The Existence of God – Part 2

Yesterday my family and I finished reading Chapter 9, “The Existence of God,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) in our after breakfast Bible reading time. The previous day we’d considered two answers to the question of how God exists: all people have an inner sense of God, and evidence of His existence can be seen in the Bible and in nature. Yesterday we considered four traditional proofs for the existence of God constructed by philosophers at various times in the past.

Cosmological argument. Each known thing in the universe has a cause and that cause had a cause, etc. This series of causes could not go back indefinitely. Therefore there must have been a first uncaused cause. We call that first uncaused cause God. (The cosmological argument has different forms, and I’ve given the one that I’m most familiar with instead of the one given by Grudem.)

Teleological argument. The universe shows evidence of design. Design implies a designer. Therefore the universe owes its existence to a designer. We call that designer God. (“Design” can be defined as “a fitting together of structures and processes to bring about a certain result” and “a designer” can be described as “an intelligent and purposeful author.” Grudem says that the teleological argument is really a subcategory of the cosmological argument, but I view it as a distinct argument.)

Ontological argument. God is a being greater than which none can be thought. Since it is greater to exist than not to exist, that being (God) must have existence.

Moral argument. People have a sense of right and wrong and of the need for justice to be done. Therefore there must be a God who is the source of right and wrong and who will someday mete out justice to all people.

Grudem claims that all of the arguments are based on true facts about the universe and, when carefully constructed, are valid. Thus he concludes that they are proofs even though not everybody is persuaded by them and attributes unbelievers’ not accepting them to their beginning with false assumptions or not reasoning correctly from the evidence. I respectfully disagree with him and will explain why in the following paragraph.

When I was working on my M.A. in Humanities with California State University Dominguez Hills some thirty years ago, I considered doing my thesis on one or more of the philosophical proofs for God’s existence. In preparation for writing it, I did an Independent Study of versions of the four arguments given above, specifically: Anselm’s ontological argument, Aquinas’s cosmological argument, Paley’s teleological argument (and Hume’s criticism of it), and Kant’s moral argument. For each of the arguments I concluded that either one of the premises was false or the argument was invalid. As a result I decided not to do my thesis on the proofs of God’s existence. I didn’t share with my family in our reading of Grudem’s presentation what I found faulty in the arguments and thus I won’t do so here either.

I agree with the writer of Hebrews that faith is required to know that God exists, his asserting, “Without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV), but I think that the proofs of God’s existence can help overcome objections from unbelievers and thus make them more willing to listen to the inner sense of God that everyone has and to the witness of the Bible regarding Him. However, in light of 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the eyes of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” I agree with Grudem that even more is needed, help from God. Only He can remove the blindness so that unbelievers can believe in Him and accept the salvation that He offers everybody through Jesus Christ.

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5 thoughts on “The Existence of God – Part 2

    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      “What were the flaws?”

      Since receiving your question, I’ve reread the papers that I wrote on the four arguments. Here are what I perceived as flaws in the arguments.

      Cosmological. It is inconsistent to claim that everything must have an efficient cause outside itself and then to claim that there must be a first efficient cause that has no cause outside itself. Either everything must have an efficient cause outside itself and thus there would be an infinite regress of efficient causes, or not everything must have an efficient cause outside itself. Both possibilities have been seriously proposed. If either an infinite regress of efficient causes is possible or the existence of something not caused by an efficient cause outside itself is possible, then the cosmological argument contains a false premise and thus does not prove the existence of God.

      Teleological. The many imperfections in the world suggest an imperfect designer, a god or gods limited in power, intelligence, and/or benevolence. The presence of evil, both natural and moral, in the world, is particularly harmful to the use of the teleological argument as a proof of the existence of the Christian God.

      Ontological. The argument assumes that “a being greater than which none can be thought” can be thought of but atheists, dualists, and polytheists don’t accept that assumption. Also, logically the conclusion seems to have been smuggled into the argument in a way that begs the question.

      Anthropological. People’s having different ideas of what is right and what is wrong suggests that there is no universal conscience.

