Belief in God

The argument for the existence of God that follows is just one of many ways of constructing an argument.1  It is presuppositional in essence, that is, it begins where it ends: ultimately, nothing is intelligible without God; there is no neutral ground on which to stand to judge the existence of God.  The only reason that the atheist can analyse the proof for God and reject it is that God himself is sustaining the physical and rational reality of the cosmos within which the atheist exists and within which he constructs philosophical beliefs as objections to God.  The story that has been told by God provides the only coherent ground from which to assess anything correctly.2
Reason and the Existence of God
The question of the existence of God is one which continues to exercise western thought in the 21st century.  Although western atheism has a long history, it has become a mainstream force in philosophy only since the Enlightenment and the dawn of rationalism.3  Rationalism presupposes autonomy. It presupposes that human beings are able to make autonomous judgements about reality, using the standard of human reason.  As such, reason is assumed to provide the rationalist with a neutral framework for arbitrating between the claims of various interpreters of reality.4  But does it provide such a framework? Can those seeking truth really stand divested of all prejudice, wielding only the scales of pure reason to discern truth? Postmodern philosophy has at least brought all rationalists face to face with the reality of presuppositions, even if its critique of modernism is ultimately self-defeating.5  Christianity asserts that there is truth, but that there is no neutral ground from it can be evaluated.  The atheist may say she is open to persuasion, but there are two problems lying behind this apparent openness. The first is her pre-existing worldview, one that is necessarily materialist (only what can be measured is real) and usually rationalist (reason is the guide and arbiter of truth).  Show me rational evidence, she says, and then I will believe.  The problem with that particular view is that reason cannot establish that reason actually is the arbiter.  Cogito ergo sum assumes the power of reason, but cannot demonstrate it.6  Neither can reason establish all kinds of other things that we instinctively know are 'right'.  For example, we believe that the people around us have minds like our own, but reason cannot prove it.  We believe that the past actually happened, but reason cannot prove it.7 We know that these things seem 'right' to believe, even though they cannot be demonstrated by reason.  Thus, we find that people operate each day with a set of proper beliefs for which, in most cases, they have no concrete rational proof.8  For example, I got married 10 years ago; my wife is another person like me; my wife loves me. In the real world, as well as in philosophy, reason falls short as the final arbiter. The atheist who asks for conclusive, rational evidence before they will believe is constructing rules for the game which don't work in the real world, but which stack the game in their favour. The atheist wants the Christian to bring conclusive evidence for his belief. However, the atheist believes that God doesn't exist, despite having no conclusive evidence to show that this is in fact the case. The difference with this last example is that whereas all people believe that the past is real and that other minds exist, very few people are atheists, even in western societies.9  Atheists are swimming against the tide of what it is proper to believe about reality. The second problem for the atheist's apparent openness is that she is fundamentally disconnected from God as the creator of reality, something to which we must turn shortly. She does not acknowledge the reality of an absolute personality as the creator who stands behind her own personality, positing instead that her personality is the result of impersonal forces.10  This renunciation is a symptom of a much deeper disconnection that impairs her cognitive faculties.11
Evidence for God
Of course, just because reason cannot be the arbiter of the validity of belief in the existence of God, it does not follow that there is no evidence for such a belief.12 In fact, many powerful evidences are readily apparent. This is primarily because the supreme personality, God, has constructed reality replete with meaning. The atheist explanation that impersonal forces have constructed a reality replete with meaning (and containing personalities) is, to say the least, problematic. If the evidences are many and powerful, why then do some people refuse to acknowledge them? Again, the answer lies in the disconnectedness of people from God, part of the story told by the God who has constructed reality, to which we will turn later. First, we will look at his imprint in the cosmos, specifically as we find it in three places. 

