Updated: Jun 11
Why test Him? Because without Him you can't even ask that question.
It's a moral Problem, not an intellectual problem
The Christian apologist when presented with an unbeliever that suppresses belief in God should first and foremost diagnose and isolate the root cause of unbelief. In order to determine the root cause of unbelief, we can consult the unbeliever and we can consult God's revelation.
The unbeliever will most likely appeal to a lack of evidence as his or her reason for unbelief whereas the Bible, on the other hand, says that a disbelief in the existence of the one true God is a moral problem stemming from man's rebellion, and not an intellectual problem stemming from not having enough facts. As Christians we should believe God's Word as God's Word is our highest authority. The manner in which we answer the question on God's existence must therefore be governed by what the Bible teaches on the topic.
The Bible explicitly says that the reason for unbelief is due to a moral inability. The Christian apologist will therefore be at a loss if he does not address the moral issue in his or her argument for the existence of God. I will provide a more philosophical defense of my initial answer above, but for now, allow me to go over the moral problem that unbelievers face:
The fool says in his heart,“There is no God.”
Psalm 14:1, ESV
What is a fool in this context? The Reformation Study helps us see this verse in its correct context:
Fool. The fool may be highly intelligent by the world’s standards, but is oblivious to the true nature of reality (Eccl. 2:14). To be called a fool is a moral judgment.
There is no God. The fool denies the existence of God as a matter of human concern. This is practical atheism. God is held to be unconcerned about the affairs of the world and especially the affairs of the individual. See Rom. 1:19.
Note the use of this psalm by Paul in Rom. 3:10–18. Foolishness points to lack of morality, not absence of native intellect.
This Psalm should make us think twice about the way we answer someone claiming that God does not exist. The Bible is clear in this regard: The knowledge of God's existence is so clear that denial or suppression of this clear fact makes men "fools". A fool is someone who knows better, yet for moral reasons chooses to believe otherwise and act otherwise. When the Bible calls people who deny the existence of God "fools", its making a judgement of their moral character. Why then would we try to argue someone to the existence of God when the Bible calls them fools?
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Romans 1:21, ESV
Romans 1 in a certain sense expands on what the psalmist taught us in Psalm 14. The reason someone can be called a fool for saying there is no God, is because they already know God. Romans 1 also expands on this idea by stating that the reason they know God is because God has made it clear to them such that they are without excuse:
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Romans 1:20, ESV
We must ask the question, what does it mean to say that someone is without excuse for denying God? Put quite simply, no one on the day of judgement will be able to stand before His throne and claim that they were ignorant of the fact of His existence. The Reformation Study Bible sheds some more light on in its commentary on verse 18:
It is not that the truth is sought but cannot be found, but rather that, confronted with the truth (which is “clearly perceived,” v. 20), fallen humanity seeks to hinder and obstruct its influence, and is therefore “without excuse” (v. 20). The “excuse” in view is an appeal to ignorance.
This leads us to the following intriguing question: If everyone knows about God and cannot appeal to ignorance, why doesn't everyone profess belief in God? We cannot point toward an intellectual reason or to a lack of facts and evidence, we can only point to a moral reason:
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Romans 1: 22-23, ESV
By default, humans hate God. We don't want anything to do with him and rather freely choose the actively rebel against Him, exchanging the glory of the Creator for the created. Commenting in this, John Calvin wrote the following:
Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
The Bible also teaches us that to even approach the question of knowledge (e.g. a statement that God exists or does not exist is a knowledge claim) without first referencing God's revelation, makes it impossible to attain knowledge to begin with.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7, ESV
[Christ] in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Colossians 2:3, ESV
We can spend hours arguing about the evidence for the existence of God, going into deep philosophical discussions, but this completely misses what the Bible teaches about knowledge and the existence of God as we have quickly seen in the preceding text.
The Bible teaches that all men already know God and are called fools for denying it. The Bible also says that there is no knowledge without the (ontological) existence of God and there is no knowledge without revelation from God. So to ask the question on whether God exists, is nonsensical given the Christian worldview, and futile and absurd given the non-Christian worldview.
The issue therefore is not intellectual in nature, it is moral.
How do I know God exists?
A classic presuppositional response to the following question is: "The same way you do". We all know God exists, and we know this because God reveals it to us by virtue of who we are. If all creation is revelation of God, and we are included in that creation, our very existence is revelation from God. Knowledge of God's existence is implanted in us from the time God molded us in our mothers' wombs. John Calvin dubbed this the "sensus divinitatis". This is consistent with what we just learned from Romans 1.
That there exists in the human mind and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity [sensus divinitatis], we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead…. …this is not a doctrine which is first learned at school, but one as to which every man is, from the womb, his own master; one which nature herself allows no individual to forget.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
The only difference between Christians and non-Christians is that Christians profess the truth, whereas non-Christians suppress the truth. Christians profess the truth about God because of what God has done for them and in them.
