Answering the Question – “Does God Exist?” – Part 2

*Series: Knowing What & Why You Believe – October 26, 2020 – Pastor David Craig 

(Notes Adapted from Dr. William Lane Craig)

REVIEW FROM SESSION 5 – DOES GOD EXIST – PART 1:

3 Reasons Why God’s Existence Makes A Difference

  • Reason 1: Life is Ultimately Meaningless Without God
  • Reason 2: Without God We Live Without Hope
  • Reason 3: If God Exists, You Can Know His Love Personally

Does God exist? Here are 5 Good Reasons to Believe That God Exists:

  1. God makes sense of the origin of the universe.
  2. God makes sense of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.
  3. God makes sense of objective moral values in the world.
  4. God makes sense of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  5. God can be immediately known and experienced.

(3) GOD MAKES SENSE OF OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES 

IN THE WORLD.

  • Does God exist? If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so.
  • It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them. And the claim is that in the absence of God, moral values are not objective in this sense.
  • Many theists and atheists alike concur on this point. For example, the late J. L. Mackie of Oxford University, one of the most influential atheists of our time, admitted: “If . . . there are . . . objective values, they make the existence of a God more probable than it would have been without them. Thus, we have a defensible argument from morality to the existence of a God” (J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982], pp. 115-16). But in order to avoid God’s existence, Mackie therefore denied that objective moral values exist. He wrote, “It is easy to explain this moral sense as a natural product of biological and social evolution . . . .” (Ibid., pp. 117-18).
  • Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science, agrees. He explains, Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says “love thy neighbor as thyself,” they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . And any deeper meaning is illusory (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm [London: Routledge, 1989], pp. 262-269).
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, the great 19th century atheist who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life. I think that Friedrich Nietzsche was right.
  • But we must be very careful here. The question here is not: “must we believe in God in order to live moral lives?” I’m not claiming that we must. Nor is the question: “Can we recognize objective moral values without believing in God?” I think that we can.
  • Rather the question is: “If God does not exist, do objective moral values exist?” Like Mackie and Ruse, I don’t see any reason to think that in the absence of God, human morality is objective. After all, if there is no God, then what’s so special about human beings? They’re just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time.
  • On the atheistic view, some action, say, rape, may not be socially advantageous and so in the course of evolution has become taboo; but that does absolutely nothing to prove that rape is really wrong. On the atheistic view, apart from the social consequences, there’s nothing really wrong with your raping someone. Thus, without God there is no absolute right and wrong which imposes itself on our conscience.
  • But the problem is that objective values do exist, and deep down we all know it. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world.
  • The reasoning of Ruse at best proves only that our subjective perception of objective moral values has evolved. But if moral values are gradually discovered, not invented, then our gradual and fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of that realm than our gradual, fallible perception of the physical world undermines the objectivity of that realm. Most of us think that we do apprehend objective values. As Ruse himself confesses, “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, 2+2=5” (Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended [London: Addison-Wesley, 1982], p. 275).
  • Actions like rape, torture, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior—they’re moral abominations. Some things are really wrong. Similarly love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good. But if objective values cannot exist without God, and objective values do exist, then it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

We can summarize this argument as follows:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

(4) GOD MAKES SENSE OF THE HISTORICAL FACTS CONCERNING THE LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS.

  • The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable individual. New Testament critics have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in God’s place. That’s why the Jewish leadership instigated his crucifixion for the charge of blasphemy. He claimed that in himself the Kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact he carried out a ministry of miracles and exorcisms. But the supreme confirmation of his claim was his resurrection from the dead.
  • If Jesus did rise from the dead, then it would seem that we have a divine miracle on our hands and, thus, evidence for the existence of God. Now most people would probably think that the resurrection of Jesus is something you just accept on faith or not. But there are actually three established facts, recognized by the majority of New Testament historians today, which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus: His empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection. Let’s look briefly at each one of these.

Fact #1: Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers on Sunday morning. According to Jacob Kremer, an Austrian scholar who has specialized in the study of the resurrection, “by far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb” (Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien–Geschichten um Geschichte [Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977], pp. 49-50).  According to D. H. Van Daalen, it is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.

Fact #2: On separate occasions different individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death. According to Gerd Ludemann, a prominent German New Testament critic, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ” (Gerd Ludemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden [Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995], p. 8). These appearances were witnessed not only by believers, but also by unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies.

Fact #3: The original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus despite having every predisposition to the contrary. Think of the situation the disciples faced following Jesus’ crucifixion:

1. Their leader was dead, and Jewish Messianic expectations included no idea of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel’s enemies, would be shamefully executed by them as a criminal.

2. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world.

