A Case for the Existence of God by Dean Overman  



Dean L. Overman

This book is intended for people who have open minds concerning the question of God’s existence. Reasons for faith or nonfaith have to do with highly personal factors that either predispose people to have a theistic or naturalistic worldview. No one approaches the question of God from an impartial, neutral perspective.

Reflection about the existence of God may be the most important inquiry one can make in his or her lifetime. Every aspect of human life is affected by whether one regards human beings as the supreme beings in the universe or as beings subject to a superior being. The perception of one’s own nature varies dramatically depending upon the answer one gives to the question of God’s existence. The question is fundamental to an adequate contemplation of human existence and the relationships among humans.

Sigmund Freud claimed that belief results from wish fulfillment. He offered no reasons for his claim, but simply assumed the truth of his belief that there is no God and then attempted to explain that a belief in God is wish fulfillment. But his explanation rested upon his unproven assumption of God’s nonexistence. Like Richard Dawkins’s principal argument for the non-existence of God, Freud commits the logical fallacy of circular reasoning. Freud also failed to distinguish between mature and immature religious sentiments. Because he worked with neurotic patients his predominant experience was with an immature religious sentiment that disintegrates one’s personality. Gordon Allport, Harvard’s famous psychologist of personality, determined that a mature religious sentiment actually integrates one’s personality.

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.

Everyone makes a leap of faith in accepting presuppositions that comprise a worldview, and every worldview has inevitable uncertainties. In a search for ultimate meaning one need not limit a theory of knowledge to only that which can be empirically verified by our senses. There are other ways of knowing. I argue that there are several valid ways of knowing, including the empirical (five senses), the detection by theoretical constructs (used in the study of quantum physics, black holes, particle astrophysics, cosmology, the new field of information, and theology), metaphysical reasoning (logical thought, such as abstract mathematics), and personal knowledge (participatory religious or mystical 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 only as an inference from an abstract logical argument. Reason and faith are both required as a basis of knowledge. They are complementary. Reason without experience is dead. Experience without reason can be fantasy.

Mortimer Adler’s cosmological argument modified Thomas Aquinas’s, Samuel Clarke’s, 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 that further invigorate the argument, and explain the fallacies in the reasoning of Hume and Kant that led to 1) an overly restrictive theory of knowledge and 2) a misinterpretation of the term necessary being in the cosmological argument for the existence of God.

Given the discoveries in contemporary physics and science, it is astonishing how much of Kant’s excessively limited theory of knowledge (restricted by the five senses) still pervades current thought. Developments in science issue profound challenges to his theory of knowledge, because quantum physics, particle astrophysics, cosmology, and information theory now use abstract rational concepts rather than empirical concepts to analyze objects that are beyond the senses.

Contrary to Kant’s restrictions, contemporary physics demonstrates that one can discuss God in rational terms, even if God is outside the experience of the human senses. Physicist John Polkinghorne, for example, points out that no one has ever seen a quark, and physicists believe that no one ever will. The reason is that quarks are tightly bound to each other inside protons and neutrons so that nothing can break them out. Polkinghorne was one of the persons responsible for the discovery of quarks. Why does he believe in these invisible quarks? He believes in them because they make sense of a lot of physical evidence. He also engages in a similar belief with regard to the invisible reality of God. God’s existence also makes sense of many aspects of our knowledge and experiences, such as the order in nature.

If science can use detection by theoretical constructs rather than empirical constructs to understand physical objects, reason may be used in a similar strategy to know quite a bit about things beyond our senses, including a rational inquiry into the existence of God. If one uses theoretical constructs in science as a means of knowing, one cannot be precluded from using the same method in theology.

With respect to the term necessary being, I describe how Hume and Kant misinterpreted this concept to require a logical necessity rather than a conditional necessity. The cosmological argument still stands when one realizes that the term refers to a necessary conclusion at the end of an argument, rather than an attempt to define God into existence. I explain why a necessary being is required to sustain the cosmos (all physical reality). I also explain why the laws of physics are not sufficiently immutable to serve as good candidates for a necessary being.

Contemporary science and mathematics show that one may 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 that 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.

It is not rationally sufficient to shrug one’s shoulders and simply say that the laws of physics just are the way they are for no intelligent reason. If one is to be rational, one must push on with the inquiry and ask for an explanation for their existence.

When one reflects that the laws of physics, the most basic laws of our universe, are orderly mathematical interrelations that are not self-explanatory, one borders on superstition if one merely accepts their existence as a brute fact. Their inherent mathematical nature cries out for an explanation. Why fail to address the reason for their existence? Why stop one’s thinking at the laws of physics? These laws appear to be only contingent components of the universe.

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 do not consider the process of the gradual evolution of life as inconsistent or disruptive of faith in the existence of God. From a theist’s perspective, the important claim to be examined is whether God made time itself and then made human beings (whether over a long period or a short period of time) for the purpose of entering into a transforming friendship with the divine life.

Evolution does not address the far weightier issues that I raise concerning God’s existence. Evolution does not do away with the argument for belief in a Supreme Being. For example, evolution does not address why there is something rather than nothing. It does not address existence. It does not address the intelligible nature of physical laws. It does not address why abstract mathematics match the physical universe. It does not address the fine-tuning of the universe. Natural selection is only a component of the universe. Darwin’s theory, for all its merits, does not explain or even address why something exists or why it is intelligible, rational, and mathematical, nor does it address why beauty in abstract mathematics points toward truth in the physics of the universe.

Science gives us wonderful knowledge, but it has its limit. It cannot provide the answer to the question of the existence of the universe, because an examination of the components or members of the universe cannot explain the existence and the order of an intelligible universe. When one engages in science, he or she engages in looking at the relationship among the members of the universe. This is not sufficient to address the question of why the universe exists at all, why it is intelligible, or why it has the particular collection of members that comprise the whole of the universe.

In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins attacks religion using ridicule mockery, and vitriolic statements to persuade his readers; he provides very little substantive, logical analysis for his position. The analysis that he does provide lacks rigorous critical thinking and commits elementary errors in logic. By employing an argument with only rhetorical force, he attempts to discredit religious belief.

Clearing aside the bombastic rhetoric, his central argument is as follows. Without giving any quantitative basis for his premise, Dawkins assumes that if God exists, he would have to be so complex that his existence would be astronomically improbable. He assumes that God is complex, and he assumes that something complex is improbable. Calling his assumed improbability the “Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit,” he refers to the well-known statement that the probability of life just occurring (by random processes) is “as unlikely as a typhoon blowing through a junkyard and constructing a Boeing 747.” His basic point is that if God created the universe, he would have to be extremely complex to make something so complex. Because Dawkins assumes that complexity is inversely related to probability, God, ergo, is extremely improbable.

One exploring the logic of Dawkins’s reasoning must ask what Dawkins means by the term complex. Valid reasoning requires a consistency within the context of terms, especially when one uses the term complexity. Among persons studying the term complexity, over thirty different definitions are used. Complexity is at the heart of Dawkin’s argument, so we need to understand as precisely as possible what he means by this term.

For Dawkins something has complexity when its material parts are arranged in a manner unlikely to have resulted from chance alone. In this definition Dawkins assumes that complexity involves materialism and includes improbability. Cardiff University astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe drew the Boeing 747 analogy because of his understanding that the “parts” of a simple bacteria (nucleic acids, enzymes, molecules, atoms, etc.) all joined together in a precise sequence. Similarly, the parts in a junkyard are formed into a precise sequence when a typhoon blows through and structures a Boeing 747.

But Alvin Plantinga calls our attention to the fact that this 747 analogy only applies to Dawkins’s definition of complexity if God is made of material parts. In his definition Dawkins makes the following unwarranted assumptions: (1) God is made of many parts; and (2) these parts were unlikely (improbable) to be assembled to form a precise sequence (or in his words, a “heterogenous” or “many-parted structure”).

Any of my third-year law students at the University of Virginia would have noted that in his argument Dawkins is assuming what he is attempting to prove, i.e., that only matter/energy exists. He is assuming in his definition that God is a “many-parted structure” and that that structure is improbable. In other words, in his definition he is assuming that God is made of matter and that God’s structure is improbable. He then uses that definition as part of his premise from which he draws a materialist conclusion that God does not exist. This is a good example of the logical fallacy known as circulus in probando or circular reasoning.

Perhaps more importantly, Dawkins fails to address the following questions: If logical thinking is only the result of accidental processes, why is it trustworthy? Is it probable that accidents will accurately describe other previous accidents? If our thinking is merely the result of accidents, why should we consider our thinking true or logical? Isn’t it only accidental? How can we trust thought if it is an accident?

A theist has a basis for believing that his or her thoughts could be reliable. But a naturalist (one who believes that existence is limited to only matter/energy) has no basis for considering thoughts capable of producing true beliefs. The naturalist can think that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive but cannot make any assertion concerning whether the beliefs formed are true or not. Given unguided evolution (an atheist must assume that it is unguided) one would have to think that it is unlikely that our thoughts are reliable. But, as Plantinga writes: “It is as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and our world.”

In other words, a naturalist cannot be certain that any belief that is a product of her cognitive faculties is true. And this would mean all of her beliefs, including her belief in naturalism. Hence, she could not rationally believe in naturalism.

Many persons hold the perception that science and faith are adversaries. Not only are science and Christian belief compatible, science gives supportive evidence to many aspects of faith. In order to conduct science one must believe in the intelligibility of the laws of nature. Nature proceeds in accordance with laws that can be described by abstract mathematical principles. Abstract mathematics allows us to discover their existence. Eugene Wigner called this “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.” In their most successful theories, physicists do not impose their equations on nature but rather discover the mathematical characteristics that are inherently present in nature. The inherently mathematical structure of the laws of nature allows physicists to predict events in the physical world. On this basis, scientists and engineers have invented many useful and productive machines and devices. This predictable, intelligible aspect to nature is a prerequisite to science. Science could not be done if the universe was only a chaos of arbitrary events. The intelligibility of the laws that are the foundation of science is consistent with a worldview that a rational mind is behind the universe.

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 physical 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 that 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. Thomas Aquinas (after his mystical experience), Gabriel Marcel, and Sören Kierkegaard emphasized this form or way of knowing. 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 that one can describe by language. Language can never capture relationships between persons, let alone capture the experience or the person of God.

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.)

At the same time, one cannot rely only on mystical, religious experience. If one accepts the principle of the unity of truth, one must also use his or her mind to consider the rational merits of any proposition. Reason and faith complement each other.

In Appendix A I explore the new mathematics of algorithmic information theory as they apply to the dogma of materialism. Information is not matter or energy, and the study of the mathematics of information theory is causing a profound paradigm shift in our new understanding of reality. In Appendix B I discuss the limits of mathematics and reason and explain why everyone will always live by faith rather than certainty. In Appendix C I give the evidence from contemporary physics that supports the concepts of personal responsibility and free will.

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 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 that allows for conscious life; and it explains why thoughts have the capacity to produce true beliefs.

Atheism lacks a coherent, unified explanation for these things. To take a leap in the direction of materialist atheism requires an enormous faith that may have more to do with one’s will than we can understand. 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.