excavations at Bethlehem have so far turned up no artefacts dating to the time of Christ, nor any signs that early Christians considered the site sacred. Archaeology cannot prove or disprove that two people visited Bethlehem and gave birth to a child. But absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. It’s rare to have any archaeological proof of a person who lived about 2,000 years ago.

Romey claims that Matthew and Luke provide diverging accounts of Christ’ birth with the manger and shepherds in Luke and the wise men, the massacre of children and flight to Egypt in Matthew. But this is very poor exegesis. Luke describes the birth, while Matthew describes how the birth came about (Mt. 1:18-25), the visit of the wise men (2:1-12), the escape to Egypt (2:13-18), and the return to Nazareth (2:19-23). The wise men didn’t visit Jesus on the night He was born, but some 1-2 years later when Jesus was a child in His house, and not a baby in a manger (2:11). And Herod ordered for the boys in Jerusalem who were “two years old and under” to be killed, not babies (2:16). This suggests that more than a year elapsed from Jesus’ birth to the wise men’s visit. Since Herod the Great died in 4BC, Jesus may have been born 6-5BC. Herod’s slaughter of babies is consistent with his executing his wife Mariamne I and three of his sons for perceived threats to his kingdom. So those like Romey who claim that Matthew and Luke are divergent accounts of Christ’s birth haven’t read the text very carefully.

Jesus in Galilee

In the first century AD Palestine was ruled by the Roman Empire. Jesus’ boyhood home, Nazareth,was just 5 km (3 miles) from Sepphoris, the Roman provincial capital. When archaeologists explored the ruins of the residential quarter of Sepphoris they found at least 30 mikvahs (Jewish ritual baths). This is the largest domestic concentration ever found by archaeologists. “Along with ceremonial stone vessels and a striking absence of pig bones (pork being shunned by kosher-keeping Jews), they offer clear evidence that even this imperial Roman city remained a very Jewish place during Jesus’ formative years”. This is consistent with the Bible which shows Jesus to be a practicing Jew.

Jesus began His ministry at Capernaum, a fishing town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (a freshwater lake). Here archaeologists have found the remains of a first-century house that was rapidly transformed into a public meeting place. It looks like a gathering place of the early church, which was later expanded into a larger house of worship.

In 1986 the remains of a wooden boat (the Jesus boat) that dates from the first century were found in the Sea of Galilee. Measuring 2.3 m (7.5 ft) wide and 8 m (27 ft) long, it could have accommodated 13 men. This is consistent with the Biblical accounts of the disciples fishing from a boat and sailing across the Sea of Galilee.

At the site of ancient Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists have excavated the ruins of a synagogue from the times of Jesus.  This is consistent with the Bible which shows Jesus to be a practicing Jew. “The find was especially significant because it put to rest an argument made by skeptics that no synagogues existed in Galilee until decades after Jesus’ death”. “At the center of the room there was a stone (the Magdala stone) about the size of a footlocker that showed the most sacred elements of the temple in Jerusalem carved in relief. This discovery struck a death blow to the once fashionable notion that Galileans were impious hillbillies detached from Israel’s religious center”.

“Accounts of large crowds coming to Jesus for healing are consistent with what archaeology reveals about first-century Palestine, where diseases such as leprosy and tuberculous were rife”. For example, it was found that about 70% of graves in Roman Palestine held the remains of children and adolescents. So there was a high rate of infant and child mortality at this time.

Jesus in Jerusalem

Many archaeological discoveries have been made at Jerusalem that support the Biblical account of the life of Jesus. These include:
– The site of the Pool of Bethesda and the Pool of Siloam.
– An ornate burial ossuary (bone box) that may contain the bones of Caiaphas the Jewish high priest.
– A heel bone driven through with an iron crucifixion nail found in the burial of a Jewish man named Yehohanan.

Also, an inscription was found in Caesarea attesting to the rule of Pontius Pilate (the Pilate stone).

What did Jesus look like?

Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. Since Roman-era frescos, artists have drawn and painted images of Jesus which tend to reflect the era when they were created. When Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane before the crucifixion, Judas Iscariot had to show the soldiers who Jesus was because they could not tell him apart from his disciples (Mt. 26:48-49; Mk. 14:44-45). Richard Neave, a medical artist retired from The University of Manchester in England, specializes in recreating images of historical figures. In 2015 he used three skulls from the time of Jesus to create an image of a typical adult man who lived in the same place and at the same time as Jesus. This image had dark olive skin, short curly hair, a prominent nose, dark eyes, a beard  and was about 1.55 m (5ft 1in) tall and weighed about 50 kg (110 pounds). Neave’s image is probably a lot closer to the truth than the portrayal of Jesus by the artists.

Lessons for us

The National Geographic article confirms that archaeological discoveries in Palestine are consistent with the New Testament and do not contradict it.

