Belief in God
“Thus the first step that the current scientific method is asking you to take is to assume that the facts that you meet are brute facts. I say you are asked to assume the existence of brute facts. If you did not assume this you could not be neutral with respect to various interpretations given of the facts. If God exists there are no brute facts; if God exists our study of facts must be the effort to know them as God wants them to be known by us. We must then seek to think God’s thoughts after him. To assume that there are brute facts is therefore to assume that God does not exist.”
Cornelius Van Til, “A Calvin University,” in The Banner, November, 1939.
In the history of ideas, Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) stands as one of the key figures in philosophy. He earned this status by his rigid analysis of causality and the empirical method of knowledge. Empiricism, in case you are not sure, is a more philosophical name for the scientific method.
Hume lived in the 18thC, not too long after some of the key figures in the new ‘scientific’ movement. He was aged 16 when Sir Isaac Newton died. Galileo (1564-1642) with his telescope developed laws for astronomy; Newton (1642-1727) with his experiments developed laws of motion. Both were carving out new territory in the scientific world.
But in the background there were some disturbing currents. Bishop Berkeley had asked the question, “Is there sound of a tree falling in a forest if there is no one there to hear it?” The proper answer is that there are only sound waves, since it takes an ear to convert the waves into sound. But this small matter did not stop Berkeley the philosopher from calling into question the existence of an external world outside of the mind of man. His philosophy of immaterialism denies the existence of material substance. You think you see a chair and a table, but they are only perceptions in your mind. Berkeley denied the existence of matter, but did not deny real objects such as apples or mountains.
“Show me God!”
When the Street-Preacher steps up onto his podium, he can be sure to be confronted by competing claims about knowledge. “The Bible is true,” he will proclaim, “for God says so.”
And back will come the atheistic question: “But have you seen God?” Or it may be a demand, not a question: “Show me God.” This is the request “Matt the Horrible Atheist” (as in Hagar the Horrible) kept asking me on his last visit, too. He thought it was a winning question.
Embedded into the atheist’s question, though, is a belief about knowledge, a particular kind of knowledge. He wants to know if the Street-Preacher has ‘seen’ God. He asks this question because he believes that the only valid knowledge is empirical knowledge — knowledge via the senses.
Now seeing, along with taste, touch, smelling and hearing, is one of the five senses. And knowledge that is obtained via the senses is referred to as empirical knowledge. It is usually taken for granted that there is some correspondence between our senses and external objects. That is, we think we see a tree in the distance, and we expect that that tree actually exists in time and space. But ever since David Hume picked up his pen and wrote on the topic, knowledge by way of the senses has come under question. Instead of certainty of knowledge, Hume introduced skepticism. Is it really possible to have knowledge by sense perception?
Making A Case For The Timeless God
He has made everything suited to its time; also, he has given human beings an awareness of eternity; but in such a way that they can’t fully comprehend, from beginning to end, the things God does. —Eccl. 3:11
Perhaps nothing will stretch your mind as much as the discussion of time and God. For starters, try to define time. What is it? We all seem to know what it is, but trying to define it can be a challenge. Perhaps you think of time like a river, with upstream and downstream. In one, the water has come and gone; in the other the water is yet to arrive. And so we think of events in time, some have come and gone, and others are still on their way. With the rise of the Open Theist movement came a revised interest in the question of God and time. It’s not a new question, and Open Theists are not the only ones asking it. Is God in time or out of it? The question is one that many struggle with. For those of us back home in the churches, the question hardly ever arises. For us, God is ‘eternal’ and we presume to know what ‘eternal’ means.
For you and me, concepts such as past, present, or future are everyday concepts. At least, it was for me yesterday, is still so today, and I expect it to be the same tomorrow. But in the traditional view, God is beyond time, being ‘eternal’. Some people think of time as if it were a river, God is upstream, downstream, and right in front of you all at the same time. But is the river analogy really what time is like? Here’s the key point, however. God transcends time as humans know and experience it. But how does he transcend time? Does the Bible tell us how he transcends time? Or are we left to speculate?
For man, time is a limitation. Is it also a limitation for God?
