This a discussion I had with an Atheist about Natural theology. Is he correct or am I missing something? Sometimes I’m not sure if he is being tricky or not. Now if I’m wrong, let me know. He provided a link on Natural theology.
Is this correct?
(Me) is me talking to him.
(Me) You asserted without proof – namely your argument that “Natural theology can be made for every god-concept ever imagined.”
(Atheist) That’s exactly what every religion has ever claimed since humans first imagined them. Along with divine revelation, of course.
(Me) Once again you asserted something without proof. The very claim of “That’s exactly what every religion has ever claimed” is presented without any supporting facts. It sounds good, but far from actually being sound – that requires proof!
(Atheist) Why does that require proof? We already know that nearly every religion we know of makes that claim. The simplest religion, animism, makes that claim by default. But, ok. I’ll amend that to “every religion that makes a god-claim”. There, better?
(Me) False. Much like ancient pagan religions and even modern Hinduism, the gods are seen as existing within the universe and subject to it. In Paganism as well as Hinduism, the gods are subject to the turning of the cosmic wheel itself; gods may die and be born in such a system. …
(Atheist) My claim implied that every god-concept ever imagined was based on observations in the world and “experience”, which is exactly what natural theology claims. The only difference is that many PEOPLE and TEXTS claim to have gotten their tenets and “wisdom” by revelation.
And by the way. The bit about the experience in the definition of “natural theology” is dubious. “Revelation”, however illusory it is, is every bit as much an experience as anything else, so there’s really no distinction at all.
(Me) In those beliefs, the cosmos itself is the only uncaused first cause. This is in direct contrast to the explanations given in natural theology which points the finger at an outside agent for the cause of the universe.
(Atheist) Maybe you should read up on the Gifford Lectures for a better understanding of natural theology. In natural theology, the *only* prerequisite is that the god involved be based on observation of the natural world and experience. That’s it.
What Is Natural Theology?
Thanks for your question, Chris. This question of your actually perked my ears up, as it is actually the core thesis of my book Inference To The One True God: Why I Believe In Jesus Instead Of Other Gods, namely, do the arguments from Natural Theology get us to the existence of a very specific God (i.e the God of The Bible) or can they be used to support the existence of any ole’ god, from Yahweh to Thor to Krishna? If you haven’t read the book, you can get on Amazon.com for either 11 bucks (paperback) or 5 (if you get the Kindle edition).
I don’t think the atheist in this discussion is being “tricky”. I think he’s either misguided or hasn’t thought the issues through and researched them thoroughly enough. Your atheist dialogue partner says “Natural theology can be made for every god-concept ever imagined.” what exactly does he mean by that? Does he mean (1) that every religion has an argument for the existence of their god? Or does he mean (2) that the arguments Christian Apologists typically employ for God’s existence can be used to defend the existence of any ole’ deity?
If he means (1), then I would say “So what? We would have to examine those arguments to see whether they are sound or not. But that does nothing to address the specific Natural Theology arguments I’m defending here”.
If he means (2), then I would answer that the Natural Theology arguments: The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Cosmic Fine-Tuning Argument, The Local Fine-Tuning Argument, The Moral Argument, and The Ontological Argument cannot be used to support the existence of just any god. These arguments, given that their syllogisms are formally valid and their premises are true, lead us to conclude the existence of a being with very specific attributes. When you compare the attributes of the God of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Moral Argument, or The Ontological Argument, you’ll find that the religious conceptions of deity consistent with these arguments are very short.
