Theism


To say it is impossible to know anything about God is self-refuting, because it is itself a claim to know something about God: that he is unknowable.  How can one know that about an unknowable God?  To know He is unknowable is to know something true about Him, and thus He is no longer unknowable.

man in praiseSome have argued that a God whose essence is good is not worthy of our praise for doing good, since He cannot do otherwise.  Being praiseworthy entails merit, but there is no merit in doing what one must do of necessity; therefore, God, is not deserving of praise for doing good.

William Lane Craig offers three points in response (Question #114) to this argument:

(1)   While a good act must be free for it to be praiseworthy, this argument falsely assumes that since God cannot do evil, He is not free.  Freedom, however, does not require the ability to do otherwise (in this case, to commit evil).  It only requires that one’s choices are not causally determined by external factors.  In that sense, God’s freedom to do good is a free choice.  While God cannot do evil, He freely chooses to do good.

(2)   Strictly speaking, “moral praise” is inapplicable to God.  According to Craig, “Moral praise and blame have to do with duty fulfillment. Someone who fulfills his moral obligations is morally praiseworthy. But…I don’t think that God has any moral duties. For moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, and presumably God doesn’t issue commands to Himself. Therefore, He has no obligations to live up to. Borrowing a distinction from Kant, we can say that God acts in accordance with a duty but not from a duty. Because God is essentially loving, kind, impartial, fair, etc., He acts in ways that would for us be the fulfillment of our duties.”

(3)   God is to be praised, not for choosing to do good, but for being good.  As Craig writes, “I think that our praise of God for His goodness is…to be properly understood in terms of adoration. God is the paradigm and source of infinite goodness, and therefore we adore Him for who He is. We don’t offer Him moral praise in the sense of commending Him for living up to His moral obligations; rather we love Him because He is goodness itself.”

Philosopher and theologian, William Lane Craig, has frequently made reference to the turn of events in philosophy over the past 40 years.  What was once a very secularized field has been “invaded” by theists.  As evidence of this phenomenon, consider what atheist philosopher, Quentin Smith, had to say in the journal Philo:

By the second half of the twentieth century, universities and colleges had been become in the main secularized. … Analytic philosophers (in the mainstream of analytic philosophy) treated theism as an antirealist or non-cognitivist world-view, requiring the reality, not of a deity, but merely of emotive expressions…. The secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of [Alvin] Plantinga’s influential book on realist theism, God and Other Minds, in 1967. It became apparent to the philosophical profession that this book displayed that realist theists were not outmatched by naturalists in terms of the most valued standards of analytic philosophy: conceptual precision, rigor of argumentation, technical erudition, and an in-depth defense of an original world-view. … [T]oday perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. … God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.[1]

In other words, the intellectual respectability of theism was resurrected.  Theism was rational after all (even if [as Quentin thinks] it is ultimately false), and formed a beachhead against secularism in university philosophy departments.  What I find interesting, however, is the response of naturalists.  According to Smith

the great majority of naturalist philosophers react by publicly ignoring the increasing desecularizing of philosophy (while privately disparaging theism, without really knowing anything about contemporary analytic philosophy of religion) and proceeding to work in their own area of specialization as if theism, the view of approximately one-quarter or one-third of their field, did not exist. … [N]aturalist scientists…are so innocent of any understanding of the philosophy of religion that they do not even know that they are innocent of this understanding, as it witnessed by their popular writings on science and religion.[2]

And again,

If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.[3]

Be sure, this is not because Smith thinks theists have the better arguments.  On the contrary, he is persuaded that naturalism is the true ontology.  But he recognizes that 99% of naturalists are so ignorant of the philosophy of religion that they would not be able to refute the arguments.  I have found this to be true of many naturalists.  They continue to speak as if theism requires an irrational, blind leap of faith into the dark, and continue to present tired-old arguments against theism as if those arguments have not been answered by theists both past and present.  They are unaware of those responses, because they do not engage the philosophy of religion with the same rigor that theists engage philosophical naturalism.

