Ken Boa discusses belief in and evidence for God’s existence during the April 3, 2019, installment of GraceLife Church of Pineville’s In Question series. The series is a Q&A format hosted by Michael Stewart.
Prefer to read? An edited transcript is below.
To explore further:
- Check out Ken’s 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists (coauthored with Robert Bowman) in print or audiobook format
- “20 Compelling Evidences” slideshow
- Past In Question events:
Michael Stewart (MS): Tonight’s guest is a familiar one, Dr. Ken Boa, of Reflection Ministries; he’s been with us several times and glad to have him back again this evening.
Ken Boa (KB): Thank you.
MS: Tonight’s In Question is probably primarily for the believer. We may have some among us who are genuinely questioning whether or not God exists or may identify as an atheist or an agnostic, but I think a lot of our questions will deal with “How can I strengthen my belief that God does exist?” or “How can I help others who might not have that same belief?” However, just because it’s for the believer, I don’t want you to think we’re answering this question for comfort’s sake or are not handling it seriously. G. K. Chesterton said that “I strongly object to wrong arguments on the right side. I more strongly object to those than I do to wrong arguments on the [wrong] side.”1
Given that the existence of God is such a serious topic, our goal is not simply to get people to believe in God by any means possible but, rather, through the truth which our God represents. Ken has written a book called 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists2 that we just recently released on audio. Here’s another book that I pulled off the shelf this morning: Why There Is No God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God.3 So we’ve got two views here—both of these appealing to common arguments or common sense. What role does common sense, or just our default position, or how we feel about the existence of God—how does that play into whether or not God exists in our own personal faith? Because some people seem to come to this belief in God very easily and others seem to resist it.
KB: Particularly in the West in our times, especially in a post-Enlightenment world. I’m thinking about Charles Taylor, where he talks about this whole idea of the change in the default, where the initial default in our culture was one toward a theistic belief. That was the default mechanism. And the ad contrarian view would be the minority. But now it’s reversed. And since the so-called “Enlightenment,” especially as time has gone by, the default is more toward skepticism and disbelief. But the interesting point is if Ecclesiastes 3:11 is right—and I believe it is—that God has set eternity in our hearts, yet not so that we can understand the beginning from the end—because we can’t grasp it all—but we do have something in us that we cannot eradicate. It’s called the imago dei. And this image of God cannot be eradicated.
And even the atheist, in spite of his desires otherwise, is God-haunted. So there’s a measure of common sense, there’s a measure of the implicit understanding of the teleological argument. (It comes from the Greek word telos, which means an end or direction or purpose.) So, teleology would mean that there is some purposeful or guided direction, some kind of intelligent Agency that anticipates and creates rather than just something that’s random. So again, to look at the natural world—and this is my favorite season right now, these two or these next three weeks, [because it] is a Fall in reverse, because it’s a different color palette and it’s caused by life rather than by death. And I just love the nuance and the beauty of these buds. And so what I see, and there’s an intuitive apprehension that we have, that we resonate with things. We see things that are true, we see things that are good, we see things that are beautiful, and our natural disposition—and it’s just common sense that we would—is to resonate with those things. But again, the theistic worldview accounts for that, but the nontheistic worldview has to explain it.
MS: Those who seem to hold this position with a certain amount of certainty—I think there seems to be a spectrum there. Some may be more certain than others, some may commit to it, but hold some doubt. I can remember the revival preacher as a young child saying, “Do you know that you know that you know?” I remember thinking, “Well, you may have taken that maybe a little too far.”
KB: Maybe a little too far, yeah.
MS: What role does certainty play in our faith? Is the Scripture, is God, commanding that sort of certainty in terms of His existence? Can I know that He exists in the same way that I know that this water bottle sitting here before me [exists]?
KB: It’s good because if you want to have something that is certain in the sense that I can quantify, tangibly measure, and see, then that’s a different kind of thing all together. We’re not expected to do that because we know already that the idea of God’s existence, it’s not as if you’re just going to locate Him within the created order. Reminds me of what I think was Yuri Gagarin—remember when he was the first to orbit the earth—and he made this brilliant statement: “I didn’t see any god out here.”4 Well, what did Yuri Gagarin expect to see? “Hey Buddy, hey Yuri, I’m up behind the sun over here?” If he did see a god, I’d be quite curious as to what he had in mind. It would be like a person who’s looking for the author within the play. The play is evidence of the authorship, but you don’t find the author there, but actually he is there, but not in the context of the play, but his evident presence is there.
So, there are different kinds of certainty or certitude. There are different kinds of evidences, and common sense is one of those things. It resonates with what we see. And that’s why Romans 1 adds to this argument that “since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through that which has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19) And then it goes from there, “for although they knew God, they didn’t honor him as God” (Romans 1:21). So, Paul is saying that there is a natural obligation to acknowledge the reality of God because it’s painfully evident from both within and without. It’s evident from the heavens that declare the glory of God, and their voice, although silent, is eloquent; the stars reveal His glory (Psalm 19:1–4). And at the same time, it’s evident from other things as well in the world. But it’s not the same kind of evidence that one would expect where Yuri Gagarin thinks you’re suddenly going to see some object or some thing, and that’s God. So it’s subtle, but if there’s a measure of common sense in the issue, it’s not incompatible with reason and with evidence. And so I’m a big believer in going where the evidence lies—and so, I don’t know if that helps.
MS: Yeah, I think it does. And we’re talking about evidence; we tend to think of evidence that’s presented in court and prove “Where does the burden of proof lie?” Several atheists now are claiming, “Well you guys are the ones presenting something to believe in. We’re just saying we don’t believe in anything. Therefore, the burden of proof lies with the theist, not the atheist.” How would you respond to that?
KB: I think the burden of proof would be a debatable issue, because from their standpoint, even if you say it’s really [not], I could claim that they have the burden of proof because of the evidence of design, but they’re not going to buy it. So, it’s more than the burden of proof. For me, it’s what … Charles Sanders Peirce … spoke about abduction, and abduction has to do with a kind of reasoning that is inference to the best explanation.5 Now think about that for a moment.
