bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 1

The overarching question for my ten-year plan is:
Is Christianity true or false?
After I clarify this overarching question, the first major question to investigate is this:
Does God exist?
I will, of course, at some point need to address the traditional arguments for the existence of God (ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments).  But I want my investigation to be systematic, and to avoid the problem of BIAS in the selection of arguments and evidence to be considered, especially to avoid the problem of CONFIRMATION BIAS (which is a common problem with Christian apologetics, including Richard Swinburne’s otherwise very careful case for God).
Here are some thoughts on how to approach this investigation:
FIRST, I will need to analyze the meaning of the sentence “God exists”.  I will probably follow Swinburne and analyze this sentence in terms of criteria, but then advocate, as Swinburne did, using a necessary and sufficient conditions definition instead of the criterial definition.
SECOND, following Swinburne, I will determine whether the sentence “God exists” is used to make a coherent statement.
If I determine that the statement “God exists” is incoherent, then that settles the issue:
One should reject the assertion that “God exists” because this sentence does NOT make a coherent statement.
Coherence is connected to logical possibility, so one way of analyzing the question “Does God exist?” is in terms of logical possibility and logical necessity and certainty and probability (click on image below for a clearer view of the diagram) :
Does God Exist - 1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I believe, however, that the sentence “God exists” can be used to assert a coherent statement, if one makes a few significant revisions to the concept of “God”, along the lines that Swinburne has suggested, with a couple of other revisions.  So, I expect that I will determine that some traditional conceptions of God make the sentence “God exists” incoherent, while with a few significant changes, a concept of God that is similar to the traditional conceptions will allow the investigation to continue beyond this initial question of coherence.
THIRD, there are various alleged ways of knowing or having a justified belief that “God exists”, which need to be considered:
1. Innate Knowledge
2. Religious Experience/Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit
3. Deductive Arguments for (and against) the existence of God
4. Non-Deductive Arguments for (and against) the existence of God
In terms of deductive arguments, I initially thought that it is possible that the issue could potentially be settled at that stage, if there were sound deductive arguments for the existence of God or against the existence of God.  But on reflection, I don’t think that is correct.
First of all, it is possible that there will SEEM to be sound arguments for the existence of God AND sound arguments against the existence of God.  If I identify any such arguments, then I would, obviously, focus some time and effort on trying to weed out one or more of these arguments as merely SEEMING to be sound, but not actually being sound.  But it is possible that I will end up with what SEEM to be sound arguments on both sides, in which case deductive arguments will NOT resolve the question at issue.
Furthermore, even if I find sound deductive arguments only for one position, say for the existence of God, and do not find sound arguments for the opposite position (say, for the non-existence of God), this still probably will NOT settle the issue.  The problem is that one or more premises in the sound argument(s) is likely to be less than absolutely certain.
Philosophical arguments for and against God usually involve some abstract principles, like the Principle of Sufficient Reason.  While some such premise might seem to be true, it is unlikley that a reasonable and objective thinker will arrive at the conclusion that such a premise is certain.  Because there is likely to be a degree of uncertainty about the truth of one or more premises in any deductive argument for or against the existence of God, the identification of one or more apparently sound deductive arguments will probably not settle the issue, even if all of the sound arguments support one side (theism or atheism).
So, it seems very unlikely that one can avoid examining evidence for and against the existence of God, evidence which only makes the existence of God probable to some degree or improbable to some degreee.  Furthermore, non-deductive arguments or cases can be quite strong.  If you have enough evidence of the right kinds, you can persuade a jury to send a person to his or her death for the crime of murder.  Sometimes, if the evidence is plentiful and the case is strong, a jury will return a verdict of “guilty” for first-degree murder in short order, without any significant wrangling or hesitation by the jurors.  Evidence can sometimes justify certainty or something very close to certainty.
If sound deductive arguments can fall short of making their conclusions certain, and if non-deductive reasoning from evidence can sometimes make a conclusion certain or nearly certain, then it would be foolish to fail to consider both sorts of arguments for and against the existence of God, even if we find some sound deductive arguments only for one side of this issue, and no sound deductive arguments for the other side.  Evidence and relevant non-deductive arguments/cases would still need to be considered.
Another possible way to analyze the question “Does God exist?” is in terms of the traditional roles that God plays:
Q1.  Is there a creator of the universe?
Q2.  Is there a ruler of the universe?
Q3. Assuming there is a creator of the universe and a ruler of the universe, are these the same person?
