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Basic Apologetics: How can I know that God exists?

Posted by on in Modern Reformation
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William Cwirla (LCMS): We know things in a variety of ways. We know things empirically, the way we know a scientific fact. For instance, we know that water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen because we can analyze water and literally take it apart. Since God can't be measured or tested scientifically, we can't know of God's existence that way.

I've never been terribly impressed by the various "proofs" for the existence of God. All of them seem to lead to so much logical or philosophical arm wrestling, the God of logical necessities. I think these arguments are much more meaningful to believers than they are to skeptics.

We also know things inductively and retroductively, the way we know facts of history or the way a jury is convinced of a crime "beyond a reasonable doubt" by the evidence. The Apostle Paul writes that the pagans, who do not have the revealed Word, can still know something about God. "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom. 1:19-20). The Divine Suspect left his fingerprints.

Here, science has unwittingly done a decent job dusting for divine fingerprints. The finely-tuned order of the universe in a delicate balance of universal physical constants, the apparent rarity of Earth as a life-sustaining planet, the wonderful complexity of biological systems, and the intricacies of the genetic code all make a strong case for the existence of God. Like any circumstantial evidence case, there are always alternative explanations, so one can never be absolutely certain in knowing God this way, only reasonably certain.

This sort of natural knowledge of God is also quite limited. We can know of his eternal power and deity, namely that God transcends time and space and that he is omnipotent and omniscient and whatever other "omni" you can think of, but we can't know anything about his character or person. That must ultimately be revealed to us.

To know Jesus Christ is to know God. He is the fullness of the Deity dwelling among us bodily. This kind of knowing is different from knowing facts about God or studying God the way one studies biology or chemistry. This is knowing in the biblical use of that word, as in entering into a relationship with someone. "This is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).

The Incarnation is the grand revelation of God who's been at work in, with, and under the created order from the beginning. He shows his face in the face of the Son of the Virgin, the Man of the Cross. If you want to know God, you need to learn from Jesus, the Son of God, the Word made flesh. You can be as certain of the existence of God as you are certain of the existence of the historic figure named Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of God, and offered a variety of signs, culminating in his own predicted death and resurrection.

Michael Brown (URC): We know that God exists because he has revealed himself to us. He has done this in two ways: through creation (which we call his general revelation) and Scripture (which we call his special revelation). Many people try to avoid the latter, but no one can escape the former. General revelation is something that all people experience. It is, as Article 2 of The Belgic Confession puts it, "before our eyes as a most beautiful book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many letters leading us to perceive clearly the invisible things of God." Like a book that tells a story, nature communicates a message-one that is understood by all people irrespective of their location, language, or education. This is precisely what David says in Psalm 19: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world" (Ps. 19:1-4a).

Every day, nature reveals to the world the existence of its Creator. The rising of the sun and the shining of the stars say unequivocally to mankind: You are a creature living in the Creator's universe. This, as Paul says in Romans 1:19-20, leaves people without excuse: "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."

Man cannot accuse God of not revealing himself. No one will ever be able to say, You didn't give me enough evidence, God; I didn't know that you existed! The fact is that every person knows God exists. Every human being knows something about God's eternal power and deity by what is clearly perceived in nature. Moreover, as Paul points out in Romans 2:14-15, God has planted in the soul of every human being a basic awareness of God and his law. Calvin called this the sensus divinitatis-an elementary, intuitive perception of God's existence.

Consequently, before a Christian even opens her mouth to give an argument for the existence of God, the unbeliever already knows that God exists. The unbeliever's problem is not that he doesn't know this, but that he hates and suppresses what he already knows to be true. This, according to Paul, is the indictment that God gives to the entire human race when he says: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Rom. 1:18). Thus, "How can I know God exists?" is the wrong question. The question that the unbeliever needs to ask is, "How can I be saved from the wrath of God?"

Jason Stellman (PCA): This is such a profound question, but what makes it especially interesting is the fact that the Bible (which is the primary source of our knowledge about God) never actually argues for his existence. Instead,it presupposes it with the opening words of its first book, Genesis: "In the beginning, God... " To those who doubt his existence, Psalm 14 just responds, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"

But when you think about it, it shouldn't be that surprising that the existence of God is considered to be as central and basic as the Bible implies. After all, we all hold beliefs for which we have no proof and for which we never think to argue (such as the belief that truthfulness is better than lying, or that it is wrong to torture children for fun). Now I'm not saying that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated, it certainly can, but our belief in him is only strengthened by such evidence, it is not founded on it.

Though Scripture, as I said, doesn't furnish us with arguments for God's existence, it does appeal to his handiwork as a demonstration of his power and wisdom. Speaking of pagan idolaters, Paul insisted that they "knew God" and had witnessed "his eternal power and divine nature" by observing the wonders of creation. Yet because of the darkness of their hearts men refuse to glorify him, and choose rather to serve creatures instead of the Creator. Man's "atheism," therefore, is a farce. His "intellectual doubt" is often a moral refusal to admit what his eyes and heart plainly testify-that there is a God to whom he is accountable.

When you look at it this way, I guess you could turn the issue on its head and argue that God doesn't believe in atheists.

A. Craig Troxel (OPC): Many people in the West respond to the reality of religious pluralism by affirming that all religions are really the same. But one problem with such a viewpoint is that it seeks to domesticate religions by stripping them of all that is unique about them. Certain beliefs must be sacrificed in order to amalgamate religions into parallel or analogous ways to God. The distinctive elements of the various religions are pured into one flavor-and by an "outsider"-who is an expert and, of course, has our best interest in mind. As Steve Turner puts it tongue-in-cheek, "We believe that religions are basically the same. ...They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation."

The religion that is least conducive to such reductionism is Christianity, because the person who is least tamable is Christ. You cannot begin to treat Christ as merely a prophet or wise teacher (like Moses, Mohammed, Confucius, or Buddha). Yet in order to assert that the Christian faith is just another brand or label of one all-purpose universal religion, you must essentially gut the Christian faith of all its content, much in the same way that a modern taxidermist removes all of a fish so that hardly anything remains when it is mounted on the wall.

For example, in order to make his point, John Hicks argued in God Has Many Names that Jesus never designated himself as Messiah, never thought of himself as divine, and that the incarnation is a mythical idea applied to Jesus. Jesus gets reduced to being our "saving point of contact" with God. This is a huge distortion of Jesus' declaration to be "the way, the truth and the life" and that people should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Emphasizing this truth, and the truth of his substitutionary death, resurrection from the dead, and future return is not a static or freeze-dried view of truth. It is the truth that set us free.

Next in the series: How can I know that the Bible is true?

From Modern Reformation (March/April 2006): "Does God Believe in Atheists?"

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  • Thanks for this post.

    The question foremost on my mind is certainty. I had a long discussion last night with a young man from our church who is rapidly moving to the point of saying that no apologetic method (evidentialism, presuppositionalism, classicla, etc.) offers conclusive proof for the truth of Christianity and that certainty is not possible with any method. I think that would make him a fidiest, technically.

    How do you convince a person who relies totally on reason that Christianity must be true? Can you?

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  • Guest - Edward Hutcheson

    We forget that it is an issue of us doing the persuading and the Holy Spirit doing the convincing, a person has to be convinced in their own mind and it is a mind that creator navigates. Pietism has always been a problem when christians get on a roll and attempt to "win the argument" and alienate the target; a target that the Holy Spirit alone has a bead on.

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  • Thanks for this Eric, it is a great piece and is really making me think about how I engage with people who deny God.

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