Archive for the ‘2013’ Category
This is the transcript of the presentation given by Peri Forester on the subject of Hell at the Reasonable Faith meeting held on the 18th of July 2013. See the corresponding Power Point slides – Talk about Hell.
Why talk about it in a ‘reasonable’ way?
Because in the absence of thought-through discussion, unexamined images dominate, which can lead to a misrepresentation of Hell and the God who warns us about it – or even a total denial (cf Dickson, 2007:86). In my case since I can’t deny that Jesus talked about hell – I have felt compelled to think the issues through.
Of course I am just one Christian believer limited in all sorts of ways and so I share what I have found over the last few months which overlays my reading of Scripture over the years since I became a Christian with the appropriate acknowledgment of my limitations.
The two objectives of tonight’s talk are to:
Outline the three main traditions of understanding concerning Hell within ‘Bible believing’ Christianity and their plausibility structures through their respective interpretations of Scripture. (In many of our discussions here at Reasonable Faith we do not refer much to the Christian Scriptures, and nor do we assume them as necessary for the arguments we make – our epistemology is often that of the so called Enlightenment reason and empiricism rather than authority or special revelation. However, in this topic what we are looking at is what it is reasonable for a Christian to believe about Hell – we are not trying to arrive at truth about hell from human reasoning apart from the Bible and therefore we use hermeneutics/biblical interpretation rather than some other kind of science or logic is our means).
Touch on the ways that imagery, which often side steps the normal expectations about truth telling, have the power to suppress truth and even debase communication about emotive topics such as salvation and its opposite if we don’t learn a kind of critical literacy of images and multimedia. I don’t think this second objective is fully met in what I have prepared, but we make a start.
As per usual for our RF meetings, after I present my talk we will have tea or coffee and snacks followed by a forum for open discussion on the topic. Hopefully it will be warm but not too fiery.
- Briefly review the three main paradigms
- Discuss the meanings of key words used in the bible
- Read some Scriptures highlighted in the debate and review how they are interpreted
- Very briefly review the history of the idea of hell
- Review a critique of the recently released video as an example of how multimedia can be used to side step truth telling standards and communicate deceptions powerfully.
I also need to say that I am not here trying to justify what I assume God will do with the unsaved – though that comes up and we can talk about it more after the break – rather I am trying to tune my 21st c. ear to what God is saying through the 2 or more thousand year old Scriptures, which, as is often noted, were not written in systematic text book ways.
SLIDE FIVE – Summary of the three paradigms
The three understandings about hell – that is the judgement and final state of those who reject God in this life (‘the unsaved’ without also in this talk entering into debate about who is included in that group) are the:
- Traditional Augustinian or Calvinistic view of the unending conscious torment of the unsaved
- The annihilationist or conditional immortality view in which the unsaved cease at some point to exist, and
- The Universalist view that ultimately all are saved.
I found a useful diagrammatic representation of these views on the internet at a site called “Rethinking Hell”:
SLIDE SIX – Traditional
The traditional view as it is called on our triangle is the view that the unrighteous will suffer forever and ever. The traditional view is that they will suffer physically by the active infliction of corporal punishment from God, as said Augustine (Crocket, 1996:46), and the modified view (since Calvin for eg Crocket1996:44) , and to me much more plausible one that they will suffer mental, or psychological suffering that is intrinsic to their separation from God. Billy Graham said of hellfire “I have often wondered if hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire we can never quench”. Proponents of the literal view, though, such as Jonathon Edwards and Charles Spurgeon were still found after the Reformation (ibid).
This traditional view almost always assumes the immortality of the human soul.
Sometimes the ethical charge is raised that if God allows suffering for ever and ever, he is immoral because no finite sins committed in time warrant everlasting conscious torture.
One answer to this charge is that sinners go on sinning in hell, and are being punished for ever for new sins. Carson suggest this response: “perhaps we can think of hell as a place where people continue to rebel… so he [God] continues to punish them” (Carson, 1990:91).
Another view is that Hell’s door is locked from the inside such that it is the sinners themselves who perpetuate hell (as CS Lewis says), and
Another that we just don’t see yet how punishment-worthy sin really is.
None of these answers fully satisfy me, I must admit, but as I have said, at this point, I am simply looking to understand what Scripture says.
SLIDE SEVEN – Conditionalism
Conditionalism or annihilationism is the view that, like the animals, people are mortal, not immortal, and so apart from God they naturally die in the sense that they cease to exist. Biblical conditionalists will acknowledge that there is a general resurrection – that this is a special act of God, but that while those in Christ go to life, those judged against in the eschatological judgment do not survive the second death; that is without Christ their being cannot be perpetuated and they are annihilated in the lake of fire.
The question for the conditionalist to deal with is what to do with biblical texts that talk about everlasting punishment. Their answers do satisfy me except for two texts – one from Genesis and one from Revelation. In those texts I can accept the answers provisionally, but only because everything else works in that paradigm as I see it.
SLIDE EIGHT – Universalism
Universalism is the belief that ultimately all are saved. Universalism treats ‘hell’ as purgatorial – that is reformative. Suffering is disciplinary. Either that, or it is a warning only.
There is a kind of universalism which is also pluralistic in the sense that it denies the uniqueness of Christ’s atonement and says all religions are straining equally for the same thing – that is heaven/God (however they are imagined to be), but there is also a ‘Christian’ version of universalism which does acknowledge the unique atonement of Christ but argues in various ways that by him all will be saved. This is, in a sense a Calvinistic stance, where the elect is simply everyone.
So what of all the warnings about hell – well these are just warnings. I guess this is a bit like the parent who says if you don’t stop making that noise I am going to kill you (even though they won’t).
For example Karl Rahner says: “What scripture says about hell, in conformity with the eschatological discourses, is not to be read as an anticipatory report on something that will happen sometime, but as unveiling the situation in which the man who is addressed truly finds himself now” (in Blotcher 1992:p290).
I can’t believe it myself; though to be honest because of that I have not given the arguments as much of a fair hearing as I have the other two.
Definitely I want to give universalism more attention in the future, especially as I want to understand the winds of teaching at the more popular level on the internet – where universalism is growing in acceptance and influence – wrongly I think.
Now at this point in my path of seeking after truth, as I said, I have come to discount Universalism as a possible Bible based Christian option, (though I’d be happy to find in glory that I was wrong on that, (though if Pol Pot is there I hope he has had more than one moment of tormented remorse getting in)) and so my research has led me more into the debate between conditionalism/ annihilationism and the traditional understanding of hell. If we look at the triangular diagram again and think of it as a continuum, at this point my opinion would be about here: (place sticker on chart). Just before we go to our break I am going to ask each of you to place a sticker on here as well and we will thus graph the beliefs of the group here tonight. So you can be thinking about where you will put your sticker as I talk.
Let’s take a CLOSER LOOK AT KEY TERMS which will help us evaluate the arguments.
There are a number of words where the interpretation is important to the discussion and debate about hell including:
- Perish and
Core to interpretation, as it may readily be pointed out, are grammatical relationships and textual contexts (Osborne 2006:82). However, looking at the words, and the meanings they are said to hold is a good start – especially words that come up again and again and form a theme in Scripture.
SLIDE ELEVEN – Hell
Looking again at the triangular diagram of the three paradigms, notice that the subtitle for the title “hell” here is “three views of final punishment” and, of course, in common contemporary usage the word hell is used as a shorthand way of saying just that. But the history of the word is very relevant to the discussion as it is closely related to the development of the understanding people had about final judgement and punishment and helps us to know what was in Jesus’ mind when he used the word.
Many of you will know that the word hell comes from Gehenna, which is itself the Aramaic translation of a Hebrew place name: Hinnom. The place is a valley near Jerusalem, south of the city of David, which by Jesus’ day(s) had long had an association with evil and death. This place was where straying Israelites, influenced by Canaanite practices (which as an aside evidences that both a remnant of the Canaanite people and their religion survived the clearly incomplete genocide of Joshua), had sacrificed their children to the god Molech during apostate periods of their history (2 Chron. 28:3, 33:6; Jer 7:31; 19:2-6). (READ JER 7:30-33).
As an image therefore, Gehenna (hell) elicited horrific if ill-defined Anti-Yahweh associations (Witherington, 2010:35). Further to those associations there is archaeological evidence that during the time of Jesus that valley, Gehenna – Hell – was a literal garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. Into Hell was thrown refuge both wet and dry and including the bodies of those not granted a dignified burial – such as executed criminals (this seems in keeping with Jeremiah’s prophesy of judgement that I read before). Hell, the dump, would have been continually, or at least often enough to be thought of as continually burning because incineration was the common method of disposing of rubbish in the ancient near east. No doubt in other places where vegetation, corpses and other wet rubbish was rotting maggots would have been present (Witherington 2010:35).
This was the kind of hell that Jesus said sinners were in danger of being thrown into by the one who had power to destroy both body and soul (Matthew 10:28). (Notice, as an aside that Jesus says body and soul – he distinguishes between them; in Hebrews 4:12 it also says the word of God is able divide soul and spirit.) But when Jesus said they would be destroyed in hell,
- did he mean that such a place of fire and maggots would be the residence of the dammed forever and he used the metaphor of Hell, as in Gehenna simply as a picture of the ultimate undesirable residential location, or,
- did he mean that God would dispose of the unrepentant forever as irreclaimably, unredeemably as a person who threw an unwanted possession into such a foul rotting burning unclean rubbish dump, or
- was he saying only that God could do such a thing, not that he actually would (hell as warning in the present not as history of an actual future) or
- Was he saying that a temporary stay in such a place may bring people to a better mind as some universalists think?
Answering these questions about what Jesus and his followers meant literally when they allegorically referred to the valley and fires of Gehenna usually involves discussion and controversy about the usage of the Greek word aionios often translated into the English as everlasting or eternal (Fudge1994:11). For example Matthew 25:46 “and these [who gave no water to the thirsty etc] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life [in the separating of the sheep and goats]”. Traditionalists will argue that everlasting means for ever and they seem in the example just used to have plain sense on their side, especially when there is a parallelism between the punishment and life. Conditionalists will agree that the punishment lasts forever but say that while the judgement is final and the contempt for the ‘goats’ here referred to ‘lives’ on eternally as a fact of history, the second death ensures that these who are thrown away into a rubbish dump won’t be conscious forever. Death may be the opposite of life but it is not its equal opposite, and this seems just as plausible.
Aionios is used of many temporary things in Scripture, for example mountains are said to be everlasting, but actually they only exist for a very long time, the ordinances of OT law were everlasting, but actually they came to an end, as did Solomon’s everlasting temple (Fudge, 1994:12,13). Like a lifetime guarantee, the specifics of how long forever is are moderated by the inherent capacity of the thing referred to. Universalists may say the punishment lasts only as long as it does though the people last forever, Conditionalists that the punishment lasts forever but the people last only as long as they can under such God-forsaken conditions.
Jesus was not the first to use Gehenna (Hell) as a picture of condemnation. The association developed during the Inter-Testamental (IT) period and so how it was used then is relevant to the scholarly debate as a place of punishment for eg in 1 Enoch 27:2 it says “This accursed valley is for those who are cursed forever; here will be gathered together all who speak with their mouths against the Lord… and here will be their place of Judgement” (cited in Toon1986:31)
Where we read of “hell” in the Old Testament we are reading translators association of the IT and NT period’s Gehenna with the OT period’s Sheol. But the two are not fully identical; they are connected only in that they both refer to the place of the dead. Sheol, however, is a place of diminished sensorial perception, not like the heightened experience of burning in either a literal or metaphorical sense. At a basic level Sheol was just where the dead are and often the word in the OT, where it is not translated as hell, is translated simply as the grave.
Especially in the earlier OT times the rewards of godliness were understood in this-worldly terms – the godly were rewarded with a long and full life in this world; there was some sense that those who die join their ancestors in Sheol, but speculation about what that meant was minimal – though, as time went by, the sprinkling of hints at life after death became more defined and by the end of the OT period we have Daniel speaking of the resurrection (Johnston, 2002:225).
The faith of the psalmists that surely God would not just let them stay in the grave resonates deeply with the beginning of my faith, the background of my openness to a Christian conversion.