Furthermore, because most naturalists ignore philosophers of religion, they are also unaware of the fact that theistic philosophers have defeated their arguments for naturalism, and thus ignorant of the fact that their belief in naturalism is not justified (at least until they are able to undercut or rebut those defeaters).  As Smith notes, “They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief.”[4]

While Smith is concerned about the recent turn of events in philosophy, I find it reason to rejoice.  It is a testimony to the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith.  Religious faith does not require a commitment of the will in the absence (or in spite of the) evidence, but rather is a persuasion based on reasonable knowledge.  Christians need not fear philosophy; we need only avoid the false philosophies of men (Colossians 2:8).  As C.S. Lewis once said, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”


[1]Quentin Smith, “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism,” Philo, 4:2 (2001); available from http://www.philoonline.org/library/smith_4_2.htm; Internet; accessed 07 January 2009.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

The kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God’s existence goes as follows:

(1) Anything that begins to exist requires a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Thus, the universe requires a cause

With some additional philosophical reasoning, the cause of the universe is ultimately identified as God.  Some seek to undermine this causal argument for God’s existence by defining causality as a wholly physical principle limited to physical reality, rather than a metaphysical principle with broad application to both physical and non-physical reality.  If this assessment is correct, then the causal principle does not apply to the question of cosmic origins because it came into being concomitantly with the universe, thereby exempting the origin of the universe itself from its influence.  This would effectively undermine premise 1 of the KCA, because the universe would be an example of something that begins to exist, and yet does not require a cause.

But why think causality is a wholly physical principle?  I have yet to hear an argument to substantiate this claim that does not beg the question in favor of naturalism/atheism.  The most common argument is that causes necessarily precede their effects in time.  Since time began concomitantly with the universe, there was no time prior to the universe in which a cause could have occurred, and thus the universe must be an effect without a cause.  This begs the question in favor of naturalism/atheism, for only by assuming the truth of naturalism/atheism does it follow that causes necessarily precede their effects in time.  But it’s the truth of naturalism/atheism that the causal argument brings into question!  It is fallacious to argue the causal argument is meaningless because it posits a cause outside the spatio-temporal universe, when the causal argument itself is grounds for calling into question the naturalistic/atheistic assumption that causation is a wholly physical principle, limited to the spatio-temporal universe.

While temporal priority may be a common property of causation (particularly as we experience the causal principle in a temporal world), it is not a necessary property.  Causes can be prior to their effects in one of two ways: temporally, logically.  Even Immanuel Kant recognized this.  As an example of logical causal priority, he asks us to imagine a heavy ball resting on a cushion from eternity past.  The physical proximity of the ball and cushion forms a concave depression in the cushion that is coeternal with the ball and cushion.  What, then, is the cause of the concavity?  Neither the ball nor the cushion enjoys temporal priority over the other (the ball never began to rest on the cushion, and the cushion never existed apart from the ball’s resting on it), so there is no temporally prior cause.  If we adopt the naturalist’s assumptions, we should conclude it is uncaused.  But surely this is unreasonable!  As a contingent property, the concavity of the pillow begs for a causal explanation.  If the cause-effect relationship cannot be temporal in nature, then it must be logical in nature.  The ball is the logically prior to the pillow’s concavity (surely the concavity of the pillow does not cause the sphericity of the ball!), and thus is the cause of the concavity.  Likewise, as a contingent being, the universe demands a causal explanation.  That cause cannot be temporally prior to the universe, so it must be logically prior.  If there can be causal relations independent of temporality, then the naturalist’s objection to the KCA’s first premise fails.  Everything that begins to exist, including the universe, requires a cause.

Up to now I have granted the objector’s presupposition that causes precede their effects in time, but I think there are good reasons to believe that causes are concomitant with their effects.  If so, then the cause of the universe would be temporal after all, and the objection against premise 1 of the KCA fails.  William Lane Craig makes a good case for the temporal simultaneity of cause and effect:

Imagine C and E are the cause and the effect. If C were to vanish before the time at which E is produced, would E nevertheless come into being? Surely not! But if time is continuous, then no matter how close to E’s appearance C’s disappearance takes place, there will always be an interval of time between C’s disappearance and E’s appearance. But then why or how E came into being when it does seems utterly mysterious, for there is no cause at that moment to produce it.[1]

God’s causing the universe to come into being, then, may be simultaneous to the universe’s coming into being (effect).  If so, the temporal necessity objection against the KCA fails, and the conclusion stands: the universe requires a cause.