But the best place to search for the real Jesus is in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts give the best historical accounts and selective biographies of the life of Jesus Christ. As these were written within a few decades of the events they recount, they are more accurate than opinions formed by commentators about 2,000 years later.

So, read the New Testament to find out what Jesus did and taught and how His ministry impacted people across the Roman Empire in the first century. Since then, His ministry has impacted people across the world.

Reference

Romey K (2017) “The search for the real Jesus”, National Geographic, 323, 6 (Dec 2017), 30-69

Written, February 2019

Also see: Extra-biblical evidence of Jesus


Jesus is like royalty

Duchess of Sussex 2 400pxWhen Megan Markle married Prince Harry, she was given the royal title (Her Royal Highness) the Duchess of Sussex. Did you know that Jesus Christ is given royal titles in the Bible like “Lord”, “King”, “Lord of lords” and “King of kings”?

In the New Testament, the Greek noun kurios (Strongs #2962) is translated “Lord” when it is used for deity. It is a title of God the Father (Mt. 1:20; 9:38; 11:25; Acts 17:24; Rev. 4:11) and of Jesus Christ (Lk. 2:11; Jn. 20:28; Acts 10:36; 1 Cor. 2:8; Phil. 2:11; Jas. 2:1; Rev. 19:16). And in some instances, it is uncertain as to whether God Father or God the Son is meant (Acts 9:31; 13:10-12; 20:19). Likewise, in the Bible, the title “Lord of lords” is given to God the Father (Dt. 10:17; Ps. 136:3; 1 Ti. 6:15) and to Jesus Christ (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). It refers to someone who has absolute dominion over all their realm. A supreme ruler.

A lord is a master, or ruler who has authority, control, or power over others. They are an important person like, a boss, a chief or an owner. After the resurrection, when the apostles said “Jesus is Lord”, they meant “Jesus is God”. Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28). Peter said Jesus was “both Lord and Messiah” and “Lord of all” (Acts 2:36; 10:36).

The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus as the “king of the Jews” (Mt. 27:27-31). They didn’t realize that as the Creator, Sustainer and Savior, He was the King of the earth and the King of the universe. But are we any better? What’s our opinion of Jesus?

Today believers have the privilege of voluntarily acknowledging that Jesus is Lord. They praise and worship God individually and corporately for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ. In particular, through Christ’s sacrificial death we can have our sins forgiven by God. There is no other way to heaven and peace with God.

But in the future, everyone else will be compelled to “acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11NIV). It’s much better to avoid this by accepting the good news now and believing that Jesus died for your sins and recognizing Him as Lord of your life.

The statement “Jesus is Lord” means that Jesus is God. Like God the Father, He owns everything. If Jesus is Lord, then He owns us; and He has the right to tell us what to do. Are we obedient to the commands given in the Bible to His church?

Reference
Erickson M J (2013) “Christian Theology”, 3rd Ed. Baker Academic, p. 631

Written, July 2018


As the Bible says

world cup 4 400pxThe World Cup is being played in Russia under the FIFA Regulations and the International Football Association’s laws of the game. Disobeying the laws can result in a yellow card or a red card. So far there have been three red cards in the 2018 World Cup. The Bible contains God’s laws for humanity. It tells us about our world and shows us the best way to live. And it tells us what God has done for us.

Paul summarized the good news in the Bible about Jesus as:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for (because of) our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4NIV). He says that Christ’s death, burial and resurrection occurred in the way they were foretold in the Old Testament. Likewise, we will see that believers are to follow the New Testament.

Christ’s death

In Isaiah 52:12 – 53:12 the prophet Isaiah describes a righteous suffering servant who will bear people’s sins so they can be spiritually healed. It’s clear that the servant will die:
“By oppression and judgment he was taken away (an unjust death).
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living (a death before reaching old age);
for the transgression of my people he was punished …
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isa. 53:8, 9b).
It will be an unjust death administered as punishment for an alleged crime.

The reason for his death is given as:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed (spiritually).
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6).
The servant dies so that people can receive spiritual healing and peace because he takes the punishment for their sins, iniquities and transgressions.

These predictions were fulfilled when Jesus was crucified. His alleged crimes were blaspheme (Mt. 26:65), subversion and opposing Caesar (Lk. 23:2). Clearly, Jesus died for (because of) our sins. And His death was confirmed by His burial.

Christ’s burial

The servant’s burial is described as:
“He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death” (Isa. 53:9a).

These predictions were fulfilled when Jesus was crucified together with two criminals. And He was buried in a new tomb by Joseph, “a rich man from Arimathea” (Mt. 27:57). The Jewish religious leaders planned to have Him buried as a criminal, but God over-ruled and He was buried in a tomb prepared by “a prominent member of the Council (the Jewish Sanhedrin)” (Mk. 15:43).

In our experience death is terminal and permanent. But the Bible says that Christ’s death was temporary. It was interrupted by His resurrection, which is the reversal of death.

