Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

by Dima Zhyvov

Is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God? Do Christians have any good arguments to show that their faith is justified? It has been my and Matt’s contention in this series that they do and we have offered several lines of reasoning in support of this claim. In particular, we have argued that God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe, that God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, that God is the best explanation of the existence of objective moral facts, and finally that God is the best explanation of the historical facts pertaining the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In our view, these arguments together form a strong cumulative case for God’s existence; a case, which cannot be rationally dismissed without seriously engaging with the actual arguments presented.

Review of the arguments

We started with the cosmological argument for God’s existence, which may be summarized as follows:

(1) Everything that had a beginning had a cause

(2) The universe had a beginning

(3) Therefore, the universe had a cause

Matt argued that there are excellent reasons, both philosophical and scientific[i], to accept both premises of the argument, which would then inevitably lead one to the conclusion that the universe had a cause of its existence. Furthermore, a conceptual analysis of this cause revealed some properties which fit conspicuously well with the classical picture of God. Thus, the argument, if sound, shows that there is a transcendent, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, supremely powerful, personal cause of the universe.

We then moved on in our discussion to the teleological argument, which has the following form:

(4) The fine-tuning of the universe is either due to physical necessity, chance, or design.

(5) It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

(6) Therefore, it is due to design

Matt argued extensively for both (4) and (5), logically concluding that the fine-tuning of the universe is due to design after all, which brought us to a personal and supremely intelligent designer of the cosmos, further strengthening our case.

Our third piece of evidence was the existence of objective moral facts. I went with the following formulation of the moral argument:

(7) Certain moral facts exist, and among them are objective moral values and duties

(8) Such notions classically construed make little sense on naturalistic grounds, but they reside quite comfortably in a world sustained by a loving Creator.

If one had only the cosmological and teleological arguments at her disposal, at best what could be demonstrated is that there exists some kind of deistic God with the properties listed above. We would know close to nothing of whether this being is in fact good, evil, or indifferent towards us. This is why the moral argument provides an important contribution to our cumulative case, for it informs us further about the nature of God, revealing him to be essentially good.

Finally, Matt presented the historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus, which is a uniquely Christian argument in our case. Matt argued for the following claims:

(9) Shortly after Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his tomb was found empty and his disciples believed that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them

(10) Belief in these phenomena led to the rapid spread of the Christian faith

and concluded that the best explanation of these is that

(11) God raised Jesus from the dead

Objections to (9) and (10) were examined, and alternative explanations were assessed and found wanting. If successful, the argument goes beyond the existence of a merely generic God, which would be consistent with any major theistic faith, and shows that it is the existence of a distinctly Christian God that the evidence favours.

But why think that the arguments we presented build on each other in the way we suggested? In particular, why think that the various properties we discovered through them belong to one and the same entity? Could there not be one being who caused the universe, another who fine-tuned it, yet another who grounds the existence of objective moral values and duties, and so on? Of course, such reasoning would break down in the case of the historical argument. It seems to me that given the unique historical and religious context of the resurrection, if it in fact happened, it is quite plausible to regard it as an act of divine approval of Jesus and his ministry, as God’s act of vindication of Jesus and his claims against the accusations that led to his crucifixion. But if so, then his vision and teaching about God is likewise vindicated. And of course, what Jesus believed and taught about God was utterly incompatible with polytheism of the kind suggested in this objection. But suppose, contrary to fact, this line of reasoning is made to fit with the historical argument as well. Why limit ourselves to only one God in that case? The answer is, in short, Occam’s Razor, according to which, principles employed to explain any phenomenon should not be multiplied without necessity, or alternatively, one should not multiply causes beyond what is strictly necessary to explain the data. If postulating one murderer will do to account for all the facts of the crime, then it is simply gratuitous to complicate matters unnecessarily by invoking two, three, or more murderers for no reason whatsoever. Likewise, in the case of the evidence presented in this series, if postulating one cause or entity, namely, God, is sufficient to account for the data, postulating more entities seems wholly unwarranted.

Final remarks and some general objections to the case

Careful readers may have noticed that at no point in our presentation did we base our arguments on our belief that the Bible is inspired and authoritative revelation from God or anything of the sort. If the Bible was used directly to support some premise in the historical argument, it was treated by us as any other document of antiquity without any assumption about its divine source. In the context of arguing for the truth of Christianity such a strategy would be hopelessly circular and so no such appeals were made on our part. Rather we appealed to public evidence, logic, and reason to make our case.

