by Clifford Goldstein
Why do I believe in God? Why do I believe in anything? Why is there anything at all to believe in, or even a subjective consciousness such as myself to believe in it?
The hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew12 when it came to faith, yet who said to Lewis that “the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good.”3 Still agnostic, Lewis was floored. If the Gospels were historically accurate, then miracles occurred; and, if miracles occurred, then his own atheistic, materialistic Weltanschauung (worldview) was, simply, wrong.
I use this account, not as an intro into a gospel apologetic, but as an intro into what has represented, from antiquity, the two mothers of all metanarratives: the a priori materialistic, atheistic worldview, held by the pre-Socratic atomists up through the radical wing of the philosophers and, today, most loudly proclaimed by the New Atheists; in contrast, of course, is belief in some type of supernatural being(s), from Zoroaster’s Ahura Mazda to Voltaire’s deism to Calvinist predestinarianism (and everything else as well). Either metanarrative (any version), Lewis knew, negated the other.
This article, as the title unsubtly suggests, defends the latter.
CREDO UT INTELLIGAM
One case for the existence of God was proposed by Anselm (c.1033–1109). In its simplest form, the ontological argument goes like this: God is that which no greater can be conceived. For something to be that which nothing greater can be conceived means it would have to exist, because what exists is greater than what does not. Hence, God exists.
Probably because that move isn’t likely to transition anyone from atheism to what Christians call “the new birth,” Anselm also coined the famous phrase Credo ut intelligam (“I believe in order that I may understand”)4 . Arguments in favor of God’s existence tend to be more effective after one already believes, which might have been Anselm’s point with the ontological argument to begin with: not to prove the existence of God but, rather, to start with belief and then work backwards in order to defend and understand it.
That’s the approach of this article. The title, “Why Do I Believe in God?” implies, a priori, a different approach than were it titled “Why God Exists.” The former automatically injects a personal, subjective element, even an experiential one (essential, perhaps, for belief in God, anyway). A personal subjective element doesn’t denude an argument of truth any more than a personal dislike of cylindrical space makes Riemannian geometry false. Besides, if this article were titled “Why Do I Believe God Doesn’t Exist?” who believes the subjective element wouldn’t be pervasive there, either?
SOMETHING LIKE “NOTHING”
Why do I believe in God? Why do I believe in anything? Why is there anything at all to believe in, or even a subjective consciousness such as myself to believe in it? As German rationalist philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and others have famously asked, Why is there something instead of nothing?
The answer, obviously, must be found in some version of the above-mentioned meta-narratives (you can’t get more “meta” than creation).
The universe came into existence either through natural or through supernatural origins. If the latter, the universe was made by a being (or beings) greater than, and prior to, it. Otherwise, creation had to have occurred naturally, out of itself. This leads to the question: How did it first get there in order to arise out of itself? The only apparent out is an eternal universe, one that always existed, a concept that leads to a difficult paradox. Known as the Kalām cosmological argument, it states that an infinitely old universe is impossible because it would imply that an infinite amount of time must have passed in order to have reached this (or any present) moment. But how could an infinite amount of time (or, for that matter, of anything) have ever been completed? In other words, if the universe existed infinitely in the past, then an infinite number of moments must have been traversed in order to get where we are now. But if we can’t count, even in our heads, to infinity, how could in reality an infinite number of moments have been completed?
Whatever the validity (or weakness) of that argument, Big Bang cosmogony has all but mooted it, anyway. The universe, once not existing, came into existence. Though cosmologists, working backward, speculate about the first millionth of a second and so forth of the universe’s nascence, the implications of it having one were scientifically, and metaphysically, revolutionary.
That idea, that the universe had a beginning, helped convince “the world’s most notorious atheist,”5 Antony Flew, of the existence of a Creator. Though he had simply taken “the universe and its most fundamental features as the ultimate fact,”6 he no longer could, not in the face of Big Bang cosmogony. Meanwhile, finding the argument du jour that “nothing” created the universe less than satisfactory, Flew came to believe in some sort of, as he put it, “divine mind.”7 (Bill Bryson’s assertion—“It seems impossible that you could get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing but now there is a universe is evident proof that you can”8 —is as ludicrous as it sounds.)
This argument is, of course, nothing new. It just has the benefit of common sense, and now a little astrophysics to boot. It’s not an algebraic proof of God’s existence, never has been. It’s just that when “nothing”—that which, by definition, does not exist—is posited instead of God as the creative force behind cosmic origins, one has to wonder about the logic of those looking for something, anything, even nothing, as opposed to God as the Source of our existence. God, the foundation of all existence, is replaced by “nothing,” the negation of all existence? Perhaps Tennyson’s line in his poem In Memoriam A. H. H. (1849), “Believing where we cannot prove,” though aimed at Christian believers, missed its target completely?
STEPHEN HAWKING’S BRAIN
Despite pronouncements of its death in 1779, after a long and distinguished history, the teleological argument rages today. “David Hume effectively demolished,” wrote Terrence W. Tilley, “the modern argument from design in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779).”9 Hume did no such thing. He articulately revealed the limits of the argument, but, big deal. What non deductive argument doesn’t have limits? Design is an inference, not a proof.
Though conceding (through the mouth of a person engaged in a dialogue) an intricacy and design in nature “to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace or explain”10 (this was written in the era of the “simple cell,” the Pleistocene in terms of biological science), Hume dismissed the idea of a Creator behind it all. Ultimately, though, he had to argue that “matter may contain the source or spring of order originally, within itself, . . . that the several elements, from an internal unknown cause, may fall into the most exquisite arrangement.”11
Hume’s Dialogues simply pushed the argument back, nothing more.
Where did matter get the information and ability to organize itself into this “exquisite arrangement” (which, compared to what we know today, would appear crude)? It’s easier to imagine paper and ink, from something inherent in themselves, creating Tolstoy’s War and Peace, than to imagine carbon, water, and proteins organizing themselves into a single cell, much less the processes that led to Stephen Hawking’s brain.
Science has supposedly given the answer to how carbon, water, and proteins led to that brain: random mutation and natural selection, of course. Though this isn’t the place to debate Neo-Darwinism, in regard to the question of God’s existence, science has become a two-edged sword, with the sharpest edge cutting against atheistic evolution. While the science about how, or even if, random mutation and natural selection could have created the complexity of life is contentiously debated, what isn’t contentious, or debated, is the complexity itself.
The irony shouldn’t be missed: The more complexity science finds in life, the less likely that the means science claims for its origins becomes. Such complexity was another factor that helped convert Antony Flew, who quoted Nobel Prize-winning physiologist George Wald: “We choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance.”12
Not so ready to concede the impossible, some postulate the improbable instead. Admitting that the complexity of life makes its chance origins in our universe unlikely (“impossible”), some cosmologists have argued that there are many universes, perhaps even an infinite number, which means that the chances of one (ours) accidentally being biophilic, friendly to life, greatly increases. Who needs even one God when an infinite number of universes (of which there is not the slightest proof of more than one) will do it instead? And, even if one accepted the multiuniverse theory, it only pushes the argument back, as did Hume. An infinite number of universes simply makes the question of their origin infinitely more pressing than does the existence of one.
Look at the extremes here: Life arose from “nothing,” or from one of an infinite number of universes. Wouldn’t a supernatural Creator be a more reasonable explanation than either of the others?
Richard Dawkins, of course, will have none of it. Amid all the hype surrounding The God Delusion, his attack on the teleological argument, at least metaphysically, was surprisingly puerile. One motif echoes through the philippic: Who created God? “A designer God,” he asserted, “cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.”13 But God, an eternal God, by definition, doesn’t have a Creator, He is the Creator; a caused universe, and all that’s in it, in contrast, does. So confined by naturalism, Dawkins can’t understand the qualitative difference between the made and the maker. Guernica, not Picasso, needed a painter (I said, “painter,” not Creator, a subtle but crucial difference).
Everything, from cell-membrane physiology to grapefruit to human sexuality, makes God so much more likely as the explanation for their functionality, beauty, and purpose than does any explanation predicated on a chance confluence of particles and forces that, in and of themselves, requires a sufficient cause outside of, greater than, and anterior to them. Besides, what is more likely to have been uncaused, anyway—the universe or God?
TO DEMAND A MIRACLE
As part of humanity we possess moral properties. But how could the constituents of existence (quarks, electrons, color force), all amoral in and of themselves, emerge not only into life, but into consciousness, a consciousness conflicted with moral attributes? The possibility seems absurd. No wonder atheist apologist J. L. Mackie argued that “moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of qualities and relations that are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful god to create them.”14 Mackie solved his problem by denying the properties. Others, not ready for that move, see in those properties evidence for God’s existence.
And though the theme of life’s meaninglessness in the face of death has been touched on throughout history, in the 20th-century Bryan Magee wrote that, because of death, his life was doomed to nullity, and that “there was no meaning in any of it, no point in any of it; and that in the end, everything was nothing.”15 Yet think about it: The thumb has a purpose, the ear has a purpose, the heart has a purpose, the sun has a purpose—and yet these and untold other “purposes,” so finely and majestically woven, culminate into purposelessness? It’s like adding positive integers and getting a negative number. If the universe, and all consciousness in it, is doomed to extinction, then our existence has no purpose, a conclusion that contradicts everything about that existence itself, which—from the cellular level outward—screams with purposefulness. No wonder Auden wrote, “Nothing can save us that is possible; we who must die demand a miracle.”16
And a miracle demands Deity, which leads back to C. S. Lewis’s dilemma. As his atheist friend said, powerful evidence does exist for the historicity of the Gospels, which includes the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. Now, just as the discovery of one black swan annuls any worldview that states “all swans are white,” even one such miracle annuls any worldview that denies a God who could do them. Of course, proving miracles is another matter, but for those who believe in them, or have experienced the miraculous for themselves, evidence for God’s existence becomes lodged, at least partly, in places where—as with music—using logic alone is like applying greasy pliers to a software glitch.
Between the powerful evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, along with biblical prophecies, whose fulfillments alone demand a God as their most logical explanation—prophecies that are, in some cases, rooted in a foundation as firm, as broad, and as unchangeable as world history (such as Daniel 2)—we have been given good reasons for faith. Not foolproof, of course, but so what? Nothing epistemological ever is. “
If we cannot even prove the consistency of arithmetic,” wrote physicist John Polkinghorne, “it seems a bit much to hope that God’s existence is easier to deal with.”17
Clifford Goldstein is the Editor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church´s Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guides. He has authored more than 20 books, 1844 Made Simple (1988), A Pause for Peace (1992), and Life Without Limits (2007).
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984), 223.
- Ibid., 224.
- Ibid., 223.
- Ansel of Canterbury, Proslogion, 1078.
- Antony Flew, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).
- Ibid., 135.
- Ibid., 121.
- Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), 13.
- Terrence W. Tilley, “The Problems of Theodicy: A Background Essay,” in Physics and Cosmology, Nancy Murphy, Robert John Russell, and William R. Stoeger, eds. (Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Publications, 2007), 37.
- David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 53.
- Ibid., 56.
- Quoted in Flew, There Is a God, 131.
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), 109.
- J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), 116.
- Bryan Magee, Confessions of a Philosopher (New York: Random House, 1997), 252.
- W. H. Auden, “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio,” Part 3, in Religious Drama 1, Marvin Halverson, ed. (New York: Meridian, 1957), 17.
- J. C. Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections of a Bottom-up Thinker (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 57.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
William Lane Craig, ed. Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and a Guide (Piscataway, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002). See specifically Craig, “The Kalām Cosmological Argument” (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2000), 92–113.
Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007).
Richard Dennis, ed. The Book of the Cosmos (Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2000).
William J. Wainwright, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (London: Oxford University Press, 2005). N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (New York: Harper Collins, 2008).