Even if all of my previous responses to the temporal necessity objection fail, we can know it is false because time itself does not cause anything even in the spatio-temporal world.  Time is not part of the causal equation.  While cause and effect occur within a temporal framework, time is not causing any effect.  Time is incidental to cause and effect, not essential to it.  If time is not part of the causal relationship, then there is no reason to reject the idea that the universe needs a cause on grounds that the cause would have to be outside of time.


[1]William Lane Craig, “Causation and Spacetime”; available from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7935; Internet; accessed 17 Deceber 2010.

big-bangFor millennia philosophers maintained that the universe is eternal.  The philosophical payoff of this view was that it avoided the God question.  If the universe has always been, it did not need a creator.  The emergence of the Big Bang theory in the early part of the 20th century, however, changed all of that.  The Big Bang model successfully predicted that the universe–including all spatio-temporal-material reality–had an absolute origin at a point in the finite past, from which it expanded, and continues to expand today.

The theistic implications of this model were recognized instantly.  If the universe began to exist, it seemed to require a supernatural cause (one outside the confines of the natural world).  That’s why it was met with fierce opposition, and why it took several decades and many lines of empirical confirmation to become the reigning paradigm it is today.  Even now, cosmogenists continue to put forth alternative models in hopes of averting the beginning of the universe, many of which are little more than exercises in metaphysical speculation, incapable of both verification and falsification.

While not friendly to an atheistic worldview, many atheists eventually made their peace with the empirical evidence, and accepted the theory.  But the theistic implications of a temporally finite universe have not gone away.  Anything that begins to exist requires a cause.  If the universe began to exist, what caused it to exist?  It could not be a natural law, because natural laws originated with the universe.  It could not be self-caused, because this is incoherent.  Something cannot bring itself into existence, for that would entail its existence prior to its existence.

The atheist has two options.  He can either admit to the existence of an external cause of the universe, or affirm that the universe is uncaused.  For most atheists the first option is out of the question.  An external cause of the universe looks too much like God: immaterial, eternal, non-spatial, intelligent, and personal.  That leaves them the second option.  But this won’t do either.  The causal principle is one of the most basic intuitions we have.  Things don’t just pop into existence uncaused from nothing, so why think the universe did?  If everything that begins to exist has a sufficient cause, on what grounds is the origin of the universe excepted?  If one excepts it on the basis that it is impossible to have a cause prior to the first event, they are guilty of begging the question in favor of atheism, for they are assuming that physical reality is the only reality, and thus the only possible cause of the Big Bang must be a physical cause.  But it is entirely plausible that the external cause of the Big Bang was an eternal, non-physical reality.  The only way to demonstrate that the universe cannot have a cause, then, is to demonstrate that the existence of an eternal, non-physical reality like God is impossible.  But the very beginning of the universe is an argument for such a being’s existence!

Some atheists, recognizing the problem the principle of causal sufficiency makes for the atheistic worldview, cling to an eternal universe despite the scientific and philosophic evidence to the contrary.  They recognize that it is nonsense to think something can come from nothing, uncaused.  Something can only come from something.  From nothing, nothing comes.  If there was ever a time when nothing existed (as the Big Bang model predicts), then of necessity there would be nothing still, because nothing has no potential to become something.  And yet there is something, so there could not have been a time when nothing existed.  As a matter of historical fact, there can’t ever be a time when there was nothing.  Something must exist eternally.  If something must exist eternally, and the universe is not that something, then something resembling the God of theism must exist.  Rather than admit the obvious-that this is evidence for the existence of God-these atheists reject the scientific and philosophical evidence for a finite universe, and assert that the universe must exist eternally.

What’s important to see, here, is that this sort of atheist is not being intellectually honest with the evidence.  He has an a priori philosophical and volitional commitment to atheism, and that commitment biases him to such an extent that he will not accept the destination to which the rational evidence leads.  Only theism is consistent with the evidence, and consistent with reason.  While I commend atheists who reject the notion that the universe could come into being from nothing totally uncaused as an irrational leap of faith, I admonish them to go one step further, and recognize that the principle that something only comes from something, combined with the scientific an philosophical evidence for the finitude of the universe, supports theism, not atheism.  To be consistent and honest with the data, they should accept the finitude of the universe, and admit that its existence requires a personal and supernatural cause.

