Posts tagged ‘classical apologetics’

December 14th, 2012

Ratio Christi Event – How to Argue for the Existence of God (Audio & PPT)

by Max Andrews

How to Argue for the Existence of GodOn 8 November 2012 I did a presentation to the Ratio Christi club at Liberty University on how to argue for the existence of God. It was designed to be a smaller training session for the Ratio Christi members. I discussed the importance of apologetics and the difference between knowing your faith to be true and showing your faith to be true. That was the followed by methodological differences and my use of the classical approach.

I then gave three arguments: 1) Thomas’ cosmological argument from contingency, 2) the abductive fine-tuning argument, and 3) the abductive moral argument (or as I like to say, the new moral argument).

April 3rd, 2012

VT Debate–Response to the Atheist Objection that God is a Moral Monster

by Max Andrews

There were two main objections, which my atheist opponents defended during the VT debate on the existence of God.  One of the objections was from the problem of gratuitous evil, particularly natural evil, which I have already responded to here. The other objection raised during the debate was presented first after my opening statements. The argument was that because me and my debate partner were Christian theists the Christian God cannot exist because of the supposed atrocities in the Bible and other doctrines such as hell.

The argument began with the problem of predisposition. In other words, why you must approach your faith of choice with objectivity and skepticism and not confirmation bias.  However, in response, in order to identify and affirm the discovery of a truth one must not exhaust all possibilities.  Additionally, it works both ways.  If the criterion is applied fairly how can one deny the proposition, in this case, God exists, without examining all possibilities?  This criterion is untenable.  Also, to suggest that one is a Christian because of environment or spatiotemporal location is to commit the genetic fallacy.

March 26th, 2012

VT Debate–The Problem of Gratuitous Evil

by Max Andrews

One of the objections made by one of the atheists in the VT debate on the existence of God was William Rowe’s form of the problem of gratuitous evil:[1]

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering that an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse. (Factual premise)
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering that being could, unless that being could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse. (Theological premise).
  3. Therefore, There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

Or, simply put:

  1. There are unnecessary evils.
  2. God would prevent evils without losing some greater good.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.
    read more »

March 25th, 2012

What if God Commanded You to do Something Wrong?

by Max Andrews

While at the VT Debate on the existence of God one of the atheists’, in passing, briefly mentioned the Euthyphro dilemma. Does God command something because it’s good or is it good because God commands it?  The first horn makes goodness apart from God and the second makes goodness arbitrary. This came up in the Q&A as well.  What if God commanded you to strap a bomb to your chest and blow other people up or rape others?  As an advocate of divine command theory the response to this question is a bit more nuanced then any prima facie answer. (Also, see my moral argument I presented at this debate).

The proponent of divine command theory (DCT) claims that whatever God commands to any moral agent becomes a moral obligation.  Formulations of the commands are given symbolic form by David Efird as:[1]

(RIGHT)                      ∀ϕ☐(Rϕ ≣ Cgϕ)

(WRONG)                   ∀ϕ☐(Wϕ ≣ Cg~ϕ)

(PERMITTED 1)            ☐(~Eg ⊃ ∀ϕ~Wϕ)[2]

(PERMITTED 2)            [(∃ϕ☐Cgϕ ∙ ∃ϕ☐Cg~ϕ)] ∙ [(∃ϕ☐~Cgϕ ∙ ∃ϕ☐~Cg~ϕ)]

*∀= for all…, ☐=necessarily, ◊=possibly.  For instance, RIGHT is read as for all actions, ϕ, ϕ is right if and only if God commands ϕ.

March 24th, 2012

The Fine-Tuning Argument and Random Sampling

by Max Andrews

One of the objections raised by an audience member at the VT debate on the existence of God was against the fine-tuning argument and probability (for my method of argumentation please see: VT Debate-My Method of Argumentation).  In statistics a random sample drawn must have the same chance of being sampled as all the other samples.  The objection was based on this problem.  Since we know of only one universe we don’t know what the range of values for the constants and physics could be.  This was also brought up in conversation with both atheists after the debate.  Since we don’t know how narrow or broad these ranges could be there’s no way of drawing out any probability based argument from fine-tuning.  The thing is that we can know what other universes would be like if the values were different.  If our natural laws have counterfactuals that are in any way incoherent then this is an appropriate sampling.  Also, to make this objection and advocate that we just so happen to live in a life permitting universe in the multiverse then this objection cannot be made since the claim that we happen to life in a life-permitting one amongst countless others suggest we can know what the other samplings are.  For instance, here are a few examples:

March 24th, 2012

VT Debate–The Moral Argument

by Max Andrews

The following is David Baggett’s moral argument* for the existence of a perfectly moral person I used in the VT debate on the existence of God. (I highly recommend Baggett’s book co-authored with Jerry Walls Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality.) This version of the moral argument is an abductive version. I believe this argument, when used in an abductive form, is the strongest form of the argument. You’ll usually see it in a deductive form, a la William Lane Craig. For my method of argumentation please see: VT–My Method of Argumentation.