A World We Can Understand
The fact that we as human beings can understand and relate to the world around us is something we take for granted. It seems to be natural and proper that this is the case. However, if we take God out of the equation and propose that the cosmos, including us ourselves, is the result of impersonal forces, then there are two corollaries. The first is that it seems extremely unlikely that the rationality of the human mind would 'match up' to the external reality of the world, just by chance.13 Indeed, as our understanding of the complexity of reality deepens, this observation becomes more acute. Why is it that human scientific investigation of the fabric of the universe can proceed as far as it has done? Why can the human mind delve into the intricacies of subatomic particles and make sense of what it finds? Atheists will respond that the human mind has been moulded by the process of Darwinian evolution, such that human rationality has evolved to match the external reality of the cosmos. However, the human mind has had absolutely no experience of many aspects of the reality of the cosmos before the last two hundred years. The human mind already matches the reality it finds – it is 'pre-matched' to reality. The second corollary is the fact that, as we have seen, the human mind does not function solely on the basis of evidence, but on a system of inherent beliefs about the nature of reality. Our cognitive faculties produce these beliefs in all of us.14 The atheist may again argue that this is a result of Darwinian evolution alone. This, though, becomes severely problematic when it is followed through. For the atheist, humans are essentially a more highly developed species of mammal. The Darwinian process, say its proponents, equips us to survive: to feed, to defend ourselves and reproduce successfully. Where do beliefs fit into this? The cheetah hunting a gazelle needs cognitive systems honed to catch gazelle. What the cheetah believes about the gazelle is ultimately unimportant as long as it assists in catching gazelle. Therefore, the chances of the cheetah's beliefs matching reality are not high; Darwinian selection takes no interest in their correspondence to reality. So, the atheist in fact has little reason to trust that any of her cognitive faculties or beliefs actually matches reality!15  In actual fact, we are able to trust our cognitive faculties and our beliefs do match reality, because reality and the personalities that inhabit it have been constructed by God.16
A World with Purpose
Closely related to our understanding of the cosmos is the purpose which we see displayed within it.17  We see purpose and design in the largest structures of the universe.  We see life on Earth, and a universe fine-tuned for life to an amazing degree.18  Whilst atheists will argue that this (yet again) is a product of pure chance (our planet happened to be the one where conditions were just right for the fluke to occur), consider the following.  The relative sizes of Earth's only moon and its nearest star, the Sun, are such that the moon's orbit not only leads to its occluding the Sun, but also that when it does so it appears almost precisely the same size in the sky, producing the impressive phenomenon of a total solar eclipse.  In an impersonal universe, the random chance of life occurring anywhere (if at all) is vanishingly small; the random chance of a solar eclipse occurring with an exact occlusion is also incredibly small.  Therefore, what are we to make of the fact that these two have in fact coincided, such that human beings may gaze in awe at this spectacular phenomenon? Thomas Aquinas correctly observed that when we see unintelligent objects working together in complex systems, we immediately assume that intelligence lies behind it.19  If we move our focus to some of the smallest structures in the cosmos, we find a similar situation.  As microbiology advances, especially in the field of genetics, it becomes increasingly difficult to countenance that the complexity of cellular structures and mechanisms could have arisen by undirected chance.20 Biological processes are often revealed to be irreducibly complex.  For example, mammalian blood clotting requires the simultaneous presence and action of various proteins in precise proportions.  The slightest imbalance will lead to haemorrhaging or thrombosis.21  In such complex processes, where is the systemic space within which random genetic variation can operate heuristically?  In genetics, the character of DNA itself produces a riddle: in order to have biological function, DNA must be translated by a cell, but the elements necessary for its translation are encoded within the DNA itself.22  Again, where is the heuristic space for a gradual undirected genesis of DNA?23  Similar irreducible complexity is found in the molecular machines of simple organisms.24 

A World of Beauty and Meaning, Good and Evil
 The world that we live in is a world of aesthetic beauty. When we see a perfectly formed tiny orchid, something within us responds, as it does when we hear Barber's Adagio, when we admire a painting by one of the Dutch masters, or when we share a fine meal. Are these things really the meaningless product of impersonal forces?  For the atheist, that has to be the case.25 The heights of music and art mean nothing.  All is ultimately meaningless.  What about morality? Humans can agree that indiscriminate murder is wrong; that the Holocaust ought not to have happened.  They can applaud altruism, kindness, care for the poor and the sick.  Where does this moral framework arise?  There are only two options.26  First, it arises from impersonal and random forces, although it is not altogether clear how.  Atheists argue that we are genetically programmed to care for those who are likely to share, and hence those who may propagate, our genes.27  This would, of course, only really deliver a concept of evil, for example murder, within a fairly small circle. Should I give the tramp a sandwich, or murder him and take what little possessions he has as my own? He probably does not share my genes.  Recognising this problem, atheists turn to a reciprocity argument: 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.' At this point, the concept of the selfish gene of Darwinian selection seems to be on the verge of meaninglessness.  I may still murder the tramp, he has little to offer me in return – and it doesn't matter, ultimately, if I do. The logic of the argument leads to horrifying absurdity.  In any case, it is no actual morality to say that we care for others because of some evolutionary accident.  The second option is proclaimed by Christianity.  Morality is a reflection of the absolute moral personality behind the cosmos. God's order is reflected not only in its physical fabric, but in its moral fabric.28

