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"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20, ESV)

The Apostle Paul here says that those who ignore God, who fail to worship him or give him thanks are without excuse because the Universe shows there is a Creator God with certain attributes, namely, that he is eternal and has a divine nature.

My question is, in what way(s) does the existence of the Universe plainly demonstrate the existence and nature of God? Preferably, in your answer say what "eternal power" means, and show how the Universe demonstrates the eternal power of God?

My question seeks answers mainly from a Trinitarian perspective. (If you answer from other perspectives please indicate this in your answer. Thanks.)

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  • I think Paul is sort of making the same argument that intelligent design proponents make nowadays (e.g. like in here) Jan 16 at 17:49
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    @Spirit Realm Investigator - the arguments of the proponents of intelligent design are not given in that link, just an opportunity to buy books or read through what looks like heavy-duty scientific material. Here is a link to an article on intelligent design that explains things from a Christian (trinitarian) perspective and can be easily understood: gotquestions.org/intelligent-design.html
    – Lesley
    Jan 25 at 16:22
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St. Paul is evidently musing on themes in the book of Wisdom in Chapter 1 and beyond:

Wisdom 13:1-9 But all men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen, could not understand him that is, neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman: 2 But have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon, to be the gods that rule the world. 3 With whose beauty, if they, being delighted, took them to be gods: let them know how much the Lord of them is more beautiful than they: for the first author of beauty made all those things. 4 Or if they admired their power and their effects, let them understand by them, that he that made them, is mightier than they: 5 For by the greatness of the beauty, and of creation, the creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby. 6 But yet as to these they are less to be blamed. For they perhaps err, seeking God, and desirous to find him. 7 For being conversant among his works, they search: and they are persuaded that the things are good which are seen. 8 But then again they are not to be pardoned. 9 For if they were able to know so much as to make a judgment of the world: how did they not more easily find out the Lord thereof?

The logic is this: in recognizing objective beauty in something (to the extent, especially, of worshipping it), one of necessity must recognize the mind behind it, since beauty is only appreciable in a mind, and thus only authorable by it. Hence, for as long they do so and refuse to worship the Author of such beauty, they sin: "for the first author of beauty made them all."

And if the author of beauty itself is greater, by definition, than the sum of all his creations, then "his eternal power" is evident, because it is far beyond - literally - anything we can conceive or imagine, and obviously lives with him, and so eternally.

The overall point is that all goes back to God, no matter what it is, good or bad; if you worship the good things He made, you are offending and robbing Him; if you worship the bad things, you are doing him a double offense and a double robbery.

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  • I like this answer, which our 'delete books' associates cannot arrive at since Wisdom is one of the books they cut out of the canon. Jan 28 at 4:53
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One way to think about this is:

Within the "all that there is" of the universe cause and effect is supremely evident and unavoidably universal. If it were not so we would have no way to predictably interact with our environment. It makes no sense to exempt "all that there is" from the influence of cause and effect.

In other words, if cause and effect reigns supreme within "all that there is" while the totality of "all that there is" itself is uncaused we are left asking, "What has caused "cause and effect"?

If "cause and effect" are byproducts of existence then "all that there is" has no cause and is, itself, the uncaused cause. This leads to pantheism and all manner of paganism and nature worship (including humanism and atheism):

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. - Romans 1:21-23

If "all that there is" is an effect then what has caused it? And even beyond that, what has caused the cause? Some have supposed an eternal regression of causes with no need for a first, uncaused cause. This seems to require an "all that there is" that is less than inclusive for the cause cannot be part of it's effect.

In other words, if "all that there is" had a cause, that cause must be something other than "all that there is" and if that cause is actually an effect which had a cause (as eternal regressionists propose) we now must suppose something other than cause and effect which caused the cause of "all that there is". Since we cannot possibly even imagine what that would be it is useless to imagine beyond it. Eternal regressionism is foolishness:

... they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools...

What the Scripture declares is "In the beginning God..." and "The heavens are recounting the honour of God, And the work of His hands The expanse is declaring." No effort is made to prove to mankind (merely a part of "all that there is") that God exists: The effect itself is proof of the cause.

That God (first cause) exists is self evident in "all that there is":

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. - Romans 1:19-20

Who or what God is (God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ) is the subject of the revelation beyond that which "is plain to them". 

