“Why should the nations say,
‘Now, where is their God?’
Our God is in the heavens—
All that he delights in, he does.”
Indeed, those who have made gods to worship out of gold and silver do look at us and ask us how we can worship a God that we can neither see nor touch? The psalmist’s reply is an important one. Often, when we are pressed with the same question from a secularist, we retreat and are a bit defensive with our answer. We usually say something to the extent of, “well, it takes faith…” Or, if we are a bit more astute, one of the classic answers that is given is, “you cannot see the wind, but you see the effects of the wind—so it is with the Holy Spirit and with those born again of the Holy Spirit,” making a reference to Jesus’ language before Nicodemus. Yet, there is nothing defensive about the psalmist’s response. The psalmist replies to the question by saying, “Our God is in the heavens and he does all that he pleases.” Do you see what the psalmist is doing here? It is as if the psalmist is saying—you are criticizing me for not having a god made out of metal or stone that I can see, but your gods are inanimate objects—the creation of your own hands—how can I bow down to one who is incapable of answering my prayers? I worship a God who rises high above the heavens—he cannot be constrained by puny things of metal or stone, nor can he even be constrained by the world itself—and all that takes place is a result of my God’s good will. So, who will you worship, the god formed out of the dirt by the sweat of your own brow, or the God who created the dirt and all that is around with but a word of his power. Beloved, statements like this are anything but defensive, they cut to the quick, and address the problem at hand—who is the true God of heaven and earth and what ought to be done with all of the bad imitations?
Loved ones, why are we so often intimidated when people challenge our faith? We know the effect of the hand of God in our own lives, we have seen God’s work in the world, and we know the truth of God that is found preserved for us within the Holy Scriptures. In addition, creation itself testifies to God’s majesty! Where is there room for anything but bold assurance? It is not incumbent upon us to prove to the atheist that God does exist—it is his responsibility to prove that God does not exist if he wants to hold a position that is so contrary to reason and observation. Because we have allowed ourselves to be intimidated by academic degrees and titles, we have allowed unbelievers to turn the tables on us, forcing Christians to swallow lies in the name of “science”—lies that do not even stand up to the secularist’s own scientific methods of scrutiny.
The final statement is also telling for two reasons. First of all, it compliments the previous statement about God in the heavens. We do not worship a God that was like the gods of the Greek philosophers—ones who were transcendent and so separate from the world that they do not act, but only observe—but we worship a God who does act within the realms of men. But what is also important is that not only does God act, he takes pleasure in his acting. We spend a lot of time talking about God’s sovereignty and that he works out all things according to the council of his own will (Ephesians 1:11), but we often neglect the principle that is expressed here—that God does take pleasure in his actions.
Beloved, think on things this way: God is satisfied with himself to such a wonderful degree that all that he thinks and does brings him pleasure. And, to continue the line of thought to its logical end, if God finds his ultimate satisfaction in himself and finds profound pleasure in all that he does, we can find our ultimate satisfaction in Him and pleasure in all that he does in our lives. That is an easy statement to agree with when things are going well, but what about when the world around us seems to be falling apart? Can you affirm, even in the midst of your greatest heartache, that God is still working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose? Though we may struggle with it, this is exactly how we should be thinking. Our God rules the creation and works out his good pleasure in your life and in mine; let us strive to take our pleasure in the working out of these things by his strong and steady hand—finding our hope and satisfaction in Him and in Him alone.
This is just a small sampling of the many proposed “proofs” for God’s existence drawn from General Revelation; there are many more that we could spend our time reviewing. Yet, these six do a good job demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses of such proofs. The strength of the proof is that it demonstrates the truth of Romans 1 and Psalm 14 (as well as many other places) where the Bible states that even natural man is able to recognize that there is a God that is greater than him. And by definition, if there is one who is greater than you who has created you, you have an obligation to him. Thus, in refusing to worship the one true God, man knows that he is condemned in sin. Hence, human responsibility to live acceptable lives before this God is affirmed indirectly by these proofs.
The weakness of the proof is that it does not explain who this God is, it does not teach us how we may come into relationship with him, and it does not teach us what are obligations toward that God are or how our past failure to fulfill our obligations to him may be redressed. I daresay that another weakness of this argument, at least from a purely naturalistic or secularistic perspective, is that these arguments assume a God like whom the Bible describes. For a conclusion to be valid, the premise must be valid. We need scripture to affirm the premise of an infinite God who is the creator, designer, or first mover in a meaningful way. Anselm’s definition of that which is “greater” is a definition, for example, that assumes benevolence to be a necessary aspect. Yet, what of one who defines “greater” in terms of maliciousness? Even Anselm’s definition, then, is predicated on the Biblical idea of God. These proofs demonstrate why it is so essential to begin with the presuppositional stance of Biblical inspiration as defined earlier.