Anyway the development of hints throughout OT history is as John Blanchard points out in keeping with the progressive revelation of God. (1993:35).
Hades was the god of the underworld in Greek mythology, and later the underworld was also called Hades (Fudge 1994:127).
SLIDE THIRTEEN – Aionios (everlasting or eternal)
Aionios is a Greek word which has a qualitative and a quantitative sense – that is, it refers to quality and quantity. It is closely related to aeon, which means ‘age’ as in the current age and the age to come. As we saw before the Greek word aionios, which translates as eternal or everlasting, has as its modifier the capacity of the noun it describes. We don’t need to read this from Conditionalists, traditionalists like John Blanchard (READ 1993; PP240 – 241 OR 242). 241,242
SLIDE FOURTEEN – Death, Perish & destroy
Fudge argues that death means what it seems to mean in a usual sense – cessation and extinction – “It is deliberately said both that the soul dies (judges 16:30; …) that it is destroyed or consumed (Ez. 22, 23, 270, and that it is extinguished (Job 11, 20). The conditionalist understanding of what death means fits most of the literary contexts of Scripture beautifully, except the Genesis fall narrative. (READ BLANCHARD 1993: 55). So is it that biblical death means separation? Fudge, a conditionalist seems to agree but nuances/ spins it differently (READ FUDGE. 1994:42,43).
“[From in conditionalist faith] says the OT uses 50 different Hebrew verbs to describe the final state of the wicked and notes that they all signify different aspects of destruction”… never that of immortal life in endless suffering (Fudge,1994: 47)
I found it interesting that about natural life and death Ecc 9:5 says “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten”
What of the second death? In conditionalist thinking this is extinction, in traditional thinking the final and full separation from God, however, somehow with sustained existence from God. We will look at this when we look at Revelation 20.
SLIDE FIFTEEN – Key Scriptures
Of course we have already referred to the scriptures in looking at key terms but now we will do the reverse, having examined what the words mean, we will look at a few of the Scriptures that are important to the debate. There are others, and after our break we can talk about any you like.
SLIDE SISTEEN – Genesis 6-9 (flood – example of judgement)
Gen 6:5-8 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.
21-24 And all flesh died… Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing.
“Sometimes words such as perish, destroy or die may be metaphorical or figurative [in the case of the flood, however] there is no doubt of their meaning. In this example of the end of the world, these terms clearly mean literal death” (Fudge 1994:54)
Jesus (Matt 24:38; Luke 17:26, 2 Peter 2:5,9; 3:3-7) used the flood as an example of judgements in time and as a picture of end times judgement (Fudge, 1994: 53,54).
Fudge used this event as an example of how to interpret words like perish p54
Genesis 19:24:29 (burning of Sodom – example of judgement)
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven… So it was … God destroyed the cities of the valley.
This is where fire and sulphur becomes associated with judgement. The fire God destroys Sodom with is eternal fire (Fudge, 1994: 121, Jude 7)
When Isaiah foretold the judgement and everlasting ruin of Babylon, Sodom was the example (Is 13:19-22; Jer 50:49). Jude 7 uses it as example of end time punishment, as did 2 Peter 2:6. This is where the idea of a stick snatched from the fires of judgement came from (Amos 4:11; Jude 23)
Isaiah 66: 24 (worm not die – torment, quoted by Jesus Mark 9:48)
24 And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh”
The unquenchable fire and undying worm are two of the main images of everlasting (aionios) torment. These can easily be understood as referring to an un-consolable condemning conscience. (Blotcher, 1992:306). Henri Blotcher, a traditionalist, talks about remorse in agreement with God; he argues that sin cannot continue in eternity (the age to come) and the everlasting torment of those condemned will be their agreement, too late, with the judgements of God. This makes it impossible to justify everlasting torment for finite sins by saying that sinners go on sinning in eternity (as D. Carson suggests 2006: 91); but it does make it easy to see how the judgement will be absolutely fair, as the more evil a person’s actions and attitudes were in life, and the more opportunities they had to repent, the more they will agonise over their realization too late when they finally see it God’s way. The pain that God now feels for the world in sin, will belong then fully and only to the sinner.
This resonates deeply for me – it seems very plausible that this is qualitatively just how it is, but I do wonder if in the absence of God the person so thrown to hell will not cease to exist. It seems if we are taking this text metaphorically as a psychological fire and worm (quality), we cannot switch to literalism on the point of how long forever is under such circumstances (quantity); even more especially given the way the word aonious is modified by its semantic context can we not make that switch.
In my youth I suffered panic attacks and other such things – I can assure you that although they clearly ended, whilst having one, the moment could be said by a passionate expressive person, not concerned with systematic theology, to be forever.
Fudge the conditionalist, it may seem strange, interprets this text more literally than the modern proponents of everlasting metaphorical fire, such as Blotcher, assuming that Isaiah had a literal referent in time that God had impressed him with as a picture of final judgement (Fudge, 1994: 62-63).
Daniel 12:2 (everlasting shame and contempt)
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
That both the saved and the lost are resurrected is confirmed here.
There is also no need to doubt that unrepentant sinners feel shame at the judgement, but that they are held in contempt for ever by the saved does not necessitate their never ending existence, only the eternal legacy.
Luke 16 :19-31 (the rich man and lazarus – torment)
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame’. 25 But Abraham said ‘child remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus bad things; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’. 27 And he said ‘then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – 28 for I have five brothers – so that he may warm them, lest they also come into this place of torment’. 29 But Abraham said, ‘they have Moses and the Prophets; let them here them’. 30 And he said, no father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent’. 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
If this must have as its point that hell is everlasting torment, then it perhaps also needs to be the traditional view of corporal sensorial pains – such that a literal finger dipped in water might help.
We have here a division in Hades – such as was conceived of during the IT time. Notice that it is Hades and not Hell that Jesus refers to. The story was not a Jesus original, but a retelling of a popular story going around in both Palestine and Greek Egypt – “The basic plot was well-known folklore” a (Fudge, 1994: 127). Jesus was, and still is allowed to borrow such common stories to make his point, and when he does his point rather than the stage set of the story is what would have come into view for his original audience.
The point is the five brothers – Jesus is saying that if they will not repent of their selfish greed when they have the OT “in their hands” and the poor man at their gate, then they won’t repent ever. “Hades” is just the theatre set. The crisis point is whether the Pharisees Jesus was addressing “who were lovers of money [and] heard all” [the things Jesus had been saying about not being able to serve two masters] Luke 16:10-18, were any better. (cf Fudge, 1994: 128).
SLIDE TWENTY ONE
Mathew 25:31-46 (the sheep and the goats – exclusion)
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink, or see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and cloth you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not cloth me, in prison and you did not visit me’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
What stands out? (Fudge p125).
SLIDE TWENTY TWO
Revelation 14:9-11 (no rest day and night – torment)
“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “if anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night”
Now this sure sounds like conscious everlasting torment. There are some conditionalist explanations I have read but none were compelling.
SLIDE TWENTY THREE
Revelation 20:10, 14-15 (lake of fire = second death)
“And the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they were tormented day and night forever and ever…
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Blanchard (1993) argues that the lake of fire means the “awesome, holy, avenging presence of God (P228), but then he also argues that it is the final separation from God. Not that I want to discount a view simply because of a linguistic contradiction – but it does seem intuitive to me that separation from God cuts off the blood flow, as it were, and nothing can exist long without blood – that is the sustaining of God.
The lake of fire is the Gehenna hell, (not the hades) of the NT – traditionalists and Conditionalists agree.
SLIDE TWENTY FOUR
In one sense I am not satisfied with what I have been able to do in this presentation tonight because, while I have been able to dig in far enough to be able to share with you the lay of the land in the contemporary debate based on the Scriptures – particularly between conditionalism and the traditional view of everlasting torment, I have not been able to share with you as much of the contemporary debate at the more popular level as it is fought out on YouTube, and the like, or of the discussion about hell as it has run through and beyond church history. Also in what we have discussed I have given more attention to Scriptural interpretation issues than to more overarching philosophical questions such as the extent that Greek thought influenced the development of Christian understandings or whether Roman politics did. Given time limits I thought that the first thing was to look at the discussion as it is gathered around the Scriptures.
I would like to touch on those other two areas by reading a short passage from a book; and by reading sections of a critique of the newly released Hellbound video which joins the great wave of media out there in support of Universalism currently. If you are willing to hear me again I would like to come and talk again, next time getting more into those popular discussions building on the Biblical background we have talked about tonight.
Consider origins of belief in hell in Klassen, 2001: 62. We can note here that retribution fits our inbuilt sense of justice – I noticed on the news recently that one of the three victims released from captivity at the hands of a rapist (among other things he was a rapist) after ten years of abuse said on TV that she could let go and move on knowing that God would judge the man that did that to her. This makes sense, it is intuitive and I think is reflected in the common theme of judgement running through the religions. So we don’t need to pretend that vengeance is not part of the Gospel: that the man who abused you, or the economic system that oppressed you, or the ruling powers that destroyed your village will not get away with it but be judged with the fury and wrath of God is part of the Gospel. So long as it is proportionate, this seems only right. That there is an amnesty for the repentant because of Jesus; well that is amazing saving grace. When the punishment is disproportionate though, it seems to me to pervert the Gospel and some understandings of hell do seem disproportionate no matter how you look at it.
SLIDE TWENTY FIVE
OK lastly I want to very briefly talk about a video that has just come out: “Hellbound”. We will first watch a trailer.
Stirring isn’t it. This stuff is our apocalyptic genre – it is emotive, visual and makes you think you have seen and heard things you have not. What do I mean?: well the video, which it is reported promotes a universalist doctrine satirises the beliefs in the Augustinian tradition of understanding about hell by juxtaposing talk about the difficulties of challenging unexamined beliefs with a preacher who is strongly rebuking a congregation. These images and the way they are arranged are saying something – they are saying something in very strong terms, namely that traditionalists are unreasonable and become aggressive if very reasonable questions are asked – but, if the critique I’ve read is right they lie because the passionate preacher is not rebuking his audience for questioning the preacher’s assumed traditional view about hell at all – he is rebuking them for mistreating their wives.
This is not to say it is only Universalists who do this – it is just to say we need to be wary of this kind of sleight of hand, most especially to avoid doing it ourselves, and of course to avoid being deceived by those who do. Now to avoid unfair comment myself I should point out I was not able to get a hold of a full copy of the video and so I report this only from an online review.
OK, now before we go to the break please come and put a sticker on the triangle to indicate where you currently stand on “hell”; that is your opinion. As I said before we are leaving out all these nuances of devils but not people burning forever and the like and so where you place your sticker back from the corner of the position you hold indicates how sure or unsure you are about it, not some technical mid point opinion.
As the kids say at the end of their talks – thanks for listening.
Blanchard, J. (1993), “Whatever Happened to Hell?” Evangelical Press: Durham.
Blotcher, H. (1992), ‘Everlasting punishment and the problem of evil’, in Cameron, N. (ed.) “Universalism and the doctrine of hell”, Paternoster Press: Carlisle.
Carson, D. (2006), “How long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed.” IVP: Nottingham
Dickson, J. & Clarke, G. (2007), “666 and all that, The truth about the future”, Aquila Press: Sydney.
Fudge, E.W. (1994), “The Fire that Consumes, The Biblical case for conditional immortality”, Paternoster: Bletchley.
Klassen, R. (2001), “What does the Bible really say about Hell? Wrestling with the traditional view”, Pandora Press: Telford.
Johnston, P.S. (2002), “Shades of Sheol, Death and the Afterlife in the Old Testament”, IVP: Downers Grove.
Osborne, G. R, (2006), “The Hermeneutical Spiral, A comprehensive Introduction to Biblical interpretation”, IVP: Downers Grove.
Toon, P. (1986), “Heaven and Hell, A Biblical and Theological overview”, Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville.
Witherington III, B. (2010), Revelation and the End times. Unraveling God’s message of hope”, Abingdon Press: Nashville.
Kant’s Critique of the Traditional Arguments for the Existence of God
This is a summary of the presentation given on the 4th of July. Unfortunately we were not able to video record the meeting. However, there were power point slides (see Kants Critique).
