The Case for the Existence of God [Part I]
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part II of this three-part series appeared in the June issue. Part III appeared in the July issue.]
One of the most basic, and most fundamental, issues that can be considered by the human mind is the question, “Does God exist?” In the field of logic, there are principles—or as they are called more often, laws—that govern human thought processes and that are accepted as analytically true. One of these is the law of the excluded middle. When applied to objects, this law states that an object cannot both possess and not possess a certain trait or characteristic at the same time and in the same fashion. When applied to propositions, this law states that all precisely stated propositions are either true or false; they cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same fashion.
The statement, “God exists,” is a precisely stated proposition. Thus, it is either true or false. The simple fact is, either God exists or He does not. There is no middle ground. One cannot affirm logically both the existence and nonexistence of God. The atheist boldly states that God does not exist; the theist affirms just as boldly that God does exist; the agnostic laments that there is not enough evidence to make a decision on the matter; and the skeptic doubts that God’s existence can be proven with certainty. Who is correct? Does God exist or not?
The only way to answer this question, of course, is to seek out and examine the evidence. It certainly is reasonable to suggest that if there is a God, He would make available to us evidence adequate to the task of proving His existence. But does such evidence exist? And if it does, what is the nature of that evidence?
The theist advocates the view that evidence is available to prove conclusively that God does exist, and that this evidence is adequate to establish beyond reasonable doubt the existence of God. However, when we employ the word “prove,” we do not mean that God’s existence can be demonstrated scientifically in the same fashion that one might prove that a sack of potatoes weighs ten pounds, or that a human heart has four distinct chambers within it. Such matters as the weight of a sack of vegetables, or the divisions within a muscle, are matters that may be verified empirically using the five senses. And while empirical evidence often is quite useful in establishing the validity of a case, it is not the sole means of arriving at proof. For example, legal authorities recognize the validity of a prima facie case, which is acknowledged to exist when adequate evidence is available to establish the presumption of a fact that, unless such fact can be refuted, legally stands proven (see Jackson, 1974, p. 13). It is the contention of the theist that there is a vast body of evidence that makes an impregnable prima facie case for the existence of God—a case that simply cannot be refuted. I would like to present here the prima facie case for the existence of God, and a portion of the evidence upon which that case is based.
CAUSE AND EFFECT—THE COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT
Throughout human history, one of the most effective arguments for the existence of God has been the cosmological argument, which addresses the fact that the Universe (Cosmos) is here and therefore must be explained in some fashion. In his book, Not A Chance, R.C. Sproul observed:
Traditional philosophy argued for the existence of God on the foundation of the law of causality. The cosmological argument went from the presence of a cosmos back to a creator of the cosmos. It sought a rational answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It sought a sufficient reason for a real world (1994, p. 169, emp. in orig.).
The Universe exists and is real. Atheists and agnostics not only acknowledge its existence, but admit that it is a grand effect (e.g., see Jastrow, 1977, pp. 19-21). If an entity cannot account for its own being (i.e., it is not sufficient to have caused itself), then it is said to be “contingent” because it is dependent upon something outside of itself to explain its existence. The Universe is a contingent entity, since it is inadequate to cause, or explain, its own existence. Sproul has noted: “Logic requires that if something exists contingently, it must have a cause. That is merely to say, if it is an effect it must have an antecedent cause” (1994, p. 172). Thus, since the Universe is a contingent effect, the obvious question becomes, “What caused the Universe?”
It is here that the law of cause and effect (also known as the law of causality) is strongly tied to the cosmological argument. Simply put, the law of causality states that every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause. Just as the law of the excluded middle is analytically true, so the law of cause and effect is analytically true as well. Sproul addressed this when he wrote:
The statement “Every effect has an antecedent cause” is analytically true. To say that it is analytically or formally true is to say that it is true by definition or analysis. There is nothing in the predicate that is not already contained by resistless logic in the subject. It is like the statement, “A bachelor is an unmarried man” or “A triangle has three sides” or “Two plus two are four....” Cause and effect, though distinct ideas, are inseparably bound together in rational discourse. It is meaningless to say that something is a cause if it yields no effect. It is likewise meaningless to say that something is an effect if it has no cause. A cause, by definition, must have an effect, or it is not a cause. An effect, by definition, must have a cause, or it is not an effect (1994, pp. 172,171 emp. in orig.).
