In two previous articles attempting to make an “unapologetic” argument for God, I have just been ramping up to make the argument. I still haven’t gotten there yet, and I am still just getting started.
That’s right. I am still working on getting to the starting line. Maybe I will still get there.
I say, “unapologetic”, rather loosely, in case you are wondering. I am not being apologetic in the sense of apologizing for anything. Apologetics has nothing to do with being sorry, of course. It means to provide a defense, and it specifically describes the effort of providing a defense for Christianity.
The word, apologetics, derives from the Greek word, apologia, which means “a speech in defense” or a “verbal defense” or a “well-reasoned reply”. The world is used in Peter 3:15 as follows:
“Always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give the reason [logos] for the hope that you have.”
I am using “unapologetic” as a kind of play on words. I am not giving a typical apologetic argument for the existence of God, and I am not being apologetic about doing that.
I previously made the observation that we all start with axioms, premises on which we support our positions for and against God, but we are incapable of proving those axioms. We consider them “self-evident”, but that is, frankly, just another way of saying that we can’t prove our starting premises” we have to assume they are true, and we go from there.
We take our fundamental premises on faith, essentially. This includes everyone, even in science.
As an example, consider the scientist, like a few I have heard, who says that science is the only way to know truth and all truths can be revealed by science. That premise cannot be scientifically proven. Therefore, you just must take it on faith.
Ironically, that statement is also self-contradictory. If science is the only way to know truth, and the statement itself cannot be proven by science, then even if it is right, it is wrong! (Echoing John Lennox here.)
I recently heard the astrophysicist, Michael Guillen, say similarly that science does not prove anything absolutely. As an example, he says we could posit that ravens are always black. Every raven the modern world has ever encountered and documented may be black, but that doesn’t mean that every raven that ever existed and every raven that will ever exist is always black.
To make the claim that all ravens are black is to go beyond science. We can only verify the blackness of all the ravens we can find and the ravens that other people have documented, but we can’t verify the blackness of the ravens that were never documented or the ravens that have not yet existed.
William Lane Craig talks about the philosophy of logical positivism championed by people like AJ Ayer in the 1940’s and 50’s. Logical positivism, or “verificationism”, as Craig calls it, was claimed that consideration of the existence of God is meaningless because it is not verifiable by the five senses. The book, Language, Proof and Logic, was a kind of “manifesto” of this view, says Craig,
Verificationsim was used by Ayer to nix anything metaphysical. According to this view, a statement is only meaningful if it is capable of being empirically verified. Since metaphysical statements are beyond the reach of empirical science, they cannot be verified. Metaphysical statements were, therefore, dismissed out of hand. According to Craig,
“Ayer was very explicit about the theological implications of this verificationism. Since God is a metaphysical object, the possibility of knowledge was ‘ruled out’ by our treatment of metaphysics. Thus, there can be no knowledge of God.”
Do you see the problem with this view? One only need ask, “Is that statement capable of being empirically verified?”
Ayer’s view was built on an axiom he could not prove, and which could not be proven by the methods he arbitrarily limited according to the premise he assumed. His view could not even stand up to itself!
Craig says the collapse of verificationism was “the most philosophical event of the twentieth century”. The verification principal was not only unscientific; it was self-refuting. “The statement, ‘You should only believe what can be scientifically proven cannot, itself, be scientifically proven.’”
In the previous “unapologetic” articles, I claim that we all have to take certain things on faith, especially our starting premises, which are the tools by which we view and explore the world, but not all of those starting premises are created equal. Some of them cannot even stand up to themselves!
But, enough of that. I need to get to the point of this article.
It seems axiomatic that, if one wants to determine whether God exists, and if one is sincere in making that determination, one will not start with a premise that will inevitably result in the logic that God does not exist.
Ayer’s logical positivism is a case in point. One should also begin with a premise that does not refute itself, but I suppose that should go without saying (in an ideal world). On this score, it seems fitting that we should have a healthy skepticism towards skepticism, itself.
I am a skeptic also. It’s just that I am skeptical about different things – like the ability of science alone (which is a study confined by definition to the material world) to explain all of reality. I am skeptic of the skeptics, and I don’t trust them, especially if they aren’t skeptical of their own skepticism.
That doesn’t mean I am skeptical of science. I am just skeptical of the claim that science can deliver all the evidence of reality.
We need look no further than the definition of science to see that science is self-limiting. Science is the study of the natural world. We can be very confident of science to provide us good information about the natural world, but we should expect that it won’t tell us much of anything beyond the natural world.
Unless we want to take it on faith that there is nothing other than the natural, material world, we need to see science for what it is – the study of the natural world. We shouldn’t see science for more than what it is (a refutation of metaphysical reality).