1 Kant for Dummies
When I was a young engineer, a senior manager at the Electricity Trust told me, “If you really understand something, then you can explain it simply”. I believe this is largely true. So, I am going to attempt to provide a simple explanation of Kant’s Critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. Unfortunately the converse does not apply. If you explain something simply, this does not necessarily mean that you really understand. Anyway, here we go.
After reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the German Lutheran Pietist J. G. Hamann wrote “If it is fools who say in their heart there is no God, those who try to prove his existence seem to me to be even more foolish.” However, are Kant’s arguments correct and was Hamann right in his assessment? In fact, Kant’s arguments have not been universally accepted. So, at the risk of being a fool, I will reconsider Kant’s arguments and assess whether it is sound and valid to argue for the existence of God.
So, what were his arguments, are they valid, are they relevant to contemporary arguments and how do they affect the scope and usefulness of arguments for the existence of God?
1.1 Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a major philosopher during the period of the Enlightenment, which is a supposedly anti-Christian movement. However, Kant is not necessarily anti-Christian. He was brought up in a devout Lutheran family and never rejected that faith. Although he is famous for having launched a critique against the traditional arguments for the existence of God, he still believed in God. In fact he believed that atheism was dangerous to society and also developed an argument for the existence of God based on morality as outlined in his Critique of Practical Reason. Thus we can consider Kant’s critique as “friendly fire”. His intent was to clarify the limitations of the traditional arguments so that their claims were not overstated.
During the Enlightenment the 2 major epistemological movements were rationalism and empiricism. The chief originator of empiricism was John Locke, who believed that all of our knowledge came through the senses. Rene Descartes was the father of rationalism. Descartes’ aim was to gain certain knowledge from a foundation of indubitable beliefs and to derive certain conclusions from that foundation using “Pure Reason”.
1.2 Critique of Pure Reason
Kant’s major work was the Critique of Pure Reason (1787). Kant was primarily an empiricist and his critique was an attempt to unite empiricism with rationalism, which he referred to as Pure Reason. In this work Kant also provided a critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. Kant’s critique has been highly influential.
Kant’s analysis of the arguments for the existence of God are contained in Transcendental Doctrine of Elements, Second Part, Second Division, Book 2, chapter 3, sections 3 to 7 of the Critique of Pure Reason.
2 Definitions of Terms
Before we review the traditional arguments we should be careful to define out terms, especially regarding existence. At least 3 types of existence have been identified. These are:
- Impossible existence
- Contingent existence and
- Necessary existence.
Impossible existence refers to entities that cannot exist. These are usually entities that are logically impossible, such as square circles and married bachelors.
Contingent objects are those that we typically observe. They have a beginning, they are caused and we can imagine a world in which they do not exist. In other words they do not have to exist.
When we talk about God it is generally assumed that God is a Necessary Being. This may come in a number of flavours. It may mean that he is uncaused or has no beginning and is the cause of all other things. However, there is an even stronger sense. It may also mean that he exists necessarily. In other words it is impossible for God not to exist and that he must exist in all possible worlds. However, when we say that God is eternal and uncaused, are we necessarily asserting that God is necessary in this last and strongest sense?
Let us keep this in mind as we review Kant’s objections.
3 The Traditional Arguments for Existence of God
According to Kant (1787), there are only 3 arguments that need be considered. These are the Teleological (Design), Cosmological (First Cause) and Ontological arguments. “More there are not, and more there cannot be.” Why is this so? He does not say, but let’s just see what he says.
The Cosmological and Teleological arguments have been around since Plato and Aristotle. They depend on observations about the actual world and even have some basis in scripture, since Paul claims that God’s eternal power and divine nature is clearly perceived in what he has made.
The Ontological Argument, however, is of a quite different nature. It was invented much later in the 11th century. Nobody had thought of it before. It is nearly a purely logical argument with no reference to any particular thing in the actual world, except perhaps our minds.
Although the Cosmological and Design Arguments are much older than the Ontological Argument, Kant considers the Ontological Argument first. He argues that the Ontological Argument is a poor argument. He then argues that the other 2 arguments are ultimately dependent on the Ontological Argument and thus fall with it.
Thus firstly we will consider the Ontological Argument.
4 Ontological Argument
We have already considered the Ontological Argument 4 weeks ago (see https://reasonablefaithadelaide.org.au/the-ontological-argument/). However, I will give an overview. This will be an introduction for those who were not present at that meeting and some revision for those who were. I will provide an overview of the historical development of the Ontological Argument prior to Kant. This will cover Anselm, Gaunilo and Descartes. I will then summarise Kant’s Objections to the Ontological Argument, then compare modern Ontological Arguments and then give assessment of the relevance of Kant’s critique.
The Ontological Argument was first developed by a Benedictine monk called Anselm (1033-1109), who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. The Ontological Argument is contained in the Proslogion, which means “discourse on the existence of God”. Even if his argument is not correct, it really is a stunning piece of original thinking.
Psalm 14 states that “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’”. Anselm alludes to this passage and argues that even a fool has a concept of God. He states,
Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.
This passage is quite verbose, but we can simplify it a bit. Anselm reasoned that, if “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” existed only in the intellect, then it would not be “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. Thus it follows that “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” must exist in reality.
Alvin Plantinga has provided a summary of Anselm’s argument in a more logical form:
- God is defined as the greatest conceivable being
- To exist is greater than to not exist
- If God does not exist then we can conceive of a greater being that does exist
- Thus if God does not exist then he is not the greatest conceivable being
- This leads to a contradiction
- Therefore God must exist
4.2 Gaunilo of Marmoutiers
In Anselm’s own time, his argument was opposed by Gaunilo of Marmoutiers. He parodied the argument by applying it to other entities, such as “A greatest conceivable island” or “a greatest conceivable lion”. This tactic has often been used to parody the ontological argument. However, this was not the approach taken by Immanuel Kant.
The Ontological Argument was developed further by philosophers such as Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.
Descartes’ simplified argument can be summarised as:
- The very conception of God includes the possession of all perfections.
- Existence is a perfection.
- Therefore, it is inconceivable that God does not exist.
4.4 Kant’s Ontological Argument Objections
It is difficult to summarise Kant’s critique of the Ontological Argument simply. However, it seems that Kant is mainly targeting Descartes’ version, although he does not make this clear. The major points that he seems to be raising are.
- The Ontological Argument confuses existence and essence
- Existence is not a Predicate
- Negation of the proposition “God exists” does not result in a contradiction
- You cannot establish God’s existence merely from our conceptions of God
Kant’s critique of the Ontological Argument has not gone unchallenged. For each of Kant’s objections, I will mention counter objections that have been raised.
4.4.1 Confusing Existence and Essence
Descartes’ version of the Ontological Argument can be summarised as
- The very conception of God includes the possession of all perfections.
- Existence is a perfection.
- Therefore, it is inconceivable that God does not exist.
Descartes claims that existence is a perfection. However, Kant believes that Decartes is confusing essence with existence. The essence of God answers the question, “What is God like?” and describes God’s properties or characteristics, such as omniscience. However, the existence of God answers the question, “Does God exist?” Essence and existence are 2 different things. When Descartes claims that existence is a perfection, he is confusing or conflating essence with existence. On this issue Kant may well be right.
4.4.2 Existence is Not a Predicate
Kant’s main critique of Anselm’s and Descartes’ version of the Ontological Argument is that existence is not a predicate. Propositions consist of a subject and a predicate. For instance, in the sentence “A dog has four legs”, the dog is the subject and “has four legs” is the predicate. The predicate describes properties of the subject. By claiming that existence is not a predicate, Kant is challenging the claim that existence is a perfection, or that to exist is greater than to not exist.
4.4.3 Negation is not a Contradiction
Kant claims that “God exists” is not a necessary truth. Some statements are necessarily true, since their negation entails a contradiction. A couple of examples are:
- All bachelors are unmarried
- All squares have 4 sides
If we negate the predicate we get a contradiction, eg
- All bachelors are married
- All squares do not have 4 sides
However, consider the statement “God exists”. If we negate the predicate we get “God does not exist”. However “God does not exist” is a coherent statement that does not entail a contradiction. Thus Kant argues that “God exists” is not a necessary truth. In this respect I think Kant is right. The statement “God exists” is not a necessary truth. However, I think Kant confuses “necessary truth” with “Necessary Being”. The Ontological Argument is not arguing that “God exists” is a necessary truth. It is arguing that God exists necessarily, and that is different.
4.4.4 Conceptual Conundrum
Anselm argues for concepts in our minds to the objective existence of God. However, Kant argues that we cannot establish God’s existence merely from our conceptions of God. How can a conceptual conundrum in the mind affect a being’s objective existence?
4.4.5 Kant’s Conclusion
Thus Kant concludes his discussion with the cutting assessment that the Ontological Argument “neither satisfies the healthy common sense of humanity, nor sustains the scientific examination of the philosopher.”
This all sounds very damning, but are Kant’s objections valid?
Kant claims that he is targeting Ontological arguments in general, but he seems to be mainly targeting Descartes’ version rather than Anselm’s.
4.5 Response to Kant’s Ontological Argument Objections
Two objections to Kant’s critique of the Ontological Argument are that
- His Predicate Argument is irrelevant, and that
- Necessary Existence is indeed a Property
4.5.1 Predicate Argument is Irrelevant
Kant’s most famous objection to the Ontological Argument is his claim that existence is not a predicate. However, even this has been challenged by eminent philosophers. Alvin Plantinga has claimed that Kant’s predicate argument is irrelevant to Anselm’s Ontological Argument.
Kant’s point, then, is that one cannot define things into existence because existence is not a real property or predicate in the explained sense. If this is what he means, he’s certainly right. But is it relevant to the ontological argument? Couldn’t Anselm thank Kant for this interesting point and proceed merrily on his way? Where did he try to define God into being by adding existence to a list of properties that defined some concept? …If this were Anselm’s procedure … then indeed his argument would be subject to the Kantian criticism. But he didn’t, and it isn’t. The usual criticisms of Anselm’s argument, then, leave much to be desired. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the argument is successful, but it does mean that we shall have to take an independent look at it.
Plantinga’s counter objections are not universally accepted (Robson 2012). However, they do illustrate that Kant’s predicate critique of Anselm’s version of the Ontological Argument is not universally considered to be watertight.
4.5.2 Necessary Existence is a Property
One of Kant’s key claims is that existence is not a property and the Ontological Argument fails because it assumes it is. However, he then proceeds to apply this to necessary existence. The idea of necessary existence is not the same thing as the idea of a being whose properties include existence. A being exists necessarily if it is impossible for that being not to exist. This need not involve the inclusion of a property called existence. Necessary existence is a type of existence and hence necessary existence is indeed a property.
4.6 Does it apply to Modern Arguments?
Alvin Plantinga has been critical of Kant’s arguments regarding Anselm’s formulation of the Ontological Argument. However, he has also proposed a revised form of the ontological argument called the Modal Ontological Argument, which goes as follows:
- It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists
- If it is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists, then a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world
- If a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world, then a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world
- If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world then a Maximally Great Being exists in the actual world
- Therefore a Maximally Great Being exists
Plantinga believes that his argument avoids Kant’s fire. He claims:
Now we no longer need the supposition that necessary existence is a perfection; for obviously a being can’t be omnipotent (or for that matter omniscient or morally perfect) in a given world unless it exists in that world… It follows that there actually exists a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect; this being, furthermore, exists and has these qualities in every other world as well.
However, Plantinga concedes:
But obviously this isn’t a proof; no one who didn’t already accept the conclusion, would accept the first premise. The ontological argument we’ve been examining isn’t just like this one, of course, but it must be conceded that not everyone who understands and reflects on its central premise — that the existence of a maximally great being is possible — will accept it. Still, it is evident, I think, that there is nothing contrary to reason or irrational in accepting this premise. What I claim for this argument, therefore, is that it establishes, not the truth of theism, but its rational acceptability. And hence it accomplishes at least one of the aims of the tradition of natural theology.
4.7 The Essence of the Ontological Argument
To me the essence of the Ontological Argument is that if it is possible that a Necessary Being exists, then a Necessary Being must exist in all possible worlds. This seems quite logical. However, the following issues still need to be resolved:
- Is a Necessary Being possible?
- Can we show that the Necessary Being is maximally perfect and is God?
