Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Two Best Arguments for Theism

Think of the universe as a row of falling dominoes. Now ask, who pushed the first one? Answer: GOD. (picture source:
What are the two most persuasive arguments to use in discussion with your atheist friends? 

In my humble opinion, the two strongest arguments for the existence of God are the Cosmological Argument and the argument for the Resurrection of Jesus.

The Cosmological Argument

There are at least four versions of this argument that I know of: the Aquinas argument for a First (importance, not temporal) Cause, the kalam version, the Leibniz version, and the modified version which William Lane Craig uses in his debates. I will describe the kalam and Leibniz versions.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument:

i.                     Anything that began to exist has a cause. o
ii.                   The universe began to exist
iii.                  Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument:

i.                     Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in itself or from some external cause.
ii.                   The universe exists.
iii.                  If the universe has an explanation, that explanation is God.
iv.                 Therefore, the universe’s explanation is God.

The kalam argument relies on the most foundational principle of science, without which science could not be done, that is, “out of nothing, nothing comes.” If the universe could come into existence of its own accord, then it is unclear why anything and everything could not do the same. Why should it just be universes that spring into existence ex nihilo, and why not horses, cotton candy, or 1971 Corvettes (I can dream, can’t I?)? Because of the apparent absurdity of the idea of something coming, unaided, out of nothing, the kalam argument is a powerful one.

Leibniz’s argument is often misquoted. For example, when Richard Dawkins purports to show the inconsistency of a Designer, he likes to say, “Who created God?” Aside from committing the tu quoque fallacy, such a question misunderstands the argument.
On the Leibnizian view, everything exists either due to an external cause or in and of itself—that is, necessarily. 

If God exists, he exists necessarily, and therefore has no creator (if He did, then that would be God). To say that God cannot exist necessarily is to say that the universe can. However, the universe is contingent (at least, it certainly appears to be so), and thus requires an explanation. 

A good way of demonstrating this is the hypothetical situation of the translucent ball found in the woods. One would ask how it got there. Magnify that ball till it is co-terminus with the universe, and the same question remains. Leibniz’s argument is sound and thoroughly convincing.

The Historical Case for the Resurrection:

If the Resurrection of Jesus as described in the Gospels is true, then that is the best evidence that God exists.

The three facts which must be refuted in order to prove that the Resurrection did not happen are (1) the empty tomb, (2) the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and (3) the existence of the Christian faith.

The Empty Tomb

Even the enemies of Jesus admitted that the tomb was empty, and they therefore bribed the guards to spread a lie that the disciples had stolen the body (which accusation Jesus’ enemies apparently never contested). 

Further, the inclusion in the Gospel stories of women being the first witnesses of the empty tomb would have actually counted as a mark against the story’s perceived historicity in, well, pretty much every culture up till modern times. 

We can conclude that the Gospel authors, if they wanted to construct a plausible lie, would not have made women the first to arrive at the tomb. Finally, Jesus’ death and burial was a public affair. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the guards, the high priests, or the disciples could have easily located the correct tomb, and therefore there is an extremely low probability to the theory that they had the wrong tomb.

The Post-Mortem Appearances

After his death, Jesus was seen by hundreds of people, some of whom were apparently still living when the Gospels were written, and therefore could be questioned. The wide diversity of these witnesses indicates the veridicality of these appearances. Further, the appearances introduced new information contrary to what the viewers already knew and believed, which a hallucination cannot do. Also, though Jesus seems to have moved through walls and closed doors, he also ate and drank with the disciples, which a hallucination or apparition cannot do either. Other theories such as the “apparent death” theory or that someone else died in his place have been thoroughly discredited.

The Existence of Christianity

Ancient Judaism had no expectation of a crucified messiah, nor did they associate resurrection with the messiah. The resurrection was expected to happen at the end of the world, and there was no concept of anyone else, messiah or otherwise, being permanently resurrected prior to the last day. That Jesus’ followers not only came to believe in his resurrection, but also were willing to die tortuous deaths without denying it indicates that they truly believed that he had risen from the dead.

The probability of Jesus’ body being reanimated naturally is extremely low. Therefore, the best explanation of the evidence seems to be that the accounts are true, and God raised Jesus from the dead. It follows that God exists.


  1. I think if these are the best arguments for God's existence then theism may be in greater peril than I'd hoped.

    The first argument is an argument for a first cause, not an argument for god. God is usually tacked onto the argument at the end (or in the middle in the Leibnizian) without any decent justification.

    The argument "Jesus resurrected because the Bible says so" should be fairly obviously unconvincing to anyone.

  2. @uberd00b, thanks for commenting. Contrary to God being "tacked on" at the end of the Cosmological Argument, God's existence is presented as the logical conclusion to the argument. The First Cause is best explained as God. On your view, the argument should say, "If the universe has an explanation, that explanation is a first cause." That is redundant and concludes about as much as saying "the explanation is the explanation." God is not "tacked on." God is the best explanation. Does this make sense (the argument--I'm not asking you to confess belief in God just yet)?

    As for the Argument from the Resurrection, with which of the premises do you disagree? It isn't enough to dismiss an argument out of hand because it involves the Bible. No offense, but that has nothing to do with logic.