The following is not an attempt to present a purely logical or reasoned explanation for the existence of God. There is a conglomeration here of appeals to reason and logic mixed together with a host of other “reasons” not linked necessarily to reason. The whole ball forms reason to believe, or to have faith that God exists.
1, 2 Jesus Christ
The Person: Jesus Christ is a compelling personality. His life, his words, his character are superlatively noteworthy. His life is worth modeling. His life is worth modeling even if belief in God is spurious. But in that God was primary for Jesus, it is hard to take him seriously and ignore this foundational framework for all that he did. Not only did Jesus live an extraordinary life, he makes extraordinary claims. Many of the objections to the belief in God, or to Christianity have to do with the behavior of believers, the problem of evil, explanations of the cosmos from a material-naturalistic perspective – but rarely do they attack the individual we know as Jesus. There is nothing to say against him. Would it be too corny to say that one of the reasons I believe in God is because Jesus is my hero? Yes, it is corny – so are the tears that come to my eyes every time I think of him that deeply. Jesus is the revelation of God to man. God in the flesh, such an absurd concept, yet incredibly poignant at the same time. A tangible demonstration of what God has for whatever reason cloaked in creation. Jesus is “the exact representation of His nature.” I see God in Jesus.
The Resurrection: We recognize this as the cornerstone claim of Christianity: “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain…we are found to be false witnesses…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless…if we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” The claim is a radical one, an outrageous one, an unscientific one. It goes against all we know. Everyone dies. In the next 70 or so years approximately 7 billion people will die. We will not see any of them after they die and are buried and decompose and their brain stops working. This bracing fact is one which Christianity offers an answer for.
The claim of the record, gospels and especially Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is that the resurrection was a real event witnessed by real people who knew Jesus. Eyewitness testimony in court has been shown to be unreliable, but here we are saying that people who knew Jesus, walked with him and talked with him, saw him alive after the crucifixion. The ones who buried him, now see him alive. Quite a claim. Paul says that Jesus appeared to Cephas (Peter) to the twelve, and also to over 500 others – stating that many were still alive when he wrote the letter. They could still be asked.
There are other reasons to believe the resurrection, among them:
- The transformation of the disciples, the focus of their message and the sacrifice of their lives
- The unlikeliness of the arguments to the contrary: Swoon theory and the stolen body theory are not compelling and ignore the undisputed features of the accounts of his death and the circumstances of his burial.
- The continued early growth of the belief in this resurrection in a very hostile environment.
3 The Logical Arguments
The Cosmological, Teleological and Ontological arguments have all had a history of promotion, discussion, revision – they still form a compelling beginning point to say that there is rational and logical foundation for at least the possibility of the existence of a being that is greater than ourselves with the attributes of god-ness.
4 The Moral Argument
One of the obvious distinctions between all other forms of life and human life is this strange component within us, the moral component. There is a universal sense of right and wrong. It transcends culture and generation. It is distinct from some of our instinctual reactions related to morality. It forms the “oughts” of our lives, and it forms the foundation for what we teach our children. Where does this come from? I say it comes from God. That is what makes it universal, that is what makes it indispensable. Without this component, and without a universal sense of right and wrong, there is no foundation for morality, or government (at least logically). Governments impose rules arbitrarily for their own benefit, or in the case of benevolent governments for the benefit of the majority. But you have no foundation other than that for calling me “evil” if I eat my children. You might not like it, the majority might not like it, but it cannot be considered “evil”. The idea of the “good” is an idea that challenges simple animal existence in a material world.
Parenting highlights this issue. When my son breaks the neighbor’s window, I tell him that he needs to fess up, apologize and pay restitution. Those are moral imperatives. We teach them to our children because we want them to be good people. We get the idea of goodness not from our own nature, but from something outside of ourselves. What compels me to teach him the above instead of: “Did they see you do it? Don’t be stupid. Don’t implicate yourself. Don’t pay for something if you don’t have to. It isn’t cheating if you don’t get caught!”
Altruism, choosing the right/good to our own detriment are not explained in a materialistic, self-preserving system. There is no foundation for good and evil determinations without the God who is good demanding conformity with the standard. Another way to say this is that it is ridiculous to talk about the laws of morality without the idea of obedience. Obedience by definition assumes a law-giver, it suggests giving in or submitting to the one in control.
Very simply, without God it is hard to give a good answer to the questions, “Why is murder wrong?” and “Why is suicide wrong?” or any of other moral questions upon which there is agreement as to its rightness or wrongness. Without God, anarchy should rule, but it does not.
5 The Ultimate Questions Best Answered by Theism/Christianity
I rest between somewhere between the extremes of rationalism and empiricism.
Ultimate Questions: Death, origins, immortality (the ones not included in other reasons)
What happens when we die? Can we ever know? Is the desire to know meaningful? Is there a reason for death other than scientific descriptions? Where did we come from? What is eternal? Can we live forever? All of these questions live between rationalism and empiricism. Christianity addresses all of these issues, in a consistent and rational manner. I am not afraid of science, but view its place epistemologically as one voice speaking to life’s truth. Science in fact, cannot even begin to give the answers to these questions, but that does not preclude an answer, nor does it mean we should stop looking. Christianity offers the best answers to all of these questions.
Human guilt: Our innate knowledge that we fail the moral standard causes us varying levels of guilt and failure. Relief for this shortcoming is necessary for peace, that internal confidence that I have paid my debt, have attained the standard of “goodness.”