Christ’s resurrection

In a song expressing his trust in God for safety when he faced death, David said:
“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay” (Ps. 16:9-10).
Peter explained that David was referring to the resurrection of Jesus:
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven …” (Acts 2:29-34).

Jesus also said that Jonah’s three days in the belly of a huge fish was sign that He would be in the grave for three days (Mt. 12:40). So Jonah’s near-death experience symbolized Christ’s death and resurrection, including the time frame involved.

These predictions were fulfilled when Jesus was raised back to life. Paul says that people could verify this with eyewitnesses because Jesus appeared to the apostles and to more than 500 people at the same time (1 Cor. 15:5-6).

According to Jesus

Jesus also said that His life was a fulfilment of the Old Testament. He told the Jewish leaders, “These are the very Scriptures (the Old Testament) that testify about me” (Jn. 5:39). Before His death He told the disciples, “It is written (in the Old Testament): ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me (in the Old Testament) is reaching its fulfillment” (Lk. 22:37). This is a quotation from Isaiah 53:12.

And after His resurrection He told the two on the way to Emmaus, ‘”How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures (the Old Testament) concerning Himself’ (Lk. 24:25-27).

And He told the disciples, ‘”This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written (in the Old Testament): The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Lk. 24:44-48). In this passage, “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” means all the old Testament as Psalms was the first book in the writings category of the Jewish Scriptures.

Discussion

There are three aspects to the good news about Jesus: the death of Christ for our sins, His burial that confirms His death, and His resurrection that shows His victory over death and that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice for sin. We have seen that each of these happened as the Old Testament predicted. The phrase “according to the Scriptures” occurs twice in this short passage, indicating the importance of these Old Testament prophecies (1 Cor. 15:3-4). They are mentioned before the eyewitnesses (v.5-7). So what the Bible says is more important than what someone else says.

The Old Testament prophecies are also important because they show that Christ’s work for us was planned long ago. Likewise, God’s plan for us was recorded in the New Testament many years ago. Because we are under the new covenant instead of the law of Moses, the Scriptures that we are to follow are those written to the church (Acts to Revelation).

The other instance of “according to the Scriptures” in the Bible is, ‘If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well’ (Jas. 2:8ESV). This is the fourth reason that James gives for condemning favoritism.  If we really loved our neighbors as ourselves, we would treat them as we want to be treated. We learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbor is anyone who has a need which we can help to meet (Lk. 10:29-37). And this is “according to the Scripture” because it’s a quotation from Leviticus 19:18.

Lessons for us

What the Bible says is more important than the laws of football. Jesus lived, died, was buried and rose again “according to the Scriptures” or as the Bible predicted. What about us? Do we live as the Bible (God) says we should? Do we believe Jesus Christ is who the Bible says He is? Do we trust and rely on Him for our salvation? Do we recognize our sinfulness and separation from God? Have we confessed our sinfulness to God? Are we living for God or just for ourselves?

Written, June 2018


Who and how to worship

Domitian 3 400pxThe book of Revelation was written during a time when emperor-worship unified the Roman Empire. The emperor was viewed as a divine figure, to whom temples, altars and priesthoods were dedicated. Emperors were worshipped, honored, respected and served at any cost. Because he rejected emperor worship, John was banished to the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9-11). From Patmos John urged first century Christians to worship the true God and not the emperor, and he recorded this message in the book of Revelation.

The Greek verb to worship, proskuneo (Strongs #4352), occurs 60 times in the New Testament and 24 (40%) of these are in the book of Revelation. It’s the main book about worship in the New Testament. In this way, the book of Revelation is like the book of Psalms, which is the main book about worship in the Old Testament. In Revelation, worship describes homage or reverence towards God, or a person or an idol or an angel. This shows that if we don’t worship God, then we will worship someone else or something else. Who will we worship? The true God or Satan who is the power behind all false gods? This is important because it determines our eternal destiny.

The book of Revelation is framed with worship – it’s in the first and last chapters. After John sees a vision of the glorified Christ, he “fell at His feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17NIV). This was an act of worship. After the final vison, John “fell down at the feet of the angel who had been showing” the visions to him (22:8). But the angel tells him to “Worship God” instead (22:9).

In Revelation, worshippers serve (7:15; 22:3), praise (19:5), and offer thanks (4:9; 7:12; 11:17). And they fall down (in worship) before God (4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4) and Christ (1:17; 5:8, 14).

The book of Revelation shows us who to worship and who not to worship.

Don’t worship angels

Angels are messengers from God. On two occasions when John received visions, he bowed down to the angel associated with them (19:10; 22:8). But he was told not to worship the angel. Jesus is superior to angels (Heb. 1-14). And Christians at Colossae were warned not to worship angels (Col. 2:18). So, don’t worship angels.