The Problem Defined
You begin to get an inkling of the problem when you think of “In the beginning . . .” (Gen. 1:1). Traditionally, this has been thought of as the beginning not only of the existence of the universe but of time itself. When you think like this, you soon begin to think of God as existing before the creation of time. But what meaning can it have to think of before time began, if indeed it had a beginning? For words such as ‘before’ or ‘after’ are time-related words. Is it even possible to conceive of God as ‘before’ time? And what would that ‘before’ look like? God is usually said to be transcendent, somehow over and above his creation. R.C. Sproul explains transcendence this way:
When the term transcendent is applied to God, however, it does not refer to God’s location or physical stature. It does not mean that God is bigger, fatter, or taller than creatures. Nor does it mean that he lives way up in the sky somewhere east of the moon and west of the sun. The term refers specifically to the order of being God represents. It refers to his ontological status. When theologians say God is a transcendent being, they mean that he transcends every created thing ontologically. He is a higher order of being precisely at the point of his being. The specific point is that he is a self-existent and eternal being who has the power of being in himself. He is uncaused. He is self-existent.
So if God is ontologically different, does that include a difference in relationship to time? Traditional theology affirms that is so, but a number of scholars question that affirmation.
If only it were that simple. The subject is made more interesting by William Lane Craig who suggests that God was atemporal ‘prior to’ the creation of time, but now he is temporal—within time. He argues, “if all events exist timelessly in God’s eternal reference frame, then none of them can exist earlier than, simultaneously with or later than another event, for these are temporal relations.” In the view of the temporalists, if God is simultaneously upstream, downstream and in front of you, it is not possible for God to speak of upstream and downstream, past or future events. This is an a priori assumption they make about God and time. Thus Wolterstorff concludes, “were God to have tensed knowledge of what happens in human affairs, God would perforce have a history.” The suggestion being that you can only have a history if you a temporal. So only a temporal being can recognize things as being past, present or future.
- R.C. Sproul and Keith A Mathison, Not a Chance: God, Science and the Revolt Against Reason (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Bookhouse,  2013), Kindle Edition, loc. 1950-52. This is a recent update and expansion of Sproul’s book, originally published in 1999 with the title, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology.↵back
- Gregory E. Ganssle, ed., God & Time: Four Views (IVP Academic, 2001). Contributors include William Lane Craig, Paul Helm, Allan Padgett, and Nicolas Wolterstorff.↵back
- Craig, “Eternity as Omnitemporality,” in Ganssle, ibid., p. 144.↵back
- Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Unqualified Divine Temporality,” in Ganssle, ibid., p. 206.↵back
At this point we must pause to clarify the logic both of this particular situation and of experimental verification in general. A simple argument of verification proceeds as follows: the given hypothesis implies certain definite results; the experiment actually gives these results; therefore the hypothesis is verified and can be called a law. Obviously, this argument is the fallacy of asserting the consequent; and since all verification must commit this fallacy, it follows that no law or hypothesis can ever be logically demonstrated.
It seems, however, that hypotheses can be logically proven false. The argument would go: the given hypothesis implies certain definite results; the experiment actually gives a contradictory result; therefore the hypothesis is false. Obviously, this is the perfectly valid argument of denying the consequent. So it would seem that although laws can be proven false, they can never be proven true.
- Gordon H. Clark, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press,  1977), p. 73.↵back
Does the Unbeliever Have a Handle on Things?
According to the believer, all the facts of the universe are what they are because God made them that way. Thus, in the mind of God, all facts are related. The world of nature, thus, is therefore revelatory of God.
According to the unbeliever, the facts of the universe are what they by chance, and they are certainly not revelatory of any God. If the facts of universe are in any way related, they do so by sheer accident, not by design. But the scientists will apparently be able to discover the abstract facts of the universe and eventually tell us how they are related.
And just how will they do that? For if the universe is what they say it is, they cannot get off the ground in determining the nature of the very first fact and how it might be related to anything else. For unless they know one fact exhaustively, they can’t be sure they can move to the next fact to get a connection which they would also have to know exhaustively so that they are certain they have the right relationship defined.
But their dilemma is great. How can the unbeliever be certain that his mind and its alleged rationality is in fact rational? And how does he know that his perceptions of objects is in fact a real perception and not just something he has imagined? And how can he claim that the laws of logic, which according to him are themselves abstract ‘facts’, be shown to have any connection to the other facts of the universe?
It is thus only because the Bible is true on the nature of factuality—God created—that the unbelieving scientist makes any progress at all. For if he follows his own principles, he won’t get very far.