I suppose I’d be willing to amend the title of this video to my favourite argument for the existence of God. I’m not intellectually capable of claiming that this is the best or most logically superior argument and it will especially suffer from my clumsy attempt to render it for you.
But of all the arguments I’ve studied, I find this one to be the most convincing and persuasive because I think that everyone can relate to it. It touches on every single person’s own experience of life and it’s also not terribly logically complicated.
I also want to admit that there are replies and rebuttals to this argument as there are to any argument. I sometimes get the impression that all one needs to do is say something in reply and that would satisfy half of you. Like as long as the talking head that represents your intellectual allegiance says something after the one opposing your position, then you’d be consoled that your side has the upper hand.
But just because someone speaks last, doesn’t mean they have adequately risen to the challenge of dismantling an argument. But I will concede that there are arguments that I find intellectually compelling as a reply to this or any argument for God’s existence.
And if I only ever had the logic of both positions to consider, I don’t think I could ever be sure, beyond a reasonable doubt that one was right and the other wrong. But I do hope that arguments like this demonstrate that there is a rational approach to the question of God’s existence and that faith can be complimented by reason, even though many faith communities, leaders, and evangelists tend to neglect this fact.
My hope is that you can be left with enough of a compelling impression that you’d consider exploring it further, both intellectually and experientially. I said that I can concede that there are compelling atheistic arguments just as there are compelling theistic arguments, but for me, my experience of experimenting with the possibility that God does exist has overwhelmingly tipped the scales in that direction.
Because my life has dramatically improved since I started to place myself in a pattern according to Christian teachings. And I don’t mean, everything has worked out just the way I wanted or that God has answered all my prayers exactly the way I wanted.
I mean I’ve had great deal more joy, hope, and peace in my life than I did before. I’ve endured difficulties and distress that the person I was before could never have negotiated. I’ve found myself freed from so many modes of behaviour that I was ashamed of. And I’ve found a life that has been incredibly fulfilling because I’ve been open to those teachings.
And if you’re on the other side of this question with two logical possibilities that both seem compelling, shouldn’t the one that promises hope and eternal life give you enough incentive to start exploring it with a little more consequence than mere speculation?
If it’s a toss up, then I think it makes a lot of rational sense to bet on the possibility that God exists and to start searching for him more earnestly. Every person I’ve said that to who took me up on that challenge has not been disappointed, I don’t think you will either.
This argument for God’s existence requires us to set the stage between two alternatives and to understand that you can’t have it both ways which is what too many of us try to get away with.
The first option is one that says the physical universe with its cosmos, planets, living things, matter, energy, and the physical laws that govern those things is all there is so that any intellectual inquiry into what is true and real is limited to the scope of the physical sciences.
The second option acknowledges the physical universe and everything I just described, but broadens the scope of reality to that which exceeds the physical universe and its fixed laws. That we have experiences that indicate that there is far more than those fixed laws.
So, to start exploring those two options, consider the fact that every human society that we have records for, every civilization, has nurtured some moral code of behaviour. And in many cases, like the entire developed world of today, those society’s have recognized the most critical elements of those moral codes with laws that inflict punitive measures on anyone who transgress those laws.
And no matter how much we may try to philosophize about the existence of universal moral codes of behaviour and try to liberate ourselves from them by claiming that there is no universal standard of right and wrong, only what we prefer…
Everyone I know has held someone else to some measurable standard of right and wrong behaviour. Everyone has objected when they’ve been wronged, cheated, lied to, or abused. Nobody would be satisfied with the retort, “just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. That’s just your preference.”
If good and bad was just a way of describing what you or I prefer then we would never have grounds to say that someone else should behave according to those preferences. We could never hold someone else accountable for their behaviour because in order to do so, you would have to concede that there is something objective and neutral, something outside and apart from both of our preferences that mediates between us so that I can hold you accountable and you can hold me accountable if either of us mistreats the other.
And no matter what anyone says, no matter what philosophy we subscribe to, all of us recognize that requirement and all of our laws are premised upon this truth. Otherwise, if all we have are our preferences to decide right and wrong, then there would never be grounds to say that someone’s preference should outweigh someone else’s. Your preference to not be taken advantage of, to not have your things stolen, or your body abused carry’s no more weight than someone else’s preference to steal your things and abuse you.
