The Atheistic Argument from Evolution

It is a common taunt among combative non-theists (henceforth called atheists) that evolution, because it is a well-established scientific fact, somehow provides positive proof that God does not exist. God, as the title of the evolutionary zoologist Richard Dawkin’s book proclaims, is a delusion. If this is so it then follows that belief in God is the same as belief in Santa Clause, which directly opposes our best scientific knowledge. Read more

Faith Seeking Understanding

Gregory E. Ganssle explains when certain issues take us beyond the parameters of scripture we must think both Christianly and philosophically.

Christian philosophers have traditionally sought to think Christiainly by thinking in the mode of faith seeking understanding. This mode was introduced as early as Augustine (354-430) and has been articulated throughout the history of the church. What it means to operate in this mode is that Christian philosophers recognize that they know some things by faith in a reliable authority. For example, they know some things simply because they see them in the Scriptures. As God’s written revelation, the Scriptures are reliable indicators of what is true. Philosophers begin with this knowledge (we could call it faith-knowledge) and try to reach another kind of knowledge (understanding-knowledge). Understanding knowledge is knowledge gained through the application of one’s own reason.

Faith seeking understanding is not an approach for turning mere beliefs into knowledge. Rather, it is a mode for turning one kind of knowledge into another kind. It turns faith-knowledge into understanding-knowledge. We begin with God’s revelation in the Scriptures, recognizing that we know certain things based on it. We then apply our reasoning to these things to see if we can also grasp the same things by our reason. Grasping some issue by our reason often involves a process of unfolding what is only suggested or hinted at in the Scriptures. Thus philosophers may differ from each other in what they claim to have grasped.[1]

[1] Gregory E. Ganssle, Four views: God & Time (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2001) p. 11-12.

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 Two Cities

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise,”–that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride,–“they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, “and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, “that God may be all in all.”

Augustine, Of The Nature Of The Two Cities, The Earthly And The Heavenly, Book XIV Chap. 28.

Augustine of Hippo, 354 – 430

Today was Friday the 13th. While the paraskevidekatriaphobic among us may shiver at the date, the rest of us can rejoice that, 1655 years ago, Augustine was born. The Bishop of Hippo was one of the greatest church fathers and theologians in the early history of Christianity. Daniel D. Williams has said that if Alfred North Whitehead is right – that Western philosophy has been a series of footnotes to Plato – then Western theology can be said to be a series of footnotes to Augustine. But the African bishop’s brilliance was not just in theology; his writings (the most significant of which are Confessions and City of God) also exhibited enormous philosophical reach. In comparing Confessions with Plato’s Republic or Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, it is difficult not to be struck by the differences. Augustine does not offer us any less of a comprehensive philosophical vision than those works, but while Plato’s Republic is written as a dialogue and Kant’s Critique is written as a treatise, the Confessions is written stunningly as a prayer.

And it is Augustine’s legacy of piety and theological acuity that has strongly influenced the church. It is difficult to find a highpoint that has been unaffected by him. In the medieval period, Anselm and Thomas Aquinas depended upon him, while in the sixteenth century Luther and Calvin’s reaffirmation of  the importance of God’s grace in salvation was rooted in Augustinian thought.  In fact, B. B. Warfield once confidently claimed: “It is Augustine who gave us the Reformation.” It is difficult to overstate his importance and for anyone who wishes to grapple with the foundational ideas of the Christian tradition and Western philosophy, even after sixteen centuries, Augustine remains one of the most penetrating and significant guides.augustine

What art Thou then, my God?

Most highest, most good,
most potent, most omnipotent;
most merciful and most just;
most hidden and most present;
most beautiful and most strong,
standing firm and elusive,
unchangeable and all-changing;
never new, never old;

ever working, ever at rest;
gathering in and [yet] lacking nothing;
supporting, filling, and sheltering;
creating, nourishing, and maturing;
seeking and [yet] having all things.

And what have I now said, my God, my life, my holy joy?
or what says any man when he speaks of Thee?
And woe to him who keeps silent about Thou,
since many babble on and say nothing.
Augustine, Confessions 1.4.4

Is Biblical inerrancy a late innovation of the Church?

One of the most persistent arguments against the inerrancy of the Bible is that it is late innovation in the history of the church. Inerrancy is said to be the product of the rationalist, Enlightenment mindset that prevailed in the nineteenth century and today, with the collapse of modernism, the rejection of foundationalism and other Cartesian assumptions, it is argued that inerrancy should be jettisoned with the now defunct philosophy that generated it.

