Archive for August, 2016


Many different arguments can be used to demonstrate that God does actually exist. Individually, these arguments are compelling, and I believe when brought together, they make a very strong case, indeed. I want to go through a few of them with you. These are, of course, not original with me, and much more has been said about each of them, but I hope to explain in an easy-to-understand way the intuitive and powerful nature of these arguments.

Causes and Beginnings

Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

To start with, let’s look at an argument about the beginning of the universe, called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Reasonable Faith has put together several great videos presenting these arguments, and so I want to start with one of them. Have a look:

The Kalam Cosmological argument goes like this:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This is a deductive argument, and it is in a valid form, so the task is to examine the premises to see if they are true, and so show the conclusion as also being true.

The first premise, “Everything that begins to exist has a cause,” matches our uniform and repeated experience in everything in life and science. To deny this is to say that some things could spontaneously come into existence with no cause and no reason; there is a rather large burden of proof on the one who would want to assert this counter-intuitive claim. An overthrow, or even an exception to the foundational principle of causation would create a massive undermining of the process and understanding of the scientific endeavor. I simply have not seen any convincing arguments or alternative explanations for the tried-and-true principle of causation that we adopt as the first premise.

Secondly, “the universe began to exist” matches the evidence of modern scientific observation, and is the best explanation of the evidence. But let’s consider some alternative theories that have been suggested.

  1. The steady state theory says that the universe has existed in stasis for eternity past. Cosmological observations and discoveries have rendered this theory obsolete, as there is data that shows the universe is expanding outwards from a central point.
  2. Another theory attempts to modify and salvage the steady state theory by postulating a continuous expansion, in which the universe is and has eternally been expanding, and that as it does so, new matter comes into existence from that central point. But this theory seems rather implausible as well, as (referring back to the first premise) our uniform and repeated observation and experience tells us that nothing begins to exist without a cause. Some sort of reasonable mechanism would need to be proposed and explained to redeem this theory, and none exist.
  3. Another model, the oscillating universe theory, suggests that our universe eternally, past and future, oscillates between cycles of expansion and contraction in which the gravitational forces in the universe cause the universe to collapse back in upon itself, after which it will expand back out. In this proposal, we are observing the universe presently in one of the expansion cycles. The problem here is that the force of gravity is not strong enough to pull all the universe back together; a collapse is not possible through this means. It appears we have a one-way expanding universe.

Therefore God?

It seems that we cannot escape the conclusion that the universe has a cause. How does this help our case for God’s existence? As I said in the last post, we are taking baby steps here. I won’t assert that this proves Christian theism, but I do think it provides some good evidence that is hard to ignore. Some of the properties of the causal agent of the universe would include these:

  • Uncaused – the “first cause” must be uncaused or else it would not be the first cause; something beyond would have caused it, into an infinite regress of absurdity.
  • Exceedingly Powerful – even omnipotent, to cause the universe to exist from literally nothing
  • Personal – only a personal agent with will, intent, and consciousness can explain the beginning of the universe with no prior causes.

I believe there are more attributes we could infer from this argument, but again, I want to be modest and not stretch out beyond our reach. These three attributes are certainly God-like as described in the Bible, and as we go on, we’ll see that the other arguments will bring us even closer to the God of Christian theism.

In the next post, I will briefly discuss some objections that may be raised to the cosmological argument and address my views on the age of the universe, another implication of this argument.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

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2 Cor 10:5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christworking-1229720-1279x977

Previously, I took a great deal of time to show that not only does objective truths exist, but that we can reasonably approach and assess truth in many important areas of philosophy, theology, history, and science. Confidence in our knowledge in these areas can be gained and increased by careful reasoning and critical thinking through argumentation. Having laid the philosophical foundations to justify the use of these tools, I now want to apply them towards our knowledge of God.

Can Truths About God Be Known?

Rom. 1:20“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 [unbelievers] are without excuse.”

But first, perhaps it would be appropriate to say a few words addressing the question, can truths about God be known? Is God too “other” for finite humans to comprehend or in any way grasp His properties? One agnostic trend makes the claim that this is impossible. Paul, in Romans 1 indicates that some amount of knowledge about God is indeed possible through observation and reflection. I think the agnostic claim itself fails philosophically as an absolute claim, as it claims to have knowledge of God, namely that knowledge about God is unattainable. So what is gained by the destruction of this claim? Well, we can escape the prison of ignorance concerning God; it seems that it is not logically impossible to know something about God (if He exists). This, of course, doesn’t take us very far towards positive knowledge claims about God, but it does make forward progress possible, at least in principle.

