Tag Archives: Apologetics

Is the uniqueness of Christianity evidence of the truth of the resurrection?

On Sunday I gave as one piece of evidence for the resurrection the following claim:

The disciples’ belief in the resurrection could not have arisen so suddenly out of any “natural” developments in religion. It was in contradiction to the Messianic hopes of Palestinian Judaism and in contradiction to pagan cosmology. (And, therefore, not a conglomeration of Judaism and paganism.) The best explanation for the disciples’ belief, then, is the resurrection. This truth, along with its sudden acceptance among otherwise orthodox Jews, the post-resurrection appearances, and the evidence of the empty tomb, gives strong historical evidence to Jesus’ resurrection.

A friend of mine asked me how I would respond to the skeptic who asked about the similar claims of other religions. Here’s my attempt to do so:

The argument against this apologetic could be phrased in this way:

Apologist: Christianity appeared suddenly with a distinctive view of the world and some explanation of that worldview is required. The best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead.

Skeptic: Other distinctive religions have arisen suddenly, doesn’t the same argument work for them?

Which religions? 

First, I would want to ask the skeptic which religions they are referring to. If they mean Judaism, then Christians would affirm the supernatural nature of Judaism’s origin, since Judaism forms the basis for Christianity. If they are referring to Buddhism or Hinduism then I would instruct them to do more study on those religions since Hinduism had a very slow and varied development over many centuries and Buddhism was originally an offshoot from Hinduism, without a sudden start. The list of religions that fir the skeptic’s claim is probably smaller than he assumes.

The closest similarities to Christianity in terms of distinctiveness and sudden acceptance are Islam, which arose suddenly during the 600’s and Mormonism in the 1800s.

A more precise argument

But at this point we should clarify the apologist’s argument more closely. He is not saying: Because Christianity is distinctive it is true. For, a belief’s distinctiveness has no bearing on its truth. Otherwise, the most bizarre beliefs would be seen as most likely to be true. The apologist is also not saying: Christianity is true because its distinctiveness arose suddenly. If they were, this would appear to apply to Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism of the major religions, but even so, it’s not the argument.

To say that a belief is true or false based on the origin of that belief is, in most instances, a case of the “genetic fallacy.” If a pluralist were to say to a Christian “you are a Christian because your parents are Christians, therefore your beliefs are not true” a Christian could respond, “you are a pluralist because you were raised in a culture where pluralism is the predominant worldview, therefore your beliefs are invalid.” Neither the pluralist nor/or the Christian is making a real argument for the truth or error of the other person’s beliefs.

Instead, the apologist’s argument is more subtle. He argues, instead, that if a belief arose suddenly then we need a historically plausible explanation for that new belief. If a friend of mine came up to me believing that aliens were about to invade the planet then I would want an explanation for this person’s new belief. Perhaps he had a deep-seated paranoia that finally bubbled to the surface. Perhaps he was on drugs and hallucinating. Perhaps he had an encounter with an alien! Regardless, this new belief would require some sort of explanation.

Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism

Here’s where we can bring Christianity back in. The earliest followers of Jesus burst onto the scene with the belief that a man Jesus of Nazareth, who had claimed to be the Messiah and had been crucified by the Roman authorities, had risen from the dead and should be worshiped and given reverence. We would want an explanation for that belief. And here Christians have a strong case that the best explanation for that belief is the historical resurrection of Jesus.[1]

Can a Muslim make the same case for the origin of Islam? Islam originated with Muhammad and the apparent revelations he received from an angel, teachings that are documented in the Koran. Like Christianity, historians would seek an explanation for Muhammad’s beliefs. Muslims argue that his beliefs came from actual encounters with an angel. Others would seek some other explanation.

There are at least two important distinctions between Christianity’s and Islam’s origins: First, it was a mass of early Christians who believed in the resurrection, not only the disciples, but hundreds who saw the resurrected Jesus. Second, there was corroborating evidence for the resurrection – the empty tomb. Whereas Muhammad’s visions were private, the disciples’ beliefs were public and falsifiable.

What about Mormonism? Like Islam, Mormonism originated from an apparent revelation, though in this case it was by means of physical objects: supposed golden plates discovered and translated – with the help of an angel – by Joseph Smith. Here, once again, the historian requires an explanation for the beliefs of Smith and other early Mormons, though again the case differs from the origin of Christianity. First, I would argue that Mormonism’s distinctives in relation to Christianity are not as distinctive as Christianity’s from its surrounding culture. The most significant distinction between Christianity and Mormonism is its rejection of Jesus’ divinity, which is really a very old and frequent heresy. Second, though, we have the supposed golden plates themselves. There were indeed a select group of people (intentionally limited) that testified to either seeing it in a vision or to even touching the physical objects themselves, but their future testimony is not uniform. Some changed their stories about the plates. This either points to a more subjective/visionary experience, or deliberate falsification. Of course, I am no expert on Mormonism, and will have to refer the reader to some other resource to explore the details, should they be interested.

And so, I think the apologists argument stands as a (relatively) unique argument for the truth of the resurrection. It is possible that other religions could make similar claims, and each would need to be evaluated on its own. And so, I wouldn’t hang my hat entirely on this single argument. It does fit nicely as one of many pieces of evidence which point to the truth of Christianity.

[1] I’m not going to make the case here, but instead refer the reader to several books including Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, Craig’s On Guard: Defending your Faith with Reason and Precision, and Dodson and Watson’s Raised?: Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. I also gave a brief outline of alternative views in this post: Alternative theories to the resurrection.

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A Positive Case for the Bible

In the last post I answered several objections to the Bible as God’s Word. In this post, I want to offer a positive case.

The Bible is unique

Why should we think that the Bible might be such a word from God in the first place? For one thing, the Bible claims this position for itself. That’s not sufficient to believe that it is, of course, but if it didn’t make that claim we could rule it out. Second, the Bible stands out among all the other books. Most astounding to me is its breadth, depth, diversity, and unity.

The Bible was written over a 1500-year period by over 40 authors. The authors were from different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. They spoke and wrote in different languages. They wrote using different literary genres. They spoke about many controversial topics. And yet, the Bible is remarkably unified. It tells a single grand story. All the pieces fit together (though how they fit together is often the topic of fierce debate). It bears all the marks of human authorship that you would expect from a such an array of authors, but its overall continuity speaks to a grander scheme.

The Bible transcends cultures. Each book, of course, is written in its own cultural context, with its own questions and concerns. Yet none of them simply accept the norms of the culture out of which they were written. They affirm and reject different aspects of that culture, and the basis of that affirmation or rejection is the same: the presence and character of an unchanging God. When the books of the Bible are taken together, we see clearly how the Bible stands above culture. This isn’t a typical line of reasoning for a defense of the Bible, but a book that transcends culture is what I would expect from a God who transcends culture.

A church member who just started reading her Bible came up to me and said, “the Bible is weird.” It sure is, and that’s often the case because it doesn’t fit our own cultural expectations. And what else should we expect from such a book, if it really came from God? Unless you think any single culture is the embodiment of the whole truth, you would expect such a book to affirm and challenge aspects of any culture in which it was written and is read.

The Bible constantly shows itself to be reliable

As I’ve read the Bible, it has shown itself to be a reliable witness of the truth. First, I find in it great wisdom. Even those who don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word recognize the truth with which it speaks on any number of topics. Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is widely recognized as an ethical masterpiece. Second, its historical accounts reliably match what we know from archaeology and cultural investigation. We can’t prove the Bible through archaeology, but because the Bible contains historical accounts, those accounts can be checked against other historical data.[1]

The Bible interprets my world

Finally, I find in the Bible an interesting scenario in which if fits with and interprets the world around me. Let me give an illustration:

The Bible says that people are made in God’s image but that they have fallen into sin. This doctrine fits with what I see in both myself and the world around me. I see both beauty and ugliness, goodness and evil. The Bible helps me see where the goodness and beauty come from, God’s creation. And, it helps me see where evil comes from, the rebelliousness of man. I see both in my own soul, recognizing that I am a person, higher and distinct from the animals, and at the same time, that I am a worm, fallible and driven by selfish desire. In that sense, then, the Bible provides a worldview with which my own experience fits. I spoke in a previous post about the explanatory scope of theism. The same is true for the Bible. The worldview it presents has a broad explanatory scope for the ethical and spiritual world available to my senses and intuitions.

The Bible also surprises. For instance, it tells me that I can be saved from my guilt and sin by the sacrificial death of the man Jesus born 2000 years ago. What!? Where did that come from? And, incredibly, I believe it! Is that something I would have come up with on my own? No way. Is that something I think humanity would have come up with on its own? I don’t think so. The “be good and God will accept you” seems like a lot simpler path to salvation to me! In fact, that’s the path every other theistic religion presents. They are all about how we get to God. But in the Bible we have the story of how God reached down to us.

When I consider the message of the cross this story makes perfect sense! If God is holy and we are not then we’re not able to save ourselves. And if we need someone to save us, that person would have to be both God and man. And that Person would have to take the punishment we deserve, etc. So, there’s a logic to it, but it’s a logic that is clearly from God, and not from man. It’s a wisdom, but it’s a heavenly and not an earthly wisdom.

Not proof, but confidence

The reasons given above do not prove that the Bible is God’s Word, but they do give me confidence that it is what it claims to be, and that is sufficient for me.

If you’re unsure about the Bible, I encourage you to read it. Even if you don’t think that it is God’s Word, I suggest that you familiarize yourself with its contents. I can describe it in a post, but there’s really no alternative to reading the source material. From there perhaps you’ll be able to discern if it is from God or not.

A different way to get to the Bible. Looking ahead…

There’s another way I get to the truth of the Bible: The historical resurrection of Jesus. But how those two relate, and why it’s not a circular argument, is the subject of another post.

[1] Note: The two biggest contemporary objections to the reliability of the Bible are in the fields of the origins of life and the existence of miracles. I’ll deal with those in a separate post.

Book Recommendation

Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions

Answering objections to the Bible

In the last post I said that for us to be able to know specific things about God He would have had to communicate with us, and the most likely form of that special communication would be through written language, through a book.

Christians believe that God has spoken to us through the Bible. The defense of that belief takes two forms, a positive affirmation of the uniqueness of the Bible, and an answer to objections against it.

In my experience, the conversation usually starts with the objections, so I’ll start there. In my next post I’ll present the positive case for the Bible. Here are six common objections:

Objection 1: The books of the Bible were written long after the original events took place and are therefore historically unreliable.

At this objection’s most extreme level, I have heard people argue that the New Testament was written by Shakespeare! That simply flies in the face of the facts. The truth is that even the liberal biblical scholars, those who don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word, date the majority of the New Testament manuscripts to the lifetimes of the apostles. Even when examined through a critical lens, it can be demonstrated that the New Testament was written very closely to the events that took place.

There are more variations in interpretations when it comes to the dating of the Old Testament books, though archaeological discoveries have tended to confirm earlier dates. For instance, we now have evidence of writings similar to the books of Moses from around the time when he was said to have lived, demonstrating that previous assumptions that those books could not be dated that far back were false. Some Old Testament books (see Daniel) are assumed to have a late date because they contain predictions about the future which did, indeed, occur (thus, they must have actually been written after the events took place). But this is based on the presupposition that predictive prophecy can’t happen. If God is behind the writing of Daniel, though, it certainly could.

Objection 2: Even if the original were God’s Word, the copies we have of them are corrupt and therefore cannot be trusted.

Biblical critics like to point to statistics that say that there are as many as 400,000 textual variants in the New Testament texts, that is, 400,000 differences can be found between the many manuscripts and manuscript fragments we have available. This, they say, proves that the text we have of the New Testament has become corrupt and that we must then be unable to get back to the original manuscripts.

But we need to take a more critical look at this statistic. What do we really know about textual variations and how they relate to whether or not we can faithfully reproduce what the originals actually said? First, they are spread over around 25,000 manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts. Second, they are condensed in just a few areas. Third, the vast majority are so minor (i.e., variations in spelling) as to be completely negligible.

Once you drill down to textual variations of any possible importance you’re left with very few, and those appear as footnotes in your Bible. Open it up and scan through the pages. You’ll see a few footnotes on each page. I just opened mine and turned to a random page and scanned the footnotes. I came across Mark 7:9 which in the NIV reads: “And he continued, ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!’” The footnote in my Bible says, of the word “observe”: “Some manuscripts set up”. What’s the impact if we decide to read Jesus’s words as “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to set up your own traditions!”? Nothing. The sense is the same. This is the case with the vast majority of these textual variants.

Now, there are two New Testament variants that are worthy of further discussion. One is the story of the woman caught in adultery. In this story Jesus says the famous line, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Given the discovery that this passage is not included in the earliest manuscripts, and the observation that it appears in different places in older manuscripts, it is unlikely that this passage is part of the original text of John. We see the same thing with the “long ending” of Mark (Mark 16:9-20).

But do these examples show that we can’t get back to the original text? No. In fact, because of the massive number of manuscripts we have available, scholars can be very confident that we can, indeed, know what the originals said. These two passages are the exceptions that prove the rule, for even in these cases, we have a high degree of certainty about their place in the original text. In the cases where we lack that confidence, the sense of the passages are not seriously changed. Significantly, there are no orthodox Christian doctrines which are called into question because of textual variations.

Objection 3: The selection of books for the canon was a political decision, so we can’t trust that the ‘right’ books were selected.

The process of canonization is a longer conversation than I have time for in this post. For a clear explanation I’ll refer you to chapter 2 of Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible?.

Briefly I’ll say that this objection comes either from giving too much weight to fictitious accounts of the process (see Dan Brown’s The Davinci Code) and from an assumption that the canonization of the Biblical books happened suddenly and without process at some later church council. In fact, very early writings of the church fathers demonstrate that books were considered Scripture long before councils made it “official”.

Objection 4: Because the books are written by human authors, they must be filled with errors.

I recently read an article that assumed that Christians believed that the Bible was dictated, that the human author was basically nothing more than a pen, controlled without his will. This is not what Christians believe (or, it’s not what they should believe anyway).

God used humans to write the books of the Bible. The personalities and perspectives of those authors come out clearly from the text. Each has a unique style. But that doesn’t guarantee that they erred. Christians don’t believe that the Bible was dictated, but that it was inspired. This doesn’t mean that the authors themselves were infallible, but that God could have made what they wrote while writing Scripture infallible, all while their minds and emotions were fully engaged in the process.

Fallible humans write true things all the time. How much more could such a human write truth if they were also being guided and protected by God? Human authorship doesn’t ensure human error in the text.

Objection 5: There are contradictions in the Bible which means that it cannot be God’s Word.

It’s not hard to find lists of apparent contradictions in the Bible. They key word here is “apparent.” Actual contradictions in the originals would be a problem for the believer in the Bible. The question, then, is whether these apparent contradictions are real contradictions.

These supposed contradictions fall into a few categories, not all represented here. Some come from a misunderstanding of the biblical genre. For instance, I was told there was a contradiction between the phrases “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud” (1 Kings 8:12) and “God lives in unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16). But these texts are obviously speaking figuratively and communicate different aspects of truth about His character, not about a literal dwelling.

Some come from theological interpretation. Was Abraham justified by his faith alone (Paul), or was he justified by his works (James)? James himself clarifies this by showing that “faith without works is dead.” We’re justified by a living faith. Or, rather, faith is proved genuine by works.

Many come from different eyewitness accounts found in the gospels. But these aren’t contradictions so much as differences in emphasis, or retelling of a similar but different event. Some of these can be quite difficult to harmonize, but after more than a decade of deep study of Scripture I have yet to find one that is a true contradiction.

Summary: I have learned that the Bible is trustworthy. So, whenever I come across a supposed contradiction, I have confidence that a reasonable answer can be found, and all that awaits its discovery is a little research, usually from a good commentary.

Objection 6: Miracles prove that the Bible is mythical and unreliable.

What about the miracles? Do they show that the Bible is more of a myth than a reliable source of knowledge?

Here it’s important to remember where we started, with the assumption that it is at least possible that God exists. Unless you believe in the impossibility of miracles, then this argument shouldn’t hold much weight. After all, if God really does exist, and if He wants to make Himself known, wouldn’t He perform miracles to show us that there is something “beyond” this world? And isn’t it not only possible, but likely, that these miracles would be recorded in His book? I think so.

“The Bible is weird”

Some people object to the Bible because what they encounter therein is odd and offensive. There are a lot of strange things in the Bible, and many are offensive in our current cultural milieu, but I’m not sure that this is a case against the Bible. Should we really expect a transcultural book – which we should expect a book inspired by God to be – to be a perfect fit with our culture? I don’t think so. The fact that the Bible both affirms and challenges the cultural values and expectations of every culture (including ours) is a point for the Bible, not against it. But I’ll explain that more in my next post.

Book Recommendation: 


Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions

Should we all be agnostics?

Let’s say you find the Moral Argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, or some other argument for God compelling, does this mean you should be a Christian? Not necessarily. What do these arguments really say?

What can we know from logic and our senses?

First, they show that some Supreme Being exists (for brevity I’ll henceforth refer to this Being as God). It is not irrational to believe in God. In fact, the evidence points strongly in the direction of theistic belief. Second, they say something about God’s nature.

From the cosmological arguments we can see that God must be outside of the universe, He must be timeless, He must be uncaused, He must be a necessary being (from Leibniz). On top of that, he seems to be some sort of Mind or Will which could decide to create one sort of world as opposed to another. We would then describe Him as a Creator. He must be free, for if He were constrained then that higher constraint would be what we mean by God.

From the moral argument we can see that He is the source and foundation of all moral goodness, and from that goodness, issues commands which are to us the foundation for our moral obligations.

We might add to this knowledge evidence from the world we see around us. God has created a world of life, a world with recognizable beauty, and the capacity of His creatures to recognize His existence. Yet we also live in a world of great pain, confusion, and a proliferation of different perspectives on life.

The limitations of our logic and senses

This observational evidence is ambiguous. It requires an interpretation. It tells us something, but we’re not exactly sure what. From our observations and logical capacities, we can confidently say some things about God, but there’s much more we would have to leave unsaid.

Add to that the fact that we are finite and limited creatures seeking to understand an Infinite and Unlimited Being. Given such a vast ontological gap, how could we even begin to say anything intelligible about this Being. I recently read a quote that said: “Show me a worm that can comprehend man and I’ll show you a man that can comprehend God.” This was written by a Christian preacher intended to invoke worship, but in me it was a temptation to despair. The worm is too limited to think or speak intelligibly about man. Are we too limited to know or say anything intelligible about God?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the list of things we can say about God are limited if, that is, our knowledge comes only from our own seeking.

But there’s another way in which we might know God and be able to believe and say more than a limited number of things about Him: He would have to communicate with us.

The nature of revelation

At this point it will be useful to bring in the theological word “revelation”. When applied to God it refers to God showing Himself to humanity. We’ve already seen two ways in which He does this – the physical and moral world. He made a physical and moral world which are accessible through physical and moral senses. However, as we’ve seen, this is insufficient to say a great many other things about God, for that we need a more specific form of revelation, what theologians call “special revelation.”

Here’s where language comes in. Given that we have the capacity for abstract thought through language, that seems like the mostly likely means by which God could give us such a revelation. He could speak to us in a number of ways. He could verbally communicate (a voice from heaven), he could communicate directly to our minds (think an inner, real, but inaudible voice). He could send supernatural messengers. Etc.

Now, this communication, if always private in nature, could create a problem. What would prevent someone from claiming to speak on behalf of God? (Indeed, what does today?) It would make sense, then, for there to be some sort of authoritative source written down which could be referred to again and again to test a supposed “revelation” against.

In this way God could communicate truth about Himself, about us humans, and about our world in a way that is both comprehensible and authoritative. But, the question is, did He in fact do these things and, if He did produce such a book, which one?

And that takes me to the end of this post. Christians, myself included, believe that God has indeed communicated to us in this way, and that this communication is what we find in the Bible. The defense of that argument is the subject of the next post.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument: The ultimate Cause of the Universe

Diving right in to apologist William Lane Craig’s favorite argument for God, the Kalam Cosmological Argument is as follows:

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause

Premise 2: The universe began to exist

Conclusion: The universe has a cause

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause

Like premise 1 of Leibniz’s cosmological argument (anything that exists has a reason for its existence), this premise is self-evident and is constantly confirmed by our daily experience. We don’t see horses, tigers, or people just pop into existence out of nowhere. Even in science fiction, if something materializes, it does so from another place or another dimension by some causal mechanism. Everything has a cause, even if we don’t know what it is.

Yet, two objections might be raised.

Objection 1: Does this apply to God? Does God need a cause for His existence? The answer is in the premise – “whatever begins to exist…” God, in the theistic sense, had no beginning and no end. He is eternal. Specifically, most theologians would argue that He exists outside of time and that, in fact, He is the Creator of time itself. The idea that God is outside of time might be mysterious (being that we are time-bound creators) but it is not illogical or incomprehensible.

Objection 2: That everything begins to exist has a cause is true at the level of Newtonian physics, but is it true at the level of quantum physics? Isn’t it true that sub-atomic particles can appear out of nowhere uncaused? Again, the answer is no. Quantum mechanics does apparently describe indeterministic probabilities, but not exactly uncaused events. Second, sub-atomic particles do not appear in nothingness or out of nothingness, but into a “sub-atomic vacuum”, which is itself “a rich structure governed by physical laws.” You don’t get sub-atomic particles ex nihilo.

Premise 2: The universe began to exist

One need not have a creationist’s view of Genesis to agree with this premise (though it coincides well with this premise). In fact, one doesn’t need a Bible at all to agree with this premise. Science itself – even apart from belief in God – points to the universe itself having a beginning.

The mostly widely accepted view of the origin of the universe is the Standard Model, also called the Big Bang theory. This theory was developed when scientists started looking out into the cosmos and observed that all the galaxies were moving away from each other, that the universe was getting less and less dense.

If that trend were reversed over time (if we went back in time) we would see the universe getting more and more dense until it was at a state of infinite density. But that’s not to say that before this point, called the singularity, this infinite ball of matter was just sitting there waiting to explode. No, before this point (if we can speak of a “before”) there would have been nothing. In fact, it would have been at this point – or immediately thereafter – that space and time, that the universe, began to exist.

In the scientific community there have been numerous attempts to overthrow this theory in order to imagine an infinite universe without a beginning, but none have been successful (oscillating models aren’t truly infinite – the oscillation could only occur so many times – and multi-verse models still need a point of origination, it is just pushed further back). There are also philosophical reasons to believe that the universe had a beginning, like the question of how we could ever get to “here” if we had to count up from infinity (hint: we’d never get to a “here”).

A final note: The Kalam cosmological argument does not rest on the theory of the Big Bang, but it does serve as evidence that whether we think about the world theologically, scientifically, or philosophically, the conclusion is inescapable: the universe began to exist.

Conclusion: The universe had a cause

It logically follows that the universe had a cause. So, could the universe have caused itself? I’ve heard this argued on a couple of occasions. In one case, it was argued that the laws of the universe could have caused the universe, but that still leaves out the question of the origination of the laws of the universe (and is very scientifically dubious, even the person arguing for it admitted that). From a logical perspective, a self-caused universe is illogical, for it would mean that the universe would have had to existed prior to the universe existing, which is contradictory.

It follows then, that the universe had a cause and that Cause exists outside the universe and is different from the universe.

What can we learn about God from this argument, besides that He exists? We learn that He is the Creator of all things. A Being of this nature would be exceedingly powerful and would have to a will to create. He must exist outside of time and outside of the universe. Add this to the moral argument and the Leibnizian cosmological argument and we can begin to have a clearer picture of the nature of God.

Book Recommendation

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision

Everything has a Reason for its Existence. The ultimate Reason is God.

We now move on to Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument. (A summary of the argument from William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith)

Premise 1: Anything that exists has a reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature, or in an external cause.

Premise 2: If the universe has a reason for its existence, then that reason is God.

Premise 3: The universe exists.

Premise 4: Therefore, the universe has a reason for its existence (following from 1 and 3)

Therefore, the explanation of the reason of the universe is God (following from 2 and 4)

Premise 1: Anything that exists has a reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature, or in an external cause.

This premise matches our every day experience. Look around you: Everything you see has a cause for its existence. Nothing appears out of nowhere without reason. This premise is constantly confirmed by experience and forms the basis of scientific inquiry.

Imagine you are walking in the woods with your friend and you come across a semi-translucent ball. You might ask: Why does this ball exist? You might not know the reason – perhaps it was left by a fellow traveler, or perhaps it is an especially unusual rock formation. Either way, you’re justified in thinking it didn’t just appear without reason.

For this premise, size doesn’t matter. Would you be any less justified in asking about the reason for the mysterious ball if it were the size of a house, a planet, or the universe? No, everything has a reason for its existence.

You might notice the qualification on this premise: “either in the necessity of its own nature, or in an external cause.” This premise is important because, one might ask, if everything has a reason for its existence, and God exists, then does God need a reason for His existence? And wouldn’t the just send us back on into an infinity of “whys”?

The answer to this dilemma is that the theistic idea of God is that God exists “by the necessity of His own existence.” What theistic arguments for God are trying to prove, is a reason for the contingent universe, a Reason behind all reasons, a Cause behind all causes. So, this is isn’t really an objection to a theistic version of God, since the God which Christians believe in exists by necessity of His own nature.

But are Christians just arbitrarily assigning this necessary existence to God? I don’t think so. First, again, this is exactly the sort of Being we’re trying to demonstrate exists. Second, there are potentially other “things” which exist by the nature of their being, such as mathematical principles. Physical objects or properties, though, are not necessary beings, but are contingent beings. The reason for their existence is some external cause.

Premise 2: If the universe has a reason for its existence, then that reason is God.

At first glance this seems like a bold claim, but we are not yet describing what this God is like. The argument isn’t saying, the reason for the existence of the universe is the Christian God, but God in a more general sense, as some self-existence, necessary Being. If the universe includes all contingent physical/temporal reality, then we must look outside the universe for some ultimate Reason, which theists describe as God.

Premise 3: The universe exists. No objections here, I presume.

Premise 4: Therefore, the universe has a reason for its existence.

This premise logically follows from 1 and 3. If everything that exists has a reason for its existence, and the universe exists, then the universe has a reason for its existence.

Here, or perhaps at premise 2, one could object that if God exists by the necessity of His existence, why couldn’t we say that the universe exists by the necessity of its existence? Or, to put it another way, some might argue that the premise “everything that exists has a reason for its existence” applies to everything in the universe, but not the universe itself.

My first observation is that in doing this, the atheist ascribes a divine attribute to the universe – self-existence. It might be hard at this point to differentiate between a necessary self-existent Universe from the self-existent God of the Leibniz cosmological argument, except that perhaps one is impersonal and one is personal.

Second, its hard to see how a materialist or naturalist is warranted in ascribing this self-existence to the universe. If everything they see in the universe is contingent, then on what basis would the summation of all those things, be necessary? And, if the universe is not the summation of all things in the universe, but more than the universe, then aren’t we just using Universe as a different word for God?

Therefore, the explanation of the reason of the universe is God (following from 2 and 4)

It logically follows, then, that the reason, or explanation, or cause, of the universe is God.

Evaluation

The Leibniz Cosmological Argument provides a strong demonstration of some ultimate, self-existent, necessary being which we call God, but it doesn’t go much further. If this was all we had, we could be left with the Deist conception of God, that Being which “wound up”  the universe and then stepped away.

But when combined with the Moral Argument we can learn more about this Necessarily Existing Being, as a Personal and perfectly good Law Giver.

Up next… the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Book Recommendation

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision

Does God Exist? The Moral Argument

On March 7, I’m going to be starting a Facebook Live series: “Is Christianity True?” The intent of series is to explore the truth of Christianity. The schedule for the series is as follows:

March 7 – Does God exist? The Moral Argument

March 14 – Does God exist? The Cosmological Argument

March 21 – Can God be known and is the Bible reliable?

March 28 – Did Jesus rise from the dead?

April 4 – How could a good God allow suffering?

April 11 – Has science disproved religion?

April 18 – Is religion harmful?

April 25 – Q & A

If you’re interested in following the series, “Like” the Facebook page Wyoming Park Bible Fellowship and be prepared to tune in on the dates above, from 7:15 – 7:45.

The most basic question one must answer, not only the Christian, but anyone, is this: Does God exist? There are strong reasons to believe that He does, and the two most compelling reasons, at least for me, are the first two topics of this series: The Moral Argument and The Cosmological Argument. The Moral Argument reasons that if an objective Moral Law exists, a moral Lawgiver must also exist. The Cosmological Argument reasons that there must be a source or origin outside the universe, an unmoved Mover or Creator. The Moral Argument reasons from moral intuitions and the Cosmological from philosophy and, to a large degree, from science.

The Moral Argument

I start with the Moral Argument. I take as my two primary sources C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, book 1, and William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, chapter 4. Each frame the argument a little differently, but Craig’s approach is more systematic, so I adopt his outline.

The Moral Argument can be framed as follows:

  • If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  • Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  • Therefore, God exists

Step 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

What do we mean by “objective moral values and duties”? By objective we mean that something is right or wrong, good or evil, independently of what people think or perceive. For instance, if the Nazi’s had successfully killed or brainwashed everyone who disagreed with their worldview, would the Holocaust still be evil? A person who believes in objective moral values, believes that, even if no one recognized it as such, the Holocaust would still be evil.

The question remains, then, if God does not exist, could this still be true? Could we find the Holocaust objectively evil? There are two primary worldviews we must consider here, the Naturalist (or Materialist) worldview, and the Theistic worldview. By Naturalist, I mean, the belief that there is nothing outside of our material universe, that there is not God or Lawgiver.

Could a Naturalist find a basis for exists of objective morals and duties? It doesn’t appear so. And, in fact, many explicitly deny that we should. For instance, prominent atheist Richard Dawkins declares “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, not good, nothing but pointless indifference… We are machines for propagating DNA… It is every living object’s sole reason for being” (Craig quoting Dawkins). On the Naturalist account of the world “moral values are just by-products of socio-biological evolution” (Craig).

The most detailed account of this “socio-biological evolution” I have read is Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. Haidt aims to provide (1) a sociological description of our “moral intuitions” and (2) an explanation of where they came from. He argues that they are the product of, first, biological evolutionary processes and then social processes. But he is careful to note that he isn’t referring to any objective reality when he speaks of morality. Instead, for Haidt, morality is what is good for the propagation of the tribe. Morality itself, as an objective reality, is an illusion.

On the Naturalistic view, there is no objective difference between a human and any other animal. Those who believe otherwise are guilty of speciesism. But we don’t hold animals to be moral agents. In nature, a hawk that captures a fish kills it, but does not murder it. And a second hawk that takes that same fish from the first hawk takes it but does not steal it. In the animal kingdom, rape and incest are frequent events, but we do not pass moral judgments on those species for whom it is common. Why should hold humans to a moral standard, especially if no objective moral standard exists?

The Naturalist must conclude, then, that our moral intuitions are rooted not in moral objectivity, but either in the accidental path of our biological evolution, or the even more accidental nature of our habits, customs, feelings, or fashions.

I don’t want you to misunderstand the argument. I’m not saying that you can’t be a descent person without believing in God. And I’m not saying that a person can’t recognize objective value in human beings apart from believing in God. Indeed, experience tells us that it is possible to recognize that humans are objectively morally different from animals and that objective morals and duties do exist, even without belief in God. This is what we see in Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. He cannot help by draw moral conclusions and declare moral duties, even though at the back of it all, he “knows” them to be mere illusions.

The Christian should expect this. Christians believe that God has given us each a sense of right and wrong, and that the only way to deny its reality is to consciously suppress that truth. Even if we succeed in adopting a sort of moral nihilism, though, we cannot help but make moral judgments as though there were really an external moral law to which we could appeal. Craig is careful to draw out this distinction in framing the argument: “I’m contending that theism is necessary that there might be moral goods and duties, not that we might discern the moral goods and duties that there are.” The question for the moral argument isn’t whether or not we’re able to see moral goods and duties – most everyone can – but whether or not they actually exist, or could exist apart from God.

Step 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.  

C.S. Lewis begins Mere Christianity by reminding us of a scene we’ve witnessed many times: A quarrel.

“Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: ‘How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?’ – ‘That’s my seat, I was here first’ – ‘Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm’”

What we learn, says Lewis, is that when people argue in this way they aren’t merely saying that they don’t like what the other person’s actions. Instead, they are appealing to some standard of fairness or compassion or empathy, which the other person has violated. This “standard” Lewis calls the Moral Law. It is what we would refer to in this context as the “objective moral values and duties.”

Now, most people recognize that this Moral Law really exists, and not only subjectively in our minds, but objectively in reality. Child abuse, rape, and genocide are evil. They violate an immutable Moral standard. Larry Nassar’s abuse of hundreds of girls was objectively wrong. We don’t simply say that we didn’t like what he did, or that it was harmful to “propagation of the tribe.” We sense in our bones, that it was really evil.

Yet, some have argued against such an account of reality. For instance, is the argument that our moral intuitions developed from “natural” biological processes, a reason to doubt those moral intuitions. If Haidt’s theory of the origin of this “moral sense” were correct, should we doubt the reality of a moral law? No. If you believe that your eyesight developed through biological evolution, would you thus doubt the objectivity of the reality which you see? That would be preposterous. At best, this argument would show (if it shows anything) how we came to sense the Moral Law, not whether or not such a Moral Law actually exists.

Again, one could argue that there can be no such Moral Law because different people and different groups have such different conceptions of what is right and wrong. Yet, Lewis points out that these differences are not so divergent after all. There are differences, to be sure, but there are even more points of agreement. And, in the case where there are differences, we intuitively judge between those differences.

Lewis, writing during the age of World War II, asks whether or not we can judge between the British and the Nazi’s: “What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom know as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had no notion of what we meant by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the colour of their hair.” In fact, we recognize the difference in the moral visions between the Nazi’s and the Allies, we judge them against a Standard, and we find the Nazi’s vision corrupted and twisted. How can we speak of moral progress, of say the abolition of slavery, if there is not some goal to which we are progressing?

Martin Luther King Jr. is credited as saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”[1] Did his words have meaning? If we think they did, we’re agreeing with his vision of a “moral universe” and some standard called “justice” to which it could conform.

Practically, moral relativism ultimately breaks down. One moment we’ll be saying there is no Good or Evil, and the next we’ll notice some evil done to us. “It’s not fair! It’s unjust! How could they?” Or, perhaps, we’ll from the perspective moral relativism, judge those who establish a moral system we find constricting. But what are we judging them against? If it’s all a preference, how could we weigh our freedom of greater value that their restrictions? The words and feelings remain, but they have lost their meaning.

Indeed, I doubt whether anyone can really live consistently in a state of moral nihilism. I am thankful, in fact, that this doesn’t appear possible. Our moral intuitions give us a sense of moral reality, just as our physical senses give us a picture of physical reality. To deny either is to risk epistemological suicide.

Step 3: Therefore, God exists

Since it can be established that moral objective duties and values exist and that no reason for their existence can be found in a world without God, it follows that God exists.

What sort of God exists? First, He must be the source of that objective goodness, that Moral Law or standard against which we are able to judge everything else. If such a standard exists, it must exist in God. Secondly, if there are to be moral duties, if those standards are to apply to us in a meaningful sense, then He must also give us moral commands. He is the source of moral goodness – which exists as part of His essence – and he is the source of moral duties – which issue as binding commands directly from His nature.

Based on this argument alone, we’re still a long ways off from Biblical Christianity, but that’s why there are eight sessions in the series.

What questions does this post bring up? What objections might be brought against the Moral Argument?

Book Recommendations 

Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics

 

[1] Martin Luther King did say this, but he was quoting Theodore Parker. Also, my view of history is not as optimistic here. Every time we take a step forward – as we did in the civil rights movement – we take a step backwards. Justice will be fulfilled on the earth, but it will come in a flash, not in a slow arc.