For generations rational philosophers have attempted to give certain natural arguments for the existence of God. This was a humanistic effort to arm-wrestle objectors into accepting a kind of logical proof of the truth about God's being. But the heart and mind of the lost is so tenacious that such arguments fall on deaf ears.
However many Christians have felt the rational proofs were worthy of consideration. The problem is that such so-called evidence may well speak to the mind of a believer in Christ, but it makes no headway with those who are rebellious sinners. These standard "proofs" are as follows:
The Ontological Argument. Anselm, along with Descartes, argues "man has the idea of an absolutely perfect being; that existence is an attribute of perfection; and that therefore an absolutely perfect being must exist."1 The idea is that God exists in the human mind, and since He does, this must be a logical demonstration that He is! This view can be summed up, "I have an idea that there is a God, therefore I have an experience of God."
The ontological argument in theism consists in a course of reasoning from God as the absolute First Cause of all things to the things He has caused-specifically, the inherent idea that God exists. God is recognized as the Creator of the human mind in which this conception of Himself is found. The fact of the existence of God is involved in this congenital idea.2
The weakness of this view seems obvious. The evil mind of man can conjure up all kinds of views about the nature of God, thus the idea of God (or gods) is but an invention of man's imagination.
The Cosmological Argument. This view would say that all existing things in the world should have an adequate cause; and if so, the universe must have an adequate cause too, a cause that is indefinitely greater. However, the evolutionists argue against such a view and say that all things come into being by natural-chance forces. To them, the cosmological argument means nothing can be ruled out and rejected. "The argument does not necessitate the assumption that the cosmos had a single cause, a personal and absolute cause, -- and therefore falls short of proving the existence of God."3
It is true, however, that the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1-6). This creation should be a convincing revelation. The wonder of creation is seen everywhere. Such a revelation should raise questions in the minds of human beings. But because of sin such "facts" are rejected, distorted, or ascribed to some other cause rather than the handiwork of an all-powerful personal God.
The Teleological Argument. Berkhof explains, "The world everywhere reveals intelligence, order, harmony, and purpose, and thus implies the existence of an intelligent and purposeful being, adequate to the production of such a world. ... It is superior to the cosmological argument in that it makes explicit what is not stated in the latter, namely, that the world contains evidences of intelligence and purpose, and thus leads on to the existence of a conscious, and intelligent and purposeful being."4 Some argue that this only suggests a Mind that is in control of the world processes. The skeptics would simply call this the Force!
The apostle Peter does not hesitate in telling us of the First Cause of creation: "By the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, ... But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Pet. 3:5, 7). Peter not only described the first cause of creation, but he makes the issue relevant to the issues of the existence and the judgment of human beings.
The Moral Argument. Liberal theology is attracted to this view because it recognizes "a Highest Good and [man's] quest for a moral ideal demand and necessitate the existence of a God to give reality to that ideal."5 The Holocaust and the killing of millions of Jews during World War II has a blunting effect on this positive argument. One could use the same logic to argue that God is evil because one sees continually in this world the Lowest Evil! From a natural, observational viewpoint, this argument only brings confusion, and is easily shot down by the critic and skeptic. "While this argument does point to the existence of a holy and just being, it does not compel belief in a God, a Creator, or a being of infinite perfections."6
The Historical Argument. Also known as the Ethnological Argument, this view holds all peoples of the earth have some sense of the divine, a spark of truth that indicates God exists. So the argument goes, if the nature of people leads to religious worship, that is only explained by a "higher Being who has constituted man a religious being."7 The evolutionist would not agree with this view. He would simply point to the superstition of human beings for wanting a Higher Power to give answers to existence.
It is true the apostle Paul argues that nature gives a universal witness to God. In fact, he says "that which is known about God is evident within" men, "for God made it evident to them" (Rom. 1:19). He adds that God's invisible attributes and eternal power, and divine nature, "have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (v. 20).
However, such knowledge does not drive men to God.
In evaluating these arguments it should be pointed out first of all that believers do not need them. Their conviction respecting the existence of God does not depend on them, but on a believing acceptance of God's self-revelation in Scripture. If many in our day are willing to stake their faith in the existence of God on such rational arguments, it is to a great extent due to the fact that they refuse to accept the testimony of the Word of God. Moreover, in using these arguments in an attempt to convince unbelievers, it will be well to bear in mind that none of them can be said to carry absolute conviction. ... They are important as interpretations of God's general revelation and as exhibiting the reasonableness of belief in a divine Being.8
We must not forget that the majority of people who have ever lived have rejected the revelation of God through nature, and that rejection has come with scorn and deliberate substitution of their own gods. They have condemned themselves, and when God rejects them, He does so justly.9
Chafer well summarizes:
The natural man who does not receive or know the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), has in all ages sought to answer the problem of a visible universe and by his efforts has unceasingly proved this divine estimation of his limitations to be true. It may be difficult for the spiritually enlightened mind to comprehend the fog of confusion in which the often sincere but unregenerate men are plunged. ... However, they have formulated certain general lines of philosophy, and these, like the false religions of the earth, bespeak the spiritual limitations of fallen man.10 -- Dr. Mal Couch
- Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 26.
- Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 Vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1976), 1:158.
- Louis Berkhof, 27.
- Ibid., 26-27.
- Ibid., 27.
- Ibid., 27-28.
- Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 38.
- Lewis Sperry Chafer, 1:162.