Theistic Arguments


A or BIf you’re looking for an explanation of the universe, which is a collection of contingent beings, there are only two possibilities: 1) The explanation is found in a necessary being that transcends the universe; 2) There is no explanation.

Regarding 1), every physical entity is a contingent being. The “universe” simply refers to the whole collection of physical, contingent beings.  One cannot explain why the universe exists by appealing to another physical, contingent being because there can be no physical, contingent beings outside of the collection of all physical, contingent beings.  “But,” one might say, “perhaps it could be explained by a prior non-physical, contingent being.  Perhaps, but even if so, as a contingent being, that non-physical, contingent entity would also require an explanation for its existence.  To avoid an infinite regress, one must ultimately arrive at a necessary being that transcends the universe, and explains why the universe exists.

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Not scienceMany believe science has disproven God.  This is not possible, even in principle.[1]  The truth of the matter is that advances in science are providing more reasons to believe in God, not less.  While scientific discoveries cannot prove God’s existence, they can be used to support premises in arguments that have theistic conclusions/implications. For example, science has discovered that the universe began to exist.  Anything that begins to exist requires an external cause.  Since the universe encompasses all physical reality, the cause of the universe must transcend physical reality.  It cannot be a prior physical event or some natural law, because there was nothing physical prior to the first physical event, and natural laws only come into being once the natural world comes into being.  Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be transcendent, powerful, immaterial, spaceless, eternal, and personal, which is an apt description of God.

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Universe from NothingLast year theoretical physicist and atheist, Lawrence Krauss, wrote a book titled A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. As the title suggests, Krauss wrote the book to answer the age-old question of why there is something rather than nothing. The book was heralded by many atheists as the definitive answer to theists who claim God is necessary to explain the existence of physical reality. Indeed, in the afterward Richard Dawkins claimed that Krauss’ book devastates theistic arguments based on cosmology just as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species devastated theistic arguments based on design in biology. Other reviewers, however – including scientists, philosophers, and theologians – beg to differ. Having read the book myself (not just once, but two times now), I can see why they were less than impressed with Krauss’ argument.

While my overall assessment of Krauss’ argument is not positive, truth be told, most of the book was quite enjoyable and informative.  That’s because the first 2/3 of the book is a lesson on the historical development of modern cosmology.  Krauss doesn’t make his case for why there is something rather than nothing until the last four chapters.  Unfortunately, that’s where the book falls apart.

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Reasonable Faith, the ministry of William Lane Craig, recently released a great new visual depiction of the kalam cosmological argument.

 

You can view the video above (from YouTube), as well as on the kalam cosmological argument page at Reasonable Faith.

Subjective ObjectWhen talking about subjective and objective truths, I’ve heard it claimed that every truth claim is “subjective” since humans are subjects.  On this view, there can be no such thing as objective truth since all truth claims are made by subjects.

This is often applied in the context of the moral argument.  Theists argue that morality is objective, and finds its ontological grounding in the character of God.  In response, some will argue that since God is a subject, His moral commands are subjective, and hence even theistic ethics cannot provide an objective basis for morality.

This is a gross misunderstanding of the terms.  Subjective and objective tell you what a statement is about – not where it comes from.  To say a truth is “subjective” is to say it is about the subject himself; to say a truth is “objective” is to say it is about a mind-independent object in the world.

ContingencyWhile in discussion with A. C. Grayling on the March 25 edition of the Unbelievable radio program, Peter S. Williams provided a nice, concise presentation of the cosmological argument from contingency:

Once you’ve made the distinction between things that have causes and…things that don’t have causes, if something exists it either is the kind of thing that requires something outside of itself to exist, or it’s not.  If it’s not possible for there to be an infinite regress of things that do require causes outside of themselves, and it is true that something exists which does require a cause outside itself [the universe, and everything in it]…,there can’t be an infinite regress of such causes, and therefore you have to have a termination of that regress.  [God is the best explanation for the termination of that regress.]

For those of you for whom this to be a bit too concise, let me flesh it out a bit.

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Right and WrongIf moral realism (the notion that moral values exist independently of human minds) is false, then there is no reason to talk of “morality” as if it were something distinct from personal preference.  Given moral relativism, moral beliefs are just personal/social preferences.  What we call “morality” is nothing more than a set of personal preferences regarding certain dispositions and behaviors, or a set of normative social preferences – both of which are subjective in nature and can change over time.  Saying “vanilla ice-cream is better than chocolate ice-cream” and saying “telling the truth is better than lying” are the exact same kind of claims: personal, subjective preference.  No oughts are involved.  They are just autobiographic or (to possibly coin a new term) sociobiographic statements.  They describe rather than prescribe.