Q4. Has this person revealed himself/herself to humans through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings?
The first three questions are sufficient to determine whether “God exists” is true, so the fourth question is a bonus question that allows for a distinction between what I call “religious theism” and “philosophical theism”.
It seems to me that a very basic and important question to ask about God’s character is whether God has attempted to reveal himself/herself to humans.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all agree that God has attempted to reveal himself through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings, and this is a very basic and important belief in these western theistic religions.  So, this traditional view of God can be called “religious theism”.  But one could believe in the existence of God without buying into the idea that God has revealed himself through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings.  I call such a stripped-down version of theism”philosophical theism”.
Here is a diagram that spells out this way of approaching the question “Does God exist?” (click on the image to see a clearer version of the chart):
Does God Exist - 2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I have in mind, by the way,  time frames for each of the above questions:
Q1*.  Did a bodiless person create the universe about 14 billion years ago?
Q2*.  Has an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good person been in control of every event in the universe for the past 10 billion years (or more)?
Q3*.  Did a bodiless person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, create the universe about 14 billion years ago, and then procede to control every event in the universe for the past 10 billion years (or more)?
Q4*.  Did a bodiless person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, create the universe about 14 billion years ago, and then procede to control every event in the universe for the past 10 billion years (or more), and then in the past 10,000 years reveal himself/herself to humans through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings?
I believe that Jeff Lowder’s approach to the question “Does God exist?” involves general categories of evidence, which he then examines for both evidence that supports the existence of God and evidence that goes against the existence of God.  This is somewhat similar to Swinburne’s approach, which starts out looking at evidence concerning the physical universe, then looks at evidence concerning evolution of human bodies, then evidence concerning human minds and morality, then evidence concerning human history, then religious experience.  But Jeff is more systematic in covering broad categories of evidence and more objective in looking for evidence supporting either side of the issue.
If you have another systematic approach to answering the question “Does God exist?”  I would be interested to hear about it.

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 7

I’m going to take a detour and temporarily set Mr. Swinburne’s characterization of the Thomist view of faith aside.  But I will continue to examine the Thomist view of faith, specifically as presented by Dr. Norman Geisler.
As Jeff Lowder has recently shown, Dr. Geisler’s case for Christianity is a failure.  IMHO Jeff won that match with a K.O. of Geisler in the very first round:
 Let’s suppose, but only for the sake of argument, that the following evidence favors theism over atheism, i.e., is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that atheism is true: the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe, the design of life, and the existence of the moral law. Even so, it still doesn’t follow that, all things considered, God’s existence is more likely than not. For example, it may be the case—and I think is the case—that there is other evidence which favors atheism over theism. But, if true, that entails that G&T’s [Geisler and Turek] case violates the Total Evidence Requirement and so G&T’s case accordingly fails to show that Christianity is probably true. 
Geisler’s case for Christianity was decimated by Jeff in just one paragraph-BOOM; that is the awesome power of logic.
Although Dr. Geisler’s case for Christianity fails, I appreciate his thinking about the resurrection of Jesus, especially what I have called Geisler’s Principle:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.        
(When Skeptics Ask, by Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, p.120)
Based on this principle, one can also decimate William Craig’s case for the resurrection in just one paragraph, since Dr. Craig has never made a serious attempt to show that Jesus really did die on the cross.  So, despite the shortcomings of his Christian apologetics,  Dr. Geisler has some worthwhile things to say.   I am now going to turn to an article by Geisler on “Faith and Reason”, in order to become more familiar with the details of the Thomist view of faith.
Geisler is clearly a fan of Aquinas, even more than Swinburne is a fan.  In the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999; hereafter: BECA), Geisler has written a fairly long and detailed article on “Faith and Reason”, and the entire article is basically an exposition of the views of Aquinas about faith and the relationship between faith and reason.  Here is how Geisler characterizes the place of Aquinas in the history of thinking about faith and reason:
 Augustine made the first serious attempt to relate the two [faith and reason], but the most comprehensive treatment came at the end of the medieval period when Christian intellectualism flowered in the work of Thomas Aquinas.            (BECA, p. 239)
I see no criticisms, objections, or reservations expressed by Geisler about the views of Aquinas concerning the relationship of faith and reason, and given that Geisler has devoted the entire article on “Faith and Reason” to laying out the views of Aquinas, it seems clear that Geisler agrees with the view of faith and reason put forward by Aquinas, or at least he sees the view of Aquinas as the best of available comprehensive treatments of this topic.
