Tag Archive: Philosophy


Previously, I finished up an explanation of the argument for God based on our moral intuitions, and today I want to take a bit of a side-trip while on the subject of morality. As noted previously,choice we do find that objective morality exists, but sometimes it can be hard to discern what the moral thing to do is in a given situation. This does not constitute an argument against objective morality (the ontology of it), only our ability to know what the moral good in the situation is (epistemology).

We often characterize moral dilemmas as choosing between “the lesser of two evils.” and this certainly conveys the angst involved in having to choose among difficult options. I would submit that this proves ultimately to be an unhelpful phrasing of the problem which leads to unnecessary additional indecisiveness, guilt, and second-guessing. It also doesn’t seem to be quite accurate: if one imagines Christ himself in a position of “choosing between two evils,” doesn’t that still equate to Christ choosing evil? That must not be the right way for us to approach these dilemmas, so how should we then?

I believe a more helpful and accurate way to look a these moral dilemmas is, rather, by asking, “Which option will accomplish the greater good?” The answer to that question, as best as we can discern it, is the option we ought to take. Perhaps a couple of examples will clarify this point.

In Joshua 2, the Hebrews sent spies into Jericho to assess the strength of the people and the city. While there, they came under suspicion of the city guard and took refuge with a woman named Rahab. When the guard approached Rahab, she faced a moral dilemma: reveal the location of the spies, leading to their deaths, or lie to the guards. Rahab concealed the spies and mislead the guard, recognizing that the Hebrews served the true God. In this case, did Rahab sin?

A more contemporary example is that of Corrie Ten Boom’s family who sheltered Jews in their home during the rise of persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. Her family had to make a choice: admit to the German soldiers that Jews were hidden there, or tell a lie to the soldiers. They chose to lie. Did God disapprove of their actions? Was it sin?

I believe in both of these cases, we are not stuck in a position in which there is sin, no matter which option is chosen. Instead, in moral dilemmas, such as these, we must assess the good available to be accomplished in the situation, as best as we are able, and choose the greater of these goods. Is honesty usually a virtue? Yes. Is saving a life a greater virtue? I would think so. In both of these examples, the greater good is accomplished by working to save the lives of the Jews, than by giving the truth to those who did not have legitimate right to it.

In these sorts of circumstances, we choose the greater good, and that good supersedes the other lesser good which we must violate, and I believe that God gives his blessing. No repentance for sin is needed. That’s not to say that these become easy choices, but it should make them easier to decide with clear conscience, even if sadness for difficult dilemmas still weigh on us. This should be quite freeing for you! We all face moral dilemmas, but facing them from the perspective of “what is the choice that can bring about the most good?” can be an easier question than “which of these alternatives are the least evil?” Is this just semantics? Well, sort of, but the difficulty of decision-making can be trying enough without unnecessary guilt adding the paralyzing further pressure of a no-win sin situation. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I hope this was helpful for you! If so, let me know! If you disagree, let’s talk about it. Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

One fact which each of us must face is the real presence of evil and suffering in the world. This is undeniable – we all recognize that bad things happen, that bad things happen to good people. accident-2-1474589-1599x1066We have to make sense of this somehow. Often this is presented as a problem for Christianity: something along the lines of, If God is good (as you say he is), how can there be so much evil and suffering in the world? If he was real, there wouldn’t be so much. So, he must not really exist. In essence, the argument says that the presence of evil means that the God Christians proclaim can’t exist because he is either unable (and therefore not all-powerful) or unwilling (and therefore not all-good), since he has not eradicated evil.

Identifying the Problem

Of course, there are really two issues when considering an answer to the problem of evil. The first and most immediate is that when this issue is brought up, it isn’t usually academic, but a response to a personal tragedy. Christian apologetics will almost never be helpful or appropriate here; compassion and empathy are by far what is more called for at this time.

But there is also an academic side to this problem as well, and that is worth considering in more quiet and stable times. Having worked through the problem in one’s mind ahead of time will give a bit of stability when the pain comes and the emotions are high. That is what I hope to offer here.

A Contradiction Without God

I cannot see any philosophical justification for the category of “evil” without God; not that God is somehow the source of evil, but that without an objective standard for good, how can we even know what evil is? Evil is not a “thing,” it’s an absence or corruption or something else. Just as a shadow cannot exist without light, evil cannot exist without good. The objection against Christianity doesn’t even make sense to me without an admission of objective moral standards, and as I pointed out previously, objective morality cannot be adequately explained without the existence of God. We cannot judge a line to be crooked unless we have some idea of what a straight line is. For these reasons, it seems to me that the problem of evil turns out to be one of the best evidences in favor of God, not against him!

