Updated: Oct 22, 2020
This article serves as my preparation for a discussion I had on the 22nd of August 2020 on the Proof of God's existence. You can view the discussion here:
I've spent the past year studying more of the philosophical side of presuppositional apologetics, attempting to do a deep dive into Van Til‘s writings. The discussion and this article serves as a welcome change of place as I'm shifting my focus into applying what I've learned over the past year to a single articulation of a proof for God's existence.
I'm also going to try to keep the discussion as simple as possible so that many of my friends can also be reached by it.
Why do I believe in God?
In this section I would like to simply echo Cornelius Van Til, who I've come to regard quite highly, in his pamphlet, 'Why I believe in God':
In this pamphlet I tried to point out in simple terminology why I believe in the God of the Bible, the God of historic Reformed theology. The God I believe in is the triune God of the Bible. I believe in this God because He Himself has told me in the Bible Who He is, what I am, and what He, in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, has done for me... 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 shone on me when I walked as a boy...? I could believe in nothing else if I did not, as back of everything, believe in this God. Can I see the beams underneath the floor on which I walk? I must assume or presuppose that the beams are underneath. Unless the beams were underneath, I could not walk on the floor...
Van Til, Why I believe in God
Something that I've come to appreciate in my study of presuppositional apologetics is the close (inseparable) connection there exists between the God we're defending when doing apologetics, and the God we're worshipping in our everyday lives. This might seem like a moot point to make, but it's true. Before my eyes were opened to the presuppositional school of thought, my idea of God when doing apologetics was different from the God I was worshipping on Sundays. In apologetics, God was someone out there who we need to reason to and show that He exists. He was someone who we won't ever be 100% sure is actually out there. We might come close to determining whether He exists or not, but we'll never be certain. Contrast this with the triune God I was worshipping. The old Hymn goes like this:
I need Thee every hour In joy or pain Come quickly and abide Or life is vain
I need Thee, O I need Thee Every hour I need Thee O bless me now, my Savior I come to Thee
I was (and I'm still in a much deeper sense) proclaiming to need God every single second of every single day, that apart from Him there is no meaning in life, that in Him I have a blessed assurance in Christ, something that I cannot lose:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine O what a foretaste of glory divine Heir of salvation, purchase of God Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood
Do you see the disconnect? In apologetics, when approaching the matter of God's existence He was no longer treated as someone whom "I need every hour".. in apologetics I was quite alright trying to reason to God. I didn't need Him to reason, I was doing fine on my own!
This is the point that Van Til made clear for me. The God I worshipped ever since I was a little boy, the God my parents taught me is the one who upholds me, wove me in the darkness and formed me before anyone even knew I existed (Ps 139), Who will never forget me nor forsake me because He has eternally set His love upon me, that is the same God I have the privilege of defending when engaging in apologetics, and it is unthinkable for me to treat Him as a mere hypothesis to be tested like any other fact.
I don’t deny that I was taught to believe in God when I was a child, but I do affirm that since I have grown up I have heard a pretty full statement of the argument against belief in God. And it is after having heard that argument that I am more than ever ready to believe in God.
Van Til, Why I believe in God
It was highlighted quite well for me when a friend prayed in our Bible study that God might give me the strength and insight to argue about His existence in the upcoming discussion. How can we pray that God can give us the strength to demonstrate His probable existence? What does that say about the prayer itself?
This is the wonder of Van Til's (and might I say, Biblical) apologetic. It's not that God is a fact that we can reason to be either true or false, He is the beams that uphold our ability talk about facts to begin with. When we sing with the Christian church that we need God every hour, it applies to all spheres of life. He is the one who created us in His image, reveals knowledge to us, provides us with the gift of life and continues to uphold us at every given moment. To deny the One who gives you life and reason by using the very life and reason He gives you is the height of absurdity. It is for this reason that the Bible says "The fool says in his heart there is no God".
Why do I believe in God? Because He set His love upon me. He is the light by which I can see all other facts. He reveals Himself to me in nature and in Scripture leaving me in awe that the almighty incomprehensible Creator of all that is would think of me. He is the Certainty without whom there is no certainty.
The Proof of God's Existence
Now that I've at a high level discussed how I approach the subject of God's existence, allow me to more formally discuss the points I was making. When someone asks about the proof of God's existence, the first thing that we have to realize is that we can't approach the question in the same manner that we'd approach any other factual investigation. Asking about the proof of God's existence is kind of like a fish asking about the existence of water. E.g. If I wanted to know whether my mother bought cookies, I can go look if there are cookies in the pantry. But we can't treat the existence of God in the same way. If we believed that all facts are to be investigated in the same way it is called the "crackers in the pantry fallacy" (see Bahnsen v Stein). But God is not another fact in the universe of facts. He is the Creator that makes all facts what they are. He spoke, "Let there be light".. God knew what light is before it ever existed in space and time. We won't find God in a lab, in nature, in the sky, in space or on some distant planet.
