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What Could be Wrong With the Arguments for the Existence of God?
Romans Lesson #015
April 14, 2011
Like most of the Word this next passage is simple enough for a child to understand but to get into some of the details and mechanics it may challenge some of our brain cells. The bottom line is that it gives us great confidence in our witnessing because it ultimately emphasizes the fact that the real power and authority is in the Word of God and the Spirit of God; and it is not in our intellectual ability, our ability to master a certain number of facts or certain ways of argumentation, but it puts the focus on the truth of God’s Word. But we have to make sure that when we are talking to people who are unbelievers we have to really understand the questions they are asking and we have to understand how to answer them in a correct manner.
By correct manner is not meant answering necessarily with the right facts. We are really dealing with issues related to strategy and ultimately it just comes down to the same basic principle that goes through all the Christian life, which is trust and obey. We just trust what the Word of God says and assume what it says to be true. But so often what happens is that in our strategy in talking to unbelievers, for various reasons—sometimes it can be because of our desire to be accepted by them, sometimes by our desire not to come across as being radical, sometimes because we don’t always understand the implications of questions that are asked—we build our answers on the foundations or assumptions of their questions. But Scripture says we are not to answer a fool according to his folly. A lot of times when we answer certain questions or we approach them a certain way inadvertently what happens is we are assuming a non-biblical position—not for the sake of argument but we just inadvertently slip across the line.
In the process of communicating the gospel to people we have to exercise discernment. We can’t just go to drive-by evangelism, quote Acts 16:31 and say, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved' because there is not necessarily an understanding on their part of who Jesus is. And what does it mean to be saved? What exactly is “believe”? Saved from what to what? We may think that the answers to those questions are obvious because we have been in Christianity for so many years we can’t think like an unbeliever anymore. When we talk to unbelievers we have to have a strategy and we have to have certain tactics that we use. By that is meant we mean certain question we might ask, certain ways we might explain things, and it takes time to learn that. We only learn by doing, which is the hard part.
It is always helpful if we start with an assumption and we know something about this other person, about every human being, that they don’t believe and they don’t know, but God tells us it is true, and so we have to build everything that we say on that foundation. This is something that in the theological arena is called pre-suppositional apologetics, because it presupposes the truth and the authority of God’s Word and God’s Word alone in any kind of communication with an unbeliever.
So Romans 1:18, 19 tells us NASB “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” One of the characteristics of an unbeliever is that he is a truth suppressor. When we are talking to an unbeliever his knee-jerk reaction is suppress truth. He has developed consciously or unconsciously a lot of techniques to keep God at as much of a distance that he possibly can. There is an internal and an external knowledge of God that they recognize. We know and God knows that this is going on in the person we are talking to and it is God the Holy Spirit who is the ultimate agent in making the gospel clear, and as we are explaining the gospel He is going to be working internally and tickling the latch on that box where they have stuffed God. That lid is going to come open, God is going to come out and scare him to death. So we never know how the reaction to that is going to be.
Romans 1:20 NASB “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” His invisible attributes are clearly seen; this is what God says.
What Romans chapter one is pointing out is that man’s problem is spiritual. There may be intellectual, social, educational, moral arguments that are then imported in order to suppress the truth but the issue in truth suppression has nothing to do with a person’s IQ in terms of their intelligence—if I could just say it the right way, if I could present the right structure of the argument then we would convince them that the God of the Bible exists. The issue here is that if we are talking to an unbeliever and are making a truth claim, and are saying the gospel is true and if you don’t believe it then there are eternal consequences, then we are appealing to something above us as truth. That is an authority issue. What authority can we go to that both we and the unbeliever will accept? If we go to an authority the unbeliever accepts we have already lost the argument because we are assuming his suppressed view of the world; you are assuming his distorted human viewpoint system as having some level of validity.
We have rationalism and empiricism that are both built on a same method. When we talk about method, how we do something, remember a right thing done in a wrong way is sometimes right, especially if they end up getting saved. That proves it was right, doesn’t it?
No, it doesn’t prove it was right. A right thing done in a wrong way is wrong, it is just that the grace of God sometimes overrides our failures—more frequently than not. So both rationalism and empiricism are built on an independent use of logic and reason because it is dependent on truth that comes from Scripture, which should be the foundation of our thinking. It is built on reason independent of anything else, just autonomous reason. And both rationalism and empiricism can come to lower case truth but not upper case truth: they can’t really answer the question of why is all this here? They can tell us what is here, observe what is here, but they can’t answer the question of why or what the meaning of all of these things is. Then there is mysticism which is just rationalism gone to seed. You don’t have any evidence for your position anymore but you are going to believe it in spite of the facts, so this is independent again, just as the other two are—independent of God. It is not logical, not rational, and it is not verifiable.