So, I see Mount Rushmore—and I had an opportunity to go out there. I remember I spoke at the South Dakota Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, and I accepted it for two reasons (and these won’t sound like very good reasons). One was because I only had two states out of the 50 I hadn’t been to, and that was one of the two. So I can check that off. And secondly, I always wanted to see Mount Rushmore. So, that’s why I saw North by Northwest again before I went there. And of course, there is no airstrip up there and there’s no house up there, but it was still fun to see that. But at the end of the day, that’s why I took the thing. So if I’m ever invited to speak in Fargo or Bismarck, North Dakota, I’m taking it just so I’m sort of rounded out.
That being said though, it was, again, a simple thought experiment where you look at this extraordinary achievement. And we know who did this: Gutzon Borglum. And Gutzon Borglum actually had a design, and we know exactly how he crafted this—by creating a model and then projecting that model on the surface. It was a genius work. And it reminds me, I’d rather not go there, of an Ernie Kovacs thing where the guys are working on it and the nose sneezes and they get blown off the ladder. But anyway, the idea here is that inference to the best explanation does, I think, account well for the components on the two sides of the four presidents. Erosion, natural kinds of processes can and will account for that.
But when you’re dealing with the likes of, for example, of Teddy Roosevelt, or George Washington, maybe you get a little bit more suspicious. Inference to the best explanation would point in that portion of Mount Rushmore to an agency. You see, it’s like this: it’s like a turtle on the top of a fence post. There are only three options. “It had to be there out of a necessity.” No, it doesn’t have to be there. We really only have two plausible options, and one is that it was blown up there by chance. Maybe a gust of wind picked up this big turtle and plopped him on the top of this fence post and there he is. Or maybe it’s possible that somebody put it there. Yeah. What about that? You know the obvious plausibility of that, so that the turtle on a fence post is a perfect example, as is Mount Rushmore, of inference to the best explanation. Which one would you plump for? Which would be the more prudent course of action?
So, I like that abduction idea because here Peirce is writing—and I think it’s a great way of looking at sciences—you go where the evidence leads you. And here’s the problem, though—in many actual understandings of science, there’s a methodological naturalism that’s come to place, where you presume naturalism as a default. And then that erodes into philosophical naturalism, so that they have eliminated the possibility of any design agency from the get-go, so all they’re left with is chance. You see the problem there? You’re not open to the evidence because you’re not open to where the inference goes. Inference to the best explanation would say that the most plausible explanation for a turtle on the fence post or Mount Rushmore would be some design agency. And so that’s the burden of proof then, [which] would be to say, “Can you give me an account of or such a way of understanding that goes on?”
… MS: So, we can imagine the scenario in which God says, “Hey, I’m here.” So, the question is, why doesn’t He do that? Why doesn’t He say, “Hey, I’m here after all, the Christians are right”?
KB: That’s an interesting thought because how would He say, “Hey, I’m here” apart from being a part of the created order? In other words, here, if He transcends matter energy space and time, which is what theistic understandings teach us, then He is not a component or bound by those things. But on the other hand, is it possible, though, that He could in fact visit? That the playwright could visit the play? That He could enter into the play itself mysteriously as a character? That He could actually [do this], that the Logos6 who spoke all those things into being—and this is described in John 1 which [follows] Genesis 1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing has come into being that has come into being” (John 1:1–3). Here we see the second person of the Divine Trinity, the One who actually holds the world together in this manner and in Him all things consist and He sustains them (Colossians 1:16–17).
Then, in verse 14 [of John 1], the astonishing thing is that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Now, now you have a plausible understanding that is closer to this, where He would come in the humility of Incarnation, where the Logos would actually take humanity into Himself with undiminished deity and be the mystery of the God-Man. So, if that’s true, then the highest form of revelation would be personal revelation. And it’s what J. R. R. Tolkien called, in On Fairy Tales,7 the great “eucatastrophe.” It’s from the Greek [prefix eu-], which means “good.” It’s a catastrophic eruption in history for human good. And the greatest moment would be that Incarnation. So now He can see it. So then His claim was “Just to know, to see Me, is to see the Father. To hear Me is to hear God. To reject Me is to reject God. To believe in Me is to believe God” (cf. John 14:7). These are major claims.
So now we see. You want to know what the Father’s like? Here, look at Him, and He’s taking humanity into it. Now that’s an incredibly important idea because it goes back to Hebrews 1, because God, after He had spoken “in many portions and in many ways” to the fathers—and He’s done that (Hebrews 1:1). How has He done it? He’s done it through a variety of ways. He’s done it through the Exodus, through His works, in His words, His miracles through the Urim and the Thummin,8 from the idea of the 10 plagues, and all the things that God’s done, He’s manifested Himself in many ways. Oracles—prophetic oracles in dreams and visions. He’s done that. But now in these last days, He’s done it in a higher form. He’s revealed Himself in this Son who is the “radiance of his glory, the exact representation of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Now that’s the highest form of revelation. It’s personal revelation. So, to me, the reality is that there’s a sense in which that’s true, but in a more profound way than Yuri would have ever imagined, than an atheist would ever imagine. Because now to become one of us is to embrace solidarity with the human condition and all that that entails. So, my claim is, it depends on what we mean, but for me, incarnation of the Son of the God, the God-Man, becomes an answer to that.
MS: You’ve got one group that’s positing the idea of the Intelligent Designer and gives its proofs. You’ve got another group that’s talking about vibrating strings and 11 dimensions and complex gravitational laws. Are both groups exercising faith in some capacity?
KB: As we well know there are two things about faith. Faith is a universal experience. The atheist lives as much by faith as does the theist. It’s a universal experience. Number two, faith is only as good as the object in which it’s placed. So, one can have a robust faith but in misplaced objects. I don’t care how much faith you have, you see, or [about] sincerity. It’s not going to go. But if a person has even a little faith, but it’s in the right object, that’s the difference between the person who’s got the white knuckles on an airplane and their first flight next to a traveler who’s done this so many times who didn’t even look up when the plane takes off. Both get to the same destination. One had little faith, one had great faith, but because the object was correct, they both get to the same place.
Faith is a universal experience.
