Christianity vs. Buddhism: Five Reasons To Believe God is a Person (1 of 5)

“Why do you believe God is a person?” I was sitting next to a very bright executive on a recent flight to the West Coast, and “Bob” asked me what I did. When I said I serve with a Christian ministry, this was his question. He no longer believed God was a person, but more of a force.  He is one of more and more Westerners who are embracing this view, known as “pantheism.” This underlies all Eastern religions, such as Buddhism (Bob later identified himself as Tibetan Buddhist), which has become especially popular among progressives, youth in search of answers, and Hollywood.

His question was a good one, and one you and I will be asked as our culture becomes more and more “post-Christian.” I remember being able to discuss spiritual issues with non-believers, and assume we both meant the same thing by the word “God.” The issue was not what God is like, but whether such a person exists and is worthy of one’s faith. Today we can no longer assume that saying “God loves you” or “Do you have a relationship with God” even makes sense to many non-believers. Saying “God is personal” may be to them like saying “a circle is square.”

I Peter 3:15 exhorts us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have . . . with gentleness and respect.” Our hope is in a personal God who seeks to redeem us, and all of creation. Therefore we must be able to gently and respectfully give others a reason for this hope. For the next two hours Bob and I discussed five reasons why I believe God is a person. Over the next five weeks I’ll share some of what I discussed with him, to help you be better prepared to answer this question, not if, but when you are asked.

 

Only a Person Can Cause the “Big Bang”

I began with common ground we shared—we both believe the Universe began. This is a fact supported by the best science, and is known as the “Big Bang” cosmology.

Before going further I must say that some Christians misunderstand the Big Bang cosmology and therefore think it is a threat to faith. They assume the view is that matter existed eternally and at some point exploded, uncaused, into what is now our universe. Therefore it is assumed the Big Bang replaces God as the eternal One who created everything else with matter as the eternal Thing which created everything else. This is a misunderstanding of the Big Bang cosmology. Actually it says that matter did not exist eternally, but came to be at a point in time (the first event of the universe) and expanded from there, resulting in the ever expanding universe we observe and inhabit. So this view is not a threat to faith. In fact, it is scientific support for what is recorded in Scripture, beginning in Genesis 1.

Given the fact that the universe came to be in the Big Bang, it is an event. And events must be caused—things don’t just pop into existence uncaused. So something caused the Big Bang. The question is what. The best explanation is a Person.

This is known as the “kalam cosmological argument.” It has its origin in arguments made for God’s existence by Islamic scholars in the eleventh century (the word “kalam” is Arabic for “teaching”). The formal structure of the argument is known as modus ponens:

  • If something begins to exist, it has a cause
  • The Universe began to exist
  • Therefore the Universe has a cause
  • Corollaries: The cause must be Personal (and eternal and infinite and very powerful)

 

1.    Everything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause

The first premise—Everything that begins to exist has a cause—states a truth that is self-evident. If someone claimed he saw a pony “pop” into existence in his backyard, uncaused, we would worry about him. Or suppose a person is on trial for murder. The main evidence is that the victim’s jewelry was found in his apartment shortly after the body was found.  If his defense was that the jewelry just “popped” into existence in his apartment, no jury would believe him. We must be consistent and say it is equally unreasonable to believe the Universe just “popped” into existence, uncaused, out of nothing. (For more on this, as well as responses to objections, see the books referenced below.)

Also notice the first premise says that everything that begins has a cause. It does not claim that everything that exists has a cause. As Aristotle argued, everything that exists can’t have a cause, or there would be an infinite series of causes. No, there must be a “First Cause” or “Uncaused Cause” if there are any subsequent causes. Those who ask, “So what caused God” misunderstand this. (Again, for more on this, as well as responses to objections, see the books and website referenced below.)

 

2.    The Universe Began to Exist

The second premise— The Universe began to exist—is proven in two ways. One is through modern cosmology and astrophysics (mentioned above—the Big Bang cosmology, using as evidence background radiation, the red shift and entropy). The second is through logical reflection on contradictions that arise if we assume the past is eternal. These were the arguments the Islamic scholars of the eleventh century developed. One shows the impossibility of an “actually infinite set” existing in time and space (such a set would be the moments of time in an eternal universe). A second shows the impossibility, even if such an actually infinite set could exist, of “moving” through it to get to the present moment (much like the impossibility of jumping out of a bottomless pit). For more on this, again see the books and website referenced below.

 

3.    Therefore, the Universe Has a cause

From these premises the conclusion follows. The Universe was caused.

 

4.    Corollaries: The Cause Was Personal, Eternal, Infinite, and Very Powerful

Since the Universe was caused, the question becomes what type of cause makes the most sense. Causes come in two varieties: impersonal and personal. Which is most reasonable?

An example of an impersonal cause would be a tree ripped up by a tornado that smashes through your window. Everything involved in this event is natural and impersonal. This is known as “state-state causation”—a prior state (the state of the tree being in motion in a certain direction and at a certain velocity) caused a later state (the breaking of the glass).

An example of a personal cause would be me deciding to write this blog today. No prior states of matter caused me to be typing these words. The cause was that I, as an “agent” or “chooser,” simply decided to write today. This is known as “agent-state causation”—a prior agent causes a later state.

The cause of the Big Bang cannot be a prior state of matter: there is no matter before the Big Bang to be in any state! Therefore the cause cannot be state-state causation. The only alternative is agent-state causation: the cause of the Big Bang was an agent (a Person).

We can infer even more about this Person by observing features of the effect. This Person must be at least very powerful, if not all-powerful, in light of the raw power in the creation. Space and time came to be in the Big Bang, and so this Person existed when time and space did not. Therefore this Person is a-temporal (Eternal) and a-spatial (Immaterial).

 

Conclusion

Note that the kalam cosmological argument only gives evidence for a “thin” theism. It does not prove the existence of the God of the Bible. That is claiming too much. But what it does prove is that there is a Person who caused the universe. This is one reason to believe Pantheism is wrong (including Buddhism and all other variants claiming ultimate reality is an impersonal force), and some form of Theism (views claiming that ultimate reality is a Personal Being) is correct.

This was the first reason I gave Bob when he asked me why I believed God is a person and not a force. Next week I’ll discuss the second reason I gave. Until then, grace and peace.

 

 

For further reading I suggest Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Chapter 23: “The Existence of God I.” For a longer discussion see Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Also visit Dr. William Lane Craig’s website for a short video explaining the kalam cosmological argument.