In the second place it should be noted, I don't really think it's necessary to offer a proof of God's existence in the sense that we want to convince someone that God actually exists. According to the Bible, in the Psalms and in the letter to the Romans, everyone already knows that God exists and are without excuse for denying Him. What we rather want to expose is this knowledge of God that everyone already has. Unbelievers are like someone holding a beach ball under the water. We don't need to convince them of the beach ball, we need to pry up their fingers to make obvious the suppression of the beach ball. In the same way, we need not convince people that God exists, we only need to show that they are suppressing their belief in Him.
The proof of God's existence that we bring to Christians and unbelievers can be simply summarised in the following phrase: The proof of God's existence is that without Him you cannot prove anything. And no, we're not merely stating that if God did not exist we wouldn't be here to prove anything, but also that if He did not exist (in the sense that there is no knowledge of God in us), we wouldn't be able to prove anything.
The way we approach the proof of God's existence is similar to how we would approach someone asking us to prove that words exist, or to prove that air exists (i.e. you cannot ask for a proof of words without using words, nor can you prove words exist without using words. You cannot ask for a proof of air without breathing air, nor can you prove air exists without breathing air). The unbeliever denying the existence of God is like someone using words to deny the existence of words.
I feel that the whole of history and civilization would be unintelligible to me if it were not for my belief in God. So true is this, that I propose to argue that unless God is back of everything, you cannot find meaning in anything. I cannot even argue for belief in Him, without already having taken Him for granted. And similarly I contend that you cannot argue against belief in Him unless you also first take Him for granted.
Van Til, Why I believe in God
So, why is it that unless God exists you cannot prove anything (even His non-existence)? Quite simply, because God is the precondition of intelligibility. His revelation to us provides an interpretive context that makes knowledge possible. To obtain knowledge we generally make use of a few things:
Laws of logic
Reliability of memory
Reliability of reasoning
Uniformity of nature
I will discuss how the Christian worldview is absolutely necessary for the above and that to deny God destroys the possibility of knowledge.
Laws of Logic
Claims that the laws of logic are evidently true, on the basis of nothing but their own self-testimony, negate themselves. For, the applicability of logic to the spatio-temporal universe cannot be deduced from logical principles alone. And yet, the meaning of the law of contradiction cannot be conceptualized apart from notions of incompatibility and repulsion that are supplied by a number of contrasting principles and spheres (e.g., space, time, facts, qualities, ideas, languages, cultures, feelings, etc.). For this reason, Van Til contends that one must acknowledge the Triune God Who harmonizes universals and particulars, logic and history, subjects and objects, before he can be justified in believing that any of these pairs overlap at any point.
Bosserman,The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox pg. 97-98
The laws of logic (or known as the three laws of thought) can be described as follows:
The law of identity
The law of non-contradiction
The law of excluded middle
You can look these up if you'd like, but generally everyone is aware of the laws of logic. The kicker when it comes to the laws of logic is that they are:
Immaterial / Abstract
The Christian worldview can give an account of laws like these whereas non-believing worldviews can't. The very use of the laws of logic therefore already presupposes the Christian worldview. Think about it, God is unchanging, immaterial, universal and transcendent. In the Christian worldview, laws of logic are a reflection of the way God thinks that we as God's creatures ought to mirror to His glory.
Further, as Bosserman said, the laws of logic themselves cannot provide a basis for their applicability to the natural world. A practical example of this is the amazing applicability of mathematics (which is basically an application of the laws of logic) to the natural world, however, math in and of itself cannot provide a basis for its applicability in the external world. (there is nothing in the axioms of arithmetic from which their applicability to the external world can be deducted, yet, paraphrasing Bosserman, the meaning of it cannot be conceptualised apart from the external world (e.g. 1 + 1 = 2, conceptualised as a picture of two individual apples). Any other way to try and account for the laws of logic not based on the revelation of God in Scripture is doomed to fail.
Reliability of Memory and Reasoning
When approaching any from of investigation / discussion or everyday event, we do so by relying on our rationality and our memory.
We are creatures of God whose confidence in reason and the stability of reality is only explicable as the product of divine testimony from within and without. As creatures of God we cannot help BUT reason and use our minds to think about reality in an intelligible way. For the Christian, our minds have been designed by the ultimate rational One in order to reflect Him and learn more about Him from both nature and Scripture.
The non-Christian who disregards the Creator-creature distinction does not conceive of himself or herself as a creature of God, but rather tries to regard himself or herself as ultimate (or their own god). In this sense, the unbeliever effectively becomes stuck in their mind (the egocentric predicament) with no guarantee that their reasoning and thoughts actually correspond to anything "out there".