4.8 Conclusion on the Ontological Argument
There seems to be an essential difference between Anselm’s version of the Ontological Argument and Plantinga’s. Anselm seems to be arguing that it is impossible for God not to exist, whereas Plantinga is arguing that if it is possible for God to exist, then he must exist. However, he leaves the possibility of God’s existence as an open issue that people will debate. Thus Plantinga concludes that it is rational to believe in God but the Modal Ontological Argument is not a proof.
Personally I am not convinced by either Anselm’s or Decartes’ version of the Ontological Argument and so I am not overly perturbed by Kant’s critique. However, I am more interested in his critique of the Cosmological argument. Has Kant undermined the Cosmological Argument in all of its possible forms?
At first sight it seems strange that Kant can possibly claim that the Cosmological Argument and Design Argument are dependent on the Ontological Argument. After all the Cosmological Argument and Design Argument have been around for over a thousand years before the Ontological Argument was ever thought of (or conceived – pun intended).
However, Kant believes that the cosmological and design proofs presuppose the ontological proof since these proofs conclude that a Necessary Being must be a most real or most excellent being. Thus even if the Cosmological Argument or Design Argument can show that a Necessary Being must exist, they then rely on the Ontological Argument to show that the Necessary Being is God.
Kant then argued that the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument. Thus he believes that, if the Ontological Argument fails, the Cosmological Argument and the Design Argument fall with it.
Firstly we will consider the Cosmological Argument.
5 Cosmological Argument
Kant’s main attack on the Cosmological Argument is that it is dependent on the Ontological Argument. The Ontological Argument argues God is a Necessary Being. Kant claims that the Cosmological Argument argues for the existence of a Necessary Being, which it then identifies as God. Kant accepts that there must be a Necessary Being in order to avoid an infinite regress. However, he disputes that it can be proven that the Necessary Being is God. He believes that the Cosmological Argument relies on the Ontological Argument to make that association. Thus if the Ontological Argument fails then the Cosmological Argument falls with it. However, is Kant right about this dependency?
5.1 Dependency Arguments
Kant seems to use 3 arguments to show the dependency of the Cosmological Argument on the Ontological Argument.
Kant’s key arguments for making the Cosmological Argument dependent on the Ontological Argument are that the Cosmological Argument assumes that:
- a Necessary Being is Possible
- the Necessary Being is Actual
- the Necessary is God
5.1.1 Necessary Existence is Possible
Firstly the Cosmological Argument seems to presuppose that necessary existence is possible and then shows that it is actual, since if it is not possible then it cannot be actual. Kant’s argument goes something like this:
- The concept of a Necessary Being appears in both arguments.
- The Cosmological Argument assumes that necessary existence is at least possible since if it is not possible it cannot be actual.
- This is a conclusion of the Ontological Argument.
- Thus the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument.
However, the Cosmological Argument does not assume that necessary existence is possible. Instead, the argument tries to show that necessary existence is actual, from which we can infer that it must be possible. This practice is currently used in science. Cosmologists have proposed the existence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy to explain the motion of galaxies. They have little idea what they are and so cannot directly prove that they are possible. However since they are actual, they must be possible.
5.1.2 The Necessary Being is God
The second reason that Kant provides for the dependency of the Cosmological Argument on the Ontological Argument is that the Cosmological Argument relies on the Ontological Argument to associate the Necessary Being with God. Kant claims that the Ontological Argument shows that God is a Necessary Being and therefore exists. The Cosmological Argument shows that a Necessary Being exists, but then relies on the Ontological Argument to infer that the Necessary Being is God.
However, this is not necessarily so. William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument does not go via this route. We will discuss the Kalam Cosmological Argument later.
5.2 Additional Objections
As well as claiming that the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument, Kant raises additional objections to the Cosmological Argument itself.
Kant thinks that space and time are absolutely necessary and are examples of some things that are necessarily existent apart from God. However, Kant’s views are simply dated and have been overtaken by recent scientific discoveries.
One of Kant’s aims was to define appropriate limits for the exercise of pure reason. He does not disparage pure reason altogether as much of his critique is pure reason. However, his belief that space and time were infinite and existed independently of God was, he believed, a valid conclusion based on pure reason. It was this belief that caused him to claim that a finite past led to contradictions. However, it appears he was wrong. Later empirical evidence has led to the conclusion that space and time are finite, which means that there is no contradiction if the universe has a finite past. In this case, it seems that Kant has overstepped the use of pure reason, which probably illustrates his point.
5.3 Kalam Cosmological Argument
William Lane Craig is a current proponent of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
I will cover:
- The argument
- Justifying the premises
- The conclusions drawn
5.3.1 The Argument
Craig’s formulation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument can be summarised by the following syllogism (2008):
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore the universe has a cause.
5.3.2 Justifying the Premises
For the most part, premise 1 is usually accepted as being intuitively obvious. Most of his effort goes into justifying premise 2. Premise 2 is justified using 2 philosophical arguments and 2 arguments from scientific discoveries during the last 100 years, which are:
- Philosophical Arguments
- It is impossible to instantiate an actually infinite set. Thus there cannot be an infinite sequence of causes.
- It is impossible to traverse an infinite sequence of causes.
- Scientific Arguments
- The second law of thermodynamics implies that there cannot be an infinite past.
- The expansion of the universe implies that the universe cannot be past infinite and originated in an event 13.3 billion years ago, referred to as the Big Bang.
5.3.3 Argument Conclusions
Craig then uses information about the Big Bang to derive various attributes of the initial cause. The Big Bang marked the beginning of matter, energy, space and time. Thus the cause must at least be transcendent, timeless and powerful. These attributes are not derived from any a priori argument.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument does not argue that the cause of the universe is a Necessary Being or even God. It limits itself to those properties that are directly implied by the empirical and logical evidence.
6 Design Argument
Kant (1787) says that the Design Argument may demonstrate a designer who modifies the form of matter but not a creator of matter. To demonstrate the existence of a creator, we must rely on the Ontological Argument and the Cosmological Argument, which he regards as spurious. This proof can at most, therefore, demonstrate the existence of an architect of the world, whose efforts are limited by the capabilities of the material with which he works, but not of a creator of the world, to whom all things are subject.
In other words, the Design Argument may still be valid, but it is just limited in scope. However, this is not of serious concern. The aim of the arguments for the existence of God is mainly to establish God’s existence, not to completely define God’s attributes, and if the Design Argument is sound, then it is also decisive. The main challenge to the Design argument came much later with Darwin’s theory of evolution, which provided a naturalistic explanation of design within living creatures. To overcome this, the Design Argument has been revived in the form of the Fine Tuning Argument, which highlights design in the laws of physics, which are not subject to a Darwinian explanation. Craig’s formulation of the Fine Tuning Argument can be summarised by the following syllogism:
- The fine tuning of the initial conditions of the universe and of the constants in the laws of physics are due to law, chance or design.
- They are not due to law or chance.
- Therefore they are due to design.
Craig then uses this syllogism to argue for a designer of the universe.
7 Craig’s arguments
From all of the above arguments it is deduced that God is maximally great, exists necessarily, is transcendent, timeless, powerful and the designer of the universe. The Plantinga version of the Ontological argument is not subject to the critique that existence is a perfection. The Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument do not rely on any support from the Ontological Argument. Thus these arguments are immune from the main thrust of Kant’s critiques. However, these arguments still have limitations. They are arguments, not proofs. An atheist can always choose not to believe the premises, although the intent is to make the atheist pay an intellectual price for doing so. If well presented, they should demonstrate that it is rational and reasonable to believe in God. In addition, these arguments do not specifically point to the Christian God and are used by Jews and Muslims as well. Specifically Christian arguments must rely on evidence from the New Testament.
I personally do not find the Ontological Argument to be particularly compelling, but I do find the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument to be quite convincing. I believe this has Biblical warrant, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what he has made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Here Paul seems to be agreeing with the main thrust of the Cosmological and Design Arguments by saying that the observable world provides compelling evidences for some of the properties of the invisible God. If Paul is correct, then well-constructed Cosmological and Design Arguments should provide reasonable evidence for the existence of God.
8 Conclusion on Validity
Kant was also a man of his own time. He lived during the peak of the Enlightenment and many of his views reflect that influence. For instance, Kant claims that the Cosmological Argument is based on the “spurious transcendental law of causality”. It is not certain whether Kant is deriding the law of causality in general or just the notion of a transcendent cause. However, this statement reflects Hume’s scepticism regarding cause and effect, but should we concur with Kant that the principle of cause and effect is spurious? The Enlightenment project aimed to achieve certainty either by rationalism or empiricism. However, it failed to provide assurance even on the principle of cause and effect. However, this principle is the basis of science and is intuitively accepted to be true. After all, according to Francis Bacon, “science is the study of secondary causes”. Kant’s scepticism should be borne in mind when evaluating his critique of the Cosmological Argument. Kant is working from a standard of rigour and a desire for certainty that most scientists and ordinary people would consider to be unrealistic.
There have been a number of critics that have shown that there are numerous weaknesses in Kant’s arguments. However, his arguments have still been widely accepted, even amongst Christian theologians and apologists. Why is this so? Joyce (1922) provides a possible explanation:
It is not to be denied that ever since Kant’s time an impression has prevailed widely that the old proofs are no longer defensible. Possibly the mere fact that an eminent thinker had ventured to call in question such seemingly irrefutable arguments seemed by itself almost equivalent to a disproof. But another reason also, extrinsic it is true to the merits of the criticism, but none the less effective, operated in favour of this result. During the last century, rationalism, in the form either of naturalism or of idealism, had become strongly entrenched in the great centres of learning. It was only natural that thinkers who had discarded belief in a personal God should applaud Kant’s conclusion, even if they might hesitate to affirm that his criticism of the proofs was in all respects sound. Thus it came about that those who admitted the value of the traditional arguments were regarded as out of date. Often the validity of Kant’s objections is simply taken for granted, and the proofs of God’s existence dismissed without more ado. Even some of the apologists of revealed religion, eager not to be behind the fashion, discard them as untenable.
Probably the strongest point that Kant made was that existence is not a predicate, which (to some degree) undermined the Ontological Argument, as formulated by Anselm and simplified by Descartes. Prior to Kant the arguments were regarded as proofs. One of the themes that came out of the Enlightenment was that this level of certainty is just not possible. On the other hand, I believe that Kant’s arguments on the dependency of the Cosmological Argument and Design arguments on the Ontological Argument are highly dubious.
I believe it is beneficial to be aware of Kant’s arguments and to be careful not to overstate the effectiveness and scope of Craig’s arguments. They are arguments, not proofs. However, people like Craig and Plantinga are well aware of Kant’s critique and their arguments are well crafted to avoid Kant’s fire. I have not seen any debate where Craig has been attacked directly on the basis of Kant’s critique, but occasionally some of Kant’s arguments do reappear without Kant being directly invoked.
Thus, in conclusion, I believe we can thank Kant for his interesting points and then proceed merrily on our way.
Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd edition, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008.
Joyce, G.H., Principles of Natural Theology, Longmans, Green and Co., New York, Toronto, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, 1922.
Kant, I. The Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd edition, 1787, translated by J.M.D. Meiklejohn, A Penn State Electronic Classic Series Publication, Pennsylvania State University, 2010.
Koons, R.C. Western Theism, Lecture notes and bibliography from Dr. Koons’ Western Theism course (Phl 356) at the University of Texas at Austin, Spring 1998, http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/, in particular Lectures 5&9.
Plantinga, Alvin, God, Freedom and Evil, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974. The pertinent section on the ontological argument is quoted at http://mind.ucsd.edu/syllabi/02-03/01w/readings/plantinga.html.
Robson, Gregory, The Ontological Proof: Kant’s Objections, Plantinga’s Reply, KSO 2012: 122-171, posted August 26, 2012 www.kantstudiesonline.net.
Worthing, M., Apologetics Intensive Lecture Notes, Section 05, Apologetics, proofs and science, 2012.
Arminianism and Calvinism are 2 views on the sovereignty of God and human freedom over which Christians have been divided. Arminianism emphasizes the freedom of the human will and responsibility in choosing to follow Christ, whereas Calvinism emphasizes God’s sovereignty in choosing the elect in accordance with His own free and unmerited favour.