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. - John 3:31-33

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  • The apostle Paul would not likely have any trouble following your argument and its logic. Plus 1. However, an unreached people group, such as the Huaroani were in the 1950s, when missionaries were murdered in their attempt to reach them, would not likely follow your argument and logic. I'd LIKE TO THINK the Huaroani who killed the five missionaries felt SOME guilt for what they did (and one of the murderers came to faith in Christ eventually), but a people group that savage (they were also known as the "Auca," meaning savage) were operating on a less exalted level, intellectually, than Paul. Jan 18 at 17:18
  • Before you accuse me of racism, rest assured I believe the Auca had redeeming qualities, such as love of family, loyalty to fellow tribesmen, and sufficient smarts to fend for and provide for themselves without Western influence, Nevertheless, they, like myriad "civilized" Westerners, are dead in sin. The Auca may have killed neighboring tribesmen, but we Americans stormed the Capitol building. Both people groups, Americans and Auca, have intellectual capabilities, but both alike have darkened hearts and futile thinking (Rom 1:21). Jan 18 at 17:32
  • While what Paul wrote in Romans 1 rings true in a civilized milieu and culture, it does not ring quite so true in primitive cultures. Oh, both cultures have their gods. Primitive cultures may have their animism, but Americans have their materialism, and both groups worship at their respective altars. I'll stop here. Sorry for being so long-winded. I still think your answer is a good one. Don Jan 18 at 17:38
  • @rhetorician No need to apologize. Another way of putting it is, "Well, the earth and sky exist so somebody has to have made it." Unfortunately we in the west are too "educated" to respond to common sense at that level. Jan 19 at 0:49
  • True that, Mike. True that. Jan 19 at 2:17
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Imagine if the Universe had always existed. Of course, that would mean there is an infinite amount of time in the past. That would mean that no matter how much time you spent trying you would never be able to "get on the ladder of time" in order to reach the current time because there is always an infinite amount of time to traverse before you can "get on the ladder".

In fact, it would not be possible to reach any moment of time. If you believe the first material event was a Big Bang, consider this, you cannot reach the moment in time in which the Big Bang happened if you need to traverse an eternity of time to reach it...you will be always approaching the moment but never actually reaching.

[So a Big Bang cannot explain how the Universe began, because a Big Bang does not, and logically cannot, explain how it overcame the problem of a previous eternity of time, the Theory of a Big Bang fails to explain how eternal time was traversed.]

But you know you are in the current moment in time. Seeing as we are in the present time that obviously means that the Universe has not always existed.

If the material Universe in its totality has not always existed that means there was once absolutely nothing. But from nothing you always get nothing. Which means there must have been Someone, immaterial, who made the Universe ex nihilo.

If this Someone were bound or limited by Time, if this Someone were inside Time, then precisely the same conundrum would exist as existed in the first paragraph: there would always be an infinite amount of time to happen before this Someone were able to make the Universe, and so there would be a waiting forever before the act of creation. It follows that this Someone, God of course, is outside of time, He is not limited or bound inside Time at all: on the contrary, Time is subject to Him.

Perhaps this is what the Apostle means by “eternal power”. God has, and must have, a power which is not subject to the limits of Time, He is outside of Time altogether.

And by “divine nature” I suppose the Apostle might be meaning God’s ability to create a Universe ex nihilo.

For more on this kind of answer you might like this Joshua Rasmussen’s videos on Youtube such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPK8MDk3hh0. I haven’t read any of his books. Or you might like to get a copy of “Scaling the Secular City – A Defense of Christianity” by J.P. Moreland; or Youtube videos or "Reasonable Faith" by William Lane Craig.

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OP (emphasis mine) "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20, ESV)

Man can certainly rearrange and modify, but there is nothing man can create originally. Only God creates the things that have been made.

So, to answer the OP, unless one can convincingly argue that the universe simply popped into existence, which you can't, then there is a Creator. Therefore, one is without excuse.

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  • Well, if the universe, our lives are just a very vivid 'dream' than the universe doesn't need to pop into existence. It's just an 'illusion' of our soul. Then you would rather need to answer who is God and why he requires worship. So it's not as simple as whether arguing whether the universe popped into existence but rather whether God is personal or just some kind of energy or collective consciousness as other religions would argue.
    – Grasper
    Jan 25 at 14:28
  • @Grasper it seems to me that your view that the universe is perhaps an illusion of our soul or our collective consciousness would simply shift the focus from Creator to created without answering the OP question. IOW, where did you come from? You popped into existence?
    – SLM
    Jan 25 at 16:42
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Merely establishing the existence of a creator is a weak argument that we as his creatures thereby incur an obligation, which if not met, accrues us guilt. This is a key part of the "without excuse" that we seek to prove.