It is evident in the book of Revelation that there is a cosmic battle for our allegiance and worship. The true God and the victorious Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) continually reign and are being worshipped behind the scenes by angels and the redeemed in heaven, even during times when Satan seems to have his greatest impact. But Satan deceives the world into worshipping false gods and idols (12;9; 13:2-4; 20:2-3). 46% of the instances of The Greek verb to worship proskuneo in the book of Revelation refer to false forms of worship. In the end, Satan and his followers will be judged and cast into eternal punishment (20:1-4, 15). So, don’t worship Satan, who is an angel who rebelled against God.

Don’t worship heroes

Revelation describes political and religious leaders that oppose God’s people and God’s purposes (13:1-18). They are called beasts. And they deceive many people into worshipping them (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 19:20; 20:4). Paul also warned about worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). We are not to worship saints, prophets, political leaders, religious leaders, or Mary, the mother of Jesus. So, don’t worship human heroes, no matter how great they are.

Don’t worship idols

An idol is anything we worship instead of the true God. Anything we want more than God. Anything we rely on more than God. Anything we give a higher priority than God. And anything we look to for greater fulfillment than God. In Revelation idols are described as “the work of their hands” and “idols that cannot see or hear or walk” (9:20). In those days it referred to images and statues, which people were urged to worship. It was like when some of the Jews (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) told the king of Babylonia, “we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up“ (Dan. 3:18).

Idolatry also refers to false gods such as materialism, naturalism, wealth, power, selfish ambition, self-indulgence, self-esteem (pride), recreation, and pleasure. And Paul said that it includes, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (Col. 3:5). Idols can also be “good” things that we’ve elevated in importance. For example, our children, spouse, physical attractiveness, money, job, or friendships. And technology.

Revelation also says that worshipping idols is equivalent to worshipping demons (9:20). This means that Satan is the influence behind idolatry. So, don’t worship idols. Instead let’s turn away from idols “to serve the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:9).

So the book of Revelation says not to worship angels, Satan, heroes or idols. These are false (counterfeit) gods. But what does it say about worshipping the true God?

Worship the true God

In Revelation we learn about what worship is like in heaven. It’s mostly corporate (the redeemed and angels), not individual. Vast numbers of people and angels worship God together (5:11-12; 19:1, 6). And it’s God-centered – directed to God and Jesus Christ. Here’s three examples of this worship.

First, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (4:11). So, let’s praise and worship our God as the great Creator.

Second, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (5:9-10).

And at this time the angels said, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (5:12)!

So, let’s praise and worship Jesus as the great Redeemer/Saviour/Rescuer. His death and resurrection enabled people from around the world to have their sins forgiven so they could be reconciled with God. This is the greatest example of unconditional love.

Third, “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (15:3-4).

The context of this passage is God’s judgement of the ungodly. So, let’s praise and worship God as Judge of all. He is pure, holy and just. He’s the one who will right all the wrongs. He judges rebels and rewards His servants. And He is to be praised for His righteous judgements.

The book of Revelation is full of corporate praise and worship like, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory” (19:6-7)! And, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever” (5:13)!

The redeemed will worship God throughout eternity. They “are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple” (7:14). And they will worship and serve God forever (22:1-5).

Summary

People were made to worship. Bob Dylan sang, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody”. We worship either the true God or we worship a counterfeit. So, let’s worship the true God and not false gods. Let’s worship Him based on the patterns of heavenly worship depicted in Revelation. He’s the great creator, the great redeemer and the great judge.

Written, December 2017


Evidence for God’s Existence

I have been asked to provide evidence of the existence of God. While researching this topic, I discovered the following article by Dr Gregory E. Ganssle of the Department of Philosophy at Yale University.

Does God exist 400pxYou Cannot Prove God’s Existence

Ever since Immanuel Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason, it has been common for thinking people to insist that it is impossible to prove the existence of God. In fact this claim has been elevated to the level of dogma in American intellectual culture. The reason I know this is considered unquestionable dogma is the reaction I get when I call it into question. When someone says “You cannot prove the existence of God”. I want to ask “How do you know? You just met me! How do you know what I can do?”

What do most people mean when they recite this claim? Most people mean that I cannot provide a philosophical argument for the existence of God which will convince all thinking people. It is impossible, so the story goes, to provide an argument which will compel assent. If my argument will not convince the most ardent atheist, I have not proven God’s existence. Since I cannot convince such an atheist to believe, my arguments do not count as proof. If they do not count as proof, what good are they?

I agree that I cannot provide an argument that will convince all thinking people. But what does this tell me? Does this tell me anything about God? No. This tells me more about the nature of proof than it does about whether God exists. I cannot provide an argument which will convince everyone, without a possibility of doubt, that God exists. That is no problem. You see, I cannot provide an argument for any interesting philosophical conclusion which will be accepted by everyone without possibility of doubt.

I cannot prove beyond the possibility of doubt — in a way that will convince all philosophers that the Rocky Mountains are really here as a mind-independent object. I cannot prove that the entire universe did not pop into existence five minutes ago and that all of our apparent memories are not illusions. I cannot prove that the other people you see on campus have minds. Perhaps they are very clever robots.

