Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Objections Coming from Those Against Apologetics, Part 2: You Can't Prove God's Existence!

As I continue to march forward in this "apologetic for apologetics" I would like to bring in another objection that comes from Christians and atheists alike.  Let me bring back to mind the recent criticism earlier this week:

"Trying to prove to someone that Christianity is right, by logic, when the bible is filled with what many see as contradictions, even if you can twist it into a reasonable conclusion, does not work." 

Another well meaning believer told me

"The problem with "debunking" an atheist's POV is that it doesn't lead them to want to learn more about Christ or follow him, which should be the goal of any true Christian... first off, using the Bible as a resource to "disprove" someone who doesn't believe in the Bible is backwards. The Bible itself is not going to lead a non-believer to Christ."

As I look at these two criticisms, it shows me how lacking the Christian community is or at least these folks' churches are in there understanding for the need of apologetics in evangelism.  Because our culture and the church has allowed relativism and other isms and schisms to the forefront, the type of evangelism needed today CANNOT HELP BUT have the Christian discipline and task of apologetics undergirding it.

So the objection I would like to bring before us in this posting is one that says, "you and I cannot prove God's existence with indubitable certainty."  How many times have you and I heard this?  Believe it or not there are well meaning apologists out there (we're on the same team folks!) who believe that they can prove that God exists with absolute certainty.  While the evidences may voluminous, there is still the lack absolute certainty in their arguments, and therefore a need for faith that God does exist.

Well meaning Christians are not the only ones making this claim.  The atheist will tell you and I, that we cannot prove God.  At the same time the atheist cannot prove the non-existence of God.  In interchanges such as these, I have been told that "you cannot prove a negative', however this is another future posting.  All I will say here is that if we say that God exists, and the atheist says that God does not exist and that you and I cannot prove a negative, the burden of proof is still on the atheist.

So let's get to the objection and look at the statement.

"You cannot prove God."

The statement, "You cannot prove God" believe it or not, is actually a legitimate statement.  In fact if it were possible to prove God's existence with absolutely indubitable certainty, then there would be no need for faith.  Of course many of the crowd with the new atheists and the Nones would like to throw down that our faith is either, delusional, or considered blind faith or credulity.[1]

The problem with argument is that faith comes from facts or evidences.  In order to have faith in something, you have to know and believe what you are believing to be true.  And then you have to trust that to be true.  Trust is the key ingredient in faith.  When it comes to the facts and the worldview of historical biblical Christianity, there are facts that have been proven to be better than the other worldivews (i.e., Jesus' life and work, Jesus' sacrfice for sin on the cross and His bodily resurrection, that God has spoken and intervened in the life of Israel, and still intervenes in the life of those He calls to salvation through faith in Christ)  That is why it says in Hebrews 11:1,  "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

So while I might not be able to prove God's existence with absolute certainty, the element of faith comes in when looking at all the factual evidences and seeing those as a reinforcement to the faith that I have been given by God to place in what Christ has done.  That faith is an assurance, and a conviction that the evidences for believing something to be true.  Those things I have summarized in the previous paragraph.

"God has put enough in this world to make faith a most reasonable proposition.  But He has left enough reason out to make it impossible to live by shear reason alone."  If we had all the reasons to prove that God existed with indubitable certainty, then there is no more room for faith.  Not only that, but could it be that if we would have the kind of knowledge to prove God (a Being with absolute knowledge) existed, would this mean that we might be dancing with the idea of having infinite knowledge ourselves?  Does that make sense?  Where is faith in that?  Where is the need for faith?

Let me wrap this up and share a quote that I have heard others use.  It is from Blaise Pascal, who put it this way, "the heart has its reasons that reason does not know."  There is a point in which you go beyond plain rationality.  Yes it is true that you cannot prove God but let us not forget that God Himself has said, "The heavens declare the glory of the Lord and the firmament shows His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1).  We may not be able to empirically prove the existence of God, yet there are plenty of arguments for His existence to show that the secular worldview is a meaningless worldview without God.

This is where a persuasive apologetic come into the picture.