"Existence" implies a static relationship between us and the universe, but this universe surrounds us with a dynamic relationship. Andrew-Shanks' answer start us off in the right direction: the relation between time and eternity. Time is the key, because time is integral to communication. Communication is a timed sequence of symbols sent by a sender to a receiver that makes referrence to a shared context.

We live in not just any universe, but one constructed to facilitate communication between God and humankind. Natural relationships and processes are not information free, they are information rich. When Jesus told parables, he exploited some of these relationships to convey his meaning. In Job 38 and 39, God cited natural processes and His care for His animals as indicative of His love for all that He had made. Likewise, He connected certain terrible forces like lightning, floods and hail as pointing to His power in judgment. Thus by God's own words, the natural world demonstrates the love of a creator personally involved who also executes judgment. Thus innocence and guilt are concepts that can be inferred from the natural world.

None of the examples cited by God in His speech are beyond the experience of most people. Correctly interpreting that evidence may not be guaranteed or easy, but God's speech explicitly says that such conclusions can be so derived. If the creator says so, it must be possible. The information and logic is there to be found.

Our fight for survival can seem all-consuming, but God has even thought of that. In Job 37, Elihu speaks of a sort of sabbath: when the storm hits, all the animals have to hide to keep safe. During that time, nobody can work. Everyone is forced to stop and consider what is happening around them.

What parts of "without excuse" do we have?

  • God's personal love and care, for which we should be grateful
  • God's personal wrath and judgment, of which we should be fearful
  • Mandated times for reflection, preventing us from always being distracted and missing what is being said

However, that is not the only form of communication God employs!

  • People are part of the natural world, so we are responsible for what we learn from others
  • God speaks on occasion through dreams and visions
  • God speaks through miracles and angels

If you say that these last few aren't part of the Universe because they are supernatural, it is because of nature that these last few are able to communicate to us. Once we have become accustomed to the typical functioning of the natural world, the supernatural can be recognized and appreciated for what it is. The natural world tells us when the God who is beyond nature is speaking.

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  • +1 for an interesting approach. Jan 26 at 9:36
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Here's a possible answer Paul could have had in mind, and one that his audience (educated?) would have readily understood: Our belief in God is innate.

This is a Non-Trinitarian purely historical answer, but perhaps of some interest. Paul appears to have had some kind of classical education, including training in rhetoric. Some direct evidence for this, according to Bruce Winter in his Philo and Paul Among the Sophists, is Paul's "use of rhetorical terms and allusions in 1 Corinthians 2.1-5" (158).

If we do treat Paul as a classically trained rheotrician, we can bring to bear that context when interpreting this passage. It was commonplace among Hellenistic philosophers that belief in God/gods was innate, a product of nature. The Stoics and Epicureans for instance believed as much (about gods). The following passage from Cicero's "On The Nature of Gods" is representative.

You see, then, that what constitutes the foundation of this inquiry is excellently well laid, for since the belief in question was determined by no ordinance, or custom, or law, and since a steadfast unanimity continues to prevail amongst all men without exception, it must be understood that the gods exist. For we have ideas of them implanted, or rather innate, within us, and as that upon which the nature of all men is agreed must needs be true, their existence must be acknowledged. Since their existence is pretty universally admitted not only among philosophers but also among those who are not philosophers, let us own that the following fact is also generally allowed, namely, that we possess a “preconception,” to use my former word, or “previous notion” of the gods (new designations that have to be employed when the objects of designation are new, just as Epicurus himself applied the term πρόληψις to what no one had described by that name before)—we possess, I say, a preconception which makes us think of them as blessed and immortal. For nature that gave us the idea of gods as such, has also engraved in our minds the conviction that they are blessed and eternal...

This is the sort of intellectual commonplace someone like Paul could have appealed to. Indeed, to an audience who believed the idea of God/gods to be innate, God would "have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" as Paul says. Naturally, for Paul, God and not nature (or gods) was the source of this innateness. But even an educated pagan contemporary of Paul's could latch on to the punchline of your passage.

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"How beautiful is the bright, clear sky above us! What a glorious sight it is!" (Sirach 43:1)

How high is the sky? Definition of 'sky' is: the region of the atmosphere and outer space seen from the earth. The sky just proves that God is eternal because nobody knows the measurement of the universe! There are mysteries that no one can comprehend since we are just one of His creations (Sirach 43:32-33). A creature cannot be greater than the Creator, and so no one can fully measure God's greatness.

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