Theistic Arguments

What is an argument?

It is the defense or refutation of a given truth by providing evidence either for or against.

 

What is a theistic argument?

A theistic argument is the defense of the belief in a deity.

 

What do you mean here by a deity?

We mean a personal being who has always existed and who exists outside of the universe.

 

Does an argument differ from proof?

Yes, an argument presents evidence or proofs in support of a given belief.  There are different kinds of proof, however, and we need to know what kind of proof we are seeking in a theistic argument.

If by proof we mean a mathematical proof such as we might use to show that the sum of all the angles of a triangle will equal 180 degrees, then we deny that such a proof of God’s existence is possible. No truth in science can be proven this way.  Interestingly enough, Locke held that the evidence for God was so certain that it amounted to a mathematical certainty, but this is not correct.

Nor do we mean by “proof” the kind we would use to prove that there is a pot of gold buried in our back yard or that we can bench press 300 pounds.  In such a case, we would dig up the pot and show anyone who doubted it or perform the lift.  This is the kind of proof that science is based on; it is empirical proof.

The kind of proof we are seeking is like a detective who tries to determine what happened at a given crime scene or an archeologist trying to discern what caused a given formation or marking or the identify of a given artifact. In this context, we mean arguments or proofs which point to the truth of a given hypothesis.  It provides evidence which supports the belief that there is a deity.  It is when we defer to the best explanation; cf Butler.

 

What is the difference between a priori arguments for God’s existence and a posteriori?

A posteriori arguments start from something that exists in our world and argues that only a deity could account for the existence of this thing, whatever it might be.  For instance, a person might argue that the existence of design proves that there must be a Designer or the existence of anything at all requires a creator.

An a priori argument argues for the existence of God from the very idea of a deity without ever referring to anything already in existence.  The ontological argument is the only one of these.

 

The Ontological Argument

What is the Ontological Argument?

This is the only argument that is a priori.  It was most famously given by Anselm.  See also G.P Fisher and Joyce. Descartes also formulated a kind of ontological argument.  A long list of different philosopher’s criticisms of this argument is here.

 

The Truth Argument

What is the truth argument for God’s existence?

This argument simply tries to account for the existence of truth and meaning in our world. The argument is this:

All truth must originate in a mind;

There is truth in our world;

Therefore, there exists some mind which created truth and there are persons who can express and apprehend truth.

 

Why is this a problem for the naturalist worldview?

This is a problem because naturalists hold that the universe is a closed system with nothing acting on it from the outside. Hence, there can be no personal being with a mind and intelligence who created persons with similar minds. It then becomes impossible to account for the fact that we believe we have minds, that we communicate truth to each other, and that we expect others to understand, believe, and act on what we say. Hall writes:

Truth has no meaning, except as either proceeding from or apprehended by mind. It cannot be interpreted except in the forms and terms of intelligence. Apart from personality, therefore, truth has no existence. source

 

Explain that truth has no existence apart from a mind.

Suppose that you saw a flower patch growing on a hillside that had the shape of the words “Welcome to Michigan.” What difference would it make to you, if you knew that these flowers had grown this way purely by chance? There was no gardener or landscaper who had arranged and designed the patch to make these words. Would you now see it as true that you were entering the state of Michigan?

Now change the scenario. Suppose there was some gardener who had intentionally planted and arranged these flowers to grow into these words; would this change your view of this flower patch and the words it spelled out? Of course, if you knew they had grown this way by chance, you would never give your assent to what was stated. In fact, you would say that the category “truth” is not something that even applies to a flower patch. The only way there would be any meaning to these flowers and the statement “Welcome to Michigan” is if you knew that someone had intelligently and purposely grown and arranged them in this way.

 

How is this an argument for God’s existence?

Because the naturalist says that the entire universe, parallel in the above illustration to the flower patch, has no intelligent agent behind it. There is no mind which intelligently formed our universe. The obvious conclusion is that if there is no mind, then there is no truth and no meaning whatsoever. No one, however, lives this way. We all live assuming the reality of truth and meaning and the ability to communicate this meaning from one person to another.

 

The Cosmological Argument

What is the cosmological argument?

