Notes from Greg L. Bahnsen’s two-part lecture series, Arguments for the Existence of God.
I was asked a question about the difference between natural revelation and natural theology. Natural theology is a discursive step by step reasoning process. Beginning with certain experiences or observations then you go step by step in your reasoning that God probably exists. Natural revelation is not discursive. It is not a process of reasoning from my observations to a conclusion about God, it is rather seeing directly without discursive argumentation that God exists.
I’d like to look at the fallacious character of the theistic proofs offered in natural theology. None of the arguments ever offered in the light of natural theology has ever been good. I’m going to look at the Cosmological Argument, the Ontological Argument and the Teleological Argument.
First of all the Ontological Argument. This argument focuses on causation as evidence for God’s existence. It argues that our experience of secondary causes must lead to a first cause of the natural order. To put it simply people will say:
P1. Every event has a cause
P2. What cause this even itself had a cause and this chain of causation goes back.
C. Thefore, there must have been a first cause in front of this chain. This first cause is what we call, “God.”
The Cosmological Argument starts with a premise based upon an observation of one thing causing another. It picks up our impetus from our desire for complete explanations of what we experience, and it moves to the conclusion that what we observe in the world where there are causal relationships must have added to the world God Himself as the first cause. From my perspective, the biggest mistake in the argument is the assumption that human experience and human reasoning are in themselves already intelligible, self-sufficient and stand by themselves. If you go to the unbeliever and you can experience something in the world which is intelligible by itself, you have already lost the argument. What I’m going to show you later on is that the unbeliever couldn’t experience anything intelligibly if God didn’t exist.
1. If someone says every event or object has a cause, then you must conclude that God Himself has a cause. God is an object so you must conclude that He too, had a cause. Christians should want to say every created event has a cause, but what unbeliever would want to accept that? Because if you say every created event has a cause then you have already assumed that there is a creation and a creator. This is the very thing you are supposed to be proving.
2. Even if respect to the created order, do we know from observation that there event has a cause? In a sense we do know that because the Bible says so, but that is not supposed to be smuggled in from this point. But as people we don’t know this because we haven’t experience every event in this world. If we would know it, we’d have to know it on the basis of divine revelation.
3. It doesn’t make sense to rule out an infinite regression because of the fact that universe could never have gotten started. An intelligent unbeliever wouldn’t even grant that the universe has ever started. It has always been here.
4. If you reason that there is a cause for each event, and from this conclude that there is a cause for all events, then you are engaging in an error of quanitifcation. Why does it not prove many of first causes?
5. If is fallacious to argue from the property of the parts to the property of the whole. This is an information fallacy to say that because the parts of something has this quality, therefore the whole has that quality as well. Every piece of my experience has something that caused it, but this doesn’t prove that the whole shares the same causal relationship. Let me give you an example. Let’s say my children got a set of 100 leggos for Christmas and I build a giant statue out of them. Each one of the leggos weighs less than one ounce, therefore the statue weighs less than an once. No this is silly. The quality of the parts is not necessary the quality of the whole. You cannot argue from the parts of the whole necessarily.
6. Even if all events in nature have a first cause, we have no basis to infer from our natural experience of causation that there is a non-natural cause for the world as whole. My argument is based on evidence taken from my experience of the natural world, but my conclusion has nothing to do with my experience of the natural world. My conclusion deals with a supernatural entity.
Anselm reasoned that if you understand the concept of God, you must draw the conclusion that God exists necessarily. He said God is that being than which none greater can be conceived. God is the greatest being and there isn’t any other being conceputually greater than God. Anselm asked whether a God that exists was greater than a God that does exist. Of course, so if God is that being than which none greater can be conceived, and it is greater to be conceived of as existing than not existing, God must exist. Just from what you know about God from definition, God would have to exist. Let me give this argument to you in another form. Someone might argue to you that God has all perfections. Existence is certainly a perfect, so God must have this perfection as well. God must exist.
1. Can we really say that existence is a predicate that is conceptually relevant? I am not saying that existence is not a predicate, but it is not a predicate that is conceptually relevant. It is not relevant to the concept of something. Here is a concept of something, Pegasus. Let’s say that I will define Pegasus as a white-winged horse. Is the concept og Pegasus changed by whether he belongs to Greek mythology or the world in which we actually live? Is the concept changed? No. So when someone says that God has called perfections and existence is a perfection, there is a real question as to whether existence can be taken as a perfection or a predicate that is conceptually relevant. When you say that God has all perfections, you’re already presupposing some system of value. To call something perfect is to have a scale of what is good and what is bad. So when we say that God has all perfections, we don’t mean that God has all predicates. So we already have assumed some distinction between good and evil and the way in which you put predicates on a scale as to their goodness and evilness on a scale. Now since that is the case, we must ask whether argument that God has all perfections does not already presuppose the Christian system of value in order to argue for the Christian God. If you’re a Buddhist existence is not a perfection for you.
God is the one who gives order to everything. There is a purpose and aim we see being worked out in this world. If I were an unbeliver this would not be a good argument at all.
1. Is the design displayed in the world something objective or subjective? Some people see order as design and other people see it as an accidental collision of atoms.
2. Does this argument prove that there is one designer or many designers? If there is a designer in this world, is it natural design or supernatural design?
