For centuries people have tried to settle the issue of whether or not God exists. One of the methods used by Christians in the past and present has been to formulate philosophical “proofs” for the existence of God. There are serious problems with some of the traditional approaches to this endeavor.
Traditional proofs for the existence of God do not require that God exists. Instead, they show that the existence of God may be possible or even probable. God is not seen as the only ultimate all-conditioning cause of everything that happens.
In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve interpreted creation through the things that God told them directly. God is the only Being who knows all of the facts of existence and has properly interpreted them. Humanity knows things as they are only when it thinks God’s thoughts after Him. Traditional proofs for the existence of God assume that humanity can understand the facts without God. It is not true that looking at God’s revelation in nature can be properly understood without reference to God. It is also calling God a liar when a proof is used that starts with nature and then comes to the conclusion that God’s existence is “probable”. This is because God’s revelation of Himself in nature is clear and it is man who sinfully concludes that it is not so that only “probability” is assumed. God has provided abundant and clear evidence for His existence and tells us so in His Word.
Traditional proofs for the existence of God deny the self-attesting authority of the Word of God. Arguments from human reasoning and experience are thought to be able to properly judge whether or not God’s Word is God’s Word. God’s Word is thought to be unable to identify itself as God’s Word, so it is up to man to decide what is God’s Word and what is not. The authority of scripture takes second place to the authority of humanity. How then can God’s Word be the final authority if humanity gets to make the decision as to whether or not it is what it says it is?
The idea that human reason was left untouched by the results of the Fall of humanity is unbiblical and a poor foundation for communicating with unbelievers. Humanity is created in the image of God and is not independent of God, but traditional proofs for the existence of God often deny this in methodology. In reality humanity has to think God’s thoughts after Him or else have no knowledge at all.
Humanity is totally depraved, meaning that every part of every man and woman was affected by the Fall. This includes thoughts and attitudes as well. The problem with humanity is not primarily an intellectual one; it is primarily a moral one. Traditional proofs do not take this into account as they should. The grace of God is the only way that anyone can be saved and remade in a way that knowledge is possible. People cannot use their reasoning and finally “find God” and jump into believing in Him because human reasoning has been corrupt and immoral ever since Eve thought of herself as an ultimate authority in weighing the Word of God against that of the serpent. A right use of reason comes only through salvation by the grace of God.
I was listening to a snippet of a debate this morning between the atheist Dan Barker and a Christian whose name I do not recall (sorry). Throughout much of the cross examination portion of the debate, Barker kept appealing to the audience with statements that essentially stated “you all know this is true” or “I know you would agree with me when I say …” (While these are not exact quotes, they present the essence of what Barker was saying.) The tactic is a common one when trying to convince someone else of your opinion. The problem is, whether or not someone already agrees with you is entirely irrelevant to the truth or falsity of the point you are arguing for. Truth is not, after all, determined by majority rule.
Let me offer a more specific example of irrelevance – one that I see presented over and over again in debates between atheists and Christians.
Quite often a statement such as “well you believe in a book that was written thousands of years ago by people lacking the scientific insights we have today” is presented as a counter to a Christian’s appeal to the Bible as a useful source of knowledge. The statement is typically made in passing, so as to not draw too much scrutiny, but I fear it often has it’s intended impact nonetheless – namely to discredit the authority that the Christian is drawing on in their argument. The problem with this type of assertion is twofold.
First, it is irrelevant to the question normally under debate, namely whether or not the Christian God exists. Recall that the Christian’s position is that God himself inspired these writers to write the words they penned, meaning that it wouldn’t matter how much scientific knowledge the writers possessed. All they would need to be able to do is to write what God inspired them to write. The atheist that happens to follow this line of reasoning demonstrates either a lack of understanding of the claims that Christians make, or a complete disregard for the lack of relevance of the argument.
Second, it can be used against the atheist’s own position. There are, as expected, examples of atheist writers in the far past – some as far back as 600 BCE. If not possessing the scientific knowledge we have today was a shortcoming of those penning the scripture of the OT and NT, then why would it also not be a shortcoming of those who held to a non-theistic position? To claim that Theistic writings during this time period are suspect due to lack of present-day scientific knowledge, but non-Theistic writings are not, is to hold a double-standard and be guilty of the fallacy of Special Pleading.
