Notes from Greg L. Bahnsen’s two-part lecture series, Arguments for the Existence of God.
Is there a proof for God’s existence? This is what I will address tonight.
Who needs such an argument for God’s existence? (Romans 1:18-23)
The way the approach the argument deals with a lot about what we think the argument can or should accomplish. Let me illustrate:
Let’s say I wanted to prove to someone that the square footage of Formosa Beach is 526 square miles. You can imagine what kind of premises, what kind of evidences that I would appeal to prove something of that nature. Here is another conclusion we might want to argue for– the guilty of OJ Simpson. You can tell that proving the size of Formosa Beach is going to be a much simpler thing to argue for than is the guilt or innocence of OJ Simpson. Let’s add another argument. If someone were to argue that there was no air, they would be moving to a different ball park. The irony in this is that as someone is arguing that there is no air, they would be breathing it. Let me give you one more illustration. What if someone wanted to argue that he has no personal history, that is, he never existed until now. You could never imagine anyone in their right might arguing for this. You need to have a personal history in order to be here tonight, just like you need to be breathing air in order to argue against it. People can argue for any kind of conclusion, but the kind of conclusion being argued for is going to say something about your own rationality and credibility and the way in which we evaluate the arguments.
Everyone’s Knowledge of God
Here is the tough question; where on the layering of credibility does this conclusion come in– does God exist? Romans 1 tells me that a person who argues against the existence of God should be assessed by me as being about the same level or worse than someone who argues that I have no personal history. The difficulty most Christians have about arguments for the existence of God is that they think it is a complex task that requires detailed analysis. Most Christians think it is an issue that people can disagree with, but I’d like you to go home to night and understand that the conclusion that God exists is so obvious that men are without excuse when they don’t believe it. Paul says that all men know God and suppress the truth. It is just because unbelievers are depending upon God and the existence of God is so obvious, that they are made fools when they try to suppress it. No one needs an argument for God’s existence. In order for anyone to know anything at all, you need to simultaneously already know God. The God I’m talking about is not a generic God; I’m talking about the Personal Triune God of Scripture. Paul says, “knowing THE God.” Because they will not admit that God exists, “their foolish hearts are darkened and become vain in their reasoning.” My approach to apologetics and specifically to the issue of God’s existence attempts to consistently and faithfully begin with the Biblical witness that all men already know God, and if they refuse to admit it, what I have to do is show them the foolishness of what comes of that. I attempt to reduce my opponent to absurdity. By natural revelation, we mean that God has disclosed Himself through the created order. There is an arena that God has shown Himself that men are without excuse.
When we argue for God’s existence, are we providing evidence for their ignorance or are we attempting to expose suppression of the truth? The approach you take is going to be determined by what you think is going on. You must do audience analysis, and not all audience analysis is determined by what the audience tells you. I you ask the unbeliever, “Is there plenty of arguments for God’s existence?” What do you think they’re going to say? They are not going to admit that. Men will not acknowledge Him or give thanks. Romans 1:18 says, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” The fact that “wrath” is revealed shows that men are cupable for suppressing the truth. Don’t listen to the unbeliever regarding why they don’t believe in God. The Bible says that they do know God and know that they are under His wrath. Our task of apologists is to tear the mask off of those who are being hypocritical. We must expose that they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Throughout the Bible, you will not find one argument for the existence of God.
Now let’s look at ways in which people expect God to be proven and look at the traditional ways in doing that. We are going to look at some of the common traditional proofs of God’s existence, but before we do that I want to show you how easy it is to prove God’s existence.
Proof vs. Persuasion
To do this you need to know what an argument is. An argument need not be accepted by everyone for it to be conclusive. If there is a strong argument for the guilt of OJ Simpson, for all I know, his mother might not be convinced. The reason for his is because we distinguish between proof and persuasion. It is quite possible to prove something and yet have people who are not persuaded by the proof. To prove something is to do that which is objective in terms of evidence which is sufficient and reasoning which is cogent. But even when you have sufficient evidence and cogent reasoning, there would be irrational and emotional people who don’t want to accept what you’ve shown them. So let’s distinguish between proving God’s existence and persuading someone that God exists. I believe that when most people have demanded arguments for God’s existence, they haven’t really in the end been looking for proof, they have been looking for persuasion. All reasoning rests upon some kind of presupposition. No one can start reasoning without anything in their head. All of our reasoning is tied to other things that we believe. For instance, when somebody argues for this that and the other conclusion and appeals to the laws of logic, they are already presupposing something about the authority of the laws of logic. But why should we accept the authority of the laws of logic? They don’t say, “that’s just where it begins.” They have a reason why they think logic should be accepted. Then you ask them another question, “then why do you think that that’s a good reason for accepting logic?” All of our think is connected with all of our other thinking. Reasoning is never done in a vacume. All reasoning rests upon some kind of presupposition. Reasoning presupposes language, and language presupposes that you know the meaning of life. Thefore, everyone must begin somewhere in order for there to be any arguments at all. We have learned there is a difference between proof and persuasion and not everything can be proven.
