Refuting Moral Relativism

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Philosophical apologetics often deals with the branch of philosophy called ethics. Ethics deals with issues of morality, that which is right and wrong.1 The Christian ethical perspective holds to absolute moral values, laws that are universally binding. Often, non-Christian views hold to moral relativism. Moral relativism rejects the idea that there are objective rights and wrongs.2 What is right for one person is not necessarily right for another person, and vice versa. Each person decides what is right for himself. Many atheists and pantheists are moral relativists.3


Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher. He believed that the advances of human knowledge had proven that belief in God was a mere superstition. Nietzsche therefore reasoned that since “God is dead,” all traditional values have died with Him. Nietzsche was angered with his atheistic colleagues who were unwilling to dismiss traditional moral absolutes which had no justification without God’s existence.4

Nietzsche preached that a group of “supermen” must arise with the courage to create their own values through their “will to power.” Nietzsche rejected the “soft” values of Christianity (brotherly love, turning the other cheek, charity, compassion, etc.); he felt they hindered man’s creativity and potential. He recommended that the supermen create their own “hard” values that would allow man to realize his creative potential.5 Nietzsche was very consistent with his atheism. He realized that without God, there are no universal moral values. Man is free to create his own values. It is interesting to note that the Nazis often referred to Nietzsche’s writings for the supposed intellectual justification for their acts of cruelty.6

Many other atheists agree with Nietzsche concerning moral relativism. British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) once wrote, “Outside human desires there is no moral standard.”7 A. J. Ayer believed that moral commands did not result from any objective standard above man. Instead, Ayer stated that moral commands merely express one’s subjective feelings. When one says that murder is wrong, one is merely saying that he or she feels that murder is wrong.8 Jean-Paul Sartre, a French existentialist, believed that there is no objective meaning to life. Therefore, according to Sartre, man must create his own values.9

There are many different ways that moral relativists attempt to determine what action should be taken. Hedonism is probably the most extreme. It declares that whatever brings the most pleasure is right. In other words, if it feels good, do it.10 If this position is true, then there is no basis from which to judge the actions of Adolph Hitler as being evil.11

Utilitarianism teaches that man should attempt to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people.12 Utilitarianism is problematic. First, “good” is a meaningless term if moral relativism is true, for then there would be no such thing as good or evil. Second, to say that man “should” do something is to introduce a universal moral command. However, there is no room for universal moral commands in moral relativism.13

Joseph Fletcher founded “situation ethics.” Situation ethics is the view that ethics are relative to the situation. Fletcher claimed that he was not a moral relativist. He believed that there was only one moral absolute: love. Still, his concept of love was so void of meaning that his view of ethics, for all practical purposes, is synonymous with moral relativism.14

The situation never determines what is right. It is God who determines what is right. Still, the situation may aid the Christian in finding which of God’s laws should be applied.15 For when two of God’s commands come in conflict due to a situation so that a person cannot obey both, God requires that the person obey the greater command. God then exempts the person from obeying the lesser command. An example of this is the fact that god compliments Rahab the Harlot for lying in order to save two innocent lives (Joshua 2; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).16


Moral relativists deny absolute moral law. Still, they, like all people, recognize the evil actions of others when they are wronged. When they are wronged, they appeal to an objective and universal law that stands above man. Moral relativists deny absolute moral law in the lecture hall, but they live by it in their everyday lives.17 Moral relativists reserve the right for themselves to call the actions of Hitler wrong,18 but, if there is no such thing as right and wrong (as the moral relativists say), they cannot really call any action wrong.

The moral law does not ultimately come from within each individual, for then no one could call the actions of another, such as Hitler, evil.19 The moral law does not ultimately come from each society, for then one society could not call the actions of another society (such as Nazi Germany) wrong.20 Finally, the moral law does not ultimately come from world consensus,21 for world consensus is often wrong. World consensus once thought the world was flat. World consensus once considered slavery morally permissible.

Appealing to world or societal consensus as the ultimate source of the moral law is actually just an extension of the view that the individual is the ultimate source. The difference is only quantitative (the number of people increases). However, for there to be a moral law above all men (in order to judge all men), this moral law must be qualitatively above all men. If there is an absolute moral law qualitatively above all men, then there must be an absolute moral law Giver that stands qualitatively above all men. The moral law is not descriptive of what is; it is prescriptive of what should be.22

Since the absolute moral law leads directly to the existence of the theistic God (the absolute moral law Giver), many atheists and pantheists may feel compelled to reject it’s existence. Also, people who wish to live promiscuous lives often choose to reject God’s existence. The apostle John appears to be talking about these people:

And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (John 3:19-20).


1 Geisler and Feinberg, 24-26.

2 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 240.

3 Geisler and Watkins, 59, 99-100.

4 Friedrich Nietzsche, 95-96, 143, 228.

5 Ibid., 124-125, 139, 191, 197-198.

6 Copleston, A History of Philosophy vol. 7, 403.

7 Russell, 62.

8 Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 32.

9 Geisler and Feinberg, 406.

10 Ibid., 400-401.

11 Geisler, Christian Ethics, 36-37.

12 Ibid., 63.

13 Ibid., 73-75.

14 Ibid., 43-61.

15 Geisler and Feinberg, 411.

16 Ibid., 424-427.

17 Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. 1, 210.

18 Hick, The Existence of God, 183-186.

19 Moreland, 246-247.

20 Ibid., 243-244.

21 Geisler and Feinberg, 355.

22 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 27-28.

Postmodernizing Religion

by Paul Pardi

Religion often has been seen as a necessary balance to the stiff, cold, conclusions given to us by science. Whereas science tells us what the world is, religion tells us what the world means. However, since the enlightenment, religion has, for many, lived in a tension: religious believers are concerned that the object of their faith is “true” yet see the rationalist approach to religion with its deductive proofs for God’s existence and rigid, analytic approach to doctrine as a bane to religious belief and practice. When thinkers like Hume and Kant showed these “proofs” to be inadequate, religion either fell on hard times or survived under the auspices of an irrational activity called faith. The post-Enlightenment period certainly has not been easy on religion but is religious belief destined to be either irrational or irrelevant? Enter postmodernity.

Many philosophers of religion see the adoption of some strain of postmodern thought as a valuable return to the ineffable quality of religion that was lost in the modern period. Releasing God from the shackles of the modernist, logic-chopping philosophy enhances faith and encourages devotion. In this sense some see postmodern thought as a welcome friend to religion. The postmodern epistemology seems to serve as a fine bedfellow for faith in a transcendent being. James Turner in his penetrating *Without God, Without Creed* concludes his historical analysis of the rise of atheism in Western culture with the following insight: “The crucial ingredient, then, in the mix that produced an enduring unbelief . . . boiled down to a decision to deal with modernity by embracing it—to defuse modern threats to the traditional bases of belief by bringing God into line with modernity. Put slightly differently, unbelief emerged because church leaders too often forgot the transcendence essential to any worthwhile God. They committed religion . . . *intellectually* to modes of knowing God fitted only for understanding this world.”

In fact the religious mind has been skeptical for some time of attempts to make God the conclusion of a syllogism or logical proof or scientific discovery. Most conservative believers of any religion would not claim to have come to faith in God by way of some argument. These same believers also, when asked why they believe, would not cite a list of evidences justifying their beliefs. On the face of it, it appears that postmodern epistemology justifies what the religious believer wants to claim: the most important truths are not based upon evidence, reason, and logic but upon experience and community. Thus, under the postmodern epistemology, religion moves out from under the scientistically-bent modernist label “irrational” to the postmodern “non-rational.” For many religious persons, the latter is much better than the former. J. Bottum concludes an article for *First Things* by highlighting a distinct value postmodernity provides to the Catholic apologist, “There is perhaps a use we might make of the postmodern in apologetics, for the collapse of modernity may allow believers to speak once again about God without defensiveness or self-consciousness.”

As with most issues in philosophy, not everyone sees the outlook for the union between postmodern epistemology and religious belief with the same optimism. One immediate question that comes to mind is this: has the postmodern epistemology changed the nature of religious belief or has religious belief always rejected what Alan Padgett calls “linear, scientific thinking” and thus finds the postmodern epistemology a welcome and long-awaited friend? Philosophers of religion now are wrestling with these questions. Interestingly however, this debate doesn’t have two sides but three. There are those who adopt the postmodernist epistemology and see a clear application of that epistemology to religion. As an example of an implementation of this approach, the University of Chicago Press has an intriguing series dealing with postmodernism and religious belief. Their 21 volume collection entitled the *Religion and Postmodernism Series* edited by Mark C. Taylor (who recently released his fourth contribution to the series entitled, *About Religion : Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture*) covers a variety of topics from a somewhat narrow range of authors (including the eminent Derrida himself).

On the other side are those that are highly critical of this union. As might be expected, the criticisms surface not on the marriage itself but on the postmodern epistemology in particular. Of course, it naturally follows that if the postmodern epistemology is vacant, one certainly does not want to marry it to religious belief. *Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy* edited by Roman T. Ciapalo critically examines these very issues. The general consensus of the anthology is that postmodernism is generally a negative influence on Christian thought. Similarly. St. Mary’s College in Twickenham, England will be discussing the viability of the relationship between religion and postmodern epistemology in their conference entitled *Religion and the Cultures of Postmodernity: Quests for Meaning in a Fragmented Age* in June of 2000. On a more popular level, a group called The Crossroads Project is promoting a book by Dennis McCallum entitled *The Death of Truth*. They held a conference with the same title that addressed issues surfaced in the book. McCallum sees postmodernism largely as having a negative influence on culture despite the inadequacies of a pure modernist worldview.

Somewhere in the middle of this debate (and probably most in keeping with the postmodern spirit) are those that see both negatives and positives in the postmodern approach to knowledge and thus in it’s application to religion. The University of Indiana Press has released two back-to-back titles dealing with the subject of postmodern thought and religion in its *Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion*. Merold Westphal (who has done his own share of writing on Kierkegaard and Hegel and serves as General Editor of the series) edited *Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought* which deals with the new challenges postmodernity brings to the Christian idea. Similarly *God, the Gift, and Postmodernism*, edited by John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon sympathetically treats the discussion between postmodern theology and the postmodern epistemology putting Derrida and theologian Jean-Luc Marion into dialog.

As I read the introductions to these books and skimmed the chapters, I found that the authors were less concerned with getting a set of “facts” before the mind of the reader and more concerned with constructing images. Communicating factual information, seems to imply rigidity of thought and a one-way, author-to-reader monologue. These authors seem more interested not in telling the readers what to believe as true, but in creating images that are more ideologically fluid and “dialogical.” Still, the books represent a position that holds, for the most part, that postmodern thinkers like Derrida have it right (whatever that might mean) and the project of these volumes is to explore how notions like deconstruction and the “hermeneutics of finitude” might apply to religion.