Unless there truly is a moral standard of right and wrong that both of us can appeal to judge our dispute and hold each other accountable to. The fact that we have laws concedes this fact.
But what does that mean. What are we allowing when we talk about morality? Morality can be described as a judgement between what ought to occur and what actually occurs.
For example, if someone abuses their wife, we would be right to say, you ought not to have done that. We’re saying that their decisions and actions that led to that abuse were the wrong ones as compared to the right ones. We’re evaluating what happened, the abuse, and comparing it to what should have happened and saying that what did in fact happen, should not have happened and that the one doing the abuse bears some responsibility and culpability for what did happen.
Now it’s important to notice that the natural sciences as a method of inquiry, in principle, cannot tell us anything about what ought to happen as compared to what does happen. The natural sciences are limited to consideration of the natural universe and are predicated on the assumption that the natural universe behaves according to fixed laws.
And by fixed laws, we mean what always happens. When we describe gravity, we’re talking about what always happens when two bodies of mass come within proximity of each other. There is no option to choose something outside of those laws. There are no alternative possibilities to those laws. A planet cannot choose to break faith with its orbit.
But remember morality tells us what should happen not necessarily what does happen and science only makes observations of what does happen and draws conclusions from that.
But if the natural universe is all there is, then there should be absolutely no grounds for talking about what should happen. All there is is what does happen and that you and I, as fixtures of the natural universe, must be bound to those same inevitable laws.
But in the case of you and I, we notice that there is more going on than fixed laws. We have an intellect and a will that govern the things that we do. We can choose between alternatives and because of this ability to choose and act with will, we recognize that we are responsible for the things we do.
We don’t hold other natural elements responsible for their actions in the same way. If a tsunami crashes ashore and kills hundreds of people, we don’t denounce the oceans for their transgression. We don’t protest along the shorelines demanding that the ocean recognize the value of human life. We don’t say, you should not have done that.
And the reason we don’t is because we recognize that it was behaving in an inevitable and deterministic way according to the fixed laws of the natural universe.
But when a person does something we don’t like, we don’t say, oh he was just acting according to those same fixed laws. No, we say he is responsible for those decisions because he is governed by more than the fixed laws of nature. There is some agency and ability that he draws from outside those laws that frees him from them to some degree.
But if the natural world can only be described by the fixed laws of cause and effect, and we either produce or inherit some quality that breaks free from that sequence, then we have to admit that we’ve found something that is pervasive in the human experience and which exceeds or transcends the natural universe.
In other words, there is something, that is morality, that is relentlessly available to our perception and in our experience that portrays something more to reality than what we can see, taste, and touch. There is something metaphysical or spiritual in our experience and it’s a big part of that experience.
And that’s why this something more was always characterized as a transcendental in classical thought. It transcends the material universe and if we are going to understand it at all, we need to broaden our narrow mindedness to admit and explore metaphysical truth.
So now that we understand that morality is something that exceeds the natural universe, what does this transcendent fact tell us about what lies outside and beyond physical nature?
It tells us that whatever lies beyond is intensely interested in our behaviour, about right and wrong, unselfishness, and justice. It seems to be instructing us in becoming moral by affirming us in good behaviour and making us uncomfortable and ashamed about our bad behaviour.
The only thing we can compare this to is a mind with will, purpose, and intention. We cannot talk about matter as if it were teaching or guiding us. And we cannot talk about it as if it were a natural law because as we’ve seen, natural laws don’t make allowances to disobey.
And the fact that we can disobey and are not forced to conform ourselves to these moral instructions tells us a little more, I believe. It makes love or the free gift of self, possible. What good are marriage vows if the one reciting them has no choice? What good is a promise if it can’t be broken?
Love acquires its significance because it does not have to be given. So, the fact that the power behind the moral law doesn’t force this law upon us, makes love possible. And it is this aggregate of variables that leads us to a very personal perception of that which lies beyond the natural universe.
Now a quick house cleaning consideration before we wrap up. This narrative isn’t designed to consider or assert any specific religious doctrine about God. It’s not meant to propose Christianity or any other theological framework. It only argues for the existence of God. Anything else needs to be considered in another set of arguments.
So all I’ve done here is followed a series of logical premises that gets us to the conclusion that there is something which exceeds the natural universe, it is deeply concerned with us and our behaviour, and among everything that we know it is best described or most reminiscent of a mind.