On Thursday the 20th of June John Quin provided a presentation on Molinism. Molinism is named after the 16th Century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina. It is a doctrine that attempts to reconcile the providence of God with human free will and supposedly is a middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism. Molinists hold that God knows what His creatures would freely choose if placed in any circumstance in addition to knowing everything that does or will happen. William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga are some of its best known advocates today and use its principles to address the problem of evil.
Unfortunately video recording equipment was not available on the night. John seemed quite delighted. However, here are John’s Power Point slides on Molinism.
The Ontological Argument
On Thursday the 6th of June we discussed the Ontological argument. The Ontological Argument (OA) is an argument for the existence of God based on reason alone without virtually any reference to scientific or historical evidence. The purpose of our discussion was to familiarise ourselves with the argument and the issues that surround it rather than to argue vehemently for its truth. The meeting was recorded via the Video Recording and the Power Point Slides.
The content of the presentation is also summarised as follows:
The Ontological Argument has been highly controversial and maligned ever since it was first conceived. For instance, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer described the OA as a “sleight of hand trick” or “a charming joke”. Bertrand Russell was also dismissive, but with some reservations. He stated,
It is much easier to be persuaded that ontological arguments are no good than it is to say exactly what is wrong with them.
The OA appears at first to be absurd, until you really start to think about it. Alvin Pantinga puts it this way,
Although the [ontological] argument certainly looks at first sight as if it ought to be unsound, it is profoundly difficult to say what, exactly, is wrong with it. Indeed, I do not believe that any philosopher has ever given a cogent and conclusive refutation of the ontological argument in its various forms.
Other common arguments for the existence of God are the Cosmological and Design Arguments. These rely on observations about the actual world. They both precede the OA by over a thousand years since they have their origins in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. One can even find justification for these arguments in the writings of the apostle Paul in Romans 1. However, the OA is radically different. It is an argument based upon what Immanuel Kant calls, “Pure Reason”. It is a purely logical argument that has virtually no reference to the actual world.
2 Anselm of Canterbury
The OA was first conceived rather late in history by a Monk in the 11th Century. Saint Anselm of Canterbury (c.?1033 – 21 April 1109) was a Benedictine monk, who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. He has been a major influence in Western theology. Anselm sought to understand Christian doctrine through reason and develop intelligible truths interwoven with the Christian belief. He believed that the necessary preliminary for this was possession of the Christian faith. He wrote, “Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand.” In his Proslogion (which means Discourse on the Existence of God), Anselm put forward a “proof” of the existence of God which was later called the “ontological argument”. The term itself was first applied by Immanuel Kant to the arguments of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century rationalists (Descartes and Leibniz). Anselm defined his belief in the existence of God using the phrase “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”.
In the Psalms it says “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’”. Thus Anselm argues that even the fool has a concept of God. A critical passage from the Proslogion is as follows:
Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.
This passage is quite verbose, but we can simplify it a bit. He reasoned that, if “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” existed only in the intellect, then it would not be “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. It follows, according to Anselm, that “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” must exist in reality. The bulk of the Proslogion is taken up with Anselm’s attempt to establish the identity of “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” as God, and thus to establish that God exists in reality. Anselm wrote in an informal style before the days of philosophical precision. However, Alvin Plantinga has provided a formalised rewording of Anselm’s Argument.
- God is defined as the greatest conceivable being
- To exist is greater than to not exist
- If God does not exist then we can conceive of a greater being that does exist
- Thus if God does not exist then he is not the greatest conceivable being
- This leads to a contradiction
- Therefore God must exist
Anselm’s ontological proof has been the subject of controversy since it was first published in the 1070s. It was opposed at the time by a fellow 11th century Benedictine monk called Gaunilo of Marmoutiers. He argued that humans cannot pass from intellect to reality. In Behalf of the Fool, Gaunilo refutes Anselm using a parody of Anselm’s argument
- The Lost Island is that than which no greater can be conceived
- It is greater to exist in reality than merely as an idea
- If the Lost Island does not exist, one can conceive of an even greater island, i.e., one that does exist
- Therefore, the Lost Island exists in reality
Most attacks on the OA are based on parodies. If the same argument can be used to prove something absurd, then there must be something wrong with the original argument. This process is valid. However, usually there is something wrong with the parody. In Gaunilo’s case there is No intrinsic maximum for the greatest conceivable island. How many palm trees and dancing girls constitute the greatest conceivable island? Thus “a greatest conceivable island” is not a coherent concept? Gaunilo’s criticism is repeated by several later philosophers, among whom are Thomas Aquinas and Kant. In fact much of the criticism has come from people who already believed in God.
4 The Rationalists
Rene Descartes is an extremely important person in the development of Western Philosophy. He is considered the father of modern philosophy and the father of rationalism as well as being a great mathematician. Rationalism was a movement that aimed to obtain certain knowledge by pure reason alone. Anyway he contributed to the development of the OA. He introduced the idea that existence is a perfection. He also introduced an intuitive argument for the existence of God. The more you ponder the nature of God, the more it becomes evident to the intuition that God must exist. Descartes’ argument can be summarised as follows: • God is a supremely perfect being, holding all perfections
- Existence is a perfection
- It would be more perfect to exist than not to exist
- If the notion of God did not include existence, it would not be supremely perfect, as it would be lacking a perfection
- Consequently, the notion of a supremely perfect God who does not exist is unintelligible
- Therefore, according to his nature, God must exist
Leibniz was also a Rationalist. He extended Descartes’ argument because he knew that Descartes’ argument fails unless one can show:
- That the idea of a supremely perfect being is coherent, or
- That it is possible for there to be a supremely perfect being.
He claimed that it is impossible to demonstrate that perfections are incompatible and thus all perfections can co-exist together in a single entity. Since he considered logic associated with necessity and possibility was in fact a forerunner of modal logic and the Modal Ontological Argument.
5 Kant’s Critique
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was an Enlightenment Philosopher. His greatest work was the Critique of Pure Reason in which he attempted to unite empiricism and rationalism (Pure Reason). Within the Critique of Pure Reason he launched what many consider a devastating critique of the traditional arguments for existence of God, in particular
- The Ontological argument,
- The Cosmological argument, and
- The Teleological (or Design) argument.
This doesn’t mean he was an atheist. In fact he believed in God, but this belief was based on the moral argument. Hence we can consider his arguments as friendly fire. Kant launched at least 3 criticisms of the OA. They are:
- Existence is not a predicate
- How can a conceptual conundrum in the mind affect a being’s objective existence?
- Negation does not entail a contradiction
We will look at each of these criticisms.
5.1 Existence is not a predicate
Kant is famous for his claim that existence is not a predicate. However, what is a predicate? The definition of the meaning of predicate is crucial to Kant’s argument. One way of defining predicate is to say that all propositions consist of a subject and a predicate. For example, consider the statement, “A dog has 4 legs”. “A dog” is the subject and “has 4 legs” is the predicate. That seems to make sense. However, consider the proposition “God exists”. God is the subject and exists is the predicate. Thus existence is a predicate and so Kant must be wrong. However, Kant is not that stupid. Predicate can be defined in other ways. The predicate contains the properties of the subject. Kant argued that existence is an instantiation of an object and thus existence is not a property, nor is it a perfection. Kant was not so much undermining Anselm’s version of the OA. He was primarily aiming at Descartes’ version of the argument as Descartes had claimed that existence is a perfection and thus it would be more perfect to exist than not to exist.
5.2 Conceptual Conundrum
Anselm argues for concepts in our minds to the objective existence of God. However, how can a conceptual conundrum in the mind affect a being’s objective existence? It makes me wonder.
5.3 Negation is not a Contradiction
Some statements are necessarily true, since their negation entails a contradiction. Examples of statements that are necessarily true are:
- All bachelors are unmarried
- All squares have 4 sides
However “God does not exist” is a coherent statement that does not entail a contradiction. Thus Kant argues that “God exists” is not a necessary truth. In this respect I think Kant is right. The statement “God exists” is not a necessary truth. However, I think Kant confuses “necessary truth” with “necessary being”.
Thus Kant concludes that the Ontological Argument “neither satisfies the healthy common sense of humanity, nor sustains the scientific examination of the philosopher.” However, Kant’s views are not universally accepted. We are going to look at Plantinga’s Modal Ontological Argument but firstly we will look at what Plantinga has to say about Kant, in particular his predicate argument. Plantinga says:
Kant’s point, then, is that one cannot define things into existence because existence is not a real property or predicate in the explained sense. If this is what he means, he’s certainly right. But is it relevant to the ontological argument? Couldn’t Anselm thank Kant for this interesting point and proceed merrily on his way? Where did he try to define God into being by adding existence to a list of properties that defined some concept? If this were Anselm’s procedure — if he had simply added existence to a concept that has application contingently if at all — then indeed his argument would be subject to the Kantian criticism. But he didn’t, and it isn’t. The usual criticisms of Anselm’s argument, then, leave much to be desired.
Plantinga may or may not be right. The point is that Kant’s views are not universally accepted.
6 The Modal Ontological Argument
Alvin Plantinga has produced a version of the Ontological Argument that is based on modal logic and is thus called the Modal Ontological Argument (MOA). Modal logic is an extension of philosophical logic to deal with possibility and necessity. God is defined as a Maximally Great Being (MGB) and one key property of God is that He exists necessarily. The argument does not rely on concepts in the mind and seems to avoid all of Kant’s objections. The MOA is as follows:
- Premise 1: It is possible that God exists.
- Premise 2: If it is possible that God exists, then God exists in some possible worlds.
- Premise 3: If God exists in some possible worlds, then God exists in all possible worlds.
- Premise 4: If God exists in all possible worlds, then God exists in the actual world.
- Premise 5: If God exists in the actual world, then God exists.
The MOA refers to possible worlds and the concept of possible worlds is a big part of modal logic. A possible world is any possible combination of state of affairs.
Most people are initially puzzled by premise 3 which states that “If an MGB exists in some possible world, then an MGB exists in every possible world”. Why is this so? One property of an MGB is that an MGB is a necessary being. Therefore a necessary being can exist in one possible world then he/she/it must exist in all possible worlds. The rest of the premises and the conclusion follow in a fairly natural way. Thus according to William Lane Craig only premise 1 is controversial (It is possible that an MGB exists).
However, what does “possible” mean? “Possible” means “metaphysically possible” rather than “epistemically possible” Does this sound confusing? Metaphysically possible means “is it actually logically possible?” whereas epistemically possible relates to our knowledge. For example, if I say “Gee, I dunno, therefore I guess it’s possible” that is not what the argument means by possible. Thus possibility is not an appeal to ignorance.
The argument is also not implying that existence is a property or predicate. Existence may not be a property but type of existence is. The type of existence may be
- Impossible (e.g. a square circle),
- Contingent (can exist in some possible worlds but not others, e.g. a unicorn), or
- Necessary (has to exist in all possible worlds, e.g. numbers, shape definitions or absolute truth)
Objections to the MOA usually come in 2 types. These are:
- Parodies, or
- Claims that a MGB is incoherent or impossible.
Parodies are not really an argument. Parodies are attempts to use parallel arguments to prove the existence of things we don’t believe in and so demonstrate the absurdity of the original argument. If the parody is valid then there is further work to do. We still have to find the flaw in the original argument. What we think we find with the MOA is that all of the parodies contain flaws. The MOA only works for an MGB. We will look at some examples of parodies.
7.1.1 Necessarily Existent Pink Unicorn
Someone has attempted to use the MOA to prove the existence of a Necessarily Existent Pink Unicorn. The argument goes like this:
- It is possible that a Necessarily Existent Pink Unicorn (NEPU) exists
- If it is possible that a NEPU exists, then a NEPU exists in some possible world
- If a NEPU exists in some possible world, then a NEPU exists in every possible world
- If a NEPU exists in every possible world then a NEPU exists in the actual world
- Therefore a NEPU exists
However there are problems with this parody. The counter argument is as follows:
- A pink unicorn is physical
- All physical objects/beings are contingent
- Therefore a pink unicorn cannot be a necessary being
- Therefore premise 1 fails
7.1.2 Reverse OA
The reverse MOA is an attempt to use the same argument structure to prove that an MOA does not exist.