  1. There are objective axiological/moral facts that obtain.
  2. Either the world alone or the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts.
  3. It is the case that the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts.
  4. Therefore, the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts.

In essence, it seems that there are objective moral facts and this asks the question, “What’s the best explanation for these facts?”

March 24th, 2012

VT Debate–The Fine-Tuning Argument

by Max Andrews

The following is Robin Collins’ fine-tuning argument for the existence of a fine-tuner I used in the VT debate on the existence of God.  This version of the fine-tuning argument is an abductive version.  I believe this argument, when used in an abductive form, is the strongest form of the argument.  You’ll usually see it in a deductive form, a la William Lane Craig.  For my method of argumentation please see: VT–My Method of Argumentation.

The fine-tuning argument argues that when the physics and the laws of nature are expressed mathematically their values are ever so balanced in a way that permits the existence of life.  This claim is made on the basis that existence of vital substances such as carbon, and the properties of objects such as stable long-lived stars, depend rather sensitively on the values of certain physical parameters, and on the cosmological initial conditions.[1]  I’m merely arguing that the universe/multiverse is fine-tuned for the essential building blocks and environments that life requires for cosmic and biological evolution to even occur.

  1. Given the fine-tuning evidence, a life permitting universe/multiverse (LPM) is very, very epistemically unlikely under the non-existence of a fine-tuner (~FT): that is, P(LPM|~FT & k’) ≪ 1.
  2. Given the fine-tuning evidence, LPM is not unlikely under FT (Fine-Tuner): that is, ~P(LPM|FT & k’) ≪ 1.
  3. Therefore, LPM strongly supports FT over ~FT. [2]
    read more »

March 23rd, 2012

VT Debate–The Thomistic Cosmological Argument

by Max Andrews

The following is Thomas Aquinas’ cosmological argument from contingency I used in the VT debate on the existence of God.  This version of the cosmological argument can be traced back to antiquity originally advocated by Plato and Aristotle.  For my method of argumentation please see: VT–My Method of Argumentation.

  1. What we observe and experience in our universe is contingent.
  2. A network of causally dependent contingent things cannot be infinite.
  3. A network of causally dependent contingent things must be finite.
  4. Therefore, There must be a first cause in the network of contingent causes.

In this context, what I mean by contingent is that if X is contingent then X owes its existence to something else. For a thing that has the potentiality of movement cannot actualize its own potential; some other thing must cause it to move.  The universe consists of a network of causes. A was caused by B, but only because B is caused by C, and so on. We know of nothing that spontaneously initiates its own causal activity. (Even supposed quantum indeterminacy requires a state of affairs, or preceding causal conditions, such as the governance of the laws of nature, for the event to occur).  This is a hierarchical network of causation and not temporal.  Note that nothing here turns on our having to know about everything.

March 23rd, 2012

VT Debate–My Method of Argumentation

by Max Andrews

The topic of the VT debate was “Does God Probably Exist, or Not?”  I used a cumulative case approach for my arguments.  Below is my opening statement:

This evening we will be defending the proposition “God probably exists.”  We will present three different arguments for theism. To defend our case we will be using the prime principle of confirmation: Whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability. This principle is sound under all interpretations of probability.  Each argument must be taken on its own grounds and one cannot arrive at “God” at the end of each argument.  The conjunction of arguments is what is needed to make a cumulative case for the existence of God.

The Likelihood Principle of Confirmation theory states as follows.  Let h1 and h2 be two be competing hypothesis (in this case the existence of X and ~X, with X being a first cause, fine-tuner, etc.).  According to the Likelihood Principle, an observation e counts as evidence in favor of hypothesis h1 over h2 if the observation is more probable under h1 than h2.  Thus, e counts in favor of h1 over h2 if P(e|h1) > P(e|h2), where P(e|h1) and P(e|h2) depict a conditional probability of e on h1 and h2, respectively.  The degree to which the evidence counts in favor of one hypothesis over another is proportional to the degree to which e is more probable under h1 than h2: particularly, it is proportional to P(e|h1)/P(e|h2) .  The Likelihood Principle seems to be sound under all interpretations of probability.  This form is concerned with epistemic probability.

