Weekend Broadcast

Necessary Being

A Message by R.C. Sproul

If you ask an atheist how the universe came into being, chances are their response will have something to do with a Big Bang and millions and millions of years. But atheists need to do a little more homework before they accept a naturalistic explanation of existence. In this lesson, Dr. Sproul explains a simple proof for God’s existence based on the logic of necessary being.

From the series: Defending Your Faith

Get the Justification By Faith Alone Teaching series on CD for a Gift of Any Amount

Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Beyond Reason?

  2. blog-post

    In the Beginning God

  3. article

    Faith and Reason

Beyond Reason?

John Lennox

Although science with all of its power cannot address some of the fundamental questions that we ask, nevertheless the universe contains certain clues as to our relationship to it, clues that are scientifically accessible. The rational intelligibility of the universe, for instance, points to the existence of a Mind that was responsible both for the universe and for our minds. It is for this reason that we are able to do science and to discover the beautiful mathematical structures that underlie the phenomena we can observe. Not only that, but our increasing insight into the fine-tuning of the universe in general, and of planet earth in particular, is consistent with the widespread awareness that we are meant to be here. This earth is our home.

But if there is a Mind behind the universe, and if that Mind intends us to be here, the really big question is: What is the purpose of our existence? It is this question above all that exercises the human heart. Scientific analysis of the universe cannot give us the answer. But true science is not embarrassed by its inability at this point — it simply recognizes that it is not equipped to answer such questions. Therefore, it would be a serious logical error in methodology to look only within the ingredients of the universe — its material, structures, and processes — to find out what its purpose is and why we are here. The ultimate answer, if there is one, will have to come from outside the universe.

But how shall we find this out? I have spent much time over the years arguing that there is evidence of a Mind behind the universe, a Mind that intended us to be here. We too have minds. It is, therefore, not illogical that one of the major reasons why we have been given minds is not only that we should be able to explore our fascinating universe home but also that we should be able to understand the Mind that has given us the home.

Long before Aristotle, the book of Genesis was penned. It starts with the words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This statement stands in complete contrast with the other mythical cosmogonies of the time — like the Babylonian, in which the gods were part of the stuff of the universe, and in which the world was made out of a god. Genesis claims that there is a creator God who exists independently of the universe, a claim that is foundational to Christianity. The apostle John puts it this way in his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1–4).

In Greek, the term translated “Word” is logos, which was often used by Greek philosophers for the rational principle that governs the universe. Here we have the theological explanation for the rational intelligibility of the universe, for the fine-tuning of its physical constants as well as its biological complexity. It is the product of a Mind, that of the divine Logos. For what lies behind the universe is much more than a rational principle. It is God, the Creator Himself. It is no abstraction, or even impersonal force, that lies behind the universe. God, the Creator, is a person, and He is not part of the stuff of His universe.

Now, if the ultimate reality behind the universe is a personal God, this has far-reaching implications for the human search for truth, since it opens up new possibilities for knowing ultimate reality other than through the (scientific) study of things. For people communicate in a way that things do not. People can reveal themselves in speech and thereby communicate information about themselves that the most sophisticated scanner applied to their brains could not reveal. Being people ourselves, we can get to know other people. Therefore, the next logical question to ask is: If the Creator is personal, has He spoken directly, as distinct from what we can learn of Him indirectly through the structures of the universe? Has He revealed Himself? For if there is a God, and He has spoken, then what He has said will be of utmost importance in our search for truth. Here we once again encounter the biblical claim that God has spoken in the most profound and direct way possible. He, the Word who is a person, has become human, to demonstrate fully that the ultimate truth behind the universe is personal. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (v. 14).

This statement is highly specific. It asserts that at a certain time and place, God the Creator encoded Himself in humanity. It is, of course, a staggering claim to supernatural activity of the highest order. Yet, science has not and cannot eliminate the supernatural.

I submit that, far from science having buried God, not only do the results of science point toward His existence, but the scientific enterprise itself is validated by His existence. Inevitably, of course, not only those of us who do science but all of us have to choose the presuppositions with which we start. There are not many options — essentially, just two. Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter or there is a Creator. It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second.