There is no interesting philosophical conclusion that can be proven beyond the possibility of doubt. So the fact that arguments for the existence of God do not produce mathematical certainty does not by itself weaken the case for God’s existence. It simply places the question of God’s existence in the same category as other questions such as that of the existence of the external, mind-independent world and the question of how we know other people have minds.

Does this mean that arguments for the existence of God are useless? Not at all. Sure, I cannot provide an argument which will convince all thinking people but this does not mean I don’t have good reason to believe in God. In fact some of my reasons for believing in God may be persuasive to you. Even if you aren’t persuaded to believe that God exists, my arguments may not be useless. It is reasonable to believe that the mountains are real and our memories are generally reliable and that other minds exist. It is reasonable to believe these things even though they cannot be proven. Maybe some argument for God’s existence will persuade you that belief in God is reasonable.

So how can we know that God exists? Instead of looking for undoubtable conclusions, we weigh evidence and consider alternatives. Which alternative best fits the evidence? We will choose one alternative or another. There is no neutral ground.

Where Can we Find Information about God?

When you get to thinking about it, it seems that there are only two basic sources of information about God, if such a being exists. They are the following:

We can infer what might be true about God from what we observe in the universe. We look at the physical universe, human nature and culture and we observe things which may be clues to the existence or nature of the supernatural. God may have entered the Universe and told us true things about himself, morality, meaning and how to have a relationship with him. This is called Revelation.

Let me explain each of these. One year my wife and I drove from Los Angeles to Rhode Island. It took a long time. The country is pretty big. From this observation it makes sense to think that if there is some person or being who is responsible for making the physical universe, this being has a lot more power than we do. Now this is a rather simplistic example. Another observation we can make is that every culture we know anything about has a deep sense that certain things are morally permissible and certain things are morally prohibited. This leads us to infer that if there is some supernatural being responsible for human nature, that being is personal. He has a moral aspect to his nature.

The second source of information is that God may have taken the initiative and stepped into the universe to reveal himself. He may tell us true things about his nature and purposes and about human meaning and morality.

Christianity holds that both of these are good sources of information. We have clues to God’s existence which can be observed and God has entered the physical universe through the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth in History and told us about himself.

Now in this article I am concentrating on the first source. Can we know anything about God from what we observe? Are there good reasons to believe in God based on these observations? I think there are.

Reasons to Believe in God

I want to pick up two observations which I think give us good reason to think there is a God. First, the existence of the universe is better explained by the existence of God. Second, the existence of objective moral values is better explained by the existence of God.

The Existence of the Universe is Better Explained by The Existence of God.
I will begin by laying out the argument:

1. There are things which come into existence.
Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else. There cannot be an infinite series of past causes. Therefore, there exists a first cause which did not come into existence. In other words, the first cause always existed. Let us look at each of the steps in the argument:

Premise 1. “There are things which come into existence.”
Many things have come into existence. This article is coming into existence as I write it. You came into existence and so did I. This premise is not uncontroversial.

Premise 2. “Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.”
It is obvious that Nothing can cause itself to come into existence. Anything that causes itself to come into existence has to exist before it exists. This is impossible. Perhaps something can come into existence from Nothing without any cause whatsoever. Can a thing just pop into existence with absolutely no cause? This also does not seem reasonable.
I have three children. If I walk into the dining room and see a picture of Pinky and the Brain which is drawn on the wall in Permanent Magic Marker I will ask “Where did this picture come from?” My daughter Elizabeth (who is almost five) might say “It came from nothing, Dad. Nothing caused it. It just popped there. I think it is quite strange — don’t you?” Will I accept this? No! Things do not come into existence from Nothing without cause. So, we have good reason to think that premise two is true. Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.

Premise 3. “There cannot be an infinite series of past causes.”
Is the series of past causes infinite? Can the universe have an infinite past? The answer is that it cannot. First, there are philosophical reasons to think the past cannot be infinite. Second, there are scientific reasons which support this view.

Philosophical Reasons

Why can’t the past be infinite? The answer is that it is impossible to complete an infinite series by addition. The series of past events is complete. Think of this mathematical fact. Why is it impossible to count to infinity? It is impossible because, no matter how long you count, you will always be at a finite number. It is impossible to complete an actual infinite by successive addition.

The past is complete. This claim means that the entire series of past events ends now. It ends today. Tomorrow is not part of the series of past events. The series of past events does not extend into the future. It is complete at the present. If it is impossible to complete an infinite series by successive addition (as it is impossible to count to infinity) the past cannot be infinite. If the past is finite, that is, if it had a beginning, then the universe had a beginning. We have strong philosophical reason to reject the claim that the universe has always existed.

Scientific Reasons
I will not develop these. Rather, I will simply point them out.

Big Bang theory does not prove that the universe had a beginning, but it supports this claim.
The second law of thermodynamics does not prove that the universe had a beginning but it also supports this claim.
We can see that we have good philosophical and Scientific reasons to reject the idea that the Universe has always existed.

