A Case for the Existence of God by Dean Overman  

Preface of A Case for the Existence of God - by Dean L. Overman

A Case for the Existence of God by Dean L. Overman

Plantinga refers to Thomas Aquinas’s statement: “To know in a general and confused way that God exists is implanted in us by nature.” He also notes Paul’s writing: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made,” and discusses Calvin’s position that “Men of sound judgment will always be sure that a sense of divinity which can never be effaced is engraved upon men’s minds….which nature itself permits no one to forget, although many strive with every nerve to this end.”

For Plantinga, the knowledge of God or at least the capacity for such a knowledge is innate. Although he notes the tendency to believe in God in his references to Aquinas, Paul, and Calvin, he does not rely on them for his concept of a warranted theistic belief. Instead he develops a highly sophisticated, rational argument for his view that such a belief can be a warranted basic belief aimed at truth without requiring further evidence. Plantinga is not dogmatic in his belief. He is open to evidence or reasons which would require him to cease believing in God, and he is receptive to evidence supporting a belief in God. His conclusion is not merely a matter of blind faith.

His position is rational and consistent with the ancient Jewish faith. The source for the belief of the God of the Jews did not arise over an examination of the evidence for a Supreme Being or from an attempt to explain the existence of the universe and its order. The ancient Israelites believed in God, because they believed in God’s self-revelation to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their belief in God was not the result of an investigation of the world, its origin, or its intelligibility. The main source of their religious faith came from revelation, their tradition, and then from Jewish Scriptures.

The question of God’s existence in past and present analytic or other philosophies has its source in Greek thought, not in Hebrew thought. With a similar basis in Hellenic logic, a systematic approach to the examination of evidence becomes part of a lawyer’s thought processes. Having practiced and taught law for four decades, I respect the benefits of a rational examination of evidence, even if human reason is inherently incomplete and subject to limitations. Consequently, although I respect Plantinga’s position and the basis for the ancient Israelite faith, I agree with Mortimer Adler, a former philosophy professor at Columbia University and the University of Chicago, who insisted that if a person has a religious faith, he or she has the duty to think about that faith, examine evidence, and to understand the rationale for what they believe:

“I suspect that most of the individuals who have religious faith are content with blind faith. They feel no obligation to understand what they believe. They may even wish not to have their beliefs disturbed by thought. But if the God in whom they believe created them with intellectual and rational powers, that imposes upon them the duty to try to understand the creed of their religion. Not to do so is to verge on superstition.”

In following Adler’s exhortation, in this book I set forth a cumulative case for the proposition that the existence of God is a rational, plausible belief. I discuss how the evidence indicates that although theism requires a leap of faith, it is a leap into the light, not into the dark; theism explains more than atheism which also requires a leap of faith.

I begin by noting that everyone makes a leap of faith in accepting presuppositions which comprise a worldview, and every worldview has inevitable uncertainties. We know that this universe will end its ability to sustain life. In a search for ultimate meaning one cannot limit a theory of knowledge to only that which can be empirically verified by our senses. Reason can take us only so far. There are other ways of knowing, including credible religious knowledge by personal acquaintance. In examining the question of God’s existence, one may rationally conclude that God is a personal God who can only be known in reality as a person, not as an inference. Reason and faith are both required as a basis of knowledge. They are complementary. Reason without faith experience is dead. Experience without reason can be fantasy.

Given recent discoveries in science and philosophy, it is remarkable that David Hume and Immanuel Kant still influence the question of God’s existence. Kant based his theory of knowledge on a Euclidean geometry and a Newtonian view of the universe which in today’s science have been modified by Einstein’s theory of relativity, non-Euclidean geometry, and quantum physics. These modifications indicate that, in excluding rational inquiry into anything beyond the senses, his theory of knowledge is too restrictive and does not include all that we can know or detect. In this book I will argue that there are several valid ways of knowing, including the empirical, the detection by theoretical constructs, the use of metaphysical reasoning, and the mystical.

Contemporary science and mathematics show that one can use reason to address basic metaphysical questions, such as the following: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does that something have the particular members and order that it has? Why does this particular kind of universe exist? Why does the universe have an order which makes it intelligible? Einstein marveled at the intelligibility of the universe. He knew that science could not even begin if the world was not intelligible. As he noted, “Let us concede that behind any major scientific work is a conviction akin to religious belief, that the world is intelligible.” If one stops and thinks about it, the intelligibility of the universe is rather astonishing. After all, it could be simply a chaos and not a rational, inherently mathematical universe with substantial beauty.

