Twenty Arguments For The Existence Of God by Peter Kreeft

Aside from the blog being a place where I can post views or such things that I find appealing, I also use it as an online resource. With that in mind I wanted to add a fair few unorthodox arguments from writer and intellectual Peter Kreeft, as people who are saturated in these sorts of thing are often unconvinced by the popular level arguments, and not necessarily because these arguments are bad, rather it’s that the listener is simply so jaded by the whole debate that they switch off at the argument from design or arguments related to big bang cosmology. It’s these unused arguments that shock the listener into thinking differently for a change, and that’s always a good thing.

― T. C. M


In this section you will find arguments of many different kinds for the existence of God. And we make to you, the reader, an initial appeal. We realize that many people, both believers and non-believers, doubt that God’s existence can be demonstrated or even argued about. You may be one of them. You may in fact have a fairly settled view that it cannot be argued about. But no one can reasonably doubt that attention to these arguments has its place in any book on apologetics. For very many have believed that such arguments are possible, and that some of them actually work.

They have also believed that an effective rational argument for God’s existence is an important first step in opening the mind to the possibility of faith—in clearing some of the roadblocks and rubble that prevent people from taking the idea of divine revelation seriously. And in this they have a real point. Suppose our best and most honest reflection on the nature of things led us to see the material universe as self-sufficient and uncaused; to see its form as the result of random motions, devoid of any plan or purpose. Would you then be impressed by reading in an ancient book that there exists a God of love, or that the heavens proclaim his glory? Would you be disposed to take that message seriously? More likely you would excuse yourself from taking seriously anything claimed as a communication from the Creator. As one person put it: I cannot believe that we are children of God, because I cannot believe there is anyone to do the adopting.

It is this sort of cramped and constricted horizon that the proofs presented in this chapter are trying to expand. They are attempts to confront us with the radical insufficiency of what is finite and limited, and to open minds to a level of being beyond it. If they succeed in this—and we can say from experience that some of the proofs do succeed with many people—they can be of very great value indeed.

You may not feel that they are particularly valuable to you. You may be blessed with a vivid sense of God’s presence; and that is something for which to be profoundly grateful. But that does not mean you have no obligation to ponder these arguments. For many have not been blessed in that way. And the proofs are designed for them—or some of them at least—to give a kind of help they really need. You may even be asked to provide help.

Besides, are any of us really in so little need of such help as we may claim? Surely in most of us there is something of the sceptic. There is a part of us tempted to believe that nothing is ultimately real beyond what we can see and touch; a part looking for some reason, beyond the assurances of Scripture, to believe that there is more. We have no desire to make exaggerated claims for these demonstrations, or to confuse “good reason” “with scientific proof.” But we believe that there are many who want and need the kind of help these proofs offer more than they might at first be willing to admit.

A word about the organization of the arguments. We have organized them into two basic groups: those which take their data from without—cosmological arguments—and those that take it from within—psychological arguments. The group of cosmological arguments begins with our versions of Aquinas’s famous “five ways.” These are not the simplest of the arguments, and therefore are not the most convincing to many people. Our order is not from the most to the least effective. The first argument, in particular, is quite abstract and difficult.

Not all the arguments are equally demonstrative. One (Pascal’s Wager) is not an argument for God at all, but an argument for faith in God as a “wager.” Another (the ontological argument) we regard as fundamentally flawed; yet we include it because it is very famous and influential, and may yet be saved by new formulations of it. Others (the argument from miracles, the argument from religious experience and the common consent argument) claim only strong probability, not demonstrative certainty. We have included them because they form a strong part of a cumulative case. We believe that only some of these arguments, taken individually and separately, demonstrate the existence of a being that has some of the properties only God can have (no argument proves all the divine attributes); but all twenty taken together, like twined rope, make a very strong case.

(1) The Argument from Change

The material world we know is a world of change. This young woman came to be 5’2″, but she was not always that height. The great oak tree before us grew from the tiniest acorn. Now when something comes to be in a certain state, such as mature size, that state cannot bring itself into being. For until it comes to be, it does not exist, and if it does not yet exist, it cannot cause anything.