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WaldoMany atheists employ the concept of divine hiddenness to argue against God’s existence.  If God exists, they argue, why is His existence not more obvious?

I have blogged on this issue previously (here and here), so I won’t rehearse the arguments again.  Instead, I’ll simply assert that I do not accept the claim that God’s’ existence is not obvious enough.  I think there is good evidence for God’s existence, and that God only appears to be hidden because we have not looked for Him with an open mind and heart.

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Bear in mirrorAll of the scientific evidence points to the temporal finitude of physical reality, even if physical reality extends beyond the Big Bang (see here and here).  And yet, scientists continue to come up with mathematical models that permit an eternal universe/multiverse, and atheists continue to promote them because both are under the mistaken presumption that if physical reality is eternal, then there is no need for a transcendent cause, and thus no need for God.  As David Berlinski observed, “While an eternal universe makes it meaningless to ask when the universe began to exist, since its existence is not necessary it is still meaningful to ask why it exists.”  The fact that physical reality is contingent means that even if the universe/multiverse is eternal, it still needs a cause.

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Good without GodSaying “I can be good without God” is like saying “I can be married without a spouse.”  If God does not exist, then there is no ontological grounding for goodness.  While atheists can surely behave in ways that humans have traditionally called “good,” their acts are without moral significance because morals as such cannot exist in an atheistic world.  They are just socio-cultural preferences.  Only the existence of God can ground objective goodness, and thus one can only be good if God exists.

See also:

ImperviousThe kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God’s existence can be stated as follows:

(1) Anything that begins to exist requires a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Thus, the universe requires a cause

Additional logical inferences allow us to identify this cause as God.  Whatever caused space, time, and matter to begin to exist cannot itself be spatial, temporal, or material.  Furthermore, whatever caused our orderly, life-permitting universe to come into being a finite time ago must be immensely powerful, intelligent, conscious, and hence personal.  These are apt descriptions of a being theists have long identified as God.

Both premises have been challenged on scientific grounds.  Premise one is typically challenged on the basis of quantum mechanics, while premise two is challenged by new cosmological models that seek to restore an eternal universe.  I am going to argue that neither premise of the argument can be undermined by scientific evidence, and thus the argument itself is impervious to scientific refutation.  Only philosophical arguments are capable of undermining either premise of the argument.

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Reasonable FaithDr. William Lane Craig is my favorite Christian apologist.  I’ve read countless articles he has authored and several of his books, listened to virtually every debate he has participated in as well as his podcasts and Defenders lectures, and even read his weekly Q&A on reasonablefaith.org.  I could rightly be called a Craigite, and yet I had never read his signature book, Reasonable Faith, which is now in its third edition.

I finally purchased the book and read through it with slobbering delight.  I must confess that having followed Craig for so long, there wasn’t much in the book that I had not encountered before.  But that is more of a personal commentary, and does nothing to detract from the wealth of information contained in this book.

Craig begins the book by answering the question, How can one know Christianity is true?  After surveying what important past and present thinkers have to say on the matter, Craig adopts a Plantingian-based model in which we can know Christianity is true in virtue of the witness of the Spirit in our hearts.  Craig makes an important distinction, however, between how we personally know Christianity to be true, and how we demonstrate to others the truth of Christianity.  While the witness of the Holy Spirit is sufficient for the believer to be persuaded of the truth of Christianity, we demonstrate the truth of Christianity to unbelievers through evidence and rational argumentation.

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New Scientist published an article last week explaining why the universe must have had a beginning.  While they end the article with speculative physics that try to place that beginning so far back into the past so as to be virtually indistinguishable from an eternity ago, a beginning to the universe remains.  And if physical reality began to exist a finite time ago, then it must have a transcendent, immaterial, eternal, spaceless cause.

Luke A. Barnes, a specialist in astro-physics and researcher at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney, has an excellent quote responding to those who claim it’s possible that the universe could have come into being from nothing: 

The claim regarding a universe coming from nothing is either nonsensical or a non-explanation. If we use the dictionary definition of ‘nothing’ – not anything – then a universe coming from nothing is as impossible as a universe created by a married bachelor. Nothing is not a type of thing, and thus has no properties. If you’re talking about something from which a universe can come, then you aren’t talking about nothing. ‘Nothing’ has no charge in the same sense that the C-major scale has no charge – it doesn’t have the property at all. Alternatively, one could claim that the universe could have come from nothing by creatively redefining ‘nothing’. ‘Nothing’ must become a type of something, a something with the rather spectacular property of being able to create the entire known universe. It’s an odd thing to call `nothing’ – I wouldn’t complain if I got one for Christmas.[1]

Love it!


