There are dozens of arguments for the existence of God. To rattle off just a few: there’s the moral argument, ontological, religious experience, miracles, consciousness, reason, desire, and the families of cosmological arguments and design arguments.
Some Christians say that while these arguments are good for building up the faithful, they’re useless for apologetics and evangelism. After all, we’re not trying to make generic theists. Even the demons believe in God, but that doesn’t give them a saving relationship with Him! (James 2:20) Apologists using these arguments in conversations or debates are barking up the wrong tree at best, and at worst, are being unfaithful to God.
To make the point, these critics will often point to the case of Antony Flew. Flew was a notable philosopher of religion who argued against the existence of God for decades. Near the end of his life, Flew changed his tune. He became a believer in God because of the philosophical and scientific arguments for God. He even wrote a book about it. Here’s a quote that sums up Flew’s conversion:
“I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine Source. Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half-century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.”
Flew’s turnabout sent shockwaves through academic circles and a lot of Christian apologists claimed it as a victory for scientific and philosophical apologetics.
Here’s the rub: Flew never became a Christian. He declared himself to be a deist. Deists, if you don’t know, reject direct revelation and miracles. If this is what successful apologetics looks like, then what’s the point?
Here’s the thing though — For every Antony Flew, you have dozens of people like me. Quick background story: During my teenage years, I was an atheist. But along the course of time, I gradually became convinced God existed. But I wasn’t satisfied with the idea of deism or a generic God. Why?
There are a couple of reasons for that: If God exists, it would be weird if God never communicated with us. And if God was going to communicate with us, he’s not probably going to do it only privately.
The problem with Deism and mysticism
Let’s think about it for a second: Why would a Supreme Being create intelligent beings with the ability for communication and then never speak to them? Not even a “howdy”? Wouldn’t we expect this God to offer a few words of advice or the occasional helping hand? Deism might explain why there’s a cosmos, consciousness, or the moral law. But it doesn’t offer much of an explanation of God’s silence.
There’s also the problem of God speaking only through private revelation. Anyone could claim that God’s speaking to them, how do we parse that out and see who’s right? It would be spiritual anarchy.
As human beings, we all have the same basic needs and problems in life. It would make more practical sense for God to speak to us about these things publicly and collectively. An all-wise being would talk to us a way that anyone could access and understand. Scripture, or something like it, makes a lot of sense.
It’s this commonsense reasoning that led me to dig up a Bible and start reading. Even though I had issues with the idea of miracles at first, I eventually had an experience with the Holy Spirit and became a Christian. You might say this is just anecdotal, but I’m not the only person to make the jump from ‘generic theism’ to Christianity.
How Natural theology helped lead three former atheists to Jesus
A philosopher’s Journey
Ed Feser taught philosophy of religion for years as a college professor. After going through the arguments semester after semester, he eventually became a philosophical theist. Says Feser:
“I don’t know exactly when everything clicked. There was no single event, but a gradual transformation. As I taught and thought about the arguments for God’s existence, and in particular the cosmological argument, I went from thinking “These arguments are no good” to thinking “These arguments are a little better than they are given credit for” and then to “These arguments are actually kind of interesting.” Eventually, it hit me: “Oh my goodness, these arguments are right after all!”
But that’s not where the story ends. Feser eventually became a Christian. He didn’t remain a mere philosophical theist. Not content merely knowing that the God of the philosophers existed, Feser continued his journey and eventually met Jesus.
A scientist’s story
Physicist Frank Tipler is another example of someone who became a Christian after looking at different proofs for God. While Feser was impressed with the philosophical reasons for the existence of God, Tipler became a believer based on the evidence from cosmology and physics, his specialty. While many atheists argue that science and reason will lead someone to reject faith, Tipler found the opposite was true. In the intro of his book The Physics of Immortality, he wrote:
“When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.”
So obviously Tipler didn’t stay in the camp of belief in a deistic or generic deity. His discovery left him wanting to know who this Creator and Designer was.
An Oxford Student’s testimony
I could multiply examples, but for the sake of space, I’ll offer just one more. Sarah-Irving Stonebraker is a history professor in Australia. In an article entitled, ‘How Oxford and Peter Singer Drove Me From Atheism to Jesus’, Sarah outlines her journey.
“ I grew up in Australia, in a loving, secular home, and arrived at Sydney University as a critic of “religion.” I didn’t need faith to ground my identity or my values. I knew from the age of eight that I wanted to study history at Cambridge and become a historian. My identity lay in academic achievement, and my secular humanism was based on self-evident truths…
After Cambridge, I was elected to a Junior Research Fellowship at Oxford. There, I attended three guest lectures by world-class philosopher and atheist public intellectual, Peter Singer. Singer recognized that philosophy faces a vexing problem in relation to the issue of human worth. The natural world yields no egalitarian picture of human capacities. What about the child whose disabilities or illness compromises her abilities to reason? Yet, without reference to some set of capacities as the basis of human worth, the intrinsic value of all human beings becomes an ungrounded assertion; a premise which needs to be agreed upon before any conversation can take place.
I remember leaving Singer’s lectures with a strange intellectual vertigo; I was committed to believing that universal human value was more than just a well-meaning conceit of liberalism. But I knew from my own research in the history of European empires and their encounters with indigenous cultures, that societies have always had different conceptions of human worth or lack thereof. The premise of human equality is not a self-evident truth: it is profoundly historically contingent. I began to realize that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear …
One Sunday, shortly before my 28th birthday, I walked into a church for the first time as someone earnestly seeking God. Before long I found myself overwhelmed. At last, I was fully known and seen and, I realized, unconditionally loved — perhaps I had a sense of relief from no longer running from God. A friend gave me C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and one night, after a couple months of attending church, I knelt in my closet in my apartment and asked Jesus to save me, and to become the Lord of my life”
So after learning that God existed through the moral argument, Irving-Stonebraker didn’t stop there. She wasn’t content knowing that a generic God existed. The moral argument made her want to find just who this Moral Lawgiver is.
Arguing for God’s existence isn’t fruitless
So what’s my point?
For every Antony Flew, there are dozens of people like Feser, Tipler, Irving-Stonebraker, and myself who didn’t stop at generic theism. And the writer of Hebrews tells us that belief in God is a necessary precondition to pleasing God. (Hebrews 11:6) The next part is seeking Him. So when someone like William Lane Craig argues for the existence of God, they’re laying some foundational groundwork and we’re wrong to think little of that.
Once you become convinced God is real, then unless you’re ambivalent, you’ll want to get to know him personally. And it’s not as if Craig or others like him stop after offering the arguments for God, they almost always then argue for the resurrection.
And as I said before, intuition and common sense tell us that if God exists, he’s not going to remain silent and stand aloof. And if he’s as smart as design arguments show, he’s going to communicate with us in an accessible way. God can and has used these arguments to get past someone’s intellectual hang-ups or blind spots and to take a step towards him. How could that possibly be a bad thing?