About the Universe, there are only three alternatives:
1. The universe has always existed. It has an infinite past.
2. The universe was popped into existence from nothing with absolutely no cause.
3. The universe was caused to exist by something outside it.

We have strong reason to reject the first two alternatives.

Alternative Three is the most reasonable. There was a first cause. This cause existed eternally. It initiated the big bang and created the universe. Now what can we know about this cause? Why think the cause is God? I will briefly sketch a few implications.

First, the first cause is not a part of the space-time physical universe because it caused the space time universe to begin. Therefore it is outside of space and time. It is not physical. Second, it has a great deal of power. Third, it is a personal agent. This means it is not an inert force but it must have aspects of person hood; namely, that it wills. How do we know this? This is because it is the best answer to the question of why the Big Bang happened when it did. Why not sooner? Why not later? All of the conditions for producing the Big Bang existed from eternity. The only kind of cause we know of that can initiate an effect when all of the conditions are already present is the will of a personal agent.

I have not argued that it is logically impossible that the universe popped into existence from nothing without cause. I have argued that it is more reasonable to hold that it has a cause and that this cause is a non-physical personal agent — God.

So it seems that the first argument is fairly strong. The existence of the universe is better explained by the existence of God.

The Existence of Objective Moral Values is Better Explained by the Existence of God.
People experience a sense of morality that leads them to hold strongly that certain things are right or wrong for all people in all cultures. For example, it is wrong to torture another person just for fun. It is wrong for me today. It is wrong for a citizen of the Philippines and it was wrong for someone living in 500 BC. Our moral sense provides strong reason to believe in a personal God.

It will help clarify what I am saying if we put it into the form of an argument.

If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.
There are moral values which are objective.
Therefore, God exists.

Before I discuss this argument, I must make it clear that I am not claiming that one must believe in God in order to be moral. I am not claiming that statistically those who believe in God are more moral than those who do not. I am also not claiming that our knowledge of morality depends upon God. This argument is to the effect that objective moral values themselves are foreign to a universe without God. They do not fit.

Defending Premise 1. “If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.”
I have to admit that this claim is quite controversial and many philosophers disagree with me. I think, however, that objective moral values are not sufficiently explained in a universe without God. Many have agreed with this claim. For example, Dostoevski had Ivan Karamazov claim, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” Sartre wrote of Dostoevski’s statement, “That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to” [see his essay Existentialism]. John Mackie — probably the best philosophical atheist of the twentieth century recognizes this: “[Objective moral values] constitute so odd a cluster of qualities and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful god to create them. If, then, there are such intrinsically prescriptive objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them [The Miracle of Theism, pp 115-116].

Mackie recognizes that these objective values do not fit in the universe if there is no God. His answer, since he rejects God, is to claim that there are no objective moral values. His book on ethics is appropriately titled Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. I agree with Dostoevski, Sartre and Mackie. If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.

Defending Premise 2. “There are objective moral values.”
We know there are objective moral values. By this I mean that the content of morality is not determined by the individual, or by culture. Rather some things are objectively wrong. Other things are objectively obligatory. Actions such as rape, racist discrimination and torturing an innocent baby to death for no reason are really wrong. Furthermore, It is wrong for me to do these no matter when I live and no matter from what culture I come.

Now many people believe that morality is not objective. This view comes in three basic varieties.

1. The individual determines morality.
If the individual determines morality, then if I believe it is morally permissible to steal your stereo and beat up your girlfriend, it is permissible for me to do it. But it is not permissible for me to beat up your girlfriend. Therefore, the individual does not determine morality.

2. Society determines morality.
If I lived in a completely racist society, would racism be right for me? Not at all. When an American university student protests against South Africa’s policy of apartheid, he is assuming that morality is not determined by society. It is transcendent of cultures. All of our greatest heroes have been men and women who have stood up to society’s wrongs and appealed to a morality that is transcendent to society in order to demand change. If society determines morality, it is always morally wrong to criticize society. There is no morality outside of society which can form the basis of a moral critique.

3. Morality has survival value.
Some people claim that the reason we have this moral sense is that it helped the human race survive. Those individuals with moral sense grouped together for mutual protection and these did better than those without the moral sense. This is a kind of prehistoric social contract theory of morality. The problem with this is that we do not need morality to survive today. In fact, if you and I know that morality has no objective validity and the rest of our culture still thinks it is valid, we can take advantage of this to get the most we can. There is no moral reason to refrain from rape, robbery and murder.

These inadequate objections show that our sense is that there is a morality that is trans-personal, trans-cultural and trans-temporal The existence of a personal God is the best explanation for this. It is not up to the individual or the culture whether it is permissible to rape simply for fun. Any individual who believes it is morally permissible to rape for fun has a false belief. Any culture whose moral guidelines include the claim that it is permissible to rape for fun has simply got it wrong.