How do I go from suppression to profession?
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36: 25-26, ESV
The need for God's granting of repentance before we can acknowledge the truth about Him is clearly taught by the apostle Paul in the second letter to Timothy:
[Correcting opponents] with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 2: 25-26, ESV
Since the fall in Genesis 3, we all have been captured by the devil to do his will. We were enslaved by sin, unable to do anything to please God, sometimes even going so far as to deny His very existence. The only way we can acknowledge the truth of (the true) God's existence is if God first grants us repentance. The Christian, therefore, has no reason to boast in his or her intellect and ability to profess their belief in the one true God - as it is all due to the grace from God.
This point is worth repeating. The Christian is not inherently smarter, better or more informed than the general unbeliever. All the he or she can fall back on is the grace that God has in His eternal decree determined to grant him or her.
This of course does not mean that we believe in the existence of God contrary to reason, but rather we believe in order to reason! (More on this later).
If it were not for God the Father's sovereign grace and decree to redeem a people for Himself, the work of God the Son on the cross to pay for the sins of God's people and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men to make them draw near to God, there would be no one professing belief in the one true God.
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Romans 3: 24-25, ESV
It is through the work of Jesus that we received reconciliation with God.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore,we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5: 8-11, ESV
For the unbeliever refusing to profess belief in God, what do you think will happen when you die? You might think that it will be the end of it. It's not. Man is destined to die once and after that comes judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Each and every one of us will have to stand before the throne of God and give an accounting of every deed, every word and every thought. I don't care who you are, if this does not make you shake in your pants, I don't know what will. We won't have a leg to stand on on that day, all that will be left for God to do is provide us with perfect justice for our sins against Him (whether it was lies, anger, murder, sexual immorality etc.)
If you have not accepted the atoning work of Jesus Christ in our place, you will have to carry the burden of God's justice on our own. That is hell.
No priest can say I'm worthy, no sacraments or holy laws can take my sin away. No church can wash my spirit clean for the scarlet stain that paints my soul to sleep runs way too deep. No blessed holy water can sanctify me in the eyes of God, The great I Am. But, He has made provision to lift me up and wash me in the blood of the spotless Lamb. For Christ alone is worthy to pay the price to set all sinners free, for even me. When all works fall short and efforts fail I realize that faith alone is the key. Absolution for all who believe!
Theocracy, Absolution Day
Unbelievers usually think that Christians use the phrase "I believe in God" or "I believe in Jesus", in the same context of "I believe that the the sky is blue". But that's not the way we are using the word "believe". When we say that you need to believe in God or believe in Jesus, we mean that you ought to put your trust in Him, because if you don't put your trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross on your behalf, you'll have to pay for your own sins as God's perfect righteousness demands it. We trust and believe in God's promises to deliver us from evil.
Realise first and foremost that unbelievers (like us) stand guilty under God's law and need a Saviour.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Romans 3: 20, ESV
It is therefore of utmost importance that the apologist preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as only the Gospel has the ability to change hearts so that men can profess belief in God. The accurate diagnosis is that disbelief in God is a moral problem, and must first and foremost be treated as such. Think about it this way: Let's say a patient comes to see a doctor, complaining that he has a minor headache. All he asks for is that the doctor give him some pain medication. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that he actually has a life-threatening tumor. After revealing this fact to him, he maintains that all he needs is some pain medication. Should the doctor agree and try to treat the issue with the patients requested cure, or should the doctor proceed to treat the actual issue which is the tumor?
In the same way, when the Bible says unbelievers have a moral issue and not an intellectual issue, why would we treat it first and foremost as an intellectual issue trying to provide the unbeliever with more facts to try and convince him?
With this in mind, I now turn to defend my opening statement from a philosophical perspective, trying to show that to question God's existence presupposes God's ontological existence as well as His revelation to be intelligible in the first place:
I don't believe in God and I am asking if God exists. Therefore the statement is flawed.
The Bible says that you do believe in God but suppress that truth in unrighteousness.
The fact that your are asking the question betrays that you do in fact implicitly believe that God exists.
I really don't believe that God exists, and how does my question implicitly imply a belief in God?
Again, that's not what the Bible says. The Bible says that everyone has immediate knowledge of God (Romans 1:18ff)
Further, the question assumes at least three things, which is the existence of objective truth access to reality, and the laws of logic (we can add reliability of senses and reasoning, uniformity of nature and other elements called the preconditions of intelligibility as well, but let's limit the discussion to the listed three). I expand on each below:
Truth is usually defined as "that which corresponds to reality". So if I say the sky is blue, it will only be true if and only if the sky is actually blue. In the same way the answer "God exists" can only be true if and only if God actually exists. If the questioner does not assume objective truth, any answer to the question is effectively meaningless and has no bearing on whether God actually exists.