A cosmological argument for theism looks something like this:

Everyone intuits the causal principle that every effect/event requires a sufficient cause.  What, then, is the cause of the universe?  What is causally sufficient to account for the observed effect?  Since the effect includes time, space, and matter, the cause must be timeless, non-spatial, and immaterial, not to mention intelligent and powerful to account for the specified complexity of the universe.  Only two things fit this description: abstract objects, or an unembodied mind.  Since abstract objects are causally impotent by definition (they do not stand in causal relations with concrete objects), they cannot be the cause of the universe.  That leaves us with an unembodied mind, who is a personal agent.  This makes sense.  Not only are we are intimately acquainted with the idea of immaterial minds causing physical effects, but it also makes sense of the design and order we see in the universe.

In response to this argument, some think we should reject the notion of a disembodied mind on the grounds that it is too abstract; i.e. it is something we are not acquainted with, and hence have no reason to believe is possible.  There are at least three reasons to reject this line of thinking.

First, there is nothing logically incoherent about a disembodied mind.  The notion may not be familiar to us, but we ought not confuse familiarity with plausibility.  A person raised in the remote parts of the jungle has never seen ice, but his lack of familiarity with ice does not mean the existence of ice is implausible.  Neither would it constitute good grounds on which for him to reject evidence being presented to him that ice exists.  Likewise, just because we are not personally acquainted with the idea of an unembodied mind does not mean an unembodied mind does not, or cannot exist.  Neither does it constitute good grounds on which to reject the evidence being presented for the existence of such a mind.  The cosmological argument provides warrant for believing in something we may not have thought probable otherwise.

Second, even if we are not personally familiar with unembodied minds, we are very familiar with the concept of mind (each of us has one), and its causal powers.  In other words, even if the specific form of the mind in question is unfamiliar to us, the function of a mind very familiar to us: minds exercise causal agency.  And I see no reason to think this capacity is dependent on our mind being embodied.  The property of causal agency belongs to the mind, not the body, so there is no reason to think an unembodied mind is too abstract a concept to be the cause of our universe.

One might respond that it would be impossible for an unembodied mind (immaterial) to cause effects in the physical realm.  This must be false.  Why?  Because our minds cause effects in the physical realm all the time, and our minds are an immaterial entity (it may stand in a causal relationship with the brain, but it cannot be reduced to the brain/physicality).  The only difference between our minds and an unembodied mind is embodiment, but I fail to see how embodiment is significant.  The fact remains that human minds, as well as a divine mind, are immaterial in nature, and a source of causation which produces effects in the physical world.

A case could even be made that human minds do not have to be embodied, and indeed, become disembodied upon death.  I am thinking in particular of empirical studies into near-death experiences.  While many of the experiences are unverifiable, a small minority are.  And in these instances, there are examples of continued consciousness, even after brain death.  In fact, in some cases the person is conscious of things happening outside of the room where their body lies (things they could not have possibly known, even if their body were functioning normally).  So I don’t think the idea of an unembodied mind is abstract, or that we are not acquainted with this.  Even if most of us are unacquainted with it experientially, we are acquainted with the concept, and there is nothing incoherent about the concept.  Strange, maybe, but incoherent, no.

Finally, those who wish to reject both abstract objects and an unembodied mind as the cause of the universe need to offer an alternative.  Given the criteria, I cannot fathom what that could be.  If no other alternative is possible, then they must either reject the causal principle and say the universe popped into existence uncaused, or else embrace an eternal universe.  Given the fact that the causal principle is one of our strongest metaphysical intuitions and enjoys undisputed empirical confirmation, and given the fact that the scientific evidence and philosophical arguments against an eternal universe are more than compelling, neither is a good option.  We have good reason, then, to think the cause of the universe was a powerful, intelligent, immaterial, non-spatial, eternal mind.  This is an apt description of what most theists have traditionally meant by the term “God.”