This stands in contrast to revelation. We are talking about revelation of the order of what God said to Adam in the garden. When God said Adam could eat from any tree of the garden except this one, the only way Adam could have ever learned that was from somebody telling him, speaking to him with the voice of authority. This is the only basis for objective truth. In revelation there is the dependent use of logic and reason. Paul reasoned with the Athenians. He used reason. The Bible is not anti-reason; it is against the use of independent reason.
The question before us is: how do we as a believer committed to the authority of Scripture talk to the unbeliever who is committed to unbelief without sacrificing the authority of God and the truth of Scripture in the process? That is an important question; it may never have occurred to us.
One of the ways that people think that you can communicate with people is through what has been laid down as arguments for the existence of God. In Christianity one of the most significant expressions of this was Thomas Aquinas who was considered to be the systematic theologian of Roman Catholic theology but actually it goes back to the five ways of Aristotle, and these arguments for the existence of God simply can’t get you out of the order of creation. If you start with creation you end up in creation; you can’t get out of creation. You have to make a leap to get over into the realm of the creator. All of these start with human experience; you can’t start with the finite and ever get to the infinite, it is logically impossible.
The teleological argument is the argument that in its manifestation today is more popularly referred to as the intelligent design argument. It goes back to a book written by William Paley in 1802 that was called Natural Theology. Remember: special revelation and general revelation. General revelation focuses on God’s revelation of Himself in creation, or nature. That general revelation came to also be called natural revelation. Then that developed into an autonomous view that natural revelation had the same level of authority as special revelation. That basically split off on its own and the assumption was that you could go to anything in creation and get as much specific information about God and argue for the existence of God as from special revelation. Paley basically took the idea of God as a watchmaker. You have an extremely sophisticated watch; you look at it and think about it in its entirety. It is a group of systems that are brought together, it is not just individual parts but each part represents a number of sub-parts and some of those sub-parts represent even more sub-parts. All of this comes together into an extremely complex whole and it works magnificently. But if one of those little parts in any of the systems of sub-systems is off then nothing works and it is not a viable watch. So using that argument Paley argues that we can look all over the universe and wherever we go we can see all of these systems that fit within the whole of the creation of planet earth. So therefore we come to a conclusion that based on the fact that we can observe order and purpose in the universe chance cannot account for this, therefore only an omniscient, infinite designer could account for this.
How can we get to an omniscient designer from looking at all the intricacies of the creation? How do we make that leap from finite to infinite? All we can really say is that whoever designed it knows a heck of a lot, a whole lot. But we can’t say He knows everything, we can just say that He knows everything about this system of the universe. We can’t say He is omniscient; that is a universal claim and the evidence that we have under the rules of empiricism can’t allow us to go quite that far because we don’t know anything about who the designer is. So if we say that the designer is God how do we know if it is Yahweh Elohim of the Old Testament? It is just some being that is a lot more powerful and knowledgeable than anything we can imagine. So this is the argument that is used from teleology. Psalm 19:2 talks about design and purpose in the universe, and there is. But on the basis of what the unbeliever thinks, does the design and purpose get us to the burning bush, the existence of the self-existent God that is revealed in the Scripture?
Then we come to the anthropological argument for the existence of God. It says that since man is a moral, intelligent and living being he can only be explained if there is a moral, intelligent and living God. The presupposition that is the assumption that is brought here is that since man manifests these qualities (man is a person) then he must have come from a creator that is also a person. Something that is non-personal cannot create something that is personal. Scripture that is sometimes used to support this is Psalm 94:9 NASB “He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see?” That is not really an anthropological argument; that is an argument that starts with God and ends with man. The anthropological argument, like these others, starts with something in the creation and tries to go to God, but the Bible always starts with God and goes to anything within creation. That is an important distinction to make.
The moral argument is that the moral laws, the fact that we believe in a right and wrong, and that this is universal to the human race, implies that there is a universal morality, a universal truth, a universal right and wrong. Therefore since everyone believes in a moral law that implies that there is an objective moral law and therefore there must be a moral law giver. Once again we see that there are some weaknesses within this argument. They all come down to the same problem, i.e. moving from the finite created world and universe and crossing that boundary from the creation to the creator. What is distinct about the Judeo-Christian God is that He is a self-existent God who stands completely outside of everything in creation. In paganism there is what is called the chain of being. Aristotle was the first to utilize this, and in the chain of being everything shares in the same essence or being from the gods all the way down to the smallest molecule, the smallest atom. Everything is in the same chain of being; there is nothing outside of that chain.
What is distinct about Scripture is that God is presented as a self-existence, personal, infinite God who exists for eternity without any creation, without any universe. He is not dependent in any way on the universe and the being that the creation has is not derivative being, it is creative being. These are huge distinctions. This is why all the other systems (basically the chain of being) are just an early form of the same thing that is present in Darwinism.