In the Beginning God

R.C. Sproul

When Genesis speaks of a beginning, it is referring to the advent of the universe in time and space. It is not positing a beginning to God but a beginning to the creative work of God. One of the most enigmatic questions of philosophy and theology relates to the nature of time. Was the universe created in time, or was it created along with time? Did time exist before creation, or did it come into being with creation? Most classical theologians affirm that time correlates with creation. That is, before matter was created, time, at least as we know it, did not exist. How one approaches this question of the origin of time is usually bound up with how one understands the nature of time. Some see time not as an objective reality but merely as a category or construction of the mind.

However we conceive of time, we can agree that the ordinary manner by which we measure time requires a relationship between matter and motion. A simple clock uses hands that move around the face of a dial. We measure time by the motion of these hands. Or we may use an hourglass, which measures time by the passing of sand through a narrow aperture in the glass. The sundial measures time by the movement of a shadow. There are many devices to measure time, but in the final analysis they all rely on some sort of motion relative to some type of matter.

If there is no matter, we cannot measure motion. If we cannot measure motion, we cannot measure time. However, just because we cannot measure time without matter does not mean that without matter time does not exist. Genesis merely asserts that the universe had a beginning. It does not explicitly declare that time began with the universe. That concept is derived via speculative philosophy. The philosophical concerns are usually linked to our broader understanding of the nature of God. Especially when we declare with Scripture that God is eternal, the question of His relationship to time arises. Does His eternality mean that He is somehow outside of time, that He is timeless? Or does His eternality mean that He exists in an endless dimension of time?

If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. —R.C. Sproul

However we answer this question, we conclude that God Himself never had a beginning. He exists infinitely with respect to space and eternally with respect to time. His existence has neither a starting point nor an ending point. The dimensions of His existence are from everlasting to everlasting. This means that He always has been and always will be.

In the Beginning God

Because God Himself had no beginning, He was already there in the beginning. He antedates the created order. When we affirm that God is eternal, we are also saying that He possesses the attribute of aseity, or self-existence. This means that God eternally has existed of Himself and in Himself. He is not a contingent being. He did not derive from some other source. He is not dependent on any power outside Himself in order to exist. He has no father or mother. He is not an effect of some antecedent cause. In a word, He is not a creature. No creature has the power of being in and of itself. All creatures are contingent, derived, and dependent. This is the essence of their creatureliness.

In the Beginning God Created

Thinkers hostile to theism have sought every means imaginable to provide a rational alternative to the notion of an eternal, self-existent deity. Some have argued for an eternal universe, though with great difficulty. Usually the temporal beginning of the universe is granted, but with a reluctance to assign its cause to an eternal, self-existent being. The usual alternative is some sort of self-creation, which, in whatever form it takes, falls into irrationality and absurdity. To assert the self-creation of anything is to leap into the abyss of the absurd because for something to create itself, it would have had to exist before it existed to do the job. It would have had to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship. Some speak of self-creation in terms of spontaneous generation, which is just another name for self-creation. This would involve the logically impossible event of something coming from nothing. If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. Even that statement is problematic because there can never be nothing; if nothing ever was, then it would be something and not nothing.

Excerpt from God's Love by R.C. Sproul. Available now from the Ligonier Store.

Copyright 2012 R.C. Sproul. God's Love published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

Faith and Reason

Keith Mathison

It has been said that he who defines the terms, wins the debate. Skeptics know this and take advantage of it. Witness some of the famous definitions of "faith" provided by unbelievers. Mark Twain, for example, quipped, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." Closer to our own day, the atheist author Sam Harris defined faith as "the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail." Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most famous atheist of our generation, claims: "Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."

The one thing all of these definitions have in common is the explicit or implicit idea that faith is in conflict with reason. Unfortunately, some Christians in the history of the church have said things that have provided support for this view of the relationship between faith and reason. Martin Luther, for example, made very strong negative statements about reason, many of which are quoted by skeptics in their attempts to prove that Christianity is inherently irrational. Luther called reason "the Devil's greatest whore." He said in a number of different contexts that reason should be destroyed. The context is crucial, because in these instances Luther was talking about the arbitrariness of unaided human reason to discern divine things. Still, his tendency toward hyperbole has played into the hands of skeptics.

