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Is God Real?
What Is the Best Argument for the Existence of God?
What Is the Best Argument for the Existence of God?
Dr. Jason Lisle
September 9, 2014
There are a number of common arguments for the existence of God. But most of
these arguments are not as effective as many Christians would like to think.
Let’s consider a hypothetical conversation between a Christian and an atheist.
Christian: “Everything with a beginning requires a cause. The universe
has a beginning and therefore requires a cause. That cause is God.”
Atheist: “Even if it were true that everything with a beginning requires
a cause, how do you know that the cause of the universe is God? Why not a
big bang? Maybe this universe sprang from another universe, as some physicists
Christian: “The living creatures of this world clearly exhibit design.
Therefore, they must have a designer. And that designer is God.”
Atheist: “The living creatures only appear to be designed. Natural
selection can account for this apparent design. Poorly adapted organisms tend
to die off, and do not pass on their genes.”
Christian: “But living creatures have irreducible complexity. All
their essential parts must be in place at the same time, or the organism dies.
So God must have created these parts all at the same time. A gradual evolutionary
path simply will not work.”
Atheist: “Just because you cannot imagine a gradual stepwise way of
constructing an organism does not mean there isn’t one.”
Christian: “DNA has information in it—the instructions to form a living
being. And information never comes about by chance; it always comes from a
mind. So DNA proves that God created the first creatures.”
Atheist: “There could be an undiscovered mechanism that generates
information in the DNA. Give us time, and we will eventually discover it.
And even if DNA did come from intelligence, why would you think that intelligence
is God? Maybe aliens seeded life on earth.”
Christian: “The Resurrection of Jesus proves the existence of God.
Only God can raise the dead.”
Atheist: “You don’t really have any proof that Jesus rose from the
dead. This section of the Bible is simply an embellished story. And even if
it were true, it proves nothing. Perhaps under certain rare chemical conditions,
a dead organism can come back to life. It certainly doesn’t mean that there
is a God.”
Christian: “The Bible claims that God exists, and that it is His Word
to us. Furthermore, what the Bible says must be true, since God cannot lie.”
Atheist: “That is a circular argument. Only if we knew in advance
that God existed would it be reasonable to even consider the possibility that
the Bible is His Word. If God does not exist—as I contend—then there is no
reason to trust the Bible.”
Christian: “Predictive prophecy shows that the Bible really must be
inspired by God. All of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ, for
example, were fulfilled. The odds of that happening by chance are very low.”
Atheist: “A low probability isn’t the same as zero. People do win
the lottery. Besides, maybe the Gospels have embellished what Jesus did, so
that it would agree with the Old Testament prophecies. Perhaps some so-called
prophetic books were actually written after the events they ‘predict.’ Maybe
certain gifted individuals have abilities not yet understood by science and
can occasionally predict the future. It certainly doesn’t prove the Bible
is inspired by God.”
Christian: “I have personally experienced God, and so have many other
Christians. He has saved us and transformed our lives. We know that He exists
Atheist: “Unfortunately, your personal experiences are not open to
investigation; I have only your word for it. And second, how do you know that
such subjective feelings are really the result of God? The right drug might
produce similar feelings.”
It should be noted that all the facts used by the Christian in the above hypothetical
conversation are true. Yes, God is the first cause, the designer of life,
the resurrected Christ, the Author of Scripture, and the Savior of Christians.
Yet the way these facts are used is not decisive. That is, none of the above
arguments really prove that God exists.
None of the above arguments really prove that God exists.
Some of the above arguments are very weak: appeals to personal experience,
vicious circular reasoning, and appeals to a first cause. While the facts are
true, the arguments do not come close to proving the existence of the biblical
God. Some of the arguments seem stronger; I happen to think that irreducible
complexity and information in DNA are strong confirmations of biblical creation.
And predictive prophecy does confirm the inspiration of Scripture. Nonetheless,
for each one of these arguments, the atheist was able to invent a “rescuing
device.” He was able to propose an explanation for this evidence that is compatible
with his belief that God does not exist.
