A fairly brief but detailed account of some reasons to believe that God exists, with links for further reading.
Cosmos – why the universe exists
Order – why the universe is ordered by natural law
Design – why the universe is fine-tuned, allowing life
Ethics – why there are things such as duties and rights.
There is a universe (or a multiverse), and it is contingent; it has properties that are not necessary.
God could explain why the universe (the conjunction of all physical facts) exists. Naturalism cannot.
Here is one technical cosmological argument. Alexander Pruss has written quite a bit on related issues.
I take it that the most apposite question is not ‘why is there something when there should have been nothing’, but ‘why are there any contingent facts, when there didn’t have to be?’ [see the excellent paper by the late Philip L Quinn ‘Cosmological Contingency and Theistic Explanation’ for more on this.]
Physical regularity exists, and this regularity is said to be accounted for by physical laws.
Laws: are metaphysically contingent rules that govern the entire universe throughout space and time, transcend matter and are described by elegant mathematical functions.
– The contingency of laws is explicable in terms of God’s free choice in creation (e.g. writings of Isaac Newton). Difficult to explain this kind of contingency on naturalism – see e.g. Plantinga “Where the Conflict Really Lies” and Foster “The Divine Lawmaker”.
– The governing of laws is only explicable by God. (Nancy Cartwright – see here in response to her non-theistic alternative, and here for another interesting consequence)
– The universality of natural laws “this vast coincidence in the powers and liabilities of objects at all times and in all places” (Swinburne, p. 9) calls out for an explanation and naturalism does not offer one.
– The transcendence of the fundamental laws of physics is inexplicable in physical terms (otherwise they would not be the fundamental laws) but is explicable in personal terms. (Swinburne, pp7-8)
– The elegance of laws is explained better by God than naturalism. This is the case, I think whether elegance is taken to just mean ‘simplicity'(I tentatively think that simple laws are to be expected to a greater extent on theism than on naturalism) and/or something more ‘aesthetic’ as I believe is more appropriate [there’s no reason to expect laws to conform to human concepts of beauty if naturalism is true, but many scientists have proposed aesthetic criteria for good science, and these criteria have repeatedly proved fruitful].
– The applicability of mathematics to laws is explained better by God than naturalism (see e.g. Plantinga “Where the Conflict Really Lies”, and some work by William Lane Craig e.g. here). In addition to the elegant form of the laws already mentioned, there are at least two issues here. First is the question of why mathematics, a set of things that are in some way ‘mental’ should apply at all to the physical universe. Secondly there is the question why the universe at a deep level is comprehensible by humans – the mathematics that works to describe it seems is not beyond our comprehension – it is near our limits and needs work but comprehension seems to be at least largely achievable.
I highly recommend the book by physicist/philosopher/theologian Lydia Jaeger on this topic, dealing with some of the issues around laws: “What the Heavens Declare”. Some articles also available online.
Aside from fundamental physical order, there are arguably higher levels of order in the universe as well, such as the mapping between mental states and physical states. I take it that mental properties are irreducible to physical properties (a fairly mainstream conclusion held by many atheistic philosophers of mind I think) and that therefor a kind of mapping between the two broadly akin to a law is required. I take it also that the mapping observed between mental content and brain states is best explained by the existence of God (for similar reasons to the above concerning physical laws), but that’s an argument for another day.
The laws of the universe seem unlikely to have the life-permitting form that they do given naturalism.
The values of the fundamental constants seem unlikely to be life-permitting given naturalism.
The initial conditions of the universe seem unlikely to be life-permitting given naturalism.
[All explained here]
++ But what about the multiverse? 5 quick responses
– Inflationary multiverse is speculative and contentious. Other types of multiverse even more so.
– The Boltzmann brain scenario (on the multiverse hypothesis we should expect to be a quantum fluctuation rather than an embodied observer) suggests we are not in a multiverse
– It is likely that a multiverse requires fine-tuning to achieve the desired life-permitting results
– Elegance of the laws in the universe we live in is unexpected given a naturalistic multiverse (laws are not just life-permitting but also elegant).
– Universe appears fine-tuned not just for being life permitting but also for scientific discovery. [See more work by Robin Collins]
I very much look forward to this forthcoming book, a debate between theist and atheist cosmologists.
I believe there are other good teleological arguments from the nature of life which are not weakened by mainstream evolutionary biology, but I will work more on those another day.
– Ethical facts are difficult to ground without God. Why should it be that we are ‘meant’ to perform certain actions in anything other than in the sense of certain things being in conformity with a particular society’s rules of etiquette or person’s conscience? When conscience or social etiquette is in conflict with desire or personal wellbeing, why should the ‘ethical’ option win over the desire or practical rationality of keeping safe/well?
– Ethical knowledge is difficult to justify without God, due to evolutionary scepticism (we could’ve easily evolved to have different moral beliefs regardless of what is true) and the question of the relationship between ethical facts and our coming to know them.
– Ethical motivation is difficult to justify without God – why ethics should be binding in an over-riding way that rationally motivates is a mystery.
Most of these things are widely taken for granted, but I take it that God is their cause.
“Though some modern philosophers have made ingenious attempts to explain the nature of things corporeal, yet their explications generally suppose the present fabric of the world, and the laws of motion that are settled in it” – Robert Boyle
Who is this God? Is God knowable? Does God care? These are important questions, and I believe they are only answered in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Explaining this is something I’m very happy to do.
There are three broad reasons that I think Jesus deserves to be taken particularly seriously:
1) His claims (to the name and attributes of divinity) were uniquely bold in the history of major religions.
2) His ministry, death, and resurrection were all public events and the source documents provide a wealth of historical material.
3) The inter-relationships (perhaps ‘intertextuality’) between the Hebrew Bible and New Testament run deep, including broad themes and innumerable details, and largely based on historical events. e.g. the slaughtered lamb of God is one motif out of many running throughout the Hebrew Bible that finds unexpected fulfilment in Jesus.