Limitations of General Revelation:
Thus, one can argue from General Revelation that God exists, which is consistent with what Paul teaches about General Revelation in Romans 1:20. What else may we discern from General Revelation? We can discern something of the orderly and moral nature of God from the orderly way the creation functions and behaves. We can also observe that we are created to be religious, as everywhere and in every culture, religion of one form or another arises. More will be said on this when we speak of Anthropology, but let it suffice to say that given the evidence around us, man is a moral and religious creature. Finally, we must confess that General Revelation is rather insufficient for any system of thought, either religious or otherwise. General Revelation is dependent upon our ability to interpret evidence, something that is limited first by our fallen and finite minds and second by our ability to observe the world around us. How many scientific principles have changed through the years when advances in technology allowed us to observe something that was previously unobservable. The electron microscope, for example, revolutionized the study of the cell and turned the scientific world on its head. Prior to this discovery, the cell was thought to be a simple organism, and in fact, the whole Darwinian theory of evolution was based on the premise that the cell was simple and not complex, easily able to be mutated and adapted into different things. This is clearly not the case, as electron microscopes have allowed us to look into the cell and discover that they are far more complex than even the most intricate factories or machines that humans have ever made. In fact, human machines pale in comparison to the complexity of what was once thought of as a “simple” cell. As a result, there is a move within the scientific establishment away from evolution back to the idea of Intelligent Design. Many Intelligent Design proponents are not willing to admit to the designer being the God of the Bible, but they at least recognize that we are created by design and not random chance. As a result of this one invention, more than 100 years of science has been shown to be faulty and scientists must begin again in making their arguments. Like science, psychology and philosophy are in a constant state of flux. Thus, if General Revelation is insufficient, then what must we have if we are to walk faithfully before God in this world?
The answer to the limitation of General Revelation is Special Revelation, or, revelation that comes directly from God. We have already demonstrated, by the weakness of General Revelation, that Special Revelation is essential. Without Special Revelation, we would have no way to understand the fullness of God’s nature, the depravity of our sinful state, the means to which man may enter into a relationship with the creator God, or the means by which we may be redeemed from our wretched estate of sin. Without Special Revelation, we truly would have no meaningful way to understand the world, for Special Revelation provides us with a lens to look through that is not distorted by the effects of the fall. In fact, Special Revelation is the only undistorted lens by which we may see and understand even the things in the scientific world clearly and properly. Mankind did not need to invent the electron microscope to know that the cell was a complex entity and thus all things were made by a Grand Intelligence. God told us as much in Genesis 1 and 2.
Anselm’s Ontological Proof
In dealing with the question of naturalistic proofs for God’s existence, we must not fail to discuss Anselm and his Ontological argument. Anselm predated Aquinas by about 200 years, so clearly, Aquinas is responding to Anselm’s idea that the reality of God’s existence could be proven by looking at General Revelation. It is worth noting that through history there have been many, including people like Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant who have felt they have undone Anselm’s argument, but in reality, these critiques fall short of refuting Anselm’s proof—hence it is still discussed today. Again, this is not designed to prove the God of the Bible, but simply that God, as an infinitely greater being, does exist. He was simply seeking to develop the language of Psalm 14:1, “The foolish one says in his heart that there is no God.”
- Anselm begins by presenting a definition of God. God, he says, is a being greater than which no greater being can be conceived. Again, this argument is not designed to prove the God of the Bible, but that there is a God who is infinite and above all else. One might take issue with Anselm’s definition, suggesting, as many today do, that we can have a plethora of Gods depending on culture and preference, yet, why would one bother worshipping one God of many, who is at best equal to others and likely less than some? This hardly seems like the definition of a god worthy of worship. The one worthy of worship and veneration is the one whom above which there is no other. Why accept a cheap counterfeit when you can have the genuine article?
- Given this definition, Anselm argues that there are only two possible candidates for “God.”
- This infinitely perfect being exists, but he only exists as an idea. Yet, what is greater than an infinitely perfect God who exists as an idea? It is an infinitely perfect God that exists in reality.
- Thus, the second candidate is an infinitely perfect being, greater than which none can be conceived, that does exist in reality: God.
Objections to Anselm:
The two most regularly cited objections to Anselm’s argument come from Gaunilo, a contemporary of Anselm and Kant, more than 700 years later. Briefly, their arguments were similar, but distinct. Gaunilo argued that he could think of many things greater than which no other could be conceived. He suggested, as an example, an island, arguing that he could conceive of the perfect island but just because he could conceive of it did not imply that it existed or that he should seek it out. Anselm replied that he had committed the logical fallacy of equivocation, in other words, using the same term in different ways to refute an argument. Gaunilo and Anselm were both speaking of that which was perfect, but were not using them in the same way, hence Gaunilo’s argument did not carry any weight. In the case of the island, Gaunilo was defining “perfection” in terms of the best representative of a given class of objects—namely islands. Anselm was not positing God as the best member of a class of beings, but as the being par excellence, who is not a member of a class, but a class unto himself.
