The Argument from History
by Peter Kreeft
This argument is both stronger and weaker than the other arguments for the existence of God. It is stronger because its data (its evidence) are some facts of history, things that have happened on this planet, rather than principles or ideas. People are more convinced by facts than by principles. But it is weaker because the historical data amount only to strong clues, not to deductive proofs.
The argument from history is the strongest psychologically with most people, but it is not the logically strongest argument. It is like footprints in the sands of time, footprints made by someone great enough to be God.
There are at least eight different arguments from history, not just one.
A story points to a storyteller
First, we could argue from the meaningfulness of history itself. History, both human and prehuman, has a storyline. It is not just random. The atheist Jean-Paul Sartre has his alter ego Roquentin say something like this about history in the novel Nausea: “I have never had adventures. Things have happened to me, that’s all.” If atheism is true, there are no adventures, nothing has intrinsic significance, life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. But life is not that. Life is a story. Stories are not told by idiots. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s great epic The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam are crawling through the slag heaps of Mordor desperately attempting to fulfill their perilous quest when Sam stops to ask, “I wonder what kind of story we’re in, Mr. Frodo?” It is a great question, a concrete way of asking the abstract question, “What is the meaning of life?” That the question is asked at all shows that we are in a story, not a jumble, and a story points to a storyteller. Thus the general argument from history is a version of the argument from design.
Whenever God’s laws are followed, the people prosper
A second argument concentrates more specifically on the moral design in history. Thus it can be seen as similar to the argument from conscience in that it uses the same evidence, morality. But in this case the premise is the justice revealed in history rather than the obligation imposed by individual conscience. The historical books of the Old Testament constitute an extended argument for the existence of God based on the history of the Jewish people. The argument is implicit, not explicit, of course; the Bible is not a book of philosophical arguments. It is not so much an argument as an invitation to look and see the hand of God in history. Whenever God’s laws are followed, the people prosper. When they are violated, the people perish. History shows that moral laws are as inescapable as physical laws. Just as you can flout gravity only temporarily before you fall, so you can flout the moral laws of God only temporarily before you fall. Great tyrants like Adolf Hitler flourish for a day, like the mayfly, and perish. Great saints experience apparent failure, and emerge into triumph and joy. The same is true of nations as well as individuals. The lesson is scorned not because it is unknown or obscure but because it is so well known; it is what our mothers and nurses told us as children. And however “square” it may be, it is true. History proves you can’t cut the corners of the moral square. In geometry, you can’t square the circle, and in history you can’t circle the square. Now is this moral design (which the East calls karma) mere chance or the product of a wise moral will, a lawgiver? But no human lawgiver invented history itself. The only adequate cause for such an effect is God.
“Coincidences” bring suspicion that an unseen divine hand is at work
A third argument from history looks at providential “coincidences”, like the Red Sea’s parting (moved by an east wind, according to Exodus) at just the right time for the Jews to escape Pharaoh. Our own individual histories usually have some similar bits of incredible timing. Insightful and unprejudiced examination of these “coincidences” will bring us at least to the suspicion, if not to the conviction, that an unseen divine hand is at work here…
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