Traditional Arguments for God's Existence
Updated: May 7, 2019
When we talk about how we can know that God exists, there are many ways to approach the topic. This blog post will examine four of the traditional arguments that have been made over the years.
The four arguments are as follows:
1. The Cosmological Argument
2. The Teleological Argument
3. The Moral Argument
4. The Transcendental Argument
The Cosmological Argument
I'll state the argument this way: Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The Universe began to exist. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.
The fact is things exist. Something cannot bring itself into existence. It's illogical, because it must first exist in order to bring itself into existence. Since the universe exists, it must have a cause. Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause of all things. This uncaused cause is God.
So, either the universe has a beginning, or it doesn't. The majority of the scientific community still holds to the Big Bang theory. This beginning point makes sense because there cannot be an infinite number of past events. There must be a starting point. There cannot be an infinite number of causes to bring something into existence. An infinite regression of causes ultimately has no initial cause, which means there is no cause of existence.
Look at it this way; imagine an infinite number of dominoes falling over, one after another. If each domino represents one second of time, there can't be an infinite number of them extending into the past. There wouldn't be a first domino to start the process, therefore the second one wouldn't fall, nor would the third, etc. So, none of them would fall. Therefore, an actual infinite number of successive events in the past is logically impossible.
The next question is whether something caused this beginning, or whether the universe just popped into existence out of nothing. We all know, out of nothing, nothing comes. You can’t get something 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, its creator.
Now there is a popular objection: Atheists say this argument only moves the question back a step. They ask, "Who made God? How did He come into existence?" The answer to that of course is God has always existed. Remember, whatever begins to exist has a cause. God has always been. The Bible says, Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. Psalm 90:1,2
I would ask, "If the world came into existence through the Big Bang, what caused the Big Bang?" Again, we're faced with an infinite regress. I would like to submit to you that the first cause or uncaused cause is God, and here's why. This first cause would need to be self-existent, timeless, unimaginably powerful, very intelligent, immaterial (because it created time, space and matter, it would need to be outside of time, space, and matter), and personal since it had to exercise some decision-making ability in order to create in the first place. An impersonal force has no ability to make any choices.
This is precisely how the Bible, written thousands of years ago, describes God.
The Teleological Argument
This argument can be stated in two ways -
1) All designs imply a designer. There is great design in the universe. Therefore, there must be a great designer of the universe.
2) Nature shows complexity, order, design, and purpose. These cannot be explained by random or accidental processes, but only as a product of a mind. Therefore, there must exist a mind that produced nature. This mind that produced nature is the supremely intelligent creator God.
We know that natural causes never produce complex systems, such as books, cars, or buildings. We know that natural causes of wind and water produced the Grand Canyon, but we would never say that wind and water naturally produced Mount Rushmore. Books imply an author, cars a manufacturer, and buildings an architect.
Skeptics say that it is by time and chance, and not by design, that the universe exists the way it does. Think about those words "Time" and "Chance". What power do they have? "Time" is just a word we use to measure duration or an interval. It has no power. Same with "Chance". "Chance" is a term for the likelihood or probability of something happening. It doesn't do anything by itself. How can labels like these cause anything to happen? Let alone a finely tuned, immensely complex universe.
If we were walking on the beach and found a watch in the sand, we would not assume that it washed up on the shore having been formed through the natural processes and motions of the sea. We would assume that it had been lost by its owner and that somewhere there was a watchmaker who originally designed and built it with a specific purpose in mind. We would see that its several parts were put together for the purpose of producing motion. This motion is so well regulated that it is able to mark the time of the day with precision. We would see that if there were any small variation in the shape, size, or position of the many parts of the watch, there would either be no motion at all, or motion that would not serve the purpose of keeping time. We would conclude that the watch must have a maker.
Consider for a moment the incredible complexity of the human eye. It consists of a ball with a lens on one side and a light sensitive retina made up of rods and cones inside the other. The lens itself has a sturdy protective covering called a cornea that sits over an iris designed to protect the eye from excessive light. The eye contains a fantastic watery substance that is replaced every four hours, while tear glands continuously flush the outside clean. In addition, an eyelid sweeps secretions over the cornea to keep it moist, and eyelashes protect it from dust.
