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 AND AGNOSTICISM
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).
DID MAN INVENT GOD?
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
A. J. AYER AND LOGICAL POSITIVISM
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.
IS RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE EQUIVOCAL?
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 AND EXISTENTIALISM
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
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.
ARGUMENTS FROM CONTRADICTORY ATTRIBUTES
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
THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
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.
THE REAL PROBLEM WITH ATHEISTS
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.