The fallacies of relevance are numerous – too numerous to cover in a short post on this blog. However, they are something each of us should be aware of. Not only for the sake of correcting others when they use them, but also to be certain that we do not fall into the trap of using them ourselves. We are not only interested in the end, but the means we employ as well.
syl⋅lo⋅gism [sil-uh-jiz-uhm] –noun 1. Logic. an argument the conclusion of which is supported by two premises, of which one (major premise) contains the term (major term) that is the predicate of the conclusion, and the other (minor premise) contains the term (minor term) that is the subject of the conclusion; common to both premises is a term (middle term) that is excluded from the conclusion. A typical form is “All A is C; all B is A; therefore all B is C.” (www.dictionary.com)
My students are often reminded that there are no syllogisms in Scripture. Actually, this is not quite true, but it does capture something I hope to impress upon you now even if you have never thought of it before. Popular apologetics involve syllogisms, often lengthy and complex syllogisms, in an effort to persuade non-Christians to embrace the existence of God. The Bible never presents anything remotely similar to this method of showing that God exists.
For example, Genesis 1.1 does not read:
“1. Everything which begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause for its coming into being.”
Rather, it states:
“In the beginning God…”
God is in the beginning of the Bible in an account of what was in the beginning; no syllogism necessary. You did not come to believe in the existence of God through a syllogistic proof, and you are not going to convince anyone else to believe in God with such a method either. You already believed in God, and so did they.
The Bible presents the truth of the existence of God and argues that if it is rejected one is lost in total darkness, unable to make sense of anything. God is not hidden in puzzles that an ancient Greek philosopher named Aristotle thought up, He is present and plain for all to see in that He has revealed Himself to us. This is to be our message to those who attempt to deny the truth.
Please go easy on me as you view these since I have not taught apologetics exclusively in quite some time. What you see here was from memory and my lack of preparation shows! I am having difficulty uploading the first section of this video onto Youtube but will post it here as soon as I am able to. My hope is that this will be of some help to someone.
Two propositions are said to be contraries if they cannot both be true, though they might both be false. Consider these two propositions provided by http://www.dictionary.com/ as an example:
1. All judges are male.
2. No judges are male.
If Proposition 1 (an A proposition) is true and all judges are male, then Proposition 2 (an E proposition), cannot be true. If Proposition 2 is true and no judges are male, then Proposition 1 cannot be true. It cannot be true that all judges are male while at the same time and in the same respect no judges are male. However, Proposition1 and Proposition 2 may both be false at the same time and in the same respect. It is actually false that all judges are male. At the same time and in the same respect it is actually false that no judges are male. Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 are what are known as contraries in logic. Contraries differ from contradictories.
Recently I came across a user on Youtube named RedBeetle who asks, “Did Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen understand basic logic? Does [sic] the followers of these two Neo-orthodox theologians understand basic logic?” He goes on to answer his own question, “Apparently not, for they still maintain that they can prove God exists from the impossibility of the contrary”. RedBeetle maintains that the claim that the existence of God can be proven from the impossibility of the contrary is not a claim that would be made by someone who understands basic logic; however he fails to support his position and it is easily shown to be incorrect.
RedBeetle claims that in his video he is attempting to explain to “…these Van Tillians that contraries can both be false…” and hopes to do this, “despite the paradoxical madness permeating the minds of Van Tilians [sic]”. Frankly this comes across as nothing more than an empty and condescending remark on his part given the philosophical understanding of many Van Tillians. I, for one, do not need RedBeetle to explain to me what a contrary in logic is, as I already know and have shown as much above. Nevertheless I still use the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God. Thus RedBeetle’s underlying assumption that those who understand basic logic will not use TAG has been falsified. No doubt RedBeetle might attribute my understanding of logical contraries with my simultaneous use of TAG to paradoxical madness permeating my mind, but I think it has much more to do with my actually trying to understand Van Til and Bahnsen in their contexts rather than hastily attempting to dismiss them as “neo-orthodox” and “foolish”. There are other problems with RedBeetle’s assertions as well. For example, given the background and learning of both Van Til and Bahnsen, it is not plausible to attribute a lack of understanding regarding basic logic to the two men. There is a much better explanation for what is going on here than what RedBeetle provides.
The meaning of “contrary” in logic is often counterintuitive to beginners in that field of study. The reason is a familiarity with the popular use of the term. The term “contrary” is used in much broader circles than just philosophers in logic. The first definition for contrary at http://www.dictionary.com/ is “opposite in nature or character; diametrically or mutually opposed”. The contrary of Christianity in this sense of the word is non-Christianity with its many manifestations.
