Creation and Proof for the Existence
According to the Bible, unbelievers
...suppress the truth in unrighteousness because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the wodd His invisible attributes are dearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful but became futfle in their thoughts ... and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator ... (Romans 1:18-21,25)We see from this Scripture that (1) men deny God and His very existence not ignorantly or innocently but "in unrighteousness" and "without excuse," because God gave men evident knowledge of Himself clearly seen by the creation ("the things that are made"); and (2) men denying God "became futile in their thinking."
Especially the last point, the futflity of the thought of men who deny God, is a recurring teaching of Scripture. It appears already before the Fall, when Satan, the arch liar and father of lies as Jesus Christ Himself calls him (John 8:44), suggested to Eve that by eating of the forbidden tree she could be like God, knowing good and evil (Gen.3:5). The Fall, therefore, involved our first parents' decision to act upon their own reason apart from and against God. The moment man begins to reason from himsdf rather than God the Creator and Lord as his starting point, his thoughts are futile. To reason from oursdves autonomously is the root temptation and pitfall we must all shun, especially when defending the Christian faith. This is why the Apostle Peter warns us earnestly to sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15). Proverbs 3:5-6 orders us to "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding: In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall make straight (or smooth) your paths." Psalm 94:11 says, "The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile." 1 Corinthians 3:19-20 says (Amplified New Testament): "For this world's wisdom is foolishness - absurdity and stupidity - with God. For it is written, He lays hold of the wise in their [own] craftiness; And again, The Lord knows the thoughts and reasonings of the [humanly] wise and recognizes how futfle they are." The Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian converts to Christ that he did not proclaim God to them "in lofty words ofeloquence or human philosophy and wisdom," but rather "in demonstration of the (Holy) Spirit and power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men (human philosophy), but in the power of God" (1 Cor2:1, 4-5). Consider also Isaiah 55:7-9; Jeremiah 9:23-24; Luke 10:21, where our Lord Jesus Christ praises His Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, because He had "hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes." 2 Cor.10:5 exhorts us to "bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." Ephesians 4:17 speaks of the Gentiles' (unbelievers') "futility of thinking (mind)." Colossians 2:8 warns against "philosophy and empty deceit." Proverbs 1:7 says that "the fear of the LORD" (not the exercise of human autonomous reason) is "the beginning of knowledge." Isaiah 8:20 proclaims: "To the law and to the testimony! Ifthey do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Many other Scriptures address this fundamental issue.
Let us keep these clear and plentiful biblical warnings against reasoning from anything less than God Himself firmly in mind as we consider a few philosophical proofs for the existence of God. Creation, the sure pointer to God according to Romans 1:20, is not often explicitly part of such proofs, while presuppositions from non-Christian world views are. Therefore such philosophical proofs suffer in various degrees from four common defects: (a) they do not agree with the Bible that because of creation God's existence is in fact self-evident, and that unbelievers suppress this truth willfully in unrighteousness; (b) they may be imbued with the non-Christian world views from which they think they can borrow without penalty; (c) they only "prove" their particular philosophical definitions of God rather than the God of Christianity; and (d) in disregard of Scriptures such as the ones listed above, they tend to elevate human reason to a place of equality with God's revelation. Francis Schaeffer believes that this last trend began in the thirteenth century AD., when "the great Aquinas (1225-1274) had already begun, in deference to Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), to open the door to placing revelation and human reason on an equal footing."'
St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), probably Western Christendom's greatest seminal thinker, developed "proofs" for the existence of God as commentaries upon Scripture. Biblical creation out of nothing was their chief pillar, together with the soul's search for God. In accordance with Romans 1:18-25 Augustine took for granted that only "with the exception of a few in whom nature is excessively depraved, the whole human race confesses God to be the author of the world" and that even a man admitting of many gods "still attempts to conceive 'the one God of gods' as 'something than which nothing more excellent or sublime exists.'" St. Augustine wrote that
...the order and unity of Nature proclaims the unity of the Creator, just as the goodness of creatures, their positive reality, reveals the goodness of God and the order and stability of the universe manifest the wisdom of God. On the other hand, God, as the self-existent, eternal and immutable Being, is infinite, and, as infinite, incomprehensible. God is His own Perfection, is `simple', so that His wisdom and knowledge, His goodness and power, are His own essence, which is without accidents. God, therefore, transcends space in virtue of His spirituality and infinity and simplicity, as He transcends time in virtue of His eternity.. .2Thus St. Augustine safeguarded the transcendence of God as Creation. He lovingly spoke of the God he knew person to Person rather than about God as a philosophical concept, being "not so much concerned to prove to the atheist that God exists as to show how all creation proclaims the God whom the sod can experience in itself the living God. It was the dynamic attitude of the sod towards God which interested him, not the construction of dialectical arguments with a purely theoretical conclusion."3
As the Christian faith began to be confronted with questioning, rationalistic university scholars such as Peter Abelard (1079-1142) and with "the inquisitive, questing spirit of Muslim scholarship,"4 more and more rationalistic philosophical arguments with starting points other than the God of Scripture Himself developed among defenders of the faith. Consider the famous ontological argument of St. Anseim (1083-1109), formulated as an address to God. St. Ans&m introduced it with a cry from the heart: "I long to understand the truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, hut I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe-that udess I believed, I should not understand." The essential parts of the ontological argument are these:
... we believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived ... And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. ... Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality ...St. Anselm included biblical creation and its difference between God the Creator and man the creature as a sort of postscript:
And it assuredly exists so truly, that it cannot be conceived not to exist. For, it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist, and this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist. There is, then, so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist; and this being thou art, 0 Lord, our God.