But what of God’s attributes in the face of evil? Does the existence of evil mean God is not good or not powerful? Those who argue against God in this way make an assumption that all evil is gratuitous and unnecessary. But what if there is another category of evil which an all-good and all-powerful God allows to happen, both natural and moral evil, which God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting? God’s purposes in this world are not to maximize our comfort, but our character, and draw all mankind to him. Perhaps hardships are the only way some may have their attention drawn to the issues of ultimate importance in life.

A Problem for Everyone

As I see it, the problem of evil is a problem for everyone, not just Christians. We all have to live with evil, and cutting God out of the picture doesn’t explain it, it only removes any hope to relieve it. We can resign ourselves to purposeless evil with no justice and no comfort, and so we should, if there is no God. But if there is good reason to believe God is real and better explains the problem of evil than does alternate explanations, there is justice and comfort from a transcendent God who also took on humanity and experienced very real pain and suffering. In God we have someone able to offer ultimate justice for the evil and comfort for the victims, one who not only understands, not only sympathizes, but empathizes with our hurts.

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

In the previous post, we began to explore an argument for the existence of God based on morality. The argument goes like this:moral-scales

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

I spent the time discussing the first point, showing that if objective morals exist (and most people acknowledge that they do), they are completely unexplainable except that they be grounded in God. No other source can explain their origin, so that if God does not exist, objective morality cannot exist. So that brings us to the second premise:

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

This point itself is not without controversy, so let me give you some reasons to accept the existence of objective moral values and duties (as laid out by Frank Turek in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist)

The first and foundational step is to acknowledge the existence of some absolute truths. If one wants to deny that there are any absolute truths whatsoever (moral or otherwise), he is going to be immediately caught in the unhappy position of affirming  a logical contradiction, namely “there are absolutely no absolutes.”

But what about absolute moral values and duties? It’s only when the moral relativist wants to philosophize that he claims that moral objectivity doesn’t exist. We simply cannot live that way. Innate to all of us are certain moral rules of “oughtness:” one ought to protect one’s family; one ought to be self-sacrificial for a good purpose; one ought not take a life without adequate justification; and so on. (The difficult bit, of course, is often in applying these sensibilities in day-to-day life, but that difficulty is not a point for or against this premise; it’s difficult whether you believe in moral objectivity or relativism.) The relativist betrays this inconsistency with his reactions when someone steals his wallet or cuts him off in traffic.

If you believe in universal human rights, you also cannot be a consistent relativist. If you are offended by foreign slave trade, or oppression of a people group by a dictatorial government in the third world, you have no grounding for this outrage under moral relativism. Only with some universal (objective) moral standard can this cry of wrongness make any sense.

Unless there is an absolute moral standard, we are incapable of knowing what is good or evil, justice or injustice, yet we make these moral judgments all the time. The “problem of pain” objection to Christianity trades heavily on this, and I will be talking more about this topic next post.

Without an objective moral standard, “moral progress” is meaningless. The terms “better” or “best” are comparative, and imply a standard. Was Mother Theresa “better than” Adolph Hitler? Is it morally “better” to abolish slavery than to embrace it? Unless an absolute moral standard, what are these conditions being measured against to say one is better than another?

      3. Therefore God exists

Having shown that no other system can account for the objective values and duties that demonstrably exist in reality, we are led to the conclusion that God exists. It is His character that forms the standard of “good” by which we must measure our actions and that of others. To be sure, many numb their consciences through volition and bad example, but a defective or damaged sense of right and wrong are not counter-arguments. It is because of the existence of objective morality that we recognize these deviations from it.

Here’s a great summary video by Dr. Craig:

 

Next time, what about the so-called “Problem of Evil”? We’ll take a look at it and see the implications of it for the Christian worldview.

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

In recent posts, I have been defending the reasonable notion of God’s existence with the Cosmological argument (causation) and the Teleological arguments (design). Today, I want to turn to

what I consider to be one of the most powerful and compelling arguments for the existence of God, the Moral argument.

First, here is the structure of the argument, as proposed by William Lane Craig in On Guard:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

This is a deductive argument in the modus tollens form, and so the conclusion follows if the premises can be shown to be true. I believe they can, so let’s have a careful look at them.

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Possibly I am ignorant, or simply do not understand alternate explanations, but without a transcendent source, I cannot fathom how any objective standard of right and wrong can exist. Since we all seem to have a sense of right and wrong innate within us, we must account for it somehow. And unless that source is God, I don’t see how it can exert any moral authority in a final and objective sense; all other explanations seem to collapse into moral relativism and subjectivism. Here, in brief, are the other proposed explanations I’ve heard for the origins of morality.