The atheist lives as much by faith as does the theist.
So, to me, that’s the issue. So their faith, then—they’re basically claiming that the system that they’ve arrived at, then, they’re claiming it’s not by faith. But actually, it’s an incredible faith position when you stop and think about the implications, because they’re trying to defy “big bang cosmology” and all its implications for the idea that the universe had a beginning point. And if that’s true, that changes the rules, as we well know. And they were pushing back against that because they wanted a steady-state universe. A steady-state idea would be that it’s always been as it is. And so you could have the eternality, but now with this understanding of the majority view that there was a beginning for an energy in space and time, it looks too darn theistic for people. They’re not comfortable with that. You see? So, they want to get around that in some way.
And so, I think this is a desperate effort to avoid the obvious implications that are more or less theistic of some sort of where it came from. And by doing so, they are positing an infinite number of universes, or a practically infinite number, in order to account for the complexities of this Goldilocks [principle], the universe in which we are embedded, so finely tuned that it would appear that this it [is] created, [that] it’s made for us. So the way around it is to say, “We just happened to be in one of the universes that won the cosmic lottery,” that “The plausibility I know is low, but give me enough possibilities and that becomes high.” And so, if a person got five royal flushes dealt from one deck, from one shoe, a six-deck shoe, you’ve got five world-class [hands], you get a little suspicious, wouldn’t you about that?
“But we might happen to be in that universe where that happens.” Now who’s living by faith? Because they’re positing a system that’s based entirely on mathematical understandings and systems that are very, very tenuous indeed. It’s very volatile, and, frankly, there’s no empirical evidence for it because by definition, you can’t have a direct evidence of another universe. So here’s what they’re doing: they are in fact effectively denying the most fundamental laws of physics, the first and second laws of thermodynamics, that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, and that the matter of amount of useful energy is continuing to diminish so that the heat death of the universe would be an inevitability. They’re fundamentally denying these most fundamental laws of physics and instead plumping for a system that has no empirical evidence at all but is based upon this theory. Now who’s living by faith?
You see where I’m going with that? So, the fact is, to deny what we know—first and second law of thermo—in favor of this other system, it strikes me as a really very intriguing, desperate ploy to avert one’s attention from, or avoid the average and implications of, the theistic vision of what science is taking us to. If anything, science is moving us more and more to this understanding that the universe cannot account for itself. So, to me, you show me where the evidence lies, and all I need is one God; you need an infinite number of universes. You see, it’s a much simpler, more elegant system, but it goes on from there.
If anything, science is moving us more and more to this understanding that the universe cannot account for itself.
MS: Speaking of that cosmic lottery—and I’m sure we’ll get into a lot more of the scientific elements here in a moment—that was something that Richard Dawkins addressed, the anthropic principle, in his book, popular in 2005, 2006, The God Delusion.9 Dawkins, part of the four horsemen of the New Atheism,10 said that faith was “one of the world’s greatest evils, comparable to smallpox but harder to eradicate.”11 What’s behind the gusto of that New Atheism, that they’re not content to simply sit in the corner silently?
KB: Yeah. There’s a militancy that’s involved with that; there’s emotionality, actually. Generally speaking, Dawkins is a good illustration of how many scientists are not good philosophers, you see. And another example of that would be when Carl Sagan said, “The cosmos is all that ever was or is or ever will be.”12 That’s not science; that’s bad philosophy. “If it’s so big, what a waste!” That’s the basis of Contact, if you remember [the 1997 movie] with Jodie Foster: If it’s so big, what a waste if we’re the only ones! What about the possibility that it took a universe this big and this old and with this nature in order to create the conditions in which we can have this one discussion? It changes the rules, doesn’t it? It’s not a waste. It would all then actually work together. And there’s so many aspects of that.
And that was based upon the notion, it was the idea of certain parameters that if you had this number of stars and this number of planets, then you would have the possibility of this. And so, they used what’s called the Drake equation. It’s not an equation at all, but it has 20 basic parameters that need to be satisfied for us to have the conditions in which you could have life. Well, the Drake equation was interesting in the ’60s but is irrelevant now precisely because instead of 20 (approximately), there are over 800 fine-tuning parameters. If you took any 100 of those, the plausibility of even having 1 of those 100 is so absurd that it’s exceedingly improbable; it just doesn’t work.
So, inference to the best explanation: go where the evidence takes you. But if you eliminate from the front the possibility of divine agency, you are actually doing bad science, because you have eliminated an inference and you’ve conflated science with methodological or philosophical naturalism. Science was never that. In fact, science says, you well know, [that] the only appearance of science, empirically based science, in the history of the world was in a theistic context that actually created the conditions in which science could be done, because it said that first of all, there is a mind of the Maker; and that we, being made in the image of that mind, then can correspond and can understand the evidence that God has made, and in such a way as well that we are called to actually understand this world, have dominion and understand it, and not to worship it.
So, it provided the perfect conditions in which you could have science. And that’s why the beginning of science, especially in the early centuries, was largely theistic, though. So, you look at the great scientists—Faraday and Newton, and so many of these, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and all of these scientists—what do we discover? We discover actually that they saw that to do good science was to do it to the glory of God. You see, they didn’t see it as inimical. In fact, it was consistent with science. So, science has been redefined in our time within the last—well, near the end of the 19th century, it was being redefined. So, my view is to eliminate the idea of a design agency is bad philosophy, bad design.
MS: You know, one of the reasons we created In Question, too, is so that we can have intellectual discussions within church so that, we’ll say, the high schoolers go to school to college or freshman year and a professor who they view as intelligent, as smart, doesn’t believe in God, and they say, “Well, I never heard anyone this smart speaking in church, and this guy’s a lot smarter than any pastors that I’ve ever had, and he doesn’t believe in God, therefore it must be true.” Say that to set this up: a lot of the Dawkins of the world, the atheists of the world, their arguments are either straw men that reduce into ad hominem attacks. And so they say that faith, for example, is believing when there is no evidence or despite the evidence, which basically boils down to, “These Christians are a bunch of imbeciles.”
KB: And they arrogantly call themselves “The Brights.”
