God the Creator

Why did people ever start saying that God exists? The question is probably impossible to answer with any degree of confidence, but much theistic belief is surely grounded in (even if it does not always directly spring from) a belief that the world or universe is somehow derived from and governed by what is distinct from it. According to the book of Genesis God created the heavens and the earth 'in the beginning'.1 According to the Qur'an, God, 'the Compassionate, the Merciful', 'created the heavens and the earth to manifest the Truth'.2 Then again, consider the start of the Apostles' Creed ('I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth') or the beginning of the Nicene Creed ('I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible, and invisible').3 A traditional development of all these statements insists that God is the Creator in that he makes the world or universe continually to exist from nothing {ex nihilo). The basic idea here is that the world depends for its being on God all the time that it exists (and whether or not it began to exist), and this idea is certainly central to anything that we might now take to be an orthodox account of what belief in God amounts to.

Many theistic authors have tried to argue that belief in God as Creator is philosophically defensible. Need they bother to do so? More precisely, is it irrational to believe in God as Creator without reference to argument or without the presentation of evidence of some sort? Some philosophers have said that it most certainly is. A notable example is Antony Flew, who urges us to proceed on a 'presumption of atheism'. People on trial in civilized law courts are presumed to be innocent until they are proved guilty. In a similar way, says Flew, the proposition 'God exists' should be deemed to be false until it is shown to be true by reasonable arguments. 'If it is to be established that there is a God,' Flew argues, 'then we have to have good grounds for believing that this is indeed so. Until and unless some such grounds are produced, we have literally no reason at all for believing; and in that situation the only reasonable posture must be that of either the negative atheist or the agnostic.'4 By 'good grounds' here Flew is clearly not demanding irrefutable demonstrations. Rather, he is looking for a reasonable case, something which suggests that it is more likely than not that God exists. Effectively he is asking that belief in God be supported by some good natural theology -taking 'natural theology' to be an argument, or a set of arguments, designed to show that, without presupposing God's existence at the outset, it is reasonable to conclude that there is, in fact, a God.

Yet Flew's position is too extreme. For it is often perfectly in order (i.e. reasonable) to believe statements that one cannot, in fact, defend by appeal to arguments or evidence. Suppose that you and I meet at a party. I tell you that my name is Brian Davies, and you believe me. Are you being unreasonable here? Surely not, even though you have no arguments or evidence to support what I say at the time that I say it (and even though I might, of course, be lying). Or again, suppose that you get on a plane and arrive at an airport where all the signs tell you that you are, say, in Munich, and where all the airport staff have the same story to offer. You are in no position to offer a reasoned case for believing the signs or the staff, but would you be unreasonable in acting on the supposition that you are, indeed, in Munich (even though it might subsequently turn out that you are the victim of a fantastically elaborate hoax)? Surely not. Believing that such and such is the case on someone's saying so (or believing that such and such is the case because of what is asserted by signs, or books, or the like) is, in general, a perfectly rational thing to do. Indeed, we could hardly get along without believing in this way.6

To concede this, however, is not to say that there is no reasonable case to be made for concluding that there is a Creator God, and I now want to suggest that there is such a case to be made (even if we do not need recourse to it, or to comparable cases, in order to be reasonable in believing that there is, in fact, a Creator God).6 Arguments for God's existence (considered as Creator, but also under other descriptions) are legion and take many different forms. In my view (and as I have argued elsewhere), a number of them deserve respect, but I shall here concentrate on what I take to be the most fundamental and best of them, one for which I am basically indebted to Thomas Aquinas, and one which takes us right to the heart of what the notion of God as Creator seems classically to involve.7

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