So truly, therefore, dost thou exist, 0 Lord, my God, that thou canst not be conceived not to exist; and rightly. For, if a mind could conceive of a being greater than thee, the creature would rise above the Creator; and this is most absurd. And, indeed, whatever else there is, except thee alone, can be conceived not to exist.6The monk Gaunilo, a contemporary of St. Anselm, attacked this argument on the plausible grounds that our idea of a thing does not guarantee that the thing actually exists. Frederick Copleston sums up St. Anselm's reply:
...if the idea of God is the idea of an all-perfect Being and if absolute perfection involves existence, this idea is the idea of an existent, and necessarily existent Being ... If God is possible, i.e. if the idea of the all-perfect and necessary Being contains no contradiction, God must exist, since it would be absurd to speak of a merely possible necessary Being (it is a contradiction in terms) ... 7The ontological argument is an impressive construct of sheer reason and logic. However, it is subject to denial as we have seen; Immanuel Kant rejected it altogether as a tautology. More importantly, despite St. Anselm's sincere faith and good intentions the "being than which nothing greater can be conceived" need not be the God of the Bible. It might be the cosmic "Force" of the neopagan New Age movement today! A philosophical argument can only "prove" the philosophical concept it sets out to prove, and that only tentatively. We must therefore take our stand with Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), "the most dynamic figure of the twelfth century, if not the whole of the Middle Ages,"8 who opposed Peter Abelard on the grounds that not disputation but faith is the mark of the righteous Christian believer Likewise the great Freach scientist and Christian Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) exultantly rejected the "God of philosophers and learned men" who could never give him the "certitude certitude feeling joy peace" he received upon meeting the "God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob ... and Jesus Christ" person to Person in the night of November23, 1654. 9
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1276) rejected the ontological argument. He did so while denying that the existence of God is self-evident on the grounds that some men deny God's existence. This is contrary to Romans 1:18; unbelieving man's reason is not "neutral" but actively engaged in "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness." Instead of the ontological argument Aquinas offered his celebrated five proofs for the existence of God. They argue:
Let us briefly evaluate these proofs. Proof (1) leads to a "first mover," but this being need not be the God of Christianity. Aristotle, whom Aquinas greatly admired and sought to incorporate in Christian philosophy pursuant to Pope Urban IV's request of 1263, also spoke of "God" as "first mover" His "first mover," however, was part and parcel of the cosmos which it "moved" by attraction. Aristotle's "god" was certainly not the Creator of the Bible, as for him the world had existed from all eternity.
The "efficient cause" of Proof (2) may be, for example, whatever it was that "caused" the original One of pantheism to break up or send forth emanations. An "efficient cause" need not be the personal, transcendent God of Scripture Who is original Creator of all things out of nothing, as the BiNe dearly teaches. Proof (3) is, as Aquinas himself says, closely related to Proof (2) and therefore subject to this same possibility of misinterpretation.
Proof (4) makes "God" the highest degree of perfection of things and qualities. This line of reasoning overlooks the ontological otherness of the God of Scripture from the world of which He is the Creator out of nothing. Aquinas took the argument from gradation from Aristotle as well. However, Aristotle's world view, as that of all pagan thought, was based upon monism, the presupposition that all is as ultimately one, with no room for the transcendent, personal God and Creator of the Bible Who is "other than," outside and above the world.
Proof (5) for God as the Giver of the end and purpose of all things infers and anticipates the argument from design in nature for God as the supreme "Watchmaker" made by William Paley over five hundred years later (Paley's work was first published in 1802; though Paley reasoned independent of Aquinas. It upholds the transcendence of God hecause it implicitly recognizes Him as the Creator of all things for His own pleasure (Revelation 4:11). It reasons from intelligence as the directing principle (not highest degree of perfection; of all natural things. It uses the example ofan archer shooting an arrow to its mark, an illustration pointing to the personhood of God. Yet it concludes, as it logically must, by identifying God merdy with its philosophical concept of "some intelligent being" directing all natural things to their end. This "intelligent being," however, may logically be Hegel's and Teilhard de Chardin's "God" as the munistic "world spirit" realizing itself in nature and history rather than the absolutely transcendent God of the Bible.