There are plenty of Scriptural references where apologetics is needed, and even commanded.  Let me also share with you, the reader, and I close with this.  You and I need to remember that whatever means, the Holy Spirit uses our words, it will not be my nor your persuasive prowess.  It will not be our tactical arguments.  Can God use them?  Absolutely.  Will God use them?  Certainly.  But it will not be through our eloquence, nor our abilities.  We are called to be His mouthpiece in this post-Christian culture.  We are also needing to remember that  when a person comes to Christ, it will be because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit..  How many times will we win a discussion hands down and yet no one comes to faith in Christ?  You may use apologetics "to put a stone in someone's shoe" (spiritually speaking here) and God will take that and the Hound of Heaven (the Holy Spirit) will work through that until that person bows or does not bow the knew to Christ.

A well trained apologist or a well studied Christian can out argue almost anybody they meet, because that person has not done half of the homework that you and I have done.  But the point of any discussion is not to win the discussion, nor the argument, but to nudge the person along the direction of Christ so that they can good look at Christ and come to Him and not your mind or my mind or our argument.

Thank you for your comments and encouragement in the past postings.  I invite you to pose a question or a comment on anything that you engage on The Real Issue -- R.L.

Notes.

[1] Credulity is the disposition to believe something on little evidence.  A delusion is the disposition to believe something to be true despite evidence to the contrary.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Skeptic’s Faulty Syllogism in the Search for Meaning


It is amazing to see the logic that some skeptics and in particular atheists use in their attempts to debunk the existence of God.  As a frequent Facebook flyer, I have some friends who are atheists that have engaged me in some spirited conversations.  Every so often I will return the favor and visit their pages to see what kind of vitriol they are sending out against a theistic worldview.  Sometimes I will peruse and find something that will give me a spark to put forth a blog response.  The following syllogism is one such spark.[1]

My skeptical friend's syllogism runs as follows:

Premise 1:  Any life without meaning is absurd.
Premise 2:  Meaning can only be provided by a God higher than one’s self.
Premise 3:  God, if he exists, has no God higher than himself.
Conclusion 1:  God’s life is meaningless
Conclusion 2:  God’s life is absurd.

One of the fascinating things is that the individual putting the syllogism together starts with a very logical premise.  In his second premise, he makes a hasty assumption that causes this argument to self destruct.  The third premise really asks another question which I will tackle in just a moment.  Lastly, the conclusions (1 and 2) are just his opinion.  The funny thing to all this is this:  if God did not exist, I would agree with him.  However there are plenty of reasons for this argument to be blown up base on the illogical trail that he follows.

Let’s look at it shall we...

Breaking down the argument.

Premise 1:  Any life without meaning is absurd.

This is the only true premise in the whole syllogism (argument).  The reason it is true is because it assumes that life has the possibility of having meaning.  By saying that any life without meaning is absurd assume the contrary; that life is not absurd if there is meaning to life.  It was the philosopher Socrates who once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”[2]  If there is no meaning to life then it is absurd even to think that anything in life would have meaning or be meaningful.  In fact if anyone were to think that everything in life is meaningless, then they are truly living a self-defeating philosophy of life.   “Kick this around” without spinning the argument on its head and it is not too difficult to see that the premise can be and is in its isolated sense true.[3]  But that is were it ends.  Why?  Because the  waters start to get muddy with his second premise.
 
Premise 2:  Meaning can only be provided by a God higher than one's self.

Here he makes the assumption that God’s existence brings meaning to life.  In this premise notice that he also tries to put a qualifying on what God he is trying to define by adding the phrase “higher than one’s self.”  This is neither logically nor existentially plausible.  Let me see if I can sum what I mean here.

When I  make the statement that this premise is not logically plausible, I am critiquing the part of the statement “a God higher than one’s self.”  Does he think that if one creates a god out of wood or stone that the (created) god is higher than its creator (the man)? Does he really want to go there?

Let me see if I can illustrate this. Let’s imagine that a pagan in the deepest darkest recesses of the globe decides one day to make a "god".  He takes his machete, chops down the biggest and best tree he can find.  After carving all the bark off the tree, he starts cutting and carving muscles, engraving a bunch of eyes going round the circumference of the trunk, and big teeth, to make the (create) a god that is strong, all seeing, and fierce.  Once he is finished, he lifts up this new god erect, and makes offerings to it from the first fruits of the hunt or the produce and then . . . bows down and worships it. Who is higher than who?  Hmmm, sounds a lot like the old prophet Isaiah’s words

14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an     oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” [4]

In all sincerity this premise is absurd.  Why?  Let's look at it again.  "Meaning can only be provided by a God higher than one's self."  Is the tree cut down by the pagan, really higher than the man (the pagan in this case) in the created order of things?  No!  It is the happy pagan, in spite of his worldview,  who knows within his heart of hearts that there is the one true God; but he creates this "god" as an idol of mind in his not wanting to follow the one true God.