Moreover, most of the atheist’s explanations are actually pretty reasonable,
given his view of the world. He’s not being illogical. He is being consistent
with his position. Christians and atheists have different worldviews—different
philosophies of life. And we must learn to argue on the level of worldviews
if we are to argue in a cogent and effective fashion.
The Christian in the above hypothetical conversation did not have a correct
approach to apologetics. He was arguing on the basis of specific evidences with
someone who had a totally different professed worldview than his own. This approach
is never conclusive, because the critic can always invoke a rescuing device
to protect his worldview. 1 Thus, if we are to
be effective, we must use an argument that deals with worldviews, and not simply
isolated facts. The best argument for the existence of God will be a “big-picture”
kind of argument.
God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists
The Bible teaches that atheists are not really atheists.
The Bible teaches that atheists are not really atheists. That is, those
who profess to be atheists do ultimately believe in God in their heart-of-hearts.
The Bible teaches that everyone knows God, because God has revealed Himself
to all (Romans 1:19). In fact, the Bible tells us that God’s existence is so
obvious that anyone who suppresses this truth is “without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
The atheist denies with his lips what he knows in his heart. But if they know
God, then why do atheists claim that they do not believe in God?
The answer may be found in Romans 1:18. God is angry
at unbelievers for their wickedness. And an all-powerful, all-knowing God who
is angry at you is a terrifying prospect. So even though many atheists might
claim that they are neutral, objective observers, and that their disbelief in
God is purely rational, in reality, they are strongly motivated to reject the
biblical God who is rightly angry with them. So they suppress that truth in
unrighteousness. They convince themselves that they do not believe in God. 2 The atheist
is intellectually schizophrenic—believing in God, but believing that he does
not believe in God. 3
Therefore, we do not really need to give the atheist any more specific evidences
for God’s existence. He already knows in his heart-of-hearts that God exists,
but he doesn’t want to believe it. Our goal is to expose the atheist’s suppressed
knowledge of God. 4 With gentleness and respect, we can show the atheist that
he already knows about God, but is suppressing what he knows to be true.
Exposing the Inconsistency
Because an atheist does believe in God, but does not believe that he believes in God, he is simply a walking bundle of inconsistencies.
Because an atheist does believe in God, but does not believe that he believes
in God, he is simply a walking bundle of inconsistencies. One type to watch
for is a behavioral inconsistency; this is where a person’s behavior
does not comport with what he claims to believe. For example, consider the atheist
university professor who teaches that human beings are simply chemical accidents—the
end result of a long and purposeless chain of biological evolution. But then
he goes home and kisses his wife and hugs his children, as if they were not
simply chemical accidents, but valuable, irreplaceable persons deserving of
respect and worthy of love.
Consider the atheist who is outraged at seeing a violent murder on the ten
o’clock news. He is very upset and hopes that the murderer will be punished
for his wicked actions. But in his view of the world, why should he be angry?
In an atheistic, evolutionary universe where people are just animals, murder
is no different than a lion killing an antelope. But we don’t punish the lion!
If people are just chemical accidents, then why punish one for killing another?
We wouldn’t get upset at baking soda for reacting with vinegar; that’s just
what chemicals do. The concepts that human beings are valuable, are not simply
animals, are not simply chemicals, have genuine freedom to make choices, are
responsible for their actions, and are bound by a universal objective moral
code all stem from a Christian worldview. Such things simply do not make sense
in an atheistic view of life.
Many atheists behave morally and expect others to behave morally as well. But
absolute morality simply does not comport with atheism. Why should there be
an absolute, objective standard of behavior that all people should obey if the
universe and the people within it are simply accidents of nature? Of course,
people can assert that there is a moral code. But who is to say what that moral
code should be? Some people think it is okay to be racist; others think it is
okay to kill babies, and others think we should kill people of other religions
or ethnicities, etc. Who is to say which position should be followed? Any standard
of our own creation would necessarily be subjective and arbitrary.
Now, some atheists might respond, “That’s right! Morality is subjective. We
each have the right to create our own moral code. And therefore, you cannot
impose your personal morality on other people!” But of course, this statement
is self-refuting, because when they say, “you cannot impose your personal morality
on other people” they are imposing their personal moral code on other people.