MS: Yes. Hitchens hated that name, but the other three went for it. Address this misconception, this notion that believers are idiots, are not intellectual. You yourself, growing up, had some doubts regarding God and struggled with some of the messages you heard. Can you speak to that intellectual struggle and the perception that the arguments aren’t on the side of the Christian?
KB: Yes. As I kind of processed my own journey, I realized that the question is one of, “Is there any evidence for this?” And the appeal to say, “Well, the brighter people believe,” this is not the case, because when you look at the greatest minds in literature and art and music and other areas in science as well, you discover it’s not a question of intelligence. It’s a question of volition, a question of the heart. But for me, I wrestled with these matters and decided that, when I went to Case Institute of Technology, I became a scientific humanist, basically. And so, for most of my time there, oddly, I never met one person in my four years at Case Tech—it’s now called Case Western Reserve University—but I’ve never met one person in my study there who claimed to be a believer. I don’t know how that happened. I look back and I can think of a couple of closet-Christians in my fraternity, but I’m not even sure they ever admitted it. But we used to roast preachers; we were a cynical lot.
But even there, though, I didn’t want to accept or reject, I just didn’t want to think much about it. But, as I got to reflecting on this, though, the evidence for the glory of God became increasingly manifest. And one of the things that drove me to it was my interest in astronomy, was the sense of the ineffable majesty and wonder, the awe that one would get when you’re looking up at a clear sky and you realize you’re not really looking up, you’re looking down. There’s no up or down. It’s much more mysterious than that. So you realize, “I’m immersed in mystery,” and that glory, that power, was one that drew me, as it were. And I think that’s something that kind of brought me back as well.
But when I went to Dallas Seminary as a six-month-old believer, I was still an ardent evolutionist, and I had to do a lot of processing. And one of the people that kept me there was a guy from MIT, who was maybe two years ahead of me at seminary, and we went around and around on this, on the first and second laws of thermodynamics and on the idea of biogenesis and many other areas like that. I began to realize that I’d never heard an alternative account. It was always the basic account that people pick up from Time Life books and things of this [sort], the generic thing [from which] people get this idea that, given enough time, even the most improbable things can become probable.
And so, when I began to think about that, it turns out that was not actually an accurate term. I don’t know if we should talk about the Shakespearean play or not, with the million monkeys, that’s up to you.
MS: Sure, why not? You’ve mentioned it now.
KB: Of course, you notice how I loaded and led him into that; he had no choice, you see? You know, I love probability and statistics, and so I decided to do some thinking about this. You hear it was attributed to George Bernard Shaw and it may have been him: “Give me a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters and one of them is eventually going to pound out a play of Shakespeare. Just give me enough time and even the most implausible things can become possible.”
And this was a notion because people would admit that, in the short run, it doesn’t look very promising. So, the idea though, that enough time would make it probable—so let’s put some numbers to it and see if it works. So, I decided to think of this: I’ve got a million monkeys, and the reason for—all you need is one. So, this play of Shakespeare, I made it really easy. It’s all four-letter words. No more than that. Four-letter words, this play. And you have a million monkeys typing at a hundred words per minute on average, 24/7. So, they’re feeding them peanut butter and bananas all of the time, but they’re constantly working on the keys and all. I’m going to also make it easy because you have 40 keys and you’re indifferent whether they’re upper- or lower-case, and we don’t worry about spaces. So, you can quantify this; this is quantifiable. How long would it take, then, for one of them by chance to get four letters in the proper sequence, namely, one word? And the answer was a few days.
What about two words—eight letters in sequence? It was about five years, I think. I’d have to go back and remember. And then three [words]: a hundred years. It’s getting harder, but it seems to be reasonable. But to get four of these words, that is to say, 16 characters in the proper sequence with these conditions, how long would it take? Take a guess. So you had just a few minutes— actually, I think it was like five minutes—and then a few days, and now 100 years. The next one shouldn’t be bad. What’s your guess? A thousand years? 50 billion? A hundred billion years. A hundred billion. Because we’re talking about rising exponentially. If you see 100 billion, so think about then what five words would be—and you can see where we’re going with this. They can’t! Forget a play. Forget an act. Forget a scene. Forget a sentence. They can’t pound out one sentence in a boundless amount of time. What’s fascinating about that?
So, what appeared at first blush to be a plausible argument, when you put it to cases—let’s get it down to cases, let’s look at the quantity—it doesn’t work. It would take a great deal of faith. You see, as it turns out, in England, a similar experiment was made where they actually did have some simians, and they had these computers and wanted to see if they could have any good chance. They created good conditions, and the things had a way of holding keys down, particularly the letter “s” (we don’t know why), and also [of] hitting [the keyboard] with rocks and other things and just bumping the balance. So, my conditions were very generous. They couldn’t even get a word.
And then, the amazing thing, James Tour13 really opened my eyes. He’s a guy who’s working with these wonderful systems, molecular biology, where he actually makes these nanomachines, like little cars that are made of molecules. They can create the conditions in which these things actually work and run. And he said this brilliant statement that came out of his research, and it’s this, [that] when it comes to kinetic systems—movable physical systems … time is your enemy, not your friend. Why is that? Because the window for the right catalysts is only so short, and it’ll diminish; the more time, the less likely that it will catalyze and that it’ll go to the next step.
So, [if you’re arguing for a naturalistic explanation of the universe] it turns out, time is not your friend; it’s your enemy.
So, it turns out, time is not your friend; it’s your enemy. So, he really is pretty open about his critique about biologists who just buy this notion [of evolution] without any evidence at all. And so, the net of the matter for me, is the last 50 years of science has been such that the rules have changed radically. The rules have changed in several areas that I see; actually, science is becoming our friend, not our enemy. And it has to do with the evidence for the universe’s beginning; secondly, the evidence for the fine-tuning of the cosmos and life itself; third, evidence for the impossibility of abiogenesis for a living cell; and fourth, the evidence from the nature of information, because your body is rich in molecular systems that you have. It’s incredible.
