History Addict's Sunday School Lessons Series


 

Week 1: ³I just don¹t believe that there really is a God.²

 

For the past four weeks, we have experienced a series based on personal evangelism ­ literally walking up to people to talk to them about the Good News of Jesus Christ. Starting today, and for the next 9 weeks, let¹s look at what may happen after you ³walk across the room.²

 

I have heard stories of ³immediate acceptance² of the Gospel truth, of people coming to Christ based on a single discussion with them. I have not seen this myself, and Bill Hybels series was quite emphatic that evangelism, and in particular relationship evangelism, is a time and energy consuming effort. If even in a single conversation, though, the target of your evangelist effort will most likely ask you quite pointedly why they should accept what you are telling them. In this nation, in particular this area we live in, people grow up among so much that is labeled ³Christian² that it would be quite the rare thing to encounter someone who has not formed some sort of opinion about Jesus Christ. As the person you are speaking with has not accepted Jesus Christ as their person Lord and Savior, it is fair to assume that the opinion they hold is at least somewhat negative.

 

Answering their questions takes us into another arena of Christian evangelism, called ³apologetics.² This does not mean we are apologizing for bothering someone with our testimony! It is a term that come from the Konic Greek aÓpologi÷a, meaning to defend. Paul uses this term in Acts 26:2, when he says before King Agrippa that he ³makes his defense (aÓpologe÷omai) against the accusations of the Jews.²

 

Acts 26:2 ³King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews,

 

Acts 26:2 Peri« pa¿ntwn w‹n e™gkalouvmai uJpo\ Ioudai÷wn, basileuv Agri÷ppa, h¢ghmai e™mauto\n maka¿rion e™pi« souv me÷llwn sh/meron aÓpologeiˆsqai

 

 

He repeats the term and intent in Philippians 1:7:

 

Phil. 1:7 ¶   It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God¹s grace with me.

 

Phil. 1:7 Kaqw¿ß e™stin di÷kaion e™moi« touvto froneiˆn uJpe«r pa¿ntwn uJmw×n dia» to\ e¶cein me e™n thØv kardi÷a– uJma×ß, e¶n te toiˆß desmoiˆß mou kai« e™n thØv aÓpologi÷a– kai« bebaiw¿sei touv eujaggeli÷ou sugkoinwnou/ß mou thvß ca¿ritoß pa¿ntaß uJma×ß o¡ntaß.

 

Peter uses it in 1 Peter 3:15 to say that believers must be always ready with a ready defense of their faith:

 

1Pet. 3:15 But in your hearts set apart 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,

 

1Pet. 3:15 ku/rion de« to\n Cristo\n a•gia¿sate e™n taiˆß kardi÷aiß uJmw×n, eºtoimoi aÓei« pro\ß aÓpologi÷an panti« tw–× ai™touvnti uJma×ß lo/gon peri« thvß e™n uJmiˆn e™lpi÷doß,

 

and it appears in a negative form in Romans 1:20,

 

Rom. 1:20 For since the creation of the world God¹s invisible qualities‹his eternal power and divine nature‹have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

 

Rom. 1:20 ta» ga»r aÓo/rata aujtouv aÓpo\ kti÷sewß ko/smou toiˆß poih/masin noou/mena kaqora×tai, h¢ te aÓi‘dioß aujtouv du/namiß kai« qeio/thß, ei™ß to\ ei€nai aujtou\ß aÓnapologh/touß,

 

 

 

Today we are going to look at perhaps the most basic question of all, the belief in any God at all. There have traditionally been four types of basic arguments for the existence of God:

 

  1. Cosmological: Creation (cosmos means creation)
  2. Teleological: Design (teleos means purpose)
  3. Axiological: Moral Law (axios means judgement)
  4. Ontological: Being (ontos means being)

 

Yes, this can (and does) get very complicated, but lets look at each one of these arguments in the way it can be applied to answering skeptics questions.


 

  1. Cosmological

The first cause argument (or ³cosmological argument²) takes the existence of the universe to entail the existence of a being that created it. It can be stated this way:

 

  1. The universe had a beginning
  2. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else
  3. Therefore, the universe was caused by something else.