Both the ontological argument and Aquinas' five proofs continued to intrigue later, increasingly rationalistic philosophers, though they did not belong to the scholastic tradition. Rene Descartes (1596-1650). whose philosophical starting point was his own thought ("I think, therefore I am") accepted the ontological proof and also argued for the existence of God on the basis that he himself must necessarily have been created by God, and that the idea of God he found within himself was a result of the Image of God in which he was created. The German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) accepted the ontological proof but thought it was imperfect because the possibility of a supremely perfect being must be proven without contradiction. Once this possibility has been demonstrated, however, "it could be said that the existence of God was demonstrated geometrically a prion."10 Leibnix also believed that other means to prove the existence of God had validity, especially his "argument from the contingency of the world," which essentially incorporates Aquinas' Proofs (2) and (3) for God as the efficient and necessary ultimate cause of the whole world:
... for Leihniz all truths of fact or existential propositions save one (namely, the proposition 'God exists') are contingent, that is, not metaphysically necessary. The ultimate origin of 'the chain of states or series of things, the aggregate of which constitutes the world', must therefore be sought outside the series: we must pass from physical or hypothetical necessity, which determines the posterior states of the world by the prior, to something which is absolute or metaphysical necessity ... 11In our own generation Stanley L. Jaki, a philosopher and historian of science, has reasserted the argument from contingency for the existence of God speciflcally on the grounds of the science of mechanics. This science demands the ascertaining of laws within given boundary conditions; moreover, no set of individual boundary conditions can be done in its own terms, but only in the terms of a more general set. Since the entire universe has an overall boundary condition, "it is legitimate to look for its givenness in a factor which, since the universe embodies all that is physical, can only be metaphysical with respect to the whole universe. That factor is not a super-designer or an engineer-in-chief, ... hut a Creator who alone is capable of producing a universe with that true mark of givenness, a contingency implying creation." 12
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), as noted above, rejected the ontological proof as a tautology, and Leibniz's argument from the contingency of the world because all sense experience must be excluded when trying to prove the existence of a metaphysical being. Thus he would doubtless have excluded Jaki's variation of this argument from the science of mechanics as well. He thought an argument from the order in nature could at best prove an "architect" working on already existing material rather than a Creator. 13 C.S.Lewis, "apostle to the skeptics" of our own generation, reasoned in his best-selling popular defense of the faith, I which has won many to Christ, that a moral law of right and wrong exists among all men, which points to a personal, righteous God.
Kant notwithstanding, there is great plausibility in the arguments for God as Creator from contingency. The arguments (not formal philosophical "proofs") for the existence of God from the world's order and design used by Paley and again in the modern creation movement also speak to many. The modern creation movement of our own time has focused immense and widespread attention upon how great the world's order and complexity really is. Spokespeople for this movement have argued for creation and the God of creation on the grounds that mere matter cannot originate such metaphysical realities as space, time, moral and spiritual values, beauty, creativity, love and life itself. 14 They have declined to borrow from unbiblical thought in the form of "theistic evolution" and witnessed clearly to God as Creator in conformity with Romans 1:18-25. This is why their witness is so effective despite the absence of formal "proof."
The deficiencies of philosophical "proofs" based upon autonomous human reason and with their necessarily theoretical and always uncertain conclusions have become common knowledge today. With Pascal the average person is disillusioned with "the God of philosophers and learned men." This is in agreement with what the Bible says about how God is manifest to men, and with God's promise of Isaiah 29:14 and 1 Corinthians 1:19-21: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. ... Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached [of Christ crucified] to save those who believe." As St. Augustine wrote on the opening page of his Confessions, "Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee." It is really possible to rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-80). Jesus Christ testifies and Pascal confirms, together with all regenerate believers of all ages, that it is really possible to meet and know the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus Christ revealed in the Bible person to Person (John 17:3, Galatians 2:20). It is really possible to have new life in Christ, and to be restored moment by moment to God's glorious, blessed image and likeness lost at the Fall (2 Cor. 3:18). And that is the unanswerable proof for God's existence: God's Word confirmed by reality. Nothing less will do, least of all the autonomous reasoning of unbelievers. "To the law and to the testimony; ifthey speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20).
1 Francis A. Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live? (Westchester, IL: Crossway
Books, 1976, First Crossway Books paperback edition, 1988), p. 48. See also
Schaeffer's discussion on pp. 52-56.
2 Frederick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company Image Books. 1962 and later years), vol. 2, Part I, p. 87.
3 ibid., p. 84.
4 Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Waco, TX: Word, 1982, p. 215.
5 George L. Abernethy and Thomas A. Langford, eds., Philosophy of Religion: A Book of Readings New York: Macmillan, 1968,. p. 170.
6 ibid., pp. 171-172.
7 Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 2, Part I, p. 185.
8 Bernard of Clairvaux, The Face of God (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1988), xvi.
9 Pascal testified to this event in his marvelous "Pascal Memorial" which has been reprinted many times. Copies are available from the editor, CSSH Quarterly. 1429 N. Holyoke, Wichita, Kansas 67208.
10 Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 4, p. 821.
11 ibid., p. 829.
12 Stanley L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the ways to God, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978; p. 292. Also see Ellen Myers, "Creation and Science: The Work of Stanley L. Jaki" in Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly, IX, 2 (Winter 1986), pp. 17-24.
13 Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol.6, Part II, p. 98.
14 Cf. Henry M. Morris, ed., Scientific Creationism San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers, 1974), p. 20.