The DNA that we have is so rich, these biomacromolecules are so rich, that it’s equivalent to a large set of—I would now say a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas, but the problem is people aren’t buying … Encyclopedia Britannicas anymore, so you can’t see that set—but it’s equivalent to a lot of information, more than you can imagine, just in one of your 40 or so trillion cells. That DNA that’s so tightly spooled together, in each one of the nuclei of those cells, which if teased out, would be six feet in length. How to squeeze that information—what is this information … from whence comes information? So, for me, I think it’s been fascinating that as skepticism has increased, the evidence has also increased. And Pascal, 300 years ago, more than that, basically said that God apportions the evidence in such a way that there is enough evidence to satisfy the mind of the person who believes, and enough evidence, enough ambiguity, to allow a person who chooses not to believe to rationalize his disbelief.14 Pascal says, “Thus there is both evidence and obscurity to enlighten some and confuse others.” So you’re not forced. What happens when disbelief increases, then? Guess what? God bumped up the ante of evidence to make it still work—but interestingly, of all places, He’s done it in technology; He’s done it in science. So really, [the] more science the better. So that’s another discussion.
MS: I think it brings comfort to the believer to be able to hear an expert in a particular field or an expert in every field talk about these matters, but they think, “Okay, well, what if somebody on the street asks me? I’m not going to be able to talk about DNA or … astronomy. The first resource of yours I ever read, in a very powerful book called I’m Glad You Asked,15 you broke it down very easily, the question “Does God exist?” You said, “Well, there are three possible answers: ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘maybe.’” Take us through that process, that flow chart—maybe the implications of answering “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.”
KB: Okay. So “Does God exist?” Let’s start with the ‘no’ first, so God does not exist, and I still remember this little thing where I have a circle, and this large circle represents all knowledge. How big a circle would you put within that to represent your knowledge? Unless you’re really arrogant, it’s going to be a tiny little circle indeed. So you’re claiming that you can say and know that God does not exist, even though you haven’t got a clue as to what the amount of evidence is. Wouldn’t it be more plausible for you to have a more modest view instead of atheism, which is an implausible view? You cannot demonstrate that God doesn’t exist, but rather a more modest view of agnosticism, where at least you can say that He may or may not exist. And as for hard agnosticism, [they say] there cannot be evidence; or soft agnosticism, [they say] “I’m open.” But at least I’m moving from atheism, the “no,” to the “maybe.” The “maybe” is agnosticism, and now we’re going somewhere, because if you call yourself an atheist, you really haven’t thought it through. … Because to say that God does not exist is impossible to demonstrate; it’s just not possible. And you don’t have enough knowledge to—how would you know that that was not the case?
So, the more reasonable, intellectual position is a form of agnosticism. As I say, hard agnosticism [says that] there never will be enough evidence, or soft agnosticism, [which says] “I’m open to the evidence if there is [any].” That’s where I’m trying to just come from. So, in that flow chart, we were trying to find some evidence, and that’s when we use this thing called the “if proposition”: if anything now exists, something must be eternal, or something that’s not eternal must have popped out of nowhere, out of nothing.
So, then, we looked at four options within that, and the option of something not existing. There are some people who believe that nothing exists, which is fascinating. They live better than that way. So in Eastern mysticism and Eastern philosophies, forms of philosophical Buddhism and Hinduism, [they say] that all of this is Maya.16 It’s an illusion. It’s God-play. Yeah, but even the guy who believes in that looks both ways before crossing the street. That bus is a really consistent illusion. You see, they live better than their philosophy, and they know it. So really to say that nothing exists is not a plausible position.
So, the next one is that it came out of nowhere … out of nothing, and that’s going to be a problem, because they’re trying to desperately come up with the idea that it can come out of nothing. They even talk about quantum foam. It’s fascinating stuff, but it’s not nothing. Francis Schaeffer used to call it “nothing-nothing.”17 And nothing comes from nothing. You see this, so it doesn’t work for any good reason.
So, the next position would be that maybe the universe always existed, you see. And that would be a third option. And, as I say, steady-state astronomy,18 which was the default desire of most astronomers, was, against their will, disestablished because of new discoveries in the background, microwave radiation and the realization that the universe really does have a beginning. And the estimate is usually about 13.7 billion years—and we’re not going to talk about the age of the universe right now. That’s a secondary matter. But the point is that there is some idea that there was a beginning, because the other doesn’t work. You just can’t go on forever; it can’t pop out of nothing.
And so, then, that leads you to the fourth position, that Someone must exist, you see. But this kind of God we’re talking about is a God whose essence is His existence. For Him, He’s a necessary Being. The universe is contingent; it depends upon something else for its being. God is the necessary Being, [who] doesn’t require any external condition. He’s not self-caused. He is the uncaused Cause. And so here we have the One who then speaks matter, energies, time, and space into being. And it is a more plausible account, because we’re talking about Intelligent Agency that comports with our own condition as being rational beings, moral beings, aesthetic beings, creative beings. All of these things are derivative from the mind of the Maker.
And so, my view is that the way we live just shows that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). You can talk about any number of things. We were just talking about this; I was talking with my friend Hayes about the complexity of the human body—or anything you want, take any object you wish and begin to examine it, and you’re dealing with mystery, total mystery. And it is a good thing to do. Martin Luther in his Table Talk mentioned a rose. He says it’s a marvelous thing indeed. Could a man make such a thing on his own, he would be accounted worthy of all honor.19 But because of the infinity of these things, the profundity and the profligacy, that God makes so many of them, we don’t take it seriously, but we can’t create such a thing.
And just the other day, two days ago, I still remember it, I studied Karen’s garden because I love it, and I love tulips right now, so I plucked this one petal off and showed it to my friend. And just looking at the color, the shape, the texture—you couldn’t make this stuff up. If you never saw a flower, you couldn’t invent one, and the glory of God is evident on every aspect of the natural world. Study anything on the microcosm or the macrocosm and you’re immersed in beauty and mystery and profundity that cannot be reducible merely to time plus chance in the impersonal. So, my view is that actually it’s more consistent with the evidence to see that, rather than inconsistent.
MS: You said the answer just then, but I want to make sure we catch that, because when you talk about the universe and whether it’s existed and where it came from and its creation, and we talk about it having not always existed, the common atheistic response is, “Well if everything comes from something, what about your God? Where did He come from?”