As for the thing that changes, although it can be what it will become, it is not yet what it will become. It actually exists right now in this state (an acorn); it will actually exist in that state (large oak tree). But it is not actually in that state now. It only has the potentiality for that state.

Now a question: To explain the change, can we consider the changing thing alone, or must other things also be involved? Obviously, other things must be involved. Nothing can give itself what it does not have, and the changing thing cannot have now, already, what it will come to have then. The result of change cannot actually exist before the change. The changing thing begins with only the potential to change, but it needs to be acted on by other things outside if that potential is to be made actual. Otherwise it cannot change.

Nothing changes itself. Apparently self-moving things, like animal bodies, are moved by desire or will—something other than mere molecules. And when the animal or human dies, the molecules remain, but the body no longer moves because the desire or will is no longer present to move it.

Now a further question: Are the other things outside the changing thing also changing? Are its movers also moving? If so, all of them stand in need right now of being acted on by other things, or else they cannot change. No matter how many things there are in the series, each one needs something outside itself to actualize its potentiality for change.

The universe is the sum total of all these moving things, however many there are. The whole universe is in the process of change. But we have already seen that change in any being requires an outside force to actualize it. Therefore, there is some force outside (in addition to) the universe, some real being transcendent to the universe. This is one of the things meant by “God.”

Briefly, if there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change. But it does change. Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe. But the universe is the sum total of all matter, space and time. These three things depend on each other. Therefore this being outside the universe is outside matter, space and time. It is not a changing thing; it is the unchanging Source of change.

(2) The Argument from Efficient Causality

We notice that some things cause other things to be (to begin to be, to continue to be, or both). For example, a man playing the piano is causing the music that we hear. If he stops, so does the music.

Now ask yourself: Are all things caused to exist by other things right now? Suppose they are. That is, suppose there is no Uncaused Being, no God. Then nothing could exist right now. For remember, on the no-God hypothesis, all things need a present cause outside of themselves in order to exist. So right now, all things, including all those things which are causing things to be, need a cause. They can give being only so long as they are given being. Everything that exists, therefore, on this hypothesis, stands in need of being caused to exist.

But caused by what? Beyond everything that is, there can only be nothing. But that is absurd: all of reality dependent—but dependent on nothing! The hypothesis that all being is caused, that there is no Uncaused Being, is absurd. So there must be something uncaused, something on which all things that need an efficient cause of being are dependent.

Existence is like a gift given from cause to effect. If there is no one who has the gift, the gift cannot be passed down the chain of receivers, however long or short the chain may be. If everyone has to borrow a certain book, but no one actually has it, then no one will ever get it. If there is no God who has existence by his own eternal nature, then the gift of existence cannot be passed down the chain of creatures and we can never get it. But we do get it; we exist. Therefore there must exist a God: an Uncaused Being who does not have to receive existence like us—and like every other link in the chain of receivers.

Question 1: Why do we need an uncaused cause? Why could there not simply be an endless series of things mutually keeping each other in being?

Reply: This is an attractive hypothesis. Think of a single drunk. He could probably not stand up alone. But a group of drunks, all of them mutually supporting each other, might stand. They might even make their way along the street. But notice: Given so many drunks, and given the steady ground beneath them, we can understand how their stumblings might cancel each other out, and how the group of them could remain (relatively) upright. We could not understand their remaining upright if the ground did not support them—if, for example, they were all suspended several feet above it. And of course, if there were no actual drunks, there would be nothing to understand.

This brings us to our argument. Things have got to exist in order to be mutually dependent; they cannot depend upon each other for their entire being, for then they would have to be, simultaneously, cause and effect of each other. A causes B, B causes C, and C causes A. That is absurd. The argument is trying to show why a world of caused causes can be given—or can be there—at all. And it simply points out: If this thing can exist only because something else is giving it existence, then there must exist something whose being is not a gift. Otherwise everything would need at the same time to be given being, but nothing (in addition to “everything”) could exist to give it. And that means nothing would actually be.

Question 2: Why not have an endless series of caused causes stretching backward into the past? Then everything would be made actual and would actually be—even though their causes might no longer exist.

