Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “teleological

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?


Is faith blind?

Guide dog 6 400pxWhat is faith? Is it blind, as some critics in popular culture claim, or does it involve our intellect and rationality? Should we switch off our brains at the door when we go to church? Or should we be thoughtful in our beliefs?  Do we have good justifications and reasons for our faith? Or, do we just blindly jump in?

People say that faith is blind because they think that there is and can be no good reasons or justifications for Christian faith.

Atheists

To see how atheists typically characterise faith, let’s look at some representative quotes:
– “Faith means not wanting to know what is true” (Nietzsche).
– “Faith is nothing more than the licence religious people give each other to keep believing when reasons fail” (Sam Harris).
– “Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved” (Tim Minchin).
– “Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason” (Christopher Hitchens).

In all these examples it is clear how they view faith, it refers to how someone forms and holds their beliefs and that it is totally divorced from all reason, evidence and justification. But this description does not seem consistent with how the Bible characterizes faith or how Christians have historically viewed faith.

Biblical faith

Parent child 2 400pxThe Greek word used in the Bible for faith is pistis. This word is most regularly translated as faith, but on occasion as believe or assurance. It comes from the root word pethio meaning “to convince” or “persuade”. Pistis was used in the ancient world by both Christians and non-Christians to describe confidence in something that was persuasive or trustworthy. The Latin rendering of pistis is “fiducia”, from which we get our word faith. So faith has traditionally been understood as trust in something which is persuasive and trustworthy. Faith is equivalent to trust, they are synonyms. For example, children trust (have faith) in parents and the vision impaired trust (have faith) in guide dogs.

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer held that faith has three components.

First, there is notitia, or understanding. That is, a person must understand what it is they are claiming to believe. If you don’t know or understand what the core truths of the gospel are then there is no possible way you could meaningfully believe in them (have faith in them).

Second, there is assensus, or intellectual agreement. This means finding something rationally compelling and agreeing with it. A person must intellectually accept the things they say they believe – otherwise they can hardly say they believe them, can they? So, a person must not only understand the truths of the gospel but also agree with them. Many people understand the gospel but reject it anyway. Jesus said that such “people loved darkness instead of light” (Jn. 3:19NIV).

Finally, there is fiducia, or trust. This is the root of the word faith. Saving faith involves not merely understanding and having an intellectual agreement with some list of doctrines, but a whole-hearted commitment and trust in the God they are about. Remember, even the demons believe that there is one God, but they don’t trust in God (Jas. 2:19).

To a Christian, faith is not the mindless, blind leap it is often mischaracterized as. It is the trust we put in a God and a gospel that we have thought about carefully and have found to be convincing and trustworthy.

Charles Blondin 1 400pxA popular illustration has been that of a famous tightrope walker by the name of Charles Blondin. In1859 he tightrope walked across Niagara Falls repeatedly, even doing a summersault, with a wheelbarrow, on stilts and blindfolded. Then he asked if someone would hop on his back and be carried as he walked across the falls. Most turned down the offer. They understood what he was asking of them (they had the notitia), they all emphatically agreed that he could achieve the feat (they gave their assensus) but most were unwilling to put their trust (their fiducia) in his skills. Practically speaking, their belief had as much influence on their behaviour as unbelief would have. However, one man did have faith (fiducia) in Blondin’s skills and he was successfully carried across Niagara Falls.

What does this faith look like in the Bible? In the case of Abraham, he saw the faithfulness of God, who gave him Isaac when “his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (Rom. 4:19). He trusted God’s commands and promises. And when the Israelites saw God’s power in Egypt, they put their trust in Him to be led out of Egypt (Ex. 14:31).

Or in the New Testament, there was the woman who suffered constant bleeding who trusted Jesus could heal her after she had seen all that Jesus could do (Mt. 9: 18-26). And the Centurion who had heard of Jesus’ power and trusted that He could heal his servant remotely by a simple command (Lk. 7: 1-10). The men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof, believed that Jesus could heal their friend if only they could get their friend to Him (Mk. 2:1-12). And Thomas wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he saw and touched Jesus’ wounds. He received that evidence, found it convincing and declared “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). Thomas put his full trust in Jesus, going so far as to die for his faith in Christ rather than recanting.

So biblical faith isn’t a blind hope, or a surrender of reason. But it is always based on knowledge of God’s nature and character, His promises in the Scriptures, and what He has done.

Knowing and showing that Christianity is true

When sceptics say, “faith is blind”, they either ignore or are unaware of the intellectual foundation of faith. So what is that intellectual basis? How do we know Christianity is true?  How we can know that the Christian message is true? There are two ways we can know that the Christian Gospel is true.

The first is internal, it is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit – a direct, personal self-authenticating experience that is truthful (or genuine) and unmistakable. The second comes from persuasive arguments for Christian truth claims, including arguments for the existence of God, evidence for the historicity of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible.

These have different roles in knowing Christianity is true and showing that it is true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit helps us to know that Christianity is true, and arguments and evidence show us that Christianity is true.

Inner witness of the Holy Spirit

We can know Christianity is true because of our direct self-authenticating experience of God’s Holy Spirit within us. A person who directly experiences the witness of the Holy Spirit doesn’t just have a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth; like a “warm fuzzy feeling” about what we would like to be true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is a direct experience of God that gives us objective knowledge of the truth of Christianity, without the need for any additional arguments or proofs to authenticate it. This kind of direct knowledge is like the way we directly experience our own existence. We don’t need to be given any evidence or proofs that we exist. We know it directly from our own experience. In a similar way, we know that things beyond ourselves exist, things in the world around us. And again, we don’t need special arguments or proofs to convince us that we experience the world around us. We know it directly from our experiences. We shouldn’t press these analogies too far, but they give a good illustration of how the inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives us a similar sort of experiential knowledge of God.

Paul describes the way the Holy Spirit works within us, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. . . . Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 3:26; 4:6).

By God’s Spirit we directly know that we are children of God, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:15–16).

When Paul describes the result of the Holy Spirit’s witness, he uses the term plerophoria which means complete confidence, full assurance. He means to indicate that the believer has knowledge of the truth by the Spirit’s work. “Because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (plerophoria)” (1 Th. 1:5).

And Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us the things we need to know in order to know Christianity is true.

And John echos Jesus’ teaching, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One [the Holy Spirit], and all of you know the truth . . . the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his [the Holy Spirit’s] anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 Jn. 2:20, 27).

Paul also said, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2: 10-13).

So the inner witness of the Holy Spirit enables us to know certain truths of the Christian gospel, such as “God exists,” “We were condemned by God”, “We are now reconciled to God”, “Christ lives in us”, and “we are children of God”.

According to the Bible, The Holy Spirit also has a special role for the non-Christian. Jesus said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world [Satan] now stands condemned” (Jn. 16:7–11).

The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever of their sin, of God’s righteousness, and of their condemnation before God. By the inner witness of the Holy Spirit a non-Christian can know such truths as “God exists,” and “I am guilty before God”. Paul even tells us that without the inner witness of the Holy Spirit no one would ever become a Christian, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands [about God]; there is no one who seeks God” (Rom. 3:10–11). And, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). “The mind governed by the flesh [instead of the Holy Spirit] is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). As Jesus said, people love darkness rather than light.

So the self-authenticating inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives both the Christian and the non-Christian direct knowledge of core truths of the Christian message – independent of arguments and evidence. But what about arguments and evidence?

Arguments and evidence

Some people say we should never seek to defend the faith. That nobody comes to Christ through arguments and evidence. Just preach the gospel and let the Holy Spirit work! But this attitude is dangerous – it’s unbalanced and unscriptural. Instead Scripture commands us to be prepared to give such a defence to an unbeliever, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15).