Let’s understand what a sound argument is. An Argument is as series of assertions where the truth of one is asserted on the basis of others. I’m going to give you a standard syllogistic version of an argument.
Here we have a series of assertions and the truth of the conclusion is being asserted on the basis of the other two. Is it conceivable that the conclusion could be true, even though one of the premises is false? It’s not a good argument, but someone could give you a true premise, a false premise, and a true conclusion. The truth or falsity of the conclusion is something different than the truth or falsity of the premises. They don’t automatically tie in with one another.
Another thing you need to know is that deductive arguments should be valid as to their form.
P1. If P, then Q : If it is Monday, then I am in Formosa Beach
P2. P : It is Monday
C. Thefore, Q : I’m in Formosa Beach
This argument is valid, not because of the truth of the premises, but because this relationship of truth and falsity to another is valid in the sense that the inference drawn is sound. You can count on this inference pattern.
P1. If Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, then Shakespeare is a great author
P2. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet
C. Therefore, Shakespeare is a greate author
Now there are invalid forms of argumentation as well.
P1. If P, then Q
C. Therefore, P
An argument using this form is not reliable. I’m not saying an argument in this form has a false conclusion. The conclusion does not follow from the premises.
P1. If Milton wrote Hamlet, then Milton is a great author.
P2. Milton is a great author.
C. Thefore, he wrote Hamlet.
We must ask whether the premises are true or false and we must ask whether the form is valid. In argument theory, when an argument has true premises and a valid from then the argument is sound and the conclusion is reliable. If the form of the argument is valid and the matter in the premises is true, then the conclusion must be true. It may well be that the unbeliever is asking us to provide a sound argument for God’s existence.
Here is a sound argument for God’s existence:
P1. Nothing exists or God exists (or means at least one must be true; it doesn’t assert only one can be true)
P2. Something exists
C. Therefore, God exists
Is this a sound argument? Let’s ask about the form of the argument. It is a disjunctive syllogism.
P1. P or Q
P2. Not P
C. Therefore, Q
The form if this argument is valid. Now let’s look at the premises and see if they are true. How about P2? I think we are all willing to accept that something exists. How about P1.? Is it the case that nothing exists or God exists? If one of the disjuncts is true, then this premise is true as a compound assertion. Now does God exist? Yes, therefore we know that that premise is true. We have true premises and a valid form. Now we’ve just proved that God exists! But what is wrong with this argument? (Audience: It’s circular!”
Now don’t give me this “it’s circular stuff” because in a deductive argument the truth that is proven is already assumed in the premises. I want to suggest to you that the problem has nothing to do with logic. It has all to do with persuasion theory. The way I got you to accept this first premise is by calling on you as believers to tell me whether God exists. Since it is true that God exists, then this compound premise is true, but the difficulty is when you are arguing with an unbeliever who is not ready to say that God exists. If someone is not willing to accept the truth of something, does that mean you have not proven it? No. What you have going on here is that you have a true premise even if the unbeliever is unwilling to accept. You also have a valid argument form, therefore the argument is perfectly okay. The only thing this argument lacks is persuasive power. The unbeliever wants an argument for God’s existence that will convince him of the conclusion that God exists from premises that are indisputable. But you can’t prove everything, so it turns out that some arguments are not persuasive with some people given their background assumptions. The convincing character has nothing to do with the argument per se, it has everything to do with the background presuppositions of the person you are arguing with. The difficulty is getting the unbeliever to accept the premises.
So what makes for a persuasive argument? It is unlikely that you will find a persuasive argument that persaudes everyone that is because we are all different people. This kind of argument does not exist.
Misconceptions of Natural Theology
There is a difference between natural revelation and natural theology. There is no such thing as natural theology if by that you mean the created realm offers uninterpreted raw data that makes possible, provided that men will rationally reflect upon it correct, a natural knowledge of God as the eventual conclusion of their reasoning.
1. In the first place, the Bible says there is no raw data. There are no uninterpreted observations. All facts are interpreted already in order for them to be understood as facts by us.
2. There is no such thing as a neutral approach to God’s existence. The Bible does not divide humanity into those who believe in God, those who don’t believe in God and those who don’t know. The Bible says there are truth confessors and truth supressors.
3. The natural man will not interpret the evidence in such a way as to affirm a correct conclusion about God’s existence. 1 Cor 2:14 says that “the natural man cannot know the things of God’s spirit.” Romans 3: 11 says “none seek after God.”