*Read previous post before reading this one.*

There is a difference between the question, Is existence necessary?, and Does X exist necessarily? The first question asks about existence in general, whereas the second asks about the existence of some specific thing within the larger domain of existence.

Regarding the first question, is it necessary that something exist? The answer to this question depends on whether one is speaking of historical possibility, or metaphysical possibility. Historically speaking, the answer is an emphatic yes. Something must exist, and must exist eternally. Why? Because something does exist. If there was ever a time when absolutely nothing existed, absolutely nothing would “exist” now, because nothing has no potentiality to ever become something. And yet there is something, so we know there has never been a time when nothing existed.

But from a metaphysical perspective, there is no reason to think existence itself is necessary. We can conceive of absolute nothingness. Furthermore, there is nothing logically incoherent about the concept of non-existence. Existence, then, is not necessary, but contingent, and contingent things require an explanation for their existence. What, then, is the explanation of existence? Why is there something, rather than nothing?

The second question is quite different. It does not ask whether existence itself is necessary, but whether the existence of some particular X is necessary. In cosmological arguments, X stands for the universe. Does the universe exist necessarily?

Some atheists assume the answer to this question is wrapped up in the first: Since something must exist eternally, the universe must be eternal. While it is true that something must have always existed, why think the universe is that something? Not only are there compelling scientific and philosophical reasons to think the universe exists contingently, but this begs the question in favor of atheism. It assumes materialism from the start (i.e. the universe is all that exists), reasoning that since something must be eternal, and the universe exhausts reality, then the universe must be eternal. But that the universe exhausts reality is what stands to be proven.

Secondly, thinking the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature is a grandiose claim that few philosophers are willing to countenance. To say the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature does not merely affirm the necessity of a universe in general, but the necessity of our universe in particular. It is an affirmation that the very fundamental particles of our universe–quarks, neutrons, electrons, etc.–are necessary, not just in kind, but in number and arrangement as well. But this is absurd. There is no reason to think the universe could not have been composed of a different set/number of fundamental particles, arranged in a different way, operating by a different set of physical laws, resulting in a totally different kind of universe. In fact, it is quite possible to conceive of a physically empty universe, or no universe at all. There is no physical or logical law that requires the universe to exist. So modal logic alone demonstrates the universe is not necessary. It is contingent, meaning it is metaphysically possible that it might have never been.

We can agree with the atheist that existence is necessary as a historical fact, and that the universe does not exist necessarily. But these two truths, coupled with the scientific and philosophic evidence for the finitude and contingency of the universe, provide a strong argument for a personal God. Something must exist eternally, and since the universe is not that something, it must be something else. Whatever caused the spatio-temporal-material universe to exist must itself be eternal, non-spatial, and immaterial.

Only two things fit such a description: abstract objects, or an unembodied mind. Since abstract objects are causally impotent by definition, they cannot be the cause of the universe, and thus are unlikely to be that which has always existed. That leaves us with an unembodied mind as the eternal reality. This makes sense. Not only are we are intimately acquainted with the idea of minds creating things, but it also makes sense of the design and order we see in the universe. An intelligent agent best explains why the universe exists as it does. Since an eternal, non-spatial, immaterial, intelligent mind is what most mean by “God,” it is best to conclude that God is that which exists eternally, and hence necessarily. He is a necessary being, who contains within Himself the sufficient reason for His own existence, and is the cause of everything else.

Something exists. For all but radical skeptics, this much is clear. But why does something exist? Why is there something rather than nothing at all? There is, after all, nothing logically incoherent about the concept of non-existence. It seems possible, at least, that nothing exist. So why is there something rather than nothing?

Interestingly, modern science has garnered several lines of empirical evidence highly suggestive that nonexistence was a historical reality. Cosmogonists hold that the physical universe came into being ex nihilo a finite time ago. Matter, space, and time all had their beginning at an absolute point of origin, before which there was no physical reality. While the scientific evidence does point to an absolute origin of physical reality, it does not preclude the possibility of a preexistent, immaterial reality from which the physical universe emerged-and thus does not require that physical existence emerge from absolute nonexistence. That question is left open, as it is beyond the realm of scientific inquiry.

