In response to the problems I find in the standard apologetic strategy, I propose another approach. The strategy I propose is a transcendental approach to demonstrating the existence of God (hereafter TAG). This is by no means a new solution, nor original to myself. I am greatly indebted to those in the presuppositional camp of apologetics, such as Cornelius Van Til, John M. Frame, Greg L. Bahnsen, and many others. Transcendental argumentation was first introduced to philosophical discussion by Immanuel Kant. Briefly stated, “[a] transcendental argument, as Kant used the term, is an argument for a reality based on that reality’s being the very conditions even of the denial of that reality.” (William Lane Craig, Five Views on Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. Pg. 233.) For instance, transcendental reasoning asking, “what are the necessary conditions for an event to occur?”
A simple illustration is provided for clarity: When I throw my brother a pair of keys that he’s misplaced and that I’ve just recently found, what am I assuming when I perform this action? The philosophical way of stating this is, “what are the preconditions of my assumption?” Well, for one I was assuming that my Brother is able to catch the keys! More importantly I am assuming (even if, and usually so [!], I do not consciously acknowledge my assumption.) that gravity works and that when the pair of keys is at the apex of it’s upward thrust that suddenly it will not remain frozen, in mid-air. When we inquire into something, what are we assuming regarding the nature of reality, acts of knowing, and morals?
TAG argues in this manner: We as creatures of God have a built-in knowledge of our Creator. Yet, we stuff back this truth in an attempt to rid ourselves of our inborn knowledge of God (Rom. 1:18). Though many people profess a disbelief in God, their unguarded everyday actions actually prove that they do know the God of the Bible. In my next post, I’ll discuss how the existence of the Triune God and the truth of the Christian worldview is needed to rationally explain the world we live in.
Picking up where we left off, I’ll now touch on the major points a transcendental approach seeks to get across. The main point is that without a biblical conception of God, and for that matter, an entire Christian worldview, life, at the deepest level, makes no sense.
Logic. The infinite personal God of Scripture is the only logical and coherent ground for laws of thought. How so? They reflect His thinking and character. The Biblical God’s character is that of truth, therefore to violate the law of non-contradiction (“Something cannot be both A and non-A at the same time, in the same respect”) would effect be to lie.
Science. The uniformity of nature, which is the very heart and soul of the scientific method, needs God to stabilize the world in order for science to make reliable inductive hypotheses. Strict empiricism cannot account for the law of cause and effect (as argued by philosopher David Hume), and if the world really is left to chance then to say that we can expect tomorrow to be like today would be to make a groundless statement. We cannot experience casual connections between 2 events. Thus, a nonbeliever has no reason to believe that cause and effect actually exists. The uniformity of nature must be assumed in order for any rational inquiry to proceed.
Human dignity. We are created in the image of God (imago dei), thus the worth of humanity is directly related to the worth of the One whose image we reflect.
Ethics. According to Francis Schaeffer:
With the Christian answer it is now possible to understand that there are true moral absolutes. There is no law behind God, because God is the furthest thing back. The moral absolutes rest upon God’s character. The creation as he originally made it conformed to his character. The moral commandments he has given are an expression of his character. Men created in his image are created to live by choice on the basis of what God is. The standards of morality are determined by what conforms to his character, while those things which do not conform are immoral.- Francis A. Schaeffer, The God who is There (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1998), 133.
The non-believer’s assumptions about the nature of reality must be challenged. Any epistemology that does not presuppose the truth of God’s word in Scripture will render any form of true knowledge nonsense, and unintelligible. This does not mean that the unbeliever can know nothing, rather is means that they cannot give a sound account of what they believe. The non-Christian is not only spiritually lost, but epistemologically hopeless as well.
Biblical support. On the other hand, the God revealed in the Bible provides the necessary conditions for making sense of human experience. Without this particular God, there would be no such things as “facts” “laws” at all. God is the final reference point for all things, His nature and plan for the universe is what give structure and provides rationale for our lives. Scripture teaches that God is self-existent (Ex.3:14, Jn. 5:26, Gal. 4:8-9), eternal (Ps.90:2), unchangeable (Mal. 3:6), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-10), created all things out of nothing (Col. 1:16-17, Heb.11:3), designed the world in wisdom (Ps. 104:24, Isa. 40:28), determines all things (Eph.1:11), preserves all things (Neh. 9:6), governs all things (Ps.103:19), predetermines the nature and course of all things, thus being able to work miracles (Ps. 72:18), and ordains historical events (Isa. 46:10, Acts 2:3, Eph. 3:9-11).