Kant approaches the argument from a slightly different angle and criticizes Anselm for making the concept of “real existence” a primary quality of value. His suggestion is that the existence or non-existence of something does not make it qualitatively better or worse, but simply different. This can be approached from two angles. First, from a philosophical view, even if existence is not a primary qualitative attribute, it is still an attribute of something. If the idea of God is, as Anselm posited, a being which nothing greater can be conceived, the simple addition of the secondary attribute of existence is still an addition to the being and is, by definition, greater. Thus, Anselm’s argument still stands. The second approach is a practical one. The existence or non-existence of something is a qualitative attribute and cannot be refuted as such. Even Kant would have to concede that were he hungry, the existence or non-existence of food on his plate or in his cupboard is a qualitative difference of first priority. Let us assume one goes to a restaurant and orders an expensive meal, and let us assume that the waiter brings out an empty plate claiming that such is simply the non-existent form of the meal—the meal consisting as an idea in the patron’s mind—how do you think that even Kant would respond when the bill for the meal is brought? Surely we must concede, that the existence and non-existence of an object is a qualitative measure of primary importance, and thus, Anselm’s distinction between an infinitely perfect God that exists as an idea and an infinitely perfect God that exists as reality stands.
St. Thomas Aquinas listed what he saw as five intellectual proofs of the existence of God—proofs that were dependent on reason and observation, not the revealed word of God.
Aquinas and the First Way:
Aquinas recognized that for motion to take place, there had to be something that interacts with it to cause it to move. For a ball to move, for example, it must be struck by another object, for example, the foot of a child kicking it. The ball has the potential to move, but that potential cannot reach its actuality until something else acts upon it. Aquinas argued then, that as the original object that was moved needed to have something act upon it to move, so too does the second object have something act upon it. The boy swings his leg, which moves his foot which in turn moves the ball. And the chain continues backwards from there. He also recognized that without a first mover, the chain of cause and effect must, by definition, go eternally back. Since that idea is absurd to the ordered mind and is not consistent with observable evidence, there must be a first mover upon which nothing is needed to act to cause him to move. This, in turn must be an infinite being outside of creation and hence is God.
While it is not my purpose to go into a detailed critique of these proofs, it is important to point out what Aquinas is doing. It is clear from the language that this is designed to be an intellectual argument for the existence of a god, but it does not point clearly to the existence of the Biblical God. This proof could just as easily be applied to Allah, Odin, or Jupiter. The point is simply to argue that it is impossible to rationally look at our world without seeing the reality of a creator God.
Aquinas and the Second Way:
The second approach that Aquinas mentioned is similar to the first, but focuses on cause and effect rather than on potential motion being converted into actual motion. Every effect must have a cause, if you eliminate the cause you eliminate the effect. Once again, since an infinite series of cause and effect is irrational, the principle posits that there must be an original cause that in itself does not need a cause: hence God. Again, this does not posit the God of the Bible, or even a good and benevolent God for that matter, it only posits that a God exists who is the cause of all things and who is the effect of nothing.
Aquinas and the Third Way:
The third approach deals with a question of being and not being. Aquinas argued that from observation, the things around him had the possibility of being (or existing) or not being. The chair that you are sitting on exists, but it has not always existed. There was a time when the chair was not. He went on to observe that for something to move from not being to being, that action had to be brought about by something that was being. In other words, for the chair we spoke of earlier to come into being, it had to be manufactured. To manufacture something you must “be.” Something that does not exist cannot make something come into existence, the idea of such is nonsensical. Thus, all things that exist must be brought about by that which exists. Just as in the question of causation, there must be a first being. Yet, if that first being exists, he must necessarily not have the possibility of not being. In other words, as non-existence cannot bring about existence, the first being necessarily has to have always existed. And this entity that necessarily exists and cannot not-exist, is God.
Aquinas and the Forth Way:
Aquinas points out that we recognize that there are degrees of things. Some things are better than others; some things are shorter or taller or colder or hotter, etc… than others. And thus we rate them as good, better, and best. Yet, for us to have the idea that one thing is better than another, we must have a standard by which all things are measured and that can never be exceeded. That standard, then, is God. Note that this is not the suggestion that we get the idea of goodness or hotness from God, but simply that there must always be something that is more good or more hot than that which we are viewing and since there is a gradation, there must always be a top to the gradation that can never be surpassed. Such a top or asymptote, by definition, requires an infinite being, hence it must be God.
Aquinas and the Fifth Way:
Fifthly, Aquinas points out that there are entities in creation that have no consciousness at all, yet still act in a regular fashion and in such a way that it is beneficial to their continued existence. Trees, for example, have no consciousness of their own to direct themselves, yet they will sink their roots deeply into the soil to collect water, they will spread their branches wide to collect light for their photo-synthetic leaves, and they will drop seeds by which they may propagate their kind. Aquinas observed that since they act with some sense of direction in terms of self-preservation, yet are unguided by their own consciousness, they must be guided by the consciousness of another. This, once again, is the role of God.