Re: Proof for God’s Existence?

Someone pointed out the blog post entitled Proof for God’s Existence? by Mark Tetzlaff.  Here is the beginning of the post:

It is interesting to note that the Bible does not begin with a proof for the existence of God. Instead it simply begins with the premise that God exists and presents God’s testimony to Himself. Why is this?

A model argument consists of a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. If even one premise is wrong, the argument is useless. An argument based upon premises that are uncertain or unknown is of no value. Therefore, the objective of a rational argument is to use something that is certain to confirm something that is uncertain.

The Bible does not provide us with an argument or proof for God’s existence because in order to do so, there would have to be something more certain than God’s existence with which we could begin our argument. Instead, It presents God’s testimony to Himself recognizing that His testimony is the most reliable testimony possible.

Here are my comments:

No, it doesn’t begin with a premise. It begins with a belief stated as a fact. If you share that belief and all of the implicit beliefs that go along with it, then you will more likely agree with all of the rest of the beliefs that are found in the text. It has nothing to do with premises. No logical argument is being made and so there is nothing to refute.

Anyways, logic isn’t a good model to try to understand the possibility of God. Humans aren’t inherently rational creatures, and especially the relationship of humans too any hypothetical divine being (no matter of what faith) isn’t rational. But even if you’re logical argument was correct, it would apply equally as well to any number of other Gods written about in other holy scriptures.

From another perspective, just look at Judeo-Christian history. There has been endless numbers of interpretation of God. Even limiting the debate to ideas in early Christianity, there was much disagreement. For example, the first Christians to collect and organize the New Testament scriptures were Gnostics (and this earliest Christian Bible excluded the Jewish scriptures). And the first Christians to write commentaries on the New Testament were Gnostics. Guess who were some of the leading figures in the earliest Christian church? Yep, Gnostics.

In the first few centuries, there was a wide variety of opinions. There were Jewish Christians and Christians trying to separate themselves entirely from Judaism. There were the Gnostics and related groups such as the Marcionites and the Coptic Christians. These various groups overlapped and shared many common members at times. The Christian group that grew the fastest and spread the widest early on were the Manichaeans.

It’s not enough to look at a modern translation of an ancient text. You have to understand the social and historical context. I’m all for seeking inspiration when reading holy texts, but the problem is different people will be “inspired” to interpret it differently. Christian history is filled with disagreements about whose inspired interpretation is correct.

Personally, I prefer to study the scholarship and intuit the most probable meaning, but you never can be sure. For sure, I don’t use logic and I don’t assume I’ll be able to prove my personal understanding to anyone else.

All this blog post does is preach to the choir. Anyone who already agrees with your interpretation of the Bible will agree with the conclusions you’ve come to.

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There is nothing specifically wrong with preaching to the choir. Most writings are only read by people who are inclined to agree with the author and this is particularly true in the realm of religious writings.

The problem is that a blog like this is portraying the author’s views as something more than personal understanding… and I don’t mean that in a dismissive way. Sure, be a witness to your own understanding. There is nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, I do enjoy a well explained theological argument, but I don’t think the author succeeded here. It ends up being more of a description of what the author believes rather than a logical explication.

As for absolute reference points, every major world religion claims something different. If only an absolute reference point can be used to evaluate truth, then what do use to evaluate which version of an absolute reference point is correct? You could answer that you know in your own experience and because it’s been revealed to many Christians.

There are two problems.

First, various Christians have claimed to have had many diverse revelations and they don’t all agree. Revelation can’t even be used to ascertain truth within Christianity. If any particular Christian is correct, then all of the other Christians are wrong. How do you know you’re right?

Second, various non-Christians have claimed to have had many diverse revelations and they don’t all agree. Why doesn’t God reveal himself the same to all? Or if these are all false revelations, why doesn’t God reveal their falsity to those people?

I don’t mean any of this as mere criticism. These are important issues. I believe in a balance of faith and rationality, but it’s a tricky balance.

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Rome is a city-state that is gaining power in the Hellenistic world. A group of devout believers arises. They live an ascetic lifestyle. They travel from town to town depending on the kindness of strangers. They preach the ideal of truth and they believe in divine law that applies to all people no matter what nation or culture. They confront authority, and often are met with torture and death. They refuse to fight back violently and peacefully accept their fates. They are the first martyrs recorded in Western history.

Who am I describing? If you answer Christians, you are incorrect. These first martyrs were the Stoics.

The willingness to sacrifice oneself in the name of a higher spiritual truth is the most extreme example of religious certainty. And the Christians didn’t invent it. You can find martyrs in many different religions.

Also, did you notice what the Stoics were willing to die for? It is what is called natural law.

Natural law doesn’t come out of the Jewish tradition. Before the Jews were influenced by Hellenistic culture, they had no concept of natural law. To the early Jews, law was a covenant that applied to a specific group and not to everyone.