All of these arguments prove to be very bad arguments from the unbeliever’s perspective. I will now present to you the transcendental proof of God’s existence. The philosopher, David Hume, reached skeptical conclusions on the basis of empirical premises and precommitments. He said that if we can only know what our observations show us, then notice what happens, we have no idea about causality in this world. No one sees a causal connection. If you are going to go on observation alone, you see one event A and event B, but you did not see any connection between A and B where one caused the other. You only saw a succession of events. Hume said the kind of connection can be habitual, but it doesn’t become causal unless it is necessary. It is only necessary if from all my past A and B experience, I can in the future predict that B will follow A. All that I know according to empiricism is based upon observation. Has anyone ever observed the future? Has anyone ever observed the connection between the past and the future? Therefore, we have no necessary connection between A and B; will only have the habit of expecting B after A. What Hume did here was obliterate Western Thought. He said the rationality of the Enlightenment, that we can know things with our unaided reason, has just been destroyed. You can’t know anything because all scientific inference assumes the uniformity of nature. You don’t observe the uniformity of nature therefore you have no right to believe that.
Kant took a different approach and asked, “what are the preconditions for the intelligibility of any human experience?” He argued that causation was one of those. The mind must approach its experiences with this category of causation already in place. If there are no causes, there are no scientific discussion or rationality at all. Kant felt that he had answered Hume in a transcendental way. He said you must already believe in causation in order to make sense of those observations. What he did there is a key for our argument. We are going to argue that God is the precondition for the intelligibility of human experience. It isn’t as though that from human experience of causation, motion or design that we can draw the conclusion that God must exist. Rather, if you don’t begin with God, you cannot make sense of anything at all.
Romans 1 says that unbelievers are futile in their reasoning. In 1 Tim 6:20, Paul calls the opposition against Christianity “false knowledge.” In Colossians 2:3, Paul says, “In Christ, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited.” In Proverbs 1:7 it says that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ.” The Bible never argues for God’s existence in the manner of theistic proofs. The Bible says that everyone knows that God exists and if you suppress His existence, you are made a fool. The kind of proof that I want to commend to you is an indirect proof of God’s existence. Rather than going to evidence that is interpreted in a neutral fashion, we should prove God’s existence indirectly. By indirectly, I mean that we should compare worldviews.
Now Mr. Unbeliever, I’ve got a philosophy of life that begins with God; I realize that you don’t accept that right now. I just want you to understand where I’m coming from. According to my philosophy of life, God created the heavens and the earth; he providentially controls all things. He’s made my mind; He’s made me so that I can understand this world and so that I can have dominion over this world and subdue it. He made me to glorify Him. He gave me the moral standards by which I live. He is the one who made me dinstict from the animals. I can think rationally and I am to think rationally in a manner that pleases Him. I realize that you don’t accept my philosophy of life, but that’s my philosophy of life.
Now let’s talk about your philosophy of life Mr. Unbeliever. According to you there is no God and all there is is matter in motion. I’d like to compare our two philosophies. I realize that when I give you evidence of God’s existence and the truth of Christianity, for instance, a man named “Jesus” rose from the dead, I draw the conclusion that he really did rise from the dead, but given your presuppositions you can’t conclude that a miracle took place. Though I think there is abundant evidence for God’s existence, I also realize that you will never interpret evidence in this way. You will always bring your naturalistic presuppositions to the evidence and draw different conclusions. However, I don’t think that is the end of our argument. I think that we need to compare your worldview to my worldview and ask how any argumentation possible? I’m going to argue now from the imposibility of the contrary. That is, within my worldview I can explain to you why there is logic, causality, moral absolute, why humans have freedom and dignity. In your worldview there couldn’t be any laws of logic. Matter in motion is your worldview, but matter is immaterial and not in motion. The laws of logic are abstract and non-physical; they are universal in application, not particular and absolute.
A transcendental proof of God’s existence can be put in this way, “the proof of God’s existence is that without Him, you couldn’t prove anything.” The process of reasoning is already commited to the Christian worldview and not atheism. If you are commited to the atheist worldview, you’d destroy the impossibility of reasoning. What is the difference between the tradtional approach and the transcendental approach? For simplicity I’ll just use the Cosmological Argument. The Cosmological Argument says that I have an experience of D which requires E to cause it, but E requires something to have caused it too and therefore, there must be a first cause, which we call “God.” This argument makes God to be one more cause in the chain. Secondly, in this argument, I have assumed that the unbeliever can make sense of the relationship between D and E and E and F etc. without bringing God into the picture at all. I propose that we look at the concept of causality and argue that there could be no concept of cause if God didn’t exist. God is the precondition for the intelligible use of causal reasoning.
Some might be thinking why it has to be the Christian worldview that provides the precondition for intelligiblity. Why can’t it be Islamic theism instead of Christianity. Firstly, you must be aware that every false worldview can be undermined in the very same way. When someone comes with another worldview, you still have to ask the same question of how logic, human dignity, science and freedom possible. It turns out that only Christian theism provides a worldview that will make sense of these things. Hindus will tell you that all distinctions are illusory. The grand truth is that we are all united into one blob of reality. If there are no true distinctions, then there is no difference between you and me or the Hindu. There are also no true distinctions between premises and entities and therefore the laws of logic don’t apply. If everything is one, there could be no logical defense of Hinduism. Rationality requires that you be a Christian. Secondly, the other religions of the world that have a personal god are all based on Christianity. You can do an internal critique of those who are micking Christianity. Some might say that there is a worldview at there that we have never heard of, but they are nothing but hypothetical competitors. I’m not worried about hypotheticals. Thirdly, the Christian worldview claims to be the only true one. If this claim is false, then the Christian worldview cannot be the foundation of the laws of logic, morality, science, human freedom etc. Therefore, if Christianity is the precondition of intelligibility, it would have to be the only one. The only alternative is for something to come up with a worldview that is identical to Christianity, but then to change the names of God, the Trinity, the name of Jesus and so on. I think you can think that this is a paper tiger. Who cares? Christianity is the only adequate alternative for men. The proof of God’s existence is that without Him, you couldn’t prove anything.