KB: Right. So they say, “Well, so how do you account for God?” is the idea. And they think that [people will respond], “Oh wow, wow, what a poser. I never thought of that before, so, gosh, I guess you have me.” Um, no. The very point is—with the biblical vision of God—is that He is a necessary Being. That is to say, that He always is. He is the I AM, so this I AM always is. He transcends matter, energy, space, and time. For Him, not to exist is an impossibility, so “Where did God come from?” is to reduce Him to space and time. You hear that? “Where? Where did He come from? When did He come from?” But if He transcends space and time, you’ve got a category error in your question. You’re reducing Him to the created order. When did He, where did He come from? You see, He transcends the created order. God is. This is why Moses was told, tell them that I AM—the One who has revealed Himself as the self-existing One (Exodus 3:14). That is the One who speaks and holds all things together.
For Him, not to exist is an impossibility, so “Where did God come from?” is to reduce Him to space and time. … But if He transcends space and time, you’ve got a category error in your question.
MS: A lot of the details of these scientific arguments are in this book 20 Compelling Evidences, again, just released on audio. If you want a copy of that audio, visit this link: https://kenboa.org/20-compelling-evidences-that-god-exists.
MS: In this book, you talk about the evidence of a fallen world. And we talked about the existence of God. We talked about big objection number one: there are no intellectual arguments. Well, the other big objection is the whole problem of evil. [People say] “Why do you see this broken world? You talk about an intelligent designer. Anybody with any sense wouldn’t have made the world this way.” You actually cite the fallen world, a broken world (not the language they would use), as evidence for God’s existence. Why is that?
KB: It’s an evidence in the sense that it’s more than just the existence of God. It has to do with the human condition and that we are agents and that we are not as we once were. This is a very—the biblical doctrine of the Fall is utterly unique. In fact, we ought to do a thing sometime, Michael, on the uniqueness of Christianity. … [Anyway] I have a list of about 30 things, a growing list, of the things that are absolutely and utterly unique in Christian theism. It’s unbelievable. Which means you can’t make this up, and nobody did. Only here is it found. And I just love that and revel in that, because I see all these manifestations, and one of those is the Fall. The doctrine of the Fall is profound. We are not as God made us; we changed ourselves. That’s an insight that’s terribly profound, because it ripples, and so the disaster, the blast of the Fall, this awful event, when “my will be done” rather than “Thy will be done” turned a paradise into a desert, effectively. And it created a fourfold alienation between ourselves and God, between ourselves and ourselves, between ourselves and others, and between ourselves and the created order. And now the next act of redemption must follow hard on the heels of the Fall. And God immediately begins in a way that would be more radical than any Old Testament understanding would be—it was there, but it was not, it was intimated and hinted at, but who would have ever dreamed that He would actually do such a desperate and amazing thing that He’d underwrite the cost of His own creation, underwrite the cost to make it possible for the alienations to be overcome? But at what cost?
God cannot forgive sin. He can only forgive sinners.
God cannot forgive sin. He can only forgive sinners. It’s a moral world. And if it’s a moral world, sin must be paid for. And now He gives us an option we didn’t have before. The option is this: either you bear your own sin, or you can put your trust in the One who did bear your sin. But He’s not going to impose that gift upon you. You must make a choice, but not to choose is to choose. You don’t have an option. Either we will accept Him or reject Him; to ignore Him is not a viable option given that it has a profound implication for everything, because it means, therefore, that we are the ones who bring about this. We are in a diseased death environment and we await the redemption of nature. Read Romans 8 about the redemption of nature and the whole imagery that the whole creation itself groans under the travail, because it was subject to corruption, not because of its own will, but because of the curse that took place, so that as a consequence, it’s waiting for its freedom from, its release from, this bondage. And that release will take place when the sons of God are then released from their groaning that [they’d] be clothed with a resurrected body. And when that happens, then the creation itself will be also lifted up (Romans 8:18–25).
So, we see this extraordinary thing where the glory of the created order is in the first act, and then the destruction of that created order, or the diminishment of it. It’s still glorious, but it’s not what it was—thorns and thistles. And if that’s true, then in the flora I suppose, and in the fauna as well, that nature’s changed dramatically. But now we have the One who bore the crown of thorns in order to take the curse upon Himself, in order to make it possible for us now to have the ability not only to overcome the [Fall], for us to have a right relationship with God again and with ourselves and with others, but ultimately we anticipate the fourth act where all things will be done well and nature will be redeemed from its slavery to corruption, to the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
That’s a wonderful thought, isn’t it? It’s a glorious, grand scheme that God has, something that no one could have made up. So, the idea that He would underwrite the cost Himself is beyond my calculation, my understanding. So, in my mind, then, a realistic view of the problem of evil is one that takes it quite seriously, because you cannot speak about evil as an absolute thing without having an absolute, you see. So, unless ultimate reality is moral, you cannot morally condemn it. You need to have a moral consistency. Because if we are just the epiphenomenon of random processes, then there is no basis for saying a thing is right or wrong or good or bad, you see, or beautiful or ugly. But we know better than that. So, I’m claiming that we are moral beings. We can’t help it, but we live better than if you were an atheist or an agnostic. You live better than your philosophy because of the image of God and though fallen, we still have moral qualities.
That’s why Romans 2 adds to Romans 1 where Paul says from the created order, both internal and external evidence show that God exists. Romans 2 tells us, we also are aware of the problem of evil, that their conscience either convicts or condemns, you see. The idea of the conscience—we all have this. So in my view, no one can say that they’re utterly ignorant of the divine, of some kind of creating agency, or the problem of evil. As soon as you say a thing is evil, then you have to imply good, you see, an absolute for good. So, I’m just saying that actually provides a richer solution to the problem of evil, provides more material by far than the other view. The other view would just say, “I guess things are rough and we just have to try to make it better.” And it’s pretty thin at the end of the day.
MS: You’ve talked a lot about science and worldview and philosophy, [which] I think are necessary precursors to a discussion on theism, but before the microphone’s even turned on, I think every text here that I’ve gotten is, “Okay, we believe God exists. How do we know we’ve got the right one?”