When push comes to shove, no one really believes that morality is merely a subjective,
Another inconsistency occurs when atheists attempt to be rational. Rationality
involves the use of laws of logic. Laws of logic prescribe the correct chain
of reasoning between truth claims. For example, consider the argument: “If it
is snowing outside, then it must be cold out. It is snowing. Therefore, it is
cold out.” This argument is correct because it uses a law of logic called modus
ponens. Laws of logic, like modus ponens, are immaterial, universal,
invariant, abstract entities. They are immaterial because you can’t touch them
or stub your toe on one. They are universal and invariant because they apply
in all places and at all times (modus ponens works just as well in Africa
as it does in the United States, and just as well on Friday as it does on Monday).
And they are abstract because they deal with concepts.
Laws of logic stem from God’s sovereign nature; they are a reflection of the way He thinks.
Laws of logic stem from God’s sovereign nature; they are a reflection of the
way He thinks. They are immaterial, universal, invariant, abstract entities,
because God is an immaterial (Spirit), omnipresent, unchanging God who has all
knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Thus, all true statements will be governed by God’s
thinking—they will be logical. The law of non-contradiction, for example, stems
from the fact that God does not deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). The Christian
can account for laws of logic; they are the correct standard for reasoning because
God is sovereign over all truth. We can know some of God’s thoughts because
God has revealed Himself to us through the words of Scripture and the person
of Jesus Christ.
However, the atheist cannot account for laws of logic. He cannot make sense
of them within his own worldview. How could there be immaterial, universal,
invariant, abstract laws in a chance universe formed by a big bang? Why should
there be an absolute standard of reasoning if everything is simply “molecules
in motion”? Most atheists have a materialistic outlook—meaning they believe
that everything that exists is material, or explained by material processes.
But laws of logic are not material! You cannot pull a law of logic out of the
refrigerator! If atheistic materialism is true, then there could be no laws
of logic, since they are immaterial. Thus, logical reasoning would be impossible!
No one is denying that atheists are able to reason and use laws of logic. The
point is that if atheism were true, the atheist would not be able to reason
or use laws of logic because such things would not be meaningful. The fact that
the atheist is able to reason demonstrates that he is wrong. By using that which
makes no sense given his worldview, the atheist is being horribly inconsistent.
He is using God’s laws of logic, while denying the biblical God that makes such
How could there be laws at all without a lawgiver? The atheist cannot account
for (1) the existence of laws of logic, (2) why they are immaterial, (3) why
they are universal, (4) why they do not change with time, and (5) how human
beings can possibly know about them or their properties. But of course, all
these things make perfect sense on the Christian system. Laws of logic owe their
existence to the biblical God. Yet they are required to reason rationally, to
prove things. So the biblical God must exist in order for reasoning to be possible.
Therefore, the best proof of God’s existence is that without Him we couldn’t
prove anything at all! The existence of the biblical God is the prerequisite
for knowledge and rationality. This is called the “transcendental argument for
God” or TAG for short. It is a devastating and conclusive argument, one that
only a few people have even attempted to refute (and none of them successfully). 5
Proof Versus Persuasion
Though the transcendental argument for God is deductively sound, not all atheists
will be convinced upon hearing it. It may take time for them to even understand
the argument in the first place. As I write this chapter, I am in the midst
of an electronic exchange with an atheist who has not yet fully grasped the
argument. Real-life discussions on this issue take time. But even if the atheist
fully understands the argument, he may not be convinced. We must remember that
there is a difference between proof and persuasion. Proof is objective, but
persuasion is subjective. The transcendental argument does indeed objectively
prove that God exists. However, that does not mean that the atheists will necessarily
cry “uncle.” Atheists are strongly motivated to not believe in the biblical
God—a God who is rightly angry at them for their treason against Him.
The atheist’s denial of God is an emotional reaction, not a logical one.
But the atheist’s denial of God is an emotional reaction, not a logical one.