Effects without adequate causes are unknown. Further, causes never occur subsequent to the effect. It is meaningless to speak of a cause following an effect, or an effect preceding a cause. In addition, the effect is never qualitatively superior to, or quantitatively greater than, the cause. This knowledge is responsible for our formulation of the law of causality in these words: Every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause. The river did not turn muddy because the frog jumped in; the book did not fall from the table because the fly lighted on it. These are not adequate causes. For whatever effects we observe, we must postulate adequate antecedent causes—which brings us back to the original question: What caused the Universe?
There are but three possible answers to this question: (1) the Universe is eternal; it has always existed and will always exist; (2) the Universe is not eternal; rather, it created itself out of nothing; (3) the Universe is not eternal, and did not create itself out of nothing; rather, it was created by something (or Someone) anterior, and superior, to itself. These three options merit serious consideration.
Is the Universe Eternal?
The most comfortable position for the person who does not believe in God is the idea that the Universe is eternal, because it avoids the problem of a beginning or ending, and thus the need for any “first cause” such as God. In fact, it was to avoid just such a problem that evolutionists Thomas Gold, Hermann Bondi, and Fred Hoyle developed the Steady State Theory. Information had come to light that indicated the Universe was expanding. These scientists suggested that at points in space called “irtrons” hydrogen was coming into existence from nothing. As hydrogen atoms arrived, they had to “go” somewhere, and as they did, they displaced matter already in existence, causing the Universe to expand. Dr. Hoyle suggested that the atoms of gaseous hydrogen gradually condensed into clouds of virgin matter, that within these clouds new stars and galaxies formed, etc.
However, the Steady State Theory was doomed to failure, in part, because it violated one of the most fundamental laws of science—the first law of thermodynamics (also referred to as the law of the conservation of matter and/or energy), which states that neither matter nor energy may be created or destroyed in nature. Astronomer Robert Jastrow observed:
But the creation of matter out of nothing would violate a cherished concept in science—the principle of the conservation of matter and energy—which states that matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Matter can be converted into energy, and vice versa, but the total amount of all matter and energy in the Universe must remain unchanged forever. It is difficult to accept a theory that violates such a firmly established scientific fact (1977, p. 32).
The Steady State Theory eventually was relegated to the relic heaps of history. Yet problems for those who advocated an eternal Universe continued to multiply because such a concept violated the second law of thermodynamics as well. Simply stated, the second law of thermodynamics dictates that as energy is employed to perform work, it is transformed from a usable to a nonusable form. The Universe is “running down” because energy is becoming less available for use. As Jastrow has remarked:
And concurrently there was a great deal of discussion about the fact that the second law of thermodynamics, applied to the Cosmos, indicates that the Universe is running down like a clock. If it is running down, there must have been a time when it was fully wound up. Arthur Eddington, the most distinguished astronomer of his day, wrote: “If our views are right, somewhere between the beginning of time and the present day we must place the winding up of the universe.” When that occurred, and Who or what wound up the Universe, were questions that bemused theologians, physicists and astronomers, particularly in the 1920’s and 1930’s (1978, pp. 48-49).
A year before making that admission, Dr. Jastrow made another important concession when he wrote:
Only as a result of the most recent discoveries can we say with a fair degree of confidence that the world has not existed forever;... The lingering decline predicted by astronomers for the end of the world differs from the explosive conditions they have calculated for its birth, but the impact is the same; modern science denies an eternal existence to the Universe, either in the past or in the future (1977, pp. 19,30, emp. added).
The scientific evidence states clearly that the Universe had a beginning—something eternal things do not have. Nor do eternal things “run down,” yet clearly the Universe is doing just that, as Dr. Jastrow has noted. As Henry Morris has commented, “The Second Law requires the universe to have had a beginning” (1974, p. 26). Indeed, it does. The Universe is now known not to be eternal.