Consider the fact that as you read this, a number of impulses are traveling from your eyes through millions of nerve fibers that transmit information to your brain. It is one thing to suggest that the complex eye evolved by time and chance; it is quite another to say that the eye could have evolved in conjunction with other essential coordinated functions. This design can be called irreducibly complex.
Irreducible complexity states that all of the individual component parts must be in place in order to impart functionality to the system as a whole. In other words, it is impossible to remove any of the component parts and still have the system work.
The mousetrap is an illustration of this concept. A mousetrap consists of five interacting pieces – the base, the catch, the spring, the hammer and the hold-down bar. All of these must be in place for the mousetrap to work, if you take away any of these parts you would destroy the function of the mousetrap.
Charles Darwin in his book "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life" he says, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." Page 158.
The Argument from Morality
It's usually stated like this -
1. If there are objective moral values then God exists. 2. There are objective moral values. 3. Therefore, God exists.
What are objective moral values?
An objective moral value is something that is either right or wrong whether or not anyone believes in it or not. For example, is it always wrong to torture babies for fun? If that is an objective moral value then it is universally wrong. It is wrong for everyone, everywhere, every time no matter if anyone believes it or not. All people everywhere have this moral code. Even the most remote tribes who have been cut off from the rest of civilization observe a moral code similar to everyone else's.
Anytime we use words like "should" and "ought" we are appealing to this higher moral authority. People will say, "You shouldn't torture babies for fun, because it's just plain wrong." I would respond, "Why?" They would argue, "That's just the way it is. It's just not right!" Says who? There's no natural explanation for this "law". Why should it exist in a "random chance" ungoverned universe?
Where does this idea of a universal "right" and "wrong" come from? The moral law does not ultimately come from within each individual, for then no one could call the actions of another, such as Hitler, evil. The moral law does not ultimately come from each society, for then one society could not call the actions of another society (such as Nazi Germany) wrong. Every time we argue over right and wrong, we appeal to a higher law. Laws require a lawgiver. Because the moral law transcends humanity, this universal law must come from a universal lawgiver outside of our own humanity. The moral law is also eternal; it does not change with time. Therefore, there must exist an eternal moral lawgiver who stands above all people. This lawgiver is God.
These objective moral values are not a matter of opinion or feeling. Like chocolate ice cream tastes better than vanilla. That is purely subjective. It may be true for you, but not for me. Without God as the transcendent being within which moral values are grounded, we have no basis for saying certain things are right or wrong. Everything would be a matter of taste, or preference. We then would not be able to say things like rape, child abuse and injustice are really wrong. At the same time, we couldn't say that love, integrity and compassion are really good.
If there isn't a God who exists who will someday judge our actions, then it makes no difference how we live. It wouldn't make a difference if we live like Mother Theresa or Adolph Hitler. If God does exist, then how we live does make a difference. If there is life after death with rewards and punishment, then the moral code that has been given by God makes sense.
This argument didn't originate in a sophisticated university classroom, or some seminary, or by deep thinking philosophers over the centuries. God himself explained this thousands of years ago in the Bible. He says that this law is written on every person's heart and your conscience will testify to this fact and your thoughts will either accuse or excuse you.
The word conscience means "with knowledge." This is an instinctive sense of right and wrong that produces guilt when violated. God tells us that this is how He will render all people accountable to Him, because all our secrets will be brought to light and our own conscience, which God gave us, will be a witness. (Romans 2:15-16) Our conscience, or internal warning system, is something that evolution simply cannot account for.
The Transcendental Argument
Premise 1: Knowledge, Truth and Logic exist. Premise 2: Knowledge, Truth and Logic are impossible without God. Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.
I suspect that you are going to challenge premise two, which is that knowledge, truth and logic are impossible without God. I also suspect you are going to want some proof of that. I will provide a proof right here. This is not evidence, this is a proof. It may get a little heady and philosophical, which may require of us some careful thinking. So, grab your thinking cap, and let's go.
Let's start by looking at knowledge. Question: could you be wrong about everything you claim to know? If you say yes, that amounts to absurdity. The reason is because if that's the case, then you wouldn't even know that. It's a self-refuting statement. In addition, if you could be wrong about everything, then it necessarily follows that you don't know anything. You have completely given up knowledge. If that's the case, you're claims about God not existing are rendered meaningless. No one in their right mind should answer yes to this question. If so, knowledge has been abandoned, you have fallen on your sword, and there's no sense continuing the discussion.