For example, while I concede in Inference To The One True God that Muslims and adherants to Judaism can use the Kalam Cosmological Argument just as much as Christians, virtually no other type of theist can. Polytheistic religions all have in common the idea that gods brought order within an eternally existing, space-time realm. The physical realm of matter, energy, space, and time, on these polytheistic views, was eternal, but at some point the gods took the eternal “stuff” in the eternal universe and made an orderly cosmos out of it. But The Kalam Cosmological Argument establishes that a transcendent Creator brought matter, energy, space, and time into being itself a finite time ago. He didn’t just bring order to a chaotic, yet beginningless universe. He created the universe itself! Moreover, pantheistic religions which say that “God” and “The universe” are synonyms aren’t compatible with The Kalam Cosmological Argument’s conclusion for a very obvious reason; namely that the second premise of the KCA states that “The Universe Began To Exist”. If the KCA is sound, then we have a God as the Creator of the universe. If He created the universe, then it follows that He cannot be the universe. Moreover, the KCA implies that God is timeless, and therefore, uncreated. As you yourself pointed out, polytheistic religions teach that gods birth other gods, they are born, they die. This isn’t the type of God demonstrated to exist by The Kalam Cosmological Argument.
Of course, one can object “The Kalam Cosmological Argument” still doesn’t get you to a Christian conception of God. Granted, but it does demonstrate the existence of a God that is consistent with the description of God that The Bible teaches us. And, moreover, as I said, it does get you in the right neighborhood. While The Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn’t get you to Christianity, it gets you in the right neighborhood. Of all the religions in the world, the only ones that taught that a God created all of physical reality ex nihilo are the Abrahamic Religions. That leaves you 3 options, 4 if you include Deism (which isn’t technically a religion, but it is still a viewpoint about God, so it seems right to include it). The fact that the KCA rules out 99% of the competition is still mind boggling!
But, I think The Moral and Ontological Arguments don’t merely get you in the right ballpark. I think they can get you to a uniquely Christian conception of God by themselves. I go into several reasons for this in Inference To The One True God, but let me unpack just one reason here.
The Moral Argument requires that a necessary, morally perfect, personal Being be the measuring stick of good and evil. He must be necessary because many moral truths appear to be necessarily true, and necessary truths can’t be grounded in a contingent being. He must be morally perfect because an evil being can’t be the standard of morality. Why? Because if that were the case, Hitler would be closer to meeting the standard of The Good than Mother Teresa. The moral perfection of this Being entails that He must be all loving and perfectly loving. He must be a Trinity in order to be a being of perfect love. Why? If This being is not a triune being, then he cannot be a being of perfect love because love requires 3 things; (1) a lover, (2) someone to love, and (3) a relationship going on between the lover and the loved one. If God is only one person rather than three, then before He created any other persons (angels, humans), He had no one to love. Since He had no one to love, He, therefore, could not be perfectly loving. And if he wasn’t perfectly loving, he was morally deficient since it seems to me at least that love is a moral virtue. Only a God who is multi-personal could be perfectly loving from eternity past. Christianity is the only religion in the world that has a multipersonal God. Therefore, only Christianity is consistent with this argument’s conclusion.
The Ontological Argument entails The Trinity as well for precisely the same reason. A Maximally Great Being must be morally perfect in order to be Maximally Great. Being all loving and perfectly loving is a part of what it means to be morally perfect. Therefore, God must be a Trinity for precisely the same reasoning used above (i.e a Maximally Great Being couldn’t be morally perfect in possible worlds in which only He exists).
Now, I noticed your atheist conversation partner also said “My claim implied that every god-concept ever imagined was based on observations in the world and ‘experience’, which is exactly what natural theology claims.” What I interpret him to be saying here is that people of all cultures have observed the natural world and concluded on that basis that some supernatural entitiy or entities must have made it. Fair enough, but this general intuitive inference of people from creation to Creator isn’t exactly the same thing as philosophers making a philosophically robust case for a specific deity of specific attributes, employing the rules of logic and gathering scientific evidence or relying on modal logic to support the premises of their syllogisms. What goes on at Biola University isn’t the same thing as a tribesman walking outside and thinking “powerful people made this world!”
Now, I have a good guess that you have some familiarity with the above arguments, but for the sake of other readers on this site (and especially in the event that you direct your atheist friend to this article), I would like to rehash a brief overview and defense of the specific aforementioned arguments.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The argument goes like this
1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2: The universe began to exist.
3: Therefore, the universe has a cause.
1: Whatever Begins To Exist Has A Cause
*Nothingness has no properties and therefore no causal ability.