Reply: First, if the kalam argument (argument 6) is right, there could not exist an endless series of causes stretching backward into the past. But suppose that such a series could exist. The argument is not concerned about the past, and would work whether the past is finite or infinite. It is concerned with what exists right now.

Even as you read this, you are dependent on other things; you could not, right now, exist without them. Suppose there are seven such things. If these seven things did not exist, neither would you. Now suppose that all seven of them depend for their existence right now on still other things. Without these, the seven you now depend on would not exist—and neither would you. Imagine that the entire universe consists of you and the seven sustaining you. If there is nothing besides that universe of changing, dependent things, then the universe—and you as part of it—could not be. For everything that is would right now need to be given being but there would be nothing capable of giving it. And yet you are and it is. So there must in that case exist something besides the universe of dependent things—something not dependent as they are.

And if it must exist in that case, it must exist in this one. In our world there are surely more than seven things that need, right now, to be given being. But that need is not diminished by there being more than seven. As we imagine more and more of them—even an infinite number, if that were possible—we are simply expanding the set of beings that stand in need. And this need—for being, for existence—cannot be met from within the imagined set. But obviously it has been met, since contingent beings exist. Therefore there is a source of being on which our material universe right now depends.

(3) The Argument from Time and Contingency

  1. We notice around us things that come into being and go out of being. A tree, for example, grows from a tiny shoot, flowers brilliantly, then withers and dies.
  2. Whatever comes into being or goes out of being does not have to be; nonbeing is a real possibility.
  3. Suppose that nothing has to be; that is, that nonbeing is a real possibility for everything.
  4. Then right now nothing would exist. For
  5. If the universe began to exist, then all being must trace its origin to some past moment before which there existed—literally—nothing at all. But
  6. From nothing nothing comes. So
  7. The universe could not have begun.
  8. But suppose the universe never began. Then, for the infinitely long duration of cosmic history, all being had the built-in possibility not to be. But
  9. If in an infinite time that possibility was never realized, then it could not have been a real possibility at all. So
  10. There must exist something which has to exist, which cannot not exist. This sort of being is called necessary.
  11. Either this necessity belongs to the thing in itself or it is derived from another. If derived from another there must ultimately exist a being whose necessity is not derived, that is, an absolutely necessary being.
  12. This absolutely necessary being is God.

Question1: Even though you may never in fact step outside your house all day, it was possible for you to do so. Why is it impossible that the universe still happens to exist, even though it was possible for it to go out of existence?

Reply: The two cases are not really parallel. To step outside your house on a given day is something that you may or may not choose to do. But if nonbeing is a real possibility for you, then you are the kind of being that cannot last forever. In other words, the possibility of nonbeing must be built-in, “programmed,” part of your very constitution, a necessary property. And if all being is like that, then how could anything still exist after the passage of an infinite time? For an infinite time is every bit as long as forever. So being must have what it takes to last forever, that is, to stay in existence for an infinite time. Therefore there must exist within the realm of being something that does not tend to go out of existence. And this sort of being, as Aquinas says, is called “necessary.”

(4) The Argument from Degrees of Perfection

We notice around us things that vary in certain ways. A shade of color, for example, can be lighter or darker than another, a freshly baked apple pie is hotter than one taken out of the oven hours before; the life of a person who gives and receives love is better than the life of one who does not.

So we arrange some things in terms of more and less. And when we do, we naturally think of them on a scale approaching most and least. For example, we think of the lighter as approaching the brightness of pure white, and the darker as approaching the opacity of pitch black. This means that we think of them at various “distances” from the extremes, and as possessing, in degrees of “more” or “less,” what the extremes possess in full measure.

Sometimes it is the literal distance from an extreme that makes all the difference between “more” and “less.” For example, things are more or less hot when they are more or less distant from a source of heat. The source communicates to those things the quality of heat they possess in greater or lesser measure. This means that the degree of heat they possess is caused by a source outside of them.

Now when we think of the goodness of things, part of what we mean relates to what they are simply as beings. We believe, for example, that a relatively stable and permanent way of being is better than one that is fleeting and precarious. Why? Because we apprehend at a deep (but not always conscious) level that being is the source and condition of all value; finally and ultimately, being is better than nonbeing. And so we recognize the inherent superiority of all those ways of being that expand possibilities, free us from the constricting confines of matter, and allow us to share in, enrich and be enriched by, the being of other things. In other words, we all recognize that intelligent being is better than unintelligent being; that a being able to give and receive love is better than one that cannot; that our way of being is better, richer and fuller than that of a stone, a flower, an earthworm, an ant, or even a baby seal.

