Monday, June 28, 2010

What is an Argument?

Looking back over the last several Monday morning postings, I have shared definitions related to epistemological starting points. These are just some of the descriptions for the great arguments for showing the existence of God. Let us remember that they do not conclusively prove God's existence. What they do is show that it is more reason to believe than not believe that God exists.

This morning I am moving back to focusing on some of the fallacies that are committed by atheists and Christians in their argumentation on the key issues in the faith/reason debate or argumentation. Did you hear a word in there?  Argument?  What is an argument in the formal sense?  

Well let's start and look at a definition for what we mean by "argument." You will notice that it is not a definition packed with emotion. These are intellectual terms that should be thought of under the discipline of critical thinking. Let's look at the definition.  

Argument -- An argument is normally understood to be that time where people get together, raise their voices, and call each other names. Properly speaking, this is not an argument, but an altercation

An argument, understood in a philosophical or logical context, is where we draw conclusions from various reasons (premises). There are several words that we use to indicate what is a reason and what is a conclusion. Words we use to indicate reasons are because, for, as, if ..., based on the fact that. Words we use to indicate conclusions are therefore, thus, consequently, hence, it follows that. It's good to keep these indicators in mind.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Argument from Conscience

Jiminy Crickett was a character in the Disney movie, Pinocchio, and was a help to Phnocchio's navigating through those moral decisions that had a tendency to lead him to lying and getting into trouble. Jiminy was Pinocchio's conscience. Looking at the movie in hindsight, they lived in a morally subjective culture and faced many issues that we face today.

Since moral subjectivism (also known as moral relativism) is very popular today, the following version of, or twist to, the moral argument should be effective, since it does not presuppose moral objectivism. Modern people often say they believe that there are no universally binding moral obligations, that we must all follow our own private conscience. But that very admission is enough of a premise to prove the existence of God.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Argument from the Origin of the Idea of God

Every person has an idea about God, ranging from the image of a heavenly grandfather to a heavenly ATM this is expected to make on healthy, wealthy and "wise."  But none of these ideas convey a understanding of God. But where did the idea of God come from?  Is there are an argument from the origin of the idea of God's existence?  Yes there is!

This argument, made famous by Rene Descartes, has a kinship to the ontological argument. It starts from the idea of God. But it does not claim that real being is part of the content of that idea, as the ontological argument does. Rather it seeks to show that only God himself could have caused this idea to arise in our minds.
It would be impossible for us to reproduce the whole context Descartes gives for this proof (see his third Meditation), and fruitless to follow his scholastic vocabulary. We give below the briefest summary and discussion.
  1. We have ideas of many things.
  2. These ideas must arise either from ourselves or from things outside us.
  3. One of the ideas we have is the idea of God—an infinite, all-perfect being.
  4. This idea could not have been caused by ourselves, because we know ourselves to be limited and imperfect, and no effect can be greater than its cause.
  5. Therefore, the idea must have been caused by something outside us which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.
  6. But only God himself has those qualities.
  7. Therefore God himself must be the cause of the idea we have of him.
  8. Therefore God exists.
Consider the following common objection. The idea of God can easily arise like this: we notice degrees of perfection among finite beings—some are more perfect (or less imperfect) than others. And to reach the idea of God, we just project the scale upward and outward to infinity. Thus there seems to be no need for an actually existing God to account for the existence of the idea. All we need is the experience of things varying in degrees of perfection, and a mind capable of thinking away perceived limitations.
But is that really enough? How can we think away limitation or imperfection unless we first recognize it as such? And how can we recognize it as such unless we already have some notion of infinite perfection? To recognize things as imperfect or finite involves the possession of a standard in thought that makes the recognition possible.
Does that seem farfetched? It does not mean that toddlers spend their time thinking about God. But it does mean that, however late in life you use the standard, however long before it comes explicitly into consciousness, still, the standard must be there in order for you to use it. But where did it come from? Not from your experience of yourself or of the world that exists outside you. For the idea of infinite perfection is already presupposed in our thinking about all these things and judging them imperfect. Therefore none of them can be the origin of the idea of God; only God himself can be that.
"Answers" CD by Digital Fish a digital resource of Peter Kreeft and Paul K. Tacelli. Handbook for Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994. See also

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Argument for the Existence of God from Miracles

Obviously if you believe that some extraordinary event is a miracle, then you believe in divine agency, and you believe that such agency was at work in this event. But the question is: Was this event a miracle? If miracles exist, then God must exist. But do miracles exist? The skeptic would say no, but that does not mean that miracles don't exist.

The argument goes like this....

  1. A miracle is an event whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.
  2. There are numerous well-attested miracles.
  3. Therefore, there are numerous events whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.
  4. Therefore God exists.

Which events do we choose? In the first place, the event must be extraordinary. But there are many extraordinary happenings (e.g., numerous stones dropping from the sky in Texas) that do not qualify as miracles. Why not? First, because they could be caused by something in nature, and second, because the context in which they occur is not religious. They qualify as mere oddities, as "strange happenings"; the sort of thing you might expect to read in Believe It or Not, but never hear about from the pulpit. Therefore the meaning of the event must also be religious to qualify as a miracle.

Suppose that a holy man had stood in the center of Houston and said: "My dear brothers and sisters! You are leading sinful lives! Look at yourselves—drunken! dissolute! God wants you to repent! And as a sign of his displeasure he's going to shower stones upon you!" Then, moments later—thunk! thunk! thunk!—the stones began to fall. The word "miracle" might very well spring to mind.

Not that we would have to believe in God after witnessing this event. But still, if that man in Texas seemed utterly genuine, and if his accusations hit home, made us think "He's right," then it would be very hard to consider what happened a deception or even an extraordinary coincidence.

This means that the setting of a supposed miracle is crucially important. Not just the physical setting, and not just the timing, but the personal setting is vital as well—the character and the message of the person to whom this event is specially tied. Take, for example, four or five miracles from the New Testament. Remove them completely from their context, from the teaching and character of Christ. Would it be wrong to see their religious significance as thereby greatly diminished? After all, to call some happening a miracle is to interpret it religiously. But to interpret it that way demands a context or setting which invites such interpretation. And part of this setting usually, though not always, involves a person whose moral authority is first recognized, and whose religious authority, which the miracle seems to confirm, is then acknowledged.

Abstract discussions of probability usually miss this factor. But setting does play a decisive role. Many years ago, at an otherwise dull convention, a distinguished philosopher explained why he had become a Christian. He said: "I picked up the New Testament with a view to judging it, to weighing its pros and cons. But as I began to read, I realized that I was the one being judged." Certainly he came to believe in the miracle—stories. But it was the character and teaching of Christ that led him to accept the things recounted there as genuine acts of God.

So there is not really a proof from miracles. If you see some event as a miracle, then the activity of God is seen in this event. There is a movement of the mind from this event to its proper interpretation as miraculous. And what gives impetus to that movement is not just the event by itself, but the many factors surrounding it which invite—or seem to demand—such interpretation.

But miraculous events exist. Indeed, there is massive, reliable testimony to them across many times, places and cultures.

Therefore their cause exists.

And their only adequate cause is God.

Therefore God exists.

This argument is not a proof, but a very powerful clue or sign. (For further discussion, see Peter Kreeft and Paul Tacellis' Chapter (5) on Miracles from the Handbook of Christian Apologetics. You may also want to consult the following source if it is still available from DigitalFish by the same writer(s).

"Answers" CD by Digital Fish a digital resource of Peter Kreeft and Paul K. Tacelli. Handbook for Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994. See also