 

The universe consists of a series of events stretched across time in a long causal chain. Each one of these events is the cause of the event that comes after it, and the effect of the event that comes before it. The world as it is came from the world as it was, which came from the world as it was before.

 

If we trace this series of events back in time, then what do we find? There seem, at first glance, to be two possibilities: either we eventually reach the first event in the series, the cause at the beginning of the universe that set everything going, or there is no first event in the series and the past stretches back into infinity.

 

The cosmological argument tells us that the second of these is not possible, that the past cannot stretch back into infinity but rather must have a beginning. The argument then proceeds by suggesting that if the universe has a beginning then there must be something outside it that brought it into existence.

 

This being outside the universe, this Creator, the cosmological argument tells us, is God.

 

The primary objection to this theory was voiced by the atheist astronomer Carl Sagan. He said that ³The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.² However, to accept this argument, called the ³steady state theory,² you have to believe that the universe is constantly producing hydrogen atoms from nothing, as they are consumed in vast number every second by the actions of stars. You also have to ignore the second law of thermodynamics, which states, simply put, that heat cannot flow from cold bodies to hot bodies, and that eventually everything dissolves down to a state of entropy (no movement, constant temperature).

 

 

It¹s Impossible to Traverse an Infinite Series

 

If I told you that I had just counted down from infinity to zero, starting with ³infinity minus zero² and carrying on until I reached ³infinite minus infinity, i.e zero², then you would know that this claim is false. Just as it is impossible to count up from zero to infinity, so it is impossible to count down from infinity to zero. If I had started counting down from infinity and kept going, then I would still be counting to this day; I would not have finished. My claim to have counted down from infinity to zero must be false. This is because it is impossible to traverse an infinite series.

 

 

The Past Therefore Cannot be Infinite

 

The idea that the universe has an infinite past is just as problematic as the idea that I have just counted down from infinity. If the universe had an infinite past, then time would have had to count down from infinity to reach time zero, the present, and so would not have reached it. The fact that we have reached the present therefore shows that the past is not infinite but finite. The universe has a beginning. This claim, of course, has been confirmed by modern science, which traces the universe back to a point of origin in the Œbig bang¹.

 

The past cannot go back forever, then; the universe must have a beginning. The next question is whether something caused this beginning, or whether the universe just popped into existence out of nothing. We all know, though, that nothing that begins to exist does so without a cause; nothing comes from nothing. For something to come into existence there must be something else that already exists that can bring it into existence. The fact that the universe began to exist therefore implies that something brought it into existence, that the universe has a Creator.

 

 

The Creator Must be Uncreated, Eternal

 

If this Creator were a being like the universe, a being that exists in time and so that came into existence, then it too would have to have been created by something. Nothing comes from nothing, not even God.

 

This tells us that the ultimate cause of the universe must never have come into existence; the ultimate Creator must be a being that exists outside of time, an eternal being with neither beginning nor end.


 

  1. Teleological: Design (teleos means purpose)

 

The argument from design focuses on the fact that the universe is fit for human habitation. There are many ways that the universe might have been, the argument from design tells us‹it might have had different laws of physics; it might have had a different arrangement of planets and stars; it might have begun with a bigger or a smaller big bang‹and the vast majority of these universes would not have allowed for the existence of life. We are very fortunate indeed to have a universe that does.

 

The Universe Might Have Been Other Than It Is

 

Assume that modern science is correct in saying that the universe began with a big bang, that the universe came into existence with an explosion that sent pieces of matter flying in all directions at an enormous rate. The big bang might have been other than it was; it might have involved more or less matter, or have involved a larger or a smaller explosion, for example.

 

That the big bang occurred as it did was crucial for the development of life, because the rate of expansion of the universe, i.e. the speed at which the pieces of matter flew apart, had to fall within certain limits if life was to develop.

 

Had the rate of expansion been too slow, then gravity would have pulled all of the matter back together again in a big crunch; there wouldn¹t have been enough time for life to emerge.

 

Had the rate of expansion been too fast, then gravity wouldn¹t have had a chance to pull any of the pieces of matter together, and planets, stars and even gases wouldn¹t have been able to form; there wouldn¹t have been anything for life to emerge on.