Some later Jews (in the centuries before and after the beginning of Christianity) were influenced by Greco-Roman philosophy and theology. Most of these Jews lived in Alexandria (the center of ancient knowledge) where they formed the largest portion of the population at one time. These Alexandrian Jews particularly studied Plato, but also some were initiated in to the Mystery schools. The most famous example was Philo who interpreted the Jewish scriptures Platonically (i.e., allegorically) and many of the earliest Christians also interpeted the Old Testament Platonically (especially the Church Doctors such as Augustine). Genesis was one of the stories that was interpreted Platonically (yes, Plato believed in a supreme first cause).

The Stoics were also a part of this influence that was particularly important to early Christians. Some observers at the time couldn’t tell Stoics apart from the early Christians because both groups looked very similar and both groups acted similarly. Some Stoics even converted to Christianity, and also some early Christians were converted to pagan religions. There was many religious options in the Roman world and much mixing of ideas.

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Not all arguments are circular.  There is different between a theological belief and a logical premise or a scientific hypothesis.  Presuppositional apologetics begins with an assumption, but it’s an assumption that can’t be objectively tested (can’t be objectively proved or disproved), can’t be peer reviewed, can’t be verified by further methodological research, can’t be meta-analyzed.

Science doesn’t depend on any particular belief.  Scientists tend towards particular theories, but scientific history shows that any theory will be dismissed when it no longer fits the facts.

There is an absolute distinction between religion and science.  Most well educated people not using presuppositional apologetics understands this distinction.  To say everything is presuppositional is to project your own thinking on to the whole world.  If you doubt me, take some logic and philosophy classes at a non-Christian college or major in a hard science such as physics.  Great thinkers have written centuries of detailed books explaining these kinds of distinctions.

Anyways, conflating religion and science in no way strengthens religion.  To say all belief is circular is nihilistic.  That isn’t a genuine answer.  That is an apologetic non-answer given to non-believers, a debating tactic rather than a logical argument.  Christians who use presuppositional apologetics don’t actually believe their beliefs are circular.  You can’t win the argument by declaring the argument moot.  If all belief is really circular, then Christianity is a meaningless waste of time.

State your convictions and stand by them.  Don’t try to play these word games.  If you feel God’s presence in your life, then just say so.  But don’t tell other people what they know in their experience.  And don’t define other systems of thought according to Christian ideology.  God is simply a non-issue to science because there is no way to objectively test the hypothesis.  Attacking science doesn’t prove the Christian God nor does it do much of anything else besides.

As for the Stoics, they’re simply a relevant example.  Both natural law and martyrdom originated with Stoics before becoming synthesized in Christianity.  Also, they’re an example of zealous conviction.  The ability of and propensity towards certitude is a universal human trait, but it can’t be objectively observed outside of human nature.

As for Augustine, I merely picked him as a famous example.  But many early Christians interpreted the Jewish scriptures Platonically.  This is very important because there is more than one kind of certainty.  Platonic interpretations doesn’t require intellectual knowledge.  Spiritual or subjective sense of absolute certainty doesn’t contradict nor disprove scientific sense of relative certainty.  Platonic interpretations of Genesis aren’t dependent on presuppositional apologetics nor on the assumption that all belief is circular.  Platonism allows for a wide range of interpretations rather than a singular literalistic interpretation.

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I’m no longer commenting in that discussion thread now, but I wanted to add some further responses here.  Matthew Ervin responded to me with these two comments:

First, I actually have a Bachelor’s Degree in philosophy from Ohio University where I was also a logic tutor. My advanced work was done in and continues to be done in a seminary. What Benjamin has done here is resort to ad hominem (google that Ben). His arguments are non sensical because he doesn’t deal with the heart of the post, rather on generally attacking religious thought. He comes across like he has an axe to grind.

p.s. education is irrelevant when it comes to arguing. Arguments should stand on their own. However, that’s all that Ben seems to prize.

I must admit that is truly sad.  He has some higher education in philosophy and he resorts to sophistry.  I guess it makes sense.  Someone well educated in logic knows how to manipulate it to their own conclusions.  At least, he earned his verbal gymnastic skills honestly, but it’s too bad he doesn’t put them to a moral use.  I think he would’ve been better off having done his advanced work in a non-
Christian school where the kind of bullshit he is trying to sell wouldn’t have been accepted.

Education irrelevant to arguing?  Utter nonsense.  This is just his rephrasing his argument that science is based on faith rather than evidence.  This is misinformed garbage.  Arguments can stand on their own in that an argument can be logically consistent, but if it isn’t based on evidence (which is where education comes in) then it’s just empty words.

I don’t care about formal education per se although it can be helpful, but even formal education can be used for intellectually unrespectable purposes (such as how logic is taught for the purposes of apologetics at a Christian school).  What I prize is the desire to be educated rather than the desire to embrace sophistry and misinformation.  I prize intelligence and insightfulness.  I prize critical thinking skills and intellectual humility.  None of these are to be found in over-abundance in his comments.