Materialists, however, are only a little hesitant to deny the existence of such an immaterial reality, and subsequently affirm that the universe popped into being from literally nothing. As atheist and physicist, P.C.W. Davies wrote, “The coming-into-being of the universe as discussed in modern science…is not just a matter of imposing some sort of organization or structure upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming-into-being of all physical things from nothing.” This is echoed by physicists John Barrow and Frank Tipler: “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.” We have then, as a matter of historical fact, a point in time in which nothing existed-at least nothing physical. And yet now, physical reality exists. But why?

Traditionally, atheists punted on this question, responding that the existence of the universe is just a brute, inexplicable fact.1 As Bertrand Russell famously quipped, “The universe is just there, and that’s all.” This sort of response might work given an eternal universe, but it is preposterous to pass this off as an acceptable answer if the universe is finite and contingent. Everything that begins to exist has an external cause. If the universe began to exist, it stands to reason that it, too, requires an external cause. It is unbelievable and irrational to think the universe could just pop into existence uncaused from absolutely nothing.

When one reflects on it for a moment, however, Russell’s response is not rational even for an eternal universe. According to Leibnitz’s principle of sufficient reason, everything that exists has an explanation for its existence either in the necessity of its own nature, or in an external cause. An eternal universe cannot have an external cause, because that which is eternal is by definition uncaused. It exists by a necessity of its own nature. Given the principle of sufficient reason, then, the defender of an eternal universe must confess that the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature. And yet few atheists are willing to countenance the notion. And for good reason.

To say the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature does not merely affirm the necessity of a universe in general, but the necessity of our particular universe. It is an affirmation that the very fundamental particles of our universe-quarks, neutrons, electrons, etc.-are necessary, not just in kind, but in number and arrangement as well. But this is absurd. There is no reason to think the universe could not have been composed of a different kind/number of fundamental particles, arranged in a different way, operating by a different set of physical laws, resulting in a totally different kind of universe. In fact, it is quite possible to conceive of a physically empty universe, or no universe at all. There is no physical or logical law that requires the universe to exist.2 It is contingent, meaning it is metaphysically possible that it might have never been.

The defender of an eternal universe, then, is in the unusual spot of having to deny that the universe exists in virtue of an external cause, and not willing to accept that it exists by a necessity of its own nature. Whence does it exist, then? No sufficient reason is given, which is intellectually unacceptable. The atheist must offer an explanation for why the universe exists, or offer an explanation for why no explanation is necessary. Merely asserting that there is no explanation, or that the question is meaningless is not a satisfactory answer. Surely no atheist would accept this kind of answer for anything else. Indeed, atheists often challenge theists to explain why God exists, and are unwilling to accept the answer that He exists inexplicably. They rightly demand that His existence be explained, so on what grounds are they justified in exempting the universe from explanation?

To date, no atheist has provided a non-question begging explanation for why the universe does not require an explanation. Some argue that a cause of the universe is logically impossible, because any such cause would have to obtain prior to the universe. And yet, since nothing existed prior to the emergence of the universe, no cause can obtain. But this assumes all causal relations are temporal, and that the only possible state of affairs prior to the universe is a physical state of affairs. This begs the question in favor of materialism and atheism, and thus an explanation for why the universe needs no explanation still stands.

If no explanation as to why the universe does not require an explanation can be provided, then the atheist is under rational obligation to embrace an external cause as the sufficient reason for the universe, or the necessity of its own nature. Given the fact that the latter is absurd, it is more reasonable to embrace an external cause for the universe. In doing so, he will have to abandon his belief in an eternal universe, and embrace a finite universe, causing him to squarely face our original question: Why does the universe exist, rather than not?

Why and how did something emerge from nothing? The most basic ontological principle is that out of nothing, nothing comes; and yet in the case of the universe, out of nothing something came. There must be a sufficient cause for the universe to come into being, and that requires that something exist external to the universe. Given that whatever caused space, time, and matter to begin to exist cannot itself be spatial, temporal, or material, we are limited to two possible causes of the universe: abstract objects, or an unembodied mind.

Since abstract objects are causally impotent by definition, they cannot be the cause of the universe, and thus are unlikely to be that which has always existed. That leaves us with an unembodied mind as the eternal reality. This makes sense. Not only are we are intimately acquainted with the idea of minds creating things, but it also makes sense of the design and order we see in the universe. An intelligent agent best explains why the universe exists as it does.

