A Series of Responses to Jon Steingard’s Declaration of Disbelief in God
Every belief system must start somewhere, and there is no more foundational an aspect than whether or not God exists. When discussing the Christian worldview, this is our starting point, and thus seems an appropriate beginning before getting into the weeds of Jon’s more difficult questions regarding the faith. As mentioned before, one must weigh the ‘positive’ evidence of God’s existence against the reasons or questions we have that may lead to disbelief, however legitimate they may be. I submit that if we have tunnel vision about our few areas of doubt concerning God, then those doubts loom larger than life, but given a broader view and context, these questions dim in comparison to the overwhelming evidence we have for the existence of God. One of the reasons this is a good starting point is due to the fact that no reference to the Bible or any religious text is needed to make our case.
We do need to first clarify what we mean by God. We are certainly not arguing for the existence of an old man with a long white beard on a throne floating around in space somewhere, as some envision. Neither are we advocating for the ancient Greek and Roman gods, nor the Hindu gods still worshipped today. The evidence is for a single, infinite, personal God of the universe.
There are few tasks greater than attempting to prove God’s existence in a few pages, and there are many separate arguments for God’s existence. Different arguments will resonate with different people, but my concentration in this article will be on two of them: The Cosmological Argument and The Moral Argument (with an honorable mention to the Teleological Argument, or Argument from Design). Depending on the way an individual’s mind works, one of these two arguments will appeal to a large number of people. Having a more mathematically-oriented mind myself, the cosmological argument is most powerful to me, whereas the greater number of people more easily identify with the moral argument.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
On a popular level, one could call this the “First Cause” argument, as it attempts to show that the universe must have a cause for its existence and this cause must be God. The argument has a long history, but has been brought back to the forefront by renown philosophers such as Dr. William Lane Craig. To see an excellent abbreviated visual animation of this argument, I highly recommend watching the following 4-minute YouTube video presented by Reasonable Faith.
The argument is based on two premises that have a logical, inevitable conclusion.
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Regarding Premise #1, this is the notion that anything that comes into existence at a certain point in time must have a cause. We live in a world of cause and effect, and there must be a cause that dictates that the thing comes into existence at that moment rather than earlier or later. This is confirmed in every human experience, and the denial of it is to say that things can simply pop into existence out of nothing at any given moment in time. In regards to the universe, we must clarify what we mean by ‘nothing.’ ‘Nothing’ is not simply empty space. ‘Nothing’ references a state in which there is no space, no time, no science, no random particles floating around, and no ‘potential’ for anything to happen. Atheists, more than anyone, should most readily accept this premise, given that they are naturalists at their core. A naturalist, by definition, does not believe in the supernatural, and would deny the notion that something may randomly come into existence for no reason with no cause out of absolute ‘nothingness.’ This premise is the more easily accepted of the two, so let’s look at the second.
Regarding Premise #2, this is the notion that the universe came into existence at a certain point. In other words, it has not existed forever or for an infinite amount of time. There are two avenues of proving the truth of this premise. The first is scientific, and is based on the expansion of the universe and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Due to astronomy, astrophysics, and the Theory of Relativity, we know that the universe is expanding. Though some say the expansion is decelerating and others say it is accelerating, there is no dispute among scientists that the universe is expanding and continually becoming less dense. Based on this, we can track this backward to a certain point in time of infinite density, or a time when the universe came into being. Even more importantly, the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that ‘in any closed system, processes tend toward a state of equilibrium’ or rather they run down and quit. Again, all scientists (and atheists) believe that the universe is a ‘closed system’, meaning there is nothing outside of it. Either the universe will stop expanding and collapse on its own weight into a gigantic fireball, or it will continue to expand. In the latter case, scientists tell us that due to reaching maximum entropy, the universe will eventually run out of usable energy. All stars will burn out, and there will be no light, no heat, and no life. If the universe has always existed, why hasn’t this already happened? Obviously the events of the universe were set in motion at a certain time.
The second area of support for Premise #2 is philosophical. If the universe never began to exist, then prior to the present, there have existed an actually infinite number of past events or moments. In other words, one would have to cross an infinite number of previous moments to arrive at the present. To arrive at the present day, we had to pass yesterday, but to arrive there, we had to have passed the previous day. An infinite regression of days or events is impossible. Pretend that you tried to start counting up from negative infinity. It is philosophically impossible because you could never get to zero. You could never even get started! Thus, the universe must have begun to exist at a certain point in time. On the other hand, just as a side note, there can be an infinite number of future events. We can start counting from zero and continue counting to infinity, though we would never finish. Given the ability to live forever, we could continue to live through an infinite number of future events, and this parallels the Christian view of eternity.
