The Existence of God
There is no issue concerning human life that is more basic and more far-reaching than the existence of God. Encyclopedia Britannica published a set of fifty-four volumes that included " . . . [T]he books that had endured and that the common voice of mankind called the finest creations, in writing, of the Western mind" (Hutchins xi). Hutchins further stated concerning this monumental publishing venture:
. . . We are as concerned as anybody else at the headlong plunge into the abyss that Western civilization seems to be taking. We believe that the voices [of the Great Books of the Western World] may recall the West to sanity. . . . We want them to be heard again - not because we want to go back to antiquity, or the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance, or the Eighteenth Century. . . . We want the voices of the Great Conversation to be heard again because we think they may help us to learn to live better now. . . . [T]hey can help us to that grasp of history, politics, morals, and economics and to that habit of mind which are needed to form a valid judgment on the issue. Great books may even help us to know what information we should demand. If we knew what information to demand we might have a better chance of getting it. (xii, xiv)
Volumes two and three of the aforementioned unique set of books are titled: The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World. This Syntopicon began as an index and "turned into a means of helping the reader find paths through the books . . . as a tool for reference, research, and study" (xxv). The longest essay in the Syntopicon is an essay on God. In this essay, Editor in Chief, Mortimer Adler, wrote: "More consequences for thought and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question in life" (543, emp. added).
There is no more basic question concerning human life than "Does God exist?" There is no greater thought or claim than the thought of God, or the claim that God is. An affirmation or denial of God molds life and action. Huston Smith, internationally known spokesperson on world religions, has written:
The crises that the world finds itself in . . . is located in something deeper than particular ways of organizing political systems and economies. . . . [T]he East and the West are going through a crisis whose cause is the spiritual condition of the modern world. That condition is characterized by loss - the loss of religious certainties and of transcendence. (1)
An ideological war is being waged globally that has to do with the reality of existence. The philosophical landscape in which this war of worldviews is being fought suggests that perhaps today it is more obvious than ever that the question of the existence of God be given deep thought. Distinguished British philosopher David Conway sums it up well:
Why is there a world and why does it have the form it does? . . . [Theism is] the view that the explanation of the world and its broad form is that it is the creation of a supremely omnipotent and omniscient intelligence, more commonly referred to as God, who created it in order to bring into existence and sustain rational beings such as ourselves who, by exercising their intellects, can become aware of the existence of God. . . . [T]he theistic doctrine . . . is largely dismissed by philosophers today. . . . The Theistic doctrine . . . once formed the lynchpin of western civilization. . . . Theism was to become increasingly subject to challenge and was eventually altogether discarded by most philosophers. . . . [S]kepticism . . . has culminated in our day, not simply in a form of secularism or militant atheism that, for a long time, has been practically [fashionable] among western intelligentsia, but in a novel and highly sophisticated form of [relativism] . . . known as post-modernism. According to those who share this fashionable intellectual posture, all belief systems are equally without rational basis and hence none is worthy of greater credence than any other. . . ." (1-5)
A crucial question confronting humanity is whether human culture can survive the loss of God and transcendence from human thinking. A good case can be made that it cannot. Former Time correspondent David Aikman has observed:
Atheism, when adopted wholesale by any government or society, has very profound and - as was evident in the twentieth century - disturbing consequences for political liberty. Every single one of the Founding Fathers understood this. . . . Jefferson [asked] . . . "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His justice cannot sleep forever. . . ." The God whose justice doesn't sleep is an interventionist God, not a deist one. (136, 144)
A thirty-one year old Chinese journalist conducted a two year research project in which he determined to answer why freedom has been so prominent in Western society to the exclusion of non-Western societies. He presented his finding at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in Chicago. In part, he said:
. . .[T]he single most important thing I would like to share with you here is this. The faith in God as the Lord is the beginning of freedom. When I began my project, the main question I asked is how and why freedom both as a value and as an institution figured prominently only in the Western society and even now still largely remains confined to this part of the world. . . . The more I knew about the growth of freedom in the West, the more I was captivated by the role of the faith in God as the Lord in the making of a free and responsible civilization. There may have been various reasons why liberty largely failed in the non-Western world. For me, a major reason for the stillbirth of freedom in the non-Western societies is that the bedrock for the building of liberty was missing in these cultures. That is, the faith in God as the Lord did not become the vital part of the non-Western consciousness. One cannot say that individuals in those parts of the world did not want freedom. Yet in societies like China with which I’m most familiar, freedom could not stand a realistic chance of becoming a positive value or a viable institution in much of their history because the rule by men instead of the rule of law as the constant pattern. For them, law was virtually the will of men in power so that it’s meaningless to call for the rule of law. . . . However, for societies where the faith in God as the Lord figures prominently, law is independent of the will of humans. It’s the will of God, the Lord. The only truly right thing one can do is to do the divine will. . . .
For me, that freedom could basically survive in the West is not by accident, nor mainly by the Western individuals' extraordinarily persistent struggle for liberty, but by their prominent obedience to the will of God compared to the rest of the world. And may I put it in another way: a free West is simply a by-product of its continued faith in God as the Lord in spite of the rise and fall of various forms of idolatry. (Xu)
The worldview of Christianity, and that affirmed and defended by Christian apologetics begins with the Creator. The natural world and humans within it are the result of the creation of the supreme transcendent God. God, who is infinite in all His attributes—omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, perfectly good, and necessarily existing as the explanation of the world and humans. The theistic argument implies that it is a valid move to reason from empirical facts to the class of things that transcends the universe. These empirical facts are called general revelation or natural theology. Dr. Thomas B. Warren implied this definition of "natural theology" (general revelation) in his 1976 debate with former world-renowned atheist philosopher, Professor Antony Flew. Warren said, "[T]he basic thrust of the [theistic] argument from empirical fact to knowledge of the existence of something that you have not observed is a valid procedure . . . [thus] the validity of the basic thrust of natural theology" (156). Significantly, Dr. Flew, in his 2007 book, There Is a God, says that it is natural theology that ". . . led [him] to change [his] mind about the existence of God" (159). He wrote, "I must confess that my discovery of the Divine has proceeded on a purely natural level. . . . It has been an exercise in . . . natural theology. . . . In short, my discovery of the Divine has been a pilgrimage of reason" (93).
William F. Buckley once told the story of an excited young Darwinian at the end of the 19th century. The youngster said to an elderly scholar, "How is it possible to believe in God?" The answer from the elderly scholar was, "I find it easier to believe in God than to believe that Hamlet was deduced from the molecular structure of a mutton chop!"
Adler, Mortimer, Ed. in Chief. The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World. Great Books of the Western World. Vol. 2. Chicago: Benton/Encyclopeadia Brittanica, 1952.
Aikman, David. The Delusion of Disbelief. Carol Stream: SaltRiver-Tyndale, 2008.
Buckley, William F. Jr. “How Is it Possible to Believe in God?” 23 May 2005. Web. 2 Feb. 2009.
Conway, David. The Rediscovery of Wisdom: From Here to Antiquity in Quest of Sophia. Houndmills/New York: PALGRAVE, 2000.
Flew, Antony. There Is a God. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.
Hutchins, Robert Maynard. “Preface.” The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education.. Great Books of the Western World. Vol. 1. Chicago: Benton/Encyclopeaedia Britannica, 1952.
Smith, Huston. Why Religion Matters. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
Xu, Hong. “God and the Essence of Liberty: A Preliminary Inquiry into the History of Freedom.” All Academic. 30 Aug. 2007. Web. 13 Nov. 2008.
Warren, Thomas B. and Antony G. N. Flew. The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God. Jonesboro: National Christian, 1977.