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 9

Here are some key points from the first section (Relation of Faith to Reason) of Geisler’s article “Faith and Reason” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 239; hereafter: BECA):

  • The contents of faith “are above reason.” and so must be revealed to humans by God.
  • Faith “involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the will”.
  • Some theological truths “have been proved demonstratively” and can be based on reason, such as the existence of God.

If we take the second point in a straightforward manner, then there appears to be no conflict between faith and reason, at least in terms of the requirement that the assent of faith be a free choice.  If reason doesn’t compel a person to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine (or against any such claim or doctrine), then reason doesn’t preclude a person from freely choosing to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine.
The question I’m not clear how to answer is this:  Can a demonstrative proof compel a person to assent to the conclusion of the proof?  always? sometimes? never?  What is Aquinas’ view on this question?  I’m not sure.
The second section of the article is about Three Uses of Reason:  1. Reason can be used to prove the “preambles of faith”, such as the existence of God.  2. Reason can be used to explain or clarify a theological concept or doctrine.  3. Reason can be used to defend a theological belief by refuting an objection or an argument against that belief. (BECA, p.239).
Although the “preambles of faith” can be “proved demonstratively”(Summa Theologica, 1a.3.2), “such arguments are not available for the second kind of divine truth…” (Gentiles, 1.9, quoted in BECA, p.239).  An example of the second kind of divine truth would be the doctrine of the Trinity.  Aquinas believed that reason alone was insufficient to discover or to prove the doctrine of the Trinity, and that humans can possess this truth only because God has revealed this to us.
The passage quoted from Gentiles 1.9 also includes the following comments about divine revelation:
The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture–an authority divinely confirmed by miracles.  For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it.  Nevertheless, there are certainly likely [probable] arguments that should be brought forth in order to make divine truth known.
Apparently when Aquinas speaks of “divine truth” here, he is speaking of the second kind of divine truth (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity) and not the first kind of divine truth (e.g.  the existence of God), for the first kind of divine truth can be “proved demonstratively” and based on reason alone.
When Aquinas speaks of using “likely [probable] arguments” to support the second kind of divine truth I think he means showing the divine authority of the scriptures (or of Jesus or of the apostles) by making an appeal to the occurence of miracles that allegedly confirm the messages or teachings from those sources.  The authority of the scriptures or revelation is also supported by the belief that God is completely truthful:
…it was necessary for divine truth to be delivered by way of faith, being told to them as it were, by God Himself Who cannot lie…(Summa Theologica, 2a2ae.1, 5.4).
So, Aquinas suggests the basic apologetic argument for the authority of scripture:  Miracles confirm that a book or a messenger are bringing a message that truly comes from God, and God is completely truthful, so we can have complete confidence in the truth and accuracy of books or messengers that have been confirmed by miracles.
Apparently, Aquinas does not see this as a demonstrative proof, but rather as a “likely [probable]” argument. Nevertheless, it is still an argument, a bit of reasoning.  Thus, it seems to me that even the second kind of “divine truth”, such as the doctine of the Trinity, ultimately rests on reason, in that it rests on an argument, a bit of reasoning, about the alleged divine inspiration of the scriptures.  The appeal to confirming miracles requires empirical evidence and the evaluation of that evidence, and the important premise that God is completely truthful, is, presumably, based on a “demonstrative” proof about God being a perfectly good person.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 4

We have looked at a simple and widespread understanding of ‘faith in God’:
Definition 1
Person P has faith in God IF AND ONLY IF  P believes that God exists.
One problem with Def. 1 is that the devil himself would have ‘faith in God’ based on this definition, and thus this could hardly be considered  to be a virtue, to be the kind of faith that is commended by the Christian religion.
According to Swinburne (in Faith and Reason, 2nd ed., hereafter: FAR), the Thomist view of faith is similar to Def. 1, but with “one addition and two qualifications” (FAR, p.138).  Swinburne’s characterization of this view of faith has, however, two additions.  Here is my attempt to capture that characterization (with the additions, not the qualifications):
Definition 2
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted on the ground that God has revealed those beliefs.
This definition might get around the counterexample that the devil has ‘faith in God’ if we assume that the devil can directly perceive God in a way that humans cannot (so the devil would not have to rely upon God revealing theological truths).
I suggested an objective and a subjective interpretation of condition (d):
Objective Interpretation
(d#) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted by P as a result of God revealing those beliefs.
On this interpretation the definition fails, because it implies the counterintuitive view that NOBODY has ever had ‘faith in God’ if it turns out that there is no God. If there is no God, then there can be no divine revelation of theological truths, and on the objective interpretation of condition (d) there can be ‘faith in God’ only if God actually reveals some theological truths.
Subjective Interpretation
(d*) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
The subjective interpretation of (d) allows for there to be people who have ‘faith in God’ even if there is no God, so this interpretation is to be preferred over the objective interpretation.  But, there seems to be a problem of circularity looming here.
If I trust my doctor for medical information and advice, I do so because I have various beliefs about her knowledge, character, and motivations.  Similarly, if someone trusts God for information or advice, this implies that this person has various beliefs about God’s knowledge, God’s character, and God’s motivations.  If someone places great confidence in information or advice that he/she believes came from God, this is presumably based, in part on the belief that God is omniscient (all-knowing), and presumably is based, in part on the belief that God is a perfectly good person who loves all human beings and cares about their well-being.
If one has ‘faith in God’, then beliefs about the properties of God are supposed to be accepted on the basis of trusting in God, specifically trusting in God for information and advice.  But that trust is in turn based on beliefs about the properties of God.  This is reasoning in a circle:
1.  God is omniscient and perfectly good and cares about the well-being of each and every human.
Therefore:
2.  Whatever information or advice God gives to humans must be true or correct.
3. God has communicated the information that God is omniscient, perfectly good, and that God cares about the well-being of each and every human.
Therefore:
4. It must be true that God is omniscient, perfectly good, and that God cares about the well-being of each and every human.
So, Definition 2, on the subjective interpretation of (d), appears to require that a person who has ‘faith in God’ must engage in circular reasoning.
Someone who wanted to defend the Thomist view of faith might make use of the distinction between knowing that God exists on the basis of a proof or argument for God, and believing other things about God on the basis of divine revelation.  In trying to prove that God exists, or to show that it is probable that God exists, one must define what one means by the word ‘God’, and this is usually done in terms of a list of divine attributes (e.g. omniscience, omnipotence, perfect goodness, being eternal, etc.).  But not every property and activity of God is included in the definition of ‘God’.   So, whatever properties (divine attributes) are included in the definition of ‘God’ are established on the basis of reasons and evidence. Then, when one has been persuaded that there is such a person as God, one would be rationally justified in placing trust in any information or advice that one believes came from God, and such information apparently from God might include claims about other properties or actions of God that are not contained in the basic concept of God.
In order for this distinction to help rescue the concept of ‘faith in God’, the above definition needs to be modified a bit:
Definition 3
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions that are not implied by the concept of God are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
By dividing beliefs about God into two categories (those believed on the basis of arguments or evidence and those believed on the basis of divine revelation), it does appear that one can avoid the circular reasoning that Definition 2 required of people in order to have ‘faith in God’.
However, the reason why some properties and actions are built into the concept of God is, generally, because those properties and actions are the most important and significant ones, from a religious point of view.  Therefore, it appears that beliefs about God accepted on the basis of divine revelation will, in general, be beliefs that are less important and less significant than the beliefs about God that are accepted on the basis of arguments or reasons.  This seems to give reason the primary role in the concept of ‘faith in God’ and to give divine revelation a secondary and less important role in the concept of ‘faith in God’.