Thus, if we can stand solidly on the truth of the first two premises, then it follows that the conclusion is true: The universe has a ’cause’ and was brought into existence by something greater and beyond itself. What must be true about the nature of the First Cause? As the cause of space and time, the entity must be able to transcend space and time, existing atemporally (without time) and non-spatially (without the universe). It must be beginningless and causeless, since there cannot be an infinite regression of causes. It also must be unimaginably powerful! It created the universe! This certainly sounds like God. But we can take this one more important step. This timeless, causeless, powerful entity must also be a personal being. In a cause and effect world, there is a personal and/or scientific explanation for why something happens. Let’s say that a child wakes up and smells his mom cooking breakfast downstairs. As he walks down the steps, he sees the water boiling on the stove. He then asks, “Mom, why is the water boiling on the stove?” His mom could give two completely valid explanations. One correct answer is that “heat energy is being transferred from the coil to the pot and then into the molecules of water which begin to move more quickly, causing them to become water vapor which float to the surface as bubbles.” Or his mom could also correctly say “I wanted to make you breakfast.” One is a scientific explanation, and the other is a personal explanation. Before the universe existed, there was nothing, and therefore no science was at work. Since a scientific explanation for the universe is impossible, there must be a personal reason and explanation, and therefore the ’cause’ must be a personal agent.
I would be remiss if I did not briefly address a common objection. So what about God? Who caused God? And given the impossibility of an infinite past, how then has God always existed? First, the question is not relevant to the premises in the argument. Premise #1 is not “whatever exists has a cause;” it is “whatever begins to exist has a cause.” We are not arguing that God began to exist at a certain point in time; we are arguing that the universe did so. The argument stands strongly without forcing any explanation of God. We have proven each premise as stated. Nevertheless, it is still worth suggesting an answer to the query. Many philosophers and theologians believe that God created time when He created the universe. Time itself had a beginning. Therefore God did not live through an infinite number of past events. He can exist timelessly, and did so before creating time and the universe.
Thus, we have a proof argument for an infinite, powerful, personal cause of the universe. This is how we would describe God!
The Moral Argument
If you find the cosmological argument to be a bit cerebral, then you may find the moral argument to be more intuitive. This is the argument that if objective moral values and duties exist, God must exist. They cannot legitimately find their foundation in anything else. Like the last, I highly encourage you to watch a 5-minute visual animation of this argument produced by Reasonable Faith:
Stated with premises:
- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties do exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
Of course, we need to prove each premise for the conclusion to follow. Let’s take Premise #2 first. To say there are objective moral values is to say something is good or evil independently of whether any human believes it to be so. To say there are objective moral duties is to say that certain things are right or wrong for any person at any point in history, in any culture, in any circumstance. Outside of serial killers and psychopaths, almost every person will eventually admit that some things are intuitively right, wrong, good, or evil. Was the Holocaust objectively evil? Is it evil to torture babies for fun? Is it wrong to murder, cheat, lie, and steal for one’s personal gain? Is it wrong when a priest sexually abuses a small boy? If these things are not objectively wrong or evil, we can only say that we don’t prefer them or don’t personally ‘like’ them. We may hate both child abuse and collard greens, but do we view these the same? Of course not! We believe one is objectively wrong and the other is a personal preference. Some hardcore relativists will be reticent to admit their belief in objective right and wrong, but they quickly backpedal when it becomes personal. They will think it is wrong if you steal their TV, or get them fired unfairly from their job, or kidnap their children. They also believe it is ‘wrong’ for you to push your moral code on them.
Moral relativism is the opposite of moral absolutism. Relativism states that there is no objective morality, that ‘if it feels right, it is right”, and ‘if it feels good, do it’. ‘What’s right for you is not necessarily right for me.’ Let’s look at the implications of moral relativism. Under this worldview, nothing is obligated and nothing is prohibited. When a person rapes or murders, there is no moral significance at all because relative to that person, they may have thought it was a fine thing to do for a number of reasons. There is no moral accountability. Without belief in some type of moral standard that you will be accountable to, all that is left is your conscience to tell you something is wrong (which is an illusion because there is no ‘wrong’) or the fear of earthly punishment. There also can be no moral improvement since you can never become a better or worse person, as there is no standard by which to measure yourself.
