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Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God

Image courtesy of FreeBibleIllustrations.com

In my last post, I gave a sort of introduction to the arguments I am about to make in this and future posts. If you have any objections to the approach I am about to take, I discussed such issues there. If, however, you still are not satisfied, feel free to make a comment.

Definition
The cosmological argument for the existence of God is a philosophical argument which attempts to show that, since everything in the universe (which is within time) could not have created itself, it had to have a beginning. Because of this, the only possibility is that a Being outside of time created the universe (note: some would contend that God is within time, but this is problematic for the obvious reason that if God were within the constraints of time, it would mean that 1) time is greater than God, and 2) God would have had to be begin to exist at a certain point in time, which, as will be seen shortly, is both heretical and impossible; the fact that he is described as being “eternal” in the Bible should bring to the mind of the reader the idea of “timelessness”, something we cannot fathom with human brains. Perhaps more on this later).

Though there are surely many sophisticated versions of this argument, I will attempt to boil it all down into one concise argument. I want to first make it clear that I did not come up with these brilliant thoughts. As far as I know the analogies are mine, but the entire structure of the argument was labored into existence by others with greater minds.

The Argument
Here is the argument layed out in its logical form:

A. Everything that began to exist or was “caused” had a causer.

B. The universe began to exist.

Therefore, the universe had a “causer”, and the only logical possibility is that this causer was God.

The argument seems simple at first glance, but it gets sticky very quickly. Atheists will not argue about premise A; generally they would agree with this. They would, however, question whether the universe was actually “created”, and so they would question premise B. Atheists are not willing to admit that the universe was created, because that almost automatically necessitates that God exists (for who else could create a universe?). Therefore, the argument centers around premise B.

When talking to an atheist about the cosmological argument, they will propose three alternatives to the idea that the universe was created by God: 1) the universe is eternal, 2) the universe created itself, or 3) we just don’t know how things came about. We shall deal with each.

1) The Universe is Eternal
Is it possible that the universe is eternal? Some think so. But it’s not as hard as one might think to show why this is problematic. Take the following scenario as an example of what I mean.

Suppose you decide that you need to be saving more money. You therefore start putting the change you get each day into a bank account. But you also want to reward yourself at some point, otherwise, what’s the point of saving? You thus decide that as soon as you save up an infinite amount of money, you’ll buy yourself a nice car as a reward. You’re so excited you can’t wait ’till you have the money!

Needless to say, the excitement is going to be matched by great disappointment, for you will never save up an infinite amount of money in order to buy the car.

Now, compare this to the idea of an eternal universe. What does an eternal universe actually look like? It is a universe where day after day has been going by since eternity past. But there is a problem with this. If day after day has been passing by for all eternity past, then how could today have ever arrived? Surely it could not have. It is as if you, somehow, made the decision in eternity past to buy the car and, just like you would never earn enough money to reach infinity, so you also could not (even if you lived forever) live through an infinite number of days and finally arrive at the day we are at today. If today requires yesterday to have occurred before today could have occurred, and if yesterday requires the day before yesterday to have occurred, and so on, this creates a serious problem. It is the same as saying that, when we as believers go to heaven, we will be able at some point to say that we have been in heaven for an infinite amount of time. This is absurd.

Because of this, there cannot be anything or anyone that existed from eternity past within time. Only God, who in some way which we cannot comprehend (since we are within time) can because he is outside of time.

Some may object: “But Jesus entered into time when he came to the earth, so God did exist within time for all eternity past!” But this fails to even notice what was stated, that God did indeed enter time at a certain point in time, and not from eternity past. It was around 3 BC that this happened. If one wishes to again argue that God has been in heaven for all eternity, and therefore heaven has existed for all eternity past, one would need to prove that 1) heaven is within time and 2) that God has indeed been in heaven for all eternity past, which seems more likely false than true from the scriptures.

This, I believe, is a fairly tight argument. An atheist wishing to contend with this must prove that infinity can be crossed, which is known to be a vain attempt.

2) The Universe Created Itself
Believe it or not, this is an option for some people. Obviously, there are problems with this option. I believe it was William Lane Craig who stated that if anything could simply create itself, why do we not see pink unicorns or all sorts of bizarre creatures floating around in the air? Why are there not incredibly odd creations popping into existence all the time? It seems that we must always cause things (like toys, computers and cars) to come into existence. It simply is not possible for something to create itself, because it needed to have already existed if it were to create itself, and if it already existed there would be no need to create itself in the first place! If you go out into the garden tomorrow morning and there is a mango tree in full bloom thriving there, and you are certain no one has planted it, be worried. Be even more worried if there are pink unicorns licking the mangoes.