But if these degrees of perfection pertain to being and being is caused in finite creatures, then there must exist a “best,” a source and real standard of all the perfections that we recognize belong to us as beings.

This absolutely perfect being—the “Being of all beings,” “the Perfection of all perfections”—is God.

Question 1: The argument assumes a real “better.” But aren’t all our judgments of comparative value merely subjective?

Reply: The very asking of this question answers it. For the questioner would not have asked it unless he or she thought it really better to do so than not, and really better to find the true answer than not. You can speak subjectivism but you cannot live it.

(5) The Design Argument

This sort of argument is of wide and perennial appeal. Almost everyone admits that reflection on the order and beauty of nature touches something very deep within us. But are the order and beauty the product of intelligent design and conscious purpose? For theists the answer is yes. Arguments for design are attempts to vindicate this answer, to show why it is the most reasonable one to give. They have been formulated in ways as richly varied as the experience in which they are rooted. The following displays the core or central insight.

  1. The universe displays a staggering amount of intelligibility, both within the things we observe and in the way these things relate to others outside themselves. That is to say: the way they exist and coexist display an intricately beautiful order and regularity that can fill even the most casual observer with wonder. It is the norm in nature for many different beings to work together to produce the same valuable end—for example, the organs in the body work for our life and health. (See also argument 8.)
  2. Either this intelligible order is the product of chance or of intelligent design.
  3. Not chance.
  4. Therefore the universe is the product of intelligent design.
  5. Design comes only from a mind, a designer.
  6. Therefore the universe is the product of an intelligent Designer.

The first premise is certainly true-even those resistant to the argument admit it. The person who did not would have to be almost pathetically obtuse. A single protein molecule is a thing of immensely impressive order; much more so a single cell; and incredibly much more so an organ like the eye, where ordered parts of enormous and delicate complexity work together with countless others to achieve a single certain end. Even chemical elements are ordered to combine with other elements in certain ways and under certain conditions. Apparent disorder is a problem precisely because of the overwhelming pervasiveness of order and regularity. So the first premise stands.

If all this order is not in some way the product of intelligent design—then what? Obviously, it “just happened.” Things just fell out that way “by chance.” Alternatively, if all this order is not the product of blind, purposeless forces, then it has resulted from some kind of purpose. That purpose can only be intelligent design. So the second premise stands.

It is of course the third premise that is crucial. Ultimately, nonbelievers tell us, it is indeed by chance and not by any design that the universe of our experience exists the way it does. It just happens to have this order, and the burden of proof is on believers to demonstrate why this could not be so by chance alone.

But this seems a bit backward. It is surely up to nonbelievers to produce a credible alternative to design. And “chance” is simply not credible. For we can understand chance only against a background of order. To say that something happened “by chance” is to say that it did not turn out as we would have expected, or that it did turn out in a way we would not have expected. But expectation is impossible without order. If you take away order and speak of chance alone as a kind of ultimate source, you have taken away the only background that allows us to speak meaningfully of chance at all. Instead of thinking of chance against a background of order, we are invited to think of order-overwhelmingly intricate and ubiquitous order-against a random and purposeless background of chance. Frankly, that is incredible. Therefore it is eminently reasonable to affirm the third premise, not chance, and therefore to affirm the conclusion, that this universe is the product of intelligent design.

Question 1: Hasn’t the Darwinian theory of evolution shown us how it is possible for all the order in the universe to have arisen by chance?

Reply: Not at all. If the Darwinian theory has shown anything, it has shown, in a general way, how species may have descended from others through random mutation; and how survival of these species can be accounted for by natural selection—by the fitness of some species to survive in their environment. In no way does it—can it—account for the ubiquitous order and intelligibility of nature. Rather, it presupposes order. To quote a famous phrase: “The survival of the fittest presupposes the arrival of the fit.” If Darwinians wish to extrapolate from their purely biological theory and maintain that all the vast order around us is the result of random changes, then they are saying something which no empirical evidence could ever confirm; which no empirical science could ever demonstrate; and which, on the face of it, is simply beyond belief.

