This post is an argument for God’s existence based on what He did when He created the world. Bear with me on this one, because this is the most intensely philosophical argument in this short series.
God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. This truth is foundational for a popular argument for God’s existence. Reason demonstrates that something in the past must have always existed. We will look at two examples: counting and the progression of time.
It is not possible to count to the end of the series of real numbers. You can always count one more. It is, in one sense, an infinite series of discrete things. You can’t move to the end of a series like that. It has no end.
It is similarly impossible to move through an infinite series of moments of time, if time is in fact a discrete series of real moments. For example, if time extends forward forever then it is obvious it will never end. Reversing the process, if time extends infinitely into the past, time would never have arrived at this moment.
Similarly, we cannot expect that an infinite regress of causes of physical things exists either. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused the things we perceive in our world now, then backward to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, the universe would never have moved through an infinite series of discrete things to get to ourselves.
The infinite regression cannot exist in reality. Whatever the first cause was, it must have always been and it must have the power and ability to bring about all we see in the universe.
There is another way to state this type of argument that has been made popular by Walter Martin and R. C. Sproul. The universe as it exists now is either self-created, uncreated / eternal, or created by someone or something that is eternal.
The universe cannot be self-created because then it would have to exist before it existed in order to create itself. That is manifestly illogical. (It’s so illogical that I get a headache reading the first sentence of this paragraph.)
The universe cannot be eternal because everything we see in the universe is changing with respect to its being. It is coming and going out of existence, so to speak. If it is changing with respect to its being, it cannot be eternal.
Also, as R. C. Sproul points out, if that unchanging thing is the universe, it would have to be a part of the universe that does not change and has always existed. We still have something eternal and powerful that created it. This being exists beyond the universe in the most important sense. It is transcendent, or has a different form of existence than the perceivable universe. So we are left with one conclusion regarding how the universe began: it was created by someone or something that is eternal.
There is another possibility that has become more and more popular, especially since the “Matrix” movies were released: the universe might be an illusion. The philosophical theologian Norman Geisler said that if all of reality is some form of an illusion, you must account for the illusion. The illusion is either self-created, eternal, or created by an eternal being; and we are back to the discussion above. (It might also help to remind someone who thinks that life is just a dream to avoid talking in his sleep.)
With two lines of reasoning, we find the universe coming 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.
J. P. Morland, another theologian, adds that nothing outside this first cause could have caused it either act or not act. There was a “time” when there was nothing outside it, so there was nothing to cause its actions. It has the power of choice, the power to act on its own. Only a person has the power of choice.
Now we have a personality that has always existed, is super-powerful, and displays intention. This fits the Christian notion of God quite well, but not perfectly.
There is another aspect of what God has done that leads us to other things about Him. The world around us is full of processes that move toward an organized purpose.
My area of professional expertise is industrial engineering, also called “process engineering” at some universities. We industrial engineers spend most of our lives in the pursuit of process improvement.
We professionally apply ourselves to manufacturing processes in many different industries. We look at ways to improve equipment, organization of jobs, the way human beings interact with machines, and the way humans interact with each other.
The end, or purpose, of a manufacturing process is to produce quality products, when needed by customers, at minimal cost, in a safe manner. There is one thing we know: a process left to itself does not meet that purpose.
Any time we take our hands off the controls, neglect the equipment, or neglect the people, we experience bad products, late shipments, high costs, and increased injuries. If we neglect the process completely, we achieve nothing whatsoever.
The argument I am stating below, is not exactly about design as some have said. It is about purpose.
John Gerstner, in his book Reasons for Faith (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960, reprint 1995), uses this example on p. 34-35: “The dandelion sends up a little parachute to carry its seed along on the wind and find a place to germinate. That certainly spells intention … we search in vain to find anything in the dandelion that corresponds to our brain, the brain that enables us to think up useful plans.” The humble dandelion shows that it has a purpose, and it must have been designed to meet that purpose.
This quote is another way of describing a process that leads to a conclusion: the ongoing cycle of life. We find the location of the purpose evident in this process in “the ultimate cause which we have seen lies behind everything that is.” (ibid, p. 35)
This is not an argument based on probabilities, or an argument that is more likely true than not. Evidence for any purpose at any point in any process demonstrates the existence of an intelligence to set that purpose.
So now we have reasoned to a being that has always existed, has great power, has the power to choose, has intelligence, and has intention. Only personal beings have the power to choose, and possess intelligence and intention. This truth fits the general idea of the eternal, personal God of the
Bible well, but not perfectly.
Our next post will look at some abstract processes that also require explanation.