Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Think Apologetics. Tabernacle of David considers this resource trustworthy and Biblically sound.
How do we know God exists? Over the years, when I have been asked this question, I used to just jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I ask the person “How should we approach the existence of God?” or, “What method should we use?” Now I know that when you ask a Christian, Jewish person or Muslim, and Mormon as well how they know what they believe is true, they might just say, “I have faith.” This should cause us to stop and ask if that is an adequate answer. It probably won’t go very far in a skeptical and pluralistic culture. Some say God’s existence is irrelevant. But remember, the God question impacts:
- Metaphysics/Ontology: The way we view reality
- Epistemology: How we define and attain knowledge
- Ethics: Rules or standards governing the conduct by which we make decisions.
- Origins: Where do we come from?
- Destiny: Where are we going?
- The Human Condition: What is wrong with humans? How do we fix it?
So in this post I want to discuss some of the various ways we can approach the existence of God. I am well aware that there are other methods as well.
#1: The Revelatory Approach
The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? There is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Thus, people are dead, blinded, and bound to sin.
Christianity stresses that the God of the Bible is capable of giving a revelation to mankind through a specific medium. One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intentions. Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” There are three things are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation.
The mediums God uses in the Bible are General Revelation (The Created Order/Conscience; Rom. 1&2); Special Revelation: Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), The Bible (2 Tim. 3:16); Miracles, Prophecy, Theophanies, Missionaries/Messengers, and other means as well.
But why the need for revelation? First, we need to know the character of God. Hence, we need a clear communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like? Also, we need a revelation to understand the origin of evil/the Fall. In other words, we need to be educated concerning the reasons for where we are at as a human race. Furthermore, without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God. And without a clear revelation we would not know our destiny.
Let me expand on the miracles/prophecy issue a little bit: There seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God.
#2: Historical Arguments/Prophecy
When it comes to historical arguments, we ask if God has revealed Himself in the course of human history? If so, when and where has He done this? We can look at religious texts and see if they pass the tests for historicity. Thus, we enter the domain of historical apologetics.
For example, former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen (see There Is A God? How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind(New York: Harper Collins, 2007). Another aspect of the historical argument is the argument from prophecy. Fulfilled prophecy does not prove the existence of God, but it does show that events predicted in his Name that come to pass are evidence of his special activity. When we look at the resurrection of Jesus, we can ask what is the best explanation for:
- The death of Jesus. Note: not many debate whether Jesus actually died by Roman crucifixion. Mostly Muslims disagree (Quran was written 600-640 years after NT).
- Jesus appeared to many individuals and groups after he died.
- Paul, once a persecutor, became a follower of Jesus.
- The empty tomb.
- Why James, once an unbeliever, came to faith in Jesus.
- How and why the Jesus movement got started and continued on after the death of Jesus. Could it have continued without a resurrection?
- Why the early followers of Jesus changed their devotional practice to include Jesus (he was worshiped, honored, prayed to, etc).
Also see The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
#3: God or Theism as an Explanatory Hypothesis?
The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:
- How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
- How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
- How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
- How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
- How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
- How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
- How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?
Abduction can operate when people on both sides of an argument agree on what needs to be explained (certain features of reality) but they disagree on why this feature of reality exists. Why does this feature of reality exist? Is it the result of nature itself or something outside nature? Remember, when we look at the questions above, if you are committed to philosophical naturalism (the idea that nothing exists outside the natural realm of the material universe), you’ll find a way to interpret every piece of data to confirm your naturalistic presuppositions, even if the best inference from evidence points to something else.
You can see this approach in The Return of the God Hypothesis by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation
#4: Metaphysical Demonstration
If we could remember the nature of the object determines how we know it, than for skeptics to constantly say there is no evidence, the first thing to ask “What is the nature of the object they are trying to know?” What is God? Welcome to natural theology!
Recall that ‘proof’ is a loaded term, which turns on our understanding of what constitutes knowledge. There are knowledge claims that are rooted in inference, and are therefore on various levels of probability. Some arguments for God’s existence use this approach. A different approach in terms of ‘proof’ in establishing the existence of God is by metaphysical rational demonstration. This is found in the classical writings of Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas, & Leibniz. Feser writes that philosophical arguments are still the most adequate approach to showing there is a God—the God of classical theism. The God of classical theism is immutable, immaterial, eternal, uncaused, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and can’t be compared to created gods that are part of the physical world such as Thor, Zeus, and others. Two recent books that have taken this approach are the following books by former atheist Edward Feser. Please note that if you want to find out about these thinkers by reading Richard Dawkins, you are already off to the wrong start. You can also see his interview with Ben Shapiro here:
#5: Pragmatic Arguments?
Many people might ask why I would bring this one up. The reason I mention it is because about 70% of people I talk to about Christianity object to it by saying ” I don’t understand what difference Christianity would make in my life?” This is a very popular approach. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life. Thus, they think their beliefs correspond to reality because they do make a difference. In other words, “Christianity works because it is true!”
This does have some merit. After all, if the Christian faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. The challenge of this argument is that in some cases, it seems Christianity doesn’t work. Christians have challenges in their families, work related issues and relationships. However, just because Christians don’t always reflect the character of Jesus and don’t always show the difference it makes, this doesn’t mean Christianity is false. Furthermore, the Gospel is not “What Can Jesus Do For Me?” but instead a call to die to ourselves and follow the Lord (Luke 9:23).
It could be that the person is not under healthy teaching/discipleship or living in sin. So the pragmatic argument can be a tricky one. Everyone knows Christians have done some amazing things for the world (see here), but we also have some inconsistencies.
#6: Existential Arguments
The latest book by Clifford Williams Called Existential Reasons For Belief in God is another approach to why people believe in God.
According to Williams, for some people logic and reason are dominant and in others emotion and satisfaction of needs are dominant.
Williams mentions 10 existential needs from his book:
- the need for cosmic security
- the need for meaning
- the need to feel loved
- the need to love
- the need for awe
- the need to delight in goodness
- the need to live beyond the grave without the anxieties that currently affect us
- the need to be forgiven
- the need for justice and fairness
- the need to be present with our loved ones
#7: Religious Experience
Here we have to differentiate between knowing our faith is true and showing our faith is true: 
1.Knowing our faith is true though personal experience: Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2). However, people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Thus, people have contradictory religious experiences that seem quite real. For example, Mormons claim that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as true by a “burning in the bosom”—this is something they consider to be a confirmatory personal experience.
Showing our faith is true through reasons and evidence: While religious experience is important, all experience must be grounded by truth and knowledge. Knowledge can be the key thing as to what keeps us close to God over the long haul. Plus, Jesus says we should love him with all our being (i.e., mind, emotions and will). Sometimes people think that personal religious experience negates the need for having other good reasons for faith.
But think about this: Would you accept Islam as true if a Muslim said to you, “I know Islam is true because of my personal experience.” Or, what if a Mormon said to you, “I know Mormonism is true because of personal experience.” The list goes on. I assume many of us wouldn’t consider Islam nor Mormonism as being true based on these comments. Therefore, perhaps when we say, “I follow Jesus because of my personal experience,” some people aren’t very impressed. In conclusion, religious experience should be one aspect of our overall cumulative case for our faith.
There are several other approaches to the existence of God. Given humans are emotional, intellectual, and volitional creatures, there is no “one size fits all approach.” I hope that has caused you to go further in the question of God’s existence.
. W.L. Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Faith and Apologetics 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 43-60.