 

The rate of expansion following the big bang, of course, was just right to allow life to develop; if it weren¹t then we wouldn¹t be here now.

 

Had the Big Bang Been Different, the Universe Probably Wouldn¹t Contain Life

 

That this was the case, though, was either an extraordinary fluke, or was intended by the big bang¹s Creator.

 

Had the rate of expansion been even fractionally slower‹one part in a million million‹then the big bang would have been followed by a big crunch before life could have developed.

 

Had the rate of expansion been even fractionally faster‹one part in a million‹then stars and planets could not have formed.

 

It is highly unlikely that a random big bang would be such as to allow life to develop, and therefore highly unlikely, according to the argument from design, that the big bang from which our universe was formed happened at random.

 

The fact that the universe is fit for life requires explanation, and an appeal to chance is no explanation at all. It is far more likely that the universe was initiated by a being that intended to create a universe that could support life. The fine-tuning of the universe for life can only be explained with reference to a Creator, as the result of intelligent design.

 

 

Other Examples of Fine-Tuning

 

The rate of the expansion of the universe following the big bang is just one instance of apparent design in the universe; other examples, like the strength of the weak force, the strength of the strong force, and isotropy, abound.

 

Each example makes it less likely that the universe was created at random and more likely that it was designed by a Creator that takes an interest in humanity. Once all of this evidence is taken into account, the argument from design concludes, there can be no question as to whether the universe just happens to be fit for life or whether it was deliberately created that way; the universe clearly exhibits the marks of intelligent design.

 

 

What the Argument from Design Proves

 

As with the other arguments, there are a number of objections to the argument from design. If it is successful, however, then together with the ontological argument and the first cause argument it gives us proof that there is a perfect, necessary, and eternal Creator whose purpose in creating the universe was to bring about life. This would include most of the important elements of Christian theism; it would tell us that God exists, and what he is like, and that he created the universe with life in mind.


 

3. Axiological: Moral Law (axios means judgement)

 

The moral argument appeals to the existence of moral laws as evidence of God¹s existence. According to this argument, there couldn¹t be such a thing as morality without God; to use the words that Sartre attributed to Dostoyevsky, ³If there is no God, then everything is permissible.² That there are moral laws, then, that not everything is permissible, proves that God exists.

 

Most facts are facts about the way that the world is. It is a fact that cats eat mice because there are lots of animals out there, cats, and lots of them eat mice. It is a fact that Paris is the capital of France because there exists a city called Paris that is the capital of France. For most facts, there are objects in the world that make them true.

 

 

Morality Consists of a Set of Commands

 

Moral facts aren¹t like that. The fact that we ought to do something about the problem of famine isn¹t a fact about the way that the world is, it¹s a fact about the way that the world ought to be. There is nothing out there in the physical world that makes moral facts true. This is because moral facts aren¹t descriptive, they¹re prescriptive; they don¹t describe what is, they command what should be.

 

 

Commands Imply a Commander

 

There are some things that can¹t exist unless something else exists along with them. There can¹t be something that is being carried unless there is something else that is carrying it. There can¹t be something that is popular unless there are lots of people that like it. Commands are like this; commands can¹t exist without something else existing that commanded them.

 

The moral argument seeks to exploit this fact; If moral facts are a kind a command, the moral argument asks, then who commanded morality? To answer this question, the moral argument suggests that we look at the importance of morality.

 

 

Morality is Ultimately Authoritative

 

Morality is of over-riding importance. If someone morally ought to do something, then this over-rules any other consideration that might come into play.

 

It might be in my best interests not to give any money to charity, but morally I ought to, so all things considered I ought to.

 

It might be in my best interests to pretend that I¹m too busy to see my in-laws on Wednesday so that I can watch the game, but morally I ought not, so all things considered I ought not.

 

If someone has one reason to do one thing, but morally ought to do another thing, then all things considered they ought to do the other thing. Morality over-rules everything. Morality has ultimate authority.

 

 

Ultimately Authoritative Commands Imply an Ultimately Authoritative Commander

 

Commands, though, are only as authoritative as the person that commands them.