We might imagine a disobedient child who is about to be punished by his father.
He might cover his eyes with his hands and say of his father, “You don’t exist!”
but that would hardly be rational. Atheists deny (with their lips) the biblical
God, not for logical reasons, but for psychological reasons. We must also keep
in mind that the unbeliever’s problem is not simply an emotional issue, but
a deep spiritual problem (1 Corinthians 2:14). It is the Holy Spirit that must
give him the ability to repent (1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Timothy 2:25).
So we must keep in mind that it is not our job to convert people—nor can
we. Our job is to give a defense of the faith in a way that is faithful to the
Scriptures (1 Peter 3:15). It is the Holy Spirit that brings conversion. But
God can use our arguments as part of the process by which He draws people to
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- Of course, sometimes people are persuaded
by such arguments. But that doesn’t mean the argument is cogent. After all,
people can be persuaded by very bad arguments.
is called an “iterated belief ”—a belief about a belief.
- Self-deception is quite common. People frequently
attempt to convince themselves of what they want to believe. The Bible tells
us that those who hear God’s Word but do not act on it are self-deceived (James 1:22).
- In some cases, we can use scientific evidence to
expose such inconsistency. Consider the evolutionist who admits that the probability
of a cell forming by chance is infinitesimal. He is going against the odds.
Yet, he decides to carry an umbrella with him when there is a 90 percent chance
most significantly, philosopher Michael Martin has attempted to rebut TAG indirectly
by making a transcendental-style argument for the non-existence of God (TANG).
Martin’s argument has been refuted by John Frame, and independently by Michael
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Homepage > Writing Samples > Academic Writing Samples > Essay Samples > Analysis Essay Samples > Does God Exist?
What is “God?” There are many religions, and many different ideas within each religion. Each has different views on what “God” is, and some are polytheistic. For this essay, I will consider the Christian God—the God of the Bible—believed to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent. I will consider the ontological, teleological, and cosmological arguments for God’s existence. I will consider in which contexts God exists. I expect to conclude that no argument sufficiently proves God’s existence
(I refer to God as “he” since this is the usual interpretation of the biblical God).
Saint Thomas Aquinas gave five proofs for God’s existence. The first two are cosmological: there can be no uncaused cause, so the universe could not have created itself, so there must be a first cause/prime mover, (Appiah, 2003, p. 322), which he calls “God.” This, in my view, does not prove anything. He is saying the universe cannot have come from nothing, but its creator can. If God is an exception to the “no uncaused cause” rule, why cannot the universe be? (Russell, 1927).
Why is there one first cause? Multiple first causes are just as probable as one (Sober, 2009, p. 40). Even if Aquinas is correct, God does not necessarily exist. It is equally possible many gods could exist. Furthermore, Saint Thomas uses “God” as a label for the first cause. The first cause is not necessarily the Christian God (Dawkins, 2007, p. 101)—all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good (all-k.p.g.), or anything God is usually considered to be.
God is usually considered to exist outside of space and time. If this is so, then God could only create things that are also outside of space and time, since he would have no understanding of space and time. A being that has no place in time cannot create, or interact with, beings which do, in my view. God would inhabit his own realm—with no space and time. We live in a realm with space and time. It seems to me a first cause would have to be temporal. It is possible that a temporal being created the universe, but the cosmological argument does not prove this; it merely proposes some unknown first cause and labels it “God.” What I am trying to say is that even if there was a first cause, it was not necessarily the Christian God (loc. cit.).
Furthermore, Aquinas did not prove that there was a first cause. Is it not possible that the end of time links back with the beginning, in an infinite cycle? (bbc.co.uk). Perhaps the world’s destruction is also its beginning. I am not saying this is so, but it is possible, just as the existence of God is possible. The cosmological argument does not prove there must be a beginning to the cause-and-effect chain.
To summarize, the cosmological argument does not seem to offer sufficient proof of God’s existence.
The third proof of Saint Thomas Aquinas has similar problems. The argument is as follows: a being that is not contingent must exist, since contingent things did not always exist, so if everything was contingent, nothing would ever exist. There must exist a necessary being, which is called “God” (Sober, 2009, p. 47). Just like before (loc. cit), there is no reason to label this being “God” or to assume it has any of the properties usually ascribed to God.
