Does God Exist: Responding to the Critics

By Dianna (Newman) Williams

Over the entire course of human history, the question of God’s existence has always been man’s concern. When we look over the landscape of ideas, it’s clear that there have been cultures that simply assumed the truth of his existence without serious concern for proving it; other cultures have ideas about the divine, but those ideas don’t necessarily accord with Christian monotheism; and other cultures have rejected the relevance of divinity altogether, only to replace it with religious-likedevotion to certain ideas and values. However cultures choose to cash out the question of God’s existence, the point is to say that the overwhelming majority of cultures in history have acknowledged the issue enough to even ask the question.

Though every religion has its own distinctions, most would agree that “God” is the infinite, all powerful creator of the universe. Since neither time nor space allows for a discussion on the different views of God or gods, this article assumes the truth of Monotheism. It should also be pointed out that though written specifically with the atheist view in mind this article applies equally as well to agnostics. Agnosticism is the view that one can’t know whether God exists or not.

Atheism is stronger than Agnosticism—Atheism says there is no God. Interestingly, atheism has only been a recent phenomenon in human history. That is, when you take a look at the whole of human history from ancient times through to the middle ages and right to the present day, the attention paid to atheism as a worldview is only recent. That’s an important qualification—as a worldview—because clearly atheists have always existed. The issue is that atheism did not really become a “contender” among worldviews until what scholars refer to as the Enlightenment Era. It all began in Europe—the Protestant Revolution and its aftermath, the explosion in modern science, and the musings of philosophers who questioned the ability to know anything outside of nature created an ideal situation for man to begin toying with the idea of God’s non-existence.

Theologically, the argument for God’s existence is grounded in biblical revelation. Since theology is the study of God and since Christians believe the Bible is God’s self-disclosure, Christians believe what the Bible says about God. Sometimes Christians are accused of taking leaps of blind faith to believe the Bible, or they’re charged with believing the Bible despite the evidence against its credibility. Those sorts of statements fail to recognize that Christians believe the Bible for good reasons—it’s not blind belief. Those who have studied the biblical text realize that the thousands of New Testament manuscripts found far outnumber any work of antiquity (including Plato’s works or Homer’s works), meaning that if Plato’s or Homer’s works are recognized as authentic, there’s no reason to disqualify the biblical manuscripts as authentic; archaeological finds have confirmed the majority of historical claims found in the New Testament; the gospels themselves are eyewitness testimonies about Jesus that have been dated closer to the events in question than any work known from the ancient world.  Secular works talk about Jesus’ miracles, crucifixion and believed resurrection; objective historians have long recognized that nothing buta physical resurrection could adequately explain the presence of Christianity today. These are the sorts of things that give the Bible its credibility. And in turn, they form the basis for believing that what it says is credible.

Unfortunately though, sometimes those points are not compelling enough to demonstrate that God exists. That being the case, there are good philosophicalreasons for thinking God exists too. The branch of philosophy that deals with these matters is called Metaphysics, where metaphysics is the study of being, or reality. To state it very briefly, classical philosophers point out that finite things (people, trees, animals, rocks etc) are things that come into existence and given enough time go outof existence.  As such, finite things receive their existence from something other than themselves. If one were to go as far back in the chain, if you will, as is possible one has to logically infer that whatever started the chain of finite things couldn’t have been finite. In other words, the very first thing had to have been in-finite and had to have in itself the ability to exist on its own. Additionally, this very first thing must have existed before time, space, and matter because time, space, and matter are finite too—science has well documented that the universe can’t possibly be eternal. And so the argument goes, this is exactly what’s meant by Christians when they affirm God exists. By it they mean that God is the infinite creator that always existed, will always exist, and has caused all things to exist. This argument, though stated very briefly, is a powerful philosophical argument for God’s existence.

Despite the manuscript reasons and despite the philosophical argument, by and large most atheists deny God’s existence because they feel that God is not necessary in some way. That is to say, people will sometimes make the argument that God is not necessary for morality—people can be moral without him. Or it’s said that God is not necessary to explain the origins of the universe—Darwinian evolution does. And some say he is not necessary to live a purposeful and meaningful life—atheists live just as fulfilling lives as theists do.

Each of these objections will be treated in turn.

The atheist argument from morality essentially states that people don’t need God in order to know that certain things are right and other things are wrong. For example, atheists know that things such as rape, murder, or molestation are wrong just as well as theists know that it is—therefore, God is not necessary to live morally. But the reason why this argument should be seen as less than compelling is because the issue is not that atheists can recognize right and wrong—it’s why they should think that certain things are wrong. Theists would say that certain things are wrong because to commit them would be to go against God’s nature as a holy and loving God. But on an atheist accounting, the only reason why an act (let’s use child molestation as an example) is wrong is because cultures have stated that it’s wrong. The atheist grounding of morality usually defaults to some type of social construction. But if morality is not to be grounded in some sort of absolute standard and it’s just socially constructed, then under other conditions, society could just as easily have “decided” that childhood molestation was right. The point is to say that on an atheistic accounting there’s no reason to think that morals are absolute. The clincher is that everyone really does know that acts like child molestation are wrong, regardless of what societies think about it or not. And as soon as one acknowledges the “absoluteness” of moral acts, atheism shows itself insufficient to account for it.

The second objection says that God is not necessary to explain the origin of the universe, since science can do that. Usually, Darwinian Evolution is attributed as the mechanism by which it all happened—random mutation and natural selection are seen as the vehicle that produced life in all its various forms. But Darwinian Evolution is only a mechanism for things that already exist—it does not explain how absolutely nothing can suddenly become a thing. Evolutionary scientists typically cite that in the beginning, gases and molecules organized themselves into primitive structures that, over time, became more complex. But when Christians assert creation ex-nihilo (“out of nothing”) what that means is that God existed before time, space and matter, and molecules did. Creation ex-nihilo means that when there was nothing, absolutely nothing, God’s command started the beginning. At its very best, Darwinian Evolution describes variation among species—it does not explain the origin of species. In fact, modern science in all its glory describes the laws of nature and attempts to explain how they work—modern science does not have anything to explain how the laws of nature came to be.

Lastly, the argument that atheists live purposefully and meaningful lives without God is much like the first. The fact that they do (and sometimes are more successful at it than Christians!) does not really explain why they should live that way. Because if it’s true that there is no God and humans are just “dancing to the tune of their DNA” then the fact that some atheists do live their lives meaningfully only means that they have managed to delude themselves into finding meaning in that which is essentially meaningless. There’s no good reason why they should live the way they do. In fact, on a strict Darwinian accounting, it’s hard to even justify how immaterial concepts such as “purpose” and “meaning” ever came to be since “purpose” and “meaning” are not in DNA.  If DNA is all there is, then we would not really even have the concepts of “purpose” and “meaning” to talk about. In this regard, monotheists say that life ought to be purposeful and meaningful because God is purposeful and meaningful; and created in his image humans are wired to live in just that way.

In conclusion then, while not one of the arguments typically given by atheists means that they are not moral, meaningful or valuable individuals, it’s another thing entirely to recognize that when the atheist arguments are explored further, they only end up in unavoidable contradiction and/or non-justification.

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