Psalm 19 says, “the heavens declare the glory of God.” And Paul declares in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…” But how are God’s attributes seen by the things that are made? And how do the heavens declare the glory of God?
A very common objection to God’s existence is that there is no evidence, and never has been any evidence for his existence. “I’m waiting! I’m open to the idea,” the skeptic claims, “but no one has ever presented evidence!” This objection, however, is either spawned from pure ignorance, or a terribly narrow definition of “evidence.” Most of the time it comes from people who define evidence as direct empirical measurement. In other words, something a physics lab could detect – evidence that in principle could be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or heard. But that means to count as evidence, “God” would have to be physical, material, a force, a field, a body. Whatever else God might be, he wouldn’t count as God if he were any of those things. So, claiming that evidence must fit the criteria of physics or chemistry just begs the question.
If the objector understands that evidence can be broader than physics and less direct than a telescope, but is still waiting patiently, she just hasn’t read much [check out the links at the bottom]. There is a rich history of arguments for the existence of God. Many of the most successful examples are ones that argue from evidence. What evidence you say? The evidence from the very nature of ordinary things: the fact that the things in the world around us do not exist necessarily, but contingently (in other words, they don’t have to exist, and might someday cease to exist), or the fact that things change.
The natural world around us also acts toward ends. What do I mean? Hearts pump blood in order to distribute blood throughout a body. Trees grow roots down into the soil in order to soak up nutrients. Birds gather sticks for the purpose of building nests. Even hydrogen atoms always “seek” to have two valence electrons.
Even natural selection and the theory of evolution are processes directed towards something, namely, survival. For five hundred years or so, scientists and thinkers have tried to ignore this idea of inherent goal-directedness (what’s classically been called final causality), and they have attempted to characterize everything in terms of particles pushing or fields influencing. But final causality is making a comeback, largely due to the fact that it’s seeming more and more unlikely that we can fully get rid of goal-directedness in the philosophy of nature. This is especially true in biology. How could you ever understand a heart or a liver without reference to its function or its purpose in the larger system? Likewise, parts of ecosystems? More fundamentally, the potentials and powers in things -anything- are directed towards certain outcomes. The ability to cause something is directed at a certain and limited range of possible effects. Causes naturally cause the same effect unless some other cause gets in the way.
[But let’s say that this technical stuff is over your head. I think you’ll agree that it makes sense that things act toward goals, even unintelligent things. Now, have you ever stopped to consider what it takes to act purposefully?]
Okay, if this is true, what’s the big deal? If teleology, or goal-directedness is inherent in all things, then the evidence for God is literally all around you:
- All natural things act with purpose or toward goals. (An acorn’s potential to act in the presence of sunlight, soil, and water is pointed toward becoming an oak tree.)
- But acting with purpose requires intelligence.
The very nature of acting with purpose or toward goals requires an intellect, because the end toward which a thing acts does not yet exist, so it cannot have any influence, unless it exists in a mind. The house, as a goal, can influence the architect only because it exists in some sense in the architect’s mind (the “blueprints” of a goal exist only in minds, until the blueprints are realized in a completed effect, like a finished house).
- Unintelligent things can act with purpose if directed by an intelligence. (My car is unintelligent, but it can drive to a destination as I direct it.)
- Therefore, all natural things are directed by an Intelligence
And what would we call an Intelligence that intimately directs all things in the universe towards ends, or purposes?
This is a simple adaptation of Thomas Aquinas’s “Fifth Way.”