God & AdamMany people believe that God exists (or believe God might exist) but object to the idea of a "personal" God. This would be more akin to deism rather than traditional theism, and would rule out the God described by most of the world religions a priori.

However, here are six reasons why I think that it's reasonable to conclude that God is, in some sense, personal. The first three are philosophical reasons, one is a sort of thought experiment, one is historically based, and the final reason is personal.

The video embedded below the six arguments is a YouTube clip from the debate between William Lane Craig and Lewis Wolpert; the full debate between Craig and Wolpert is also available on YouTube. (See also Craig's discussion of God's personhood in the article Personal God on his website.)

1) The cause of the universe must be creative, which implies personhood

Craig notes in his Personal God article that all of the traditional arguments that he uses for God's existence "imply the existence of a personal being" although he does not really describe why. The cosmological argument, for example, shows that the universe has a cause. This cause created the universe, including material, space, and time itself. To create requires creativity, and creativity requires several other qualities including intelligence, a purposeful intention to create, knowledge of how to create, and the ability (power) to actually bring this knowledge and intention into fruition. To call an entity which possesses all these properties anything less than personal would seem rather odd. Positing some sort of magical computer (a position atheist scientist Lewis Wolpert is forced into, see video below) is bizarre and unnecessary.

2) The universe's cause is beyond space and time

The first of two arguments given by Craig in the video below, this one is also noted in his Christianity Today article "God is Not Dead Yet" and quoted from the article here:

[A]n external cause of the universe must be beyond space and time and therefore cannot be physical or material. Now there are only two kinds of things that fit that description: either abstract objects, like numbers, or else an intelligent mind. But abstract objects are causally impotent. The number 7, for example, can't cause anything. Therefore it follows that the explanation of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal mind which created the universe, which is what most people have traditionally meant by "God."

3) The only way to get a temporal effect from a timeless cause

This argument seems a bit tricky to me, so I'm just going to transcribe Craig's statements from the video below rather than try to paraphrase it myself:

How else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe? If the cause were an impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without its effect. If the cause were permanently present, then the effect would be permanently present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless, and the effect to begin in time, is for the cause to be a personal agent, who freely chooses to create an event in time without any antecedent determining conditions.

(My note: The cause exists ontologically prior to the event rather than temporally, since time came into being in the creation event.)

4) The scale of personhood

This thought experiment is adapted from a book by Brian McLaren, whom I don't generally endorse, but I think this particular point is interesting.

Consider a slug. A mollusk has very little, if any, of what we might term "personality." Now think of a frog. You may not have known many frogs, but you can probably imagine that a frog might have a little more personality than a slug. Now thinking of a parrot, we would find a still more personal being, and moving up the "scale" of personality we would find a dog, a chimpanzee, and finally to a human being. As we move higher up the scale, we encounter more and more personal beings; we add more depth and fullness while subtracting previous limitations.

Now consider what we would need to say if God were impersonal: We'd need to conclude that God is on the same level of personality as a slug, or worse, perhaps a rock, or some other non-personal object. But this seems to be an inane conclusion: First, that the creator of these personal beings would be impersonal, and second that the God which created the universe would (if impersonal) be lower on this scale than that which was created. Therefore, because we cannot accept such a conclusion, we must accept that God is in some sense personal, and in a way that is even far beyond the way that human beings are personal. Of course, the difference between God's level of personality would not be comparable between a frog and us, it would be a billion times or more higher. Yet it seems as though we're led to the conclusion that God must be personal.

5) The God of the Bible and the historical Jesus

This argument is simple to state but rather lengthy to justify. In summary, it's impossible to read the Bible without noticing its claim that God is personal. In particular, in the incarnation of the Son of God, fully God, into the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, God entered into the world He created in the most personal way. Therefore, if we have good reasons to trust what the Bible says (I think we do, see my free ebook The Historical Reliability of the New Testament) then we also have good reason to believe that God is personal. If God is personal, we would expect God to reveal this characteristic, and the Bible provides a record of some of those revelations.

6) Personal encounters

Experiential arguments are problematic, since they are essentially subjective. Although I can describe my experience to you, the experience itself is private to me and cannot be empirically shared. I can share my own story of when I met God personally, but such a story could be dismissed as mistaken, lying, crazy, or contradictory to the experiences of others. But even though the knowledge attained is not transferable, that does not make it an illegitimate source of knowledge. Many of the truths we claim to know most confidently were attained primarily or entirely through personal experience. Therefore, a personal encounter with God is a means of knowing that God is personal.

What does it look like to deny that God is personal?

As noted above, during philosopher William Lane Craig's debate with biologist Lewis Wolpert, the biologist objects to the personal nature of God, but ends up pretty much affirming God under a different name! See the following video, which begins with Craig's two philosophical arguments for a personal God (#2 & #3 above) then the brief discussion with Wolpert after the debate:

If you are still wondering if God is really personal, and actually does care about you and has been seeking to begin a personal relationship with you, here's what I would suggest: Be open to encountering Him. Pray honestly, and as much as possible, humbly. Consider reading the writings He has given us to know Him. Explore the life of Jesus Christ. Learn what the good news, the "gospel," really is all about.

During this evening's Internet wanderings, I came across the following comments by Cathy Cooper, proprietress of an atheist blog, on a post titled "The Abundant Evidence for Christian Theism" at The Lord God Exists blog:

Jesus DID sin. He picked corn on the Sabbath (a sin) He told the crowd not to stone the woman for adultery, when stoning was the law (he told the crowd to break one of Yahweh’s laws–which is a sin)

If the Romans did not think him a sinner, they would not have hung him on the cross. Please give a reference to your claim that the Romans were in agreement with Jesus not being a sinner. You won’t have one, because there isn’t one, as the Romans kept no records of him. The claims you make are ad hoc nonsense.

Let's take a moment to analyze these comments.

First, we should notice how the two claims made in her first paragraph are factually incorrect. She states that Jesus "picked corn on the Sabbath." This is false; the relevant texts (Matthew 12:1, Mark 2:23, Luke 6:1) specify that it was the disciples who picked and ate the grains, not Jesus. Next, in regards to the stoning of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) again a factually incorrect statement is made. Notwithstanding that for several hundred years it's been common knowledge among scholars that those verses are likely a later addition to the text (and are noted as such in any modern translation) nowhere does Jesus tell "the crowd not to stone the woman for adultery." So unlike what is claimed, he never tells them to "break one of Yahweh's laws."

Second, in regards to the Romans being in agreement that Jesus was sinless, in addition to the reference given by The Lord God Exists website author (to Pilate's declaration in John 18:38 that "I find no basis for a charge against him") we also could consider the centurion's declaration recorded in Luke 23:47 after Jesus' death when he said "Surely this was a righteous man" (or "Certainly this man was innocent" in ESV). But is what is being requested here actual "Roman records" stating that Jesus was sinless? Does it sound at all plausible that the Romans would keep records of crucifying an innocent man?

Finally, the greater problem I see with this general approach is the following: It's totally arbitrary. The accusation above that Jesus committed sins is argued for from the biblical texts. But if a person considers those biblical text accurate -and they must, because why would a person use texts that they think are inaccurate as the sole basis to build a rational case for anything- then why ignore the many references to Jesus' sinlessness in the Bible? (Ex, 2 Corinthians 5:211 John 3:5, 1 Peter 2:22, et al.)

This cherry-picking approach, that grasps hold of certain verses while arbitrarily ignoring others, is misguided at best. Why treat certain passages as authentic and others as inauthentic? It doesn't seem to be for any reason stemming from textual criticism; it's a capricious method to conveniently ignore whatever doesn't fit into the person's paradigm. This method is in entirely "ad hoc" … the exact thing the commenter claims about the original post!

I've seen it claimed, in discussions regarding differing worldviews, that atheism itself is a worldview, or even that strong (or "militant") atheism is a religion. (For the record, I would not consider atheism a religion, though I would consider it a worldview.)

A response that I've seen is that atheism is not a worldview because it is not a belief, rather it is merely a "default position". The rationale given sometimes compares belief in God to unicorns or some other such mythical animal, in the sense that unbelief in such things (or anything, really) is the default until convinced (or proven) otherwise.

While I can certainly see the reasonableness of this line of thinking and its general applicability, I wonder if it applies equally well to the question of God. There's at least two reasons to think in this specific case things might be different. First, the vast majority of people throughout history have believed God (or gods) exist(s), a phenomenon which remains the case today. Should a belief be regarded as a default position when the majority believe the opposite?

And secondly, related to the above, if Richard Dawkins and those who agree with him are correct that human beings have evolved a natural proclivity towards belief in God(s) as some sort of survival/social assistance mechanism, should not belief in God be considered the default position, since we are supposedly "hard-wired" for such belief? Shouldn't such naturally impelled belief be considered the default? Although I would agree with Dawkins that human beings seem to have an innate proclivity towards belief in God, I would suggest that there is different reason why so many people seem to have an innate awareness of God.

FaithAfter my recent post re Peter Kreeft's thoughts on "Who made God?" I've seen that same question come up in several places during my random web wanderings. As I was thinking about this question today in the shower (where all great philosophical thought occurs) I imagined a conversation like the following … hopefully this isn't too contrived and doesn't caricature the two imagined persons involved too much:

Christian:  The cosmological argument is strong evidence that God exists. If the universe was made, it needs a maker; if it was created, it needs a creator. That creator is God.

Skeptic:  Ah, but this merely raises the question "Who made God?" which Richard Dawkins himself asks in The God Delusion.* It just pushes the question back one step further.

Christian:  This seems to me to be a category error; it confuses the uncreated creator with His created creation. God doesn't need a maker because God was never made; He was and is eternally existing.

Skeptic:  That's special pleading at best, hypocritical at worst. Why is it okay for God to be "eternal, uncreated" but not the universe?

Christian:  Because we have good reasons, both philosophical and scientific, that the universe is not eternal, whereas no such reasons exist to believe that God is so. God is not subject to the same limitations of the material world He created. The cosmological argument proposes not that everything requires a cause, but whatever begins to exist requires a cause; if God did not begin to exist (since there is no reason to believe He did, unlike the universe) He requires no cause.

Skeptic:  Even if we agree that the universe is not eternal, why must its cause be God? Why not some other explanation?

Christian:  Whatever created both time and space must transcend both time and space. Also, there are numerous other attributes which can be discerned about whatever created the universe that imply a personal entity (that is, it possesses volition among other things). So the creator of the universe is an entity which is beyond time and space yet still possesses certain attributes and is personal. This sounds to me a lot like God.

* In The God Delusion Dawkins is attempting to apply the question as a defeater to the design argument (p.109), not the cosmological argument (which Dawkins shockingly dismisses in less than a page). I've personally heard it applied more often to the cosmological argument, at least in the realm of Internet banter.

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