135 – The Existence of God
NOTE: I have more than a few chapters that never made it into any book-sort of like movie outtakes. Most of them deserve their permanent digital status, some were severely revised and made it into print, and a few that didn’t make it have some merit. Recently I ran across this piece that missed the cut for Coming Back to God. I thought it might help you as you share your faith.
In the movie Contact scientist Jody Foster asks, “What makes more sense? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the universe and then decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that he simply doesn’t exist at all, and we created him so we wouldn’t have to feel so small and alone.”
“I don’t know,” responds the troubled priest who doubles as her romantic interest.
“I couldn’t imagine living in a world where God didn’t exist. I wouldn’t want to.”
If a man wants God in his life it isn’t necessary to prove that God exists. It’s only necessary to demonstrate the likelihood of God.
In a courtroom there are two standards of proof. First, in criminal cases the prosecutor must prove his case “beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.” In civil cases, however, the plaintiff must only prove “a preponderance of the evidence.” (This explains why O. J. Simpson could be found innocent in his criminal case but guilty in his civil wrongful death case using the same evidence).
It is worth mentioning that neither of these two standards of proof requires the 100% elimination of all doubt. Instead, the jury or judge is to apply “wisdom” to the evidence they are given and make a “reasoned” decision.
In the same way, a “wise” man considering the existence of God isn’t looking for iron clad proof that God exists. Rather, he simply wants to know, “Is it ‘reasonable’ for me to believe that God exists?”
Qualifying This Article
This article “cameos” a few of the major arguments for the existence of God. Many will be skipped altogether. Therefore, this is neither meant to be persuasive or comprehensive. My purpose is simply to make you aware that a lot of thinkers have devoted a lot of time to proving the existence of God.
Brilliant philosophers and theologians have developed a number of “arguments” for the existence of God. These are worth noting briefly because they can give us confidence that a) there is a lot of evidence and b) many of the greatest minds who ever lived believed in God.
You may be wondering, “Why isn’t he giving me all of these arguments, and in their most persuasive forms?” Two reasons. First, my experience in working with men is simple: Most men don’t need them, but do find it a comfort to know they exist.
Men who are actually ready to come back to God want to know “the big picture.” They want to know that someone they trust has done their homework, but they don’t necessarily want all the details-at least not all at once. As one man said, “Give me the bottom line.”
Second, rational evidence, or proof, of God’s existence won’t make any difference if a man isn’t open to hearing it. Everyday we watch people ignore the evidence that smoking causes cancer and smoke anyway. Offering evidence to a man who doesn’t want it is a waste of time. When a man isn’t ready for God no amount of persuasion will sway him, but when he is ready he hardly needs any at all.
On the other hand, there are persuasive arguments. There are many books you can read on the subject.
“Why Is There Something Instead of Nothing?”
The Cosmological Argument
The late Tom Skinner, named one of the five most influential Christians of our time by the magazine Christianity Today, spent his adult life mentoring many of the brightest and most successful African American leaders of our generation.
These articulate men and women included judges, elected officials, entertainers, athletes, and businessmen. One day Tom was debating the existence of God with a judge who vehemently argued, “The Big Bang theory proves that the universe sprang into existence from nothing at a finite point in time.”
Tom just looked at her for a long moment, then asked, “Well, yes it does. And who do you suppose made it go bang?”
Why does the world exist? Because there is “something” instead of “nothing” begs for an explanation. The attempt to give that explanation is called the cosmological argument. It states that God is the First Cause of the universe.
In simplest terms, every effect must have a cause. In the game of knocking down a row of dominoes all the dominoes that fall are caused to fall. At the beginning, though, there is logically “an entity” that was the cause of the first domino falling.
When thinking about our universe, it is logical to conclude that “an entity” or “a being” existed before the Big Bang that caused it to go bang. We call this being God.
“Can There Be a Design Without A Designer?”
The Teleological Argument
The order and design of the world suggest the existence of a designer. My apologetics professor Ron Nash developed a clever story to illustrate this point.
Imagine that astronauts land on the Moon. They collect rocks and bring them back. Among the rocks is a small black box that appears to be crafted by machines. On further investigation, you find the box functions like a camera. It has a lens, shutter, and all the other components of a camera. You are very excited about this, and justifiably curious.
It would be absurd to explain the existence of the camera-like object by suggesting that random natural forces came together and, “Wallah!” Instead, it would point to concluding that it was made by an intelligent being. It would suggest that there was a purpose for its existence.
How much more so, then, should we conclude that something as intricate as the human eye was made by an intelligent being. That the human reproductive system is part of a master design of an intelligent being who has a purpose. We call this being God.
“What Does My Religious Experience Mean?”
This argument begins by noticing that many people seem to have had experiences with God.
Have you ever had an encounter that you thought was God? Many people have had supernatural (or transcendent) experience. For some it is answered prayers. For others it came as they gazed into the constellations of a night sky. Still others experienced something transcendent at the moment of their child’s birth. It is the awesome sense of the presence of holiness. There is a weightiness or heaviness to the moment.
Surely, some of these experiences are delusions. However, it is not fair to judge the truth of an idea by its worst examples. Take the O. J. Simpson trial. Many believe the trial was a grotesque miscarriage of justice. It would be unfair, however, to dismiss the entire justice system because of that one example. In the same way, it would be unfair to discount the religious of experiences of 99 people because the 100th person is a nut.
Unless a man “feels” or “senses” the presence of God-at least once-it seems unlikely he will cling to the notion that God is real.
“Is Life Worth Living?”
Pessimistic philosopher Albert Camus once said, “There is only one truly serious philosophical problem is whether or not to commit suicide.”
The question of whether or not life has meaning tortures every soul at one time or another. “Why does the universe exist? Why do people exist? Why do I exist?” In other words, “What’s it all about? What’s the reason we’re all here?”
We live on a lake where how the food chain works is on display every day. Osprey dive for small fish. Herons stab at minnows. Egrets open mollusks. Raccoons go after bird’s eggs. Big fish go after little fish. Frogs go after insects. One day I was fascinated to watch a Great White Egret grab and swallow a snake during a twenty minute contest.
When we look at the “systems” in our world we see an overwhelming sense of purpose. Whether it’s an eco-system like a lake or the reproductive system which spans all species, we see purpose, and therefore meaning, to life.
Faith and Reason
Ultimately, coming back to God rests on faith. But every man must strike a balance between faith and reason. Some of us, simply put, are more analytical. We need more evidence. Some of us, though, put more emphasis on simple faith.
There is not one right way to go about this. All the great theologians of the ages from Augustine to Aquinas to Luther to Barth to Schaeffer have come to different conclusions about the balance between faith and reason.
Generally, men don’t need iron clad proof that God exists (reason). They just need to see him authentically at work in your life (faith).