Question 2: Maybe it is only in this region of the universe that order is to be found. Maybe there are other parts unknown to us that are completely chaotic—or maybe the universe will one day in the future become chaotic. What becomes of the argument then?

Reply: Believers and nonbelievers both experience the same universe. It is this which is either designed or not. And this world of our common experience is a world of pervasive order and intelligibility. That fact must be faced. Before we speculate about what will be in the future or what may be elsewhere in the present, we need to deal honestly with what is. We need to recognize in an unflinching way the extent—the overwhelming extent—of order and intelligibility. Then we can ask ourselves: Is it credible to suppose that we inhabit a small island of order surrounded by a vast sea of chaos—a sea which threatens one day to engulf us?

Just consider how in the last decades we have strained fantastically at the limits of our knowledge; we have cast our vision far beyond this planet and far within the elements that make it up. And what has this expansion of our horizons revealed? Always the same thing: more—and not less—intelligibility; more—and not less—complex and intricate order. Not only is there no reason to believe in a surrounding chaos, there is every reason not to. It flies in the face of the experience that all of us—believers and nonbelievers—share in common.

Something similar can be said about the future. We know the way things in the universe have behaved and are behaving. And so, until we have some reason to think otherwise, there is every reason to believe it will continue on its orderly path of running down. No speculation can nullify what we know.

And, anyway, exactly what sort of chaos is this question asking us to imagine? That effect precedes cause? That the law of contradiction does not hold? That there need not be what it takes for some existing thing to exist? These suggestions are completely unintelligible; if we think about them at all, it is only to reject them as impossible. Can we imagine less order? Yes. Some rearrangement of the order we experience? Yes. But total disorder and chaos? That can never be considered as a real possibility. To speculate about it as if it were is really a waste of time.

Question 3: But what if the order we experience is merely a product of our minds? Even though we cannot think utter chaos and disorder, maybe that is how reality really is.

Reply: Our minds are the only means by which we can know reality. We have no other access. If we agree that something cannot exist in thought, we cannot go ahead and say that it might nevertheless exist in reality. Because then we would be thinking what we claim cannot be thought.

Suppose you claim that order is just a product of our minds. This puts you in a very awkward position. You are saying that we must think about reality in terms of order and intelligibility, but things may not exist that way in fact. Now to propose something for consideration is to think about it. And so you are saying: (a) we must think about reality in a certain way, but (b) since we think that things may not in fact exist that way, then (c) we need not think about reality the way we must think about it! Are we willing to pay that high a price to deny that the being of the universe displays intelligent design? It does not, on the face of it, seem cost effective.

(6) The Kalam Argument

The Arabic word kalam literally means “speech,” but came to denote a certain type of philosophical theology—a type containing demonstrations that the world could not be infinitely old and must therefore have been created by God. This sort of demonstration has had a long and wide appeal among both Christians and Muslims. Its form is simple and straightforward.

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being.

Grant the first premise. (Most people—outside of asylums and graduate schools would consider it not only true, but certainly and obviously true.)

Is the second premise true? Did the universe—the collection of all things bounded by space and time—begin to exist? This premise has recently received powerful support from natural science—from so-called Big Bang Cosmology. But there are philosophical arguments in its favor as well. Can an infinite task ever be done or completed? If, in order to reach a certain end, infinitely many steps had to precede it, could the end ever be reached? Of course not—not even in an infinite time. For an infinite time would be unending, just as the steps would be. In other words, no end would ever be reached. The task would—could—never be completed.

But what about the step just before the end? Could that point ever be reached? Well, if the task is really infinite, then an infinity of steps must also have preceded it. And therefore the step just before the end could also never be reached. But then neither could the step just before that one. In fact, no step in the sequence could be reached, because an infinity of steps must always have preceded any step; must always have been gone through one by one before it. The problem comes from supposing that an infinite sequence could ever reach, by temporal succession, any point at all.