While there are many ways to define inerrancy, the theological doctrine is usually understood as the view that the Bible is without error in all that it affirms (the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy remains a useful evangelical benchmark). Certainly, the Bible isn’t a catalogue of facts, and its truth canvasses literary genres that are rich and complex and must be appropriately grasped – but if God Himself does stand behind the production of the Bible, then it must be entirely truthful. Many Christians, however, are uncomfortable with the perceived contradictions between the Bible and discoveries in history and science or even internal difficulties within the Bible itself. Some have therefore sought to articulate more modest positions for what we can say Scripture is. Critical of inerrancy and what they see as a strict modernist understanding of the Bible, some promote a return to a more primitive, pre-modern understanding, where the Bible can be viewed as primarily concerned with questions of salvation and faith. Without a high view of the Bible, greater latitude can be allowed in its claims (and errors) concerning other fields of knowledge.

But does this suggestion hold up to scrutiny? Was the notion of an inerrant, infallible Bible a recent theological innovation, and merely the product of particular Enlightenment assumptions?

Without getting into a full discussion of inerrancy, several quick comments can be offered:

1. While it is true that the earliest proponents of inerrancy in the modern period, B. B. Warfield, A. A. Hodge and others, were shaped by the Enlightenment, this influence has been exaggerated. Critics have often argued that both Warfield and Hodge, writing in the late 1800s at Princeton University, were too heavily dependent on a modernist philosophy, known as Scottish Common Sense Realism. Scottish Realism was an outlook that affirmed the human ability to know, and set out conditions for what could count as knowledge. The outlook opposed the skepticism of David Hume and sought to revive the European Enlightenment commitments to science, rationality and the Christian tradition. What is ignored, however, is the fact that the contemporary opponents of Warfield and Hodge and of the doctrine of inerrancy they defended, were no less dependent on this same philosophical position. It is a simply a mistake to conclude that a high view of Scripture is anchored to one philosophical outlook when those who denied that high view were equally reliant on the same outlook.

2. The fact that the Dutch and Germans adopted a similarly high view of Scripture cannot be avoided, and especially when these theologians were not dependent on the same philosophical outlook, and at times, even fought against it. Among the European Reformed heritage, heavyweights like Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck both put forward a view of Scripture that accorded with Warfield and the other Princetonians. For example, Kuyper, while recognizing the diverse literary categories of the Bible, argued that if Scripture contained error, than “God is guilty of error”. (For a deeper discussion on these two, check out: ‘God’s Word in Servant-Form: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck on the Doctrine of Scripture’ by Richard B. Gaffin Jr.)

3. While there may not have been any attempt to articulate a comprehensive theory of inerrancy before Warfield et al, it is wrong to suggest that inerrancy was not the default view of the church. The best endeavours to assign inerrancy to a late stage of historical development have been ably criticized and do not bear up to rigorous historical research. Church historian Mark Noll has observed: “Most Christians in most churches since the founding of Christianity have believed in the inerrancy of the Bible . . . . [This] has always been the common belief of most Catholics, most Protestants, most Orthodox, and even most of the sects on the fringe of Christianity”.

John Woodbridge has marshaled many examples from church history to show that the suggestion that there was no idea of an infallibly inerrant Scripture before Warfield is mistaken. For example, Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist in the second century, wrote:

“…but if (you have done so) because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that it might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext (for saying) that it is contrary (to some other), since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself”.

Or Augustine of Hippo, a Latin church theologian and philosopher, writing in the fourth century said, ” I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error”. Or again: “therefore everything written in Scripture must be believed absolutely”.

Others have shown that inerrancy has been a central church doctrine from the patristic times. Donald Bloesch notes that inerrabilis (roughly “inerrant”) was used by Aquinas and Duns Scotus to describe Scripture, while both Martin Luther and John Calvin characterized the Bible as being infallible and without error. Calvin, for example, described Scripture as an “unerring rule” for Christian life and faith (“So long as your mind entertains any misgivings as to the certainty of the word, its authority will be weak and dubious, or rather it will have no authority at all. Nor is it sufficient to believe that God is true, and cannot lie or deceive, unless you feel firmly persuaded that every word which proceeds form him is sacred, inviolable truth.” The Institutes of Christian Religion)

The notion that a high view of Scripture is tied to a particular philosophical outlook late in the history of church is simply misleading. Christians have sought to articulate the truthfulness of the Bible, on the same exegetical grounds, irrespective of their position in the history of the church. Don Carson, research professor of the New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, writes:

“If one insists that a high view of Scripture cannot or should not be maintained today, one should at least acknowledge that one is walking away from the ancient and central tradition of the church, and from the teaching of Scripture itself.”