Where did God come from?

Jun 1st, 2010 in Basics of Christianity, God, Tough Questions by Jim Denison

Every parent knows the question is coming. We asked it of our parents, and they of theirs. Who hasn’t stared at the clouds by day or the stars by night and wondered what lies beyond. Where did the world come from? What lies beyond the incomprehensibly vast universe? If there is a God, who made him? If someone made him, how can he be God? Our children’s questions are our own.

Arguing that God exists

The most popular and common sense answer to the question of God’s existence is to examine the origin of the world in which the question is asked. Our experiences are dominated by causality—for every effect there is a prior cause. If something exists, someone or something else caused its existence. Who or what, then, caused the world?

This approach is called the cosmological argument for God’s existence, as it works from the cosmos to its cause. Aristotle was among the first to argue that motion implies a mover, causation a First Cause. Thomas Aquinas appropriated his logic in Christian theology. Stated in contemporary terms, if the universe began as a Big Bang, who caused the Bang? If life began as a cell floating in a pool of water, where did the cell and water come from? If there is a cosmos, there must be a Creator.

But note: we have not established the character of that creator. He/she/them/it may be impersonal or personal, benevolent or cruel. There is evidence within creation to support any of these options and more.

A second argument for God’s existence works from the design evident within creation to a Designer. If you kicked over a rock in the street, you’d not be surprised at such a random occurrence. If you stepped on a watch, however, you’d assume a watchmaker. You would not believe that the hands, gears, face, and strap all happened to fall together at the same place and time. Isn’t the world infinitely more designed than a watch?

This is the teleological approach, from the Greek word “telos” for “end” or “design.” Illustrations exist all across the created order. For instance, to spell “collagen” (a protein in your body) requires only that we organize all eight letters in the right order. To create collagen, on the other hand, requires that we organize 1,055 amino acids in the proper order. Such an event occurs spontaneously in nature, but the odds of its random occurrence are one in ten followed by 259 zeroes, a number larger than the amount of atoms in the universe. In the face of such design, isn’t it plausible to assume a Designer?

Note again that we have suggested theism but not yet Christianity. If our God designed the universe, is he as responsible for tornadoes and hurricanes as sunsets and collagen?

A third option works from our conception of morality to its origin. This moral argument asks where we obtained our sense of right and wrong. If from our parents, where did they get theirs? The generation before them? And so on. Eventually we find a Giver of morality outside our common experience.

This approach comes a bit closer to Christian theism, in that it invests in the Giver a certain moral character. However, just because this “God” creates within us a sense of morality is no guarantee that the deity possesses such character personally, or that this deity is subject to it. And individual uses of moral standards differ so widely across human experience that it is difficult to argue effectively for a single cause.

A fourth, rather abstract argument for God’s existence is based on a rational syllogism. Major premise: God is perfect. By common consensus, he/she/it must be the greatest being which can be conceived, else that which is greater is more truly God. Minor premise: perfection requires existence. Among all the attributes necessary to divine perfection (love, power, omniscience, etc.), perfection is required as well. Else, the God who possesses all characteristics as well as existence is more truly God. Conclusion: God exists. This ontological argument (from the Greek word for “being”) is the most rational approach of all. It may prove much or nothing. At least it shows that the concept of God’s existence possesses logical and rational merit.

Assuming that God exists

How does the Bible argue for the existence of God? It doesn’t: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Nowhere does Scripture come close to abstract, rational argumentation for God’s existence. Everywhere, God’s word assumes that its readers accept the fact that God is.

And understandably so. At issue in the biblical era was not if there is a God, but which God(s) we should serve. Polytheism (belief in many gods) was the norm, accepting the existence of territorial gods ruling various elements and/or geographies. It would have been a foolish waste of effort to argue for God’s existence in a world which assumed him in every experience of life.

Even today, skeptics are justifiably more comfortable with agnosticism (the “soft” version: I don’t know if God exists; the “hard” version: we cannot know if God exists) than atheism (there is absolutely no God). Note, however, that both agnostics and many who profess belief in God’s existence are practical atheists, living as though such a deity has little claim on their lives. Most assume that God exists, but see little practical relevance in their assumption.

Conclusion

So where did God come from? He is self-caused, self-existing, or else that which “made” him is more God than he is. How do we know he exists? In the same way we know the sun exists on a cloudy day. Not because we see it, but because we see everything else in its light. All the while remembering the old question: what worth proving can be proven?

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