So what is the premise appearing to assume?  It gives this writer the picture that my atheist friend is saying, that if God "exists"OR assuming that God exists; this "God" is no different than the mythological deities of the polytheistic religions; no different than an imaginary God who moves things around in a relentless and cruel fashion.  There is no source for finding any meaning in any of these interpretations of "God."

If this is the case, there is a second problem with his second premise.

Since the second premise is making an assumption that God exists, which by the way I believe to be true, we can assume that this God is not some deity like I have very briefly described in the preceding paragraph.   Assuming that God searches out those to fellowship with Him, is it God that really “provides meaning” or is it something else?  You see when I was at the Reason Rally this past March, I was asked by one the cordial atheists, "Why do you worship the Christian God and not some other god?  What makes the Christian God the right one?" Assuming that the Judeo-Christian God, who reveals Himself in Scripture, searches out those to fellowship with Him [5], is it God who really “provides meaning” or is it something else related to the Judeo-Christian God that brings meaning?

All the other deities of the other world religions are impersonal.  In Islam, Allah moves events and people around like a cosmic chess player, according to his will (kismet - fate).  The pantheon of deities in the eastern religions are also impersonal.  The worshiper of these deities does not have a relationship with them but worships them out of blind obedience to the religious authorities and the sacred writings.  So the question still stands, where does meaning really come from?

Huh, if we were to put God on the same level of worship as the Muslim worshiping Allah or those putting vegetables out for a god in the pantheon of deities from the east, we would have to say, that is not true.

What do we do to find meaning and purpose in life?  Where do we go to find meaning and purpose in life?  Can a house or a fancy car bring meaning and purpose in life?  No.  Can a lot of money bring meaning and purpose in life?  How much is too much money?  When John D. Rockefeller was asked “how much would be enough?” he answered “just a little bit more.” What an ironic answer, coming from America’s wealthiest businessman who at the height of his financial success personally accounted for almost 2% of total US GDP!

So it is not in material wealth where meaning is found.  Sure man can worship his material wealth, but like the happy pagan creating his deity, man's wealth is not higher than himself.  It is not in monetary wealth.  Sure man can worship money, but money is created by man and so is his wealth.  Just ask Rockefeller. 

Let's cut to the chase. May suggest to you that meaning comes from relationships?  Relationships with our spouse, or a member of the opposite sex, or our fellow man may or may not bring forth a meaningful relationship. But we do seek meaning in those relationships.  So relationships are the avenue by which we search out to find meaning and purpose for our lives.  Why do we do this?

Because inanimate objects are impersonal and when we are left to ourselves we are only looking for meaning for our lives within ourselves when it is all said and done.  The God of the Judeo Christian faith is a personal God and we find our meaning and purpose in a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ.  Sure you can find meaning in relationships and friendships with your fellow human beings, but you know what?  People will let you down.

The pagan deities let their worshipers down.  May I suggest to you that God, being the relational God, desires and initiates the relationship and He will never let you down.  Meaning is found in a personal relationship, where one knows God through the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, devotional prayer time, fellowship and worship, to name a few.  You that you cannot have that kind of relationship with your car nor the contents of your wallet that are all lower on the chain than man.

So my atheist friend's premise really "misses the target" in defending his argument.  In fact from here the rest syllogism is a moot point.  But I need to show the short comings of the third premise before wrapping this up.  

Premise 3:  God, if he exists, has no God higher than himself.

If we look at the statement of this premise by itself, it is true.  If God exists, and for those who believe He does that statement is true.  The second part can be assumed to be true by the believer based upon all kinds of evidence available to us that bolsters our faith.  It isn't blind faith we see things like the arguments for a First Cause, the design argument and the moral law argument that the God who exists has no god higher than Himself.

Someone might ask, if God is the First Cause of all that is created, what caused God?  While a premise might be from a conclusion of a prior syllogism, this one is not the case.  It is an assumption based upon  the prior two premises, based upon the phrase, "if he exists."  The atheist's assumption is that there is no God.  So the "if" clause in this premise is a non issue.

When I have used the word "God"in the context of this posting I am speaking of a God who is personal, infinite in power, knowledge, and presence and yet He is transcendent.   God is the First Uncaused Cause that has nothing or no one before Him.  God is the only entity in existence, the reason for whose existence is in Himself... Necessary being.  God created everything but nothing created God, because God is uncreated.  I could delve more into this but that is for another posting.