June 20th, 2011

The Problem of Miracles

by Max Andrews

Why must the possibility of miracles be so foundational? Because it’s the crux of the gospel message, the resurrection of Jesus.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead then our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15.17).

Undoubtedly, one of the major stumbling blocks to becoming a Christian for many people today is that Christianity is a religion of miracles.  It asserts that God became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, being born of a virgin, that he performed various miracles, exorcised demonic beings, and that, having died by crucifixion, he rose from the dead.  But the problem is that these sorts of miraculous events seem to belong to a worldview foreign to modern man—a pre-scientific, superstitious worldview belonging to the ancient and Middle Ages.[1]

Miracle def.: A divine intervention into, or an interruption of, the regular course of the world that produces a purposeful but unusual event that would not have occurred otherwise.

  • Wondrous natural events do not qualify as miracles.
  • Supernatural events that do not interrupt the regular course of the world do not qualify as miracles.
  • “Laws of Nature” are not fixed laws; they are descriptive, not prescriptive.
  • Miracles are not violations of laws of causality, but are simply unusually effects produced by the introduction of a supernatural cause.

David Hume was an 18th century skeptic from Scotland who is considered an authority by many philosophers in challenging miracles.  Consider his take in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding,

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience as can be imagined… It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed, in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation.

Hume’s idea of “extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence” is pictured in a scale.  On one side is full proof and the other side is the evidence from all people in all the ages for the regularity of the laws of nature, which also amounts to full proof.  Thus, proof stands against proof and does not incline in either direction, the wise man cannot hold to a miracle with any degree of certainty.  According to Hume, miracles are violations of the “laws of nature” that “firm and unalterable” experience has solidly established.[2]  Only a superior testimony of experience may override this proposition, but, unfortunately, there cannot be such a testimony, for if there were, miracles would no longer merit their name.[3]  For clarification:

  • Hume is not arguing that miracles are impossible, just that there can never be enough evidence to believe in them.
  • The entire fund of human experience has established the laws of nature and one would need a greater amount of evidence than all of mankind’s experience to believe in miracles.
  • Hume’s argument is based on probability:  It will always be more probable that a person will be in error (deceiving or being deceived) than an entire experience of mankind is wrong.

Keeping Hume’s criteria and experiential background information in the back of your mind, with respects to the resurrection, let’s consider witness credibility.  What about the contention that the disciples were guilty of fraud?

Easter is not primarily a comfort, but a challenge. Its message is either the supreme fact in history or else a gigantic hoax… If it is true, then it is the supreme fact of history; and to fail to adjust one’s life to its implications means irreparable loss. But if it is not true, if Christ be not risen, then the whole of Christianity is a fraud, foisted on the world by a company of consummate liars, or, at best, deluded simpletons. St. Paul himself realized this when he wrote: If Christ be not risen, then our preaching is meaningless, and your faith worthless. More, we are found to be false witnesses. [4]

What about the cause of the rise of Christianity?

If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with? … the birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church… remain an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the Church itself. [5]

So, how should we answer the Humean objection?

  • Hume begs the question:  “Firm and unalterable experience”; He assumes that miracles have never occurred in order to prove that miracles have never occurred.  CS Lewis notes,

“Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely ‘uniform experience’ against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact we are arguing in a circle.”[6]

  • Hume presupposes naturalism.  Yet if God exists then surely miracles are possible.
  • Hume misuses probability:  1) Highly improbable events do occur; 2) probability cannot tell what actually happened in the past.
  • Miracles appear as sense perception and therefore can be supported by testimony; if miracles are possible then claims should be investigated rather than just ruled out a priori.

How about a more scientific challenge? Early and mid 20th century theologian Rudolph Bultmann argues that “man’s knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such an extent through science and technology that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world… the modern conception of human nature as a self-subsistent unity immune from the interference of supernatural powers must take its place.” According to Bultmann God is the Wholly Other, there are no points of contact between us and him.  God is, but we cannot know him objectively.  God is hidden and thus neither God nor his actions are open to verification.  This world is a closed system of cause and effect; we can never find God by empirical processes. There are no breaks in the links of causation; thus, there are no miracles. No event can ever be ascribed to God; all are natural causes.  There is an infinite qualitative difference between God and the world, which makes it impossible for God to objectively act in the world.  Paradoxically, the hidden God reaches down to finite humanity and reaches himself (via the kerygma).  Miracles would be intrusions of God into the natural realm.

What is quite interesting about Bultmann is that he was a contemporary with the rise of Einsteinian physics and relativity.  Bultmann was still shaping his theology and philosophy to a Newtonian system.  It’s not so much that God wouldn’t cause miracles; rather, it’s that he can’t. It would be morally wrong if he interfered with his creation.