If it is true that Hitler was morally wrong, it is true that there are objective moral truths which are trans-cultural. If it is true that it was wrong for Romans to leave baby girls to die on the trash heaps — simply because they were girls, then morality is not determined by culture. If it is true that Martin Luther King was a moral hero because he criticized his own culture by appealing to objective morality, then it is true that morality is not determined by culture.

Now, It is true that Hitler was wrong. It is true that the Romans were wrong. It is true that Martin Luther King was right — heroically right. So, we know there are objective moral truths. But objective morality makes no sense in the Universe if there is no God. Objective moral values point to the existence of a moral being who created the universe. His moral character is the standard for objective right and wrong.

Summary

I have briefly presented two arguments for the existence of God. These show that it is more reasonable to believe that God exists than that He does not exist.

A. The Existence of the Universe is Better Explained by The Existence of God.
B. The Existence of Objective Moral Values is Better Explained by the Existence of God.

So we see that some of the things we observe about the natural world ground a strong inference to the claim that God does exist. This gives us reason to consider with renewed openness the possibility that God has entered the space-time universe and revealed Himself through the person and life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

I have not claimed to prove with mathematical certainty that God exists. I have, however, provided good reasons to think that He does. If someone wishes to argue successfully that God does not exist, they must first, provide an answer for each of these arguments and second, they must offer arguments that God does not exist. Until they do this, we can conclude that we have good reason to claim that God does exist.

This article was written by Dr Gregory E. Ganssle of the Department of Philosophy at Yale University.

Posted, November 2017


Does God have a sense of humor?

According to the Macquarie dictionary a sense of humor is appreciating what’s amusing, funny or comical. A joke is an amusing or ridiculous circumstance. Laughter is usually normal and healthy, but there are times when it is not. For example, it can mask and trivialize sin (Jas. 4:9).

Of all God’s creatures, human beings alone possess a sense of humor. As they are also made in the image and likeness of God, I suggest that God is capable of humor as well (Gen. 1:26). But of course God doesn’t share all our attributes (such as sinfulness).

Solomon said that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4NIV). For example, we laugh at the things that children do. I wonder whether God (as our Father) laughs at some of the things that we do?

Creation

laughing_kookaburra 1 400pxGod created some funny creatures. For example, the distinctive call of the laughing kookaburra. And it looks like God was having fun when he designed the Australian platypus and bilby. The first English scientists to see a specimen of a duck-billed platypus thought it was a hoax because it had a bill and webbed feet like a duck, which is a bird. They thought the bill of a duck had been attached to the body of an otter, beaver or mole! The bilby is called a “rabbit-eared bandicoot” because it has ears like a rabbit. And its back legs look like those of a kangaroo, but it gallops like a horse!

Recently I went to the zoo with a grandson. We saw lots of God’s creatures. I’m sure God had fun designing all the animals in the web of life. From bacteria to whales. Will they walk, fly or swim? Adding a long neck or stripes. Which would be companions, predators and prey? They are so diverse, but integrated.

Funny incidents in the Bible

platypus 1 400pxThere are some funny incidents in the Bible. As “all-Scripture is God-breathed”, it means that God has caused these to be recorded (2 Tim. 3:16). At Babel the builders constructed a tower “that reaches to the heavens”. Ironically God had to “come down” to see the tower they were building (Gen. 11:4-5)! So it wasn’t very high according to God! Such delusions of grandeur would have made God laugh.

Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachael. She was veiled during the wedding and unrecognized in the darkness of the wedding night and the Bible says, “When morning came, there was Leah!” (Gen. 29:25). What a surprise! Did Jacob drink too much wine at the wedding?

God used a talking donkey to warn and rebuke Balaam for planning to curse Israel (Num. 22:21-35)! And he used a fish to get Jonah to Nineveh!

When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant they added it to their gods by placing it in the temple beside the god Dagon. But next day Dagon was flat on the ground before the ark. So they put Dagon upright once again. But the following day the idol was flat on the ground once again with his head and hands broken off (1 Sam. 5:1-5)! It was obvious who was the stronger God.

When Saul was pursuing David, he went into a cave to relieve himself. It happened that David and his followers were also in the cave and David crept up and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Sam. 24:1-4). Saul looked ridiculously vulnerable!

After being told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathaniel says “Can anything good come from there?”. Then Jesus says that Nathaniel was without deceit! And accepts him as a disciple!

The disciples took a metaphor literally. When Jesus said to them, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”, they said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread” (Mt. 16:5-12)! They were dumb!

Funny sayings in the Old Testament

Bilby 1 400pxWhen describing a stork, the book of Job says “God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense” (Job 39:17). That’s not very flattering!

God used irony and sarcasm when He answered Job. Where were you when I created the earth? Surely you’re old enough to answer my questions about the creation (Job 38:4, 21)? Of course the answer is no! Job wasn’t there in the beginning, but God was.