 

If I were to command everyone to pay extra tax so that we could spend more money on the police force, then no one would have to do so. I just don¹t have the authority to issue that command.

 

If the President were to command everyone to pay extra tax so that we could spend more money on the police force, though, then that would be different, because he does have that authority.

 

As morality has more authority than any human person or institution, the moral argument suggests, morality can¹t have been commanded by any human person or institution. As morality has ultimate authority, as morality over-rules everything, morality must have been commanded by someone who has authority over everything. The existence of morality thus points us to a being that is greater than any of us and that rules over all creation.

 


 

 

4. Ontological: Being (ontos means being)

 

The ontological argument is an argument for God¹s existence based entirely on reason. According to this argument, there is no need to go out looking for physical evidence of God¹s existence; we can work out that he exists just by thinking about it. Philosophers call such arguments a priori arguments.

 

There clearly are certain claims that we can tell are false without even having to look into them to find out. The claim to have made a four-sided triangle, and the claim to be over six feet tall but less than five, for example, are both claims that are obviously false. We know that triangles have three sides. We know that being over six feet tall means being over five feet tall too. No one that understands what the words in these claims mean would think that they might be true. There¹s no need to spend time looking for four-sided triangles or tall short people in order to know that there aren¹t any. This is a type of error known as categorization, otherwise known as ³comparing apples to oranges.²

 

The ontological argument claims that the idea that God doesn¹t exist is just as absurd as the idea that a four-sided triangle does. According to the ontological argument, we can tell that the claim that God doesn¹t exist is false without having to look into it in any detail. Just as knowing what ³triangle² means makes it obvious that a four-sided triangle is impossible, the argument suggests, knowing what ³God² means makes it obvious that God¹s non-existence is impossible. The claim that God does not exist is self-contradictory.

 

The Definition of ³God² Includes Perfection

 

There are many things that something would have to be in order to be properly called ³God². For instance, it would have to be all-powerful, because a part of what ³God² means is ³all-powerful². To call something that isn¹t all-powerful God would be like calling a shape that doesn¹t have three sides a triangle; to anyone who understands the words involved it just wouldn¹t make sense. Another part of what ³God² mean is ³perfect²; something can¹t properly be called God unless it is perfect. This is the key idea behind the ontological argument.

 

God is ³That Than Which No Greater Can Be Conceived²

 

If something is perfect, then it couldn¹t possibly be better than it is; there can¹t be anything better than perfection. This means that if a thing is perfect then it is impossible to imagine it being better than it is; there is nothing better than it is to imagine.

 

If we think of God as being perfect‹and perfection, remember, is part of the concept of God‹then we must therefore think of God as a being that cannot be imagined to be better than he is. As St Anselm, the inventor of the ontological argument, put it, God is ³that than which no greater can be conceived.²

 

It is therefore impossible to conceive either of there being anything greater than God or of it being possible to imagine God being better than he already is.

 

Atheists Are Therefore Confused

 

If we were to think of God as not existing, though, then we would be able to imagine him being better than he is; we would be able to imagine him existing, and a God that exists is clearly better than a God that doesn¹t. To think of God as not existing, then, is to think of God as being imperfect, because a God that doesn¹t exist could be better than he is.

 

The idea of an imperfect God, though, we have already said, is just as absurd as the idea of a four-sided triangle; ³perfect² is part of what ³God² means, just as ³three-sided² is part of what ³triangle² means. As the idea that God doesn¹t exist implies his imperfection, therefore, the idea that God doesn¹t exist is just as absurd, just as obviously false, as the idea that a four-sided triangle does. God¹s non-existence is therefore impossible.

 

What the Ontological Argument Proves

 

Whether this argument is successful is controversial. There are a number of objections to the ontological argument, which many, though not all, accept as decisive. If the ontological argument is successful, then it must be the case that God, ³God² meaning ³perfect being², exists.

 

This would establish a lot of what the monotheistic religions say about God to be true‹if God is perfect then he is also omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, etc., just as the monotheistic religions say‹but not all of it. It would show that there exists a God that is perfect in every way, but it would not demonstrate much about the relationship between that God and us.

 




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