In a previous post I mentioned three key questions: Why believe in God? in Christ? in the Church? Today I want to start looking at that first, foundational question. Why would someone believe in a God (theism), rather believing in no God (atheism)? Or, how does one overcome uncertainty (agnosticism)?
First, I think it is important to recognize that this is a question that exists outside of any particular revelation. Being an atheist is more than just rejecting the Bible (or any other claim of a teaching revealed by God). It is the claim that there is not a God of any kind (revealed or not). So, let’s look at an example of someone who did not reach his belief in God through any particular religion.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle lived a few centuries before Christ, and pursued knowledge of the causes of things. For an effect to exist, a sufficient cause was required. So, why did something exist rather than nothing? He argued that there must ultimately be an “unmoved mover,” i.e., a First Cause that wasn’t caused by something else.
A classic example of his reasoning is setting up a chain of dominoes and knocking them over. There must be a first domino knocked over to cause the rest. Or, if someone has a tractor and says they borrowed it from a friend (who in turn says he borrowed it from another friend, etc.), you eventually have to reach the person who somehow acquired or made the tractor in the first place. Or, for a final example, if you see a train moving along a perfectly flat surface, you can logically conclude that there is something that gave it a driving force.
If there was no First Cause, then either 1) there would be no effects, or 2) there would be no need of causes to produce effects. Both he saw as contrary to reality—created things exist all around us, and follow the law of cause and effect. Therefore, he concluded that the Greek polytheism must be incorrect, and that ultimately one Unmoved Mover must exist. Aristotle speculated about what the nature of such a thing must be (infinite, eternal, etc.), but his concept of the Unmoved Mover contains the heart of what we mean by the word “God.”
This is a very simplified explanation, but it shows one road to belief in God that does not rely on any divine revelation. In revelation we believe that we learn more about the nature of God, the process of the creation of other things, how we interact with God, etc. However, at its root, atheism isn’t a rejection of these particular things. Atheism is the belief that there is no ultimate cause or purpose to reality, whereas belief in God is the claim that there is such a cause (whatever the particular qualities of that cause might happen be). Again, there is much more to say on the matter! I’ve provided one example of a path to belief, and want to continue this topic in the following posts by looking at two of the most significant objections to God: materialism and the existence of evil.