So we are going to have a conversation between an unbeliever and a believer—two different kinds of believers. One believer is thinking pretty much like the world thinks, like the unbeliever thinks. He is a believer but he has the same basic assumptions about life and existence and creation as the unbeliever. Then we will have a believer who is consistently thinking about everything on the basis of the Bible.
The believer who is thinking like an unbeliever is trying to convince the unbeliever of the truth of Scripture. The first issue that he has to deal with (he may not talk about it but it is embedded in all of this conversation) is the issue of authority. For the unbeliever what is the ultimate authority? It is either going to be reason or experience, or a combination thereof, or it is going to be his intuition as a mystic. Those are his only options for him to appeal to. It has to be consistent within his experience or it has to somehow resonate within him—the burning in his bosom, or an inner mental hot flash or insight into reality. So for the unbeliever his own abilities, reason and intellect, becomes his ultimate judge and arbiter of truth through rationalism, empiricism or mysticism. The believer who is thinking like an unbeliever is still making reason and experience or mysticism his ultimate authority, because he doesn’t recognize that in the total radical authority demand of Scripture—which is typical of most evangelicals. For the Bible-based believer he accepts only the authority of God’s Word and he believes that the unbeliever is exactly what God says the unbeliever is, and that in communicating the gospel to the unbeliever he is not communicating to somebody who somehow has a measure of objectivity, who is basing his thought on something epistemologically neutral; that his ability to reason, his experience, his interpretation of experience is spiritually neutral. So the believer says no, he is an unbeliever; he knows God exists; he is suppressing that truth in unrighteousness.
If you are a believer talking to one person and you think that they have the ability to objectively evaluate the data and come to truth, and there is no hidden agenda coming up within his soul, then your strategy is going to be different from if you are talking to somebody that you know already knows the truth but is suppressing it in unrighteousness; and the ultimate one who is revealing truth in the conversation is the Holy Spirit and He is just using you to do the best you can to communicate the gospel and answer the questions this unbeliever has. So for the believer who is thinking like an unbeliever, the compromise believer, he is going to appeal to either reason or experience to prove the claims of the Bible. He has accepted the same assumptions as the unbeliever. He thinks that reason and his ability to interpret reason and interpret experience are valid. Remember, the problem with rationalism and empiricism is that it is an autonomous use of logic and reason; it is independent of the use of Scripture. That means it is built on a foundation of unbelief that isn’t clear. So the real issue is, again, authority. The believer acting like an unbeliever is adopting the same ultimate truth authority as the unbeliever, and by thinking he is not going to argue with that person on the authority of Scripture, he is saying to the unbeliever, just like you, I’m going to reject the authority of Scripture. So the real issue is being consistent with our belief that the Scripture presents absolute truth.
The Bible-based believer recognizes the unbeliever knows what the truth is; he just doesn’t want to admit it. He is just going to suppress it as much as he can, so he is approaching the whole discussion with a warped view of truth, a warped view of reason, and a warped view of experience. Which tells us what? That as you discuss things with them there are going to be a lot of inconsistencies and problems. Part of what we might choose to do as part of our tactic is to ask questions like, how can you explain how a loving God can allow the holocaust to take place? We might respond, before I answer that let me ask how do you explain it? Well we just live in a random universe. So if we just live in a universe that is random how can you really make these judgments of what is right or wrong? How can you ask the question you ask on the basis of your assumptions? You can’t. So the strategic approach is not necessarily to prove the truth of the Scripture, but by assuming the truth if the Scripture you can expose the presuppositions of the unbeliever.
When it comes to looking at general revelation in terms of nature of the creation the claim of the unbeliever and the claim of the believer that is thinking like the unbeliever, that general revelation is a book of truth that is no different from special revelation; it has the same authority. It doesn’t have any words, so how can you learn anything specific out of a picture book? All you have is pictures. The failure with this position is that all of nature is being interpreted by the unbeliever in terms of truth suppression. He is looking at all the data and is suppressing it. The data says: God made me. And in his soul there is something that is resonating with that and he is just stuffing it down and suppressing it as much as he can. When the unbeliever looks out at a tree and all of the factors related to the leaves, the cells and everything else, he says anything can happen here. Isn’t it marvelous? Just give it enough time and it can just happen. It is irrational on the believer’s assumptions; it is not irrational on the unbeliever’s assumptions, because on his assumptions given enough time anything can happen. It is a random product of chance.
The believer operating on the assumptions of Scripture is going to look at everything in creation differently from the unbeliever. The believer operating on the assumptions of the unbeliever says, okay I’m going to take him on a tour of the planet. So they go all over the planet, all over the universe, and go over all of the marvelous and intricate facts of God’s creation; then he’ll believe in God. But the unbeliever, based on Scripture, doesn’t have a problem with knowing that God exists, he has the problem of accepting the God exists. He is suppressing all of that truth.
