8/30/2009

God Is

God’s existence has long been debated. Atheists and Christians alike argue forcefully for their position, but the argument I will give in this post is one of the arguments I find convincing. In fact, this argument has never been adequately answered. This post is my ‘spin’ on an argument put forth by both William Lane Craig and James Patrick Moreland, among others.

God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. This is foundational for a popular argument for God’s existence. Reason demonstrates that something in the past must have always existed.

It is not possible to count to the end of the series of real numbers. You can always count one more. It is an infinite series of discrete things. You can’t count to the end of a series like that. It has no end. There is always one more.

Let’s assume the common understanding of time as an example (please see the note at the bottom on time). It is just as impossible to reach the end of time as it is to count to the end of a series of real numbers. There’s always one more moment. If time has no end, we will never reach the end of it.

What if we move backwards through time? If time had no beginning, it would be like counting backwards to the end of the negative numbers. We would never reach the end. There would always be one more.

Time, in the common understanding, would have to begin at a certain moment. If it had not, the series of moments that had to expire in order for us to get to this moment would have been an infinite series. The end of an infinite series cannot be reached.

Similarly, we cannot expect that an infinite regress of finite causes exists either. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused us, to the things that caused those things, to the things that caused those times, and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, the end of the infinite series of causes, namely us, would never have been reached. We would never have moved through the series of causes to get to ourselves.

Whatever the first cause was, it must have always been. If it had no beginning, it would be able to start the series of causes. The series would not extend infinitely into the past.

This first cause must also have the power and ability to bring about all we see in the universe. The universe came from something that has always existed. Something, or someone, has always been here. It was not caused to be by something that existed before it. It is self-existent; it has the power of being in itself.

As J. P. Morland points out, nothing outside this first cause can cause it to either act or not act. There was a “time” when there was nothing outside it, so there was nothing to cause its actions. It acted independently of anything else. This is how we define the power of choice. Only a person has the power of choice.

Now we have a being that has always existed, is super-powerful, and displays intention. This fits the Christian notion of God quite well, but not perfectly.

I expand more on what this being must be like in my next post.

19 comments:

bob said...

J. K., as an atheist (former believer) I have enjoyed contemplating the "beginning" for quite a while now. Honestly, I have enjoyed it much more since I left the faith, than when I was a bible believer.
I guess when I was a believer, the answer was very simple - God did it. No contemplation was necessary to arrive at that conclusion, was there?

I often wonder, when I read musings like yours, from the Christian perspective, is there any necessity for such contemplations, as a believer? I mean, concerning the beginnings, you already "know" the answer, right?

Can I point out, what I think is a rather telling leap? Through out this blog entry, you refer to the "first cause" and "it" generically, which is, I think, as we should. But you finish your entry with a giant bound upward; "Now we have a being that has always existed, is super-powerful, and displays intention."

So, you went from "first cause" and "it" to a "being", that has not only powers, but "super-powers", and actually decided to do what ever it did, for a reason.

It seems to me that this is not a conclusion that one arrives at, but something one already believes.

It is not my intention to be disrespectful but I can't help but be amazed. It just seems to me that one who states that "God did it", before or after laying out their argument in support of that statement, did not arrive at that belief as a conclusion after contemplation, but already believed it, rendering any contemplation poisoned.

When I contemplate the beginnings, I can do it with pure curiosity, because I really do not know. The Christian believer already "knows", so it seems to me that their contemplation is...insincere?

Steve said...

Common sense and reason alone tell us that something can't come from nothing.

So, in this understanding, the believer has a leg up on his atheistic counterpart.

J. K. Jones said...

Bob,

Thanks for your comment. Good to hear from you.

Within the Christian religion, I am required to meditate on Scripture (Psalm 119:97), and that includes Genesis 1:1 and Psalm 19:1, among other verses. That means meditation, mental contemplation, of the origin of the universe.

Further, I do admit my bias as a Christian, but that does not mean I cannot be open-minded enough to examine the situation rationally. I will even go so far as to say that if I am convinced by cogent argument, I will renounce my faith. You renounced the Christian faith yourself, so you must admit that such open-mindedness is possible for a Christian. You were open enough to change, so why can’t others be.

I went through a period of time when I doubted that the Christian faith was true. I had less than pure motives for this, but this was a true crisis of faith nonetheless. Christianity provided reasonable answers to the questions I raised. I found those answers through multiple sources. I contemplated the beginning as a part of that exercise.

From two perspectives, it is perfectly consistent for me to contemplate the beginning of the universe in a sincere and earnest way.


As to some of the words I used:

“Super-powerful” just means powerful enough to create all we see. That seems a fitting term to me. There’s a lot out there.

“Being” just means a thing which has existence. A ‘being’ could be an it, a he, or even a she; or potentially something else entirely.

I move from it to he or she by noting that nothing outside the first cause could have influenced it to act. The first cause existed by itself at one point. Therefore nothing outside it could have caused it to act. It acted on its own.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “internationality” as "the distinguishing property of mental phenomena of being necessarily directed upon an object, whether real or imaginary.” This first cause brought about something that did not exist (the universe).

