At some point, most people will consider the question of God’s existence. Does God exist? Is God’s existence an actual part of reality or merely a product of imaginative human beings? When someone declares God’s existence, are they actually making an objective claim or a subject statement? What’s the difference? Unfortunately, most people do not understand the difference, which often causes confusion during meaningful discussions with others. Recently, I began providing logic and reasoning classes at a local church. Concluding a lesson on relativism,1 in which I describe the difference between objective claims and subjective statements, an attendee approached me to challenge my portrayal of truth—specifically my designation of God’s existence as an objective claim. Taking exception to this designation, the attendee began protesting that any beliefs about God and Jesus are not scientifically verifiable. Essentially, the attendee continued to misunderstand the difference between objective and subjective sentences, while simultaneously embracing an epistemological philosophy known as scientism. Thus, this article will differentiate subjective statements from objective claims, demonstrate why the question of God’s existence remains objective, and provide a means of attempting to adjudicate the question; while a subsequent article will examine the viability of scientism.2
Objective Claims vs Subjective Statements
Although differentiating objective claims from subjective statements remains a simple concept, adults often have difficulty discerning the types of statements being made in everyday conversation. So, as with any meaningful discourse, we must begin by defining our terms. A subjective statement pertains only to the person making the claim (i.e., the subject) and merely seeks to convey an internal aspect of the person’s mental or emotional (e.g., feeling or personal preference). Consider the statement, “Chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream.” Upon hearing the statement, no reasonable person would begin rationally debating the merits of chocolate ice cream or vehemently contending that rocky road is superior. Since the statement merely expresses a personal preference, there’s no need to present empirical data and sound argumentation to refute the person’s position or contend for a superior description of reality. Instead, we accept the statement as a declaration of the person’s favorite ice cream flavor and continue on with life, even if we do not share the same opinion.
In contrast, an objective claim refers to conditions outside a person’s mind (i.e., an object) and inherently contains a logical (true or false) value. Consequently, objective truths pertain to aspects of external reality, are universally applicable, receive foundational support from facts, and remain unaffected by the opinions, feelings, or beliefs of persons.3In other words, facts don’t care about your feelings.4 Accordingly, it is possible to verify objective claims and determine their logical value. Consider the statement, “Earth is round.” Through systematic examination of external reality, we can obtain pertinent empirical data and leverage logic to determine if the statement is true (i.e., it corresponds with reality, accurately describing the shape of Earth) or if the sentence is false (i.e., it fails to correspond with reality). Although there are people who sincerely believe Earth is flat, their feelings and beliefs have no bearing on the actual shape of Earth. In other words, their subjective believes have no bearing on the objective facts of reality, nor on the truthfulness of the statement.
Consequently, to avoid confusion when engaging in casual conversation, it is often helpful to ask yourself if the statement pertains to a personal preference (subjective) or a fact of reality (objective). Is the person telling you about herself (subjective) or telling you about the world operates (objective)?
Theological Claims are Objective
Upon understanding the definition of objective claims and subjective statements, we recognize theological claims are inherently objective. When a Christian says, “God exists,” he is referring to an aspect of reality—the metaphysical existence of an eternal, transcendent, supremely powerful, personal, creator of the universe (cf. Genesis 1:1).5 Accordingly, any statement regarding the existence or non-existence of such a being pertains to an aspect of external reality and possesses universal applicability. Additionally, the statement has an intrinsic logical value; either this God is real (obtains in reality) or the concept is merely a product of human invention. Finally, individual opinions, feelings, or beliefs regarding such a being would remain completely irrelevant to God’s actual existence. If God fails to obtain (i.e., is just a figment of imagination), then belief an individual’s belief in God does not change the reality of God’s non-existence.
Accordingly, such theological statements are inherently objective, as they refer to an external object, attempting to describe a metaphysical aspect of reality, they possess universal applicability, they possess a logical value, and their veracity remains independent of subjective belief. Nevertheless, not all objective claims are factual; so, is there a way to actually verify theological claims, or is it all a matter of blind faith?6 We’ll consider this question in the next section.
Adjudicating Theological Claims
Since theological claims are objective in nature, we can use empirical data and sound reasoning to adjudicate theological statements. After all, if God exists, one would expect there to be evidence of God’s existence in the material universe and it seems wise for rational people to validate the God hypothesis through the lens of scientific exploration and reason. In fact, it seems utterly irrational to believe something exists in the absence of any supporting evidence. In this section, we will consider a positive argument for God’s existence, demonstrating the possibility of adjudicating theological claims.