Now if the universe never began, then it always was. If it always was, then it is infinitely old. If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have to have elapsed before (say) today. And so an infinite number of days must have been completed—one day succeeding another, one bit of time being added to what went before—in order for the present day to arrive. But this exactly parallels the problem of an infinite task. If the present day has been reached, then the actually infinite sequence of history has reached this present point: in fact, has been completed up to this point—for at any present point the whole past must already have happened. But an infinite sequence of steps could never have reached this present point—or any point before it.

So, either the present day has not been reached, or the process of reaching it was not infinite. But obviously the present day has been reached. So the process of reaching it was not infinite. In other words, the universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being, a Creator.

Question 1: Christians believe they are going to live forever with God. So they believe the future will be endless. How come the past cannot also be endless?

Reply: The question really answers itself. Christians believe that their life with God will never end. That means it will never form an actually completed infinite series. In more technical language: an endless future is potentially—but never actually—infinite. This means that although the future will never cease to expand and increase, still its actual extent will always be finite. But that can only be true if all of created reality had a beginning.

Question 2: How do we know that the cause of the universe still exists? Maybe it started the universe going and then ceased to be.

Reply: Remember that we are seeking for a cause of spatio-temporal being. This cause created the entire universe of space and time. And space and time themselves must be part of that creation. So the cause cannot be another spatio-temporal being. (If it were, all the problems about infinite duration would arise once again.) It must somehow stand outside the limitations and constraints of space and time.

It is hard to understand how such a being could “cease” to be. We know how a being within the universe ceases to be: it comes in time to be fatally affected by some agency external to it. But this picture is proper to us, and to all beings limited in some way by space and time. A being not limited in these ways cannot “come” to be or “cease” to be. If it exists at all, it must exist eternally.

Question 3: But is this cause God—a he and not a mere it?

Reply: Suppose the cause of the universe has existed eternally. Suppose further that this cause is not personal: that it has given rise to the universe, not through any choice, but simply through its being. In that case it is hard to see how the universe could be anything but infinitely old, since all the conditions needed for the being of the universe would exist from all eternity. But the kalam argument has shown that the universe cannot be infinitely old. So the hypothesis of an eternal impersonal cause seems to lead to an inconsistency.

Is there a way out? Yes, if the universe is the result of a free personal choice. Then at least we have some way of seeing how an eternal cause could give rise to a temporally limited effect. Of course, the kalam argument does not prove everything Christians believe about God, but what proof does? Less than everything, however, is far from nothing. And the kalam argument proves something central to the Christian belief in God: that the universe is not eternal and without beginning; that there is a Maker of heaven and earth. And in doing so, it disproves the picture of the universe most atheists wish to maintain: self-sustaining matter, endlessly changing in endless time.

(7) The Argument from Contingency

The basic form of this argument is simple.

  1. If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
  2. The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.
  3. Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.
  4. What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.
  5. Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time.

Suppose you deny the first premise. Then if X exists, there need not exist what it takes for X to exist. But “what it takes for X to exist” means the immediate condition(s) for X’s existence. You mean that X exists only if Y. Without Y, there can be no X. So the denial of premise 1 amounts to this: X exists; X can only exist if Y exists; and Y does not exist. This is absurd. So there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist. But what does it take?

We spoke of the universe as “the collection of beings in space and time.” Consider one such being: yourself. You exist, and you are, in part at least, material. This means that you are a finite, limited and changing being, you know that right now, as you read this book, you are dependent for your existence on beings outside you. Not your parents or grandparents. They may no longer be alive, but you exist now. And right now you depend on many things in order to exist—for example, on the air you breathe. To be dependent in this way is to be contingent. You exist if something else right now exists.

But not everything can be like this. For then everything would need to be given being, but there would be nothing capable of giving it. There would not exist what it takes for anything to exist. So there must be something that does not exist conditionally; something which does not exist only if something else exists; something which exists in itself. What it takes for this thing to exist could only be this thing itself. Unlike changing material reality, there would be no distance, so to speak, between what this thing is and that it is. Obviously the collection of beings changing in space and time cannot be such a thing. Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist cannot be identical with the universe itself or with a part of the universe.

Question 1: But why should we call this cause “God”? Maybe there is something unknown that grounds the universe of change we live in.

