Should we expect that most reasonable people will believe in God?

Q. Apologist and philosopher Dr. Alvin Plantinga is of the opinion that the existence of a caring God is a “properly basic notion,” that is, a notion so basic that it is not dependent on other ideas or arguments, something, he claims, that is obvious to most intelligent people. The Rev. Timothy Keller seems to agree: “I think people in our culture know unavoidably that there is a God, but they are repressing what they know.”—Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton, 2008), page 146. Do you have an opinion on this matter?

I am inclined to agree with the view of Plantinga and Keller as you describe it. Personally I think that if God did not actually exist, people would not argue about whether God existed. The subject wouldn’t come up.

The Bible teaches that people form a notion of God from creation, from conscience, and from their sense that even though they are finite, they are meant to be connected with something infinite. Appealing to biblical teaching is different from saying that belief in God is a properly basic notion, but this is a blog about the Bible, so I think it is appropriate to mention that the view you are describing seems to have biblical support. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” “God has set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Along these lines, Hannah Whitall Smith appeals to the analogy of eagles born and raised in captivity. They have never seen flight, yet they feel a compelling urge to fly. We might say that flight is a properly basic notion for eagles, just as belief in God is a properly basic notion for people. She writes, “Like the captive-born eagle that feels within it the instinct of flight, and chafes and frets at its imprisonment, hardly knowing what it longs for, so do our souls chafe and fret, and cry for freedom. … The wings of the soul carry it up into a spiritual plane of life, into the ‘life hid with Christ in God,’ which is a life … that no cage can imprison and no shackles bind.”

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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