I asked philosophers Dr. C. Stephen Evans and Dr. Merold Westphal about this movement in philosophy of religion towards postmodernity. I asked Dr. Evans if he saw postmodern philosophy to be a friend or a foe of religious belief. He said, “I am inclined to say both friend and foe. Obviously, it is a friend in unmasking Enlightenment rationalism and its attacks on the rationality of faith. But it is an enemy in undermining respect for objective truth and developing suspicion about ‘metanarratives.’” He sees postmodern philosophy’s biggest aid in that it tears down religious epistemic hubris and opens the door for a more “perspectival” understanding of knowledge given the human condition (which, under the Christian framework, is a state of sinfulness and depravity). On the other hand, “The most damaging aspect is that it can lead to a loss of faith in truth and in the human capacity to know anything, and this in turn leads to a loss of conviction, a pluralistic ‘tolerance’ of everything.” he said. “What we need is an understanding of our finitude and sinfulness that does not despair of the possibility that there is a truth to be known and that we can at least approximate that truth in part.” Evans captures the essence of what many philosophers of religion are trying to do, at least in the West, in evaluating the application of postmodern philosophy to religious systems.

Westphal was a bit more optimistic about postmodernism’s influence on religion. In fact Westphal indicates that postmodernism surfaces a commonality among the major religious systems of the world. He stated, “The great monotheisms, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic, have insisted that God is ultimately unfathomable, ineffable, mysterious, beyond the capacity of created intellects to comprehend. This is a joint reflection on the nature of God as infinite and on the nature of human understanding as finite. Postmodern epistemology is an analysis of the finitude of human understanding on its own terms, without reference to creation or the Creator. But there is an agreement about the inability of human knowledge to grasp totality, infinity, the ultimate.” Westphal affirms that providing this sense of our own epistemic finitude is one of the most auspicious functions of postmodernizing religion. He’s quick to point out, however, that in accepting that finitude, postmodernism may take us too far. “The danger, to which both secular postmodernists and theistic thinkers are sometimes prone, is to assume that if we cannot have everything we cannot have anything, that the only alternative to absolute knowledge, fully adequate (perfect mirror) to its object is cynical nihilism.” Westphal appears to want to caution against this. This is a common *festina lente* that theists tend to apply to the postmodern project vis-à-vis their secular counterparts.

One more important observation needs to be made. One does not have to dig very deeply to see the close affinities postmodern philosophy has with much of Eastern thought, particularly Eastern *religious* thought. Whereas systems like Buddhism and Daoism tend to embrace what appear to the western mind to be contradictions (in the form of, for example, a koan) in an attempt to train the mind to live with contradiction, the postmodern mind isn’t so radical. Postmodernism tends to apply interpretive lenses to contradictions and thus make the contradictions less, well, contradictory. Hegel’s patrimony here is obvious (a fact which makes me think Schaeffer’s observation that modern Christianity’s woes are due primarily to Hegelian thought came three decades too early; Schaeffer may turn out to be more correct than any of his commentators realized). Interestingly there does seem to be some movement on bringing Eastern religious thought and postmodern philosophy together. A paper by Ian W. Mabbett called “Naagaarjuna and Deconstruction” attempts to demonstrate just this. Speaking of Naagaarjuna and Derrida he writes, “Eastward and westward: opposites meet. Perhaps the apostle of the Middle Way and the prophet of infinite deferral have something in common.”

For my own part, being the modernist that I am, I find the notion of a postmodern religion both disturbing and largely incomprehensible. Still, if I were to make a prediction I’d say that a postmodern religious system, like much of Kant’s writings, is just obscure enough that at the end of the day, many philosophers of religion and theologians will find it irresistible.

Philosophers’ War Over the Soul

by Paul Pardi

Recently, in an op-ed piece for Newsweek magazine, George Will roundly criticized Princeton philosopher Peter Singer for holding to a form of utilitarianism that allows him to deny that humans have intrinsic dignity and value and that, in some cases, killing a newborn could be morally justified. In the same vein as Singer, philosopher and professor of psychology at MIT Steven Pinker argues that personhood probably is a degreed notion having to do with possessing “morally significant traits” like memories and a sense of community; traits that “immature neonates don’t possess . . . any more than mice.” His conclusion: perhaps newborns aren’t truly persons and the immorality of taking their lives isn’t as clear-cut as some moral philosophers pretend it is.

Certainly one of the main themes in the philosophy of religion regarding immortality and personhood is that of deciding what to do with the soul. Should the soul end up in the intellectual discard pile along with phlogiston and witches or does the soul actually exist? Much of the current thinking on this subject focuses on this question. At first this may seem like an issue for philosophers of mind rather than for philosophers of religion. Actually, the issue concerns both. The philosopher of mind is interested in determining the ontological question: Does the soul exist? The philosopher of religion is interested in the implications of that ontology. In addition to moral implications, there are theological ones as well. For example, If we have no soul, then it is hard to make sense of the idea of immortality, yet immortality is a core tenet of most religious belief. As William James once noted, “Immortality is one of the great spiritual needs of man. The churches have constituted themselves the official guardians of the need . . .”

So there are two issues that concern the philosopher of religion. First there is the ontological question of whether or not there actually is a soul. Second, there are the moral and theological (and one might say anthropological) implications of the answer to that question. The apparent tension that exists between the current work being done in philosophy of mind and religious teaching seems to be constituted by a disparity between the “hard facts” of science that tell us that we’re nothing more than our bodies and brains, and religious dogma that seems to go contrary to that claim. For religion in the West, much of the religious teaching on the soul and the afterlife comes from a revelation from God (such as the Bible). In much of Eastern thought, the idea of immortality constitutes a fundamental principle upon which the entire religious structure is based. Boston University has been looking at solutions from both sides of the divide. For the past year, the university’s philosophy department has been examining this issue in its Institute for Philosophy and Religion. The title of this year’s program is “If I Should Die: Life, Death, and Immortality. Some of the titles of upcoming seminars are, “If I Should Die Before I Am Awakened: Buddhist Reflections on Death” and “Is There Life After Death? Where Are The Dead?” by Jürgen Moltmann.

Taking the lead from the current trend in philosophy of mind, many philosophers of religion are opting to dissolve the tension between the soul and the body by getting rid of the soul and translating “soul talk” into body or brain talk. They accept the current scientific thinking on mind-brain reduction and then argue that revelation claims are completely compatible with that thinking. A recent book edited by a team of theologians and philosophers at Fuller Seminary entitled Whatever Happened to the Soul? by Fortress Press (this book recently was reviewed in the current issue of the journal Philosophia Christi) does just that. In light of the current trend toward materialist views of consciousness, this book does not have anything new to offer regarding the ontological status of the mind. It does, however, have a lot to say about how one ought to understand religious claims regarding the soul and the afterlife in light of that trend. (Another novel approach to this problem was taken up recently by Australian philosopher Peter Forrest in his God Without the Supernatural by Cornel University Press.)

More traditional philosophers of religion balk at this approach. Many of these thinkers hold to some form of substance dualism. First, they argue that if we reject the idea of a substantial, immaterial soul, many aspects of the mind and personal identity simply cannot be explained adequately. Second, it becomes very difficult to understand the idea of an afterlife without talking about it in terms of a soul. Two new books argue against reductive materialism and for forms of substance dualism in just this way. William Hasker’s latest, The Emergent Self also from Cornell (part of the Cornel Studies in the Philosophy of Religion series) attempts to argue for a form of dualism (which he calls “emergent dualism”) while still recognizing “the critical role of the brain and nervous system for mental processes.” Whereas the Fortress book tends lean much more heavily on the side of mind to brain reduction, Hasker seeks to preserve the more traditional role for the soul while taking into account the recent discoveries in brain research. Given the newness of the book, Hasker’s contribution has not been adequately evaluated as to its viability as a player in the discussion.

The second book, Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics  by J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae (due out in March by InterVarsity Press) takes a more traditional view and defends a substance dualist view of the soul. The first part of the book, treated by Moreland whose particular strength lies in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, deals with the important metaphysical questions related to this issue. In the second part, ethicist Rae teases out the implications of the view for bioethics. Recently there has been a rash of articles and reviews that, like Moreland and Rae, call into question the viability of a purely materialistic view of the mind. William A. Dembski in the Catholic journal First Things, “Are we spiritual machines?” in an article with that title. Similarly, Matt Donnelly, in the most recent issue of Books and Culture entitled an article with the question, “Is Science Good for the Soul?” in which he explores the recent (what he calls) monist-dualist debate.

Western thinkers aren’t the only philosophers and theologians dealing with these questions. For example, Robin Cooper has written a book on Buddhist thought and its compatibility with recent brain research called The Evolving Mind: Buddhism, Biology, and Consciousness. The issues that are raised in Buddhist thought vis-à-vis Christian theology are markedly different. In a review for the Catholic University of America, Charles Jones wrote, “As one might expect, the resonances and tensions that emerge from the juxtaposition of Buddhism and modern science differ markedly from those that arise from the current struggles to position science within a Christian theological framework.” The point here is that the tensions that exist between modern science and traditional views on the body and soul cross religious traditions and the east-west boundary.

Which side will end up winning the favor of the academy is tough to answer. As far as philosophy of religion goes, there does seem to be a trend towards more traditional thinking regarding the soul and afterlife. This is true in spite of the opposite view dominating philosophy of mind. Given that the majority of thinkers historically have held to the existence of both a soul and an afterlife, this may be one area where philosophers of religion would be wise to refrain from too quickly abandoning their roots.


by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Christianity is a religion based in history. The claims, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth occurred in history. For this reason, historical apologetics (to be discussed in Part Six) is of great importance. If one can prove that Jesus really did rise from the dead in history, then one will have gone a long way towards establishing Christianity as the true religion. However, before an apologist can engage in presenting historical evidences for the resurrection of Christ, he must first answer the philosophical objections against the possibility of miracles. If miracles are by definition impossible, then it makes no sense to look into history to see if Jesus really rose from the dead.

The strongest philosophical argumentation against miracles came from the pens of Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677) and David Hume (1711-1776). Spinoza was a pantheist.1 He believed in an impersonal god that was identical to the universe. He reasoned that an impersonal god could not choose to perform miracles. Whatever an impersonal god does, it must do by necessity. Spinoza believed that nature necessarily operates in a uniform manner. Therefore, he argued that the laws of nature cannot be violated. Since miracles would be violations of the laws of nature, they are impossible.2

David Hume was a deist. He believed that after God created the universe, He no longer involved Himself with His creation. Hume reasoned that miracles, if they occur, are very rare events. On the other hand, the laws of nature describe repeatable, everyday occurrences. Hume argued that the wise man will always base his beliefs on the highest degree of probability. Since the laws of nature have a high degree of probability while a miracle is improbable, Hume considered the evidence against miracles always greater than the evidence for miracles. Therefore, according to Hume, the wise man will always reject the proposed miracle.3


Spinoza argued that miracles are impossible. Several things should be mentioned in refutation of Spinoza’s argument. Though it is true that a pantheistic god cannot choose to perform a miracle (a pantheistic god is impersonal and, therefore, cannot choose anything), there is strong evidence that a pantheistic god does not exist.4 As the cosmological argument has shown, a theistic God exists.5 A theistic God is a personal God, and a personal God can choose to perform miracles.