Since an eternal, non-spatial, immaterial, intelligent mind is what most mean by “God,” it is best to conclude that God is that which has always existed. He is a necessary being, who contains within Himself the sufficient cause for His own existence, as well as the existence of everything else.

1. Some have also responded to the question of why the universe exists, that such a question is irrelevant. All that matters is that it does exist. But surely this is false. Imagine walking through the forest, and coming upon a translucent ball off the beaten path. Would it be relevant to ask why it exists, and from whence it came? Of course. An explanation of its existence is in order. It would be absurd to think there is no explanation for why it is there. Explicability would still be required even if we increased the size of the ball to the size of a planet, or even the size of the universe. Increasing its size does not remove the need for an explanation. Likewise, the universe begs for an explanation. Its size does not exempt it from the causal principle.
2. Even if there was such a law, it would itself have ontological existence, and thus we would still have to ask why it exists, ad infinitum.

During Greg Koukl’s August 10th radio broadcast, he shared some thoughts about the criterion of falsifiability as it relates to theism, that I found worth passing on (with some expansion and commentary of my own).

Some claim theistic belief is not reasonable, because theism cannot be falsified.  For something to be falsifiable requires that there be an imagined set of circumstances that would demonstrate a particular view to be false.  For example, Christianity would be falsified if archaeologists ever unearthed Jesus’ body from a grave outside Jerusalem.  The idea behind the principle of falsifiability is that if, in principle, there can be no evidence that counts against a view, then it is not possible to have a reasonable conversation about the merits of the view.

While this is a useful principle, clearly it is not an absolute criterion for a theory/belief to be reasonable, nor is it necessary to have a reasonable conversation about its merits.  For example, consider the belief that you exist.  Can you imagine any set of circumstances that could convince you that you do not exist?  No.  It is inconceivable.  And yet we are fully reasonable in our belief that we exist.

While falsifiability is a useful way to evaluate a theory/belief, the merits of that theory/belief do not hang on its falsifiability.  Its merits hang on the evidence in its favor.  Theism has several lines of evidence in its favor.  That body of evidence serves as the basis for a reasonable dialogue concerning the veridicality of theism.

More to the heart of the matter, falsifiability cannot be an appropriate test for theism because it is impossible to falsify a universal negative.  And in order to falsify God’s existence, one would have to prove a universal negative: God does not exist.

To be fair, I should qualify my statement that a universal negative cannot be proven.  While a universal negative cannot be proven empirically, it can be proven logically.  If something is logically contradictory, or incoherent, we can be sure it does not exist.  For example, I can prove there are no square circles.  I cannot, and need not do so empirically, but I can do so logically.  The concept of a square circle is incoherent, and thus square circles cannot exist.  Some atheists contend that theism is logically incoherent, but few have been persuaded of their arguments.  In the past, the most common attempt to show theism was incoherent was the problem of evil.  It was reasoned that if God is all good and all powerful as theism claims, evil should not exist.  And yet it does, hence, theism must be false.  Philosophers have since come to realize that the existence of evil is logically compatible with the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving God.  It stands, then, that the very nature of theism is that it cannot be falsified, and thus this should not count against the view.  The focus should be on the evidence for theism, not its unfalsifiability.

Atheists, and unfortunately even some theists, think belief in God is irrational. I beg to differ. Given the maxim that effects require an adequate cause, and no effect can cause itself, theism makes the best sense of the world. The beginning of the universe (effect) begs for a Beginner (cause), the design of the universe (effect) begs for a designer (cause), and the moral law we intuit (effect) begs for a moral law giver (cause).

Indeed, theism is much more reasonable than atheism. Is it more rational to believe the universe popped into existence out of nowhere completely uncaused, or that it was caused by a powerful and intelligent mind? Is it more rational to believe the intricate design and incomprehensibly balanced fine tuning of our universe happened by chance, or that an intelligent agent designed it for a purpose? Is it more rational to believe moral values exist inexplicably or as the result of evolution, or that they are the product of a moral law giver? In each case, the latter seems to be the more reasonable position prima facie. The only reason to deny these conclusions would be if atheists could provide good evidence that would overwhelm our prima facie intuitions. Not surprisingly, they have not done so.