Soul-sorrow – what is the answer to the question of death, and our desire to live forever. No one wants to die, and Bertrand Russells confident despair which Sam Harris’ extols as “being man enough to swallow it” is totally unsatisfying, if not hugely ignorant of the reality of this particular electro-chemical reaction and its potential meaning. I don’t know how many times you have been at the bedside of the dying, but there is no comfort in materialism at the point of death. Is there an answer to this? Not without the presence of something that can grant us the life we did not manufacture to begin with.
Hope – without hope, nothing has real meaning. Without hope complete happiness is not attainable, and with death looming larger every day, happiness can only diminish with time. Even if there is no God, it seems stupid to not use the vehicle of faith to increase my happiness until my brain stops functioning and my life ends.
Immortality: The universe must be able to support this idea in order for me to pursue a rational belief in immortality. Nothing in the universe precludes this possibility.
6 The Humility Argument
“Arrogance makes you stupid.” One of the characteristics of Christ that makes him so compelling is his humility, driving him to the ultimate humiliation, especially if his claims on deity are true, on the cross. Both qualities go against human nature. We naturally preen. Our default is to seek glory. Make no mistake, the first word of children, despite what parents claim, is not “dada,” or “mama,” but “MINE.” Our natural tendency is not to share, but to have, everything. Can’t you remember the birthday parties of others we had to endure as children – why is he getting all my presents. We don’t get any better when we grow up, we become more sophisticated in our expression. We default to a place of predatory obsession with self and the satisfaction of self, that is as far as the east is from the west in relation to the character of humility.
But we unmistakably admire humility, in others. And Jesus was the master of humility. And our pursuit of humility is really necessary if we are to “see” God. Now this is a spiritual principle, not a logical or empirical principle. It is a matter of positioning. Very much like the scientist who directs me to a microscope without which I will never see the smaller stuff, humility is a microscope that opens the eyes to the existence of God. Arrogance is taking a set of binoculars to the sun.
7 Purpose, not opposed to Design, but not really about Design
Purpose is evident in just about everything. Science often explains to us why things exist, flies for example. We hate flies and appeal to humor to express our lack of understanding as to their existence. Science describes their importance in decomposition etc. Businesses pursue purpose. Individuals cannot exist without purpose. When we rob people of purpose, they give up hope for living. This is the challenge of nihilism.
A materialistic universe devoid of God cannot impart any purpose beyond a self-generated purpose rooted in “eat, drink and be merry” for tomorrow we die. That is not so noble , so we modify the statement “eat, drink and be merry” with purpose statements that get us motivated and excited to live, statements that are more acceptable to ourselves and people we are trying to impress. Ultimately we know that they are simply self-serving and finite, and that they don’t meet our need for meaning.
8 The Satisfaction Argument
After a good meal, a bowl of ice cream, a hot shower, great sex – one of the best human emotions is “satisfaction.” This is a purely subjective argument, the more I worship, meditate, study, submit to God, the more satisfaction I experience. That is meaningful. That is substantive. I, as all humans, desire to be happy. My argument here is that the most happiness is found in God. “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
Augustine put it this way: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”
9 The Prominence of Faith
Even for the most extreme empiricist, faith is a necessary component in life. We cannot see atoms (more recently with Scanning Tunneling Microscopes and computers, Scientists are able to “map” atomic structure, truly amazing stuff). We can only postulate what they would look like if in fact we could see them. There is always a gap between what we “know” and what we “perceive.” That gap is filled with faith.
Now some atheists claim that God is found in the gaps of our knowledge and that we will push the idea of God out as we increase in our knowledge. So they would see the claim that faith is found in those same gaps, the need for faith will diminish as we find out the real that is there in the gaps. I would submit that is not a scientific or empirical deduction, but an arrogant one. Just the size issue, man’s size in relationship to the size of the universe mitigates against us filling in all the gaps. We cannot even begin to imagine the depths of the universe much less probe them. So at least for our generation, until Star Trek the next Generation arrives, we are stuck with faith.
But faith has a value outside of that particular discussion, which speaks for faith as more than simply compensation for ignorance of the facts. It has value in relationship. It is necessary for relationship. My children just took my van, with “Jeremy” driving to the Troubador in Los Angeles (about 80 miles one way) to see Narwahl (one of their favorite bands) perform. I don’t know what will happen. My 16 and 14 year olds are traveling to the bowels of Jr. Sin City. I trust them, nonetheless there is danger beyond the issue of trusting them. The trust I display is risky, some would even say foolish. It is not based on pure knowledge. But it is necessary if I am to parent them well. They have to venture out and learn to be outside the nest. With no faith, I will destroy the relationship I have with them. This is just one illustration – I could fill a book with the need for trust/faith in relationships. For most humans, relationships and their health are more important than quarks, maybe even more real! And so, faith can be demonstrated as a necessary component to healthy relationships, if we are to have a healthy relationship with God, or any relationship really, faith is a must.
10 The Authority Argument
In light of all of the above, I am not the smartest unit on the planet. I am stuck with choosing an authority. Or to state it differently, in the words of Bob Dylan: You gotta serve somebody. Even though I have tried to put these things into my own words, they stem from the words and thoughts of others, who are smarter and more articulate than I am. The majority of us (guess 99%) of the world’s population are in this boat. You will not find a revised copy of Steve’s version of the Ontological Argument making the rounds of University Classrooms around the world. Most likely (there is still time) the name Steve Bagdanov will not grace textbooks as do the names David Hume, St. Anselm, St. Augustine, Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and others. “A man has to know his limitations” to quote Dirty Harry. So we all are stuck picking our authorities. I choose Jesus.