Reply: True. And this “unknown” is God. What we humans know directly is this sensible changing world. We also know that there must exist whatever it takes for something to exist. Therefore, we know that neither this changing universe as a whole nor any part of it can be itself what it takes for the universe to exist. But we have now such direct knowledge of the cause of changing things. We know that there must exist a cause; we know that this cause cannot be finite or material—that it must transcend such limitations. But what this ultimate cause is in itself remains, so far, a mystery.

There is more to be said by reason; and there is very much more God has made known about himself through revelation. But the proofs have given us some real knowledge as well: knowledge that the universe is created; knowledge that right now it is kept in being by a cause unbounded by any material limit, that transcends the kind of being we humans directly know. And that is surely knowledge worth having. We might figure out that someone’s death was murder and no accident, without figuring out exactly who did it and why, and this might leave us frustrated and unsatisfied. But at least we would know what path of questioning to pursue; at least we would know that someone did it.

So it is with the proofs. They let us know that at every moment the being of the universe is the creative act of a Giver—A Giver transcending all material and spiritual limitations. Beyond that, they do not tell us much about what or who this Giver is—but they point in a very definite direction. We know that this Ultimate Reality—the Giver of being—cannot be material. And we know the gift which is given includes personal being: intelligence, will and spirit. The infinite transcendent cause of these things cannot be less than they are, but must be infinitely more. How and in what way we do not know. To some extent this Giver must always remain unknown to human reason. We should never expect otherwise. But reason can at least let us know that “someone did it.” And that is of great value.

(8) The Argument from the World as an Interacting Whole

Norris Clarke, who taught metaphysics and philosophy of religion for many years at Fordham, has circulated privately an intriguing version of the design argument. We present it here, slightly abridged and revised; for your reflection.

Starting point. This world is given to us as a dynamic, ordered system of many active component elements. Their natures (natural properties) are ordered to interact with each other in stable, reciprocal relationships which we call physical laws. For example, every hydrogen atom in our universe is ordered to combine with every oxygen atom in the proportion of 2:1 (which implies that every oxygen atom is reciprocally ordered to combine with every hydrogen atom in the proportion of 1:2). So it is with the chemical valences of all the basic elements. So too all particles with mass are ordered to move toward every other according to the fixed proportions of the law of gravity.

In such an interconnected, interlocking, dynamic system, the active nature of each component is defined by its relation with others, and so presupposes the others for its own intelligibility and ability to act. Contemporary science reveals to us that our world-system is not merely an aggregate of many separate, unrelated laws, but rather a tightly interlocking whole, where relationship to the whole structures and determines the parts. The parts can no longer be understood apart from the whole; its influence permeates them all.

Argument. In any such system as the above (like our world) no component part or active element can be self-sufficient or self-explanatory. For any part presupposes all the other parts—the whole system already in place—to match its own relational properties. It can’t act unless the others are there to interact reciprocally with it. Any one part could be self-sufficient only if it were the cause of the whole rest of the system—which is impossible, since no part can act except in collaboration with the others.

Nor can the system as a whole explain its own existence, since it is made up of the component parts and is not a separate being, on its own, independent of them. So neither the parts nor the whole are self-sufficient; neither can explain the actual existence of this dynamically interactive system.

Three Conclusions

  1. Since the parts make sense only within the whole, and neither the whole nor the parts can explain their own existence, then such a system as our world requires a unifying efficient cause to posit it in existence as a unified whole.
  2. Any such cause must be an intelligent cause, one that brings the system into being according to a unifying idea. For the unity of the whole—and of each one of the overarching, cosmic-wide, physical laws uniting elements under themselves—is what determines and correlates the parts. Hence it must be somehow actually present as an effective organizing factor. But the unity, the wholeness, of the whole transcends any one part, and therefore cannot be contained in any one part. To be actually present all at once as a whole this unity can only be the unity of an organizing unifying idea. For only an idea can hold together many different elements at once without destroying or fusing their distinctness. That is almost the definition of an idea. Since the actual parts are spread out over space and time, the only way they can be together at once as an intelligible unity is within an idea. Hence the system of the world as a whole must live first within the unity of an idea.
              Now a real idea cannot actually exist and be effectively operative save in a real mind, which has the creative power to bring such a system into real existence. Hence the sufficient reason for our ordered world-system must ultimately be a creative ordering Mind. A cosmic-wide order requires a cosmic-wide Orderer, which can only be a Mind.
  3. Such an ordering Mind must be independent of the system itself, that is, transcendent; not dependent on the system for its own existence and operation. For if it were dependent on—or part of—the system, it would have to presuppose the latter as already existing in order to operate, and would thus have to both precede and follow itself. But this is absurd. Hence it must exist and be able to operate prior to and independent of the system.
              Thus our material universe necessarily requires, as the sufficient reason for its actual existence as an operating whole, a Transcendent Creative Mind.