The point being made in all of this is to show that the believer who is operating like an unbeliever is using a method and a strategy that is assuming the same ultimate truth authority as the unbeliever. He is trying to start with that to get him over into truth. He is saying, okay under your assumptions we are going to end up with God. The unbeliever then comes along and he says we see cause and affect, order, design, and all of these things exceed anything that man is capable of doing, but all it gets us is to the probability that there exists something that is a greater cause or designer. It doesn’t get us to certainty; it doesn’t get us to absolute reality; all it gets us to is probability. Probability rests on possibility, and so all that argument gets anyone is the probability that God exists. But the probability that God exists is also the probability that He doesn’t exist. Since probability is built on the foundation of possibility it doesn’t get us a self-existent God, it just gets us a contingent God.
The God that the Bible presents is not a God that is just possible, not a God that is contingent upon anything; it is an eternally existent self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, and by going to these kinds of arguments what suddenly happens is you’ve bought into a smaller God view, a God that is built into a false view of natural theology, and you can’t cross the line from finite to infinite.
In conclusion what we see is: a) each of the four arguments start from finite experience and attempt to argue to infinite reality, and it can’t cross that line; b) these views use the idea of cause and effect, purpose, human morality and design, and assume that they are just as intelligible and mean the same thing to the unbeliever who is suppressing truth as they do to the believer who accepts truth. But remember, the unbeliever is suppressing truth, so how can you assume that his truth position is anything different from his truth suppression? How can we go over to his view and argue from what is wrong to what is right? It can’t be done; it is logically impossible; c) each view attempts to start with ideas of cause and effect, morality and purpose; but it treats them as being autonomous. God is the one who creates cause and effect, design and purpose, and defines what those mean; God does not have autonomous ideas of purpose and meaning, and design and cause and effect behind them. Those are not autonomous realities in the universe; they are what they are because God made them that way.
Those five ways all are based on what is call a posteriori: what comes after creation is observed. You observe different things in the creation and then you try to argue to universal truth. That didn’t work so there was the development of what is called a priori, i.e., prior to—prior to looking into the elements within creation. So the ontological argument is based on a certain understanding of the meaning of being or existence itself; that if there is a perfect being He must necessarily exist. Anselm was the first to articulate this in his book Proslogion. He said that because we have an idea of a most perfect being, because the idea of a most perfect being includes existence since a being otherwise perfect who did not exist would not be as perfect as a being who did exist. Therefore since the idea of existence is necessarily contained in the most perfect being that most perfect being must exist.
Where does this idea come from? It is the idea that an absolute being that did not exist is not as perfect as an absolute being that did exist, so therefore since we have the idea of an absolute being that exists he must exist. Once again we get into some basic problems, and that our basic concept of existence and necessity are defined within a creaturely finite concept, and we are trying to argue from creaturely finite over into the infinite. Since the time of Emmanuel Kant (late 1700s) this argument has not been accepted.
Essentially to believe any of these is because you already believe God exists. That leads us to talking a little bit about the importance of Christian evidences and apologetics. Apologetics is defined as the way we defend what we believe and present the content of it. A lot of the details relate to Christian evidences of Christian, evidences of the resurrection, evidences of the veracity of Scripture, evidences for the correct transmission of Scripture, have more to do with building the confidence of the believer and what he believes than in convincing an unbeliever to move from unbelief to belief. Because his problem isn’t essentially an absence of knowledge or information, his basic problem is negative volition and is spiritual. That is not to say that there aren’t unbelievers who have legitimate questions because they have been brainwashed with a lot of garbage and we have to flush out some of that garbage by exposing them to the truth; and God uses that. But the ultimate issue is presenting the truth of the gospel and answering questions that are necessary.
What this takes us back to ultimately is what Abraham said to the rich man in Tartarus. Luke 16:27 NASB “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’” The rich man is thinking like an unbeliever and is looking at empiricism as the ultimate arbiter of truth. He is begging Abraham to let Lazarus be raised from the dead so that on the basis of that empirical reality my brothers will believe in God.  “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’” The authority isn’t in empiricism, not in a miracle; authority is in the Word of God, because the Word of God speaks with authority. The voice of God, which is the Word of God, carries embedded within it the authority that is self-authenticating, it is not a circular argument, because on the basis of what the Scriptures teach God isn’t part of the finite chain; He is outside of it. So He is the ultimate reality and when God speaks because He is God there is no higher court of appeal for a higher authority or a higher truth. It is the voice of God that is self-authenticating and it is God the Holy Spirit who works in the soul of the individual to make that clear. They reject it not because there is not enough evidence. That is what Luke 16 points out. Those brothers aren’t rejecting God because there is not enough evidence; there is more than enough evidence. They are rejecting God because they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.