Mortimer Adler’s cosmological argument modified Thomas Aquinas, Samuel Clarke and Gottfried Leibniz’s arguments to the extent that he thought he had demonstrated the existence of God beyond a reasonable doubt (but not beyond a shadow of a doubt). His argument has been strengthened in recent decades by discoveries in philosophy and in science. I modify his argument, describe the discoveries which further invigorate the argument, and explain the misinterpretations of Hume and Kant, particularly as they relate to the term “necessary being.” I also explain why the laws of physics are not good candidates for a necessary being.

Historically, the cosmological arguments for the existence of God are a series of affiliated patterns of reasoning. I integrate these related arguments and discuss 1) a cosmological argument for a necessary cause of the continuing existence of the entire cosmos and 2) a related cosmological argument emphasizing that the Second Law of Thermodynamics requires that disorder in the universe tends toward a maximum. In the second argument I note that the universe could not be dissipating from infinity or it would have run down by now. This indicates that the universe had a beginning which had to be highly ordered. Moreover, our universe has been expanding since its initial singularity of the Big Bang. Such an expanding universe cannot have an infinite past. This is true even if our universe is only one among many multiverses. Recent work by Arvin Borde, Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin indicates that even a multiverse cosmos had a beginning. Something which has a beginning requires a cause. W. L. Craig has argued convincingly that although one could hypothesize that the universe came about through a series of endless past contingent events which stretch backward through infinity, such a series may not be possible in reality.

I describe recent mathematical and scientific discoveries concerning the rationality, order, fine tuning and beauty in the universe. These discoveries give corroborative evidence for the inherent intelligibility of the physical world and are consistent with a rational argument for God’s existence.

I also point out that the existence of God is also consistent with the underlying foundation of information as the basis for physical existence. Information is not matter or energy. Quantum theory challenges a strict materialistic worldview and indicates that a “knower” must exist. I will argue that mental processes appear in part to transcend the purely physical, even though our thoughts are clearly influenced by the physical brain. Many of the world’s leading physicists now understand that quantum mechanics is based in information as the immaterial irreducible seed of the universe and all physical existence.

I consider the problem of evil. Our ability to recognize evil and good and distinguish between them argues for the existence of God. If God does not exist, evil is not evil and good is not good. Our human comprehension is flawed and finite; there may be reasons for suffering which are not apparent to us. Without minimizing the severe pain in the world, one must consider the totality of the evidence for the existence of God.

One may argue that the most powerful form of knowledge concerning God is not derived from empirical or theoretical constructs, but from a knowledge proceeding from an encounter or personal acquaintance with the divine. This form or way of knowing was emphasized by Thomas Aquinas (after his mystical experience), Gabriel Marcel, and Sören Kierkegaard. God may not be knowable by only objective means, because God is not an object, but a person above all categories. Consequently, the knowledge of God is ultimately a personal knowledge. According to Martin Buber, this knowledge requires commitment, action and mission. Rudolf Otto and Emmanuel Levinas hold that God can never be reduced to an idea or a concept which one can describe by language. Language can never capture relationships between persons, let alone capture the experience of the person of God.

Although one cannot adequately describe the experience of God, some attempts are informative. I follow Marcel’s advice and call nine persons of keen intellect to the witness stand to allow them to use their own words to attempt to describe their relationship with the divine. (These bright intellects belong to Augustine, Pascal, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Luce, Muggeridge, Weil, Mitchell, and Adler).

After commenting on the testimony of the nine witnesses, I conclude by stating that the argument for the existence of God explains more than does the argument for atheism. The existence of God explains why there is something rather than nothing; it explains the intelligibility and order in the universe; it explains the continuing existence of the universe; it explains the beginning of the universe; it explains the inherently mathematical nature of the universe; it explains the existence of the laws of nature; it explains the beauty in the universe and the relationship between mathematical beauty and truth; it explains the existence of information; it explains the existence of free will and the ability to recognize good and evil; it explains religious experience; it explains the fine tuning in the astrophysics of the universe which allows for conscious life; and it explains why thoughts have the capacity to produce true beliefs.

Atheism lacks an adequate, coherent explanation for any of these things. To take a leap in the direction of materialist atheism requires an enormous faith which may have more to do with one’s will than we can understand. Pride and the desire to be as God (eritus sicut dei), to focus on one’s self as equal with the divine, and to put one’s own interests at the center of one’s life, prior to the interests of any superior being, may have more to do with our reflections and decisions about the existence of God than may be consciously apparent to us. Many persons throughout history have claimed that, after struggling with their pride and confused desires, they finally found joy in the presence of God. I know of no valid evidence to deny their claims. The existence of God appears to be a rational, plausible belief. I have known many persons who claim to be involved in a friendship with God, a friendship which increases their capacity for love and joy. Their claims ring true, because their lives demonstrate a peaceful focus on the welfare of all persons. Of course, this is not always true for all who claim to know God and no human being lives to the highest of standards, but perhaps the authenticity of one’s claim may be related to the quality and character of one’s love, joy, sacrifice, and mercy.