This Christian view of reality (metaphysic) accounts for all of life. The Christian is not left to figure out reality apart from God’s revelation in Scripture. Any attempt to argue against Christianity’s concept of God already presupposes something (whether it be laws of thought, science, morals) that could not be made sense of apart from the very God they desire to argue against! And if this is true, then no conflicting “evidence” can be offered to rebut the Christian worldview.
No other non-Christian worldview can consistently make sense of the above-mentioned conditions for rationality. No other worldview or theory of knowledge can provide us will the necessary preconditions of intelligibility. Many, if not all, objections to the Christian metaphysic will involve question-begging, double standards, arbitrariness, and inconsistencies in argumentation. And, depending of one’s worldview we would have to apply TAG a bit differently.
We’ve looked at the transcendental necessity of God to ground the truths of logic so now let’s turn to laws of morality.
I believe in a Real Right and a Real Wrong. Now we turn to the issue of objective morality or ethics (I’m using them interchangeably here). Have you ever wondered whether our outrage at the evil in this world is an expression of personal distaste? Whether the recent Virginia Tech shootings were objectively evil? I ask this because I’m of the view that without the God of the Christian faith (i.e. the God revealed in the Old and New Testaments) the underpinnings of ethics are destroyed, and the moral motions that we feel every day of our lives are rendered non-sensical.
Now here’s an important note to take into consideration. I’m not saying that only Christians are moral people. On the flip side, neither am I saying that all non-Christians are horrible, evil people. What I’m talking about here is what are the fundamental foundations our assumption about reality that underlie our beliefs about morality, right and wrong. Richard Dawkins may very well be a nicer, kinder, and more law abidding citizen than I am. That’s not in question. The question is whether, on a worldview that rejects the existence of God, are those basic pillars that support our common everyday assumptions about ethics there? I don’t think that they are. Without the infinite-personal God of the Bible, how do we define good and evil, right and wrong? I’m convinced that we can boil down the matter to only left two alternatives: either 1) an individual subjectivist response, and 2) a collective subjectivist response. For the sake of handling the various possible replies, I have distinguished the alternatives. However, as we will soon see, both alternatives reduce to subjectivism and skepticism.
Individual subjectivist responses. This is the view that a given acts our behavior is good or bad because I have chosen it. If I commit myself to a given path, it is good. If I am made to do something I chose not to do, it’s bad. If the non-Christian claims moral justification (that which makes a good acts good, and a bad act bad) is found in what one chooses to do, we are left with no standard whatsoever by which we can condemn the worst types of behavior. Pedophilia, rape, incest, bestiality, and murder, are all morally acceptable. Why? Because for those that commit such acts, they were the products of active volition. This view can be quickly be placed to one side.
Collective subjectivist responses. The term “collective subjectivist” may strike some as paradoxical at best and oxymoronic at worst, yet such a title is fitting for “society says” moral relativism. According to this position, morality is, in a weak sense, objective in that the individual is not free to create moral norms from scratch. They are to live within the ethical structure of societal consensus. Such an ethical standard is collective. Yet, on the other hand, it nevertheless remains a subjectivist position on meta-ethics (i.e. on how we philosophically justify or provide warrant for the system we’re espousing). What makes the collective approach ultimately subjectivist and indeed relativist is that each society determines it’s own moral norms, and accordingly, one culture (or sub-culture) cannot condemn the actions of another. The problems for this approach are equally evident. If indeed no supra-cultural definition of evil (or good) exists, how can two or more cultures or sub-cultures with different standards of ethics be compared? Consistently applied, the collectivist subjectivist model prohibits us form labeling the crimes committed at Auschwitz evil. In fact, it becomes even more problematic because not all German citizens would have approved of the war crimes and genocide of the Nazis. So, what we are left with is at least two moral sub-cultures in WWII Germany, those that would call the Nazi actions evil, and those who participated in those actions and condoned them. But any system that strips us of the ability to make moral distinctions is highly counter-intuitive. A paradigm that seeks to explain our “moral motions” must respect the moral outrage we feel at events such as the holocaust. Moreover, we do instinctively know right and wrong in most cases. We can proclaim moral relativism from the rooftops all day, that is, until someone steals our belongings, or hurts our family members. Suddenly we feel that it’s not something that we simply dislike, but rather that it is something that’s truly wrong! Then we become moral absolutists.