KB: Okay, that’s a great question. So, what do we mean about the right one? What you’d have to do is have one who corresponds to these things we’ve just been describing; we have to have an agent who is not the same as his creation, so pantheism won’t work. You see, the typical pantheistic view is that God is all and all is God, the Gaia hypothesis,20 the world is and so forth. But pantheism is not enough because it’s something that is above this world. It’s not just the thing itself, but there’s a mind and so forth. And so pantheism doesn’t work. The idea of a personal agency is what’s required, because the higher can account for the lower, but the lower cannot account for the higher—design requires a designer; personality requires a personality to make it, you see, to be a person in relationship; morality requires a moral causation.
So I’m saying that what we observe in this world is actually consistent with a more theistic, Christian view, or a theistic view at least. (I said Christian, but that would be another step.) But at least a theistic view, which would say that God is not to be confused with the world, but at the same time is the Maker of the world, the cosmos itself. But you have to have an eternal agent who always is … a necessary Being. And when we put these materials together, we get closer and closer as we add these. And one who also is a personal agent because personality doesn’t come from impersonality, the impersonal; the effect is never greater than the cause. See with evolution, with macroevolution, they’re making the effect greater than the cause. The cause is impersonal plus time and chance. Well, how do you get personality, rationality, morality, creativity, and other things—see where I’m going with that?
So the evidence is that the higher can account for the lower but the lower cannot account for the higher. If I use this example—I think I’ve done it with you before—The Gods Must be Crazy, that interesting movie where one of the scenes is a guy throws a Coke bottle out a window over the Kalahari Desert [from] a little plane. And this bushman sees this bottle coming—it’s something—he doesn’t know what it is—coming from the sky. So, it must be a gift from the gods. And it hits the ground, and it doesn’t break. And he picks this thing up, and he doesn’t know what glass is, and he tries to bring it to his village, and they all find it has wonderful properties that can be used in all kinds of ways. But the gods must be crazy—they only gave us one. And now we’re all fighting over this. We used to be content. You better take this thing and take it off and give it back to the gods. So, he’s given a mission to take it off and throw it off at the end of the world. And darned if he doesn’t do it at the end of the film, he throws it off the end of the world.
MS: Spoiler alert.
KB: I think it’s okay. It’s been around a while. You get the gist. But instead of a Coke bottle, turn it into a New Testament. Now we have something interesting. Suppose the guy threw out the New Testament and this one sees it coming from above. He has no category. They don’t have a written language, no category. What is this thing I’m holding? He doesn’t know what paper is, this gossamer substance with these black markings and so forth, and this mystery. So he holds it and brings it to the village. What are they going to do? On one level you can define it as these markings on paper or whatever term they’re going to invent for it. So we’ve got this white substance with these things on top of it—and on that level, chemically and so forth, physically it’s true, but there are higher levels, aren’t there?
Because then when you discover that it turns out that there these little markings turn out to be symbols. The symbols next level up turn out to be letters, and the letters then form words, and the words follow grammatical structures, so that they actually work together and create ideas.
You see, the higher can account for the lower, but the lower cannot account for the higher. And then these ideas, it turns out that they are moral ideas, they’re spiritual ideas, so I can account for that top down, but just from this thing, you’d never be able to know it. You see, there’s more to it than that. And I believe that God’s given us those things and given us the capacity to unpack that and also the intuitive understanding that the effect is never greater than the cause.
MS: Here’s a question from the audience regarding God, His creation, His involvement in it: “Since God’s outside of creation, why make the system one which demands blood atonement? Why didn’t He create a different system?”
KB: There’s a lot of things I’d do differently if I were God. I remember an old TV show—and I’m old enough to remember this horror. It was called Queen for a Day. But imagine if you were God for a day—and that was a depressing show because the people are desperate. They have an applause meter, and one wins because of the applause, and the others, now, that was her last hope. That’s depressing. But instead imagine you were God for a day, how would that work? Well, suddenly—and of course, you know all these movies, Bruce Almighty comes to mind, things of this sort. The guy can’t even figure out how to answer these prayers; suddenly he’s given all these thousands and millions of prayer requests and things, he’s hearing them, he can’t get them out of his head; he’s got to organize them in file cabinets and make thousands of feet of file cabinets—[but] that’s not going to do it. How about Post-It notes? And suddenly the room is filled with Post-It notes. That’s not going to work either. Oh, emails—this is a good while ago— so then you actually were happy you got mail; those days are gone.
But the fact is that he has him there and he sees all these requests and he reads one, and it’s this girl and she’s asking a simple question, but he knows he doesn’t have the capacity to answer the question with wisdom. Only God would have that knowledge. You see? And so, he doesn’t know what to do and he sees him always. He gets overwhelmed and finally, “Select All. Yes.” And the unintended consequences of this are astonishing, among other things. Four hundred thousand people win the New York state lottery, but they only get 17 bucks a piece, so they’re all bummed out. And so, the point is, if you were God for a day, you could know the thoughts of people. You’d know their inner motive. And I’d say, “My word, do I need this grief? Their heart is desperately wicked.” (Jeremiah 17:9). And to know that, I’d thump you all out of being in a moment. I’d say, “I’ve had enough! I’m not miserable or lonely, and there’s a Tri-unity.” And so no, I’d thump you out of being; you ought to be glad I’m not God for a day.
What wonder that He would love us, and this is a great mystery! What is it about us that He calls us? Yes, He’s crafted us in His image, and given this great glory, but at the same time He has pursued us. He woos us. He’s the sacred Romancer of our soul who will do whatever it takes in order to win us to Himself at the great cost of His own life. In fact, He didn’t come to live. He came to die, the Incarnation [happened] so that he could actually embrace the solidarity of the human condition, be tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), and who therefore could, as a full man, offer a blood sacrifice, and fully God, who had actually the capacity to cover the sins of the world.
