There is no knockout, ineluctable argument or set of arguments for the existence of God which no reasonable person can possibly counter. Even the most persuasive 'proofs for God' attract plausible answers. The evidence for God's existence is not as plain as most Christians believe.
I personally believe that there are far more rational arguments, cumulatively, for God's existence than for His non-existence. But there are equally rational, thoughtful, intellectually rigorous and meticulous persons who disagree with me. Indeed, there are persons far more intellectually gifted, better schooled and better read than I am who are atheists. Their cognitive faculties are working properly. So why don't they agree with me if my evidence is so intellectually compelling?
There has been a long tradition of theistic philosophical reflection which has recognised that there are no decisive, rationally inescapable arguments which all rational agents would be forced to agree on. Belief formation is complex. This is why there has been a respectable tradition of prudential, pragmatic arguments for God's existence, most notably Pascal's Wager.
Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Schleiermacher, William James, among many others, have provided non-cognitive arguments for God's existence. Which, expectedly, have faced pushback from empirically minded atheists who simply say pragmatic arguments don't count as evidence, for they could equally be used to support all kinds of irrational beliefs. Which is quite true.
Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology could well be used to justify belief in Hinduism, Buddhism or assorted New Age philosophies. (John Loftus talks about the 'Outsider Test of Christianity'.) William Clifford put it famously in his Ethics of Belief: "It is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." William James did counter with his Will to Believe, but that controversy has yet to be resolved.
What atheists should be prepared to say, however - and the most arrogant are reluctant - is that Christians do have rational arguments for God, even if they are not coercive. And it is not true that science has invalidated belief in God. That I am prepared to reject unequivocally. Science has not presented a defeater to the Christian concept of God. Indeed, I suggest that science provides rational grounding for theistic belief.
WEIGHT ADDED TO SUSPICION
The fact that science has now accepted the Big Bang cosmology, for example, instead of a steady-state universe which was beginningless, has added weight to the suspicion that God exists. William Lane Craig has done an impressive job of showing how science has packed weight to the evidence for God's existence.
Evidence of fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, for design in both cosmology and biology, can't be easily dismissed. I am acquainted with all the rationalisation about design in our minds, our pattern-making proclivity, etc., and all the arguments from evolutionary psychology.
I am aware of how atheists have rushed for arguments about plural universes or a multiverse to answer the powerful argument for God's existence stemming from Big Bang cosmology. But I believe that Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig have plausibly shown that those arguments are not attractive.
Craig's argument, the Kalăm Cosmological Argument, is not simply that everything that exists must have a cause. No. That would naturally lead to the question, what is the cause of God, or who created God?
If everything has a cause, you would go back to an infinite set of causes; for if you ask who created God, who created the person who created God, and who created that person - ad infinitum. It is logical, therefore, that something must have existed eternally, as difficult as that is for our minds to grasp.
But it is the only logical answer to the fact that there is something rather than nothing. Why is there something rather than nothing? I believe that there is a presumption - a reasonable presumption - of theism.
Our universe, which is physical, had a definite beginning point in space and time. There must have been something outside of space and time which caused the universe to exist. Before the Big Bang was established in science, atheists could say, well, our universe was always here, there is no need for an explanation or cause. But science has now disproven that. The universe came into existence. What caused it?
Now cosmologists like Lawrence Krauss, who has written the book A Universe From Nothing, maintain stoutly that the universe came from nothing. But as you hear Krauss explain it, it is clear that for him, nothing is not what we commonly see as nothing. His nothing is something!
William Lane Craig has persuasively rebutted Krauss' central thesis (Go to Craig's website Reasonable Faith) Craig has debated the best in atheistic philosophy and science and none has ever defeated him or his Kalam Cosmological Argument, in my opinion.
In his debate with Stephen Law, Craig said: "In 2003, Arvin Borde, Allan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which is on average in a state of cosmic expansion throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past ... . Their theorem implies that the quantum state of the early universe - which scientific popularisers have misleadingly and inaccurately referred to as 'nothing' - cannot be eternal in the past and must have had an absolute beginning. Even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called multiverse composed of many universes, their theorem requires
that the multiverse itself must have an absolute beginning."