So what does this say about the conclusions:  God’s life is meaningless and God’s life is absurd?  What is his premises say, never really reach the conclusions.  If this were a logical syllogism, empirically and existentially, and God did not exist, then I would agree with him.  However this syllogism is a self-defeating argument that never reaches the  conclusions.  I can’t even say “close but no cigar.”    I won't even give it an "A" for effort.

Notes

[1] A syllogism is another name for a logical argument that possesses more than one premise and comes to a conclusion.  (E.g., Premise 1:  A bachelor by definition is an unmarried man, Premise 2:  Bill is an unmarried man;  Conclusion: Therefore Bill is a bachelor.)  A syllogism may have more than one premise, but as you will see here in this discussion I will show that the syllogism from this atheist is logically and existentially self defeating.

[2} Socrates, in Plato, Dialogues, Apology; Greek philosopher in Athens (469 BC - 399 BC)

[3]  Imagine for a moment after reading Jacques Derrida's works on deconstruction and meaninglessness wondering if he found is work meaningful.  
[4]  Isaiah 44:14-17.

[5]  John 4:22-26.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Criticisms (Objections) Coming From Those Against Apologetics


Introduction.

This morning I posted a Facebook comment that said that the reason why the church in America was behind the eight ball in the culture was because much of the secular city defines truth from the parameter of science, and in many cases psuedo-science.  The result has been (at least since Darwin's writings) the religious community withdrawing itself with a foundation in faith and feelings, thereby insulating itself from the secular thinkers then and now.  

Well as it is with Facebook, whenever one puts something like this up on their wall, especially as the local Chapter Director/Apologist at the University of Mary Washington, it will draw commentary from a different array of folks.  This comment was no different as it drew the ire of a twenty year old Inter-varsity student telling me that we are all sinners and one trying to reason out the BIble in 'scientific or logical ways' to someone who is not a Christian does not work.  He also stated that the reason why the we are in a 'post-Christian culture is because the Church as a whole has done a horrible job of witnessing to people in a "Loving Jesus Type way."   How is that for friendly fire?

Well, as I ponder my next series of postings, I am drawn to answering some of the top objections that people raise about apologetics.  Many of these objections show one's misunderstanding of this subject and that everyone who says that philosophy is a bad thing really does not understand that they are making philosophical statements themselves.  The reason is because philosophy enters our lives from three different angles.  It may be through the use of philosophy, logical theory, or academic statements that one may argue the point they are trying to make.  It may be through an song, a movie a play where the philosophy or worldview encased in the song may be illustrated.  Or it may be through just the casual conversation around a dining table or the kitchen table at home where we all try to ideas of the cultural setting.  Nevertheless we all are impacted by philosophy in one way shape or form.  The only thing is whether or not the philosophy one has is a good one or not.  

So with this let me enter the first objection.  That objection of whether or not apologetics denies or diminishes biblical authority.

Does apologetics diminish or deny biblical authority?  

In responding to this objection, I am referencing the "friendly fire" comment that we are in no way able to "reason out the BIble in 'scientific or logical ways' to someone who is not a Christian" because it "does not work."  

This statement is partially true and partially false.  It is very true if one is under the impression that the apologists' arguments are going to make the Bible authoritative.  If I or any other apologist thinks that we are going to make the Bible authoritative by the way we are defending it, then this objection is credible.

On the flip-side of this objection is the statement's falsity.  Let me make this perfectly clear, the Bible is ALREADY AUTHORITATIVE; and so long as our apologetic keeps taking the skeptic or the critic back to the Word of God and not to myself or my argument, then we are in line with that authority in our methodology and in our purpose for our polemic at that moment.  

The task of the apologist is not to usurp the authority of the Bible.  The task of the apologist IS to drive people BACK to the biblical authority.  Much of the challenges coming after the church and into the church today are centered on where "authority" comes from:  does it come from the Bible or does it come from some place else outside of the Bible?  

It is the task of the apologist to defend that authority of the Word of God, while "clearing the bushes" so people can get a clear picture of who Jesus is, and why He came and how they can receive the forgiveness that His sacrifice and resurrection offers them.

Conclusion.

In my next posting, I will be answering the objection:  "You cannot prove God exists!"  Look for it in the next Real Issue.