John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Trying to Prove It

For centuries, philosophers and theologians have struggled with proving the existence of God. Some of the greatest thinkers of all time have wrestled over this issue at length, because proving God exists is vastly different from proving anything else. If God exists, he does so in a way that is different from, say, a tree or a fish. If God exists, he must exist beyond our senses. We can't smell God or hear him or taste him (I know the Bible verses -- let's not pick nits here, please -- they don't mean God can actually be tasted in the same way a lemon can be tasted).

Really, now we're dealing with two questions: (1) "Does God exist?"; (2) "How does God exist?"

These two questions keep philosophers and theologians up at night and have since the time of the Ancient Greeks -- probably before them, even. There are three players in the ancient world who take the best runs at answer the questions: Plato, Aristotle and Augustine.

Let me explain what Plato believed. Wait...no...it's too much. Let me sum up.

Plato (who was the first person we know of to use the term theologia) believed in two worlds: the world we can see and another world we cannot see. The world we can see is a cheap imitation of the world we cannot see. All the trees here on earth are inferior copies of the one real tree that exists in this other world. The greatest and most ultimate thing in this unseen world is "The Form of The Good". For Plato, that was God.

Aristotle was a student of Plato, and he believed that the world we can see is the real world. But he also believed that everything that exists has two parts: material and structure. He understood that there must exist something (or someone) outside of the system so material can be given structure. He named that something/someone "The Unmoved Mover" and attributed all change and motion in this world to it. For Aristotle, that was God.

Augustine (who we've talked about before) believed that there had to be an "Ultimate Truth" to account for all the universal truths in the human mind. For Augustine, that was God.

The problem here is that all three of these definitions of God are philosophical definitions. As a result of them, we know little or nothing of the character and nature -- the theology -- of God. Platonic and Aristotelian thought was incorporated into Christianity so early theologians could have the vocabulary they needed to be taken seriously, but we still don't know what kind of God these philosophers and theologians were trying to prove.

The simple answer is that they were trying to prove the existence of the Christian God; they believed that God to be the one, true God. Their assumption was that they could gain an understanding of the character and nature of the Christian God through the revelation found in the Bible. They also trusted the faith they found in their own experiences with this God.

But they needed more than revelation and faith (and so do we) if they were going to make their claim credible to the rest of the world. They needed to use reason in harmony with revelation and faith.

Revelation and faith provide the framework within which reason can do its work.

Wow! That was heavy for a Friday afternoon! Lots to chew on over the weekend.