Ready to Answer - Lesson 3

By Jim Baird

Who is God?

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. Students can explain why the concept of personal gods has been so widespread in human history.
  2. Students can explain why the idea of one perfect and all powerful God makes more sense than the idea of many gods or a limited god of some kind.


  1. It is important not just to read these notes to the class. Teacher should be very familiar with the outline and choose how to present the material, making notes in the margins as needed. Practicing the lesson a few times will allow the teacher to look at the students’ eyes while making the presentation.
  2. Some find it helpful to underline the key words that will spark their memory of what to say and do next.
  3. Blackboard should be provided, clean with chalk and erasers.
  4. Students should have access to Bibles, or have overheads of all scriptures.
  5. If you are going to use the handouts associated with this lesson, give them out after the introduction. The underlined material in these notes appears in the handouts.


It makes more sense to believe in one, all powerful and perfect God than to believe in lots of gods, or in a god who is limited in any way.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (about 3 minutes)

  1. Ask “What sets people apart from animals? ”You should get suggestions like: can love, can create art, know right from wrong, can make choices, etc.
  2. Put the answers on the board.
  3. After suggestions have come in for a while, suggest any of the following that aren’t on the board yet, and put them up. People can:
    1. know about the world
    2. think for themselves
    3. think about themselves thinking
    4. recognize good and evil
    5. make wise choices about what to do based on the above
    6. act on their choices

Learning Experiences: (about 40 minutes)