We should appeal to the head as well as to the heart. For the Christian, arguments and evidence give extra assurance – we have double the reason for our faith. This adds to the confidence we already have from the Holy Spirit’s witness. The rational foundation for our faith can protect us in times of hardship or doubt. For the unbeliever, these arguments can be both one of the means through which the Holy Spirit works to bring them to Christ and they can also help predispose an unbeliever to respond to the drawing of the Holy Spirit when they hear the gospel. This is where rational arguments are crucial in showing Christianity is true.

So what arguments and evidence might we use? There are many of them and some are outlined below.

Existence of God

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.

To these arguments about God’s existence we can add arguments for the truth of Christianity in particular.

Historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection

Perhaps the most important argument we could add would be the argument for the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The minimal facts that we can bring to this argument, facts that are agreed upon by almost universally amongst historians (including Atheists, Jews and Muslims) who have seriously studied the historical Jesus are:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. That His tomb was found.
3.. That His disciples sincerely believed that they meet with the bodily resurrected Jesus and were transformed into bold proclaimers of His resurrection; facing death rather than recanting on that belief.

Establishing these historical facts does not require the assumption that the Bible is perfectly infallible or perfectly preserved, so the critic can’t dismiss them using that retort. Further, all of them enjoy evidence in addition to that in the Bible text. The best explanation that can account for all three facts simultaneously is that Jesus did indeed die and rise again. All other explanations fail to account for all three facts, and the only real reason to prefer these explanations is an a priori exclusion of a miracle as an explanation – that is deciding that a miracle is impossible before even looking at any of the evidence. But indeed the Christian gospel is based upon actual historical events witnessed and recorded for us in the Bible. As Peter wrote, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16). The authors saw what happened and faithfully wrote down what they saw because it was such an important thing to share.

Reliability of the Bible

Furthermore, we can add the overwhelming evidence we have for the reliability of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. For example:
– Its books were written very close to the events they record (some places within two years of the resurrection and all within the lifetime of the disciples).
– They are not corrupted by legendary developments.
– They have been extremely well preserved and transmitted.

These arguments and evidence are just some of the ways we can go about showing that Christianity is true and that we have a rational foundation for our faith. They also give us the comfort of adding to our knowledge that Christianity is true which comes primarily by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

Not by sight

The final appeal the skeptic might make to accuse of following our faith blindly comes from the Bible itself. For example, “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). And, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). This seems to be blind faith.

However, in both these verses, the context is our eagerly awaiting our future life with Christ, given that we know with such certainty (plerophoria) of the resurrection of Christ. And how good it is that the future we are faithfully waiting for is not based on “blind faith” but is a future we trust in with a solid, rational foundation.

Lessons for us

Now we have looked at what faith is and seen that it is not blind, how does this apply to our day-to-day lives?

Firstly, sometimes we have doubts. Or sometimes we may find it hard to answer every question someone critical of Christianity asks of us. But we don’t need to let these things trouble us, because our faith is supported by good reasons and evidence. So, as Paul writes: “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15: 57-58). And Peter said, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16).

Secondly, often in life we, or the people we love, encounter tough times. Bad things happen. We suffer. We struggle. And very often we don’t clearly know why or what the purpose is. But we can trust God through this. We know that our faith is based on something that is sure and we have God’s promise that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Because our faith is not blind and we have good reasons to be confident in what we believe, we can confidently take God at His word. We can look forward to what is coming, “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). And, we can trust that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

And thirdly, sometimes when a person hears the gospel message, the only thing keeping them from accepted it is the fear that they are making a blind leap into something that they don’t really know if they can trust. And by being able to show that our faith has a strong firm rational foundation, we can show them it’s not a blind leap into the dark, but a short step onto more firm ground. And that can lead them to accept the gospel.

Let’s be thankful that our faith is not blind.

Acknowledgement

This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr Tom Murphy (a chemist) titled, “Is faith blind?”.

Written, November 2018