  • Nevertheless, the original disciples suddenly came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief. Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University, states, “Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus [San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996], p. 136). N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, “That is why, as an historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him” (N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today [September 13, 1993], p. 26).
  • Attempts to explain away these three great facts—like the disciples stole the body or Jesus wasn’t really dead—have been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. The simple fact is that there just is no plausible, naturalistic explanation of these facts. Therefore, it seems to me, the Christian is amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be. But that entails that God exists.

We can summarize this argument as follows:

  1. There are three established facts concerning the fate of Jesus of Nazareth: the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
  2. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.
  3. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” entails that the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.
  4. Therefore, the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.

(5) GOD CAN BE IMMEDIATELY KNOWN AND EXPERIENCED.

  • This isn’t really an argument for God’s existence; rather it’s the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing him. This was the way people in the Bible knew God, as professor John Hick explains:
  • God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality, as inescapably to be reckoned with as a destructive storm and life-giving sunshine . . . They did not think of God as an inferred entity but as an experienced reality. To them God was not . . . an idea adopted by the mind, but an experiential reality which gave significance to their lives (John Hick, “Introduction,” in The Existence of God, ed. with an Introduction by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series [New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1964], pp. 13-14).
  • Philosophers call beliefs like this “properly basic beliefs.” They aren’t based on some other beliefs; rather they are part of the foundation of a person’s system of beliefs. Other properly basic beliefs would be the belief in the reality of the past, the existence of the external world, and the presence of other minds like your own.
  • When you think about it, none of these beliefs can be proved. How could you prove that the world was not created five minutes ago with built-in appearances of age like food in our stomachs from the breakfasts we never really ate and memory traces in our brains of events we never really experienced?
  • How could you prove that you are not a brain in a vat of chemicals being stimulated with electrodes by some mad scientist to believe that you are here listening to this lecture? How could you prove that other people are not really androids who exhibit all the external behavior of persons with minds, when in reality they are soulless, robot-like entities?
  • Although these sorts of beliefs are basic for us, that doesn’t mean that they’re arbitrary. Rather they are grounded in the sense that they’re formed in the context of certain experiences. In the experiential context of seeing and feeling and hearing things, I naturally form the belief that there are certain physical objects which I am sensing.
  • Thus, my basic beliefs are not arbitrary, but appropriately grounded in experience. There may be no way to prove such beliefs, and yet it is perfectly rational to hold them. You’d have to be crazy to think that the world was created five minutes ago or to believe that you are a brain in a vat! Such beliefs are thus not merely basic, but properly basic. In the same way, belief in God is for those who seek Him a properly basic belief grounded in our experience of God.

We can summarize this consideration as follows:

  1. Beliefs which are appropriately grounded may be rationally accepted as basic beliefs not grounded on argument.
  2. Belief that the biblical God exists is appropriately grounded.
  3. Therefore, belief that the biblical God exists may be rationally accepted as a basic belief not grounded on argument.

Now if this is right, then there’s a danger that arguments for the existence of God could actually distract one’s attention from God Himself. If you’re sincerely seeking God, God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible says, “draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4.8). We mustn’t so concentrate on the proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our heart. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

We’ve seen five good reasons to think that God exists:

  1. God makes sense of the origin of the universe.
  2. God makes sense of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.
  3. God makes sense of objective moral values in the world.
  4. God makes sense of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  5. God can be immediately known and experienced.

These are only a part of the evidence for God’s existence. Alvin Plantinga, one of the world’s leading philosophers, has laid out two dozen or so arguments for God’s existence. (Alvin Plantinga, “Two Dozen [or so] Theistic Arguments,” Lecture presented at the 33rd Annual Philosophy Conference, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, October 23-25, 1986 – Now compiled in the book: Jerry L. Walls and Trent Dougherty, eds. Two Dozen (OR SO) Arguments For God [The Plantinga Project]. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). Together these constitute a powerful cumulative case for the existence of God. THEISM is the more reasonable to believe than Atheism.

*You can subscribe to Valley Baptist Church San Rafael on YouTube to hear the Apologetics lectures from the series: Knowing What and Why You Believe, as well as Pastor David Craig’s sermons on the book of Daniel in the Series: Going Against the Flow of Culture.

Resources On Apologetics From Dr. William Lane Craig

Dr. William Lane Craig’s website: www.reasonablefaith.org

Cowan, Steven, and Stanley N. Gundry, eds. Five Views On Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000. (W.L. Craig presents the case for the Classical View).

Craig, William Lane, and Joseph E. Gorra. A Reasonable Response: Answers To Tough Questions On God, Christianity, And The Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013.

Craig, William Lane. Does God Exist? Pine Mountain, GA: Impact 360 Institute, 2014.

Craig, William Lane, & Meister, Chad. God Is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009.

Craig, William Lane and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong,. God? A Debate Between A Christian And An Atheist. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

_______. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

_______. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010.