It was an intentional act in that the first cause acted without anything being around to cause it to act one way or the other. It acted all on its own. That is a “choice” in any sense of the word I know of.

Beings that choose to act or not act by definition have to have an idea of the thing they are choosing. One cannot choose something on cannot conceive. To choose to bring about something that has been conceived in some way is to display internationality.

(Many theologians think that the very notion of independence, that the first cause existed before anything else, has a logical consequence of other attributes, but I don’t fully understand all of their arguments. Doesn’t mean they are wrong; it’s just that I don’t choose to argue that way.)

I don’t think it’s that big a leap to go from an it to a He/She. Further arguments must be given to give attributes beyond that, however. I plan to post on the argument from purpose (teleological) argument later. This argument shows even more internationality in the first cause.

If it’s okay with you, let’s reserve discussion on the teleological argument for the forthcoming post.

Thanks again.

JK

J. K. Jones said...

Steve,

Thanks.

JK

bob said...

Steve said..."Common sense and reason alone tell us that something can't come from nothing. So, in this understanding, the believer has a leg up on his atheistic counterpart."

Steve, what does "common sense and reason" tell us with regard to virgin births, the dead rising from the grave, men walking on water, talking mules, disembodied hands writing on the wall, seas being conveniently parted, water being instantly turned into wine, etc, etc.

This is just one more instance where I find it just a bit absurd hearing a believer attribute their belief, their faith, to "Common sense and reason".

J. K., thanks for your response. I do not have a rebuttal.

J. K. Jones said...

Bob,

Thanks again for commenting. You are always welcome here.

JK

Steve said...

I made a comment but not sure if it registered.

I'll do it again, only shorter.

God does not do things that make sense to us. He is way above our common sense undersatnding. I'll grant you that, Bob.

No one becomes a believer in Christ by believeing certain ideas about God, anyway, or by being convinced. It doesn't happen that way. Faith is a gift of God.

But my point was and is that people have much more faith who believe in something which cannot be proven in a laboratory, such as the notion that life came from no life. That something came from nothing. This belief defies common reason and logic and requires a great deal of faith.

bob said...

Thanks J. K. I appreciate your welcoming tone. When I do comment, I will do my very best to follow your cordial example.

Steve, you said - "No one becomes a believer in Christ by believing certain ideas about God, anyway, or by being convinced. It doesn't happen that way. Faith is a gift of God."

I will disagree completely, but I understand exactly what you are saying, as I once believed as you do now.

I, now, conclude that people do exactly what you say they do not. People become believers in Christ (God) by believing certain ideas about Christ (God). By being convinced.
I submit, that it happens exactly that way.

The reason I have concluded that is because of my own personal conversion experience, and by observing and hearing the experiences of other.

Your statement, on the other hand, is based solely on what you believe the bible says, concerning people coming to faith in Christ (God).

Because you believe the bible, you seem to be willing to ignore simple observations to the contrary Because of some words in a 2,000 year old book, you can’t see that Christians come to a faith in their God much like people of other faiths come to believe what they believe.

This is why I find it perplexing that believers (Christians) will ignore "common sense and reason" (simple observations as to how people become believers) yet claim that "common sense and reason" are in their favor.

As to your final point - believing that something came from nothing, I don't believe that. I just think there is absolutely no reason to believe that the God of the bible is real, and I find no indication in the beginnings of the universe that point to the Christian God as the one who started it all.

That's all.

Steve said...

When Saul was on the way to arrest and maybe kill some Christians, God knocked him on his keester and said, "your mine".

That is how it happens. Unfortunately that has not happened to you, yet.

They saw Him do miracles and even raise the dead and yet did not believe.

Sorry, but faith is a gift from God... no matter what you think.

Thanks, Bob.

bob said...

Steve said...Sorry, but faith is a gift from God... no matter what you think.

Steve, what you are doing is mistaking "belief" for "knowledge". For your statement to be accurate, you would need to begin it by saying - "I believe".

But instead, you proclaim it as if it were factual knowledge. This is why dialog is practically impossible between many believers and non believers. You are mistaking your belief for actual knowledge...and you graciously end your statement by letting me know that what I think, is worthless.

Thanks Steve.

Steve said...

Bob,

Non-believers cannot know about the things of faith. Because your beliefs are unenlightened.

I'm not saying that you are bad or anything (no worse than I am ), just that you don't have faith.

It's OK. The universe does not revolve around whether you do or not.

But you are out of your jurisdiction trying to inform believers about God.

Thanks, Bob.

bob said...

That's ok Steve.

As far as you are concerned, my 25 years as a bible believing Christian must have been erased from my brain, and now, as a non believer, I have absolutely nothing to say in the dialog about God. All those hours and hours I spent studying the bible, reading apologetic literature, sitting in church and hearing thousands of sermons, taking thousands of notes, all of that means absolutely nothing now. I, as a non believer (former believer) can offer you nothing because I am "unenlightened" and "out of [my] jurisdiction".