Jehoram, was an evil king of Judah who lead the nation into idolatry. The Bible says that “He passed away, to no one’s regret”, didn’t have a funeral fire and wasn’t buried in the tombs of the kings (1 Chr. 21:19-20). That’s a colorful way of saying what people thought about Jehoram.

Some of Solomon’s proverbs are funny:
– “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion” (11:22)
– “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (21:9). And “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm” (27:15).
– “The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside!”” (22:13). That sounds like a good excuse to stay home!

God mocks idols. They had mouths, but can’t speak. Eyes, but can’t see. Ears but can’t hear. And mouths, but can’t breathe. They seem to be useless and dead! And then He adds the punch line: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 135:15-18)! Idols are a fraud and worthless (Jer. 10:14-15). They were just a dead stone or block of wood (Isa. 44:9-20; Hab. 2:18-10).

God can use wordplay in serious situations. For example, the Lord showed Jeremiah the branch of an almond tree and said “I am watching” (Jer. 1:11). The Hebrew word for almond (saqed) sounds like the word for watching (soqed).

Funny sayings in the New Testament

Jesus used some funny illustrations:
– He said to the hypocrites, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Mt. 7:3). This hyperbole is hilarious!
– After He spoke with a rich man, Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:24). This is another exaggeration.
– He said the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders were “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Mt.23:27).
– He said to the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Mt. 23:24). They were leading people into danger like blind guides (Lk. 6:39). And by concentrating on minor matters (like gnats), they missed dealing with major matters (like camels). Jesus also used a pun here as the Aramaic word for gnat is galma and for camel is gamla.
– He also mentions lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket, building a house on sand, and a father giving their child stones instead of bread. All of which are ridiculous.
– And He makes a Samaritan behave better than a priest and Levite (Lk. 10:30-35).
The common people would have laughed at these comical images.

Jesus also used puns like saying “on this rock I will build my church” when he was speaking to Peter (whose Greek name meant detached stone) (Mt. 16:18).

When describing Abraham, the writer of Hebrews says, “from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12). That’s a colourful way of saying that he was very old when Isaac was conceived.

There are probably lots of other incidents and sayings in the Bible that would have been shocking or amusing in the culture of the time, but are lost on us today. For example, there is wordplay in the names of people and places in the Old Testament.

God laughs

The Bible says that God laughs when nations rebel against Him (Ps. 2:4; 59:8). He scoffs at them. God also laughs when the wicked plot against the righteous (Ps. 37:12-13). They don’t realize it’s impossible to defeat the omnipotent God. It’s ludicrous because of the great difference in power.

We may say that God has the last laugh. It may be delayed; and evil may appear to have prevailed. But in the end, God will be victorious.

God is happy and joyful

When the Jews are delivered from their enemies in the future, the Bible says that God “will take great delight in you … will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17). This is similar to Paul saying that God is happy (“makariou” is translated as “blessed”) (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15). This is lasting joy and not just a transient emotion.

Jesus used wordplay

Large crowds of people followed Jesus to hear Him speak and see Him do miracles. Obviously He was a skilled orator. And He would have seen the humor in life – that which is ludicrous or incongruous. He used exaggeration, irony, sarcasm, and satire to help communicate His message. It may have been like street theater with subtle wit and wordplay, but with a serious message.

Jesus also welcomed children and children usually see the funny side of life (Mt. 19:13-14; Mk. 10:13-16; Lk. 18:15-17).

Lessons for us

Humor is cultural and situational and doesn’t always translate into other languages. For this reason, much of the humor in the Bible is probably lost to us today. But we have seen that there is evidence that God has a sense of humor. This is consistent with a God who is personal and who sustains the world.

Coarse jokes are ungodly (Eph. 5:4). And some comedy relates to sinful behavior. This is not part of God’s character. It has been said that:

God is serious because sin is serious. God finds nothing funny about the state of the world. How could a God so holy and righteous be funny in a world where sin is still present? Jesus was a serious person because He was on a serious mission. Our eternal life was a serious issue to Him. Leaving His glory in heaven to come into the world was no fun. The death on the cross was no fun at all. He didn’t come to put people down, but to lift them up.

This is true, but it is clear that God is joyful and Jesus used wordplay. God is serious and He has a sense of humor. He has both attributes, not just one or the other. So, let’s have a balanced view of God.

The joy of the Christian life can be expressed in humor. While worldly humor glorifies sin, puts down others, ridicules righteousness, and hurts the soul – Godly humor encourages others, honors the Lord, and restores the soul. And humor helps us get through life by providing relief from the seriousness of life. So, let’s balance the seriousness and humor of life. And, like Jesus, let’s use appropriate humor to promote our communication with other people.

Summary

Although we are usually unaware of it, God is capable of good humor and there is evidence of this in the Bible and in creation. And the carrying out His plan of salvation and His coming exaltation bring Him much joy. Do we share in this joy?

Written, June 2017