3) We Just Don’t Know
This response seems to me – though I do not wish to sound harsh – to be intellectual cowardice. I say this because those who respond this way are being faced with three options (that the universe either was created, created itself, or is eternal), and, since only the first of these three options is logically possible, they are unwilling to admit this, appealing instead to ignorance.

To continue the earlier theme, it is like a car-shopper choosing between two cars (and for the sake of the argument, these are the only possible cars in all the world which he can buy). One has a broken radiator and the other needs a timing belt. Unable to make up his mind, he decides to flip a coin. His down-to-earth friend tells him, “You do know that no matter what side the coin lands on, you’re still going to wind up with a broken hunk of metal, right?” The man still flips the coin, replying “But I may get something else. We just don’t know.”

There are no hidden answers regarding the cause for the existence of the universe. Appealing to ignorance only reveals the hardness of a heart that is unwilling to accept the truth.

Conclusion
Hopefully this somewhat tricky argument has made sense. It can be difficult to follow at some points, but there is no logical fallacy throughout. Since premise A and premise B have been shown to be true and the structure of the argument is valid, the logical conclusion is that God must exist.

I used this argument in a discussion with an agnostic via email over the course of several weeks. Eventually, when I felt like all opposing arguments had been shot down, I suggested that we move on to my next argument for the existence of God. I never heard from that person again. Though I regret that, as far as I can remember, I did not incorporate scripture into my defenses (though the opportunity never really came that would fit the context), I do feel confident that the reason the discussion ended was that the argument had hit its mark, and that the other person was unwilling to hear any more in the fear that it would be even more convicting. I do hope and pray that that person will be moved by those convictions to turn to God, but that is not up to me.

All I have done is given that person a logical reason in his mind to believe that God exists, so that when he is questioning Christianity, he will not be able to default to, “Oh, well, the universe is eternal, so why listen to this stuff?” Though answers like that are often the result of hardness of the heart, there are many people who do actually believe they have logical reasons to doubt that God exists. When these barriers are removed, only repentance remains.

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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Philosophy

 

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Arguments for the Existence of God

Image courtesy of FreeBibleIllustrations.com

If there’s one question you’ll be asked when talking to an atheist today, it’s “How do you know God exists? Aren’t you just basing it on your scriptures?”

That’s kind of a funny question for two reasons. First, because the scriptures alone are indeed enough to believe that God exists, and second, because this question assumes that the burden of proof is on us (it seems necessary to prove that God does not exist, because of all the evidence there is for his existence). Nevertheless, these two answers generally will not work. Atheists are convinced that the scriptures were simply generated by some people who wanted to start their own religion, and they also believe that the burden of proof certainly does rest on us.

Because of this, the question they are asking is not religious (regarding scriptures, Christian practices or beliefs), but philosophical. They are essentially asking, “Outside of your scriptures, what reason is there to believe that God exists? Could you even know it without the Bible?” The answers we give them will therefore be philosophical as well.

This, however, is a point of contention among Christians. One of the church fathers, Tertullian, is known for his direct opposition to philosophy:

“For philosophy is the material of the world’s wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy… What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the Academy to do with the Church? What have heretics to do with Christians? Our instruction comes from the porch of Solomon, who had himself taught that the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart. Away with all attempts to produce a Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic Christianity! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after receiving the gospel! When we believe, we desire no further belief. For this is our first article of faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.”

Read more: Tertullian of Carthage, Early Church Father: http://phoenicia.org/tertullian2.html#ixzz1NDgvCMVw

Obviously, based on my introduction, I do not agree with Tertullian here. I think the problem is that Tertullian has failed to make a distinction between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world. Now, I could move on and get to the arguments for the existence of God that I have learned and will present in my own fashion. However, the argument presented by Tertullian has been such a major issue within the Church (largely in the recent past), that the rest of my post will be used to deal with this discussion. I intend to show that philosophy can be and indeed is used for the glory of God, and that there is a difference between wisdom and simply good logic.

Aim For Logic AND Wisdom
I have already written in another post about my position on faith and reason. If you feel like I’m not addressing that here, feel free to check that post out. I had to mention it here because what I am about to say rests on the fact that reason is good, and that it must never be abandoned when having a discussion of any kind.

The Bible has several verses that talk about “the wisdom of this world”. Here are three that I found (NIV):

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” ~1 Cor 1:20

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” ~1 Cor 3:19-20

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” ~Colossians 2:8

Notice something very interesting about all of these verses. They do not merely identify wisdom or philosophy as being foolish; rather, it is “the wisdom of the/this world” and “hollow and deceptive philosophy”, the latter depending on this world and not on Christ.

I find the Colossians verse to be particularly enlightening and so true throughout history. When I took philosophy at Multnomah University I was always astounded by the textbook readings. All those famous philosophers, from Plato to Descartes, used logic so beautifully that they seemed to have it all together. And yet, after reading each well-thought-out theory, there was always one problem: they had based their argument “on the basic principles of this world”, and on “human tradition”. They assumed something to be true merely because their wise philosophy teacher had believed it, or because they assumed that God did not exist. Their arguments were highly logical, but they made these major mistakes. They were therefore logical but also unwise, using wisdom that is of this world.