That being said, we wish to reiterate once again that our claim is not and has never been that these arguments, taken individually or cumulatively, prove God’s existence with mathematical certainty. I agree that we cannot provide an argument which will convince everyone, without a possibility of doubt, that God exists. But is that a problem for our case? I think not. Should it disturb me that I cannot prove beyond the possibility of doubt – in a way that will convince all philosophers -that that the entire universe did not pop into existence five minutes ago with an appearance of age and that all of our apparent memories are not illusions? Should I worry that I cannot likewise ‘prove’ that the other people you see around you have minds? I don’t think so. The truth is there simply is no interesting philosophical conclusion that can so be ‘proven’ beyond the possibility of doubt. So the fact that our arguments for the existence of God do not produce mathematical certainty does not by itself weaken the case for God’s existence. It simply places the question of God’s existence in the same category as other questions such as that of the existence of the external, mind-independent world and the question of how we know other people have minds.

But then what were we hoping to achieve through this series if not to ‘prove’ God’s existence in the sense outlined above? Well, simply this – that theism in general and Christianity in particular are reasonable and intellectually respectable positions to hold for thinking men and women today. Even if we have not managed to persuade you to believe, we hope that by providing our reasons to believe in God we have at least succeeded in convincing you that Christianity is worth thinking about and that its central claims deserve to be taken seriously after all.

[i] For the explication of the arguments mentioned in the review, see the linked articles in the text.

By Dima Zhyvov

This post is a continuation of the moral argument. Please see Part 1 if you have not read it yet.

Formulating the moral argument

Let me clearly spell out the argument that I intend to defend, as well as some important concepts I will be employing. The argument goes something like this:

  1. Certain moral facts exist, and among them are objective moral values and duties.
  2. Such notions classically construed make little sense on naturalistic grounds, but they reside quite comfortably in a world sustained by a loving Creator.

In other words, I will argue that morality, classically construed, gives those who believe in objective ethics reason to believe in God.

Certain explanations of concepts are called for at this stage.

I am a moral realist, which means that I subscribe to the following commitments:

  1. There exist moral facts and by that I mean that there exists a special class of facts – the moral facts – which are true or false to the extent that they correspond to reality or the way the world really is. Obviously this assumes that the world is mind-independent, with its fundamental nature being such that it does not depend upon what we think about it or the concepts we deploy to describe it[1].
  2. These moral facts can be known by us. In fact, we do possess knowledge of at least some of them. Having knowledge of any class of facts, including the moral facts, in the sense that I am employing the terms, implies that one can be genuinely mistaken about them. I mean that it is possible for us to make mistakes about what is right and what is wrong. Such an account of moral judgments is clearly incompatible with those meta-ethical theories which view our moral statements as mere expressions of attitudes or emotion or attempts to assert facts, but which turn out to be false, because there are no facts to be had in the first place. One cannot be mistaken, in the sense I am using the term, in liking one colour over another, unless there exists a certain class of facts about the way the world really is, in which there are objective reasons to prefer one colour to another or one flavour of ice-cream to another.
  3.  Finally, moral facts are objective or independent of any beliefs or thoughts we might have about them. This means that what is right is not determined by what I or anybody else thinks. It is not even determined by what we all think is right, even if we could be made to agree. Philosopher William Lane Craig likes to use the following example to illustrate what is meant by objective moral values and duties.

“For example, to say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong is to say that it was wrong even though the Nazis who carried it out thought that it was right, and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them so that it was universally believed that the Holocaust was right”[2]

I like this example because it elucidates a fine but important distinction between objective values and duties in the sense of them being true or false regardless of whether they are viewed by people as such, and values and duties being universal in a sense of them being accepted by virtually all moral agents.

Let me also clarify an important distinction between the notions of moral values and moral duties. When I speak of moral values, I am talking about whether something is good or bad. When I speak of moral duties, I am interested in whether something is right or wrong. Again there is a subtle difference between the right and the good, as well as between the wrong and the bad, even though we often equate them. Right and wrong have to do with moral obligation, what I ought or ought not to do. But obviously I am not morally obligated to do something just because it would be good for me to do it. For example, it is a good thing to become a doctor, but that does not imply that it is therefore my duty to become a doctor. It is also good to become a scientist or an artist or a diplomat or a dancer, but I simply can’t become all of them. This leads me to the conclusion that equating what is right with what is good would be mistaken in such cases. Furthermore, recall a point I made about moral dilemmas in ethics, that there are difficult cases in ethics in which all the choices one is confronted with seem bad. In such a case it is not therefore wrong of me to choose one, since I must choose.  So to sum up, “there is a conceptual difference between something’s being good (or bad) and something’s being right (or wrong). The former has to do with something’s worth, while the latter concerns something’s obligatoriness.”[3] We would do well to keep these concepts distinct in our minds as we proceed in our discussion of the moral argument.

Click here to see part 3 of the article

[2] Reasonable Faith, Third edition, William Lane Craig, p. 173

[3] Reasonable Faith, Third edition, William Lane Craig, p. 173