Lastly, if we reduce we moral claims to preference claims then we would have to radically change the way we commonly speak. Instead of saying “The terrorists who flew two airplanes into the World Trade Center buildings were wrong, and it was an evil act!”, we would have to replace it with, “I personally do not think that the Terrorists attack on Sept.11th was expedient, and it did not accord with my subjective tastes, but I could be wrong. I don’t want to “impose” my morality on anyone!” I feel my point has been made.
The Christian Response. Lastly, allow me to touch upon why I believe that the Christian God is the best bet for explaining the our ‘moral motions.’ When we find our selves taken with a belief that person X should not have committed Y act, what we’re saying is that person X is morally obligated to have done the right and good thing. In the case of murder, we’re saying that person X ought to have a respect for innocent human life, and ought it a word that implies obligation. But, we do not have obligations to mere material things. I have no obligations not to throw a stone across a beach. The stone demands no such loyalty. But both obligations and loyalty can be pledged to a person. Personal relationships imply certain obligations and can demand loyalty. But what about ultimate moral obligations? Moral obligations are, after all, hierarchical. My loyalty to my brother places certain obligations in my path, but my relationship to my mother demands an even higher level or loyalty. But my mother cannot simply ask me to rob a store. If she did, I would have to tell her that I couldn’t because it would break the law and would (in principal) cause civil unrest. But what if my government told me that I am obligated by my citizenship to randomly kill any person living in my immediate community that was not born in America? What should I do then? I would appeal to a higher standard of obligation. But what higher standard is there? Maybe one could say the ‘world community’, but that only pushes the question back one step.
Ultimately, who’s my greatest loyalty to? If i’m correct to say that obligations and loyalty only make sense in the context of personal relationships, then ultimate loyalty is due to an Ultimate Personal, or, as I’ve said above, a Personal Absolute. But Christianity is the only religion in which the greatest thing in existence (the ultimate metaphysical reality) is a Personal Absolute. In other philosophies, religions, and myths, you have absolutes that are not personal (like Plato’s form of The Good, Hegel’s Geist, Brahma is Hinduism, etc.), or you’ll find personal gods or principles that aren’t absolute (the Greek Pantheon, the god of Mormonism, thetans in Scientenology, etc.) Only in the Bible do you find a God, the final reality, that is both person and absolute/ultimate. This in my mind is strong evidence for the Christian conception of God as the best explanation for ultimate, objective, universally binding ethics.
Conclusion. Now this is my reason for rejecting an empiricism model of epistemology. It cannot account for the metaphysical assumptions that underlie the scientific method, and it cannot account for the existence of universal, immaterial absolutes, such as numbers, laws of logic, and universally binding principles of ethics. While on a Christian worldview all such things make perfect sense, and in fact can be explained (at least at the beginners level) to a child in Sunday School. One may not agree with the answers posited by Christianity, but they have to admit that Christians do have answers to these philosophical issues. Thanks so much for listening to this (rather extended) letter. Also, please forgive me for the great length of time it has taken to complete it. My prayer is that we can both understand the position of the other person fairly, and see where we’re coming from.
For more see:
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to restructure the transcendental argument for God’s existence (aka TAG) in terms that the non-specialist can understand and use. I’ve written about this argument for the Christian worldview elsewhere (here, here and here), so I won’t go into detail now.
Those who are regular readers of Kingdomview know that my thought has been greatly shaped by a couple of thinkers, the chief of which, both theologically and philosophically, is John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. His perspectival approach to thinking has lead me, more times than I can recall, to think in threes. It also helps me to understand how God’s word, God’s gospel, and its application to my life.
So, stated in “Framian” terms, the Bible speaks of God’s word, God’s world, and God’s image (human beings). How is TAG rearticulated in this triperspectival language? Well, here’s a shot:
The transcendental goal of apologetics is to witness to the reality that human experience (in all its fullness) doesn’t make sense unless
- God exists and is Who the Bible says he is,
- the world is what the Bible says it is, and
- we’re the type of people the Bible describes us to be.
The next step in our apologetic strategy is to demonstrate that, in one way or another, every non-Christian religion or vision of life (i.e. worldview) implicitly or explicitly attacks or denies one or more of these points.
A naturalistic worldview, for example, denies at least 2 points. There’s no God (scratch point 1). Perhaps, if we don’t dig too deep, the naturalist would agree with the Christian that this world is both glorious in one sense and miserable in another (which gets close to point 2), but they completely deny point 3, saying we’re not the image bearers of God (afterall, there is no God!) Therefore human beings do not have inherent worth, nor are we sinners (because there’s no divine law to break.)