Second, Spinoza’s premise that the laws of nature can never be violated is suspect. The laws of nature are descriptive; they are not prescriptive. In other words, the laws of nature describe the way nature usually acts. The laws of nature do not prescribe how nature must act.6

Third, Spinoza’s definition of a miracle as a violation of the laws of nature is objectionable. It is possible that miracles do not violate the laws of nature; they merely supersede the laws of nature. C. S. Lewis argued along these lines.7

Fourth, if God created the universe, then the laws of nature are subject to Him. God can choose to suspend or violate (depending on how one defines a miracle) the laws of nature any time He wishes. In short, Spinoza has failed to show that miracles are impossible.


Hume, unlike Spinoza, did not argue for the impossibility of miracles. Instead, he argued that miracles were so unlikely that the evidence against them will always be greater than the evidence for them. Hume argued that miracles are improbable, and that the wise man will only believe that which is probable. Hence, the wise man will never accept evidence for a miracle.8

The Christian apologist can respond to Hume’s reasoning in the following manner. Just because usual events (the laws of nature) occur more often does not mean that the wise man will never believe that an unusual event (a miracle) has occurred.9 The wise man should not a priori rule out the possibility of miracles. The wise man will examine the evidence for or against a miracle claim, and base his judgment on the evidence. Since there were over 500 witnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), a wise man would not reject the miracle of the resurrection merely because all other men have remained dead. It seems that a wise man would examine a miracle claim if there are reliable eyewitnesses. If there is no good reason to reject the testimony of reliable eyewitnesses, it seems that a wise man would accept their testimony that a miracle has occurred.


Some people will not accept any event unless it has a natural cause. Therefore, they reject miracles because they have a supernatural Cause (God).10 But, the cosmological argument has shown that the universe itself needs a supernatural Cause (God). Therefore, if there is a God who created the universe, then He would have no problem intervening in His universe by supernaturally working miracles within it. A person cannot rule out miracles simply because his world view does not allow them. If his or world view is weak (such as pantheism and deism), then he has weak reasons for rejecting miracles. If, on the other hand, a person has strong evidence for his world view (such as theism), and that world view is consistent with the reality of miracles, then he has strong reasons for believing that miracles are possible.

This chapter has only shown that miracles are possible. A later section of this work deals with historical apologetics. At that point, evidence will be examined to see whether miracles have occurred or not. Philosophical argumentation can only show that miracles are possible. Historical evidences must be utilized to determine if an alleged miracle (such as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead) has in fact occurred.


1 Norman L. Geisler, Miracles and the Modern Mind (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 18.

2 Ibid., 15.

3 David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1955), 117-141.

4 see article on Failure of Other Non-Theistic Worldviews.

5 see article on the Cosmological Argument.

6 Terry L. Miethe, ed. Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987), 18.

7 C. S. Lewis, Miracles, 59-60.

8 Geisler, 23-28.

9 Ibid., 27-31.

10 Ibid., 50-51.

Is (Belief in) God Dead?

by Paul Pardi

Most philosophers of religion do not believe that the traditional deductive “proofs” for God’s existence work. Many that do believe they work do not see them as formal proofs but as inductive arguments that make a cumulative, probabilistic case. Does this mean that the business of defending religion (formally known as apologetics) is dead? To the contrary, in certain circles, apologetics is an active area of study for philosophers of religion. In fact, it is hard to find a philosopher of religion writing today who is not concerned with the subject at one level or another.

Yet despite the current prominence of the discipline, the formal task of what philosophers of religion today have come to know as “defending of the faith” actually is a rather late development. The short story goes something like this. Before the enlightenment, the idea of defending belief in God against atheistic argument was rather unheard of. Instead, formulations of logical proofs or the culling of historical and scientific evidences was part of a larger programme of developing a well-rounded theology. Rarely did anyone think that proofs were necessary in order for one to have a rational faith. In fact the idea that one would need to depend on arguments for belief in God was foreign to the mainline, pre-enlightenment philosophers who thought about the matter.

When Locke, Kant, and Hume came on the scene ostensibly destroying the formerly stalwart ideological fortresses with their bifurcation of reality and skeptical view of knowledge, God’s existence, as well as other religious truth claims, came under attack. Unfortunately for many, a result of the enlightenment attack on certainty undermined the force of the theistic “proofs” and the reliability of the scientific and historical evidence (at least qua evidence). Almost immediately, these rational defenses of God’s existence became passé at best and at worst were considered fallacious or rationally unacceptable. The reaction of many theists was to attack directly the Enlightenment thinking and develop a rationalistic counterattack that had the theistic proofs at its core. Out of this came the formal discipline of apologetics—the project of rationally defending the existence of God. Under this project, the proofs and evidences that formerly served as a support to faith now came to ground it.

For many believers and philosophers however, faith continued despite the attack on the proofs. As I already mentioned, pre-enlightenment theism never really relied on the proofs as a ground for faith anyway. There was a difficulty though. Though pre-enlightenment theism didn’t rely on the proofs, they did play an important supporting role to faith. The average believer’s attitude towards formal arguments for God’s existence was like the typical American mindset towards the US judicial system: my daily freedom doesn’t depend upon my knowing it but its nice to know its there if I ever need it. When post-enlightenment thinkers dismantled the formal proofs, many believers decided to devalue them altogether (epistemically speaking) and take a more “experiential” approach to grounding belief in God. To push the judicial analogy one step further, the new attitude was like the attitude of one who rejects the court system after finding out that all the United States Justices are on the Mob’s payroll. The term “fideist” or “existentialist” has been applied to the most radical forms of this movement though on the average, these terms would be too drastic. Philosophy of religion then entered the post-enlightenment, post-modern era with God’s existence largely being grounded either by strict evidentialism or by rejecting evidentialism and appealing to personal conviction based on leaps of faith. These two approaches have dominated apologetics up to the present time. Recently, however, many philosophers are returning to the pre-enlightenment approach to apologetics (a move which, in no small part, is due to a rejection of the enlightenment epistemology).

Even so, the Enlightenment has had a significant effect on apologetics and all three approaches have significant characteristics that mark them as post-Enlightenment. First, they are focusing less on ontology and more on epistemology. That is, philosophers are becoming more concerned with defending the belief that God exists than with rationally proving God existence per se. The difference is subtle but important. In the not so distant past, one would be inclined to ask and answer the question, “Does God exist?” Presently we’re more apt to hear the question framed as, “Is it more reasonable to believe that God’s exists than that He doesn’t?” The changing nature of public and philosophical discourse may be part of the reason this shift may have occurred (discussed below). After all, apologetics is, by definition, a defense ad populum. If one’s apologetic does not reach the minds of the ones to whom the apologetic is aimed it is entirely ineffective as a defense. The second main trend is that of trying to wed a strong evidentialist approach to the more existential one by attempting to demonstrate the rationality of the apologetic system even if the apologetic itself isn’t rationalistic. For example, Reformed apologists are working on arguments that attempt to that one’s experiences of God are veridical and therefore provide an adequate ground of rational belief in God.

I’m concerned here with highlighting apologetic trends as they apply to theism in general and not a particular religion like Christianity or Islam. However it is significant to note that much of the good work in apologetics is being done in the context of a particular religion. For example, Zondervan just released Five Views on Apologetics that discusses five evangelical Christian approaches to defending belief in God. Another example can be found in the scholarship of the Catholic Church. The Pope’s latest encyclical demonstrates the church’s continued commitment to evidentialism. His Fides et Ratio is garnering attention from all Christian denominations both Catholic and Protestant. It is a fine work and upholds the commitment to the integration of the spiritual life with the life of the mind. (For a Reformed evaluation of the encyclical, see the Books and Culture special article, “Faith and Reason.”)

Still, many philosophers of religion working in the field of religious epistemology and apologetics are concerned with the rationality of theistic beliefs. This type of apologetics provides a foundation for the work being done at the level of a specific religious system. This past spring, the University of Aberdeen focused its International Gifford Conference on natural theology. Natural theology attempts to develop a philosophy of religion and theology apart from any revelation claim. The Conference, titled, “Natural Theology: Problems and Prospects,” featured papers by theists and non-theists alike.

Probably the most creative work being done in the evidentialist camp falls under the rubric known as “Design Theory.” Berkely law professor Phillip E. Johnson (author of the widely read, Darwin on Trial; Johnson’s latest book, The Wedge of Truth, is directed against naturalism and was just published by Intervarsity Press) is spearheading this “movement.” In the United States, The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think-tank, has pooled together some of the top minds doing work on the subject. The fellows of the Institute’s “Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture”, which include Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski , and Stephen C. Meyer, have been writing on a wide variety of topics and speaking all over the country promoting design as a theory of explanation. In November, CRCS will be hosting a conference at the venerable Yale University entitled, “Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe.” This conference, like the “Design and its Critics” conference recently held at Concordia University, will be a forum for presentations on both sides of the question.

Interestingly, the arguments of design theorists like those mentioned above are not given under the auspices of an apologetic per se (though their work does include some apologetic work). That is, these philosophers are not arguing that their conclusions entail that belief in God is more reasonable than not. Rather, they are arguing for design as a theory in and of itself. For example, Demski’s now famous The Design Inference barely mentions theism in the entire monograph. The goal of the book is to describe ways in which design could be detected in events. However, or so the thinking goes, if one buys the system’s conclusions then theism isn’t too far off. At the very least, accepting design in the universe certainly makes theism more reasonable than not. This example brings to the fore the subtle shift in the way apologetics is being done. Though this certainly does not represent the entire evidentialist field, it does I believe represent an important direction evidentialist apologetics is taking.

A second way philosophers have defended belief in God has gotten an ideological boost in recent days from postmodernism. This second approach might be considered the antithesis of evidentialist apologetics. I will call this approach “deconstructionist” apologetics (I’m loathe to use that term because of the baggage it carries but I do think it is the best term for this position). The idea is that the rationality of belief in God is not dependent upon beliefs being formed in the mind of a would-be believer by way of evidence or, in some cases, even an act of God. Rather a religious belief is rational because the believer made a choice to believe based on what she loves and hates. Some of the spin-offs, I believe, of this fundamental epistemology are religious pluralism. Much of the recent work by John Hick, D.Z. Phillips and some of the process philosophers like Hartshorne, and on the more postmodern side, Jean-Luc Marion and John Caputo (and one might even include here Cornel West).