This argument is formulated in a variety of different ways but basically the argument moves from the fact that something now is to the corollary that something must have always been.  This argument addresses the basic question of why is there something rather than nothing.  See Aquinas, Grotius, Clarke, Dwight, Boedder, Joyce, Fisher, Craig.  See also the history of this argument.

 

How does this show us the existence of God?

Because it shows us that something must be eternal.

 

Why must something be eternal?

The assumption here is that there are things now in existence. If this is so, then something must be eternal since if there was ever nothing, then there would be nothing now. Pearson writes:

We find by the experience of ourselves, that some things in this world have a beginning before which they were not; the account of the years of our age sufficiently infer our nativities, and they our conceptions, before which we had no being. Now if there be any thing which had a beginning, there must necessarily be something which had no beginning, because nothing can be a beginning to itself. source

Edwards writes:

What is self-existent must be from eternity, and must be unchangeable: but as to all things that begin to be, they are not self-existent, and therefore must have some foundation of their existence without themselves. That whatsoever begins to be, which before was not, must have a cause why it then begins to exist, seems to be the first dictate of the common and natural sense which God hath implanted in the minds of all mankind, and the main foundation of all our reasonings about the existence of things, past, present, or to come.  source

 

How do you know that things exist now?

Because even to doubt our existence, we must first exist; cf Descartes.

 

Put this altogether for me.

Sure, here is Clarke’s statement of the cosmological argument.

First then, it is absolutely and undeniably certain, that something must have existed from eternity. This is so evident and undeniable a proposition, that no atheist in any age has ever presumed to assert the contrary; and therefore there is little need of being particular in the proof of it. For since something now is, it is evident that something always was; otherwise the things that now are must have been produced out of nothing, absolutely and without cause, which is a plain contradiction in terms. For to say a thing is produced, and yet that there is no cause at all of that production, is to say that something is effected, when it is effected by nothing; that is, at the same time when it is not effected at all. Whatever exists, has a cause, a reason, a ground of its existence; (a foundation, on which its existence relies; a ground or reason why it doth exist rather than not exist;) either in the necessity of its own nature, and then it must have been of itself eternal; or in the will of some other being, and then that other being must, at least in the order of nature and causality, have existed before it. source

William Lane Craig articulates the argument by pointing out that whatever begins to exist must have been caused to exist. Since there is good evidence to show that our universe had a beginning, then it must have been caused to exist by something else. That something else must be something which did not begin; otherwise, this something would also require a cause for its own existence. Eventually, there must be something eternal; i.e. something without a beginning. source

 

What does this argument prove? Is it really a proof of God’s existence?

It is true that this argument does not prove the existence of the God we know and love. It simply proves that there is something out there who is eternal and has the power of creation.

 

Is it not possible that the world has just always existed?

This is what every non-theist must believe; see Chalmers.  The evidence of science, however, makes this an impossible theory.

We may believe either in a self-existent God or in a self-existent world and must believe in one or the other; we cannot believe in an infinite regress of causes. The alternatives of a self-existent cause and an infinite regress of causes are not as some would represent equally credible alternatives. The one is an indubitable truth the other is a manifest absurdity. The one all men believe; the other no man believes. source

 

Why is this?

Because most scientists have abandoned the steady-state theory of the universe in favor of the big bang theory. Furthermore, science teaches us that the world is running down as per the second law of thermodynamics. Now if the world were eternal, it would have long since reached the state of entropy. But the universe has clearly not reached entropy; and therefore, is not eternal.

 

Teleological Argument

What is the Teleological argument?

This argument reasons from the presence of design in nature to the existence of a great designer. It is also known as the teleological argument.  See Paley, Joyce, Boedder, Fisher, Craig,

 

What evidence of design to we see in nature?

There are an almost infinite variety of these.  Scientists seem to uncover new instances of this almost daily.  Paley wrote a book on this almost two hundred years ago with the evidence available to him then.  In our own day, the evidence for this has exploded far beyond one man’s ability to take it all in.

 

Give an example of this design.

Paley gave the example of hiking through a park and coming upon a watch. source  Today, one might think about hiking through the mountains and coming upon Mount Rushmore or driving through Egypt and seeing the Pyramids or the Sphinx.