The fourth proof is the argument from degree: objects have properties to some degree, so there is a being with the maximum degree of all properties (Sober, 2009, p. 51). There seems to be no reason for this assumption. Dawkins relates this to smelliness: people have varying degrees of smelliness, so there is a being with the maximum possible smelliness (2007, p. 102). This is unconvincing and does not prove anything.
The final proof from Aquinas is as follows: an object without a mind must have been created by an object with one (Sober, 2009, p. 53). This is suggesting that God created the universe. There is no proof that this must be so and once again no reason to believe God is the answer. This argument is used today in the form of the argument from design. The idea is that the world looks as though it was designed, and is so complex that it must have been designed. The harmony of “nature” is used as an example of why (Appiah, 2003, p. 325). I argue, however, that there is very little harmony in nature. Natural disasters, animals hunting, and killing other animals, and human activity (crimes, deforestation, pollution, and human-made disasters; remember, humans are part of nature too!) do not in my view showcase a harmonious “nature.”
Simply because something looks designed does not mean it was designed (Dawkins, 2007, p. 103). Darwinian natural selection shows us that things evolve over time into what they are today. Things did not start out already made. The environment was not made to suit us; we evolved to suit it (Russell, 1927). The analogy often made is the watchmaker argument: an eye is like a watch, both are very complex and intricate, and so since a watch has a maker, so too must an eye. There is a problem of analogy here—just because something is true of a chosen analogy does not mean it is also true of the corresponding subject. A watch is a human-made phenomenon; an eye is a product of evolution.
Furthermore, is the eye really that good? Consider three things: firstly, some people are blind, some are visually impaired, and some are color-blind. Secondly, some animals, for example hawks, have much better eyesight than humans. Finally, we can only see an incredibly small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is not a perfect eye which is so complex and intricate it requires a God to create it.
To summarize, the five proofs of Saint Thomas Aquinas, in my view, do not adequately prove God’s existence.
Another argument for the existence of God is the ontological argument, proposed by Anselm. It states that God is a being that which none greater can be conceived, and since existing is better than not existing, God must exist, otherwise something greater could be conceived—an existing God (Sober, 2009, p. 86; Appiah, 2003, p. 314). Firstly, the Christian God, i.e. the God of the Bible, should not be considered great, at least in terms of morality (he commits infanticide [Exodus 11: 5], endorses slavery [Exodus 21: 2], and punishes rape victims [Deuteronomy 22: 23-4]—there are more examples, but I will not labor the point). This is relevant, because it is this God most Christians believe in.
Secondly, existence is not greater than non-existence. Natural disasters, wars, and crimes are much better when they do not exist, in my view.
Thirdly, Guanilo refuted this argument by considering a perfect island (Sober, 2009, p. 89). Imagining an island that which none is greater could be conceived, but does not mean such an island exists.
Murray and Rea point out that saying God is the greatest possible being already implies existence—Anselm is begging the question (2008, p. 129-30).
Finally, Gasking argued (Dawkins, 2007, p. 107-8) that it would be even more impressive for God to create the world without existing. So, this is the greatest conceivable God. Thus, God does not exist. This argument does not actually prove God does not exist, but it was structured as a valid argument just like Anselm’s.
My point here is that simply creating a valid argument and using logical tricks does not prove God exists or does not exist, and these arguments are not likely to persuade anyone of intelligence and common sense.
To summarize, the ontological argument does not, in my view, prove God’s existence.
Rene Descartes attempted to prove God’s existence. In his Third Meditation, he says he knows he is not perfect, so there must exist a being that is perfect to measure against (Descartes, Cottingham (ed.), 1996, pg. 31). This is the Argument from Degree I already discussed.
He also says (ibid, pg. 33): “There must be at least as much in the cause as in the effect.” This means God must be a thinking thing and be at least as great as Descartes himself. He is trying to prove that God is the great being he is considered to be. However, he has not actually proven God’s existence in the first place.
