This past year because of Covid, many campus ministries have not been able to do any ministry on their campus. We were fortunate to be able to do our outreach and apologetics ministry this Past Fall and this Spring at The Ohio State University. Just as we finished the month of April, we spoke to nearly 130 people about the God question. Between Fall of last year and this Spring, we have seen over 50 people make first time commitments to the Lord! God is at work! I look back on all the years there and I can say this was the year that we saw more openness to the God question than any previous year.
One of the questions we used this year is the “Does God Exist?” question.
When people say “Yes” to whether God exists, the two main reasons they think God exists are religious experience and creation. In other words, when students look at the world around them, they don’t think what they observe can be the result of unguided natural processes or the result of chance/coincidence.
But allow me to elaborate on those students that are somewhat atheistic or agnostic about the God question. Granted, these reflections are the result of doing this several years.
1. Students don’t know how to think about God
How do we know God exists? Over the years, when I have been asked this question, I used to just jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I am convinced more than ever that the first question in the discussion is “How should we approach the existence of God?” or, ” What method should we use?” I find 90% of the people I talk to have never taken the time to think about this question. Granted, it is not as if churches or the local university (unless it is a philosophy of religion class) teaches on a topic such as this.
Now I know that when you ask a Christian, Jewish person, Muslim, or Mormon as well how they know what they believe is true, they might just say, “I have faith.” This should cause us to stop and ask if that is an adequate answer. It probably won’t go very far in a skeptical and pluralistic culture. To see more on this, see our post called The Most Common Objection on a College Campus.
Or, see Seven Approaches to God’s Existence
In this case, students define truth as what is practical, or what ‘works.’ It is no secret that many apologists have written books on the truth question. In other words, the statement “we are living in postmodern times” has almost become cliche in today’s society. Hence, because of the impact of post-modernism, many seem to assume that college students are not interested in objective truth. So the fallout is that people are not asking whether Christianity is true. See our post called Do College Students Care About Truth?
3. Students don’t have all the information
This is what bothers me the most. When I say they don’t have all the information, I am not saying anyone needs to have an exhaustive background in history, philosophy, theology, science, or other subjects to find a relationship with God. When I have shown students there are resources on the existence of God, they look bewildered. After all, they aren’t hearing or getting this information on the campus. Or, if they were raised in a church and now they are agnostic, they sometimes say “I never heard any of this in the church I grew up in!” So for some of them, it is almost a settled issue that there is no God. Any resource or evidence showing the opposite can tend to be met with resistance. See our reading list here:
4. Bad epistemology
This is a huge issue. Granted, many students don’t have a background in this area.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related issues such as justification, truth, types of certainty.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have encountered the following comments by students:
“There is not one shred of proof or evidence for the existence of God”
“There is absolutely no evidence for Jesus or your God”
“Science has shown that there is no God”
“Unless you can perfectly demonstrate that God exists or Jesus is the Son of God, you need to admit all you have is faith”
It is statements like the ones here that demonstrate to me that there is not even a basic understanding of epistemology. Keep in mind that I am not asking everyone to get a philosophy degree and to be an expert on such a heady topic. While in seminary I was blessed to take some classes in philosophy. However, I am by no means an expert! But the people making these types of claims just overstate their case and sound very naive. A more nuanced approach would be to say, “ I have looked at the evidence in this area and I don’t find it to be sufficient.” Or, “I don’t think there are good reasons to think God exists or that Jesus is the Son of God.”
There is a new book out that mentions something of great relevance. The author says the following:
“Why do we believe some things but not others? For example, once upon a time, we believed that the earth was flat. But now we believe it’s round. Yet most of us have not been in a spaceship orbiting the earth to see for ourselves that the earth is round. Yet we believe that it is. What is the mechanism for our belief? Why do we believe some things and not others? This field of study is called epistemology. But when we apply it to religious beliefs—why do some people believe in the existence of God, but others don’t?—it is called religious epistemology.”-Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan and D. A. Carson
If you are not familiar with religious epistemology, see our clip here.
5. The Issue of Certainty
There is some overlap here between this issue and what I just mentioned about bad epistemology. I don’t have any need for absolute or exhaustive knowledge. As Paul Copan says here:
“We do not need 100 percent certainty to truly know. After all, we cannot show with 100 percent certainty that our knowledge must have 100 percent certainty. We believe lots of things with confidence even though we do not have absolute certainty. In fact, if most people followed the “100 percent rule” for knowledge, we would know precious little. But no one really believes that.
Now, if our only options were either 100 percent certainty orskepticism, then we would not be able to differentiate between views that are highly plausible, on the one hand, and completely ridiculous, on the other. They would both fall short of the 100 percent certainty standard and so both should be readily dismissed. But that is clearly silly. We know the difference. And what about those who seem to know with 100 percent certainty that we cannot know with 100 percent certainty. Interestingly, skeptics about knowledge typically seem quite convinced — absolutely convinced — that we cannot know.”- see the entire article here:
A similar approach to this issue is seen in Mortimer J. Adler’s Six Great Ideas where he has a chapter called The Realm of Doubt. The problem we meet is when we attempt to decide which of our judgments belong in the realm of certitude. In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria: (1) it cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation, nor can it be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.
A judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized by more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.
The point is that in order to believe in God demands will never be based on absolute certainty.
6. Students don’t know Knowledge of God is Inferential
Abduction can operate when people on both sides of an argument agree on what needs to be explained (certain features of reality) but they disagree on why this feature of reality exists. For example, here are some of the common questions that come up.
- How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
- How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
- How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
- How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
- How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
- How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
- How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?
Why does this feature of reality exist? Is it the result of nature itself or something outside nature? An inference is an idea or conclusion that’s drawn from evidence and reasoning or an inference can be an educated guess. But also remember that inferences can be based on observation and background knowledge. Remember, when we look at the questions above, if you are committed to philosophical naturalism (the idea that nothing exists outside the natural realm of the material universe), you’ll find a way to interpret every piece of data to confirm your naturalistic presuppositions, even if the best inference from evidence points to something else. Of course, nobody directly knows past historical events. Much of it is inferential as well.
Campus ministry isn’t easy. But Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the dark places. We also don’t always get to resist the places where the soil is hard. See our booklet as well.