Question: If you Christians remove the bible as a source document for your arguments, can you still tell me if there really is a God and is there really a heaven?
Answer: Yes, there are plenty of extra-biblical evidences that speak to the existence of God. The thing I cannot do, however, is to treat heaven separately, because I do not know of any arguments that treat heaven as separated from the biblical God — although I'm not sure whether or not any such exist. So, for the purposes of our discussion, let's assume that the arguments for the existence of God himself will ultimately support the notion of a heavenly abode for him.
In order to discuss any extra-biblical arguments for the existence of God, we'll have to jump into the realm of philosophy, and today we'll look at the four principle arguments favoring God's existence. Please note, however, that there are many more arguments and related discussion than I'll present today, but this venue demands that I be brief. So, I shall give you a light overview... but first, a word from my sponsor.
The Bible stands as the Mount Everest of information about God, while the arguments from philosophy stand as lesser hills... yet they stand. And because they stand, we should address them in their own particular world. But it is not a world without context. In the first chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul encourages us to explore the universe, because God does not sequester himself in the Bible. He is reflected (and overtly so) everywhere in creation.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:18–23, NIV)
This passage tells us three things that are important to our discussion: First, those who do not see God are blind because they have proactively suppressed the truth. Second, God's attributes are plainly displayed in creation. Third, therefore, there shall be no excuses on that great day of accounting... and there will be a great day of accounting (Rev. 20:12).
The strategy of examining creation to discover the Creator is the basis of the four arguments that we'll discuss today, and it is important to understand the implications of this: God does not discourage the objective analysis of the empirical — just the opposite, in fact. He encourages it! All truth is God's truth, and objective eyes will see him soon enough.
The four arguments in view today are the Cosmological, Teleological, Ontological and Anthropological arguments —but (and thankfully!) they also have more casual names like the First Cause argument or the Argument from Design, so don't be thrown if you hear other terms. But when these arguments are formally stated, they need to be presented in the language of logic, and that language is exacting. Let's dive into the Cosmological argument, and you'll see what I mean. It is formally stated as follows:
1. Everything that exists must have a cause.
2. The universe exists and so must have a cause.
3. Therefore, the universe is caused by a first cause (a. k. a. God).
I state this informally as: Stuff exists, therefore, God exists.
Please note that this argument does not necessarily point to the revealed God of the Bible; it's not supposed to. This argument is primarily anti-atheistic, saying that the universe is not self-existent. It has a cause. Christians know God to be the cause, but this is not necessary for scope of this argument, which I'll restate in stricter terms than my informal statement: Stuff exists, therefore, cause exists. Atheistic thinkers need an eternally existent universe, because something cannot come from nothing — and we surely see a lot of something! So, what does one do with that empirical data? Either, "something" came forth uncaused, the stuff of the universe is itself eternal (self-existent and self-sustaining forever) or it was caused. We Christians like the idea that it was caused, of course, because we know the "First Cause" personally. Let's shift to the Teleological argument for a closer look at what cause has done to the place.
Philosopher William Paley (1743-1805) developed the analogy of the watchmaker to explain teleology. He posited that if you found a watch in an empty field, you would logically conclude that it was designed and not the product of random formation. Likewise, when we look at life and the universe, it is natural to conclude there is a designer since we see how perfectly the universe and its life-forms operate. Based on this, Paley gave us this formal argument:
1. Human artifacts are products of intelligent design.
2. The universe resembles human artifacts.
3. Therefore the universe is a product of intelligent design.
4. But the universe is complex and gigantic, in comparison to human artifacts.
5. Therefore, there probably is a powerful and vastly intelligent designer who created the universe.
I state this informally as: Design exists, therefore, a Designer exists.
Please understand that these types of arguments are vigorously debated by Christians and atheists, and that the assertions of one side are usually (logically) answered by the counter-arguments of the other side. So, at the end of the fighting, two sides remain. This reveals an important thing concerning Christian apologetics: Arguments might be won or lost, just as debates might be won or lost in high school, but no amount of argument changes what is truly true. God exists, and he who seeks God with a pure heart will find him (Jer. 29:13). Take St. Anselm, for instance, who must have had both a pure heart and pure mind to develop this next argument.
The Ontological Argument is quite old, being attributed to St. Anselm in the eleventh century. It supports the existence of God by using the laws of logic alone. I believe the Ontological argument to be one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of human thought. It is stated formally as follows:
1. Our understanding of God is a being than which no greater can be conceived.
2. The idea of God exists in the mind.
3. A being which exists both in the mind and in reality is greater than a being that exists only in the mind.
4. If God only exists in the mind, then we can conceive of a greater being — that which exists in reality.
5. We cannot be imagining something that is greater than God.
6. Therefore, God exists.
I state this informally as: The idea of God exists, therefore, God exists.
Friend, it gets no purer than that! Unfortunately, we'll have to step away from purity for a while, because we need to step into the realm of the human essence. As physical entities, we humans represent such a small mass in the universe, but as moral agents we define its central paradox. The argument from Anthropology (also known as the arument from Morality) is useful here.
With this argument, I'd like to give you my informal statement first, since...well...I'm picking a fight. So, here goes: Man exists, therefore, God exists.
This will take some qualification, of course, because you are going to say to me, "People are horrible! They kill, steal and lie! How can you use such beings to point to a God that you describe as good and holy?" And I'll not argue with you. Dreadful people are everywhere! But I will posit that, in addition to the overtly evil people (Charlie Manson), there are those who are overtly good (the late Mother Teresa), and that both of these types of people are sprinkled among our population. But what about the majority of us who do not excel either way?
Most of us are both good and evil on some level, and although we live within acceptable norms, every one of us is capable of performing the highest good... as well as the basest evil. This is the human paradox, and it is our defining paradox. But right at the core of that paradox is where the Christian worldview shines the brightest, because it is our worldview that best reflects what everybody sees: Humans are amazing and horrible.
Christianity understands that we humans were created in perfect goodness. We were originally like gods as compared to our current state. But we were knocked down by Satan, and we are being kept down by sin. The result is that we live our lives like deposed royalty, formerly regal persons who are now forced to live common lives. And because we live in a ruined world, we often act like ruined persons. But sometimes that former nobility finds our hearts, and it shines through the cracks of despair.
The Apostle Paul, who argued that we can find the proof of God by looking around (Rom. 1:18-23), also argued that we can find him by looking within. In my opinion, the greatest challenge to the atheistic materialist viewpoint is humanity's morality. It is too vital to be a mere artifact... and everyone knows that it's there... although not everyone admits it.
“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” (Romans 2:14–15, NIV)
In general terms, the most viable worldview is the one that best matches reality, and reality is that humans are morally variable. Why are we evil, and why are we good? Why both, and not just one or the other? The Christian worldview is the best explanation for the empirical data. I invite everyone to look around... and then look up.
As you can see, my friend, there are many ideas outside of the Bible that support the existence of God, but these are not required for faith — not that I'm saying that faith opposes knowledge. On the contrary. Faith requires knowledge, knowledge of its object. But faith has no requirement that faithful people should be conversant in philosophy. The natural question then is this: If a Christian doesn't need these arguments to be saved, what good are they? Especially for a believer who has no plans to use apologetics as a method of evangelism?
I use these arguments for comfort in the same way that I use the testimonies of intelligent Christians. Although I need no other voice except the Lord's, it encourages me to hear great minds testify that their salvation in Christ is congruent and satisfying. They are not a necessary part of my Christian walk, but I'm glad to have them around! I love their insights, their diction, their readiness to do combat with God's opponents of equal muscle... of equal muscle, but of lesser vision. Let the reasoning minister to you too.
I hope that you found this overview helpful. You may want to visit RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries; http://www.rzim.org/) for a much more in-depth apologetic. You'll find it served-up by humble people of great mental and spiritual acumen. Also, William Lane Craig at Reasonable Faith is a powerful Christian advocate. Find him at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/william-lane-craig. Be blessed.