W. B. West, Jr.
The Ontological Argument
The word ontology is derived from two Greek words, ontos and logos, which mean “the reason or ground of being.” Stated briefly, God exists because we think He does. This is the argument from thought to being. Human thought is always a signpost pointing to something beyond itself; deny this something and all human thought is denied.
The very idea of God is possible to us only because God is behind it and by God, Anselm, the father of the ontological argument, meant “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Anselm argued that the fool who denies the existence of God thereby proves only that he is a fool, for he shows that he has the idea of God in his understanding even though he does not go on to understand that such a being exists.
Descartes added to the conception of Anselm by saying that the idea of God, that is, of a perfect being, could not originate in the human mind since it is finite and imperfect. Consequently it must be referred to a perfect cause or God; therefore, God exists.
The contingency of all finite things, since the reason for their being does not lie within themselves, requires the assumption of a being whose ground of existence is in himself alone: self-existence is a necessary element of perfection, and therefore of God. Another way to express it is that the idea of God includes necessary existence; therefore God necessarily exists.
What is the value of the ontological argument for the existence of God? It was severely criticized in Anselm’s day and by Kant, who accepted it as regulative thinking, but not constitutive of knowledge.
It is true that it has the weakness of saying that every thought of the mind must have an objective reality, but in all fairness to its most ardent supporters it must be said that they “do not contend that every subjective conception must have an objective reality, but only that certain ones must have,” such as are conceived by the mind as demanding necessarily a corresponding objective reality, because the idea of God in the mind is an idea of Him as necessarily existent; consequently the mind must believe in Him as actually existent.
Somehow the ontological argument—always being shown out the front door in a polite manner—enters quietly again at the back door. It seems to be here to stay, a valuable argument for the existence of God.
The Cosmological Argument
The word cosmological is from two Greek words, kosmos and logos, the former meaning “world” and the latter “a reason for.” In its usual acceptance, the cosmological argument deals with the principle of causality as applied to the relation of God to the world. It is claimed that God is the cause and the world is the effect.
A more exact statement would be that everything that’s begun is a result of a cause sufficient to produce it. In this form, the argument might be called the aitiological—the Greek word, aitia, meaning “cause”—but for the purpose of generally accepted understanding, we shall use the term “cosmological.”
The most common response of the man on the street to the challenge to prove that there is a God is the sweeping gesture of the hand, and a rhetorical question: “Who, then, made all this?” Every honestly thinking person knows that every effect has a cause and every cause an effect. The world and all that is within it is here. What or who caused it?
A beautiful and ordered world is seen everywhere. On a clear night in Texas when the sky is a blaze of brilliant diamonds against a deep blue curtain, with one star differing from another star in glory, presenting a ceiling of unsurpassing beauty, we overwhelmingly exclaim with David, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psa. 19:1).
The gorgeous beauties of the sunrise are the glory of God’s trailing robes, and the rainbow is the scarf which He throws about His shoulders. The sun, the moon, and the stars send forth their light to guide by day and by night. When we see these manifestations of a Divine Cause, we say with the Hebrew poet, “When I consider the heavens, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou visitest him?” (Psa. 8:4).
During the French Revolution, a revolutionist said to a peasant, “I will have your steeples pulled down that you may no longer have any object by which you may be reminded of your superstitions.” But the peasant replied, “But you cannot help leaving us the stars.”
A man who never enters a church building went with a preacher one night to a planetarium. When he saw the unfolding and the great drama of the sky, he said to the preacher, who was sitting by his side, “There is no room for chance in what we are seeing tonight, is there?” It is no marvel that, speaking of the heavens, Pascal once said, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.”
One can go from an observation of the heavens to the beauties and wonders of the world of nature and as obviously and convincingly see a Divine Cause. One makes a visit to the Himalayas of that intriguing land of India, to the towering Alps of picturesque Switzerland, to the vast rooms and corridors of Carlsbad Caverns with their fascinating formations, or to the grandeurs of Grand Canyon, and unreservedly says with the Psalmist, “The firmament showeth his handiwork” (Psa. 19:1).
It is said that an atheist living in New York went to Los Angeles by the way of the Grand Canyon. Leaving Grand Canyon, he said, “No longer do I disbelieve. I now believe in God.”
“God is and God created” is the only answer when we look at the cosmos or the world about us. Truly did Moses write, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) and, “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by God so that what is seen hath not been made ouf of things which appear” (Heb. 11:3).
The Teleological Argument
The word teleological has its parentage in the Greek language, being derived from telos which is defined as “end or purpose” and logos as “the reason for.” The teleological argument is closely related to the cosmological—the original meaning of the noun kosmos being “order.” The verb is kosmeo and means “to arrange,” and it is akin to the Sanskrit root, mand ornare meaning “adorned or ornamented.” A kosmos cannot be conceived without a telos. The world and all that is in it must be for some end or purpose.
