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80/20 arguments for God: introduction

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4 minutes to read In which I introduce a new series on the easiest and most effective arguments for God’s existence.

You may have heard of the 80/20 principle. It says that, as a general rule, 20% of your work achieves 80% of your results. It is usually used in business—but it is also true in apologetics. 20% of the reasons for God get 80% of the results. So in this series of posts, I’m going to outline what I think are the easiest and most persuasive arguments for the existence of God—the 20% of reasoning that does 80% of the work.

Most of these arguments are not for Christianity specifically. But they give us good reasons to think there must be a God very much like the Christian God. And toward the end of the series, I’ll also give some reasons for thinking that he isn’t just like the Christian God, but he actually is the Christian God.

How persuasive are these arguments?

Well, none of them are knock-down “proofs” for God’s existence. I think that term, “proof”, implies a very high standard of certainty. No one argument for anything can produce that kind of certainty. Not for Christianity, and not for any other worldview either. But add them up and you can certainly move “beyond reasonable doubt”.

How persuasive you find an argument really comes down to how sure you are about each of its parts. These 80/20 arguments are made up of premises which I think are more plausible than not. A fair-minded person—someone who is willing to weigh the evidence even-handedly without prejudice—will probably agree with me in most cases. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always agree, and it certainly doesn’t mean that a hardcore skeptic (aka a scoffer) will agree. Scoffers, as the name suggests, are not fair-minded or even-handed, and they don’t care how high an intellectual price they pay for denying some premise or other. So keep that in mind as you think about these arguments.

What’s the point of these arguments?

You may have noticed that lots of people already believe God exists, yet they have no real interest in him. He’s just kind of “out there”—someone who is useful for praying to in an emergency, but not someone they’d be inclined to talk to often, let alone someone they have a personal relationship with. And certainly not someone they submit to. (This attitude was dubbed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Dento, in their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.)

If you’re talking to a person like that, there’s probably not much point going through most of these arguments. That kind of person doesn’t need convincing about God, but about sin—so they can repent and believe in the gospel. (I’ll talk about that toward the end of this series.) These arguments are more aimed at:

1. Skeptics

When I use the word “skeptic”, I don’t mean someone who reflexively denies anything that smacks of religion. The Bible calls that sort of person a scoffer. A skeptic, conversely, is someone who doubts the truth of Christianity, but is willing to consider evidence for it. So “soft” atheists, agnostics, spiritualists and the like will probably be swayed, if not by any particular one of these arguments, then perhaps by their combined weight. But don’t expect to argue someone into the kingdom of God. It’s quite possible to change someone’s mind about the existence of God, but then have them become one of the “moralistic therapeutic deists” I mentioned above. While it is true that “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists” (Hebrews 11:6), that doesn’t mean that whoever believes he exists will draw near to him. So while reasons for believing in God are extremely important, they are only a means to an end. Don’t expect them to achieve more than they’re designed to.

2. Christians

On the other side of the coin, there are lots of people who once drew near to God because they used to believe he existed, but now they aren’t so sure. These 80/20 arguments will also help them. Most Christians suffer periods of doubt. Sadly, many churches treat doubt like a disease. It’s not. Doubt isn’t usually a sign there’s something wrong with you, any more than hunger is. On the contrary, like hunger, it shows that everything is working just fine except that you haven’t been fed. Churches that frown on doubt are usually a bit like restaurants that frown on hunger. I don’t know what such restaurants would look like, but if they were anything like some of the churches I’ve seen, they’d probably only serve water and celery sticks.

A healthy mind needs evidence just like a healthy stomach needs food. You should be skeptical of things that aren’t well-supported. But as it happens, Christianity is very well-supported. So these 80/20 arguments will probably help you if you’re searching for good reasons to believe in God. There are more than you might think.

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