Some readers may find it odd that I’m suggesting that a person like Hick or Caputo is doing apologetics. It is odd in the sense that these philosophers are not intentionally attempting to present a defense of theistic belief. However if one considers that the project of folks like Hick and Caputo is to place religious belief within a modern, scientific, pluralistic framework and make it “fit,” it becomes clear that they are seeking to rescue religious belief from irrationality or irrelevance. In that sense, they are constructing an apologetic.

It should be clear that this approach is the terminus ad quem of the move away from a metaphysical or ontological apologetic to an epistemological one. If, for example, someone like Hick can show that all religious belief just is an affective movement towards “the real” then perhaps the religious believer really isn’t all that different from the inquisitive scientist who is seeking to discover the nature of the universe. Religious belief then becomes much more “rational” than it would be if we took all that talk about a real, transcendent person seriously. So, whether religious belief is viewed merely as a language game, a private narrative, or an internal longing for something transcendent, it becomes protected from the criticisms of non-religious epistemology (it becomes irrelevant whether or not there really is a God as construed by orthodox religions). Religion becomes isolated from the rest of one’s noetic structure and thus is not subject to the rationality constraints of it. This claim itself becomes a defense of religious belief. For an excellent overview of the developments taking place in this space, see David G. Kamitsuka’s new book, Theology and Contemporary Culture published by Cambridge (especially chapters 2 and 3).

The third approach to doing apologetics incorporates, very broadly, some features of the first two approaches. The third approach agrees with the deconstructionists in that enlightenment-style rationalistic evidence and philosophical argument are not viewed as necessary to ground belief in God and to make it rational. However, it also holds that this approach to belief —rejecting evidentialism— itself is rational and presents arguments and evidence in an attempt to argue for that conclusion. Most of the philosophers, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and William Alston being the most prominent, who are developing ideas in this area are doing so under the auspices of Reformed epistemology. (The version of Reformed epistemology I discuss here is not the only version. C. Stephen Evans is developing a version of Reformed epistemology along Kierkegarrdian lines that is seeking to be sensitive to postmodern concerns. See my WHiP article “Postmodernizing Religion”).

Where these philosophers differ from the deconstructionists is in the fact that they believe religious knowledge is objective knowledge. That is they hold that religious belief actually is of something real. They differ from the evidentialists in that they deny that belief in God has to come by way of evidence and argument. Rather, believe in God, like other types of belief (e.g. beliefs formed by perceptual experience) can be formed by an internal function or by way of an act of God or a combination of both. For example, thinkers in the Calvinist tradition hold that belief in God is formed by way of  a capacity of soul that is designed to detect God. When formed in this way, the belief is both immediate and rational.

Plantinga’s latest opus, Warranted Christian Belief, is already receiving much critical attention and is an apologetic in the truest sense. In it, Plantinga does three major things. First he argues that all of the arguments against the rationality of God fail. He examines the critiques of Kant, Freud, Marx, and looks at postmodern critiques and attempts to show why their critiques of religious belief don’t work. Second, he painstakingly develops the notion of a sensus divinitatus—a divine sensor—that allows a human being to directly detect and form belief in God. He draws on the rich Christian tradition found in folks like Calvin, Saint Thomas, and Jonathan Edwards. Finally, after establishing the rationality of theism, he argues for the rationality and superiority of the Christian religion specifically. Though the book primarily is a discourse in religious epistemology, it serves as a staunch defense of the rationality of belief in God and is aimed and “defeating defeaters” for that belief. This is a paradigmatic example of the return to the pre-enlightenment philosophy.

It seems to be the nature of human beings to want to provide reasons for believing the things most dear to them even if those beliefs turn out to be irrational or just plain false. Given that philosophers tend to be among the more inquisitive, I think its fairly safe to say that apologetics will continue to be a dominate discipline within philosophy of religion for the foreseeable future. In philosophic years, that’s millennia.

The Failure of Other Non-Theistic Worldviews

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Theism is the view of reality which holds to the existence of a personal God who is separate (transcendent) from the universe though involved (immanent) with it. 1 Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are the three main theistic religions. 2

It has been shown that atheism, the world view that there is no God, has failed to prove its case. This means that theism may be true. It is therefore possible that God exists. However, before looking into arguments for the existence of the theistic God, discussion of other non-theistic world views is necessary to show that they have also failed to prove their cases.

The non-theistic world views (other than atheism) include pantheism, panentheism, deism, finite godism, and polytheism. If these world views fail as atheism has failed, then the case for theism will become more probable since it is the only remaining major world view. Of course, the case for theism will reach a high degree of probability only if strong arguments can be advanced in its favor.


Pantheism is the world view that teaches that God is the universe. 3 Pantheism is based upon monism, the belief that all reality is one being. 4 Hinduism and some adherents of Buddhism are pantheistic in their thought. 5 The New Age Movement (the invasion of Western Society with Hindu thought) is also pantheistic. 6

Pantheism teaches that God is not a personal being. Instead, God is an impersonal force. 7 Since pantheists believe that all reality is one being and that God is this one reality, they believe that each individual is God. 8 In fact, individual existence is merely an illusion since all reality is one being. 9

There are several problems for pantheism which cause it to fail as a world view. First, many beings exist, not just one. 10 As Christian philosopher Norman Geisler has pointed out, it is actually undeniable that I exist. 11 For if I attempt to deny my existence, I must first exist to make the denial. 12 For nothing can deny nothing. Only an existent being can deny its own existence. Therefore, I exist. However, if I try to convince others that I alone exist, I must first affirm their own individual and separate existence by communicating with them. 13 In other words, to argue for pantheism is to admit that pantheism is false. To argue with others is to affirm the existence of others, and if more than one being exists, then pantheism cannot be true.

A second problem with pantheism is that there is strong evidence that the universe had a beginning. Both the big bang model and the second law of thermodynamics reveal this. 14 Also, if the universe is eternal, the present moment could never have arrived. But since the present moment has arrived, only a finite number of events could have occurred in the past. 15 Therefore, there was a first event. The universe had a beginning. Since from nothing, nothing comes, everything that had a beginning needs a cause. Hence, the universe needs a cause. 16 But, for pantheism to be true, the universe would have to be eternal and uncaused.

Third, pantheism claims that reality is ultimately impersonal. This is the same as saying that reality is non-intelligent and non-moral. 17 But for someone to deny the reality of intelligence, he must first assume he has the intelligence to make the denial. 18 Even pantheists pass moral judgments on others. In fact, many pantheists have been known to protest violence and the production of nuclear weapons. 19 They have fought for stricter anti-pollution legislation and campaigned for animal rights. 20 It is hard to find a pantheist who is not vocal about his or her moral beliefs. Pantheists must explain where intelligence and morality come from. Could intelligence and morality have been caused by a non-intelligent and non-moral being? It appears more probable that the Ultimate Cause of intelligence and morality must Himself be an intelligent and moral Being. 21

Fourth, why should anyone accept the pantheistic claim that the world is an illusion? Does not common sense and experience favor the reality of the physical world? Why should anyone embrace pantheism without any evidence when common sense and experience teach otherwise? 22

For these four reasons it appears that pantheism, as a world view, has failed. If an alternative to theism is to be accepted, one must look elsewhere.


Panentheism has been described as the belief that the universe is God’s body. 23 In this world view, God is conceived of as having two poles to His existence. In His potential pole, He is infinite, unchanging, and eternal. In His actual pole, He is finite, changing, and temporal. 24 Unlike pantheism, panentheism views God as personal. 25

Panentheism fails for several reasons. First, God cannot be both infinite and finite. This would be the same as saying that God is both unlimited and limited, 26 and this is an obvious contradiction. The Christian concept of God is one of an infinite God in His basic nature. 27 Panentheism, on the other hand, holds the contradictory concept of a God who is both infinite and finite in His basic nature.

Second, panentheism is again contradictory when it declares God to be both eternal (without a beginning) and temporal (with a beginning). 28 One cannot have it both ways. Either God is eternal or God is temporal. In the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, the eternal God added a temporal nature to his eternal nature. 29 This involves no contradiction, but, in the case of panentheism, a contradiction is evident. If the eternal pole of God caused the temporal pole of God to come into existence, then it would make more sense for the panentheist to refer to the temporal pole not as God, but as God’s creation. But then the panentheist would cease to be a panentheist. In fact, he would then be a theist. 30

Third, panentheism teaches that God actualizes His own potentialities. However, this is impossible. No potentiality can actualize itself. For instance, empty cups cannot fill themselves. For a potentiality to become actual, something actual must actualize it. As a result, the panentheistic god, if it existed, would need the theistic God to actualize its potential to exist. 31 Therefore, Panentheism fails as a world view.


Deism is the world view that promotes the belief in a God who created the universe but no longer has any dealings with it. 32 The deist believes that God allows the world to operate on its own in accordance with natural laws that He has set in motion. 33 God does not perform miracles or interrupt the natural course of events. 34

Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine were deists of the eighteenth century. 35 Though deism is not as popular as it once was, similar views are held today by many Unitarians and religious humanists. 36

Several objections to deism deserve mention. First, deists deny a miracle-working God. Yet, they admit one of God’s greatest supernatural works when they affirm His work of creation. If God could create the entire universe out of nothing, then could he not perform lesser miracles? 37

Second, if God cared enough to create the universe, then why doesn’t He care enough to be involved with it? 38 And, third, the deistic view of natural laws is outdated. Natural laws are now considered by scientists to be descriptive of the general way nature acts. No longer are natural laws thought to prescribe what can and cannot happen in nature. 39 Natural laws cannot automatically rule out miracles, just as the occurrence of usual events does not disprove the possibility of unusual events occurring. 40

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, deism was a strong movement. 41 Much of its popularity was due to the belief that the science of that day had proven miracles to be impossible. 42 However, now that this misconception has been overturned, deism is no longer the attractive world view that it once was.


Finite Godism is a world view that accepts the existence of a god. However, it believes He is limited. 43 Adherents differ as to how God is limited. Some believe He is limited in His power. 44 Others consider Him limited in His knowledge or His goodness. 45

Devotees of Finite Godism usually promote their world view as the answer to the problem of evil. 46 They reason that an all-good and all-powerful God would not allow evil and innocent humans to suffer in the world. 47 Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, holds this view. He believes that evil proves God is not perfect and that He is limited in power. 48 For if God could prevent it, reasons Kushner, God would not allow the innocent to suffer. 49 Kushner asks others to forgive God for His failures. 50

Several responses have been given to those who believe in the existence of a finite God. First, all finite existence needs a cause for its continuing existence. 51 Finite beings are, by definition, limited beings. And limited beings, precisely because of their limitations, must depend on other beings to keep them in existence. In fact, if everything that exists is limited and dependent, then nothing would now exist. For there must exist an infinite Being that is the cause of the continuing existence of all finite and dependent beings. In other words, a finite God would depend on an infinite God for its existence. However, a finite God would not be God after all. Only the infinite Being is God. 52

Second, a finite God doesn’t deserve worship. 53 Only a being that is ultimately worthy is deserving of worship. A God with limitations is surely not ultimately worthy. Only an infinite Being is deserving of worship.