Baby Steps

In the posts that follow, I want to move, with slow and careful steps, through some arguments that have installed in me confidence that God exists and is accurately reflected in Christian theism as laid out in the Bible. Slow and careful, I say, because these are not philosophical word games, some smoke-and-mirrors rhetorical trick. I’m not going to try to take you all the way from skepticism to true believer all in one argument, as that seems an awful lot to ask from one argument [1]. Instead, I want to build a cumulative case for you that grows in stages from previous groups of arguments, as laid out in my earlier post about the goals of Christian case making. As a reminder, here is the model I’m following in this method.

                      | Has God spoken? |

                |        Has God acted?         |

     |                     Does God exist?                 |

|    Does Truth exist? Is Truth knowable?         |

We have completed step one, concerning Truth, and are now moving up to the next step, “Does God exist?” The arguments will not, as I said, make the full case in one step, but will move us forward, bit by bit, with evidence for God’s existence, His attributes, and how Christian theism seems to fit best with reality and history among other religions. I think this careful case-building strategy can be persuasive, as the Holy Spirit softens the heart and removes hostility towards God. Overthrowing one’s worldview in favor of one very different is no small matter, and one which I would expect not to happen quickly.

Please join me next time as we begin with arguments for God’s existence, and I hope that you will have your confidence and trust strengthened in the truth of the Bible as we see how reality truly is reflected, described, and prescribed. I certainly found it convincing, and I pray you will too.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] Although not impossible – the Minimal Facts argument for the resurrection strikes me as very persuasive, and implies much of content of Christian theism.

In previous posts, I’ve attempted to show that argumentation (as distinguished from bickering or fighting) is a good thing – the process in which we take observations and evidence and draw the-great-detective-1425530-1920x1440conclusions about the world around us. We saw the first principles of logic that form the foundation of reason, and that true, biblical faith is based on reason, rather than being opposed to it, as some misunderstand. Building on this, let’s now look at the most common types of arguments: deductive, inductive, or abductive.

Argument Types

In a deductive argument, the premises lead to a conclusion which, if the premises are shown to be true, follows irresistibly. So, for a famous example:

  1. All men are mortal. (premise 1)
  2. Socrates is a man. (premise 2)
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (conclusion)

Intuitively, this should make sense. The conclusion follows from the premises, if they are accepted as true. This is the strongest form of argument.

Inductive arguments contain a conclusion that is established by the strength of their premises, and so rather than the conclusion irresistibly following the premises, it is only probable, not certain. Take this example:

  1. It has rained every day for the last thirty days in Birmingham. (premise)
  2. Therefore, it will probably rain today in Birmingham. (conclusion)

Is the conclusion certain? By no means, but probability seems to be in favor of its being true.

Abductive arguments, sometimes known as inference to the best explanation, draws a conclusion taking into account multiple pieces of data and attempts to most comprehensively explain them all. This is the form of argument frequently used by criminal detectives (such as Sherlock Holmes). Here’s an example:

Let’s say I am in a room with no windows in the interior of a building.

  1. Someone walks in the room with wet shoes and a dripping umbrella. (data 1)
  2. I’ve been hearing some ominous booming and rain-on-roof sounds. (data 2)
  3. The weather app on my phone says there are thunderstorms in my area. (data 3)
  4. A reasonable conclusion would be that it is raining outside currently. (conclusion)

An interpretation of the data occurs which lead to possible explanations which are compared with one another. The chosen conclusion is not certain, but it seems more likely than alternate explanations that may be offered.

Argumentation Gives Knowledge

So to sum up, concerning arguments, two or more premises (including hidden premises) are put together to lead to a conclusion.  The premises must each be evaluated for probability of truth in order to determine the strength of the conclusion.  Since in most cases the premises are assigned probability less than 100% certainty, it usually leads to conclusions which are themselves less than 100% certain.  However, this is simply the way we operate in life.  In many instances, we consider ourselves to have knowledge on topics for which we have varying degrees of certainty.  Different subjects require differing levels of certainty to claim knowledge, yet we navigate reality, personally and corporately making important decisions on what we consider to be (un)acceptable levels of certainty.  For example, criminals are executed through a decision of guilt rendered beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond all doubt.  If we are justified at this level of moral certitude to impose a death penalty on another, surely, then, absolute certainty is not required to claim knowledge.  Through diligence and clear thinking, we work to make livable decisions for life, morality, and religion. Through proper exercise of deduction and induction, we are able to approach truth.

Having established (I hope!) the existence and knowability of objective truth, and the value of good argumentation to apprehend truths, I will hereafter shift gears from the mechanisms of knowing truth to the arguments themselves that have been particularly convincing in my mind, as well as many others, for the truth of Christian theism and worldview. I hope you’ll join me!