Access to Reality
We already discussed that the answer to the question assumes access to objective truth. If we don't have access to reality, there is no way of answering the question of what is objectively true (real), again making any answer the question effectively meaningless.
The Laws of Logic
Laws of thought, traditionally, the three fundamental laws of logic:
The law of contradiction,
The law of excluded middle(or third), and
The principle of identity.
The exact content of these laws are not that important for our discussion, but we all assume them. The kicker for the laws of logic are their following attributes:
The laws transcend location, culture and time. If we go forward or backward a million years, the laws of logic would still exist and apply, regardless of culture or geographic location.
Account for It
Now that we established three implicit assumptions, how do we account for it apart from God? Remember that to ask whether God exists or not is to treat the existence of God as something that can either be true or false - it is implicitly assuming the above three factors, but also that the question can be answered without reference to God Himself.
So, before we can answer the question, account for the existence of objective truth and our access to reality without the existence of God and His revelation to us.
It's my axiom / assumption / presupposition that we can have access to objective truth and reality.
Yes, indeed. And that is what I pointed out in reply #2. You're repeating the problem. I'm asking you to account for these assumptions.
I don't need to justify the three factors because they are my assumptions / properly basic beliefs.
That makes them arbitrary. I can simply assume the opposite of your assumptions and you would have no ground to disagree with my position that is not either subjective and / or arbitrary.
But you must assume the laws of logic to argue against them, so I am justified in using the laws of logic in argumentation without prior reference to God.
That's partly true. Again, using the laws of logic is part part of our assumptions in having this conversation as I stated earlier. I'm asking you to give an accounting for them without referencing God and His revelation, as the very thing in question is God's existence. What I mean by give an accounting is the following: Without reference to God, I want you to make sense of laws of logic in context of your (non-Christian) worldview that are:
I can guarantee you that it is impossible, and without an accounting for it your reliance in their continued reliability becomes arbitrary and subjective. The question is therefore not whether they exist (which they do) any more than the question is whether we reason (because we do), the question is how do we account for their existence and reliability as a means to gain knowledge. So I want you to give an ontological grounding for their existence, and epistemological justification for their usefulness and continued reliability.
For example, you cannot have an ontological position that states that all that exists is matter (material), and at the same time use immaterial laws of logic in your epistemology (to make the claim that all that exists is matter). If your ontological position excludes the existence of such laws then your epistemology, to be consistent, must preclude you from appealing to such laws. The Christian worldview can give an accounting of these laws. The laws of logic flow from the biblical worldview. The very nature of God, unchanging, universal, and immaterial, is the source of the laws of logic.
But of course, you're asking whether God exists so you can't use the Christian accounting of them.
You cannot answer the question on God's existence without making an ultimate reference to Him. This is the point of my opening sentence. Denial of God existence presupposes His existence in the same way that affirmation of His existence presupposes His existence.
Final word on the matter
When we defend the faith with those who object to it, we should constantly point out, as Van Til does with his imaginary opponent in "Why I Believe in God": "in presenting all your facts and reasons to me, you have assumed that such a God [the All-Conscious, All-Conditioning Controller of every fact] does not exist. You have taken for granted that you need no emplacement of any sort outside of yourself." That is, unbelievers argue in a way which assumes the very thing they should be proving (that this God does not exist) and in a way which blindly assumes that they are intellectually autonomous.
Greg Bahnsen, Van Til's Why I Believe in God
Take the time to read the pamphlet by Van Til called 'Why I believe in God'. It was first published in 1948:
I was brought up on the Bible as the Word of God. Can I, now that I have been to school, still believe in the God of the Bible? Well, can I still believe in the sun that shown on me when I walked as a boy in wooden shoes in Groningen? I could believe in nothing else if I did not, as back of everything, believe in this God.
Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God
Unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else.
Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God
At the end of Van Til's pamphlet, he hits the nail on the head:
I shall not convert you at the end of my argument. I think the argument is sound. I hold that belief in God is not merely as reasonable as other belief, or even a little or infinitely more probably true than other belief; I hold rather that unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else. But since I believe in such a God, a God who has conditioned you as well as me, I know that you can to your own satisfaction, by the help of the biologists, the psychologists, the logicians, and the Bible critics reduce everything I have said this afternoon and evening to the circular meanderings of a hopeless authoritarian. Well, my meanderings have, to be sure, been circular; they have made everything turn on God. So now I shall leave you with Him, and with His mercy.
Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God
The Great Debate
The great debate between Dr. Gordon Stein and Dr. Greg Bahnsen is a great primer into arguing for the existence of God from a presuppositional perspective. You can read the transcript here, or listen to the audio here: