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The Anthropological Argument: Part 2

In my previous post I briefly summarised some anthropological arguments for God’s existence that have been used over the centuries. In this post I shall state and defend a specific anthropological argument, and examine if it is a good and convincing argument. Unlike other anthropological arguments which appear on the surface to be rhetoric, I shall express this one syllogistically.

1) Whatever man needs to exist, exists.

This premise is wholly plausible. For instance, man needs water to exist. Its a sure bet then that water exists. Air is needed to fill my lungs so I can continue to exist and therefore, since man does continue to exist, air exists.

Similarly, man needs relationship to exist. This existential need is no less real for its lack of physicality. Even hermits have pets. There is something about man that is relational. Recall the film Castaway, with Tom Hanks. Whilst alone on his island, he made a ball a friend and called it “Wilson” out of his need for relationship. That relationship was as real as the island about him, and just as essential as food and water for his continued existence, despite the ball being an inanimate object. When we are alone we turn on the TV or radio just for the sound of it to fill the house, for there is a need in us to have relationship, however impersonal it may be. Which leads us to our second premise.

2) Man needs God to exist.

To support this premise one could cite the religious impulse of man, or that for all human beings worship, in some form, is inescapable. Appeals to universal human existential questions, such as; “Is life meaningful or meaningless? Is there a purpose in existence? When gazing at the stars in the night sky the powerful vista evokes the question in all of us, are we are alone in the universe?

One might also appeal to the need of humans to have objective moral values and duties, and for a necessary first-cause to first create and then sustain human contingent existence. But these are utilised in other argument of Natural Theology, and as much as possible we want to let this argument stand on its own legs.

There does seem to be something about ourselves that requires something more than what the earth and all its treasure can provide. In similar fashion to Augustine, the songstress Stacie Orrico observes,

“There’s gotta be more to life,
than chasing down every temporary high to satisfy me
‘Cause the more that I’m
Tripping out thinking there must be more to life,
Well it’s life, but I’m sure, there’s gotta be more
than wanting more.”

We reach for the transcendental. We seek for the sublime. People strive all their lives to fill the hole in their chests, even if they never realise that is what they’re doing. Often the most successful men and woman are empty inside. Some of the deepest lows come after achieving the greatest heights and finding it was not as fulfilling as they hoped it would be.
God seems uniquely capable of fulfilling the existential needs of humans. Especially in regards to meaning and immortality, but also with respect to grace as a solution for guilt, purpose for living, hope for the future, fulfilment as a productive member of society in the present, etc. This leads us to the conclusion.

3) Therefore, God exists.

But is this a good argument?

Excursus: I hold that for an argument to be “good” it must be logically sound, having no formal or informal fallacy, with true premises. However, one need not know if certain premises are true, these premises must only be more plausible than their contradictory. If an argument has all these criteria then one is rationally obliged to accept the conclusion, no matter how painful or annoying it may be. That makes it a good argument. Obligation to be rational aside, one hopes that the simplicity of the argument and plausibility of its premises is convincing to at least some of those who would naturally be opposed to the conclusion. But I do not hold this hope to be a condition for a good argument.

As the conclusion does flow logically from its premises, commits no informal fallacy that I am aware of, the only question that remains is this; are the premises true or at least more plausible than their contradictory. There seems to be nothing wrong with the first premise, so attention diverts to the second premise. Does man need God to exist?

I think so. For all the reasons given above, and those I cannot express. Also, as a Christian theologian I believe it to be so on the basis of Biblical revelation. However, I can see that these reasons would not be convincing to an obstinate atheist, nor someone mired in a naturalistic worldview, where the idea of God merits no more consideration than the toll of a distant bell [1] does a teen who thinks he’s invincible. As long as God remains an unfelt existential requirement the detractor of the argument can simply deny the second premise and be done with it.

This pattern I find to be the weakness of all the anthropological arguments. Though it meets my criteria for being a good argument, it fails to be a convincing argument to anyone significantly detached from Christianised anthropological thought. This is not an indictment of the anthropological argument, it merely reveals a limit of its utility in evangelism and apologetics.

It does however seem to me that this specific anthropological argument (along with other reasons of course) lingers in the background of many people’s story of how they eventually came to accept Jesus Christ as King of their lives. C.S Lewis said “emptiness is at the center of my being.” This emptiness or need could well be the method God uses to draw people to himself, just as salt on the tongue draws a camel to water. So while it is not the argument itself, it is the deep intuition of the subject of this argument which convinces in the end. As Augustine said “We have a God-shaped vacuum in us that can only be filled by Him.” I would only add it might be the case that it is only until Christ enters into our lives that we recognise the vacuum was indeed God-shaped.

1) a knell: the sound of a bell, esp. when rung solemnly for a death or funeral. Figuratively used with reference to an announcement, event, or sound that is regarded as a solemn warning of the end of something.

The Anthropological Argument: Part 1

The Anthropological argument is actually a family of arguments, all of which have human beings as their starting point. An Anthropological Argument for God’s existence is then any argument which begins with man and ends with God as an explanation. In this post I shall briefly summarise examples of popular anthropological arguments and how they have been employed. In my next post I shall state and defend a specific anthropological argument, and examine if it is a good and convincing argument.

Some examples of anthropological arguments are;

(1) The argument from the human body as an exquisite biological machine. (2) The argument from the beauty of a human person in the totality of his being. Both of these however, in my opinion, are best described as a type of the teleological argument. It is understandable that the categories in Natural Theology would have some cross-over.

(3) The argument from mind or consciousness of human beings could be described as anthropological. However this is a large field of enquiry in both breadth and depth, and besides this strictly does not argue for God’s existence – at most I think it proves that God’s existence as an immaterial mind is possible because immaterial minds are exemplified in the human persons. Accordingly this type of argument I think should be placed in a separate category of its own.

(4) Blaise Pascal’s whole apologetic method was anthropological. Unhappy with the traditional arguments for God’s existence efficacy to convince, he decided to start with something people could not ignore – themselves. His first step was to dispel apathy. He would then observe that man is simultaneously noble and wretched. For instance,

“The greatness of man is great in that he knows himself to be wretched. A tree does not know itself to be wretched. So it is wretched to know one’s wretchedness but it is great to know that one is wretched. (218)”

So man is wretched because the universe can easily crush him like a reed. But man is noble because he knows this, while neither the reed nor the universe takes any note. After other examples he goes on to explain how it is only the Christian religion that is able to explain this seemingly contradictory state.

(5) C.S. Lewis included an anthropological type argument in his apologetic. This was captured in a song by New Zealand’s popular singer/songwriter Brooke Fraser.

“If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the felsh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
?then of course I’ll feel nude when to where I’m destined, I’m compared.”

(6) Francis Schaeffer used an anthropological type argument in conjunction with his cosmological arguments, arguing a universe that includes personal beings must be a result of a personal cause, for a non-personal universe cannot produce personal beings. This argument by itself seems thin on the ground, but gains its force in the context of the rest of his writings.