Therefore, your answer should be No. The fact is, you do know things. Are you reading this right now? Do you know that you're reading this right now? Is that true?
Let's ask this question, out of all the knowledge there is in the entire world, how much of it do you possess? If you said 1%, that would be very generous wouldn't it? So out of the 99% you don't know, is it possible that something that you don't know could contradict the 1% you do know?
How is it that you can know anything for certain? You would need to use your senses, reasoning and memory. How do you know that your senses, reasoning, and memory are valid? You know your senses are true, by your senses. "I see the oar in the water, therefore I know it is a straight oar that is submerged in water.” Have you ever seen an oar "bend" while under water? You have. That's because the way the light refracts, it gives the appearance of a bent oar. The oar isn't really bent, it just appears that way to your eyes. In this case, your senses are wrong; therefore, they are untrustworthy. You would reason that "my eyes are deceiving me."
Has your reasoning ever failed you? There are times when I have examined a situation, used deductive reasoning, and logic to draw a conclusion, and my conclusion has been wrong. If my reasoning is valid, how do I know that it's valid? I would use my reasoning to conclude that my reasoning is valid. It too is circular. How do you know that your memory is valid? You use your memory. Do you remember what you ate yesterday? How do you know that you remember that? You say, "I used my memory." See the circular reasoning?
The response at this point may be, "I have good reasons to believe that my senses, reasoning, and memory are basically reliable. For the most part, I can trust them.” So, the question then becomes - is everyone's reasoning valid? I hope you'd say no, because all we would need to do to prove you wrong is simply head down to the nearest insane asylum.
So, if someone's reasoning is invalid, how would they know it? They would have to have valid reasoning to do so, right? But that is something that they don't have. So, here's what you need to think about... How do you know that you're not one of those people?
The conclusion is, in order for someone to know anything for certain, they would have to know everything, or know someone who does. To say it another way, unless one knows everything, or has revelation from someone who does, something that he doesn't know could contradict what he thinks he knows.
Here's a question: is it possible for an all-knowing, all-powerful being to communicate things to me in such a way that I can know them for certain? If your answer is yes, then you have given me something that you as an atheist can't have. That is - an avenue to certainty.
Without an all-knowing being, God, an atheist cannot know anything for certain. However, you agreed earlier that it is impossible for you to be wrong about everything you claim to know. The truth is, you do know things, and that is because God exists.
I have what is called "a revelational epistemology". Which means that I know things (and so do you), because the God who knows everything has revealed them to us. If our thoughts are the mere by-products of the electro-chemical processes in our evolved brains, you would not get truth, you would get "brain-fizz."
Chemicals do not produce truth, they just react. As Doug Wilson said, it would be like shaking up a can of Mountain Dew, and a can of Dr. Pepper, opening them, and watching them fizz. Neither fizz is "true," they just are. For truth, you need God, who transcends the natural realm.
Regarding logic, there are three main laws of logic that we use ever single day.
1. The Law of Identity - Something is what it is. "A" is "A".
2. The Law of Non-Contradiction - "A" cannot be "A" and not "A" at the same time, and in the same way.
3. The Law of Excluded Middle - Either God exists or He doesn't. It's either true or false.
Do you agree that logic exists? You must. In order to have a rational dialogue, logic must exist. Otherwise, this page could simply read like this... hsdkbfghinmxcb. Or I could use this as my proof that God exists - Green sleeps faster than January; therefore, God exists.
Obviously, logic exists. We use it every day, and you're using it right now. Since logic exists, where did it come from? Was it man made? People will say that logic is a human construct. If that's true, then according to the atheistic view of the universe being around long before mankind, then could the universe have existed, and not existed at the same time and in the same way before man existed? The answer quite obviously is no. If you say, yes, then wouldn't that violate the second law of logic, the law of non-contradiction? It most certainly would.
That is because logic came, not from man, but from God. It is based upon His character and nature.
- Logic is universal. It applies to all people, in all places, at all times.
- Logic is immaterial. You can't hand me a pound of logic.
- Logic is also unchanging. For example, it is impossible that next week a woman could be pregnant and not pregnant at the same time, and in the same way.
For universal, immaterial, unchanging logic, you need a Being who is universal (Psalm 90:2), not made of matter (John 4:24) and unchanging (Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8).
As a guy named Sye Ten Bruggencate has said, "God is not a God that we can reason to; He's the God who we can't reason without."