Third, evil does not prove that God must be limited. 54 An all-good and all-powerful God may choose to allow evil and human suffering for the purpose of a greater good. What exactly this greater good may entail in specific cases may remain a mystery to finite beings, but, the wisdom of an infinite Being far transcends the wisdom of finite beings (Isaiah 55:8-9). A child may question the decision of his parents to allow him to receive surgery. But he does not have access to the amount of information that his parents have, and he does not see that the present pain he is enduring is for the purpose of future healing. The relationship of mankind to God is analogous to the relationship of this child to his parents. Also, God may defeat evil in the future (as the Bible teaches). In fact, only an infinite God can guarantee the ultimate defeat of evil. A finite God cannot. 55

In short, finite godism leaves one with a god who is no God at all. For he, like the rest of the universe, needs a cause. He is not worthy of worship, and he cannot guarantee the defeat of evil. A god who needs help and forgiveness deserves only sympathy, not worship.


Polytheism is the world view that teaches the existence of more than one god. 56 Many Eastern religions accept the existence of many gods. This includes certain forms of Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism, and Jainism. 57 Western thought is itself not without polytheistic belief systems. Ancient Greek mythology expressed polytheistic themes. 58 Several cult groups such as Mormonism, Scientology, and the Unification Church spread polytheism in the West today. 59

Polytheism fails for the following reasons. Either all the gods are finite or at least one of them is infinite. They cannot all be finite. If they are all finite beings, then they would need an infinite Being to ground their existence, but, then this infinite Being would be God. 60

So there must exist at least one infinite Being. It is not possible that there exist more than one infinite Being. If more than one infinite Being existed, they would limit one another’s existence. One infinite Being could prevent the other infinite Being(s) from accomplishing its goals. But then these beings would not be infinite since they would be limited by another’s power. Therefore, there must exist one, and only one, infinite Being. 61 This one infinite Being would alone be God. Therefore, Polytheism fails in its attempt to explain reality.


All world views, except for theism, have been shown to be failures. They are self-contradictory and fail to explain the available evidence. If theism, the only remaining world view, also fails, then skepticism would be the only possible alternative. However, skepticism also fails.

If one decides to be a skeptic, then he has chosen to suspend judgment on all things. He has failed to suspend judgment on his choice to be a skeptic. 62 This, of course, is contradictory. Also, no one can consistently live like a skeptic. For example, if someone suspended judgment on what he should eat, then he would eventually starve to death. 63


Therefore, since skepticism fails as all non-theistic world views have failed, then, due to the process of elimination, theism must be true. Still, the following chapters will include a positive defense of theism.


1 Norman L. Geisler and William D. Watkins, Worlds Apart (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 38.

2 Geisler, Apologetics, 263.

3 Geisler and Watkins, 98-99.

4 Geisler, Apologetics, 173-174.

5 Geisler and Watkins, 78-79.

6 Ibid., 94.

7 Ibid., 98.

8 Ibid., 96.

9 Ibid., 99.

10 Geisler, Apologetics, 187.

11 Ibid., 239.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., 241.

14 Craig, 81-93.

15 Ibid., 81.

16 Ibid., 93.

17 Geisler, Apologetics, 247-249.

18 Ibid., 247-248.

19 Walter Martin, The New Age Cult (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 65.

20 Ibid.

21 Geisler, Apologetics, 247-248.

22 Geisler and Watkins, 102.

23 Ibid., 108.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid., 136.

26 Ibid.

27 Erickson, Christian Theology, 272.

28 Geisler and Watkins, 139.

29 Erickson, 735.

30 Geisler and Watkins, 21.

31 Geisler, Apologetics, 208-209.

32 Ibid., 147-148.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid., 148.

36 Ibid., 181.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid., 182.

39 Ibid., 181.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid., 148.

42 Ibid., 181.

43 Ibid., 188.

44 Ibid.

45 Ibid., 189-190.

46 Ibid., 188.

47 Ibid.

48 Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Avon Books, 1981), 148.

49 Ibid., 134.

50 Ibid., 147-148.

51 Geisler and Watkins, 211-212.

52 Ibid., 212.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid., 212-213.

55 Ibid., 212.

56 Ibid., 217.

57 Ibid., 218.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid.

60 Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, 130.

61 Ibid.

62 Geisler and Feinberg, 93-94.

63 Ibid., 94.

Religion and/or Naturalism: New Life For an Old Debate

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Philosophical Apologetics deals with the rational defense of the Christian Faith. Philosophy means the love of wisdom. 1 One of the functions of philosophy is the attempt to describe the true nature of reality. 2 Philosophy of religion (a branch of philosophy) and apologetics (a branch of theology) overlap in certain areas. 3 Arguments for God’s existence, the philosophical problem of evil, the possibility of miracles, and the nature of morality are common to both philosophy of religion and apologetics. These topics will be examined in this section.


Atheism is the belief that it can be proven that God does not exist. 4 Agnosticism, on the other hand, is the belief that man cannot know whether or not God exists. 5 It is possible to hold weaker forms of either view. 6 However, this chapter is only concerned with refuting the more dogmatic forms of atheism and agnosticism. Only the stronger forms, if proven, would defeat theism. The weaker forms leave open the possibility of theism. However, both atheism and agnosticism, in their strongest forms, are self-refuting.

In order for one to disprove God’s existence (atheism), he would have to be all-knowing. 7 One would need to have the ability to see and know all things in the physical and spiritual realms. In short, one would have to be God to disprove God’s existence. Of course, this is absurd.

Agnosticism is also self-defeating. One must know something about God to know that nothing can be known about God. 8 Obviously, this statement refutes itself. Therefore, agnosticism, like atheism, is a self-refuting view.

Many agnostics say that since man is finite (limited), he can never attain knowledge of an infinite (unlimited) Being. It is true that the finite cannot find the infinite on its own. However, this ignores the possibility that the infinite Being may choose to reveal Himself to finite beings. This is exactly what Christianity claims. The Bible teaches that God reveals Himself through both nature (Romans 1:18-22; Psalms 19:1) and the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).


Throughout history thinkers proclaimed their belief that God was a product of man’s imagination. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) taught that man, due to his fear of death, wishes God into existence. Man recognizes his limitations and fears. God is projected to calm these fears. In short, God is what man wishes to be. 9

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) saw two separate causes for man’s belief in God. First, Freud believed that each boy desires to have sexual relations with his mother. Because of this, he becomes jealous of his father and develops a hatred for him. Second, since man could not fully understand the forces of nature, he began to fear nature. Freud concluded that due to these two factors (man’s guilt for hating his father and man’s fear of nature), mankind deified nature and personalized it into a Father God. 10

It should be understood that the speculation of Feuerbach and Freud was never meant to be used as an argument against God’s existence. Instead, these two thinkers believed that God’s existence had already been proven false by the advances of modern science. Their views were promoted not to disprove God’s existence. Rather, they were promoted as a desperate attempt to explain why nearly all of mankind believes in a non-existent God. Therefore, the ideas of Feuerbach and Freud should not be considered evidence against God’s existence. Instead, their theories were merely attempts to explain away some of the evidence against their views. 11

Freud’s own theories can be used against him. For it seems more likely that atheism is caused by the desire to kill the father image, rather than theism being caused by man’s guilt for wanting to kill his father. 12 In man’s attempt to be autonomous, he wishes God out of existence.

Whatever the case, the speculation of Feuerbach and Freud seems itself to be wishful thinking by atheists. If men were to invent a God, it is doubtful that it would be the demanding God of the Bible. 13 Man would create a more permissive god, much like the gods of the pagan religions. In short, the theories of Feuerbach and Freud offer a more adequate explanation for atheism and idolatry than they do for Christianity. 14


In the first half of this century, A. J. Ayer and his colleagues popularized their view of logical positivism. Logical positivism was based upon the verification principle. This principle declared that for a statement to be meaningful, it has to be either true by definition or verifiable by one or more of the five senses. 15 This meant that all discussion about God should be considered meaningless. 16

If true, this view would be very damaging for theism. Though it would not prove God’s nonexistence, it would make all talk about God meaningless. 17 If one cannot meaningfully talk about God, one cannot speculate about his possible existence.

The problem with the verification principle is that it is itself not true by definition or verifiable by one or more of the five senses. 18 In other words, the verification principle is self-refuting. If the verification principle is true, then it is itself meaningless, for it fails its own test. 19

If atheism is to deliver a fatal blow to theism, it will have to look elsewhere. Logical positivism has failed to render discussion about God meaningless.


Some have maintained that all talk about God is equivocal. 20 In other words, they believe that terms used to describe God have totally different meanings than when they are used in connection with finite beings such as man. If this is true, then man cannot know anything about God. If someone says God is holy, he has uttered a meaningless statement. For man knows what holiness means only when it refers to a man. Man has no idea of what holiness means when applied to God. What holiness means in reference to an infinite being (God) cannot be known by finite beings. If the theist is justified in his or her claims to know something about God, then this objection must be answered

Some theists have argued that terms used to describe God are univocal. 21 This means that they have totally the same meaning when used to describe both God and man. The problem with this view is that it is hard to believe that God is holy in the same way that man can be holy. For God is infinitely holy, whereas man is only finitely holy. Can holiness have the exact meaning for both man and God? It seems not.

Other theists contend that religious language is analogical. 22 They hold that terms used of God and man are not equivocal (totally different meanings) or univocal (totally the same meanings). Instead, terms used of God and man are only analogical (similar meanings). However, this view is also problematic. For if God-talk is analogical, then theologians are still using meaningless terms about God. For terms like “holiness” still lack the same meaning they hold when used of men. We can only know what holiness means when it is applied to man. It appears that there must be some univocal element to God-talk if it is to be meaningful. 23

The answer to this dilemma is to hold the view of Thomas Aquinas. He reasoned that words have the same meaning (univocal) when applied to either God or man However, Aquinas taught that they can only be applied in a similar (analogical) way. 24 Therefore, holiness means the same thing for both man and God. Still, it must be applied finitely to man and infinitely to God. Therefore, God-talk is not equivocal. Theists can meaningfully talk about God.


Jean-Paul Sartre was a famous French philosopher and existentialist. He argued that if the theist persists in his assertion that everything needs a cause, then even God needs a cause. Therefore, the theist, according to Sartre, must argue that God caused His own existence. But, this would make God a self-caused being, which is impossible. 25 For a being to cause its own existence, it must exist before it existed in order to bring itself into existence. However, it is absurd to say that a being existed before it existed. Therefore, reasoned Sartre, since God is a self-caused being, He cannot exist.

However, no informed theist believes that everything (including God) needs a cause. Only dependent beings (beings that have a beginning) need a cause. Since God is an independent and eternal being, He does not need a cause. 26 God is not a self-caused being. He is an uncaused being. His existence needs no cause for He always existed.

Sartre also contended that since man is free, God cannot exist. In his view, if man is free (and Sartre believed so), then there could be no sovereign God. If a sovereign God exists, then men are robots. 27

There have been two ways that theists respond to this argument. One can take a hyper-Calvinistic position and deny human free will. 28 Or, one can simply maintain that God sovereignly chose to make man free. 29 Still, man is not absolutely free. He is free to disobey God and reject Christ, but he is not free to escape the God-ordained consequences of his actions. In short, neither of Sartre’s objections presents insurmountable problems for theism.


The great British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell reasoned that if everything needs a cause, then so does God. But if God doesn’t need a cause, then neither does the universe. 30 As mentioned above, the theist responds to this by pointing out that not everything needs a cause. Only that which has a beginning needs a cause. Since God does not have a beginning, He needs no cause. 31

Secondly, there is both scientific and philosophical evidence that the universe had a beginning. Scientific evidence consists in the second law of thermodynamics (energy deterioration) and the big bang model. The second law of thermodynamics shows that the amount of usable energy in the universe is running down. Therefore, the universe will eventually cease to exist when all its energy is used up. But if the universe will have an end, it had to have a beginning. This means that the universe began with all its energy in a usable state. Hence, the universe had a beginning. 32


The big bang model reveals that the universe is expanding at an equal rate in all directions. This is much like the effects of an explosion which blows debris in all directions. If one goes back in time, the universe would become more and more dense until the entire universe would be compressed into an infinitely small point. This would mark the beginning of the universe. 33

The scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe does not stand alone. Philosophical evidence can be found as well. For if the universe is eternal, there would be an infinite amount of actual events in the past. But then it would be impossible to reach the present moment. For no matter how many events one traverses, there will always be an infinite amount of events left. Hence, the present moment could never be reached. But the present moment has been reached. This reveals that there is only a finite amount of events in the past. Therefore, the universe had a first event. In other words, the universe had a beginning. 34

Bertrand Russell’s objection therefore loses its force. The universe cannot be eternal. It must have a cause. Eventually one must arrive at a first cause, a being that needs no cause. This uncaused being is what the theist calls God.


The French existentialist Albert Camus authored the novel entitled The Plague. In this work, Camus argued that if God allowed the plague to occur, then to fight the plague is to fight God. Therefore, to be religious, one must be anti-humanitarian. Only the atheist can be a humanitarian and remain consistent with his beliefs. 35

However, though God permits the plague (symbolic for evil and human suffering) for the purpose of a greater good, He is nonetheless working to defeat the plague. 36 In fact, the greater good coming from God permitting the plague may include the godly man joining God to battle the plague. 37 Just because God allows something to occur does not make it in itself good. For God could and does allow evil to occur for the purpose of a good that He will bring from the evil.

Therefore, a person can be religious and also be humanitarian without going against his or her beliefs. On the other hand, what is to prevent the atheist from doing whatever he pleases? It seems that the Christian humanitarian is more consistent with his or her beliefs than the atheist is. For in atheism there is no final judgment and moral values are mere human inventions. Atheists are not being consistent with their world view whenever they condemn an action as wrong.


British philosopher Anthony Flew claims that since there is no way to falsify God’s existence, to assert that He does exist is an incoherent statement. 38 Flew is famous for his parable of the invisible gardener. 39 In this parable, a believer and a non-believer come upon a garden in the midst of the wilderness. The believer assumes that there exists a gardener who cares for the garden. The non-believer, however, disagrees. He concludes that there is no gardener. They were not able to detect the existence of the gardener though they ran several tests. They did not see or hear him enter the garden. Even bloodhounds could not smell him. Rather than surrender his faith in the gardener, the believer reasons that the gardener must be invisible and unable to be detected by the five senses. The non-believer responds by stating that there is no difference between this invisible gardener and no gardener at all. In other words, if there is no way to falsify a view, then the view is worthless. 40

Flew declares that just as there is no way to falsify the existence of the invisible gardener, so too the existence of the Christian God cannot be falsified. In short, to claim that God exists is to make a meaningless statement. There is no way to prove it false.

In response to Flew’s objection, several things can be noted. First, the believer views the universe as dependent and in need of a cause. If there were no independent God, there would also be no dependent universe. If the universe could be shown to exist independent of any cause, then this would go a long way to falsifying the God hypothesis. However, scientific and philosophical arguments for an eternal and independent universe have not been successful. Recent thought seems to lead in the other direction. 41

Second, the God of the Bible is not a silent God who is unable to be detected. The Judeo-Christian scriptures are filled with prophecies that were fulfilled hundreds of years after they were recorded. 42 If these prophecies had failed, then the God of the Bible would be falsified.

Third, Christianity claims that the God of the Bible has become a man (John 1:1,14). The invisible gardener has taken visible form. Jesus claimed to be God incarnate. Jesus gave persuasive evidence for this claim by performing numerous miracles in the presence of eyewitnesses. His greatest miracle was when He rose from the dead and appeared to many eyewitnesses. If the first century Jewish religious leaders had produced the rotting corpse of Christ, they would have falsified Christ’s claims and crushed Christianity in its embryonic form. Despite the fact that the Jewish religious leaders had the desire and to do so, they did not produce the body. In a later chapter, the resurrection will be examined in greater detail. What needs to be noted here is that the belief in the existence of the God of the Bible is open to testing and falsification. Instead of claiming that God is an incoherent concept incapable of being falsified, Flew would do better to examine the supposed evidence for the Christian God and then attempt to prove as false the claim that He exists.


One attempt to refute the existence of God is to claim that the God of the Bible has certain characteristics that are contradictory. 43 If this can be proven, the Christian God cannot exist. This atheistic endeavor can take its form in several different arguments. Two examples will suffice.

Atheists often argue that if God is all-powerful, then He can do anything. This would include the ability to create a rock so large that even He cannot lift it. But if God cannot lift this rock, He is not all-powerful. Therefore, concludes the atheist, no all-powerful God can exist. 44

Though the theist agrees that God is all-powerful, he recognizes that there are some things which even an all-powerful being cannot do. Since an all-powerful being will always be able to accomplish whatever He sets out to do, it is impossible for an all-powerful being to fail. The above atheistic argument is arguing that since God is all-powerful He can do anything—even fail. This is like saying that since God is all-powerful He can be not all-powerful. Obviously, this is absurd. An all-powerful being cannot fail. Therefore, God can create a rock of tremendous size, but, since He is all-powerful, He will always be able to lift it. 45

There are several things that an all-powerful being cannot do: He cannot lie, sin, or change His mind (Numbers 23:19; James 1:13; 1 Samuel 15:29). Anything that indicates failure cannot be credited to God. 46

It should also be noted that God cannot do whatever is impossible by definition. For instance, God cannot create square circles. 47 He cannot create a human that is non-human. He cannot make something both exist and not exist at the same time.

In short, when one says that God is all-powerful, one means that God is able to accomplish all that He desires to do. It means that God can do everything that is possible. 48 But even an all-powerful being cannot do what is impossible by definition. God can do many things that are humanly impossible. However, there are some things that even an all-powerful being cannot do.

Therefore, since God is all-powerful, He will always be able to master His creation. He will always be able to lift any rock that He creates. And, since all that exists (besides Himself) is His creation, there is no rock, nor will there ever be a rock, that He cannot lift.

A second example of an argument against God from supposed contradictory attributes is as follows. If something is good simply because God wills it, then good is merely an arbitrary concept. But, if God wills it because it is good, then good is a standard above God. Therefore, either good is arbitrary or good is above God. 49

If the theist concedes either of these two propositions, the concept of God will be damaged. For if good is arbitrary, then calling God good says nothing more than He does what He wills to do. He doesn’t do what is right. He simply acts arbitrarily. Whatever He does automatically is considered right for the mere reason that it is an act of God.

If the theist takes the other alternative of the dilemma, the situation is no better. For if God decides to do something because it is good, it appears that there is a standard of right and wrong above God. But then God would not be the ultimate being. A necessary element of the traditional Christian concept of God is that He is the ultimate being. There is no being greater than God. However, God cannot be the ultimate being if there is a standard of right and wrong to which He must submit. The standard itself would be the ultimate being since it would be above God.

Those who use this objection against theism fail to acknowledge that God wills something because it is consistent with His own good nature. Therefore, the standard is not above God; God is the standard. 50 Thus, good is not arbitrary, for it is based upon God’s good nature. 51


Many atheists believe that the existence of evil is proof that an all-good and all-powerful God does not exist. 52 The significance of this argument requires that an entire chapter of this work be dedicated to its refutation. Therefore, discussion of this objection will be dealt with in a later chapter of this dissertation.


According to the Bible, the real problem with atheists is not an intellectual problem. Rather it is a moral problem. It is not that there is not enough evidence for God’s existence. Instead, the atheist chooses not to submit to the Creator. The Bible declares that those who act upon the truth will come to the light of Christ (John 3:16-21). On the other hand, those who suppress the truth of God’s existence are without excuse. For the invisible God has revealed His existence and power through His visible creation (Romans 1:18-23).

It appears that there are two opposing drives in each person. One is a thirst for God (John 6:35). The other is the drive for human autonomy (Romans 3:10-12). If a persons seeks God with all his heart, he will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). But if he chooses to continually reject the Creator, there is no amount of evidence that will change his mind, unless he chooses to sincerely consider the evidence. All that the Christian apologist can do is provide evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible and to refute arguments for atheism. Once a strong case for Christian Theism is made, the atheist must still choose to accept or reject the evidence. The inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit on the heart of the nonbeliever is necessary, but, in the end, the atheist must choose to follow that persuasion. The ultimate problem is not one of the intellect; it is a moral problem of the will. When all is said and done, one must choose God.


1 Geisler and Feinberg, 13.

2 Ibid., 17.

3 Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 13-14.

4 Geisler and Feinberg, 430.

5 Ibid., 429.

6 Ibid., 296.

7 Geisler, Apologetics, 233.

8 Geisler and Feinberg, 298-299.

9 Sahakian, History of Philosophy, 202.

10 Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion trans. W. D. Robson-Scott (New York: Double Day, 1964), 20-27.

11 Sproul, 49-50.

12 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 229.

13 Sproul, 58, 145-146.

14 Ibid.

15 Geisler and Feinberg, 50.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Geisler and Corduan, 252-271.

21 Ibid., 252.

22 Ibid., 253.

23 Ibid., 255.

24 Ibid., 263-264.

25 Geisler and Feinberg, 293.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid., 295.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 6-7.

31 Geisler and Feinberg, 293.

32 Roy E. Peacock, A Brief History of Eternity (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 67-69.

33 Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993), 19-27.

34 Craig, 81.

35 Geisler and Corduan, 365.

36 Ibid., 365-366.

37 Ibid.

38 Hick, ed. The Existence of God, 224-226.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 Craig, 73-95.

42 Henry M. Morris, Many Infallible Proofs (El Cajon: Master Books, 1974), 181-199.

43 Geisler and Feinberg, 294.

44 Ibid., 294-295.

45 Ibid., 273-274.

46 Geisler, Apologetics, 229.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 Geisler and Feinberg, 226.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Geisler and Corduan, 295-385.

The Teleological Argument

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

The ontological argument tried to prove God’s existence a priori (prior to and apart from experience).1 It sought to establish God’s existence as definitionally true. Rather than trying to deduce God’s existence with logical necessity, defenders of the faith should argue inductively. Apologists must argue a posteriori (from the particulars of experience to God’s existence).2 Thus, they must aim for conclusions that are probable, though not rationally inescapable.

Inductive arguments argue from particulars to the whole.3 They, unlike deductive arguments (which argue from the whole to the particular), do not bring conclusions which are logically necessary. Inductive arguments, at best, only bring conclusions which have a high degree of probability.4 But this is no cause for alarm since almost all of man’s knowledge, if not all he knows, is based on probability.5 The ontological argument (the only deductive argument for God’s existence) has apparently failed. Therefore, Christian thinkers should argue inductively for God’s existence.

Three of the best known inductive arguments for God’s existence are the teleological, the moral, and the cosmological. This chapter will discuss the teleological argument, also known as the argument from design.6


The teleological argument may be the oldest argument for God’s existence.7 Many ancient Greek philosophers reasoned that the the order in the universe could only be accounted for by the workings of an intelligent mind.8 Plato agreed. He referred to God as the Demiurge, which means “hard worker.”9 Still, Plato’s Demiurge differs from the God of the Bible. For the Demiurge designed the cosmos out of preexisting chaotic matter.10 The Demiurge is the designer of the universe, but not the Creator (as He is in Christianity). Plato’s student Aristotle also argued for the existence of a divine Being due to the design in the universe.11

THOMAS AQUINAS (1225-1274)

Thomas Aquinas, the great Christian theologian and philosopher of the thirteenth century, is famous for his five ways to prove God’s existence.12 In Aquinas’ fifth way to prove God’s existence, he argued that some things in nature work towards certain goals despite the fact that they have no knowledge.13 But things without knowledge do not move towards a goal unless guided by something which has knowledge. Aquinas reasoned that just as an arrow requires an archer, so too everything in nature is guided towards its goal by someone with knowledge (God).14

WILLIAM PALEY (1743-1805)

William Paley is famous for his “watch-maker argument.”15 This is probably the best known teleological argument. Paley stated that if a person who had never seen a watch before was to find one in the wilderness, he would conclude that it is a product of intelligent design. 16 He would see that its several parts were put together for the purpose of producing motion. This motion is so well regulated that it is able to mark the time of the day with precision.17 The person would see that if there were any small variation in the shape, size, or position of the many parts of the watch, there would either be no motion at all or motion that would not serve the purpose of keeping time.18 The person would conclude that the watch must have a maker.19

Paley then looked at nature and saw evidence of design similar to that of the watch, but to a greater degree.20 He reasoned that there must be an intelligent Designer of the universe.

Paley’s argument is thought to have been refuted by David Hume, but, this does not appear to be the case. Paley wrote his argument thirty years after Hume’s supposed refutation was published. 21 The watch-maker argument is not vulnerable to the majority of Hume’s criticisms.22


David Hume (1711-1776) raised objections against the teleological argument for God’s existence in his work Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Several of his objections will be mentioned here. First, Hume reasoned that the Designer of the universe would not have to be infinite. Since the universe is finite, its Designer needs only to be finite. 23 However, if Hume was right and the Designer is only finite, then this Designer would also need a Designer. Eventually one would have to arrive at an infinite Designer. Otherwise, there would be no explanation for the design in the universe. For an infinite regress of designers is impossible (this point will be established in the chapter on the cosmological argument).

Second, Hume speculated that since there is evil in the world, one would be justified in assuming that the Designer of the world is Himself evil.24 The Christian could here argue that evil exists merely as a privation of that which is good.25 Hence, for a being to be totally evil, it would have to be non-existent.26 Therefore, it would be impossible for there to exist an infinite evil being.

Third, Hume reasoned that since ships are designed by multiple designers, the universe may have been designed by multiple designers.27 Proponents of the teleological argument respond to this criticism by simply emphasizing the unity found in the universe. For it is more probable that the this unity is caused by one Designer rather than several designers.28

There is evidence that Hume himself did not find these and other objections to the teleological argument unanswerable. The closing paragraph of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion implies that he found the teleological argument to be more probable than the objections he raised.29 Hume’s point seems to be that the case for Christianity based upon the teleological argument does not have a rationally certain conclusion.30 Still, he does express respect for this argument.


It should also be noted that recent advances in modern science have strengthened the teleological argument.31 Science has uncovered that the highly complex information found in the genetic code of living organisms is similar to that of human language. Since human language is known to have been produced by intelligence, it is reasonable to conclude that living organisms were themselves produced by an intelligent Being.32


Defenders of the faith need to recognize that the case for Christian theism does not rest solely on the teleological argument.33 Rather, a combination of other arguments with the teleological argument strengthens the case for Christianity.34 In fact, the objections to the teleological argument can be easily bypassed by utilizing the cosmological argument at the outset to prove the existence of one uncaused Cause of all else that exists.35 Then the teleological argument can be used to show that this uncaused Cause must also be an intelligent Being.36 Therefore, the teleological argument does have a useful, though supplementary, role in proving the existence of the God of the Bible.37


1 Geisler and Feinberg, 288.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 57-58.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 129-131.

6 Craig, 66.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Sahakian, 54.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 70-71.

12 Aquinas, 13-14.

13 Ibid., 13.

14 Ibid., 14.

15 Craig, 68.

16 William Paley, Natural Theology: Selections edited by F. Ferre (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1963), 3-4.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., 13.

21 Craig, 68.

22 Ibid.

23 Geisler and Corduan, 98.

24 Ibid.

25 Augustine, City of God, 508.

26 Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, 154-155.

27 Geisler and Corduan, 98.

28 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 65.

29 Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 95.

30 Moreland, 65.

31 Geisler and Corduan, 104.

32 Ibid.

33 Moreland, 65.

34 Ibid.

35 Geisler, Apologetics, 247-249.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

The Ontological Argument

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

The ontological argument for God’s existence is an attempt to prove God’s existence solely from the idea or concept of God.1 It is an attempt to prove God’s existence from reason alone. No appeal to the facts of experience is considered. In this way the ontological argument differs from other arguments for God’s existence.

All other arguments for God’s existence argue from something in existence to the existence of God. The teleological argument argues from the design in the universe to the existence of an intelligent Designer.2 The moral argument argues from the existence of moral values to the existence of the absolute moral Lawgiver.3 The cosmological argument reasons from the existence of dependent beings to the existence of a totally independent Being.4 Only the ontological argument argues from the concept of God to His existence. The ontological argument alone does not begin with the facts of experience.

The ontological argument was originated by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109AD). Various forms of this argument has been defended throughout history by great thinkers such as Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). Charles Hartshorne, Norman Malcolm, and Alvin Plantinga are three twentieth century scholars who have also defended this argument.5 But, the ontological argument has also been opposed throughout history by other great thinkers such as Gaunilo (a contemporary of Anselm), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), David Hume (1711-1776), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).6 In short, the ontological argument has been one of the most hotly debated issues in the history of philosophy.


In Anselm’s work entitled Proslogium, he introduced this unique argument for God’s existence. Though Anselm himself may not have been aware of the fact, he actually gave two different versions of the ontological argument.7

In Anselm’s first argument, he stated that both believers and unbelievers define God as the greatest conceivable Being. Anselm reasoned that if God does not exist, then a person could conceive of a being greater than the greatest conceivable Being. A person could conceive of a being who had the same attributes as the greatest conceivable Being, but also existed. But, then this would be the greatest conceivable Being. Therefore, concluded Anselm, the greatest conceivable Being must exist.8

Another way of stating this first argument is as follows. The greatest conceivable Being would, by definition, be a being who has every possible perfection. Since Anselm held that existence is a perfection, he concluded that the greatest conceivable Being must exist.9

Anselm’s second form of the ontological argument stated that God, by definition, is a Necessary Being. A Necessary Being is a being that cannot not exist. Therefore, reasoned Anselm, it is a contradiction to say that a Necessary Being does not exist. Hence, concluded Anselm, since God is a Necessary Being, He must exist.10


In Anselm’s own lifetime his ontological argument was opposed by a monk named Gaunilo.11 Gaunilo’s main attack on the ontological argument was found in his illustration of a perfect island. Gaunilo reasoned that we have just as much right in concluding that God exists merely from our idea of a perfect Being as we do in concluding the existence of a perfect island solely from our idea of a perfect island.12 Anselm responded by stating that the analogy between a perfect island and a perfect Being breaks down. For the idea of a perfect island does not include its existence, while the idea of a perfect Being does entail its existence.13 Anselm accused Gaunilo of not understanding what Anselm’s argument was actually saying. Today, many philosophers agree that Gaunilo did in fact misunderstand Anselm’s argument. 14

Still, this does not mean that Anselm’s ontological argument cannot be refuted. Immanuel Kant believed that Anselm’s argument was fallacious. Kant stated that the deficiency of Anselm’s argument was in Anselm’s view that existence is a perfection.15 The concept of God as a Being who has all perfections does not entail the existence of that Being because existence is not a perfection. Existence does not change, in any way the concept of a being, it merely posits actual existence to that being. To say that something has existence is to say that it actually exists outside the mind. The concept of a perfect Being who exists is no greater than the concept of a perfect Being who does not exist. They are both the same concept, though one has existence while the other does not. Therefore, as far as Kant was concerned, it is faulty reasoning to go from the realm of pure thought to the realm of actual existence by treating existence as one of the perfections that the most perfect Being must have.16

From Kant’s time on, this has become the primary objection to the ontological argument.17 Still, many philosophers who agree with this criticism believe that it only applies to the first type of Anselm’s ontological argument. They believe that Anselm’s second argument remains intact despite Kant’s critique. Two of these philosophers are Charles Hartshorne and Norman Malcolm.18


Norman Malcolm defended Anselm’s second type of ontological argument. Malcolm reasoned that the existence of a necessary Being can either be necessary (it cannot not exist), impossible (it cannot exist), or possible (it may or may not exist). Malcolm stated that since no one has shown the concept of a necessary Being to be contradictory (logically impossible), then the existence of a necessary Being is possible. If it is possible for a necessary Being to exist, then it must exist. It is a contradiction to say that a being which cannot not exist (a necessary Being) may or may not exist. Therefore, a necessary being must exist.19 The heart of Malcolm’s argument can be stated as follows. By definition, a necessary Being cannot not exist. Therefore, a necessary Being must exist.20