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Logic’s First Principles

What we believe has ethical implications to ourselves and others as we use or misuse our knowledge.  Therefore, it is vitally important for us to have true beliefs and understand the basis of our statueknowledge claims. This involves the philosophical field of epistemology, or the method of our acquisition of knowledge. The foundations of good argumentation as an epistemological method are called First Principles of logic which are self-evident and are applied then to our observations and prior reasoning to build conclusions.

First Principles of Logic

  1. The Law of Identity states that if a proposition is true, then it is true. Put another way, a thing is identical to itself. Stated in symbolic logical form: A=A. This one seems so obvious that it is difficult at first to see why it is even useful to formally recognize, but it is the most basic logical law, and is the basis of the other two. It also comes into play when we are answering certain difficult questions, such as, Are Yahweh and Allah the same God? Is the mind the same as the brain?
  2. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that no proposition can be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. Symbolically: A != !A. For examples: Can God exist and not exist at the same time? Can God be personal (as in monotheism) and impersonal (as in monistic religions) at the same time?
  3. The Law of Excluded Middle says that every proposition must either be true or false, and there is no middle ground, no third alternative. Symbolically: A or !A. For instance, “God exists” is either true or false, there is no other possible answer.

As a clarification concerning contradictions, there are three categories that are often lumped together and called “contradiction.” The first is contradiction proper, as defined in the second First Principle above. The second category is mystery, in which there is a logical answer, but we just don’t know it yet. Think about investigating a murder or other crime as an example. The third category is paradoxes, which seem contradictory, but usually involve terms used equivocally but not actually contradictory, such as “jumbo shrimp,” “bittersweet,” “the beginning of the end,” or “I’m nobody.”

God and Logic

Finally, I think it is critical to note that God is not “above” logic, such that logic does not apply to Him, or that the laws of logic are arbitrary and could have been other than they are if God decreed them to be so. I understand when people want to say that He is, they are attempting to keep Him properly elevated in an appropriate position of superiority, but if the laws of logic do not apply to God, then you end up with absurdities such as having to affirm that perhaps God exists and doesn’t exist at the same time. Neither is God subject to the laws of logic, thus enslaved in some way. Instead, logic is part of who God is, in the same way as the moral laws; these are not arbitrary, but flow from his nature.

In the next post, I will talk more about arguments, demonstrating and defining the different types and uses to gain knowledge.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Faith and Reason, Part 2

In my last post, I hopefully clarified the difference between biblical faith and the contemporary understanding of that word. Often, it seems to be put in opposition to reason, and it was my goal handshaketo show they are complimentary, not opposites.

What is Reason?

First, I want to make some important distinctions. We will be talking about argumentation here in our discussion of reason, and this word often has some bad associations because of the way we use it. When my kids are in the back seat of the van being nasty to one another with their words, I might finally yell back to them, “Stop with the arguing already!” But I want to use the concept of arguing in a different way here. So here’s what I don’t mean: arguing and reason is not quarreling, bickering, squabbling, or contradiction. It is also not judgmental, narrow-minded arrogance.

When we have a verbal interaction with someone, it usually takes on one of these four forms: [1]

  1. Discussion – A discussion is where people are sharing information and opinions with one another.
  2. Disagreement – Disagreements happen when people have conflicting opinions, but are not trying to change the other’s mind about it.
  3. Argument – People with differing opinions are now giving reasons to support their beliefs in order to persuade the other.
  4. Fight – Name-calling, insulting, and other nastiness happens in a fight; it is abusing the other person and not giving reasons at this point.

I love this classic Monty Python skit to illustrate:

Reason is a tool by which we evaluate observations to form conclusions about reality; it is working out what follows from what and evaluating the relationship between real and possible objects and other real and possible objects. This often involves others, challenging ideas and being challenged; this is argument, part of loving the Lord with all your mind (Mark 12:30). Arguing well is a good thing, as it helps us distinguish truth from error.

Is Faith Opposed to Reason?

If you say yes, then your view of the relationship between faith and reason looks something like this:

FvR2 FvR1

As one grows, the other shrinks: the more evidence and reason one has, the less need for faith, until it is eventually all squeezed out. Conversely, one with “perfect faith” then has no doubts and no need for logic and reason.

But, as I pointed out in my last post on faith, this isn’t a picture of biblical faith at all. Instead, it is more accurately illustrated this way:

F&R

In reality, the more evidence and reasons we have concerning the trustworthiness of a thing or proposition, the more trust or faith we place in it. This is biblical faith and the true model of the relationship between faith and reason.

In the next post, I will talk more logic and putting together your toolbox for clear and critical thinking.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

[1] As seen in The Fallacy Detective