- It is possible that an MGB does not exist
- If it is possible that an MGB does not exist, then an MGB does not exist in some possible world
- If an MGB does not exist in some possible world, then an MGB does not exist in every possible world
- If an MGB does not exist in every possible world then an MGB does not exist in the actual world
- Therefore Maximal Greatness is impossible
However, Premise 1 is tantamount to saying that it is not possible that an MGB exists. Thus it assumes its conclusion and is begging the question. Likewise premise 2 is question begging.
7.1.3 Dawkins’ Ontological Argument
Richard Dawkins has proposed an OA to prove that God does not exist. The Argument is as follows:
- The creation of the world is the most marvellous achievement imaginable.
- The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.
- The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.
- The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.
- Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being namely, one who created everything while not existing.
- An existing God therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.
- Therefore, God does not exist.
However, it is incoherent and impossible to propose creation by a God who does not exist.
As well as using parodies other people claim that the idea of an MGB is incoherent. These are versions that claim that it is not possible that an MGB exists. These are typified by:
- The Omnipotence Paradox, and
- The Problem of Evil
The omnipotence paradox is “Can God create a stone that is so heavy that he cannot lift it?” The idea is to show that one or more of God’s attributes are incoherent or self –contradictory. However, No-one claims that God can do the logically impossible, such as creating a square circle.
The other objection is that the presence of evil means it is impossible that an MGB exists. However, we deal with this issue in other sessions.
8 Essence of Argument
In conclusion, what is the essence of this argument? Is it just playing with words or does it have a core argument that is compelling. The core argument that really makes sense to me is that if it is possible that a Necessary Being (NB) exists then that NB must exist in all possible worlds. This makes sense and seems necessarily true.
Some have claimed that it is a good argument but it still does not convince people. However, William Lane Craig believes in the argument and has started using it in debates. Craig used the MOA in a debate with Victor Stenger. Stenger attempted to use a parody, which was a maximally great pizza. However, Craig easily demonstrated that a maximally great pizza is incoherent, since a really great pizza is meant to be eaten.
However, is the OA helpful in other ways? I believe it is. I have heard it claimed that it never convinces anyone. However, this is not always true. A student did his PhD on the MOA and eventually convinced his supervisor. The MOA also asserts that God is maximally great in every possible way. This may feed into the Moral Argument and be one solution to the Euthyphro Dilemma.
On Thursday 23rd of May we held our first debate. I debated Laurie Eddie on the subject “Does God Exist?” It would be unfair for me to make any judgement on the result of the debate, as I may be a little biased. However, I believe everyone enjoyed themselves and found it interesting, including Laurie. It was our largest meeting so far.
The debate is on YouTube. See
You can access the slide presentations at The Case For the Existence of God and The Case Against the Existence of God.
Check it out and make up your own mind.
Good and Evil
by Brian Schroeder
This a summary of a presentation by Brian Schroeder on Good and Evil on the 9th of May at Tabor College. His Power Point slides are in Good and Evil and the video recording is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEh19op3IAk.
“Good” and “evil” are innately believed concepts by virtually everyone. We don’t doubt that good exists or that evil exists. We assume them just as we assume many other fundamentals (such as 1+1=2, “I think therefore I am”, good is better than bad). Despite various denials, we intrinsically believe certain things to be either good or evil. Death is a fundamental evil, but beauty is good.
If God is totally good and all-powerful, how can there be evil? Either God is not all-powerful, or he is not truly good.
When God had finished creating he saw that it was all very good. God said to Adam: You can eat from every tree – except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. How can there be “good and evil” in God’s perfect world, and what about the prohibition against eating that fruit on pain of death?
This leads to the question: What is “evil”? How do you define “evil”? Or, for that matter, how do you define “good”?
a) Consider pain and suffering? If you put your hand in fire, then this leads to pain, which is a defence from damage, such as happens with leprosy. What about “no pain, no gain”? Athletes push the “pain barrier” regularly.
b) Is it evil to cut someone open with a knife? Both of my children were born that way. So, what is evil? What makes something evil? Is it motivation? And if so, what makes that motivation evil?
c) Massive earthquake and tsunami? What if it happens on Jupiter? Does “evil” depend on the experience of sentient beings, or does the experience of, for example, rocks count too?
When pressed, most people will be unable to provide any sort of meaningful consistent definition of evil. Philosophers have struggled with this over the years. Nietzsche’s approach is possibly the most consistent (non-theistically speaking). Basically, without an absolute reference point (ie. God), good and evil have no absolute meaning and can only represent that which is considered positively or negatively useful.
Assume there is NO GOD. The Universe created itself from nothing. The materialistic universe is all there is. We are the random result of random reactions. In the time-scale of the universe’s existence, all of life is a momentary blink with no purpose, no meaning, and no permanence.
In this universe there is no such thing as “good” or “evil”. The sum total that can be said is “What is – is.” Thus ultimately “good” or “right” can only be defined as what is, and therefore “evil” as what is not. So everything that is is good/right (and nothing is evil).
Enoch Tan stated:
Good and evil do not exist. At a fundamental level, there is really no good and evil in the universe. Everything just is. It is perception that frames reality. Good and evil is based on perception. Therefore the perception of good and evil depends on the one perceiving it. If you perceive something as good, then to you it is good. If you perceive something as evil, then to you it is evil. We can choose our own frame of reality or we can choose to follow the frame set by another in his perception of good and evil.
If there is no God then “good” and “evil” may be valid terms with real meaning in the following sense. Good is what ‘I’ like, and evil what ‘I’ dislike. It is thus totally relative – everything is a matter of personal opinion, and that opinion will become totally irrelevant when the person dies. (It makes little difference if we change from individual preference to a group preference.) Thus laws, rules, customs etc. are merely a temporary direction of a momentarily existing animal with no real purpose.
With very few exceptions (if any) everyone believes that real evil is committed by people. But in every case evil must disguise itself as good, must convince people that it is good. (There is a website that lists the 10 most evil people in history, and the 10 most good. Interestingly Adolf Hitler comes in at number 3 on the evil scale, and Jesus Christ at 4 on the good.)
Are good and evil absolute or relative? If they are relative then they are effectively meaningless. If a word can mean anything, then it means nothing.
Define God as
a) supreme being,
b) omnipotent, omniscient, all loving,
c) creator of and therefore ‘outside’ of the universe,
d) and therefore the definer of everything.
Thus “Good” means being in conformity with God – his being, his nature. Being as designed to be, doing as designed to do.
“Evil” means being out of conformity with God, contrary to his being, his nature. Being/doing contrary to how designed to be/do.
This implies that God is good. He is always in conformity with himself. It also means that it is wrong to say that
(a) God cannot sin,
(b) God cannot lie,
(c) God cannot do evil.
(a) sin cannot be done by God,
(b) untruth cannot come from God,
(c) evil cannot emanate from God. (Darkness cannot come from light.)
The inability lies in the evil, not in God.
Good exists in its own right, so long as God exists. Pure and total good is a valid concept. Absolute good exists and is real. It can exist by itself in its own right.
Evil does not and cannot exist in its own right. It is in total dependence on Good for its existence. “Pure evil” is an impossibility, an oxymoron (“pure” is a “good” term), it cannot be. For example death depends on life for both its existence and its power. Evil is the deprivation or negation of the good, or the corruption of the good. It is the rejection of the truth, of the right.Evil is embraced, received, accepted, promoted, defended on the basis of perceived reward (good) or promised good. Eg. “I” don’t kill someone out of desire to do be evil, but to remove some negative from “my” life, because I believe “my” life will be better in some way. Abortion is an obvious example.
When the devil (assuming he exists) wants to tempt someone, he doesn’t say “You are going to hate this! It will make your life a misery and destroy everything you think is good.” Rather he works to convince us that it will do something good for us.
Good is always better than evil, more beautiful than evil; it is truer, righter, more attractive. That is why evil has to clothe itself in apparent goodness (if I cheat I will get a better result, more money, glory, etc.). But if/when we see them truly only GOOD is good, right, true, beautiful, alive, lasting…
Consider a brand new car. Carefully designed and built, just out of the factory in ‘perfect’ condition. It comes with an owner’s manual, and a servicing manual. It is designed to work in a certain way, to be driven and maintained in a certain way. To get the absolute best out of the car, it is essential to follow the design and to treat it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. “Good” is to do so. “Evil” is to use the wrong oil; kerosene instead of petrol; drive with the hand brake on; aim to keep the needle in the red zone as much as possible; don’t maintain coolant; … and many more possibilities. If the headlights get smashed – or are missed during manufacture – or windows, seats, spare wheel… then the car is incomplete and contrary to the design. Being born blind, or blinded later, is an evil; it is contrary to how we are designed to be.
But what if God is a capricious God? What is good one day may be evil the next, and vice-versa. Such a being would be internally inconsistent. ‘He’ could never be “God” as we understand “God”. ‘He’ could never be the creator of a functioning universe – the ‘laws of the universe’ could not be depended on & may vary or change at any time & for no reason Þ no science. ‘He’ could not be ‘love’ or the author of love. Such things as good, evil, love, justice, etc. would have no basis for being.
No, we do not have this option. Either God IS – in all his omnipotent, omniscient, relational glory – or there is not God.
What if I don’t like God; what he is like? What about some of the ‘horrible’ things he has done (eg. commanded Israel to exterminate Canaanites)?
Basically “Good” is defined by God, not by our feelings, and not of itself. As God’s creatures in his created universe, our understanding of good and evil can only be as defined by God. Therefore if anything about God appears to “me” as anything other than pure and total GOOD. That can only be because
- I have incomplete knowledge and understanding (eg. Surgeon cutting person open with a knife),
- I have a wrong perception of God (eg. God = Santa Claus, God = Baal, …),
- I have a wrong or distorted perception of the situation, or
- I have been deceived by a 3rd party.
If we could but see the big picture, the whole picture, we would see and know that not only has God only done good the whole way through, but the best possible good. We would see too that it could not be otherwise.
“Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil” The greatest possible good involves / includes / requires the choice of embracing God’s image. Love isn’t love if there is no choice. So in order for God to create the greatest possible good (and how could such a God do otherwise?), he had to create the opportunity to choose, and this therefore meant the opportunity to choose differently.
The point of the choice was very simple and minor, but never-the-less totally significant. To choose to eat of it was to choose not-God, to be ‘other’ than God, different to God, contrary to him and contrary to who they were created to be. More specifically: to be distinct from God.
Since, in this creation, God is the epitome, the definition, of good, then to be distinct or different can only mean to be less than good – or therefore to be, “know”, evil. And from that point evil has grown.
One can only create from what is within them. Everything that IS comes from God (John 1:3). So did God create evil? Is God responsible for evil? Is evil part of who God is? (Yin and Yang?). Since the greatest good involves the choice, it must inherently contain the concept (possibility ?) choosing otherwise. SO: No! There is no darkness, evil, wrong, etc. in God. And yet in creating the greatest good, evil (= other than God) had to be possible. By its very nature, inherent in the greatest possible good is the possibility of rejecting that good, of choosing otherwise.
- Without God there is no such thing as good or evil, merely reality. This also means that “the problem of evil” does not exist unless God exists. It is either a non-question, or it has meaning only if you already believe in God.
- “Good” means being fully congruent with God. “Evil” means deviating from that – being ‘other’ than God or God’s nature. Thus “God is good” is a tautology; there is no other option.
- Good exists in its own right. Evil does not. It is dependent on good for its existence.
- Any time I am disposed to accuse God of evil; it can only be because of insufficient information or because of actual evil in me.
- God is not the author or originator of evil. But inherent in the highest possible good is the possibility of rejecting that good – this rejection is then what we call evil.
This all leads to – What is “evil”? Following the argument through we end up with “If there DOES NOT exist an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good/loving being then evil does not exist.” Thus to claim that evil exists is to acknowledge that God exists! Thus the problem of evil is only a problem to the theist – ie to those who believe in both God and in the existence of evil. Yes we struggle with it. Yes it is hard (sometimes impossible) to understand. But because we believe in God – as defined above – we believe that there IS an answer.
3 For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!
4 his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
5 They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.
6 Do you thus repay the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?
Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
16 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them.
17 Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’
18 And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.
By Ray Lakeman
Presented at a meeting of “Reasonable Faith Adelaide” on 14-March-2013.