Did the Universe Create Itself Out of Nothing?
In the past, it would have been practically impossible to find any reputable scientist who would be willing to advocate a self-created Universe. George Davis, a prominent physicist of the past generation, explained why when he wrote: “No material thing can create itself.” Further, Dr. Davis affirmed that this statement “cannot be logically attacked on the basis of any knowledge available to us” (1958, p. 71). The Universe is the created, not the creator.
However, as surprising as it may seem, some in the scientific and philosophical communities have stepped forward to defend the option that the Universe simply created itself out of nothing. Edward P. Tryon, professor of physics at the City University of New York, wrote for example: “In 1973, I proposed that our Universe had been created spontaneously from nothing, as a result of established principles of physics. This proposal variously struck people as preposterous, enchanting, or both” (1984, p. 14). But the real push for the acceptance of a self-created Universe came as a result of an article published in the May 1984 issue of Scientific American. Under the title of “The Inflationary Universe,” evolutionists Alan Guth and Paul Steinhardt wrote:
From a historical point of view, probably the most revolutionary aspect of the inflationary model is the notion that all the matter and energy in the observable universe may have emerged from almost nothing.... The inflationary model of the universe provides a possible mechanism by which the observed universe could have evolved from an infinitesimal region. It is then tempting to go one step further and speculate that the entire Universe evolved from literally nothing (1984, p. 128, emp. added).
Such ideas as those set forth by Tryon, Guth, Steinhardt, and others have set off a wave of controversy within the scientific community, as is evident from heated discussions at annual scientific meetings, articles published in refereed scientific journals, books written on a scholarly level, and even items appearing in popular science magazines. For example, in the summer 1994 edition of the Skeptical Inquirer, Ralph Estling of Great Britain wrote a stinging rebuke of the idea that the Universe created itself out of nothing. Estling suggested:
The problem emerges in science when scientists leave the realm of science and enter that of philosophy and metaphysics, too often grandiose names for mere personal opinion, untrammeled by empirical evidence or logical analysis, and wearing the mask of deep wisdom. And so they conjure us an entire Cosmos, or myriads of cosmoses, suddenly, inexplicably, causelessly leaping into being out of—out of Nothing Whatsoever, for no reason at all, and thereafter expanding faster than light into more Nothing Whatsoever.... They then intone equations and other ritual mathematical formulae and look upon it and pronounce it good. I do not think that what these cosmologists, these quantum theorists, these universe-makers, are doing is science. I can’t help feeling that universes are notoriously disinclined to spring into being, ready-made, out of nothing (1994, 18:430).
Estling’s article provoked numerous letters to the editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, which were printed, with Estling’s response, in the January/February 1995 issue. Estling wrote, in part: “All things begin with speculation, science not excluded. But if no empirical evidence is eventually forthcoming, or can be forthcoming, all speculation is barren.... There is no evidence, so far, that the entire universe, observable and unobservable, emerged from a state of absolute Nothingness” (1995, 19:69-70).
Estling is correct, of course. There is no evidence that would allow matter or energy simply to “pop into existence” of its own accord. This suggestion is in clear violation of the first law of thermodynamics. Furthermore, to suggest that the Universe created itself is to posit a self-contradictory position. Sproul addressed this when he wrote that what an atheist or agnostic
...deems possible for the world to do—come into being without a cause—is something no judicious philosopher would grant that even God could do. It is as formally and rationally impossible for God to come into being without a cause as it is for the world to do so.... For something to bring itself into being it must have the power of being within itself. It must at least have enough causal power to cause its own being. If it derives its being from some other source, then it clearly would not be either self-existent or self-created. It would be, plainly and simply, an effect. Of course, the problem is complicated by the other necessity we’ve labored so painstakingly to establish: It would have to have the causal power of being before it was. It would have to have the power of being before it had any being with which to exercise that power (1994, pp. 179,180).