I have written on this subject before, so I won’t repeat myself here. I do, however, want to share with you another quote I stumbled on, reinforcing why it is that evolution and theism are logically incompatible. In “Darwin Would Put God Out of Business,” David Klinghoffer wrote:

 

When it comes to Darwinian evolution and the challenge it presents to belief in God, a lot of thoughtful men and women seem intent on not facing up to a tough but necessary choice, between Darwin and God.

The key point is whether, across hundreds of millions of years, the development of life was guided or not. On one side of this chasm between worldviews are Darwinists, whose belief system asserts that life, through a material mechanism, in effect designed itself. On the other side are theories like intelligent design (ID) which argue that no such purely material mechanism could write the software in the cell, called DNA.

To put it starkly, Darwinism would put God out of business. God’s authority to command our behavior is based on His having created us. … If the process that produced existence and then life was not guided, then God is not our creator.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]

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It won’t help to say God indirectly created us since He was the one who created the laws of nature responsible for bringing us, and everything else into existence. The eminent evolutionist, William Provine, explains why:

Of course, it is still possible to believe in both modern evolutionary biology and a purposive force, even the Judeo-Christian God. One can suppose that God started the whole universe or works through the laws of nature (or both). There is no contradiction between this or similar views of God and natural selection. But this view of God is also worthless. Called Deism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and considered equivalent to atheism then, it is no different now. A God or purposive force that merely starts the universe or works through the laws of nature has nothing to do with human morals, answers no prayers, gives no life everlasting, in fact does nothing whatsoever that is detectable. In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]

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Well said!

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[1]David Klinghoffer, “Darwin Would Put God Outof Business”; available fromhttp://www.beliefnet.com/story/198/story_19844_1.html;Internet; accessed 18 September 2006.

[2]William Provine, review of Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution, by Edward J. Larson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, 224 pp.), in Academe, January 1987, pp.51-52.

Some like to dismiss the issue of religion by claiming we can’t know if God exists or not. I have always found this to be a strange position to take because it is intellectually indefensible. How might we respond to such an assertion?

The best weapon of any apologist is the question. The first question we might ask is one of clarification: “Are you saying it is logically impossible to know whether God exists, or are you just saying it is practically impossible? Relatively few would opt for the former. Most recognize that there is nothing inherently contradictory between the existence of God and our ability to know of His existence.

The second question to ask is one of justification: How do you know that, and why do you believe it to be true? I doubt you will get a coherent response. Most people who make this assertion have not given much thought to the matter. It’s not as though they have thoroughly investigated the question, and after having completed an exhaustive study of the matter were forced to conclude that religious knowledge is simply impossible. No. It’s a pat answer that usually works to silence those who would try to convert them, and gives them the justification they need for intellectual laziness and/or ungodliness. If we can’t know whether God exists, they reason, there is no reason to explore the issue. [Pascal’s Wager is enough to show the fallacy underlying this sort of thinking. It confuses epistemology with ontology. Even if we could not know for certain (epistemology) whether God exists, the fact remains that He either does or He doesn’t (ontology). The possibility that He does is reason enough to consider the question, particularly when our post-death existence might be affected by our beliefs about the answer. See my April 24th post entitled Pascal’s Wager Under Attack for further reading.]

The person who believes no one can know whether God exists presupposes only two possible sets of reality: (1) A world in which there is no God; (2) A world in which there is a God, but one who does not reveal Himself to man. Neither state of affairs would afford us the ability to answer the question of God’s existence. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it sets up a false dichotomy. There is at least one more possibility: (3) A world in which there is a God who reveals Himself to man. If (3) is a logical possibility then it would be possible to know if God exists. To answer the question of God’s existence all we would need is a legitimate revelation of Himself to man. This is where the intellectual leg-work comes in. Many claim to have received revelation from god(s). These claims must be examined. Their truth-value must be based on the quantity and quality of the evidence. If there is good reason to believe that one or more of these supposed revelations is indeed from god(s), then we can possess knowledge of God existence.

For further reading see my article entitled How to be a Good Agnostic

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