Social Contract

The social contract theory observes that in order for a civilized society to exist, the members of that society have to agree to abide together peaceably to promote safety for citizens and their property. This social contract is one which we agree to implicitly by living in such a society, and it is enforced by laws. The trouble is that the social contract theory is not an explanation of the origin of these moral rules we contract to live by, but a statement of their need. The social contract may be cited as an argument in favor of the existence of objective morality, but it does not serve as an alternate explanation of the origination of objective moral standards.

Evolutionary Ethics

Another offered origin of objective morality applies macro-evolutionary theory in that as we as a species developed over time, so too did our sense of right- and wrong-ness. Societies flourished as we observed such rules as “don’t kill your neighbor” and “don’t take what is not yours.” As societies flourished, more reproduction occurred, and this sense of right and wrong progressed through the surviving and thriving generations. Stated this way, it becomes more of a discovery of objective morals, rather than a development or their origination. And if we say they just developed over time to the objective set we have now, this actually constitutes a contradiction, as if they changed and developed, they cannot be objective.

Love

Another explanation of objective moral values I have heard given is that if one just does the loving thing in a given situation, that is guide enough, and no detailed rules or God is necessary in the process. Each person can discover the objectively right thing to do if guided by love. This sounds great, and is true, as far as it goes. The difficulty comes in applying this to dilemmas. If a strong swimmer sees a small child drowning in a pool, the loving thing is easily seen to be rescuing the child. Moral dilemmas occur when two different “goods” are in conflict with one another, and one must be chosen. In these situations, declaring that the objectively right thing to do is to do what is loving is far too simplistic. Some people consider Christian evangelism to be intrusive and offensive; most Christians consider it to be the most loving thing that can be done for someone. Who decides? It ends up distilling down to personal or group moral relativism, not objectivism.

Next post, we’ll investigate premise 2: Objective morals and values do exist, and on to the conclusion.

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

In the last post, I gave an overview description of the design argument as applied to the life on earth, further expanding the positive case for the existence of a Designer. This time, I want totoolbox address some of the explanations proposed by materialistic and evolutionary theories, and how I think they fail as adequate alternatives.

Time + Chance

If you recall from last time, two strong arguments, specified complexity and irreducible complexity make a compelling case in favor of intelligent design of life on earth. Scientists committed to materialism have fewer tools available with which to construct alternative theories, and thus have (at least) two very large problems: 1. origin of first life, and 2. diversity of complex life forms we observe today. In this space today, I’m not going to address the origins of life problem; suffice it to say that producing life from non-life has proven daunting, at best, even with intelligent agency (the scientists) manipulating initial conditions. If anything, any success in this area seems to give more credibility to the need for intelligent agency.

Materialists have only a few tools with which to construct complex life: natural selection and random mutations operating over a long period of time. Extrapolating from observable and non-controversial micro-evolution, time plus chance are proposed as adequate to change the (elusive) first single-celled organism to the highly diversified life forms throughout the earth today (macro-evolution). The trouble is, “time plus chance” are articles of blind faith, not words which provide any adequate explanatory power.

Our uniform and repeated experience tells us that higher complexity does not flow from lower complexity; water does not rise higher than its source. Adding time and chance does not help, either. Consider the following example paraphrased from Frank Turek. Consider a fellow taking with him a large bag of red, white, and blue confetti into an airplane. At 5,000 feet, he dumps the bag over a football field; how good do you think are the chances that the confetti lands in the pattern of the American flag? Probably not too good. What about if the plane goes to an altitude of 30,000 feet? If he empties the bag from there, is it more or less likely to form the flag than at the first altitude? It’s pretty easy to tell that adding extra time for random chance to act to produce something orderly is so unlikely to work that it is hard to imagine that adding any amount of time would produce success. Applying this intuition to the issue of development of life forms has led some to refer to Darwinian evolutionists as “young-earth evolutionists,” meaning that the amount of time needed for probabilities of random mutation to have acted appropriately to get where we are now is exponentially larger than the same scientists estimate the age of the earth to be.

The Philosophy of Science

Why is it that materialistic scientists have fewer explanatory tools than do theistic scientists? They limit themselves to only naturalistic explanations; no supernatural explanations are even allowed as possible. This results in many a round-peg-in-square-hole scenarios. This approach is called philosophical naturalism, and as its name suggests, is not a statement of science, but one of the philosophy of performing science. It is a commitment to providing a naturalistic explanation for all things. Methodological naturalism, by contrast, is a more modest approach to science which says one must presume and investigate the object of study as if it has a naturalistic explanation; most things will comfortably fall into this category. However, if the evidence leads to a supernatural explanation as being the best fit for the evidence, the scientist is free to consider such a theory.