Click The Creationists to view the slide show. The video recordings are at History of Creationism Part 1 and Part 2.
My major source is The Creationists – From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design [1992, 2006] can be borrowed from the ISSR library at Tabor Adelaide. Summary essays from Ronald Numbers can be found at:
I wish to make my own position clear. I was raised in a family of farmers and market gardeners with limited education, but when I lost my hands at age 5 my father became determined that I should have the education he was denied. My family were pretty casual about Christianity, but were happy to claim allegiance to Anglican or Methodist churches. I was sent to Sunday School, and when older attended church. As a science teacher at age 33 I was confronted by the issues of creation versus evolution and began to investigate. By age 43 I owned a Young Earth Creation view. This presentation is about the modern history of creationism. It is not my intention to teach creationism other than to explain the history, and I will not defend creationism here. I also wish to make it clear that Reasonable Faith neither endorses nor rejects Young Earth Creation. However, Reasonable Faith does stand on the Nicene Creed which says, “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” I acknowledge the helpful suggestions of Kevin Rogers while I prepared this presentation. It was Kevin who suggested I unpack the significance of the Scopes Trial and the play Inherit the Wind. In these topics I have used additional sources to flesh out the study that Numbers presents. The images I present are easy to obtain on the web. The 2min video extract is from The Magician’s Twin: C.S.Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society by John West,available on YouTube.
As Dr. Ronald Numbers is my main source I shall introduce him. Numbers is a respected historian and was raised in a Seventh Day Adventist home in south-western USA with the standard SDA teaching that creation occurred 6,000 years ago and that Noah’s Flood formed the vast rock deposits and fossil beds of the Earth’s crust. During his higher education Numbers abandoned the SDA teaching and in his book he makes his position clear: “I no longer believe in creationism of any kind”, he says, and he goes on to declare “I am strongly committed to treating [creationist] advocates with the same respect I might accord to evolutionists”. Numbers is true to his word, for nowhere in his book does he insult creationists while describing their modern history. For this reason I commend his book to Reasonable Faith members as a good source of information on an important question for our culture: How shall our generation interpret the Bible and Science? History gives the answer thus far, and this book is a good contribution to that history.
Title Slide 1
Creation Science can be described as Biblical Creation stripped of explicit references to Biblical authority, God, Adam and Noah. Creation Science is a new movement of the twentieth century. It arose as a movement composed of trained scientists and lay Christian supporters from a wide range of Christian churches, and it has grown despite almost universal opposition from both mainstream scientists and the mainstream leaders in churches.
In the early years of the twentieth century the self-described geologist George McCready Price stood virtually alone in insisting on the recent appearance of life and on a global flood catastrophe that massively rearranged the earth’s crust. Price was well-received by creationists, but made few converts beyond his Seventh Day Adventist Church.
In 1932 the Evolution Protest Movement was formed in London, and is now called the Creation Science Movement, the oldest creationist society on Earth.
C.S.Lewis Slide 2
It is interesting to note that in its early years the Evolution Protest Movement tried to win C.S.Lewis as an advocate and failed. Lewis excused himself with the statement “When a man has become a popular Apologist he must watch his step”. However, in 1951 Lewis had changed and wrote to the Evolution Protest Movement, “You might be right in regarding evolution as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives”. The Creation Science Movement has a prominent website and program of activities to this day.
In 1938 the Deluge Geology Society was formed in Los Angeles with strong roots in Adventism, and in 1944 their member Frank Marsh published “Evolution, Creation and Science” with a trained biologist’s view on Young Earth Creation. Marsh exchanged letters with Theodosius Dobzhanski, and found that their ideas were far apart. It is Dobzhanski who said that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. In Marsh’s final letter he said to Dobzhanski that he was not a grouch looking to argue with famous biologists, nor was he looking for fame, recognition or livelihood. Though he disliked being at odds with the academy Marsh was willing to turn a cheek to criticism if he could convince some mainstream scientists to accept special creation. Later Dobzhanski graciously wrote that Marsh was an intelligent and informed person who did not accept evolution as true. A rare acknowledgment for those days.
Around 1946 radioisotope dating was providing evidence to challenge the Young Earth view, and this caused internal disputes between Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists and led to the demise of the Deluge Geology Society.
Organised creationism didn’t amount to much until around 1960 when everything changed. But to understand what happened in 1960 it is helpful to first understand the 1925 Scopes Trial.
John Scopes Slide 3
The Scopes Trial made an enormous impression on America and the world. Shortly after the Tennessee governor signed an anti-evolution bill into law, the young American Civil Liberties Union in New York began searching for a volunteer to test the Tennessee law in court. John Scopes was a young teacher who substituted for two weeks in a biology class, and was unsure if he ever used the word “evolution”, but he agreed to be charged for the crime of teaching evolution in order to test the law, and in return he would be paid enough to fund his entry into his planned course of study.
Darrow and Bryan Slide 4,5,6
On the evolution side the ACLU hired an expensive team of experts led by the agnostic big city criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow to defend Scopes, and on the anti-evolution side, the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association hired the popular Presbyterian anti-evolutionist and three-times presidential candidate William Bryan to prosecute Scopes. The 8-day “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee was given top headlines across the nation’s newspapers and around the world. Everyone realized that there was an important question on trial, “Did human beings descend from monkey ancestors?”. What would the lawyers decide? And could state science curricula teach evolution and deny the Bible account of creation?
On day 7 of the trial, Darrow put Bryan in the witness stand as a Bible expert and was surprised that Bryan did not accept a literal reading of Genesis 1. Bryan said the “days” could each be 600 million years! The ACLU objective was to overthrow the anti-evolution laws and open the door for teaching evolution, but Bryan won the case and Scopes was fined a token $100 for breaking the law. The trial also made clear that the public were not buying the evolution story, as public sentiment was clearly opposed to monkey ancestors and the teaching of evolution in taxpayer funded schools.
Cartoons and Newspapers, Slides 7-13
Numbers points out that in the years following the trial several historians have claimed that the Scopes Trial was a public relations victory for the evolutionists. But Numbers counters that the evidence does not support that view. Journalists did review Bryan’s performance harshly, saying he revealed his ignorance of both religion and science. Darrow received considerable criticism also for his ignorance of religion and science as well as for disrespecting the judge, being rude to Bryan, and trying to deny the people of Tennessee their democratic rights to determine what should be taught in tax-supported schools. So poor was Darrow’s performance that the ACLU tried to dump him from the defence team – unsuccessfully.
After the trial the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association were flushed with a sense of victory: “[Bryan] not only won his case in the judgment of the Judge, in the judgment of the Jurors, in the judgment of the Tennessee populace attending; he won it in the judgment of an intelligent world”.
Numbers believes the ACLU and the Scopes trial set back the cause of teaching evolution for at least 30 years, for in this period “American textbook publishers tried to avoid antagonising conservative Christians by saying as little as possible about evolution. This policy of ‘neutrality based on silence’ began to crumble in the late 1950s …”. The “space race” was on, and millions of dollars were being spent on science education in order to beat the Russians! By 1963 the Biological Science Curriculum Study had published three new biology texts and more than 50% of US students were being confidently taught about their ape-like ancestors. An organised backlash began. Some of the anti-evolution reaction was from Bible-believing Christians, and some was from people who were insulted by the idea of monkey relatives. Anyway, the public were far from convinced of the truth of Darwin’s hypothesis and the arrival of this evolutionist textbook galvanised Christians to fight back by joining together in creationist societies.
Inherit the Wind, Slides 14, 15
Numbers shows that the Scopes trial is important in the modern history of creationism, and the play “Inherit the Wind” is also important because it conveys a false view of history into our modern culture. Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee wrote “Inherit the Wind” as a criticism of McCarthyism and the anti-communist investigations conducted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Unfortunately the play used Scopes as a safer vehicle from which to comment, and the play blatantly portrays the Scopes trial as a public relations victory for the enlightened forces over the fearful dogmatists, for the authors had no interest in an accurate portrayal of the Scopes Trial. The play was first performed in 1955 and a note in the opening of the script admits that while the play depicts the Scopes Trial “it is not meant to be a historical account and there are numerous instances where events were substantially altered or invented”. As well as the play there are three film versions of “Inherit the Wind” from 1960, 1988 and 1999, all of which give the false view of being true history. I considered showing a clip of Spencer Tracey in the 1960 movie, but it was so completely misleading that I rejected doing so.
David Menton has carefully analysed the play and compared it with the real Scopes Trial and notes that throughout the play Bryan is portrayed as closed-minded, pompous, stupid, intolerant, hypocritical, insincere and gluttonous. The following sample dialogue between Darrow and Bryan appears on page 51 (real names substituted):
DARROW: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve memorized many passages from The Origin of Species?’
BRYAN: ‘I am not the least interested in the pagan hypotheses of that book.’
DARROW: ‘Never read it? ‘
BRYAN: ‘And I never will.’
The truth is quite different, however: Bryan is reported by one of his biographers, Lawrence Levine, to have read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species 20 years before the Scopes trial. Bryan’s reservations about the theory of evolution were certainly influenced by his religious beliefs, and he had actually written many well–argued articles critical of the evidence used to defend the theory of evolution.
Bryan also carried on a long correspondence on evolution with the famous evolutionist Henry Osborn. For a layman, Bryan’s knowledge of the scientific evidence for and against evolution was unusually sophisticated. By comparison, the trial transcript shows that Darrow gave the impression of having a poor grasp of evolution. Darrow appeared to rest his belief in evolution on scientific authority, which he accepted without question.
If you want a detailed rundown of the inventions in “Inherit the Wind” see
The new 1963 US biology textbooks presented evolution as a fact, and stirred Bible-believers to action. In 1961 Morris and Whitcombe published “The Genesis Flood”, and in 1963 formed the effective Creation Research Society. For all Bible-believers Morris’s book and society explained a convenient compression of billions of years of Earth history back to 6,000 years. This was a consistent and comprehensive answer to all the Biblical interpretation gymnastics. The creation – evolution question was painted in sharp relief: Either Bible history for one camp, or Big Bang with Billions of Years and Evolution for the other camp. Henry Morris was clear: All the mainstream geologists, biologists and astronomers were wrong. The Bible made full sense of the world in its straightforward reading, and a full repudiation of the Academy’s story of origins made room for the Bible’s story of Creation, Fall, Judgment by Flood, Redemption by Christ, Final Judgment and Consummation of the Creation. If you believe Genesis it is easier to believe Revelation and everything in between, said Morris. Anyone with hope of a miraculous end for this Age finds it easier to believe a miraculous start of this Age. Ronald Numbers admits that this is an attractive view for a Christian.
I have related only a few episodes in the history that Numbers presents. For example, Numbers gives interesting accounts of Muslim Creationism, accounts of the Intelligent Design Movement, accounts of the Australian Answers in Genesis organisation and much more.
Summary, Slide 16
Numbers focuses his study of creationism within the modern era and shows it has been a time of radical change. From p368-372 he gives an interesting summary of this period. In the early years of the twentieth century there were very few creationists with academic recognition and scientific training. Creationists were obscure, isolated, ignored and ridiculed. Bible-believing Christians were often happy to ignore the creation-evolution conflict, and when pressed on the issue, often avoided conflict by using interpretations of Genesis 1 which accommodated the scientist’s story of deep time and evolution. These explanations were mostly of the “Days of Genesis 1 should be interpreted as Ages” type, or proposed an enormous “Gap” in the Genesis account so evolution could occur. A Garden of Eden special creation of Adam and Eve was often invoked along with the standard evolution story for the rest of creation. In the 1920s one man stood out — the Seventh Day Adventist, George McCready Price, who taught and wrote booklets promoting recent Creation and Flood Geology. Numbers would have us believe Price was the first modern creation scientist, and his view is backed up with much detail.
100 years later, creationists have changed a lot! Well educated and academically recognised creationists are numbered in the thousands, and new scientific creationist books are published almost every week. Organised creation societies exist around the world. Instead of being ignored or dismissed as a bad joke, creationists are the objects of serious criticism and dire concern! The Young Earth Creation view is being hotly argued on internet forums world-wide. Public opinion polls have remarkably remained in favour of creation and against evolution. (For example, a recent New York Times poll found 65% of US citizens want both creation and evolution taught in school science).