      The most popular argument is the teleological argument or, as it is generally known as, the argument from design.

      Reply
  1. tammuz

    “It is inconsistent to claim that everything must have an efficient cause outside itself and then to claim that there must be a first efficient cause that has no cause outside itself. Either everything must have an efficient cause outside itself and thus there would be an infinite regress of efficient causes, or not everything must have an efficient cause outside itself.”

    The cosmological argument does not assert that everything has an efficient cause because that would, indeed, be inconsistent. Instead, the cosmological argument says that there are some things in the world which do not contain in themselves the reason for their own existence; in other words they are contingent, they can exist or not exist, depending on other things. The existence of these things can only be made sense of in light of a necessary existent (or ‘uncased cause’, depending on the version of the argument).

    Now it matters not at all whether there is an infinite regress of efficient causes, because the totality of contingent beings, even an infinite number of contingent beings, has no power to instantiate a necessary existent. That totality will itself be contingent. If someone wants to say otherwise, then they would have to show what it is about a group of contingent beings that allows the group as a whole to become necessary, and what that might even mean, since the group has no existence except through the existence of its members, and it is the nature of the existence of its members that we are talking about.

    So regardless of how long time stretches back or how many efficient causes there are, a necessary existent is always need to explain them, not just temporally, not just to explain their existence at some time in the past, but to explain their present, continuous existence.

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks for posting a version of the cosmological argument which avoids the apparent inconsistency of the version given in my article. Unfortunately it gives as a premise the conclusion that it is arguing for, “The existence of these things can only be made sense of in light of a necessary existent.” Thus I am not convinced by it and still agree with the writer of Hebrews that it is by faith that we know God exists (11:3,6).

      Reply
      1. Bob Hunter Post author

        Recently tammuz sent me the following e-mail and, on my asking to be allowed to post it here, gave me permission to do so.

        —–

        I meant to reply to you but never got around to it. i will just reply here. The objection you made is that the conclusion of the cosmological argument (” “The existence of these things can only be made sense of in light of a necessary existent.”) is contained in the premises. I don’t think that is correct. None of the versions of the argument with which I am familiar (Leibniz’ contingency argument, Aquinas’ argument, Avicenna’s argument, the Kalam version of the argument) contain a premise which is identical to the conclusion. It is simply that the conclusion is entailed by the premises. But that doesn’t make the argument circular, just valid.

        The argument is not ironclad, though. It requires several assumptions to work. In the kalam argument, which goes something like: 1) everything which begins to exist has a cause, 2) the universe began to exist; therefore 3) the universe has a cause – the main weakness is that by bringing in language of ‘beginning’ one brings in the concept of time. But it is not clear what time is. If time is illusory, then the argument doesn’t make sense.

        Two contestable assumptions common to all forms of the argument are: 1) that there are discrete ‘objects’ and 2) that all events have a cause.

        If there are no discrete objects, and the differentiation we seem to observe between ‘you’ and ‘me’ and ‘a tree’ and so on is not ultimately true (that is, there are no essential properties to things; everything blurs into everything else at some level) then the argument merely establishes that ‘the thing which exists’ (i.e. the cosmos) necessarily exists. That is interesting but it’s not what we wanted out of the argument.

        Hume challenged the idea that all events have a cause, and more recently others have done so on the basis of quantum mechanics. There has been some question about what a ’cause’ might be, e.g. the scientists who claim that quantum events are ’causeless’ are working with a different definition of ’cause’ than the classical philosophers.

        So it’s not open and shut. But there are few unimpeachable proofs in philosophy. I still like the argument.

        I don’t think it is any substitute for faith, though. If we accept the argument, all we’ve done is to say that it’s reasonable on the face of it to think that such a person as the biblical God might exist. We haven’t established that the God of the Bible is to be identified with the necessary existent, and we haven’t actually got to know God. But if the argument opens a person’s mind to the possibility of God actually existing, then perhaps they will pay more attention when God calls them. So run my thoughts anyway.

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