Evidences of a purposeful universe are so numerous and clear in all the realms of nature and life that space will permit the naming and discussion of only a small number. Let us mention the order and purpose of the heavenly bodies. The mathematical astronomers say that the more carefully they investigate the movements of the heavenly bodies, the more certainly do they know that they show order and obey law.
Sir James Jeans, the great physicist, said, “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.” Centuries before modern science, Socrates expatiated on the orderly movements of the heavenly bodies, on the blessed gift of sunlight, and on the silence of the nocturnal hours designed as if to invite repose. Concerning the reason for all this, Samuel Rogers said, “The very law which moulds a tear/And bids it trickle from its source/That law preserves the earth a sphere/And guides the planets in their course.”
As revealed in the first chapter of Genesis, all creation shows marks of design—light and darkness, day and night, the collecting of the waters and dry land, seed time and harvest, the sun, moon, and stars, the animal kingdom, and man. Everything in the universe is adapted to a purpose. Let us think of the realm of the living, where design, end in view, aim to be had, order, method, and system are clearly evident.
It is singularly characteristic of some animals that they are adapted for life on dry land, others for life in the air, still others for salt water, brackish water, and fresh water. Some fish never leave the unlighted abysses of the ocean, others leap into the sunlight foam of tropical seas. A common animal like the mole is adapted to the ground beneath the surface of the earth, where it lives much of its life. Its barrel-like body, its pointed snout, its shovel-like hands, its athletic breast muscles, its well protected eyes, and its rapid digestion attest to the adaptation of the mole to life under the ground.
The chicken is well adapted for its purpose in the universe. More than 2,000 years ago Plato studied the development of the chick within the egg, and his observations are good for today. A story is told of the visitor to London, who could not be persuaded to leave the shop window in Regent Street where chick incubators were for sale, with the young chicks often scrambling out of the egg shells. He said to his companions: “That’s a thing to have seen. After that there ain’t no use telling me that there is no God.”
I wish there were space to tell of all the wonderful revelations of the telescope and the microscope, to say nothing of the most obvious observations of the eye, all of which would testify to their teleology. It is difficult not to use Paley’s illustration of the watch, which is as good now as ever, to prove that there must be a Designer for every design, but space forbids. In the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians Paul says that members of the body have different functions. This will be the final illustration of the teleological argument for the existence of God, using the human eye as an example of the marvelous adjustment of means to ends.
There are many marvelous things that could be said about the eye, but only a few will be mentioned. The eye is adapted to perceive objects at different distances, varying from inches to miles. In telescopes this would be accomplished either by putting in another lens, or by some focusing arrangement. We do not know exactly how the eye can see objects at different distances, but we know that it can and does do it with amazing correctness. A landscape of a number of miles is brought within the space of half an inch in diameter. At least the larger ones of the multitudes of objects it contains are all preserved, and can each be distinguished in its shape, color, size, and position. And what is even more amazing is that the same eye that can do this can read a book at a distance of a few inches!
Again, the eye can see objects in different directions, for it is constructed to turn right or left, up or down, without moving the head. To keep it moist and clean, both of which are essential to its utility, a special fluid is supplied constantly, the superfluous moisture passing through a hole in the bone to the nose, where it is evaporated.
This valuable instrument is in duplicate, the two eyes being so arranged that while each one can see separately if the other should get injured, they can usually see together with perfect harmony. Our admiration for the eye is further increased when we know that it was formed before birth. It has been called a prospective organ being of no use at the time that it was made. This shows design more plainly than anything else. In view of all this and much more that could be said, the eye is an optical instrument of ingenuity. The conclusion is that it must have been made by someone and that someone must have known and designed its use.
Whence all the order and intelligent purpose in the universe which we have been discussing? Surely no reader will agree with the atheist who says,
The world rolls round forever like a mill;
It grinds out death and life and good and ill;
It has no purpose, heart, mind, or will.
We would not say that intelligent order in the universe is here by chance. The best thinkers of the ages have ascribed our teleological world to Supreme Intelligence, to a loving Planner and Designer. The Greek philosopher ascribed the movement and order of the world by analogy to nous or “mind.” Socrates not only developed the proof for the purpose of the world but gave it a definite theistic reference. Despite Charles Darwin’s pseudo-science, the best scientists of the ages have seen God behind our world. The Bible produced by the Holy Spirit, through the greatest minds of the ages, abundantly testifies that all creation has purpose and that behind this creation and purpose is the Great Creator and Designer of the universe, who is none other than God.