By C.L. Bolt
Believers often take traditional proofs for the existence of God and other evidences as proving much more than they were intended or take them to function apologetically when the proofs may have never been originally intended to function that way. We believe in any given Christian tenet because that is what the Word of God says, and not upon the basis of any piece of reasoning or natural theology alone. Natural theology here just means some piece of reasoning or argument that is based off of observations of the world around us or some other a priori thought. Not only do these proofs not work when divorced from their Christian context, but unbelievers generally find them to be wholly unpersuasive in addition to being problematic in terms of argumentation.
So for example, it is doubtful that a person can provide much by way of support for the premise that everything which begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being. Here we have a universal statement that cannot be proven by appeal to any inductive generalizations. Appeals to intuition are problematic since this is a rational argument allegedly providing rational argumentation for accepting this principle. One might just as easily say that intuition is often wrong. Perhaps it is generally the case that everything which begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being, but that such a generalization does not allow exceptions is dubitable and definitionally false. Here one might appeal to particular events in quantum mechanics as well. Many can and have doubted this premise as being true, but that is really beside the point in view here. What is important is whether or not the person offering the argument can provide what is necessary to support the premise, and the ways that have been proposed for doing so fail to establish the universal principle that everything which begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being. One might want to say that perhaps everything does have a cause for coming into being with the exception of the universe. There also appears to be a problem moving from the particular parts of the universe as it were to the whole of the universe needing a cause.
Next, many simply assert that the universe did not ever begin to exist. The mathematics used to attempt to establish the impossibility of transversing an infinite series or the impossibility of actual infinites are rather shaky and have been rejected even by many Christian apologists. While there is some intuitive appeal to the argument that an infinite number of moments could not have preceded the one we are experiencing now else we would not be experiencing this moment now, some have questioned where the argument actually is in this assertion. Scientific claims such as those regarding the Big Bang are not only not that well established, but are extremely difficult or impossible to square with biblical data. They are certainly inconsistent with the so-called “young-earth” creationist view.
Even assuming that the proof does work, there are many other steps that must be followed to attempt to demonstrate some things descriptively about the entity in question; this cause. Not only does the manner in which the proof operates shift at this point, but the arguments are extremely weak at best. There does not appear to be any reason to think that the cause, whatever it was, did not just cause the universe to come about and then cease to exist itself. Or, perhaps there are two causes. Appeals to Ockham’s Razor or parsimony are out of place here, as one might simply doubt the principles or even the basis upon which they should be believed. The cause is also taken to be outside of the realm of science where these principles are most if not exclusively at home. Again it is more than that the unbeliever remains unpersuaded; it is that the proof itself has nothing within itself to deal with these objections. It fails in terms of argument.
The only reason we assume that design requires a designer is that we have seen instances of design in our experience coupled with designers. But who has ever experienced the universe being designed? Not only are there problems with analogy as a form of argument in general and not only are there disanalogous elements in even the best argument from analogy, but there is no reason to think that any analogy should here be employed anyway. There are other problems besides these.
It is difficult to see what one might mean by a perfect being or, in the end, how such a perfect being would square with the Christian God. A perfect being that we conceive of is not likely to be the sort which is revealed to us from some other source such as that perfect being itself, and those of other religious persuasions might simply insert their concept of a perfect being, like Allah, into the argument. Some have questioned just what is so special about denying the existence and concept of this perfect being in question anyway. Some have questioned whether existence is something to be predicated of a concept as one of its attributes. The point here is that there are numerous philosophical problems that have been raised with respect to these proofs, and most likely there will continue to be such worries for them even by virtue of the way they work off of similar themes.
Theological problems with these proofs lurk as well including the implicit acceptance of rules of inference, empirical data, etc. being accepted as more sure than the existence of God to begin with. There are likewise the noetic effects of sin upon the unbeliever to whom the proofs come to, as well as their potential inability to grasp or understand the proofs. The conclusions of such arguments are often admittedly merely probable conclusions such that the non-existence of God becomes a real probability, no matter how small. The unbeliever then always has an excuse to not accept the existence of God. There are further problems with the incomprehensibility of God being reduced to the level of understanding through such rational proofs. Finding some argumentative bridges by which to connect the different arguments that are used inductively or cumulatively is impossible without appeal to a worldview structure that is presupposed and brought to bear upon the unbeliever. For example, proving the resurrection of Jesus is often cited as the route to show that the general god that exists per the traditional proofs is the Christian God, but there is no reason to accept the resurrection without proving the existence of God, and even if the existence of God could be proven in this manner, there is no real reason to suppose that this resurrection does have anything to do with say, a perfect being or a final cause or an infant deity designer. Most Christians, in fact, would not even say that they believe upon the basis of such arguments. They believe, instead, simply because they cannot imagine not believing, or some similar claim.