From this discussion, it should be clear that science is not the final authority on truth and fact; science itself rests on philosophy. The methods of scientific testing and inquiry set the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is out-of-bounds. Science cannot be done without philosophy, and even faith (used broadly); we exercise faith when we apply the scientific method that the natural laws will provide consistent results and can reliably assist to explain scientific mysteries. The philosophical assumptions brought in to the experimentation process can drastically impact the conclusions a scientist makes about data gathered. After all, science does not say anything; scientists do, and their interpretations are influenced by their prior philosophical commitments. Of course, none of this is to denigrate science or the scientific method, but one should be somewhat skeptical when the monolith of Science is said to proclaim the truth. A good scientist must be able to recognize his or her own presuppositions and attempt to mitigate its influence on the interpretation of scientific data.

In my next post, I’ll move into another area of argument for God’s existence, the moral argument. 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!

Continuing in the study of arguments for God’s existence, let’s today turn our attention to the Teleological argument for God’s existence, otherwise known as the Design argument. It works likeskywriting this: a design requires a designer, and as the universe gives good evidence of design, we are well-justified in believing in a grand Designer. Here’s the formal argument:

  1. Every design had a designer.
  2. The universe has a highly complex design.
  3. Therefore, the universe had a designer.

1. Every design had a designer

This is an intuitively known fact that can be shown true without a whole lot of introspection, but since this notion comes under attack, let’s consider a couple of scenarios to flesh it out.

Paley’s Watchmaker

William Paley, a natural philosopher of the 18th century, underscored our intuition of design by imagining that within a forest a person discovers to the side of the path a pocket watch. Now, a pocket watch is a complex mechanism, with carefully calibrated and assembled gears, springs, and other precise components, working together to perform a function: accurate timekeeping. If one were to find such a device, even if they had never before seen or knew about watches, it seems clear that no one would conclude or even for very long consider the possibility that it assembled through natural processes over time. No, the immediate inference would be that of an intelligent agent having designed the pocket watch.

Skywriting

We’ve probably all seen it at some point – fuzzy white letters in a blue sky saying “Marry Me” or “Eat at Joe’s” or “How Do I Land?” What are our intuitions when we look up and see these words? Coincidence of clouds and water vapors and wind? No, not even a simple “I ♡ U” would be mistaken as the product of natural forces and random chance. Information is conveyed, and our uniform and repeated experience is that information originates from a mind.

2. The universe has a highly complex design.

The “Anthropic Principle” is the term used to categorize the ever-increasing evidence that the universe was designed to permit and support life on earth. This is quite a claim, isn’t it? But it is the best explanation of the evidence of the cosmological constants, seemingly tweaked to make life on earth possible. Here are just a few of those:

  1. Earth’s oxygen level – 21%; 25% would cause spontaneous combustion; 15% would cause human suffocation
  2. Earth’s atmospheric transparency – blocks right amount of solar radiation
  3. Moon-Earth gravitation interaction – greater interaction would mean tidal effects on oceans, atmosphere, and rotational period would be too severe. Less interaction would cause climactic instabilities.
  4. Carbon Dioxide levels – more would cause uninhabitable greenhouse effect; less would prevent photosynthesis and cause suffocation.
  5. Gravity effects – if any different by an infinitesimal amount, stars and planets would never have formed.

There are over one hundred of these constants, precisely and mind-bogglingly set so that man can thrive. Put all together, the odds are truly staggering that such a universe could have arrived by chance. For a more in-depth look at the anthropic principle, additional cosmological constants, and more numbers on the vanishingly small odds of these constants lining up randomly, please see this excellent article on the anthropic principle here. The author describes a very lucky Powerball winner, and then makes this great observation: “If someone won even two such lotteries consecutively, we would all assume the results were rigged. And yet, when it comes to life existing in our universe, the odds are far more remote than winning a hundred Powerball lotteries consecutively.” Our universe certainly seems to have been rigged.

3. Therefore, the universe had a designer.

As with the cosmological argument, I want to remain modest about the results of this argument. It doesn’t prove the Judeo-Christian God. It does, however, demonstrate that a super-intellect and super-power “set the dials” of the constants and designed the arrangement of the universe to be the way it we see it.

As with the Kalam argument, Reasonable Faith has made a great animated short film summarizing and explaining this argument. Check it out:

 

Next time, I’ll spend a little time on design objections. Please 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!

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)

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!