Notice that Christianity and non-Christianity are not propositions. The use of the term contrary within the context of logic applies only to A and E propositions, not to whole worldviews summed up in one word labels. RedBeetle thus shows himself to be rather confused when he writes, “So, for example, by claiming Christianity and Hinduism are contraries, the possibility remains that both may actually be false! “. This statement may be true if it is used in a strictly logical sense, but since “Christianity” and “Hinduism” are not propositions this possibility is precluded. RedBeetle is guilty of a misapplication of contrary as he has defined it in his video per Copi. There is a sense in which Christianity and Hinduism are contrary since Hinduism is non-Christian and hence opposed in nature and character to Christianity. It is rather hard to miss this understanding of the topic before us upon a fair reading of Van Til and Bahnsen given the abundant use of “antithesis” to describe the relationship between Christianity and non-Christianity among other things. RedBeetle’s entire presentation appears to be based on an equivocation.
We see the potential for this type of mistake elsewhere as well. For example, I have heard many an intelligent person use the phrase “which begs the question” followed by a question someone might ask after having discovered some piece of information. Obviously the person who uses this phrase in such a context is not referring to the fallacy of ”begging the question”. The reason we know this is because we listen to and interpret the person making the statement in the best possible light within his or her context as we should do if we are to be honest and fair in our endeavors.
When I write and speak of the impossibility of the contrary of Christianity I write and speak of the impossibility of anything which is opposed to Christ in terms of epistemology. Given that Christianity and non-Christianity are worldviews rather than propositions, that presuppositionalists who share my position would never assert that the Bible may be false but in actuality assert the opposite, that Van Til and Bahnsen were fallible but certainly not uneducated, given that we should interpret even the works of our strongest enemies in the best possible light, and given that there is a popular definition for “contrary” which makes good sense in the context of TAG; there is no reason to conclude that presuppositionalists of the school represented on this site mean anything other than what is meant by the popular usage of the term “contrary”. Christianity is not false, and we do not believe that it possibly can be.
Today during the gathering of my local church I witnessed a couple of young people a few rows in front of me snickering at what I thought was a remarkable presentation of “It Is Well With My Soul” sung by a group of Koreans who worship with us. Aside from many other valuable characteristics the piece was extremely aesthetically appealing yet the young people seemed to chuckle the most at the parts I thought were the most stirring. The almost total lack of appreciation for artistic beauty, not to mention (what I really intend to be in view here) the commonplace mockery of intellectualism prevalent in our culture rarely ceases to discourage me. It is no wonder that presuppositional apologetics so often are met with a blank stare. Our culture consists mainly of unthinking individuals who value entertainment above anything else.
Is there room for elaborate explanations of presuppositional argumentation in a place and time where people care more about obsessing over and voting for American Idol contestants than they do studying political philosophy in order to elect competent government officials? If only we had a culture like that of yesteryear where people really valued reason. Instead we are growing familiar with shrinking liberal arts programs in colleges which cannot afford to do anything other than teach business related courses which are more practical. Practical – at least – if one desires to enter into an almost normative desk job and make as much money as possible to purchase more entertainment than the next guy. Where is there room for presuppositional apologetics in this cultural climate? Most people who even hear a word like “presuppositional” are immediately turned off. We need to return to reason, or so it seems.
A return to “reason” apart from Christ is just as damnable as becoming a vegetable in one’s intellectual life. Even in the past when people allegedly placed much more value upon thought there nevertheless existed an abundance of the same type of fools (in the biblical sense) that exist today. We may become frustrated that people are often not willing to delve more deeply into the things of God and find that this is His world and He has revealed truth. Denying Christ results in complete absurdity in one’s thoughts and behavior, but few are willing to reason with you to ever see this truth through argumentation. Things would however be no different upon having a conversation with a well educated, deeply thinking self-proclaimed atheist who is willing to follow the arguments you present unless God brings that person to repentance from sin and faith in Christ.
People of the past valued reason, and people of today do as well, but reason is not the answer to our current problems any more than a recognition of say, “absolute truth” is. In actuality the abandonment of reason is more consistent for the non-Christian. We challenge the non-Christian concerning his or her supposed autonomy, not concerning his or her reasoning ability, though there are obviously implications which extend to that realm as well via alleged autonomy. My hope is that this brief observation will be an encouragement as well as a reminder to those reading to approach people with the Gospel as it is the only message by which people may be saved.