Now, does this mean that the unbeliever cannot reason? Of course not, because the unbeliever is not what he or she in his or her rebellion believe themselves to be. The unbeliever, like us, is still a creature of God even though they would not admit it, and the divine testimony from within them still drives them to behave in a certain rational way. It is by the restraining grace of God that the unbeliever is kept from a total destructive irrationality in their attempt to get away from God.
Uniformity of Nature
It is at this point that we introduce the problem of induction.
It involves the problem of justifying the inductive inference from the observed to the unobserved. It was given its classic formulation by the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–76), who noted that all such inferences rely, directly or indirectly, on the rationally unfounded premise that the future will resemble the past.
Put simply, if I drop a ball now, how do I know that if I drop a ball tomorrow that it will still fall to the ground in the same consistent manner? The answer lies in an assumption in the uniformity of nature that unbelievers cannot justify without being arbitrary. If we are not justified in holding to the uniformity of nature, it effectively destroys the entire scientific endeavour! The Christian God has revealed that He Himself is unchanging, orderly and that He has created the universe to reflect part of who He is (see Ps 19.) He has also promised to uphold the universe in a consistent manner, even though He might intervene supernaturally to change the course of history.
It is therefore on the ground of the Christian worldview that we can consistently hold that dead people stay dead, yet also consistently profess the resurrection of the dead, as an example. It is the unbeliever who struggles to account for any belief regarding dead people staying dead or rising or whatever. Keeping the above in mind, it is not peculiar at all when we learn that the rise of scientific investigation arose from Christian nations, and that almost all institutions of higher learning were built by Christians. It is a shame that most of them forgot the very foundation that allowed them to be built in the first place, and we're seeing the fruits of the absurdity that arises when the foundation is thrown away quite clearly on campuses today.
Predication: A proclamation, announcement or preaching. An assertion or affirmation. (logic) The act of making something the subject or predicate of a proposition. (e.g. the apple is red).
It as at this point that we introduce the problem of the one and the many (It took quite some time for me to grasp so feel free to skip this section if you'd like). Van Til's writing is filled with this and how the trinity is absolutely necessary to solve the problem. (You can almost feel how the one and the many finds its solution in the trinity Who is both one and many).
The problem of the one and the many relates to predication and has plagued the entire history of philosophy (for more on the history of philosophy, check out Greg Bahnsen series of lectures on the topic from the Covenant Media Foundation).
Our intellectual framework depends upon relating universals (like animals) and particulars (frog [which is a type of animal]) to succeed. The idea is that predication is putting together universals (animal) and particulars (frog, dog, cat etc.), and knowledge is predication (the frog is an animal). And so, the question arises how it is that reality can be so perfectly interrelated that we can put disparities together (group individuals) and individuate commonalities (distinguish items that fall in a universal category) as we do when we come to possess knowledge. (for a fuller discussion see our article on A Christian Ontology)
Historically secular thought either regards the particulars (eg. frogs, dogs, cats, or better yet, individual living organisms or matter) as ultimate or the universals (animal) as ultimate. But we must then ask, in the first case, how does unity come about as all the particulars effectively differ from each other. In the second case, how does differentiation come about if unity is ultimate? (E.g how do we get different unique horses when the unity of “horseness” is ultimate?) We see therefore that to state "the frog is an animal", or "the apple is fruit" is to assume that there is an unchanging relationship between the many and the one, or the particulars and the universals. We cannot predicate anything intelligibly without this assumption.
Bosserman summarises this as follows, and this point couples in nicely with our points on rationality:
Although it may initially seem impractical, the “one and many” question has vast implications. The epistemological problem regarding whether our sense perceptions correspond to external reality, is ultimately one of how we may be certain that our rational categories (the one) do justice to the spatio-temporal objects (the many) they supposedly represent.
Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox
So, how does the Christian worldview overcome the issue? Well, God reveals Himself to us in Scripture as the personal one and many. God is one being, existing as three co-eternal, co-equal person, each fully God. Crucial to Van Til’s application of the Trinity to the problem of the One and the Many is his understanding of the relationship between the oneness of God and the threeness of God. According to Van Til, “Unity and plurality are equally ultimate in the Godhead.”
The Trinity solves the problem, not as a theoretical explanation for how universal principles and ideas control matters of fact, but as a personal Authority Who is a perfect harmony of unity and diversity in Himself, and thus uniquely qualified to guide man in developing an analogous harmony in his own life and thought. Apologetically, the Trinitarian perspective carries with it an illuminating diagnosis of sinful thinking as the self-defeating attempt to treat principles found in creation, rather than the Creator, as the ultimate sources of unity and/or diversity in reality.
Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox