Philosophy


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.

I just added a new page: Both Scientists & Christians. It's a list of doctorate-holding scientists who are Christians. It's very incomplete … I started the list while I was doing some research for my article¬†Science & Religion: Competitors or Companions? and figured I should post it online in case anyone finds it helpful.

Although much is made about the "rise of atheism" I generally find that people I talk with are not atheists, they are either agnostic or vaguely deistic/theistic pluralists. Those who are not atheists generally would affirm the following (note that I say "generally" so this may not apply to you personally):

1) God [at least probably] exists.

2) God is good.

3) You can't know anything about God.

I realize that 2) and 3) seem to contradict eachother, but I've heard several people say one and then the other. Generally what the person means is something like: "You could know something general about God (like God is good, or God is love) but nothing specific." ie, you might know some very general things about God but you can't really KNOW God in the detail or personal way that the Bible suggests.

We could explore the rationale behind the idea that God is unknowable (which, IMHO, ends up being faulty upon closer examination) but I wanted to try a different tack today. I imagined this conversation, which was inspired by starting to read John Piper's Desiring God (available for free online as an ebook):

Me: So, you think God probably exists and is good?

Agnostic: Yeah.

Me: But it's also your belief that we can't really know God in any substantial way?

Agnostic: That's right.

Me: I think that belief is faulty and based on false presuppositions, but would you say that a God who is good would want to give us what is good?

Agnostic: That seems to make sense.

Me: And would you agree that if God is good, then God by definition would not be merely kinda good, but God would be maximally or perfectly good?

Agnostic: Yes.

Me: Would you say it would be good for God to withhold from us what would be most good for us?

Agnostic: No, I wouldn't think so.

Me: So then, for God to be good, he would have to give us what is most good for us. What would you say would be most good for us?

Agnostic: I'm not sure.

Me: Well, if God is maximally or perfectly good, wouldn't what is most good for us to be God Himself? If he is maximally or perfectly good, He would want to share Himself with us.

Agnostic: I'm hesitant to say yes, but it's hard to imagine what would be more good.

Me: So then: For God to be maximally or perfectly good, He must necessarily share Himself with us. For if God did not do so, He could not be maximally or perfectly good, and wouldn't be God at all! Therefore, He must share of Himself with us, and we have the opportunity and ability to know Him.

Now, someone might then wonder: If God desires to give us what is maximally or perfectly good, whence comes evil? That takes us into the whole other issue of theodicy (study of the problem of evil) but keep in mind that asking "What about evil?" doesn't invalidate the argument above, it merely raises an unanswered question regarding its ramifications.

3) God is good.

I was responding to a comment on Power to Change's website just now and had this thought … not sure if this argument is valid, sound, cogent, etc, but I think it's at least interesting. I'm quite certain I must've read it or heard something like it before but I'm not sure where.

An attempt to argue that naturalistic systems of morality are innately inferior to theistic systems:

Any naturalistic morality system is ultimately unjust, and therefore immoral. Here's why: Human beings rightly crave justice, and any system of morality that is unjust would be by definition immoral. But if there is no afterlife (and therefore no final accountability for a person's actions), then life itself is ultimately unfair since good deeds will often go unrewarded and bad behavior will often go unpunished. Therefore, only a moral system that includes an afterlife (and by implication, God) where justice regarding a person's actions can be appropriately meted out can be just. Any moral system that does not is immoral and therefore deficient.

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