[1]Luke A. Barnes, “The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life,” 21 December 2011; available from http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647; Internet; accessed 16 April 2012; page 67.

In the context of the moral realism vs. moral subjectivism and theism vs. atheism debates the question of moral semantics is often raised: How do we define goodness?  Some are under the mistaken impression that if we cannot define goodness (a question of moral semantics) then we cannot claim to know goodness exists (a question of moral ontology) or identify what is good (a question of moral epistemology).  

I do not want to focus on whether it is possible to provide an adequate account of moral semantics, but rather to point out that even if we are unable to do so, it does not follow that there are no objective moral goods or that we are incapable of knowing them.  Greg Koukl illustrates this point beautifully.  He notes how our experience of goodness is similar to our experience of color.  We recognize color as color when we see it.  If someone were to ask us how we know what green is, we would respond, “I just see it.”  We don’t need to define green to know it when we encounter it.  Similarly, we do not need to define goodness to know that we have encountered it.  God has given us moral intuitions to recognize good and discern between good and evil. 

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That’s the claim anyway. Michael Shermer is fond of using this kind of argument in debates.  He reasons that God’s existence is irrelevant to morality because even if God didn’t exist, people would still think killing, stealing, and lying were wrong.  Want proof?  If it could be proven to you today that God doesn’t exist, would you go out and kill/steal tomorrow (particularly if you knew you could do so without getting caught and punished by the authorities)?  No.  There are still good reasons to act morally even in the absence of God.  Therefore, it follows, claims Shermer, that God is not necessary for morality.

While this has great rhetorical force in a debate, Shermer misses the point completely.  The question isn’t whether one needs to believe in God to know and do good, but whether God’s existence is necessary for the good that we know to actually be “good.”

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David Baggett and jerry Walls have written an excellent book exploring God’s relationship to morality.  The book aims to provide a moral argument for the existence of God, and to answer criticisms to theistic ethics.  After showing how various non-theistic foundations for ethics fail, the authors take a close look at the most common objection to theistic ethics: the Euthyphro argument.  They critique both horns of the dilemma: pure voluntarism (X is good because God commands it) and non-voluntarism (X is good wholly independent of God and His will).  If goodness is determined by God’s commands, then morality seems arbitrary.  Indeed, if God willed that rape is good rape would be good (abhorrent commands objection).  There is also the epistemic problem.  How would we know what God has commanded, or if God has changed His mind?  The problem with non-voluntarism is that it makes God irrelevant to morality.  Goodness stands outside of God.  Indeed, God is subject to the good in the same way we are.  At best His role is to communicate to us what is good.  He is like the divine meteorologist who reports the weather rather can creating it.  If goodness is independent of God, then God’s aseity (self-existence) is called into question.  He cannot be the metaphysical ultimate.

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Theists often use the basic metaphysical principle that something only comes from something as evidence for God’s existence.  We reason that if the universe (something) came into being, then it must have been caused to come into being by something else – it could not have simply materialized out of nothing without a cause because out of nothing, nothing comes.  The something that brought the universe into being must itself be immaterial, spaceless, and eternal, which are some of the basic properties of a theistic being. 

I have heard a few atheists object to this argument by questioning the veracity of the basic metaphysical principle that something can only come from something on the grounds that we have never experienced nothing to know whether or not it is possible for something to come from nothing, and thus we cannot know that it’s impossible for something to come from nothing.  While we may not have any direct experience of something that comes into being from nothing, it does not mean it’s not possible.  Indeed, in the case of the universe it was not only possible, but it actually happened.

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There’s a difference between how we know something to be true (epistemology), and what makes that something true (ontology).  Keeping this distinction in mind would illuminate many debates.  For example, atheists often claim that one doesn’t need God to know morality and act morally.  That’s true, but it misses the point.  Just because one can know moral truths and behave morally without believing in God does not mean God is not necessary to explain morality.  As Greg Koukl likes to say, that’s like saying because one is able to read books without believing in authors, authors are not necessary to explain the origin of books (author-of-the-gaps).  In the same way books need authors, moral laws need a moral-law giver.

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Astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the Universityof California, Berkeley took part in a panel discussion on June 23, 2012 at the SETICon 2 conference on the topic “Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?”  Taking a page out of the playbooks of Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, Filippenko claimed that “the Big Bang could’ve occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there. With the laws of physics, you can get universes.”[1] If the laws of physics are responsible for churning out universes, then the ultimate question is not the origin of the universe, but the origin of the laws of physics.  Where did they come from?  Filippenko recognizes this problem, saying “The question, then, is, ‘Why are there laws of physics?’  And you could say, ‘Well, that required a divine creator, who created these laws of physics and the spark that led from the laws of physics to these universes, maybe more than one.’”[2] 

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