How should we respond to objections based on science?

  • The closed-universe view, which says that the universe contains all of reality, is now being either questions or flat-out rejected by many scientists.  Many cosmologists are adopting the view of the multiverse, which is an open-system.  This is quite interesting, though I’m not using it argumentatively, if God were to create, wouldn’t you expect him to create an open-system such as the multiverse given is infinite creativity?
  • Physical science cannot account for all events purely on natural laws.
  • Probability applies even to the field of physics.
  • Some physical events are unpredictable and do not conform to laws (depending on which interpretation of quantum mechanics one ascribes to, particularly concerning wave collapse).
  • Causal agents (agents with libertarian freedom) create several events, which are unpredictable and cannot be ruled out.
  • Investigating an event to see if it actually occurred is valid apart from science and is regularly practiced in other fields (particularly the historical sciences).
  • All we need to establish by this method is that miracles cannot be ruled out a priori.
  • See more from John Lennox on philosophical and scientific objections.

How about a historical challenge?  Sociologist Ernst Troelstsch’s objection to miracles:  the principle of historical analogy.  In essence this principle states the historian has no right to accept as historical fact the account of a past event for which he has no analogy in the present.  For example, if one were to read of a great battle in ancient times in which one army massacres another without suffering a single casualty itself, one would be suspect of its authenticity.  To quote Troelstsch, “God never does miracles today, at least I’ve never seen one.  Therefore, I have no reason to believe that he did them in the past.”

Responding to Troelstsch’s historical challenge:

  • There are positive reasons to believe that the miraculous may be occurring today.  There is a growing awareness in the world of the paranormal—events that cannot be explained by natural causes.  (E.g. near death experiences).
  • It is impossible to argue that miracles do not occur merely because one has not experienced a miracle.  Miracles may be occurring beyond the scope of one’s awareness.  This is confusing an epistemological issue [knowledge based] with an ontological issue [a nature of being].
  • There is no reason a priori to reject the testimony of others who have experienced the miraculous.  As stated above, while one may be justified in requiring evidence for miracle claims, miracles are objective events that can be verified like any other event.

How about multireligious miracles?  The claim is that all religions have their miracles, so what makes Christianity’s miracles true and other religions’ false?

  • Not all religious teach miracles and the Jewish-Christian religions are the only traditions that claim to prove its teachings through miracles.
  • In all cases of miracles, no miracles have the historical evidence like the gospel miracles.
  • Christianity’s miracles are religiously significant.  Jesus’ miracles occurred at the climax of his unparalleled life.
  • Religio-historical context distinguishes miracles from physical anomalies.  When a scientific anomaly occurs it is usually assumed that some unknown natural factors are interfering, so that the law is neither violated nor revised.

It has been shown that miracles are not irrational, unscientific, or non-historical.  They can be rationally shown to be possible, are completely compatible with science, and because they are events in history, can be argued as historically have taken place.  If God exists then miracles are not only certainly possible, but one would expect them to take place as a sign of God’s presence.  Miracles are not beyond logic, logical absurdities, or contradictory.  No one is punting to the “God of the gaps”.

Miracles shape the crux of the Christian worldview.  The Jesus Seminar presupposes the impossibility of miracles, “The contemporary religious controversy turns on whether the worldview reflected in the Bible can be carried forward into this scientific age and retained as an article of faith… the Christ of creed and dogma… can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope.”[7]  Miracles are a stumbling block for naturalists.  The use of miracles as an apologetic method is known as evidential apologetics.  Evidentialists will appeal to miracles to argue for theism:  1) historical evidence shows miracles occurred, 2) a theistic context is necessary for a miracle; 3) therefore, God must exist.  One of the most prominent proponents of this method is Gary Habermas.  This is what he calls “one step apologetics”.  Classical apologists also use the resurrection and miracles as arguments for the existence of God; however, they use it in conjunction with other arguments for the existence of God to set up a theistic context prior to arguing for miracles.

This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle.” –AW Tozer


[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, ed. 3 (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2008), 247.

[2] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 2nd ed., Eric Steinberg, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 1993), Sec. X, Part I, 76.

[3] Ibid., 77.

[4] Sir Norman Anderson, The Evidence for the Resurrection (Leicestyer:  Inter Varisty Press, 1990), 1.

[5] C.F.D. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament (London:  SCM, 1967) 3, 13.

[6] C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (New York Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960), 102.

[7] R.W. Funk, R.W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, “Introduction” to The Five Gospels (New York:  Macmillan, 1993), 2. For more on miracles, arguments for them, and applications see William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith ed. 3, a source for much of the included information.