However, Malcolm admits a weakness in his argument.He concedes that he is unaware of any way to prove that there is no contradiction in the concept of a necessary Being. Therefore, it is logically possible that the concept of a necessary Being is contradictory. Hence, it may be the case that it is impossible for a necessary Being to exist. Therefore, at best, Malcolm’s ontological argument only shows that it is probable that a necessary Being exists. For it is always possible that someone will someday show that the concept of a necessary Being is contradictory.21

Another modern restatement of the ontological argument comes from Alvin Plantinga.22 After years of examining and critiquing the ontological argument, Plantinga proposed his own version of the argument. Though Plantinga viewed Anselm’s argument as problematic, Plantinga considers his own argument as valid.23

Plantinga argued that the greatest possible Being would have to be a being that exists as the greatest possible Being in every possible world. Plantinga concludes that since the actual world is a possible world (it is not an impossible world), then the greatest possible being must exist in the actual world.24

Though Plantinga’s argument appears valid, it ceases to be an ontological argument. Its premises leave the realm of pure reason by assuming the existence of the actual world.25 By definition, an ontological argument must prove God’s existence from the mere concept of God. The other arguments for God’s existence begin with something that actually exists and then argue to the existence of God. Plantinga’s argument should be classified as a type of cosmological argument. It starts with the existence of the actual world and then argues to God’s existence.26

Christian philosophers Norman Geisler and Winfried Corduan consider this the downfall of the ontological argument. For it is always logically possible that nothing exists.27 Therefore, in order for the ontological argument to work, it must start with the premise, “something exists.”28 But, then it is no longer an ontological argument. It starts with actual existence, not pure thought.


An examination of Anselm’s ontological argument has produced several observations. First, most philosophers believe that Immanuel Kant has successfully refuted Anselm’s first argument. Second, Norman Malcolm’s version of Anselm’s second ontological argument leaves the realm of logical necessity since he admits he cannot prove that the concept of a necessary Being is not an impossible being. In other words, Malcom admits that it is possible that someone will someday prove that the concept of a Necessary Being involves a contradiction. Therefore, his argument, if successful, could only prove that God probably exists. And, third, Plantinga showed that the only apparent way to rescue the ontological argument is to begin with the cosmological premise that something exists. But, then the ontological argument is no longer ontological; it leaves the realm of pure reason.

Another factor should also be mentioned. Charles Hartshorne and Benedict Spinoza were mentioned earlier as proponents of the ontological argument. But they both denied the existence of a theistic God. Spinoza’s God was a pantheistic God (a God who is identical to the universe).29 Hartshorne utilized the ontological argument to prove the existence of a panentheistic God (a God whose body is the world).30 Even if the ontological argument is valid (and it seems that it is not), it apparently does not reveal enough about God’s nature to show us what kind of God He (or it) is.31

At best, apologists should suspend judgment on the ontological argument. At worst, it is a failure. Either way, defenders of the Christian faith should look elsewhere to provide evidence for God’s existence.


1 Craig, 61.

2 Ibid., 66.

3 Ibid., 70.

4 Ibid., 62.

5 Geisler and Corduan, 123-149.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., 123.

8 Anselm, St. Anselm: Basic Writings trans. by S. N. Deane (Lasalle: Open Court Publishing, 1966), 7-8.

9 Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley, 102.

10 Anselm, 8-9.

11 Ibid., 145-153.

12 Geisler and Corduan, 126.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid., 126-127.

15 Ibid., 134.

16 Ibid., 134-135.

17 Ibid., 135.

18 Ibid., 142.

19 Ibid., 142-144.

20 Ibid., 143.

21 Ibid., 144.

22 Plantinga, 85-112.

23 Geisler and Corduan, 146.

24 Plantinga, 108-110.

25 Geisler and Corduan, 147-148.

26 Ibid., 148.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid., 149.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

The Moral Argument

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

The moral argument for God’s existence reasons from the existence of universal moral values to the existence of a universal moral Lawgiver.1 This argument maintains that the source of the objective moral values we experience must be an ultimately good Being.2

The apostle Paul stated that Gentiles, who do not have God’s written Law, “show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:15). The Bible declares that God has written His Law on the hearts of all men. This is the basis for defenders of the faith using moral arguments for God’s existence.


Aquinas’ fourth way to prove God’s existence is his argument from the different degrees of perfection found in finite things.3 Men commonly judge some things to be more perfect than other things. But judgment concerning the degree of perfection in things only makes sense if there exists a most perfect Being. To say that something is more perfect than something else is to say that it closer approximates the perfect. One cannot determine that something falls short of a perfect standard unless that perfect standard is known. Therefore, the perfect must exist. Whatever contains the most perfection must be the source of all the perfection that exists in other beings. Therefore, concludes Aquinas, there must exist a most perfect Being who is the cause of all the perfections that exist in beings containing lesser degrees of perfection.4


Immanuel Kant rejected any attempts to prove God’s existence through pure rational argumentation. However, he believed that God’s existence must be practically posited in order to make sense of man’s moral experience.5 Kant argued that man must assume the existence of God and life after death if he is to make sense of his desire for happiness and his moral duty.6 Kant believed that the uniting of man’s desire for happiness with man’s moral duty could not occur in this life or without God’s power. Therefore, reasoned Kant, it is morally necessary (not rationally necessary) to assume God’s existence.7

It must be remembered that this argument does not prove God’s existence. It only states that man must assume God’s existence and the afterlife if he is to make sense of his moral life. Kant’s argument does not demand that we conclude that God exists; it merely says that man must live as if God does in fact exist.8

C. S. LEWIS (1898-1963)

C. S. Lewis used an advanced form of the moral argument for God’s existence in his work Mere Christianity.9 Lewis argued that man’s idea of right and wrong is a clue to the meaning of the universe.10 Lewis reasoned that there must exist a universal moral law for several reasons. First, all moral disagreements between persons imply an appeal to a standard of behavior to which all persons are subject.11 People accused of doing wrong usually claim that their action did not violate the universal standard, or that they somehow had a special excuse for not submitting to the standard in this particular case.12 They do not usually deny the standard itself. Second, quarreling often occurs when one person tries to prove that the action of another person is wrong. However, the fact that two people quarrel about whether or not an action was moral implies that they agree that there is such a thing as right and wrong.13 One person claims the action was right; the other person claims the action was wrong. What they agree upon is the concept of right and wrong (the moral law).14

Lewis reasons that this moral law could not be mere herd instinct. If it were, then the stronger instinct would always win, but, this is not the case. Often, man suppresses his stronger instinct in order to do what he thinks is right.15 For instance, when confronted with imminent danger, a man may desire to run for safety but instead chooses to disregard his own well-being to rescue another. Therefore, the moral law is not man’s basic instincts. Instead, it judges between these instincts to determine which instinct is to be applied in the specific situation.16

Lewis also believed that it is wrong to say that this moral law is merely a social convention.17 For not everything that man has learned from others is a social convention. Some things, like mathematics, would be true even if it was never taught.18 The moral law is like mathematics in this respect. It is real regardless of what one’s society teaches about it.19 Social progress makes no sense unless the moral law exists independent of societies.20 If the moral law is merely invented by society, then one society (America) cannot call the actions of another society (Nazi Germany) wrong.21

Lewis declared that the moral law cannot be a law of nature.22 For a law of nature is descriptive. It describes how nature is, how it usually acts. But, the moral law does not describe how nature is. The moral law is prescriptive; it prescribes how nature ought to be.23 The moral law stands above man and judges his behavior.

Lewis concluded that there exists a moral law above all men to which they are subject.24 However, matter could not be the cause of moral laws.25 Matter gives instructions to no one. Experience shows us that mind is the cause of moral laws.26 Therefore, this universal moral law that stands above all men must come from a Mind that stands above all men.27


Each of the three thinkers mentioned in this chapter have contributed valuable aspects to the moral argument. Lewis’ argumentation is impressive. A person might arbitrarily deny the existence of the moral law, but the denial is forced and temporary. If that person is wronged, he will appeal to the moral law for justice.

If the moral law is merely subjective, then no one can declare the actions of another to be wrong. If the moral law is produced by nations, then no nation can condemn the actions of another nation. The moral law could not even be the product of world consensus. The world consensus of the twentieth century could not condemn the slavery of the nineteenth, first, or any other century since world consensus favored the practice of slavery during those times.

The moral judgments of men do not make sense unless the moral law stands above all individuals, all nations, and any supposed consensus of the world. The moral law is universal; it applies to all mankind. The moral law is also eternal; it does not change with time. Therefore, there must exist an eternal moral Lawgiver who stands above all men. Prescriptive laws only come from lawgivers.

A variation of Kant’s argument can be utilized effectively by apologists. If there exists no God who will someday judge the actions of men, then it makes no difference how one now lives. One million years from now it will make no difference if one lived like Mother Theresa or Adolph Hitler. If God does exist, then how one lives does make a difference. If there is life after death with rewards and punishment, then the moral experience of man makes sense.

Finally, the thought of Aquinas can be used. When a man makes moral judgments he determines some things to be more perfect than other things. This implies the knowledge of something which is the ultimately perfect standard by which all else is judged. No one can determine a line to be crooked without knowledge of a straight line. The Christian believes that this ultimately perfect standard is the all-good God Himself. Without this all-good God, there could be no such thing as evil. For evil is merely the perversion of that which is good. There could be nothing that is good unless there exists an ultimately good Being who is the source of all lesser goods.

Despite the apparent strengths of the moral argument for God’s existence, it is susceptible to some of the same criticisms as the teleological argument. Could not there be several moral lawgivers instead of one? Maybe the moral lawgiver is only a finite being?28 Though these objections can be answered, premises from the cosmological argument for God’s existence must be utilized to do so.29

Therefore, it is probably best to start one’s argument for God’s existence with cosmological premises. This will provide evidence for the existence of one Being who is the eternal uncaused cause of all else that exists. Then one can use premises from the moral and teleological arguments to show that this one Being must also be a moral and intelligent Being.


1 Geisler and Corduan, 94.

2 Craig, 70.

3 Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, 121.

4 Ibid.

5 Geisler and Corduan, 109.

6 Ibid.,109-110.

7 Ibid., 110.

8 Ibid.

9 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 15-39.

10 Ibid., 15.

11 Ibid., 17.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., 17-18.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., 22-23.

16 Ibid., 23.

17 Ibid., 24.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., 24-25.

21 Ibid., 25.

22 Ibid., 27-29.

23 Ibid., 28.

24 Ibid., 31.

25 Ibid., 34.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Geisler and Corduan, 121-122.

29 Ibid.