If we can establish that almost every person believes intuitively in objective right and wrong in some circumstances, then Premise #2 is secure. We may often not agree on what is right, wrong, good, or evil, or even where those notions come from; however we can still ultimately agree that objective morals and values do exist. Thus, we turn to Premise #1. Is it true that God is the only possible foundation for these objective morals and duties? This certainly seems like a leap.
We have already shown that morality cannot simply be based off our personal preferences. If it was, we would have no right to speak against sex-trafficking or racial discrimination; it would only be our personal opinion that those things are wrong. All beliefs in right/wrong and good/bad are simply shifting sands, based on our own intuition, and one has no right to push any version of that moral code on anyone else. Instead, can morality be based off of our society? As in, if our culture and society have decided it’s okay, then it is in fact okay? For the Aztecs, child sacrifice was good and right. For the Nazis, they fully believed they were doing the right thing by exterminating the Jews. Certainly not too long ago, most of our own nation found nothing unethical about slavery. Even today, most Americans have no ethical issue with killing unborn children. We can find cultural moral abominations throughout human history. True objective morality rises above cultural and societal norms. It is to say that even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in eliminating all dissenters until it was universally believed that the killing of the Jews was right, it would still be wrong and evil.
If our moral code cannot be founded in the individual or in social convention, all that is left as a basis for objective moral values is an ultimate standard of ‘good.’ God is the standard by which right and wrong are measured; they are based in His moral nature. Moral values are grounded in the essence of God, and moral duties are grounded in the divine commands of God, which are reflections of His nature. If God does not exist, then morality is subjective; there is no longer good and evil (moral values), right and wrong (moral duties), and no moral accountability. The horrors of such a world should be obvious. If however they do exist, and it seems quite rational to believe they do, then we have good grounds for believing in the existence of God.
As an important clarification, one does not need to believe in God in order to do right and wrong or believe certain things are good or evil. Nonbelievers can certainly work out their own ethical code of conduct, and faithfully live by it. The argument here is that the existence of God, not belief in God, is necessary for there to be an objective foundation on which those things rest.
The Moral Argument is very intertwined with the Problem of Evil and Suffering which we will tackle next. Ironically, I’ll hear atheists (and Jon himself) say that they don’t believe in God because if He existed, He would not allow all the evil and suffering in the world. However, there can be no objective evil for the moral relativist; there can only be events or actions that they don’t like personally. No one can condemn war, oppression, brutality, child abuse or crime as evil. No one can praise brotherhood, equality, sacrifice, or love as good. Without God, there is no standard or basis on which to claim that something is objectively evil or good, so therefore the complaint falls on its head.
My honorable mention, the Design Argument, deserves a few sentences as possibly one of the most powerful and self-evident cases for the existence of God, given the beauty and complexity of nature. From the tiniest cell of our bodies to the expansive nature of the heavens, God seems to have made clear his work of design in creation. The alternative is that the universe and all its properties came together completely by chance. This is simply unfeasible when looking at the probabilities. We needn’t understand or even know anything about the designer in order to recognize design itself. When an archaeologist uncovers a figurine or a tablet with writing from an ancient culture, he need not know anything about the culture or the designer, but he still immediately recognizes intelligent design when he sees it. At the same time, NASA looks to space for intelligent life, and the indicator of that life is any transmission that seems to have a pattern or design to it. In any other situation, obvious design points us to a designer, just as the intelligent design of the universe should point us to a Cosmic Designer. For an excellent abbreviated version on how the fine-tuning of the universe points us to God, check out this 6-minute visual animation:
This is only a small sampling of the evidence we have for the existence of God. We could look to the Contingency Argument, the Ontological Argument, or the Argument from Intentionality. We could show how evidence for the Resurrection of Christ points us to the existence of God, or to countless peoples’ experience of God and how He changed them. Perhaps we could point to clear miracles from the past or present as indicators that God is supernaturally at work in the real world. No matter which argument resonates with you most strongly, we must always remember to weigh our doubts against this evidence. Remember, we don’t need to prove God’s existence; we simply need to show it’s more likely than not through good, rational arguments. Many people (both believers and unbelievers, such as Jon) have never heard someone give carefully formulated arguments for their belief in God. If you are a Christian, this will help you through times of doubt, give you more credibility in faith discussions, and make you a more effective representative of the God you serve.