The vast majority of Christians throughout history, however, have not rejected the right use of reason. This stems from their attempt to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture, which itself provides reasons to believe. John wrote his entire Gospel to provide reasons to believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:30–31). John, Peter, and Paul appeal to evidence for the claims they make (1 Cor. 15:5–6; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1–4). All human beings believe certain things based on the testimony of others. Christians believe what they believe based on the testimony of the Apostles. Such faith is a gift, but it is not divorced from reason.

If we are going to understand better the relationship between faith and reason, we must have a clearer understanding of these two words. The word faith is used in several different ways by Christian thinkers. It can refer to the beliefs that Christians share (the "Christian faith"). The word faith also can refer to our response to God and the promises of the gospel. This is what the Reformed Confessions mean when they speak of "saving faith" (for example, the WCF 14). This faith involves knowledge, assent, and trust. Finally, many philosophers and theologians have spoken of faith as a source of knowledge. As Caleb Miller explains, "The truths of faith are those that can be known or justifiedly believed because of divine revelation, and are justified on the basis of their having been revealed by God."

The word reason also has been used in different ways. It can refer to our human cognitive faculties. The relation of faith to reason in this sense involves asking whether Christian beliefs are reasonable. In other words, did we properly use our cognitive faculties in evaluating these beliefs? We can also use reason to refer to a source of knowledge. In contrast to the "truths of faith" known by divine revelation, the "truths of reason," in this sense, are truths known through natural faculties such as sense perception and memory. A conflict between knowledge derived through natural human faculties and knowledge derived from divine revelation occurs only if an apparent contradiction arises. Finally, in the narrowest sense, reason can be used to refer to logical reasoning. Christians should never argue that there is a conflict here because this faculty is part of who we are as human beings created in the image of God.

Most of the contemporary discussion about the supposed conflict between faith and reason has arisen in the context of discussions about science and religion. Space constraints prohibit a full discussion of this issue, but a few general points should be made in order to help us understand how to think about any alleged conflicts that arise. In the first place, we must acknowledge with Augustine, John Calvin, and many others that all truth is God's truth. That which is true is true because God revealed it, created it, or decreed it.

HE REVEALED IT: All that God reveals, whether through general revelation in His creation or through special revelation in Scripture, is necessarily true. It is impossible for God to lie.

HE CREATED IT: When we learn something about creation that corresponds with what God actually made, we have learned something true. God is the source of these truths by virtue of the fact that He is the Creator.

HE DECREED IT: God is the one who has decreed whatsoever comes to pass. When we learn something about history that is in accordance with what actually happened, we have learned something true to the extent that our knowledge corresponds with what actually happened, and what actually happened only happened, ultimately, because God decreed it.

A second major point that must be made is this: If all truth has its source in God and if all truth is unified, then one thing we know to be certain is that if there is a contradiction between an interpretation of Scripture and an interpretation of what God has created, then one or both of those interpretations is incorrect. They cannot both be correct. Christians must recognize that the conflict may be due to a misinterpretation of creation, to a misinterpretation of Scripture, or to a misinterpretation of both. This means we need to do a thorough and careful examination of both the scientific theory and the biblical exegesis to discover the source of the conflict. We must make sure we are dealing with the actual teaching of Scripture as opposed to a mistaken interpretation of Scripture. And we must examine the evidence for the scientific theory in question to discover whether we are dealing with something that is true about God's creation or something that is merely speculation. All of this hard work takes time, and it means that we do not jump to hasty conclusions.

God created us in His image as rational creatures. Our cognitive faculties were distorted by the fall, but they were not destroyed, and even unbelievers can use these faculties to discover truths about earthly things—as opposed to heavenly things, about which they are completely blind (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.12–21). We do not fully comprehend God, but this is because we are finite and God is infinite. Faith and reason, rightly understood, cannot be and are not in any real conflict.

Since the beginning,

our aim has been to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it, and how to live it…

More about Renewing Your Mind