The Story of Rejection and Redemption
If all this evidence of God is so persuasive; if it constitutes a proof of God, then why do so many reject it? This is where the story told by the absolute personality behind the universe explains not only why the cosmos is why it is, but also why humans are as they are.29  The Christian scriptures tell a story about the cosmos, and about the human beings created to live in it.  And one important part of that story tells of the disconnection of human beings from their creator.30  That disconnection has arisen because of the desire of human beings for autonomy, for existence outside of the creator's moral framework – and that disconnection perpetuates the desire. The root cause of the human problem is the rebellion of sin. All human beings are fundamentally disconnected from God, their creator. They may 'fit' in the world, they may have minds 'matched' to reality, but the relationship with God that enable human beings to 'fit' within the moral framework of reality and to experience true life is missing. We may feel rage in response to someone who perpetuates horrific abuse, but our own abuse of ourselves and others, perhaps less in magnitude, but identical in nature, may be a little more difficult to recognise, let alone to address.  The atheist's rejection of God is a function of their disconnection from him.  The presuppositions of the atheist are based in a more fundamental problem.  It is not the rejection of the philosophical belief in a god that is the ultimate problem to be tackled, but the rejection of God himself.  The theist who remains disconnected from God is functionally no different to the atheist.  The disconnection of humans from their creator is an anomaly within the cosmos.  At a theoretic, theological level it cannot exist.  All of the reality created by the absolute personality ought to 'fit' the pattern of its purpose and the divine intention for it. But the anomaly of disconnected human beings does exist, for a time, by God's mercy.  What can reconnect human beings to God?  The story tells how in fact it is God who reconnects, through connecting to the entire cosmos in an astounding way.  The absolute personality has assumed a created personality; the ultimate reality has become a part of created reality;  the ruler has become part of the rubric.  God has become a human, a human with a name: Jesus.31  More than this, the absolute personality has himself become an anomaly in his own cosmos.  He has not only become human, but taken upon himself the disconnectedness, the rebellion and sin of humanity.  And in becoming an anomaly in his own reality, he becomes disconnected from himself.32  When Jesus hung at the centre of a Roman cross and cried, 'My God, why have you forsaken me?', he also hung at the centre of time and reality as the anomalous God disconnected from himself. In doing this, the way to reconnect to God is mysteriously opened up for those who appropriate in faith the God of the story and the story itself. A response of faith reconnects and sets us on the path to an ultimate restoration and reconnection to the absolute personality of God, within a renewed cosmos, purged of all rebellion. All our presuppositions are then changed. Thus the Christian message not only explains the problem, but proclaims the solution.

Presuppositions and Listening
As we end our argument, we underline the fact that human beings cannot reason from neutral ground as to whether God exists; we are by nature disconnected from him. Our ground is one of a negative predisposition against God. Of course, many disconnected people are happy to concede the existence of God, but are still none too keen to reconnect with him. The atheist however, is perhaps most honest about their disconnection, since continued disconnection is itself a de facto rejection of God. However the atheistic worldview offers a counterfeit coherence, one that is in fact highly dissonant. The Christian message provides the coherent worldview. What the atheist must ask is whether they are prepared to listen to the voice of the evidence, arising both outside and inside. The story of the Christian scriptures contains the fascinating idea that, in spite of their disconnection, all humans at some level hear the echo of the ultimate reality in their own cognitive structures.33

1 The argument is written to be readable, rather than overly technical. For examples of presuppositional arguments see Van Till in Bahnsen, G L, Van Til's Apologetic (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1998), 120-143; Frame, J M, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1994), 89-118 and Frame, J M, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1995), 323-336.
2 On arguing by presupposition, see Van Til, C, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: P&R, 1963), 179-208, also 248-259; Frame, Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, 131-140, 311-322.  
3 Atheism has been popularised in the west only within the last century. Within the last decade, a militant brand of atheism has emerged. However, the traffic is by no means one way. In 2006, Anthony Flew, one of the most prominent atheistic philosophers of the 20th century, announced that he had embraced a deistic position, largely due to advances in scientific investigation that seemed to highlight still further the inherent purpose in the fabric of the cosmos. Somewhat against the tide of pressure in Britain, Flew subsequently urged the British Government to allow the teaching of intelligent design in state schools. Significantly, in his 2008 book, Flew argues for the collapse of rationalism. See Flew, A, There is a God (London: Harper Collins, 2008). Also see Schweiker, W, 'The Varieties and Revisions of Atheism,' Zygon 40/2 (2005), 267-276.
4 See Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 50-52. 
5 Of course, the postmodern discourse that there can be no metanarrative for reality is itself a metanarrative and is therefore ultimately self-defeating. William Lane Craig writes ('Cumulative Case Apologetics: Responses' in Cowan, S B, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 182) that the postmodernist critique of modernism 'is so obviously self-referentially incoherent.' Frame ('Presuppositional Apologetics' in Cowan, S B, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 226-228) deals with postmodernism as part of his presuppositional apologetic. For a more involved, but compressed, treatment of postmodernism and an apologetic response, see Clark K J, 'Reformed Epistemology Apologetics' in Cowan, S B, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 276-283.
