Faith or Reason?
A Logical Explanation for God, Part 1
by Steve Elwart
Why is it so hard for some people to believe in God? The answers would probably be linked to personal, social, and possibly some intellectual reasons. Let’s explore this in more detail…
What is the reasoning that leads to belief in God? When talking to an atheist, trying to prove the existence of God using the Bible will not be considered a valid argument. Sometimes, the only way to convince a person of God’s existence is through pure logic. How would one respond to an atheist’s claim that there is no God? A belief in God is a process based on three types of reasons.
1) Intellectual Reasons
This line of reasoning is based on a set of facts about God you believe to be true. If you investigate these facts and find the evidence compelling, you believe He exists. If the evidence is found wanting, you either disbelieve or take on an agnostic1 worldview.
2) Personal Reasons
A person does not come to a belief in God by purely intellectual reasoning. Such belief is also a very personal one and these reasons vary. Some people have bad experiences and tragedies in their life as well as difficulties and disappointments. Some people will take these experiences and say, “I really need God in my life. I can’t get through this alone and I need help beyond my own understanding.”
Others will take these same set of circumstances and say either “I don’t need a God who lets something like this happen,” or “If there really was a God, He wouldn’t have let this happen.” Belief in God is a very personal experience and that belief (or disbelief) is seen through the lens of one’s own experience.
3) Social Reasons
There is a field study called “The Sociology of Knowledge” popularized by Karl Mannheim (1893-1947), a professor of sociology and economics at the University of Frankfurt. Mannheim posited that one tends to believe in the same things as people whom you want to befriend. These are people that you need, are dependent on, or are in a group you want to be associated with. A simpler way to say it is “peer pressure.” The group’s beliefs seem to be more reasonable than those people with whom you do not want to be associated.
The most obvious example of this is the common problem of raising children in a Christian home. They read their Bible; they go to church and Sunday school. Then they are off on their own, either in their teen years at home or off to college. Many will fall in with the “wrong crowd.” If they do not have a strong Christian background and really know Christ and know why Christ is our Redeemer, they can become lost.
They find that their “new friends” may not have the same value system they do and may lose their faith in God.2 Conversely, if these same people find friends with their same worldview, the same love of God, their faith can be reinforced. It is much easier to go along with the temper of one’s peer group than to set the tone for the group. As evangelist Ben Courson once put it, “It is harder to be a thermostat than a thermometer.” Belief or non-belief in God cannot be reduced to just one of these factors. All three factors are in play.
Why Believe in God?
Bringing a person to a belief is a process. This process consists of three steps:
- It takes as much faith to not believe in God as it does to believe in God.
- It takes more of a leap of faith in the dark to disbelieve in God than to believe in God.
- While one can reason to a point of probability that there is a God, it takes personal commitment to get to know that God exists as a certainty.
If one progresses through these three steps, they can come to know God. In this article, we will explore the first step:
1) It takes as much faith to not believe in God as it does to believe in God.
The following are some of the arguments that are brought up to prove there is no God.
Evil and Suffering
The first one is the argument from evil and suffering. This is the argument: There is senseless evil in the world. Given that pointless evil, there may be a God who’s good but not powerful enough to stop it or there may be a God who’s all-powerful enough but not good enough to want to stop it.
But given evil and suffering in the world there can’t be an all-good and all-powerful God or he would stop it and therefore the God of the Bible cannot exist.
One of the leading philosophers of today is William Alston of Syracuse University who recently wrote that the effort to demonstrate that evil disproves the existence of God “is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides to be completely bankrupt.”
When you say there can’t be a God because of all the pointless evil in the world, here is the question, “How do you know it is pointless?”
The only answer is that the reason is not apparent. So the premise is, “If one cannot think of a good reason for God to allow suffering to continue, there can’t be any.” That means that if you have a God that is big enough to be mad at for evil and suffering, then you have a God that is powerful enough to allow evil and suffering to continue. You can’t have it both ways.
There are people that have had terrible things happen to them in their life and they turned from God. At the same time, there are many people who had every bit as much suffering and that suffering turned them toward God.
Personal suffering, the experience of suffering, or the philosophical question of suffering do not disprove the existence of God.
The Question of Violence and Oppression in the Name of God
This is also a concept called “The Hitchens Argument” against the reality of God. The argument is as follows: “If there really is a God, how could his believers have done so much evil in the history of the world?”
The answer to that lies not in the reality of God, but in the human heart. There must be something in Man that is so perverse, so prone to violence and oppression that it can actually twist any worldview, any philosophy, and any state of belief with regard to God into violence.
Japanese militarism of World War II had its roots in Buddhism and Shintoism. From Christianity came everything from the Crusades of the 11th and 12th century to people of today shooting abortion doctors. Out of Islam comes global terrorism.
However, out of atheism came Stalin, the ovens of Dachau, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
There is a Polish poet, Czesław Miłosz, who wrote “The Discreet Charms of Nihilism.”2 In it he writes that if you believe there is a God, it is fairly easy to twist that belief into violence because one can shape life and morals according to one’s own personal belief without any accountability. A person could say, “I have the truth; you don’t” and “I’m a better person; you are an inferior person” and thus impose the “superior” person’s values, even at the point of a gun.
Ultimately, what does this mean in terms of a belief in God? It means the argument ends in a tie. It does not disprove God nor does it disprove atheism. The theist could say, “Look at Stalin.” The atheist could say, “Look at Christianity; look at the Crusades.” This particular argument proves nothing except the natural depravity of the human heart. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 a.d.) offered the following explanation:
Evil is the absence of good, in the same way as darkness is the absence of light. It is possible for something created good to diminish in goodness, to become corrupted. Evil crept in when creatures endowed with free will—the angels, lesser spirits (which became demons) and human beings—turned away from higher or more complete goods, and chose lesser ones. It is arguable that Adam (and Satan) did not just choose merely “lesser goods” but fundamental evils.3
Augustine argued that God allowed evil to come, so that in the end a greater good may prevail. He also wrote that evil was finite—limited and ultimately to be overcome, and that good was infinite (as God is to reign in heaven—the eternal city of God).
Therefore, God did not cause sin to happen, but when sin came into the world, He chose to allow it to occur so that a greater good could emerge. What appears to be evil at first may be seen as a path toward a greater good.
The death of Christ on the cross was an evil, but the ultimate good—the triumph of salvation—came out of it.
Atheists will admit the existence of good, altruism, philanthropy, etc. is a problem for their worldview, because it does not make evolutionary sense as it would if chance creation and natural selection were true. Atheists are left with the reality of evil.
Next month we will explore the last two steps of the process of bringing a person to belief through reason: 2) It takes more of a leap of faith in the dark to disbelieve in God than to believe in God; and, 3) While one can reason to a point of probability that there is a God, it takes personal commitment to get to know that God exists as a certainty. Stay tuned!
- In this sense, an agnostic worldview is one where a person says he cannot know that God even exists. The term, first coined by Thomas Huxley, covers varying degrees of skepticism. Agnostics are followers of pragmatism; their belief in something has to be scientifically verifiable, and because God is not scientifically verifiable, they leave Him out of their discussion. (Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1997), 185.)
- On a personal note, it is hard for me to believe that any thinking person cannot believe in God, Supreme Being, or Higher Power. I believe that most people that say they do not believe in God are merely angry at Him.
- Edgar C. Powell, On Giants’ Shoulders: Studies in Christian Apologetics (Epsom, UK: Day One Publications, 1999), 73.