Blogmatics: The Existence Of God

blogmatics2

This is the first part of a new series I’m calling Blogmatics. It’s an attempt on my part to lay out as best I can in as brief a manner as I can all the theological assumptions behind my blog posts.

 

Why?

Is there any question more fundamental to the human condition?

It begins when we’re children with simple, often easily answerable questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do I have a belly button?” But as we age the depth and unanswerability of our questions increases.

Why are we here? Why something rather than nothing? Why do bad things happen to good people?

More often than not the search to answer these questions leads to yet another fundamental question.

Does God exist?

Despite the efforts of countless philosophers, theologians, and thinkers of all stripes humanity has yet to definitively prove or disprove the existence of God. Of course, you’ll have demagogues on both sides of the issues that will shout till their blue in the face that their position has been proven right, but they are wrong. They may be personally convinced beyond a doubt, but their position is not objectively and definitively proven.

As Christians, this lack of definitive “proof” need not worry us as much as the fear mongers tell us it should. After all, if we had proof, we would have no faith. There would be no need for it.

But I do have faith.

I believe that God exists.

I believe that God is the God described in the Bible.

How do I know that is true? I don’t. I simply believe.

But that belief is not a groundless whim or an emotional crutch. At least I don’t think so, though obviously many would disagree.

My reasons for believing in God are several, but they begin with Jesus. I am convinced that something happened that first Easter morning. I’ll go into more detail on that particular faith claim when I come to the resurrection in a later post, but suffice it to say I believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that his resurrection speaks to a deeper reality than simply what I can see with my eyes..

I believe this, in large part, because I have encountered the resurrected Christ in my own life. Not in the way the disciples did, of course, but through friends, family, and strangers who have shown me the sort of love, grace, compassion, forgiveness, peace, hope, and healing that I see as the ongoing incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. Could it be ascribed a different source? Of course, and many do so. But to me that sort of life is so wholly other than the human condition, so wholly other than our innate tendencies towards greed, exploitation, selfishness, cruelty, and evil that to me it speaks of something greater, something beyond us that is trying to break through into this life to transform us into better people and the world into a better place.

In other words, first and foremost I believe God exists because I believe I have encountered God in my own life.

I would also ascribe to some level of natural theology, that is to say the idea that the natural world seems to speak to the existence of God. By that I do not mean I believe in a God of the gaps, a God who is nothing more than an explanation of the scientific mysteries we have yet to explain. Rather, I believe with the Psalmist that, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The intricate symphony that is life and the immense beauty that pervades every corner of the universe would seem to me to be a waste if they had no purpose, no reason for existence.

The universe could very well be devoid of meaning, but to me that seems more unreasonable to believe than the idea that life and beauty have a Creator.

Which leads me to the third leg of the stool on which I rest my belief in the existence of God.

I am convinced that belief in the existence of God is both philosophically tenable and reasonable (the constraints of this post do not allow for a thorough treatment of these philosophical claims, therefore I have tried to link to more extensive explanations where necessary).

Building on my openness to some degree of natural theology, I believe the mere fact that there is something, rather than nothing, and particularly that there is life rather than no life, speaks to a first cause and a necessary being on which all else is contingent. Likewise, as Anselm argued, because we can conceive of “a being than which no greater can be conceived” and because existence is better than non-existence, it seems reasonable to believe that that ultimate being, that God exists.

Additionally, the existence of morality, to me, speaks to the existence of God. That we are not simply animals, that we do posses a sense of morality, requires an explanation for where that morality came from. It seems reasonable to me to think that morality or at the very least the inclination to morality or belief that morality is important, if not necessary, speaks to a God who endowed humanity with the sophisticated sense of morality which we possess, particularly as some elements of that morality invoke forms of self-denial that run counter to the survival of the fittest structure that shapes the animal kingdom.

And finally, if I’m being totally honest, while it would not be the foundation I would build on, at the end of the day, I don’t think Pascal’s wager is a bad bet to make.

Ultimately, though, the existence or non-existence of God, not being provable either way, is something we are left to choose to believe or not

Based on everything I have said in this post, I choose to believe that God exists.

But it is not enough to simply state belief in the existence of God. If we believe God does exist, we have to talk about what the nature of that God is like, at least to the best of our ability.

As a Christian I believe the nature of this God to be Triune.

What does that mean?

Well, that will have to wait until tomorrow.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

 

Tomorrow I will be talking about what I believe it means to speak of God as triune and why I think the Trinity is much more than just a theological puzzle. Until then I want to hear from you. Do you believe God exists? If so, why? If not, why not? Let me know in the comments. I’m really looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say.

UPDATE: It turns out you actually need sleep in order to put together coherent thoughts. So part 2 of Blogmatics will arrive Friday instead of today. #keepinitreal #apologies

 

  • Guest

    “first and foremost I believe that God exists because I believe that I have encountered God in my own life.” Excellent. Philosopher Paul Moser has developed this reason in detail in his latest book “The Severity of God”. There’s also a discussion on the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s website about this reason compared to natural theology. http://www.epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=131

    first
    and foremost I believe God exists because I believe I have encountered
    God in my own life. – See more at:
    http://theamericanjesus.net/?p=9975#sthash.uMUhOvpb.dpuf

  • Ben Nasmith

    Sorry, could you delete my previous comment? There are some technical difficulties copying and pasting the quote. What I want to say is that I like your reason “first and foremost I believe that God exists because I believe that I have encountered God in my own life.” I’ve been reading Paul Moser lately and he develops this reason in detail in his “The Severity of God.” Also the EPS is talking about that reason these days too on their “Christ Shaped Philosophy project”.

    • ZackHunt

      No problem. Done.

      I’m not familiar with Moser or his book, but I’ll definitely have to check it out. Thanks for the lead!

  • Jen

    I agree that for those who have not encountered the power and the love of God through His Spirit, it is more difficult to accept these intellectual challenges. My faith has actually deepened immensely since I accepted that there are logical difficulties that I have not been able to overcome. My faith is built on seeking truth while relying on the truth of how I have experienced God in my own life.

    Enjoyed your post, looking forward to reading more!

    Blessings,

    -Jen

    http://thelilyandthemarrow.wordpress.com/

  • Justin Mitchell

    I agree with almost everything you’ve said here but have to disagree with this point:

    “…particularly as some elements of that morality invoke forms of self-denial that run counter to the survival of the fittest structure that shapes the animal kingdom.”

    Maybe it’s too early in the morning for me, but what kind of “self-denial” are you referring to? If you are talking about self-sacrifice (ie: losing your life to save another’s) then that is something that actually aids a species’ survival. Additionally, this behavior has been documented in animals many times; it is not a unique human characteristic. The idea behind “survival of the fittest” does not apply to individual organisms, it is a concept that applies to entire species.

    I know this is nitpicky, and I agree that there is a decent argument for the existence of God based on the existence human morality – or at least our universal propensity to label certain things “good” and others “not good” or “evil”. But I don’t think the contrast between human morality and certain behavior in animals is quite as strong as many would like to believe.

    Many would also argue that human morality seems to be completely subjective. For example, most people in our culture today would agree that killing your own child is evil or wrong in some way, even if they don’t believe in any sort of God. However, there have been cultures (some of them listed in the Bible) who apparently thought child sacrifice was a great idea and everyone ought to do it. If morality comes ultimately from one, single (if triune) God, why does it seem to be so … diverse?

    Looking forward to more blog posts. :)

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      I think you make some excellent points. As far as the “self-denial” issue, there have definitely been many observed examples of altruism in the animal kingdom, even losing one’s life to save another, as you mentioned. But I imagine what Zack might be talking about is the radical self-denial preached by Jesus: that you should love your worst enemies more than you love yourself, that you should “turn the other cheek,” that you should offer your cloak to someone who sues you, that you should renounce everything you have to follow him.

      I don’t know that teachings like that have a parallel in the natural world, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

      As far as morality being subjective, I’m certainly no philosopher, but I think sometimes, the principles underlying disparate cultural practices are sometimes more similar than they appear on the surface.

      For example, in Hindu culture, it is seen as a sin to kill cows. In America, the fast-food industry is built upon killing cows. This would be seem to indicate our moralities are radically different. But I might argue that the principle underlying the Hindu practice is that cows are sacred, and sacred things should be protected. I think that most non-Hindu Americans would agree with the moral principle that sacred things should be protected and/or that God should be obeyed. Our only disagreement is on what is or is not sacred.

      I hope that makes some sense. I would love to hear what you think about it if you’re interested and have time.

    • ZackHunt

      Interesting and fair points.

      When I talk about self-denial, I’m thinking of things like charity, forgiveness, generosity, love for enemies, the sorts of things that cost us something, but which have do not necessarily have a clear utilitarian value.

      While I would recognize that the many animals do sacrifice themselves for their offspring, I personally can’t call that a moral act. To me, it’s a utilitarian act of preservation of the species. Whatever compassion we see in it, to me, is projection on our part because, for me, morality requires a level of sophisticated and nuanced cognitive reflection which enables us to put ourselves above or outside the given situation to see various possible outcomes and outside factors (or imagine possible situations and their possible outcomes and influencing factors). I’m just not convinced that is something animals possess.

      Are there some echoes of some of those things in the animal kingdom? Sure, but I think there is more projection going on our part than the sort of morality I am talking about which is derived from ethical reflection and/or an intentional ethical framework.

      Hope that’s clear.

      Thanks again for your feedback, I really appreciate it.

      • Justin Mitchell

        Great response, I never considered that I might be projecting. There’s probably a lot of truth to that idea.

  • Rob Davis

    Hey Zack, I was in a very similar position to you for a long time.

    But, one statement you made above caused me to dig a lot deeper:

    I believe that God is the God described in the Bible.

    I used to speak freely about “God,” until I realized that there doesn’t seem to be one deity described in the Bible at all. I guess one can argue that there exists a “true” God of which each of the human actors in the Bible are attempting to describe. But, there doesn’t seem to be one coherent whole. The picture I get – and I’m obviously not alone in this – is of a number of different, contradictory descriptions of God. So, rather than one simply reading and accepting “the true God” from the Bible, those who choose to “believe in God” have chosen which descriptions to accept as true and which to reject.

    • ZackHunt

      I think that’s fair enough.

      For me, though, I think the coherency of the God pictured in the Bible can be maintained if we keep in mind that the Bible was written by people, people who, I would argue, were not above putting words or commands in the mouth of God or to ascribe to God their own desires (I’m thinking specifically about Judges here – “In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their eyes” – and they did so in the name of God, just like people have for centuries). Those issues aside, though admittedly difficult to deal with, I see a very clear connection between the God of the Old Testament, particularly in the prophets, and Jesus. I think sometimes we have a warm fuzzy kind of picture of Jesus and fail to catch the tough stuff he said and did and that that creates some of the inconsistencies in God we see in the Bible. Not all of course and I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing. But Jesus said some pretty harsh things that we tend to gloss over, stuff that would put him pretty in line with the picture of God in the Old Testament.

      I also have a pretty strong ecclesiology and pneumatology at work when I make this claim. The church has affirmed one God of the Bible and I believe the Holy Spirit guided that affirmation so I affirm it to as a starting point.

      All that do say, I would line up pretty firmly with Christian tradition on this one and affirm 1 God portrayed in the Bible.

      But again, I definitely see where you’re coming from.

      • Rob Davis

        So, how do you decide which descriptions of God are true and which aren’t? Or which parts were simply people using God to endorse their actions versus which things God actually said and did?

        Also, do you accept the entire New Testament accounts about Jesus as historically accurate, despite the glaring contradictions?

  • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

    Hey Zack, I liked this post and am looking forward to reading more of your thoughts in this series. I do have a question about your process and this introduction, though. It seems to me that whether or not God exists is really a question for apologetics rather than systematic theology. My understanding of systematic theology (which mostly comes from reading the Bible and Wayne Grudem’s book on the subject — I’ve never been to Bible school) is that God’s existence is a given, a starting point. I mean, you can’t really build a systematic theology at all unless you start with the presumption that God exists, right?

    Just to be clear, I’m not saying the question of God’s existence isn’t an important one; I think it most certainly is, and I appreciated the way you handled the topic here. I was just confused as to its place in a discussion of systematic theology.

    • ZackHunt

      Oh yeah, it’s definitely a given for a lot people who do systematics, but this is blogmatics. :)

      While I would argue that articulating an argument for the existence of God is or should be intrinsic to any work of theology that attempts to systemically lay out a system of belief, I’m mostly beginning with it here because 1) my primary goal is to lay out my theological assumptions and this is the most basic one and 2) I have several atheists readers (and friends) and so I thought it important to explain my starting point and why I think it’s necessary to deal with the other stuff before I actually do so. I actually thought about starting with the resurrection as it’s probably more accurate to say that is my starting point, but for the purpose of simplicity I decided to go this direction.

      Good question though, thanks for asking.

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        Oh, OK, cool. That makes sense to me. Thanks for explaining.

  • daryl carpenter

    Pascal’s Wager is an argument for belief derived from the threat of violence (eternal suffering in hell). How is it even moral to consider it a “good bet?” It also assumes a false choice between the Christian God and nothing at all. If it turns out that Islam is the one true religion (which it could be, as could any other religion that has emerged in the last few millennia), then Allah’s not going to be best pleased with us, and it’s down the coal chute to Muslim hell, which is far worse than the Christian version if the copious descriptions in the Qur’an are anything to go by. And with this “fact” in mind, shouldn’t we then all convert to Islam? After all, Pascal’s Wager is all about trying to avoid punishment, and it would make more sense to try to avoid a “terrible punishment” than a “slightly less terrible punishment,” yes? Better to be on the safe side, then.

    I appreciate Pascal’s Wager isn’t your main reason to believe, but still. I’m surprised you brought it up

  • PhillyProfessor

    Zack writes: “As Christians, this lack of definitive “proof” need not worry us as much as the fear mongers tell us it should. After all, if we had proof, we would have no faith. There would be no need for it. “. This is one of the oldest pieces of Christian B.S. . According to the bible, Lucifer and all the other fallen angels existed in the very presence of God. And yet they still had the free will necessary to rebel against God. Adam and Eve were also in the presence of God, and yet still had the free will necessary to disobey him. And then there were all the Israelites who were witness to miracle after miracle, and yet still disobeyed His commandments. So the notion that we need to have faith in a Deity that provides zero evidence outside of the feelings and personal experiences of believers is just false.