Theism, and all that…

Posted by on Aug 28, 2015 in Blog | 6 comments

When we ask the ‘why believe’ question we pretty soon come to the ‘but can I believe that God exists?’ question. To answer it, we have to explore whether theism is reasonable.

Theism claims that there is a God who is the creator and ruler of the universe. It does not go much further than that. This God could be the one worshiped in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism (for theism does not insist that there can only be one God) and potentially a host of other faiths as well. A great deal of content is not  attached to the belief, but it stands in stark contrast to its opposite, atheism, which as the term suggests, is a denial of theism, thus a-theism.

The first argument for theism is that of creation. In Psalm 19:1 the psalmist writes, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’ For most of human history, this has been a largely uncontested insight. When faced with the wonder of creation, it has been usual to default to the position of ‘only God could have made this… it cannot possibly be the result of random chance.’

Thomas Aquinas gave this intuitive conviction words in his outline of five ways to prove God exists. For those into nuance, each of the five ways is indeed subtly different from the others, but in principle they boil down to one point, probably made most forcibly in his third point, helpfully summarized into a series of logical steps by Theodore Gracyk.

The Third Way: Argument from Possibility and Necessity (Reductio argument)

  1. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, that come into being and go out of being i.e., contingent beings.
  2. Assume that every being is a contingent being.
  3. For each contingent being, there is a time it does not exist.
  4. Therefore it is impossible for these always to exist.
  5. Therefore there could have been a time when no things existed.
  6. Therefore at that time there would have been nothing to bring the currently existing contingent beings into existence.
  7. Therefore, nothing would be in existence now.
  8. We have reached an absurd result from assuming that every being is a contingent being.
  9. Therefore not every being is a contingent being.
  10. Therefore some being exists of its own necessity, and does not receive its existence from another being, but rather causes them. This all men speak of as God.

Put differently, and at the risk of oversimplifying, nothing comes from nothing, so the fact that there is something indicates that there must be a pre-existent eternal something (or someone) whom we call God. The fact that the ‘something’ that has come into existence is so complex and awe inspiring says much about the originator of it all, presupposing that it is more logical to assume that the direction of movement is from the complex to the simple (rather than the simple to the complex) – for we usually create things that are simpler than ourselves. In other words, if the world is this sophisticated, how much more sophisticated must God be.

The argument can be escalated. We live in a Goldilocks Universe – one that so nearly would not have been able to permit life, but in the end almost appears to have been fine tuned so that everything was just right for life to exist on this planet. We so nearly weren’t… lucky… or design? Both theists and atheists argue about this – and for those who would like a taster of part of the debate, Peter May’s post is helpful.

If the first key argument for theism is existence (which must be explained by a first mover – God), the second is that we exist in a moral universe, or in a universe where there is a universal moral standard. Now true, not all morality is universally agreed. There are those who believe it is not an affront to serve instant coffee, and there are a multitude of dubious fashion, music and culinary choices that leave many unbothered. But much morality is instinctively grasped, even by those who argue that all morality is relative.

So, for example, if you are minding your own business while strolling down the road, and someone walks up to you and punches you on the nose, after yelping in pain, you would almost certainly think ‘that’s not right. It’s just not fair’ – or some similar sentiment in stronger terms. But why is it not fair or right? Presupposing that neither you nor your kin had previously done some harm to the punch thrower, you are likely to get a 99%+ agreement that the action was wrong.  This near universal moral standard (don’t punch noses, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t harm) requires some explanation. Where does it come from? Why this sense of ‘ought to’ and ‘ought not to’ – where does it come from? Theists usually argue that there can be a universal moral standard only if God exists – for where else is the source for morality. If the world is essentially arbitrary and accidental, it takes a leap of faith to believe that it is also accidentally moral.

Well, this is just a taster. As I said in the previous post, I am committed to cumulative case apologetics… no one argument is decisive, but when you put them all together, you have to at least pause and say… hmmm, could very well be true. The next post will add another block to the argument.

Nice chatting…

 

6 Comments

  1. Thank you for this Brian and Rosemary….Blessings to you

    • Thanks Mike. Always good to hear from you.

  2. I enjoyed your post. Makes sense to me. I lament the unbelief of our society. Blessings.

    • Thanks Elizabeth. Makes sense to me to!

  3. Thanks Will definately keep on reading

    • Great. Hope you enjoy it.

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