If God exists, then what kind of evidence should we expect about his existence? How exactly would God operate in allowing for evidence or inquiries into his existence? These are some questions I have been pondering a great deal recently.
Paul K. Moser places questions like this in his book The Elusive God which I recently reviewed. Moser argues therein that questions like “Do we humans know God exists?” must be rephrased because if that (perfectly loving, etc.) God exists, then we should consider how God would interact with humans (4). Thus, argues Moser, such questions should be rephrased as “Are we humans known by God in virtue of (among other things) our freely and agreeably being willing (i) to be known by God and thereby (ii) to be transformed toward God’s moral character of perfect love as we are willingly lead by God in volitional fellowship with God, thereby obediently yielding our wills to God’s authoritative will?” (4, Moser’s emphasis). But even this question must be seen in light of a third rendering of the question “Do we humans know God Exists?” which is “Are we humans known by God in virtue of… our freely being willing to receive an authoritative call to… fellowship with God…?” (4).
I think that Moser raises some very valid points here. If God does in fact exist, then the question “Does God exist?” takes, of necessity, a different tone. Rather than expecting some kind of sterile evidence that makes no demands of us, this evidence may indeed be seen as some kind of authoritative call. Moser’s argument, I believe, is unfortunately not well developed, despite the 280 pages he dedicates to this very issue. My purpose here is not to try to expand on his argument, but to bring it into a context that reflects more what I believe and would therefore use instead.
I believe Moser is on the right track when he argues that God’s purposes in revealing Himself are very important when discussing His existence. Thus, God would not coerce us into belief. Moser argues in “God is Great, God is Good” (cited below) that God, assuming He exists, could seek “to offer a profound existential, motivational challenge to wayward humans” (53). On the other hand, and here is a point Moser seems to make but never develop, the “authoritative call” aspect of God’s existence is something that I believe is of vital importance to an understanding of God’s existence and reality.
He does argue that we need to let God be God (which I read as an assertion of sovereignty) even in the areas of inquiry into His existence. Thus, we cannot make demands of a sovereign God, which would be counter-intuitive. Rather, God can make demands of us.
So how do we answer the question of God’s existence? Moser makes an argument for the existence of God that is essentially an argument from religious experience (see my own posts advancing this argument here and here). His argument is outlined in The Elusive God:
“The transformative gift [is defined as] via conscience, a person’s (a) being authoritatively convicted and forgiven by X of all that person’s wrongdoing and (b) thereby being authoritatively called and led by X both into noncoerced volitional fellowship with X in perfect love and into rightful worship toward X as wrothy of worship and, on that basis, transformed by X from (i) that person’s previous tendencies to selfishness and despair to (ii) a new volitional center with a default position of unselfish love and forgiveness toward all people and of hope in the ultimate triumph of good over evil by X” (134-135) Which leads to:
“1. Necessarily, if a human person is offered, and unselfishly receives, the transformative gift, then this is the result of the authoritative leading and sustaining power of a divine X of thoroughgoing forgiveness, fellowship in perfect love, worthiness of worship, and triumphant hope (namely, God).
“2. I have been offered, and have willingly unselfishly received, the transformative gift.
“3. Therefore, God exists” (135).
I’m still pondering this argument and trying to decide how weighty it is. The more I’ve looked it over and thought about it, the more interesting it seems to me. For now, I’ll advance my own argument, based on Moser’s writings and my own input:
1) The question “Does God exist?” must be asked in such a way that we humans acknowledge that if God does in fact exist, the question of His existence involves, necessarily, a life-changing, “creating anew” (2 Corinthians 5:17) that is the work of the Holy Spirit, which is a gift of God, not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is because i) if God exists, then, necessarily, His existence would apply to every aspect of all things (specifically, our lives).
2) Evidence of God’s existence thus entails an entirely life-changing event that is the work of God and not of ourselves (e.g. baptism). It can thus be seen (Moser’s words) as “purposively available evidence”–evidence with the purpose of justification/creating a new [see 1) above].
3) God allows people to reject such life-changing evidence
4) We humans are often in rebellion against God and refuse to acknowledge 1), 2), and 3)
5) If we are in rebellion against God, then we reject the life-changing gift as seen in 2)- faith worked by the Spirit
6) Therefore, God’s existence may indeed be justifiably inaccessible to humans who are in rebellion against God, for the most powerful evidence of God’s existence can be found in 2)–the life-changing gift of the work of the Holy Spirit, and humans who are in rebellion against God reject such evidence, despite its being (purposively) available
I believe that this argument avoids some of my theological objections to Moser’s brand of (some kind of) universalism while still advancing an answer to “Why doesn’t God make his existence blatantly obvious?” I agree wholeheartedly with Moser that God could certainly have reasons for keeping his existence hidden. These reasons could be innumerable, but for now I’m content to settle with the argument that God’s purposes are to use evidence for His existence such as to be life changing through the means of grace (eg. baptism, communion, other religious experience).
My argument is obviously not so much an argument for the existence of God as it is an argument about how exactly we should go about trying to discover the answer to the question “Does God exist?”. I am not here begging the question of the existence of God. Instead, this argument is pointing to the means by which one might go about further inquiring into the question of God’s existence. If Christianity is true, then this argument is (I believe) completely sound.
Now it is appropriate to return to Meister’s argument for the existence of God and similarly modify it.
1)If the God of classical theism exists, He is sovereign
2) If the God of classical theism God exists and is (therefore) sovereign, then His existence would likely be purposively available (see argument above)
3) If there is purposively available evidence that is available and life-changing (read: applicable to every aspect of everything, specifically our lives), then God exists
4) I have perceived such purposively available evidence of God’s existence (as a gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism, communion, and religious experience).
5) Therefore, God exists.
Clearly this doesn’t solve any issue of religious pluralism, which is something beyond the range of this post. What it does say, however, is that someone may be justified in holding the belief that God exists based on religious experience of purposively available evidence. Thus, such belief is not irrational or unjustified.
These reflections were based on information found in the following sources: Paul K. Moser, The Elusive God. I’ve also read his discussions in two other places: the book “God is Great, God is Good” (edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister) and the publication “Philosophia Christi” (Volume 11, Number 2, 2009) which is published by the Evangelical Philosophical Society (a society that I am a student member of!).
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