 

Why does discovering a watch or seeing Mount Rushmore or the Pyramids suggest the existence of God?

Because it is clear to everyone that the watch and the images on Mount Rushmore were not the result of unguided, purposeless forces. Everyone recognizes immediately that some person with intelligence fashioned the pyramids into their unique shape. In the same way, when we see evidence of such design in nature, we conclude that some intelligence designed it to be so. This is a perfectly rational way of thinking.

 

Does not the theory of evolution account for this appearance of design?

The theory of naturalistic evolution cannot explain the presence of design anymore than any other naturalist system.  One would have to believe that design can come into existence without intelligence or without a mind guiding it, but this is impossible.

 

What are the anthropic principles?

These are many different factors which must be calibrated with exact precision or life on earth would be utterly impossible. Scientists have discovered many of these. See chapter 12 in D’Souza’s book What’s so Great About Christianity? or the entire book, Privileged Planet.

 

Moral Argument

What is the Moral argument?

This argument argues that there can be no objective moral standard without the existence of God.

 

What is a standard?

A standard is a tool by which we measure things.  So a mother might measure the height of her child using a ruler or a tape measure.

 

What is a “moral” standard?

A moral standard is the tool we use to assess whether a given human choice is good or evil.  Such a standard is often called a law.

 

What is an “objective” moral standard?

This is a law that exists outside of us and is imposed on us from without.  For example, the US Constitution is outside of us and binds all Americans.  It is not something that we come up with ourselves.

 

Is there such a thing as a “subjective” moral standard?

In a sense, you could say that a person makes a law for himself.  Such a law would be subjective in the sense that it exists only in his own mind.  People do make such “laws” for themselves in that they will bind themselves to a certain course of action to try and achieve a certain goal.  This really isn’t a law, however, since the law can easily be revoked by the same person who made it.

 

But are not all laws subjective?  Doesn’t every law originate in someone’s mind?

Yes, this is correct.  Those people who have authority over others have the right to make laws which bind those who are under them.

 

What gives these people this authority by which they are able to make laws which bind other people?

See here.

 

What does all this have to do with the existence of God?

Because people naturally come to ask whether there is some law which binds all people everywhere.

 

Why are people led to ask this question?

Because it appears that there are certain moral values which are universal.  All people expect to be told the truth; people everywhere want others to respect their life and the right to choose their own path of life.  These kind of moral values are common to every culture and historical epoch.

 

Why is this question important for our defense of theism?

Because we noted previously that all laws come from a person in authority.  Laws do not exist apart from a mind which produced or articulated the law.  Now if there was going to be a law to which every person was subject, then that law must issue from a person who has authority over everyone.  A transcendent moral law can only come from a transcendent personal being.

 

So what is the argument then?

  1. If there is a transcendent moral law, then there is a transcendent personal being.
  2. There is a transcendent moral law;

Therefore, there is a transcendent moral being.

 

How come you’re using the word transcendent now instead of objective?

Because “transcendent” means over all.  “Objective” just means outside ourselves.  So the US Constitution is objective in the sense that it is outside of us, but it only binds those over whom it has authority.  The word “transcendent” means over every person no matter where or when they live or what culture they hold dear.  To have such a law, there must be a person who has authority over every person or who has a transcendent authority.  Only God can have this kind of authority.

 

Why can only God have this kind of authority?

Because He created all these people, and therefore, has the right to rule them.

 

But why can’t law be subjective?

Because a law is something that binds a given person to a given course of action.  But if a person binds himself to a given course of action, he can revoke the law and be free from the obligation any time he chooses.  That’s not what a law is.

 

Are you saying, then, that the very idea of law is impossible for those who hold to a secular worldview?

Yes, because in a secular worldview, there is no person who can justly claim to have authority over any other person.  Everyone’s subjective opinion is a “law” to himself, and no one has any grounds for condemning the choices of another person as evil.  Of course, no one lives this way.  Regardless of our worldview, we all expect people to respect our basic human rights.  This is the idea, for instance, behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Boedder, Joyce, Fisher, Hall, Craig

 

 

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