The arrogant atheists have been set back (though undaunted) by this scientific consensus on the fact of a continent universe. To support their continued non-belief in a 'first cause', they have sought to use theories such as loop-quantum gravity models, string models, time-like curves - everything to avoid the philosophical consequences of a universe which must have had an intelligent mind responsible for its beginning.
They have done much to maintain their unshakeable faith in atheism! Some confess that science doesn't have the answers right now to both the origin of the universe and the clear fine-tuning and specified complexity which exists. But they say don't worry. Science will find the answers in the future. They have faith that the evidence will turn up, for it always does!
The distinguished atheist, chemist Peter Atkins, says in his book On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence: "If at any stage an agent must be involved to account for what there is, then science will have to concede the existence of what we have agreed to call a God ... . The task before science in this connection will be to show how something can come from nothing without intervention ... . The unfolding of absolutely nothing ... into something is a problem of profoundest difficulty."
Even militant atheistic populariser Sam Harris (The End of Faith) admits in a discussion with Lawrence Krauss, who has taken up the gauntlet to defend a universe from nothing: "You have described three gradations of nothing - empty space, the absence of space, and the absence of physical laws. It seems to me that this last condition - the absence of any laws that might have caused or constrained the emergence of matter and space - time - really is a case of 'nothing' in the strictest sense. It strikes me as genuinely incomprehensible that anything - laws, energy, etc. - could spring out of it."
But, of course, Harris has no end to his faith in atheism, so he must still believe, despite his puzzlement (Okay, don't tell me I am invoking God of the gaps arguments here. I am taking Inference to the Best explanation).
Renowned scientist Paul Davies says in his book The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life?: "We can attribute no physical cause to the Big Bang." So if there was no physical cause, how did it just come into being? Because of its anti-supernaturalistic bias, methodological naturalism can't admit any non-physical entities.
Don't you need a creator?
Britain's respected New Scientist magazine, produced by atheistic scientists, commenting on a conference to honour Stephen Hawking on his 70th birthday, says in its January 12, 2012 edition: "The Big Bang is now part of the furniture of modern cosmology ... . Many physicists have been fighting a rearguard action against it for decades, largely because of its theological overtones. If you have an instant of creation, don't you need a creator? Cosmologists ... have tried on several different models of the universe that dodge the need for a beginning, while still requiring a Big Bang. But recent research has shot them full of holes.
"Without an escape clause, physicists and philosophers must finally answer the problem that has been nagging at them for the best part of 50 years: How do you get a universe complete with all the laws of physics out of nothing?" This is New Scientist, whose naturalistic credentials and credibility can't be questioned.
These Jamaican atheists who give the impression that there are no possible rational arguments which could conceivably justify theism simply evidence their lack of philosophical exposure. You can say there is stronger evidence for atheism - and I disagree strongly - but you are not epistemologically permitted to say there is no rational basis for theism and that the Christian concept of God is no greater than the argument for Zeus, Marduk, Baal or the Celestial Teapot.
The Christian concept of God is robust in its explanatory power, and is both scientifically and philosophically sophisticated. That's why the agnostic position is far more responsible and judicious with the evidence than atheism. I would be more attracted to agnosticism than to atheism, which I find entirely unconvincing.
How do you explain the exquisite fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life? How can naturalism explain that? How can you explain the uniqueness of intelligent life on this little speck of dust called earth? How do you explain consciousness, reason, our capacity for beauty, transcendence? The universe is so fine-tuned that if the physical constants varied even minutely, life would not have been possible. Why this specified complexity if the universe and life arose simply by chance or random forces?
As Craig said in his debate with Lawrence Krauss: "Were these constants or quantities to be altered by a hair's breadth, the life-permitting balance would be destroyed and life would not exist." Why is there something rather than nothing?
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.