Why a blood sacrifice? The life is in the blood, and it has to do with life for life. And you have a choice. But God will not forgive sin. Sin must be paid for in a moral universe. Either you pay for it yourself or someone else would have to pay. The only option is He bears the price—mysteries within mysteries, I admit. But I’m suggesting here that the amazing thing is that He treasures us and pursues us and desires us. And I then I say, and I’ve often said this, … there are two kinds of people in the world: those who seek to know God and those who seek to avoid Him; and both will succeed in the end. You can be a successful rebel to the bitter end, because He will not violate the picket fence of your own unwillingness.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who seek to know God and those who seek to avoid Him; and both will succeed in the end.
Suppose you didn’t want to know God; you spent 80 years trying to avoid Him, didn’t want Him. Do you suppose then that heaven would be something, that His presence would be your pleasure? It’d be your hell. So, at the end of the day, then, He gives us [a] “Have it your way.” But I do believe those who seek will find, and those who ask it’ll be given to them. Those who knock, it will be opened (Matthew 7:7). And that’s another question … what about those who never heard? … But my point is the great, deep mystery is, why would He love us this much? But it demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, He died for us (Romans 5:8). This is a divine love, and I think it’s the best deal you are going to ever get. There’s nothing like it in all the world. So, to me, the idea that He would take the sin of the world upon Himself and offer us in turn His goodness, righteousness, is an astonishing thought. So, it’s more radical than people would suppose. And all the covenants, the blood covenants, the idea is something that’s building, building, building for these thousands of years until the consummation is the highest form of revelation.
MS: For our last question, I’m going to combine a few here that have come in. You meet an atheist on the street, you encounter him at the coffee shop. You’ve got to give an argument there for the existence of God. What would it be? And on the other side, what’s an argument that you should never make, that maybe some people mistakenly do, thinking that they’ll be proving God’s existence?
KB: An argument that you’d make would be that we have to understand that we’re all living by faith. Go back to the two points. As I said before, you’re living by faith and faith is only as good as the object in which it’s placed. And I would say, don’t suppose, therefore, that the facts are on your side, and I’m living by faith and you’re living by facts. We all live by faith, but the faith is only as good as the evidence upon which it’s placed. Now let’s consider the evidence. And then I go to my four evidences: the evidence that the universe has a beginning; the evidence for the fine-tuning of the cosmos; third, the impossibility of biogenesis of the first cell; and fourth, the nature of rich information, and information comes from the mind. And I just say, let’s look at the evidence. Yeah. So, a bad argument, right?
MS: Arguments to avoid.
KB: What do you think? An argument to avoid would be, even a fool has said that God doesn’t exist (Psalm 14:1). I know what the text means, but for them, it’s a bit of an insult. The better course [is] don’t be cocky and arrogant—that would be the worst argument you could give. Have a measure of humility, that, “I am a seeker, and I’ve sought, and I believe I’ve found. And I really discovered that actually He was seeking me, and He found me, and His invitation was previous to my response.” The point being this: [be a] humble human with a measure of humility. We can’t know for sure, but we have to make a choice and base it at least on evidence. Let’s look at these four evidences and you tell me which of the inferences is the best of them. So, anything that’s cocky, arrogant of that sort—you want to have a measure of humility, and also of winsomeness, and of love. And where love is felt, the message is heard.
MS: Well, thank you for attending In Question tonight. We take up a topic like this and give some evidence why God exists. You mentioned that tulip petal; we can talk about that one petal all night and still not have exhausted all of the evidence. I do encourage you to go out and get some resources on this topic. … Do check out the new audiobook, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists. There’s a lot of information at kenboa.org too. … So where do you get the free stuff?
KB: Now they’re out for the free stuff. You knew it was going to happen.
MS: Two answers to that. One: the greatest free thing in life is eternal life, the gospel offered to us by Jesus Christ. So, if you have not come to faith in Christ, explore that evidence.
KB: That’s the free gift of God (Romans 6:23).
MS: Two: if you’re talking about the audiobook, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and I can tell you how to get that. Thank you, guys. You’re dismissed. We’ll see you next time.
- G. K. Chesterton, “Prohibition and Disarmament: An Analogy,” The Illustrated London News: 1920–1922, in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, vol. 32 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 274. The original quote reads: “I strongly object to the wrong arguments on the right side. I think I object to them more than to the wrong arguments on the wrong side.”
- Ken Boa and Robert Bowman Jr., 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2005).
- Armin Navabi, Why There Is No God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God (Atheist Republic, 2014).
- The exact quote is “I see no God up here.” However, according to Colonel Valentin Petrov, these words were misattributed to him by Soviet anti-religion propaganda and were actually said by Nikita Khrushchev. Gagarin himself was a part of the Russian Orthodox Church. See Colonel Valentin Petrov, “Did Yuri Gagarin Say He Didn’t See God in Space?” Pravmir.com, April 12, 2013, http://www.pravmir.com/did-yuri-gagarin-say-he-didnt-see-god-in-space.
- Abduction, or abductive reasoning, draws a hypothesis from a conclusion rather than a conclusion from a hypothesis. It begins at the end, so to speak, and works backward.
- Greek for “The Word,” referring to Christ.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, 1947.
- See Exodus 28:30 and Numbers 27:21. The Urim and the Thummim were stones used by the priests as one of the God-ordained ways of seeking God’s counsel.
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).
- Referring to Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris.
- Richard Dawkins, “Is Science a Religion,” The Humanist January/February 1997, 26. The original quote reads, “…faith is one of the world’s greatest evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”
- Carl Sagan, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, (New York: Random House, 1980). The original quote reads, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”
- The referenced lecture is James Tour, “The Origin of Life: An Inside Story,” The Pascal Lectures on Christianity and the University, YouTube Video, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zQXgJ-dXM4.
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées 564, translated by W. F. Trotter (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002).
- Ken Boa and Larry Moody, I’m Glad You Asked (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1995).
- “Maya” is a term meaning “illusion” or “unreality.”
- See Francis A. Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2001), 6–7.
- The idea that the universe always existed.
- See Martin Luther, Table Talk, trans. William Hazlitt (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2004), no. CXXXIII, 50.
- This is the idea put forward by James Lovelock that the earth is self-sustaining, essentially its own contained organism that regulates itself.