Author Greg Koukl
Published on 12/11/2023

What Can We Know about God without Using the Bible?

Greg and Amy discuss how, even apart from the Bible, we can know some of God’s attributes by observing his creation.


Question: How do you show what attributes God has without using the Bible?

Greg: The way Paul puts it in Romans 1:19–20 is, “That which is known about God is evident within them.” That’s interesting because he’s talking about an internal witness in that phrase—“for God made it evident to them.” He’s talking about the fact that the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

If you think about the origin of the universe, it has to be from an unmoved mover—to use the Aristotelian characterization—one that himself was not created, or else you fall into an infinite regress. Who created him? Who created him? Who created him? Sooner or later, you have to have a starting point of a being with aseity that is self-existent and eternal by nature. That’s the only place you can go when you think about it. The universe is contingent. There has to be some non-contingent being who is the best explanation for the universe. That’s another form of the cosmological argument—Leibniz’s contingency argument.

You could be an ancient and still reason that way. An eternal being that is really powerful has to be responsible for the universe that we see. That’s one thing. This being is not just powerful, but smart. Look at the nature of the universe. Look at the intricacy. Look at the design features. And he has to be creative, and I don’t mean creative just in the sense of causing something to come from nothing—that would be the classic sense of creating something—but creative in the aesthetic sense. Just look at any critter. Stand in your front yard and look around. My wife and I were sitting at the bench in our front yard the other evening, and there were little brown bats flying around in front. Wow! They’re great. These are mammals that fly. Not birds that fly. Mammals that fly, catching insects that fly. Flight is not easy to accomplish, and all of these fly through different means. Basic aerodynamics are in place, but they have different ways of being mechanized to accomplish that. And what are the bats doing? They’re eating these flying insects. Like what? Like mosquitoes. Did you ever try to catch a mosquito? That’s not easy. They’re flying around midair, catching them in their mouth and zooming here and there. How do they do that? Echolocation. Amazing! Unbelievable! That’s creative.

I was looking at our milkweed pants in our front yard, and there’s the monarch butterfly caterpillars eating, eating, eating. They can’t see anything. They don’t have eyes, but they eat the plant that they were laid on. When the plant is gone, they go find another. And how do they do that? Then they find a bush or a tree to pupate in. How do they do that? They know how to do it without eyes. And then they pupate, which means they turn to mush and then come out a flying thing. Go figure. That is pretty cool.

So, these are design qualities that we can observe in nature, and, from that, we properly infer the intelligence and creativity, now, in the aesthetic sense, of a creative—and powerful—being. There are lots of things that one can infer in what might be called natural theology about the character of God. By the way, Paul, in Romans 1, says people are held responsible for that. What about those who have never heard about Jesus? Well, maybe they’ve never heard about Jesus, but they’ve all heard about the Father. That’s his point. And if they hear about the Father and reject the Father by suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, why does the Father have any obligation to give them more information about his Son? Because, as Jesus said, “If you reject the Son, you reject the Father who sent me.” If they’re already rejecting the Father, they’re not going to accept the Son whom he sent.

Amy: Just to add a couple more things to your list, there, Greg, we know he cares about beauty. We know that he’s rational because everything is orderly. So, even beyond being creative, you know, he’s beautiful. He’s rational. And, also, I think it also indicates that he is a person—that he’s an agent, because if he were just a force of some kind, there would be no explanation for a beginning of creation. He has to initiate the beginning of creation.

Greg: That’s a real important point. There are two types of causes. I’m going to get a little philosophical here, but it’s not difficult. They’re called agent causation and event causation. Now, event causation, we know about. It’s like dominoes falling, and that’s why science works. Because, if you set the dominoes up the same way every time, they will always fall the same way according to natural law. It’s entailed in the concept of experimental repeatability and the scientific method. That’s event causation. But, notice, somebody has to set the dominoes up and has to flick the first domino so that they all fall in this orderly succession. Well, the one that flicks the first domino and initiates the causal chain is called an agent. It’s someone who is a person who is capable of starting something happening.

If there is no starter, and things are happening, that means the happenings fade back into eternity, which turns out to be impossible because you can’t accomplish an actual Infinity of events by adding one to another. You can’t count to infinity. You keep counting, and you’re always going to have a number. Therefore, there had to be an initiation, and our uniform experience is that agents are initiators, not events. They’re prime movers. You could have a couple of events being influenced. Say, for example, an earthquake happened, and then that shook the first domino, and then the domino started falling. If you’re using that as an illustration, well, that is a physical event that caused the next physical event, but eventually, you’re going to have to go back to some event that caused motion to begin with. This is one of Aquinas’s arguments for God. Who starts the motion? So, that God needs to be a personal agent is obvious from the nature of cause and effect in the universe.