People who claim that science and faith are at odds with each other are extremely self-unaware. They do not see that they are using faith to exclude the possibility that anything exists beyond the natural world. They do not see that they have taken on faith the assumption that the natural, material world is the limit of reality.
I understand the temptation to conclude that reality is limited to the natural, material world. Frankly, it makes our task of determining truth much easier. We limit all the tools we need to the five senses. If we reduce the universe of truth down to material things, we substantially reduce the possibilities and simplify the task of understanding them.
It is rather like a joke my father used to tell of the man who saw a stranger searching for something under a streetlight. Being an empathetic sort, the man offered to help in the search and asked what the stranger was searching for. “My car keys,” said the stranger.
The search continued for quite some time with no success. Impatient now, and weary of the effort, the man asked the stranger, “Are you sure you lost you keys here?” The stranger replied, “No. I lost them over there in the dark, but searching here in the light is much easier.”
The fact that it might be easier to rely on science for our assessment of the entirety of reality is no reason to limit our search for truth, if truth is what we really want to determine. The fact that metaphysical reality is not susceptible to analysis by scientific method is not a good reason to conclude there is no metaphysical reality.
Finite beings such as we who have no claim to determination of the universe don’t have the privilege of declaring the limits of reality. We can only take it as it is given to us. We can no more determine the boundaries of reality than to set a boundary to space. We might dream that someday we may have that capability, but it’s a fool’s errand.
I will end this continuation of a beginning of an “unapologetic” argument for God with a story I have told often. Charles Darwin wrestled openly with Christian faith in his earlier years. He acknowledged a “deep inward conviction” and “firm conviction of God, and the immortality of the soul” in his seminal book, On the Origin of Species. (pp. 432-33)
At least three things (as far as I can discern) may have led him to reject that conviction later in his life. One is the death of Darwin’s oldest daughter from a sickness at ten years old. Her death had a profound effect on Darwin, and he struggled with the “problem of pain and suffering” the rest of his life.
How could a good God, who is all-powerful, allow death, pain and suffering in the world? There are no easy answers.
Darwin’s good friend and co-creator of the evolutionary paradigm, Alfred Russell Wallace, was a spiritualist. Though he never wavered on the efficacy of the evolutionary paradigm, Wallace’s adherence to spiritualism was an embarrassment to Darwin, especially when Wallace came to the public defense of a popular “spirit medium” being prosecuted for fraud.
The third possible impetus for rejecting his “conviction” in the divine was the evolutionary paradigm, itself. In a July 3, 1881, letter to William Graham, Darwin acknowledged his “inward conviction … that the universe is not the result of chance”, but he concluded:
“But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”
The first two potential reasons for Darwin’s rejection of belief in God are speculative. They are possible personal motivations, but the last one is the reason that Darwin identified, so I will focus on it.
Darwin rejected his “inward conviction” by relying on his intellect. Through his intellect, he developed the evolutionary paradigm, among other things, which called his inward conviction into question.
The incongruity in his logic is that his inward conviction and his intellect come from the same source – “from the mind of the lower animals”. If his inward conviction was suspect on the evolutionary paradigm, then his intellect suffered from the same defect. Thus, he should have also applied the same defect to his intellect and wondered:
“Would any one trust in the [intellect] of a monkey’s mind, if there [is] any [intellect] in such a mind?”
From his starting premise, that human beings developed from lower life forms by random chance acting on mutations in a purely material process, Darwin’s should have realized that he could not trust his intellectual ability any more than his inward conviction.
Again, we find a premise that is self-refuting. Darwin apparently took it on faith that he could trust his intellect, though his own logic betrays him.
Darwin may have had more personal reasons for rejecting his previous conviction. The grief over the death his daughter may have motivated Darwin to reject the idea of God. The embarrassment with his spiritualist friend may have spooked Darwin from considering metaphysical reality. Regardless, the ultimate reason Darwin gave for rejecting the idea of God is flawed
In all of this, though, it becomes clear that we set up our syllogisms either to allow for proof of God or to limit or exclude it. If we are really interested in finding an answer to the question, we need to have a worldview robust enough to allow for the existence of God. We need to be open to the possibility.
One thing we wouldn’t do, if we really want to determine the truth, is booby trap the process to default to failure. We may succeed in never “finding” God that way, but it won’t be for the fact that He doesn’t exist.
I think the reader might find this postscript interesting. AJ Ayer had a near death experience late in his life that shook his worldview considerably. Interestingly, he didn’t ultimately change his worldview publicly. He was so committed to it that the old dog wasn’t willing to learn a new trick. A legitimate question remains, though, whether he might have changed his view privately. If you are interested, read On the Near-Death Experience of an Atheist and Speculation on Its Effect.