Whatever begins to exist, has a cause.
The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Considering the argument, we determine it is deductively valid, which means that if the premises are true, then the conclusion follows necessarily (i.e., it remains impossible for the conclusion to be false). So, what evidence is there to suggest the premises are true? The law of causality (AKA the law of causation) is a fundamental bedrock of scientific inquiry and supports the first premise. Regarding this law, philosopher Bertrand Russell comments, “The law of causation, according to which later events can theoretically be predicted by means of earlier events, has often be held to be a priori, a necessity of thought, a category without which science would not be possible.”9 Moreover, our everyday experience provides support for this premise, as we never witness objects arbitrarily popping into existence without a cause.
Transitioning to the second premise, it seems the expansion of the universe and the second law of thermodynamics both preclude an eternal universe, thereby necessitating its beginning. The famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, affirms the beginning of the cosmos by declaring, “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago.”10 While scientists remain divided on exactly when the universe began (and actively debate how or why the universe came into existence), all empirical and philosophical evidence points to a definite beginning.11
With the premises firmly established, the conclusion follows necessarily, providing a rational basis to believe the universe has a cause. Considering the ramifications of the conclusion, we can deduce numerous properties (or characteristics) necessary for a sufficient cause of the universe. Since we are referring to the “first cause” of the universe, the cause must be self-existent (i.e., causeless). Since time, space, and matter came into existence at the “Big Bang,” the cause must be eternal (i.e., timeless), non-spatial (i.e., spaceless), and immaterial. Additionally, the cause must be extremely powerful to create the massive Big Bang explosion and to account for the immense energy present throughout the universe. Moreover, the cause must be personal—choosing to generate the universe. Consider the alternative: if all the necessary conditions for the universe were eternally present, then the universe itself would be eternal. Since the universe does not exist at point A (prior to the Big Bang) and does exist at point B (after the Big Bang), a personal cause is required. Finally, the universe exhibits order, has the appearance of design, and contains complex information (consider the detailed instructions for biological mechanisms contained in DNA), indicating an intelligent cause.
To summarize, a sufficient cause of the universe must be self-existent, eternal, non-spatial, immaterial, powerful, personal, and intelligent; the exact characteristics Christians (and other monotheists) use to describe God. Consequently, by examining empirical evidence and leveraging our capacity of reason, we are able to adjudicate theologically claims—specifically addressing the question of God’s existence.
Understanding the definition of subjective statements and objective claims reveals theological statements are fundamentally objective in nature, as they refer to an external aspect of reality, possess universal applicability and a logical value, and their veracity remains independent of subjective belief. Consequently, it is possible to adjudicate theological claims using established methods of research, scientific inquiry, and philosophical reasoning. Exhibiting this contention, the Kalām Cosmological Argument provides cogent evidentiary support for the existence of God, while simultaneously solidifying monotheism as a rationally justified position.
- For additional material discussing this topic, see Not Relative: An Objective Rebuttal of Subjectivism.
- See Scientism's Abject Failure
- Obviously, this contention hinges on the existence of objective truths, thereby inherently denying the validity of relativism or subjectivism. For a refutation of this philosophy, see “Not Relative: An Objective Rebuttal of Subjectivism.”
- This phrase was popularized by political commentator Ben Shapiro.
- All scriptural references are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless noted otherwise.
- For additional discussion on the topic of Christian faith, see False Dichotomy: Faith vs Reason
- This section provides a mere overview of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. For additional details, see “Facing the Facts: The Kalām Cosmological Argument.”
- William Lane Craig, “In Defense of the Kalām Cosmological Argument,” Reasonable Faith, accessed August 15, 2016, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/in-defense-of-the-kalam-cosmological-argument.
- Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World: As a Field for Scientific Method in Philosophy (1914; repr., New York: Routledge, 2002), 235-236.
- Stephen Hawking, “The Beginning of Time,” The Official Website of Stephen Hawking, accessed December 03, 2015, http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html.
- Dr. Wollack assesses the age of the universe to be approximately 13.77 billion years. While his estimate is slightly different from Dr. Hawking’s estimate, both agree on the finite age of the cosmos; see Edward J. Wollack, “Foundations of Big Bang Cosmology,” The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, accessed December 03, 2015, http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/bb_concepts.html.