He rejects the possibility of multiple first causes by saying that unity of his attributes is one of God’s most important qualities. This is a problem, in my view, since he is discussing the qualities of something he has not proven exists.
In one of the objections to Descartes (ibid, p. 95-6) it is said that using qualities or properties to try to prove God’s existence is not allowed. God must already exist to have any property (circular argument).
Descartes considers God again in his Fifth Meditation: “the certainty and truth of all knowledge depends. . .on my awareness of. . .God” (ibid, p. 49). God gave him his knowledge, but he also says that he knows God exists because he perceives it clearly (ibid, p. 45). This is circular reasoning, since God, the thing he is trying to prove exists, is the cause of the method of proof.
To summarize, in my view, Descartes failed to prove that God exists.
In their Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, Murray and Rea say that just because God exists in understanding does not mean he exists in reality (2008, p. 125). This leads me to consider the context of God’s existence. We know God exists in thought, in books, films, etc., but so do superheroes and unicorns—and they do not exist in the actual world. It is my view that God exists in this and only this capacity: as a concept. Arguing God’s existence gets us nowhere, since the concept comes from the Bible (a book that also mentions unicorns [Isaiah 34: 7] and a beast with seven heads (Revelation 13: 1-3]). God exists in a story book; we should not ask if he exists in reality, in my view. Furthermore, there is no actual conclusive physical evidence for God’s existence. As Bertrand Russell said, he would say to God to explain his lack of belief: “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence” (Dawkins, 2007, p. 131).
Finally, I intend to show that the all-k.p.g. God could not possibly exist.
If God is omni-benevolent, he can do no wrong; however, if God is omnipotent, he can do anything, including wrong. These two properties are incompatible (Murray and Rea, 2008, p. 134).
If God is omnipotent, he can do anything. If he is omniscient, he knows everything. As Karen Owens asked (Dawkins, 2007, p. 101):
Can omniscient God, who
Knows the future, find
The omnipotence to
Change his future mind?
These two properties are also incompatible.
If God knows everything, he knows evil exists—he also created it, since he is supposed to have created everything—and therefore cooperates in evil (Leibniz, Huggard (ed.), 2005, p. 217). However, an omni-benevolent God cannot, by definition, allow for the existence of evil. These two properties are incompatible. In the words of Epicurus (Hume, Kemp Smith (ed.), 1947, p. 198):
Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Finally, omnipotence is impossible. Can God create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it? Whether yes or no, God is not omnipotent. (philosophyofreligion.info).
To summarize, the three properties (all-k.p.g.) God is supposed to have lead to paradoxes.
In conclusion, there is a variety of arguments attempted to prove God exists. Saint Thomas gave five proofs (including the cosmological and teleological Arguments), Anselm proposed the Ontological Argument, and Descartes reconsidered these. I hope to have shown that none of these prove God exists. I also attempted to show that it is not possible to be all-k.p.g. I considered in which contexts God exists, and decided God exists as a concept and fictional character, but nothing more, and not in the actual world.
So, in my view, there is insufficient proof that God exists.
- Appiah, K.A., 2003, Thinking It Through, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Dawkins, R., 2007, The God Delusion (Paperback edition), London: Black Swan.
- Descartes, R., Cottingham, J. (ed.), 1996, Meditations on First Philosophy,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Hume, D., Kemp Smith, N. (ed.), 1947, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, located at http://www.anselm.edU/homepage/dbanach/dnr.htm#All [Accessed on 30 October 2010].
- Leibniz, G.W., Huggard, E. M. (ed.), 2005, Theodicy Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil, located at http://fliiby.com/file/219936/9tmnh3od4p.html [Accessed on 6th November 2010].
- Murray, M., Rea, M., 2008, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion,
- Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Russell, B., 1927, Why I am Not a Christian, lecture, located at http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html [Accessed on 3rd November 2010].
- Sober, E., 2009, Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text With Readings (5 edition), New Jersey, USA: Prentice Hall Various authors. Holy Bible, King James Version, Cambridge: Cambridge.University Press
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