So tell me J. K., do you agree with Steve's attitude, or are you just staying out of this :)

Anonymous said...

Bob,

I didn't get a chance to chime in until now. Busy day at work!

I have clear reasons to hold the Christian faith. My faith is belief in a real God who has done tangible things in history. I do not qualify my statements with "I believe" in a sense to mean my faith is some how illogical or without intellectual warrent.

That's one great thing about Christianity: it is verifiable both by reason and by history.

We can respectfully disagree, but it's a real disagreement about objective
truth claims. I do not qualify my statements.

Steve,

Please take time to read the Puritans, or at least "Physicians of Souls" by Peter Masters (Masters is the current pastor of C. H. Spurgeon's old church.)

Coming to faith in Christ is a process in which God acts on the will, mind, and emotions to convince a person to come to faith.

Faith is a decision made by a person as an act of a heart remade by God. You might also read "A Primer on Free Will" by John Gerstner. It's a short pamplet that P and R Publishing still prints.

We prayerfully convince, plead with, and present to non-believers, trusting that God will use our efforts to convince those He will save.


I welcome you both to converse here. I think we can do so respectfully and to mitual benefit. But please don't be offended if I don't chime in alot. My next few days will be busy too.

JK

bob said...

J. K., this is my slow time of the year, so I tend to visit the blogs often.

You said - "I have clear reasons to hold the Christian faith."
I don't disagree. I think your reasons probably are very easy to understand..very clear. I would probably conclude that they are not sufficient nor convincing though.

You said - "My faith is belief..."
I agree with the first half of this statement...
"...in a real God..."
...but think that the second half is nothing more than a claim. You have faith, belief, that God is real.
So, you have faith in a God that you have faith is real. What you have is faith, not knowledge. I have no problem with that.


"...who has done tangible things in history."
Again, you "believe" He has done "tangible things in history", but can you prove this? Do you KNOW He has done these things? Isn't there a difference between belief and knowledge? Isn't there?

"I do not qualify my statements with "I believe" in a sense to mean my faith is some how illogical or without intellectual warrent."
I am just asking Christians to try to recognize that what they have is faith, not knowledge, and then asking them to have the integrity to admit it. That's all.

"That's one great thing about Christianity: it is verifiable both by reason and by history."
I agree that "Christianity" is "verifiable both by reason and by history" in that it exists, has existed, and there are reasons for it's existence...BUT, the basis of Christianity, namely the Christian God, has not been verified, and the Christian scriptures have not been verified. The bible has not been proven completely accurate, has it?

"We can respectfully disagree, but it's a real disagreement about objective
truth claims. I do not qualify my statements."
Again, one can say that they KNOW something is true all they want, but SAYING that they KNOW does not mean that they actually KNOW.

Christianity is full of people who KNOW that the Holy Spirit speaks through them in unknown tongues.
Christianity is full of people who KNOW that they were miraculously healed when Benny Hinn or Oral Roberts laid hands on them.
My guess is that you would tell these people that they simply BELIEVE what they claim to KNOW. I am saying nothing different to you than what you would say to them.

Steve said...

Bob,

So you don't believe.

So what?

Your unbelief is no skin off my nose.

Unlike much of Islam, Christians aren't going to force you to believe at the point of a gun, or kill you.

J. K. Jones said...

Bob,

You say I have reasons for my belief, yet you say my belief is nothing more than a “claim.”

We can argue over whether my reasons are sufficient, but I do have reasons and evidences. That makes my position more than a “claim” in the sense the word is typically used.

I’ll keep making my assertions boldly because I have overwhelming reason to.

When I disagree with someone, I just tell then they are wrong. I don’t get caught up in semantics, I just argue.

I know what I know.



“… the basis of Christianity, namely the Christian God, has not been verified…”

See argument given above. See other posts at this blog. For a start:

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2007/08/nine-reasons-why-christianity-is-only_18.html

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2008/06/universe-as-illusion-vs-ontological.html

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2007/07/how-do-we-know.html



“…and the Christian scriptures have not been verified. The bible has not been proven completely accurate, has it?”

See the last post on this blog. Work by Craig L. Blomberg and Richard Bauckham has gone a long way toward verifying the essential historicity of the New Testament.

The Bible is certainly historically reliable. Here’s a start:

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/search/label/The%20Four%20Gospels%20as%20Reliable%20Testimony





Steve,

You are right on target with Islam’s approach. I’m thankful they are not making the laws in the US.



JK

Anonymous said...

"I have clear reasons to hold the Christian faith. My faith is belief in a real God who has done tangible things in history."

Great a believer in an interventionist deity.

Why won't god heal amputees?

Anonymous said...

"Unlike much of Islam, Christians aren't going to force you to believe at the point of a gun, or kill you."

Typical christian jihad envy.

J. K. Jones said...

Anonymous,

When you want to have an open, civil discussion, I'll have something to say to you.

JK

Search This Blog