(9) The Argument from Miracles

  1. A miracle is an event whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.
  2. There are numerous well-attested miracles.
  3. Therefore, there are numerous events whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.
  4. Therefore God exists.

Obviously if you believe that some extraordinary event is a miracle, then you believe in divine agency, and you believe that such agency was at work in this event. But the question is: Was this event a miracle? If miracles exist, then God must exist. But do miracles exist?

Which events do we choose? In the first place, the event must be extraordinary. But there are many extraordinary happenings (e.g., numerous stones dropping from the sky in Texas) that do not qualify as miracles. Why not? First, because they could be caused by something in nature, and second, because the context in which they occur is not religious. They qualify as mere oddities, as “strange happenings”; the sort of thing you might expect to read in Believe It or Not, but never hear about from the pulpit. Therefore the meaning of the event must also be religious to qualify as a miracle.

Suppose that a holy man had stood in the center of Houston and said: “My dear brothers and sisters! You are leading sinful lives! Look at yourselves—drunken! dissolute! God wants you to repent! And as a sign of his displeasure he’s going to shower stones upon you!” Then, moments later—thunk! thunk! thunk!—the stones began to fall. The word “miracle” might very well spring to mind.

Not that we would have to believe in God after witnessing this event. But still, if that man in Texas seemed utterly genuine, and if his accusations hit home, made us think “He’s right,” then it would be very hard to consider what happened a deception or even an extraordinary coincidence.

This means that the setting of a supposed miracle is crucially important. Not just the physical setting, and not just the timing, but the personal setting is vital as well—the character and the message of the person to whom this event is specially tied. Take, for example, four or five miracles from the New Testament. Remove them completely from their context, from the teaching and character of Christ. Would it be wrong to see their religious significance as thereby greatly diminished? After all, to call some happening a miracle is to interpret it religiously. But to interpret it that way demands a context or setting which invites such interpretation. And part of this setting usually, though not always, involves a person whose moral authority is first recognized, and whose religious authority, which the miracle seems to confirm, is then acknowledged.

Abstract discussions of probability usually miss this factor. But setting does play a decisive role. Many years ago, at an otherwise dull convention, a distinguished philosopher explained why he had become a Christian. He said: “I picked up the New Testament with a view to judging it, to weighing its pros and cons. But as I began to read, I realized that I was the one being judged.” Certainly he came to believe in the miracle-stories. But it was the character and teaching of Christ that led him to accept the things recounted there as genuine acts of God.

So there is not really a proof from miracles. If you see some event as a miracle, then the activity of God is seen in this event. There is a movement of the mind from this event to its proper interpretation as miraculous. And what gives impetus to that movement is not just the event by itself, but the many factors surrounding it which invite—or seem to demand—such interpretation.

But miraculous events exist. Indeed, there is massive, reliable testimony to them across many times, places and cultures.

Therefore their cause exists.

And their only adequate cause is God.

Therefore God exists.

The argument is not a proof, but a very powerful clue or sign. (For further discussion, see chap. 5 on miracles from Handbook of Christian Apologetics.)

(10) The Argument from Consciousness

(11) The Argument from Truth

(12) The Argument from the Origin of the Idea of God

(13) The Ontological Argument

(14) The Moral Argument

(15) The Argument from Conscience

(16) The Argument from Desire

(17) The Argument from Aesthetic Experience

(18) The Argument from Religious Experience

(19) The Common Consent Argument

(20) Pascal’s Wager

Read the twenty arguments here.

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