There are nine bolded subheadings in Geisler’s article on “Faith and Reason”:
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
2. Three Uses of Reason
3. Divine Authority
4. Reason in Support of Faith
5. Distinguishing Faith and Reason
6. Perfected by Love, Produced by Grace
7. The Limitations of Reason
8. Things Above Reason
9. Summary
I might skip over some of these sections, but several look interesting and significant.  The first section looks significant, so I’ll start there.
 
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
There is just one subheading within this section: “Reason Cannot Produce Faith.”  If that is the Thomist view, then the idea of a “purely rational faith” that I described in the previous post, would seem NOT to fit with the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’.  The comments in this section make faith seem unavoidably  irrational:
Faith is consent without inquiry in that faith’s assent is not caused by investigation.  Rather, it is produced by God.  Commenting on Ephesians 2:8-9, Aquinas contended that “free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of faith are above reason. …That a man should believe, therefore, cannot occur from himself unless God gives it” (Aquinas, Ephesians, 96; unless noted, all citations in this article are from works by Thomas Aquinas). Faith is a gift of God, and no one can believe without it. (BECA, p.239)
Geisler knows more about Aquinas than I do, so I’m inclined to accept his interpretation of Aquinas, at least provisionally.  However, the quote of Aquinas here does not say anything about “inquiry” or “investigation”, so Geisler is reading something between the lines here that is less than obvious, at least to me.
I’m not sure what Aquinas means by the statement that “free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of faith are above reason.”  But my guess would be that he means that we cannot simply choose to believe in the doctrines of Christianity that are beyond discovery by human reason, because such doctrines must FIRST be revealed by God to human beings (at some point in history).  If a particular true idea is undiscoverable by means of human “inquiry” or “investigation”, then that implies that human beings will never discover that true idea, at least not on their own.  The trinity is a doctrine that Aquinas believes to be true, and to be beyond the power of human beings to discover by means of reason (or Geisler would say: by means of human “inquiry” or “investigation”).
On the other hand, there is a sense in which the doctrine of the trinity IS discovered by means of human inquiry and investigation, even if Aquinas’ views about the necessity of divine revelation are correct.  If I am to believe that the doctrine of the trinity is true on the basis of the fact that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the trinity, I have to first determine whether the Bible is worthy of my trust concerning theological claims, and to determine that question, I need to determine whether there is a God and whether the Bible was inspired by God, and whether the Bible’s original contents have been preserved from corruption over the centuries.  All three of these issues require human inquiry and investigation; these issues require the use of human REASON.  Aquinas pointed to miracles as evidence that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  But if we need evidence to determine whether the Bible is inspired by God, then we need REASON to determine whether the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
Also, it clearly will not do to appeal to the authority of the Bible in order to determine whether the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  For if the Bible is NOT inspired by God, then it has no significant authority concerning theological questions (such as “Did God inspire the Bible?”).  Appealing to the divine authority of the Bible in order to support the divine authority of the Bible is reasoning in a circle, so such an appeal has no force.
If Aquinas has in mind examples like the doctrine of the trinity being beyond the power of human investigation and inquiry, then it still seems to me that ‘faith in God’ can be purely rational and that ‘faith in God’ can be produced by REASON (on Aquinas’s view).  Belief in the trinity is based on acceptance of the authority of the Bible rather than based on a philosophical argument/proof about the details of this doctrine.  But there is still reasoning required to arrive at the conclusion that the Bible is a good and trustworthy source of theological information.
We must first determine that God exists (or at least, following Swinburne, that it is probable that God exists).  Then we must determine that the Bible was inspired by God (or at least, that it is probable that the Bible was inspired by God).  Then we must determine that the text of the Bible has been well-preserved over the centuries that have passed since it was first written down (or at least, that it is probable that the text of the Bible has been well-preserved).  All of this seems in keeping with the views of Aquinas, and all of this is a matter of REASON, of human inquiry and investigation into the existence of God, and into the inspiration of the Bible.
So, even if the trinity is a true doctrine and that no human being could ever discover the truth of the doctrine of the trinity by means of REASON without the help of divine revelation, it would still be the case that one’s acceptance of divine revelation (for example accepting the doctrine of the trinity on the basis of the authority of the Bible) would be based upon REASON, a human investigation or inquiry into questions about the existence of God and the alleged inspiration of the Bible.