To deny premise 1 of this argument is to assert that things can pop into being from nothing. This is impossible because nothingness has no properties. Nothingness is not a thing, but the complete absence of being. Given that nothingness has no properties whatsoever, it follows that it has no causal properties either. If it has no causal properties, then it follows that it cannot bring anything into existence.
*If something could come into being from nothing, we’d expect to see it more often.
No one has ever seen things come into being from nothing before. If it could happen, we ought to be seeing it happen all the time. For example, we should hear news reports of things like a woman who was jogging in a park being mauled to death because a tiger popped into being out of nothing and mauled her. Why don’t we see things popping into being more often? Maybe we don’t see it happening more often because it never happens. Maybe it never happens because it cannot happen.
2: The Universe Began To Exist
In 1915, the German scientist Albert Einstein formulated his theory of general relativity. This theory predicted that the universe should be in a state of either constant expansion or contraction, rather than being static. Einstein didn’t like that implication of his theory, so he added a “fudge factor” to keep the universe walking a tightrope between expansion and contraction. Later, George Lemaitre and Alexander Friedman independently formulated math models that predicted the universe’s expansion. The expansion of the universe was empirically verified by the American astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1929 when he noticed the redshift of the light coming from distant galaxies. Hubble concluded that the redshift is best explained by the light from the distant galaxies being stretched as they move away from us. This meant that the universe is expanding. The expansion entails the beginning of the universe because if the universe is getting bigger and bigger as it gets older and older, then if you rewind the clock, the universe gets smaller and smaller until the universe becomes smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Rewind it farther still, and the universe shrinks down to nothing. The universe began to exist in a rapid explosion-like expansion. This explosion has been dubbed by Fred Hoyle “The Big Bang.”
3: Therefore, The Universe Has A Cause
Given the truth of the two premises, the conclusion logically and necessarily follows. Now, so far, we’ve concluded that the universe had a cause which brought it into existence, but just why should we conclude that the cause is God? This is where the conceptual analysis part of the argument comes into play.
The cause must be
Spaceless – Because space came into being and did not exist until this cause brought it into existence, the cause cannot be a spatial being. It must be spaceless or non-spatial. You cannot be inside of something if you are that something’s cause. You cannot be inside of something if that something did not exist until you brought it into existence.
Timeless – Since time did not exist until The Big Bang, the cause cannot be inside of time. It must be a timeless being.
Immaterial – The cause’s non-spatiality entails immateriality. How so? Because material objects cannot exist unless space exists. Material objects have mass and ergo occupy spatial dimensions. If there is no space, matter cannot exist. This means that because the cause is non-spatial, it is therefore non-material.
Unimaginably Powerful – Anything able to create all matter, energy, space, and time out of absolutely nothing must be extremely powerful, if not omnipotent.
Supernatural – “Nature” and “The universe” are synonyms. Nature did not begin to exist until The Big Bang. Therefore, a natural cause (a cause coming, by definition, from nature) cannot be responsible for the origin of nature. To say otherwise would be to spout incoherence. You’d basically be saying “Nature caused nature to come into being.”
Uncaused – Given that the cause of the universe is timeless, the cause cannot itself have a beginning. To have a beginning to one’s existence entails a before and after relationship. There’s a time before one existed and a time after one came into existence. But a before and after of anything is impossible without time. Since the cause existed sans time, the cause, therefore, cannot have a beginning. It’s beginningless.
Personal– This is an entailment of the cause’s immateriality. There are two types of things recognized by philosophers that are immaterial: abstract objects (such as numbers, sets, or other mathematical entities) or unembodied minds. Philosophers realize that abstract objects, if they exist, they exist as non-physical entities. However, abstract objects cannot produce any effects. That’s part of what it means to be abstract. The number 3 isn’t going to be producing any effects anytime soon. Given that abstract objects are causally impotent, it, therefore, follows that an unembodied mind is the cause of the universe’ beginning.
Whatever begins to exist has a cause, given that the universe began to exist, if follows that the universe has a cause of its existence. The cause of the universe must be a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, supernatural, uncaused, personal Creator.