Science is based on observation and reproducibility. But when pressed for the reproducible, empirical data that document their claim of a self-created Universe, scientists and philosophers are at a loss to produce those data. Perhaps this is why Alan Guth lamented: “In the end, I must admit that questions of plausibility are not logically determinable and depend somewhat on intuition” (1988, 11:76)—which is little more than a fancy way of saying, “I certainly wish this were true, but I could not prove it to you if my life depended on it.”
The eminent British astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking, put the matter in perspective when he wrote: “The new inflationary model is now dead as a scientific theory, although a lot of people do not seem to have heard of its demise and are still writing papers on it as if it were viable” (1988, p. 132, emp. added). The Universe did not create itself. Such an idea is absurd, philosophically and scientifically.
Was the Universe Created?
Either the Universe had a beginning, or it did not. But all available evidence indicates that the Universe did have a beginning. If the Universe had a beginning, it either had a cause or it did not. One thing we know assuredly, however: it is correct—logically and scientifically—to acknowledge that the Universe had a cause, because the Universe is an effect, and requires an adequate antecedent cause. Nothing causeless happens.
Since it is apparent that the Universe it not eternal, and since likewise it is apparent that the Universe could not have created itself, the only remaining alternative is that the Universe was created by something, or Someone, that: (a) existed before it, i.e., some eternal, uncaused First Cause; (b) is superior to it—since the created cannot be superior to the creator; and (c) is of a different nature, since the finite, contingent Universe of matter is unable to explain itself (see Jackson and Carroll, n.d., 2:98-154).
In connection with this, another important fact should be considered. If there ever had been a time when nothing existed, then there would be nothing now. It is a self-evident truth that nothing produces nothing. In view of this, since something exists now, it must follow logically that something has existed forever. As Sproul has remarked:
Indeed, reason demands that if something exists, either the world or God (or anything else), then something must be self-existent.... There must be a self-existent being of some sort somewhere, or nothing would or could exist (1994, pp. 179,185 emp. in orig.).
Everything that exists can be classified as either matter (which includes energy), or mind. There is no third alternative. The theist’s argument, then, is this:
Everything that exists is either matter or mind.
Something exists now, so something eternal must exist.
Therefore, either matter or mind is eternal.
Either matter or mind is eternal.
Matter is not eternal, per the evidence cited above.
Thus, it is mind that is eternal.
In the past, atheists suggested that the mind is nothing more than a function of the brain, which is matter; thus the mind and the brain are the same, and matter is all that exists. However, that viewpoint is no longer intellectually credible, as a result of the scientific experiments of British neurologist, Sir John Eccles. Dr. Eccles won the Nobel Prize for distinguishing that the mind is more than merely physical. He showed that the supplementary motor area of the brain may be fired by mere intention to do something, without the motor cortex of the brain (which controls muscle movements) operating. In effect, the mind is to the brain what a librarian is to a library. The former is not reducible to the latter. Eccles explained his methodology in The Self and Its Brain, co-authored with the renowned philosopher of science, Sir Karl Popper (see Popper and Eccles, 1977). In a discussion centering on Dr. Eccles’ work, Norman Geisler discussed the concept of an eternal, all-knowing Mind.
Further, this infinite cause of all that is must be all-knowing. It must be knowing because knowing beings exist. I am a knowing being, and I know it.... But a cause can communicate to its effect only what it has to communicate. If the effect actually possesses some characteristic, then this characteristic is properly attributed to its cause. The cause cannot give what it does not have to give. If my mind or ability to know is received, then there must be Mind or Knower who gave it to me. The intellectual does not arise from the nonintellectual; something cannot arise from nothing (1976, p. 247).
From evidence such as that presented here, Robert Jastrow (an agnostic, by his own admission) was forced to conclude: “That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact” (1982, p. 18). The evidence speaks clearly regarding the existence of a non-contingent, eternal, self-existent Mind that created this Universe and everything within it.