Arthur Schopenhauer said newly discovered truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, and dismissed as not worthy of consideration. Second, it is vehemently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being obviously true and self-evident. Modern Creation Science is definitely still facing vehement opposition in stage two and it is unclear if there will ever be a stage three. Creation Science has experienced shocking success since 1960, and although it is still a small force in culture, it is certainly not going away. Actually, says Dr. Ronald Numbers, one should expect the influence of Creationism to continue growing.
William Lane Craig, Slide 17
William Lane Craig avoids the issues of evolution and young earth in his debating, but when he speaks of evangelistic opportunity he is optimistic, and I think Craig’s optimism is a fitting “last word”:
“It is the broader task of Christian apologetics to create a cultural milieu in which the Gospel can still be heard as a legitimate option for thinking people. People may not come to Christ through the arguments, but the arguments give them permission to believe, as it were – the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved by the preaching of the Gospel and by the Holy Spirit.”
“Now, I believe, we are living at a time in history when huge doors of opportunity stand open before us. We are living at a time when Christian philosophy is undergoing a renaissance, which has revitalized natural theology, and arguments for the existence of God. We’re living at a time when modern science is more open to the existence of a transcendent Creator and Designer of the universe than at any time in recent memory. And we’re living at a time when biblical criticism has largely established the credibility of the outlines of the New Testament life of Jesus, so that the Gospels are now regarded once again as serious historical sources for the life of Christ. This is a tremendously exciting time to be alive and working in apologetics. I think that we’re well poised intellectually to regain lost ground and to help reshape our culture in such a way that the Gospel can be heard as a legitimate option for people today.”
(Accessed Feb 2013: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/)
I share Dr. Bill Craig’s optimism, and I am encouraged by the modern history of creationism. I thoroughly commend The Creationists by Dr. Ronald Numbers to anyone who has ever wondered about the people who believe in Creation.
Modern Cartoon, Slide 18
In both the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Fine tuning Argument, Craig refers to the Big Bang (BB) Theory. Creationist organisations, such as Creation Ministries International (CMI), do not accept the BB theory and believe in a young earth instead of one that is 4.5 billion years old. On 25th October 2012, Steve White provided a presentation on the creationists view. His Power Point slides can be seen from the following link: Cosmology of the Bible
Here is Steve’s summary:
1 A Creationist view of Cosmology
The Bible cosmology records a young 6000 year old universe that was accepted by both Jewish teaching and Christendom until only about 200 years ago. Even today Jewish mainstream newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post record the current year since creation as 5774 (Christians typically add 243 years to this Rabbinical chronology of Seder Olam Rabbah compiled by Rabbi Yose ben Halafta who died 160 AD, to correct the age of Terah when Abram was born and the accepted duration of the Persian empire).
The following Biblical references were quoted as evidence that the early chapters of Genesis are consistent with later scripture:
- The fourth of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 8) sanctifies the Sabbath on the basis of six literal days of creation of earth and heaven followed by a day of rest. The seven day week is still observed around the world today despite various attempts to change it.
- Luke the careful historian lists the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-37) back only 66 generation to Adam the son of God i.e. creation.
- Peter (2 Peter 3:5) circa 60 AD speaks of the heavens and the earth being created out of water and then destroyed by water in direct support of the account given in the early chapters of Genesis both of creation and then Noah’s catastrophic flood, the latter which provides an alternate explanation for the fossil record and sedimentary rock layers often used as evidence of an old earth.
Christian scientists only started to defend the Biblical young universe record in the last few decades.
The explanation of apparent starlight events billions of years old was addressed by Dr Russell Humphries in his book Starlight and Time : Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe, 1994. His model proposes the universe beginning from a Black Hole containing all matter in the universe in the form of water, with the Earth close by, deep in its gravitational well. On Day 4 of Creation the Black Hole flipped into a White Hole, allowed by the General Theory of Relativity, and the Universe then expanded in the 24 hour period. Whilst Earth continued to experience only 24 hours because of proximity to the gravity of the White Hole, the expanding Universe experienced billions of years of events and red-light shift. Since Day 4, both our Solar System and the rest of the Universe run have existed for 6000 years and we continue to observe starlight events that occurred over the billions of years compressed into Earth’s Day 4.
Dr John Hartnett of University of Western Australia has modified Dr Humphries model by restricting the White Hole expansion of water to just beyond our Solar System. This overcomes problems of timing of events in nearby galaxies and blue shift expected if the water spread to the edge of the Universe. Work is still proceeding to refine the model, in conjunction with equations from the General Theory of Relativity derived by Dr Moshe Carmeli, a secular Israeli theoretical physicist.
Other naturalistic models for the formation of the Universe continue to have significant problems:
- No robust explanation of the formation star nuclear fusion from a gas cloud has been given, as gravity cannot overcome gas pressure to achieve compression required for fusion.
- Halton Arp’s documentation of the disparity in red-shift between galaxies and quasars that are obviously in proximity as gas is observed flowing from the former to the latter. The degree of red-shift has been the standard of establishing the distance to far galaxies but if it fails to explain quasars at the same distance, so something is wrong.
2 RF Response
There were a number at the meeting that disagree with or are not convinced by the creationist view.
In general, Craig avoids the divisive issue of evolutionary theory in his arguments. There is enough good evidence out there without getting entangled in these issues. However, Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is a big and divisive issue among Christians and there will inevitably be more discussion and debate on this subject at Reasonable Faith Adelaide. At least we should try to be better informed on the issues.
Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument
The Principle of Sufficient Reason
By Kevin Rogers
Why does anything at all exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? These were the questions that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) raised, and from them he developed an argument for the existence of God based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). The PSR is one form of various cosmological arguments.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)
Leibniz was a German mathematician and philosopher. In mathematics, he was the co-inventor (with Isaac Newton) of calculus, the first inventor of a mechanical calculator and the inventor of the binary number system. In philosophy, he suggested that we live in the “best of all possible worlds”, he was a key thinker in the development of rationalism and also a forerunner of modern logic and analytic philosophy. In his latter years, he fell out of favour due to disputes with Newton on whether he had copied Newton’s ideas on calculus. His writings were largely forgotten, but were revived in the 20th century, and he is now highly regarded.
2 The Argument
Leibniz’s argument consists of 3 premises and 2 conclusions, as follows:
- Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence
- Premise 2: If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God
- Premise 3: The universe exists
- Conclusion 1: The universe has an explanation of its existence
- Conclusion 2: Therefore the explanation of the universe’s existence is God
However, is it a good argument? A good argument must satisfy the following criteria:
- The premises must be true, and
- The conclusions must follow logically from the premises.
In this article, I will work backwards. I will firstly discuss the logical structure of the argument (its validity) and then consider the premises. We will firstly assume that the premises are true and verify whether the conclusions follow from the premises.
3 Logical Structure
Conclusion 1 is justified by Premise 1 and 3 as follows:
- Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence
- Premise 3: The universe exists
- Conclusion 1: The universe has an explanation of its existence
Thus if everything that exists has an explanation of its existence and the universe exists, then it follows that the universe has an explanation of its existence.
Conclusion 2 follows from premise 2 and conclusion 1 as follows:
- Premises 2: If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God
- Conclusion 1: The universe has an explanation of its existence
- Conclusion 2: Therefore the explanation of the universe’s existence is God
I think it is fairly self-evident that the logical structure of the argument is valid. Now we will look at the premises.
4 Are the Premises True?
4.1 Premise 3
Premise 3 states that the universe exists. I think this is fairly self-evident. I am sure that there have been extreme sceptics that have questioned this claim, but I will not concern myself with them.
4.2 Premise 1
4.2.1 Objection 1 – How do we explain God?
Premise 1 states that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence. This has prompted the following objection:
If premise 1 is true, then God must have an explanation of his existence. The explanation of God’s existence must be some other being greater than God. That’s impossible; therefore, premise 1 must be false.
However, this objection is a misunderstanding of what Leibniz meant by “explanation”. According to Leibniz, there are 2 kinds of explanations:
- Beings that exist necessarily (necessary beings), or
- Beings that are produced by an external cause (contingent beings).
Necessary beings are those that exist by a necessity of their own nature. In other words it is impossible for them not to exist. Some mathematicians believe that abstract mathematical objects, such as numbers, sets and shapes (e.g. circles and triangles) exist necessarily. Necessary beings are not caused to exist by an external entity and necessarily exist in all possible worlds.
On the other hand, contingent beings are caused to exist by something else. They do not exist necessarily and exist because something else produced them. This includes physical objects such as people, planets and galaxies. It is easy to imagine possible worlds in which these objects do not exist. Thus we could expand premise 1 as follows:
Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either due to the necessity of its own nature or due to an external cause.
It is impossible for God to have a cause. Thus Leibniz’s argument is really for a God who must be a necessary, uncaused being. Thus the argument helps to define and constrain what we mean by “God”.
4.2.2 Objection 2 – Does the Universe need explaining?
Some atheists have objected that premise 1 is true of everything in the universe, but not the universe itself. However, it is arbitrary to claim that the universe is an exception. After all, even Leibniz did not exclude God from premise 1.
4.2.3 Objection 3 – An Explanation of the Universe is Impossible
Some atheists have suggested that it is impossible for the universe to have an explanation of its existence. Their argument goes something like this:
The explanation of the universe would have to be a prior state of affairs in which the universe did not exist. This would be nothingness. Nothingness cannot cause anything, Therefore the universe exists inexplicably.
This objection assumes that the universe includes everything and that there is nothing outside the universe, including God. The objection has excluded the possibility of God by definition. However, an alternative definition is that the universe contains all physical things, but that God exists apart from the universe. This objection assumes that atheism is true and argues in a circle. It is clearly begging the question.
4.3 Premise 2
Premise 2 states that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, then that explanation is God. This appears controversial at first, but in fact it is not. This is because atheists typically argue that if atheism is true, then the universe has no explanation of its existence. Thus if there is an explanation of the universe, then atheism must be false (i.e., God is the explanation of the universe). This conclusion follows from the following rule of logic: If p => (implies) Q, then “not Q” => “not P”. An example is, “If it is raining, then there are clouds. Thus if there are no clouds, then it is not raining.”
One may object at this point that the word “explanation” is ambiguous. An explanation for something may be due to either an intelligent agent or a mindless, unintelligent prior event or cause. For example, suppose we have a rusty car. The existence of the car was due to intelligent agents, but the rusty degradation was due to mindless, unintelligent causes. If the ultimate explanation of the universe is mindless and unintelligent, then the argument does not take us very far. However, could the existence of the universe be ultimately due to mindless causes?
However, I don’t think that the LCA necessarily demands that the observable universe has an intelligent explanation of its existence. For example, suppose that this universe was birthed by some other universe. Well, that other universe would be the explanation of its existence. Of course, that would simply push the problem back one step further. Even if an atheist wants to appeal to an infinite past succession of universes, we can still ask of that infinite succession, “Why does it exist, rather than nothing and what is its explanation?” But at that point, what kind of explanation can there be other than some transcendent, necessary cause? So a rational atheist is forced to either concede the argument or claim that the cosmos exists inexplicably (without explanation).
4.4 Objection 4 – The Universe exists Necessarily
All atheistic alternatives now seem to be closed, but not quite. Some atheists have claimed that the universe exists necessarily (i.e., the universe is a necessary being). If that were the case, then the universe would not require an external cause. However, this proposal is generally not taken seriously for the following reason. None of the universe’s components seem to exist necessarily. They could all fail to exist. Other material configurations are possible, the elementary particles could have been different and the physical laws could have been different as well. Thus the universe cannot exist necessarily.
However, is it valid to resort to God as the explanation of the universe? Are there other possibilities? The universe consists of space, time, matter and energy. The cause of the universe must be something other than the universe. Thus the cause of the universe must be non-physical, immaterial and beyond space and time. Abstract objects are not possible candidates as they have no causal relationships. Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that the cause of the universe must be a transcendent, unembodied mind.
Leibniz’s argument from the Principle of sufficient reason is an interesting argument for the existence of God, but it goes beyond just God’s existence. It also constrains the attributes of God to be a transcendent, uncaused, unembodied mind, who necessarily exists. In other words, this being is what the major monotheistic religions traditionally refer to as “God”.