6 Descarte's rational self provided the basis for his rationalist philosophy.
7 Plantinga, A C, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: OUP, 2000), 69ff., 92ff. Also Plantinga, A C, God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God (Cornell University Press, 1990), 187-211.
8 Kelly James Clark ('Reformed Epistemology Apologetics,' 271) writes, 'We have been outfitted with cognitive faculties that produce beliefs that we can reason from.'
9 Of course, those who suffer with various mental illnesses or impairments might believe that the past is not real, or that other human minds exist. According to surveys, less than 3% of the world's population are atheistic (as opposed to agnostic or simply non-religious). In Australia, where around 15% of people describe themselves as non-religious, less than 0.1% described themselves as atheists. See, accessed 17 May 2010.
10 'He who comes to God must believe that He is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him,' Heb 11:6 NASB.
11 'Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened,' Rom 1:20-21 NASB. 
12 The use of evidence as part of a presuppositional argument is valid, according to Van Til. See Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic, 634-662. Also, Notaro, Van Til and the Use of Evidence (Philadelphia: P&R, 1980), 54-64.
13 Andersen, J, 'If Knowledge Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Alvin Plantinga and Cornelius Van Til,' CTJ 40 (2005), 53-55. Also Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 102-104.
14 See Clark, 'Reformed Epistemology Apologetics', 271-273.
15 This is a brief rehearsal of Plantinga's argument against Naturalism. See Andersen, ''If Knowledge Then God,' 51-53.
16 Frame (Apologetics to the Glory of God, 113) writes: 'in the end, we are forced to choose between belief in a first cause and irrationalism.'
17 The following are elements of teleological argumentation. See Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 106-109.
18 See Meyer 'Evidence for Design in Physics and Biology: From the Origin of the Universe to the Origin of Life,' in Behe, M J, Dembski, W A and Meyer, S C, Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe (Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute, Vol. 9; San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000), 56-62.
19 Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 106.
20 To Darwin, a cell appeared simple. He could not have envisaged the level of complexity in cell structures that has now been revealed by more recent research. 
21 Behe, M J, Darwin's Black Box (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 74-97.
22 Karl Popper writes ('Scientific Reduction and the Essential Incompleteness of all Science,' in Ayala, F J and Dobzhansky, T (Eds.), Studies in the Philosophy of Biology (London: MacMillan, 1974), 270), 'What makes the origin of life and of the genetic code a disturbing riddle is this: the genetic code is without any biological function unless it is translated; that is, unless it leads to the synthesis of the proteins whose structure is laid down by the code. But, as Monod points out, the machinery by which the cell (at least the non-primitive cell, which is the only one we know) translates the code 'consists of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in the DNA' [citing Monod]. Thus the code cannot be translated except by using certain products of its translation. This constitutes a baffling circle; a really vicious circle, it seems, for any attempt to form a model, or a theory, of the genesis of the genetic code. Thus we may be faced with the possibility that the origin of life (like the origin of the universe) becomes an impenetrable barrier to science, and a residue to all attempts to reduce biology to chemistry and physics.'
23 See Meyer, 'Evidence for Design in Physics and Biology,' 70ff.
24 Behe, Darwin's Black Box, 51-73; Meyer, 'Evidence for Design in Physics and Biology,' 66-68. Even at the level of physical structures accessible to the lay-person we find such complexity. For example it is difficult to understand how the human eye, a structure requiring the simultaneous operation of many distinct parts in order to function at all, could arise by random genetic variation or mutation. 
25 For a popular atheistic view, see Dawkins, R, The God Delusion (London: Transworld, 2006), 110- 112. However, see Robertson's counter-argument, The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2007), 19-27.
26 The moral argument is the keystone for Frame's presuppositional argument (Apologetics to the Glory of God, 93-102).
27 For an atheist argument of this sort, see Dawkins, The God Delusion, 241-267.
28 Frame (Apologetics to the Glory of God, 102) writes, 'The choice is between God and chaos, God and nothing, god and insanity. To most of us, those are not choices at all. Believing in an irrational universe is not believing at all. It is, as we have seen, self-contradictory.' See the classic treatment of morality in Lewis, C S, Mere Christianity (London: Centenary Press, 1940).
29 In Van Til's Why I Believe in God, reproduced in Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic, 121-143, the proclamation of the Christian message is an essential part of his apologetic.
30 This part of the story begins in the narrative of the Fall of humans into sin and rebellion in Genesis 3.  
31 Space precludes a consideration of the historical Jesus and evidences from OT prophecy and the Resurrection. However, see Notaro, Van Til and the Use of Evidence, 109-123 and Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 136-147.
32 This is rooted in the unique Christian understanding of the Trinitarian personality of the one ultimate personality. 
33 'For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.' Rom 1:18-20 NASB. See also Notaro, Van Til and the Use of Evidence, 52-53.