The law of cause and effect, and the cosmological argument based upon that law, have serious implications in every field of human endeavor. The Universe is here, and must have an adequate antecedent cause. In addressing this problem, R.L. Wysong commented:
Everyone concludes naturally and comfortably that highly ordered and designed items (machines, houses, etc.) owe existence to a designer. It is unnatural to conclude otherwise. But evolution asks us to break stride from what is natural to believe and then believe in that which is unnatural, unreasonable, and...unbelievable.... The basis for this departure from what is natural and reasonable to believe is not fact, observation, or experience but rather unreasonable extrapolations from abstract probabilities, mathematics, and philosophy (1976, p. 412, first ellipsis in orig.).
Dr. Wysong then presented an interesting historical case to illustrate his point. Some years ago, scientists were called to Great Britain to study orderly patterns of concentric rocks and holes—a find designated as Stonehenge. As studies progressed, it became apparent that these patterns had been designed specifically to allow certain astronomical predictions. Many questions (e.g., how ancient peoples were able to construct an astronomical observatory, how the data derived from their studies were used, etc.) remain unsolved. But one thing is known—the cause of Stonehenge was intelligent design.
Now, suggested Dr. Wysong, compare Stonehenge to the situation paralleling the origin of the Universe, and of life itself. We study life, observe its functions, contemplate its complexity (which defies duplication even by intelligent men with the most advanced methodology and technology), and what are we to conclude? Stonehenge might have been produced by the erosion of a mountain, or by catastrophic natural forces working in conjunction with meteorites to produce rock formations and concentric holes. But what scientist or philosopher ever would suggest such an idea?
No one ever could be convinced that Stonehenge “just happened” by accident, yet atheists and agnostics expect us to believe that this highly ordered, well-designed Universe, and the complicated life it contains, “just happened.” To accept such an idea is, to use Dr. Wysong’s words, “to break stride from what is natural to believe” because the conclusion is unreasonable, unwarranted, and unsupported by the facts at hand. The cause simply is not adequate to produce the effect.
The central message of the Cosmological Argument, and the law of cause and effect upon which it is based, is this: Every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause. The Universe is here; intelligent life is here; morality is here; love is here. What is their adequate antecedent cause? Since the effect never can precede, or be greater than the cause, it stands to reason that the Cause of life must be a living Intelligence that Itself is both moral and loving. When the Bible records, “In the beginning, God...,” it makes known to us just such a First Cause.
[to be continued]
Davis, George (1958), “Scientific Revelations Point to a God,” The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, ed. John C. Monsma (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons).
Estling, Ralph (1994), “The Scalp-Tinglin’, Mind-Blowin’, Eye-Poppin’, Heart-Wrenchin’, Stomach-Churnin’, Foot-Stumpin’, Great Big Doodley Science Show!!!,” Skeptical Inquirer, 18:428-430, Summer.
Estling, Ralph (1995), “Letter to the Editor,” Skeptical Inquirer, 19:69-70, January/February.
Geisler, Norman L. (1976), Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Guth, Alan (1988), Interview in Omni, 11:75-76,78-79,94,96-99, November.
Guth, Alan and Paul Steinhardt (1984), “The Inflationary Universe,” Scientific American, 250:116-128, May.
Hawking, Stephen W. (1988), A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam).
Hull, David (1974), Philosophy of Biological Science (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall)
Jackson, Wayne (1974), Fortify Your Faith (Stockton, CA: Courier Publications).
Jackson, Wayne and Tom Carroll (no date), “The Jackson-Carroll Debate on Atheism and Ethics,” Thrust, ed. Jerry Moffitt, 2:98-154.
Jastrow, Robert (1977), Until the Sun Dies (New York: W.W. Norton).
Jastrow, Robert (1978), God and the Astronomers (New York: W.W. Norton).
Jastrow, Robert (1982), “A Scientist Caught Between Two Faiths,” Interview with Bill Durbin, Christianity Today, August 6.
Morris, Henry M. (1974), Scientific Creationism (San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers).
Popper, Karl R. and John C. Eccles (1977), The Self and Its Brain (New York: Springer International).
Sproul, R.C. (1994), Not A Chance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Tryon, Edward P. (1984), “What Made the World?,” New Scientist, 101:14-16, March 8.
Wysong, R.L. (1976), The Creation/Evolution Controversy (East Lansing, MI: Inquiry Press).