Let me give an example of this. It is like a mathematician playing miniature golf, who is able to calculate precisely the angle the ball needs to be hit from, how hard he needs to hit it, how the wind will affect it at every point, and what he must bounce it off so that it will roll directly into the hole. He has all this on paper, and there’s no doubting that he’s got it right; he is very logical. However, when he carries it out it fails. Why? He was very logical and his argument was sound, but he was also very foolish, for he assumed that he could hit the ball in precisely the manner it needed to get that hole in one.

The argument in his head was:

A. I am able to hit this ball just right so that it will go in the hole.

B. I have made perfect calculations so that I know just how to hit the ball.

Therefore, the ball will go in the hole for sure.

His argument is sound and logical (indeed, it is technically valid). He failed because he doesn’t know how to play golf! His first premise was not true.

This is how I interpret that verse from Colossians. It seems to me that the “basic principles of this world” are what sinful man turns to and bases his beliefs and arguments on when wishing to reject God, just like the miniature golfer turns to his own understanding that he is a great golfer.

This is just a slice of what wisdom is, and others will surely be able to define wisdom better than I have. What I am saying here is that wisdom, in part, is that ability to see truth as it really is, and you are only able to see it if you are seeing God and what he has done. It is therefore the wise mathematician who, after being taught by God to put away his pride, can admit that he has no skill to make the shot, which is the truth.

Conclusion
It seems that I have dealt more with the definition of wisdom and logic than to have presented a reason to believe that philosophy can be good. What I was aiming for was to show that there is a difference between the philosophy of this world, which is based on logic only (and often bad logic too!), and philosophy that combines both wisdom and logic, which can determine what is really true.

What will this mean when I argue for the existence of God using philosophy and not scripture in my future blog posts? It means I will use the many reasons there are for believing that God exists, and I will (hopefully) present them logically. But it will be up to the atheist to decide, after hearing it, whether he wishes to be wise or foolish about what the logic is saying.

Some may object by saying, “You can’t argue someone into the kingdom.” If they mean what I think they mean, then I definitely agree with them. Even if my arguments are perfect, the atheist may still reject them out of the hardness of his/her heart. Additionally, it will not be my arguments alone that convince them, but scripture and the Holy Spirit as well. This is why one should present these kinds of arguments alongside scripture and let God do the rest. However, if someone asks me, “Outside of scripture, how do you know God exists?”, I’m hardly going to tell him, “Let me quote a verse for you….”

Instead, I would say what I am going to say in the following blog posts. Stay tuned…

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Philosophy

 

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At Least It’s Still Faith…

Image courtesy of FreeBibleIllustrations.com

Well, I’ve done it. That’s yet another semester down, two more to go. I’ve got all of this new knowledge at my finger tips; I’ve got reasons to be proud. And yet….

And yet…this knowledge does not help me with what I’m dealing with. What I’m dealing with is faith and prayer, and it’s not going as well as I’d like it to go.

I’m in a peculiar situation. My faith that God will respond to my prayers is both rising and falling. Not up, and then down, but both up and down at the same time. Why? I’ll give an example.

One thing I prayed for this semester was help with my studies. I took 18 credits and worked 10 hours a week. Most of my classmates thought I was crazy when I told them (even though I hardly have the most difficult schedule on campus).

But God definitely answered my prayer that I would be able to get through everything. I have no doubt that it was him working and not just chance. Time and time again things worked out perfectly that saved me from a total breakdown. Did I have to finish an assignment that I simply had no time to do? No problem! The instructor pushed the due date back. Did I have to complete an overload of reading that would make it impossible to even have a weekend? No big deal. Two of my classes could simply require me to do the same assignment “quite by chance”. This happened all throughout the semester and never stopped (the grand finale was when one of my classes finished two weeks early, and I was given the final take-home exam three weeks before it was due). Praise God!

This is just one example of what I call “little prayers” which God has answered and which I firmly believe he has answered. They are mostly unseen except by those who watch closely.

The problem is with the “big prayers”. It’s not necessarily something huge that I am asking for in these situations, but they are things which would be more obvious if they were granted to me. Because of this, I doubt that they will be answered in the way I request them to be answered. And so I am left in a weird position, leaning on and also trying to grab hold of God in prayer. I thank him for his blessings, and then turn around and ask why he never answers, all the while feeling guilty for treating him like a vending machine.

And so, here I will remain for the time being, joyfully praying for those small things which he answers again and again, and yet trying to figure out whether it is my doubting or his denial that is blocking me from receiving that which I request of him.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2011 in General

 

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