  1. What is special about people?
    1. At first glance, people seem to be very different from everything else in several ways.
    2. These characteristics we listed separate people from everything else in our direct experience.
      1. A common objection here is that the higher animals have some of these characteristics.
      2. Probably the main difference between people and animals is that while animals think, we don’t believe they are able to think about their own thinking the way that we do. This “thinking about my own thinking” is what we call self-awareness or sentience. Apparently, even the higher animals do not have much self-awareness.
      3. In addition, this self-awareness seems to be part of people’s ability to recognize good and evil, and so we doubt that animals have that ability to any significant degree.
      4. This means that although some higher animals clearly make choices, their choices cannot be wise (or foolish) in the way human choices can be.
        1. [For instance, a chimpanzee can decide whether or not it can get away with stealing a bit of food from another chimp.
        2. But since the chimpanzee cannot reflect on whether actions are right or wrong, a chimp cannot make a wise decision in the sense we are using the term.]
    3. We use this distinction between people and all other things when we try to figure out the world.
      1. Some events just happen because of physical causes. We explain how they happen without needing any person to be involved.
        1. [Ask for examples]
        2. [Suggestions might be tornadoes, earthquakes, tides, as well as refrigerator mold, dog bite, locust plagues, etc.]
      2. But other events can only be explained as the result of the actions of people.
        1. [Ask for examples of events caused by people and inanimate forces combined.]
        2. [Suggestions: car wrecks; houses being built, rooms getting messy or getting cleaned up, that sort of thing.]
    4. This leads to the next point.
  2. Are gods people too?
    1. It seems clear down through history that when people talked about gods and goddesses, they were just extending the common sense kind of personal explanation we talked about above.
    2. When something could not be readily explained by impersonal causes, they would often imagine some person with powers far greater than humans who made it happen? These people were the gods and goddesses of the ancient world.
    3. So gods are people too. If any gods exist, they are people with greater power, greater knowledge, greater self-awareness and hopefully greater recognition of good and evil (though in the case of some of the pagan gods,this last does not seem to have been true.)
  3. Why believe in any gods at all?
    1. In the rest of this series, we will give several reasons why the existence of God is the best way to explain where everything came from.
    2. But in the meantime, there is a very basic reason why the belief in gods is so common all over the world and throughout history: On the face of things, it is practically impossible to imagine the personal arising from the less than personal.
      1. It seems too much like water flowing up hill, or rubbing two ice cubes together to light a fire.
      2. We can see how a person with enough power might make the physical world, but it has always been hard to see how a merely physical world could make a person.
    3. Most people throughout history have realized that the source of everything has to be at least as much of a person as humans are, and for this reason alone, most people throughout history have believed in gods of some kind or another.
  4. Why believe there is one God instead of many?
    1. Looking at the world around us, it is not surprising that many people came to think of there being many gods.
      1. Since the world has many different features and sometimes chaotic, conflicting forces, it probably seemed natural to think of the world as more of a committee project. It was natural to think of many gods and goddesses, each one over his or her particular part of the universe.
      2. Also, even when a particular tribe or people believed in one god, they tended to think of that one god and tell stories about him in a way that was unique to that tribe. Later, when they united with other tribes to build nations, it may have been easier simply to accept that there was more than one god than to try to figure out some compromise picture that would preserve the idea of only one deity.
    2. But even with these forces pushing humans toward belief in many gods, there are also forces pushing humans toward belief in just one God.
      1. History shows that the philosophers of India who wrote the Upanishads came to be dissatisfied with the confusion of gods and goddesses in the ancient religions of their culture, and began to seek some unity behind the many. [See for instance, David s. Noss, A History of the World’s Religions, 10th Ed. Prentice Hall, 1999. pp. 91ff]
      2. In much the same way, western philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, though they lived in polytheistic cultures, came to be dissatisfied with the idea of many gods and began to look for some unifying principle higher than the gods.
      3. In these cases, the drive for multiple gods was overcome by the drive to find simpler explanations behind a complex world.
    3. This drive for simplicity is manifest in many areas of knowledge. [You might ask for examples they know about, and/or give them some of these.]
      1. Linguists have shown how French, Italian and Spanish have all arisen from Latin.
      2. Doctors have been able to show that all the different symptoms of the flu (headaches, high fever, nausea, sweating) are caused by the actions of a single class of viruses.
      3. Chemists have been able to explain the many different elements by showing how they are built up from protons, neutrons and electrons.
      4. Physicists are seeking to explain the dozens of extra subatomic particles that they have discovered in terms of a few even more basic things called quarks (rhymes with 'forks’).
    4. The same drive is found in ordinary common sense. We are always working to find simple explanations for complex phenomena. [You might use this example or one you make up.]
      1. Suppose you find that the Oreo’s are missing from the kitchen cabinet, you see cookie crumbs outside your brother’s bedroom door and you hear sounds of munching coming from inside.
      2. Your natural explanation will be that your brother took the Oreo’s, was eating them while walking back to his room, and is even now finishing them off inside.
      3. But there could be another explanation. Maybe your mother mistakenly threw out the Oreo’s because she thought they were vanilla creams that had gotten really moldy. Maybe the crumbs leading to your brother’s door were left by ants who were called back to the nest. Maybe the munching sound is from your brother’s hamster, who is chewing his food, but the sound is being picked up and accidentally amplified by the angle of the book case and wall.
      4. But it surely seems that the first explanation is better, and the reason it is better is because it is simpler in several ways.
      5. On of the most important ways it is simpler is that it only needs one person - your brother - to account for all the different clues. It is less likely that many people and things were involved than that one person was.
    5. It turns out that simplification is one of the main ways we make sense of the world.
    6. This gives us an important principle
      1. [Put on board or overhead]
      2. The Simplicity Principle: When any two explanations are equal in other ways, the simpler one is more likely to be true.
    7. The Simplicity Principle probably explains why people are drawn toward the idea of one God over many. But more than that, it shows that they are right to think in this way. If everything else is the same, one God is more likely than many gods.

Application: (Not more than five minutes)

    1. It is not widely known that the Simplicity Principle, which turns out to be fundamental for science, has been important for belief in God for centuries. Do you think religious people would be surprised to find out that science and religion share such a fundamental principle?
    2. We have gotten so used to thinking of science and religion as enemies that we forget how much they have in common. If this were more widely recognized, how might it change some of the ways we think about the connection between faith and reason?

Further Resources:

    1. Richard Swinburne, Is There a God? Oxford University Press, 1996. Chapters 2 & 3.

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