The Moral Argument
The Moral Argument argues that objective morality is evidence for the existence of God. Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig defends the argument in the form of the following syllogism:
1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3: Therefore, God exists.
Before we continue, it would be good for us to define our terms.
Moral Values = good and bad.
Moral Duties = right and wrong.
The Difference between these two = values have to do with something’s’ worth. Duties have to do with your obligations. Just because something is good doesn’t mean you’re obligated to do it. For example, it would be good for you to be a doctor, but you’re not morally obligated to become a doctor.
Objective = it is what it is regardless of what anyone thinks. Objective is the opposite of subjective. Subjective means that something is dependent on someone’s opinion. For example, it is objectively true that chocolate ice cream is brown. It is only subjectively true that it tastes better than vanilla.
Premise 1: If God Does Not Exist, Objective Moral Values And Duties Do Not Exist
If atheism is true, then why would humans be objectively, intrinsically valuable? On atheism, man is just a biological organism. There are other biological organisms on the planet. Why would humans be of more worth than any other? How could the life of a man be more valuable than the life of a cockroach or a tree? Most people don’t believe you’re committing murder when you stomp on a cockroach or cut down a tree, but they do believe you’re committing murder when you end the life of a person. What basis is there for this on atheism? What basis is there for thinking that it’s okay to cut down a tree but evil to cut down a man?
On atheism, both man and the cockroach are made of the same material that sprang into being at The Big Bang. Both man and the cockroach evolved out of the same primordial slime billions of years ago. According to Darwinism, all life came out of the same primordial slime and is related to one another, so what makes humans more valuable than they?
Could it be that humans are more advanced? More complex? More intelligent? If you say this, then that only raises another question: why is complexity a criterion for an organism’s worth? Who or what decided that? Why is it not the simpler organisms that are of more value? I fail to see how on atheism, man’s life isn’t ontologically equal with the lowest life form alive. On the atheist’s worldview, man is just a bag of chemicals on bones thrust into existence through a blind, purposeless process on a tiny speck of a planet in a universe that cares not whether he lives or dies. Why is this bag of chemicals on bones worth loving, worth saving, worth taking care of, worth praising? Objective moral values are totally unintelligible on an atheistic worldview.
If moral values cannot exist in the absence of God, then moral duties are thrown out the window as well. The denial of moral values entails the denial of moral duties. If man’s life is as worthless as a flea’s, then the Holocaust cannot be said to be truly, objectively wrong. There was no moral difference between killing 6 million Jews and terminating a hill of ants. As ghastly as it is to say such a thing, this is the logical entailment of atheism.
Premise 2: Objective Moral Values And Duties Do Exist
Although good and evil and right and wrong cannot exist on the atheist’s worldview, deep down, we all know that they do exist. We can sense that some things are truly good, and that others are truly evil. We have moral intuitions that tell us that taking care of a baby is morally right and torturing a baby is morally wrong. Just as our sensory experience tells us that a world of physical objects is real, so our moral sense tells us that good and evil are real.
Moreover, just as no one can get outside of their 5 senses to see for sure whether or not they are giving them reliable information, so we cannot get outside of our moral sense to test whether it’s giving us reliable information. But that should not give us reason to doubt whether physical objects or objective morality is real.
Conclusion: Therefore, God Exists.
God is the best explanation for why objective morality exists. His moral character is the standard of good and evil, and His commandments are a reflection of His character, and these determine right and wrong.
The Ontological Argument
Now, before I go on to list and defend the premises of the argument, let me first explain some of the unique terminologies that will come into play for those without a background in philosophy. The Ontological Argument employs terms like “Possible Worlds” and “Maximally Great Being”.
Possible Worlds = A maximal description of the way the world could be. It is simply a complete list of logically possible states of affairs that could be true of reality. At least one of these lists of logically possible states of affairs will be true of reality. For example, “Evan Minton is typing a blog post responding to a question he received by e-mail”, “Evan is wearing a shirt with guitars on it while he types”, “Evan had fried chicken and Mac N Cheese for lunch”, “Evan’s cat Jellybean is sitting on his desk next to his keyboard while he types”, and so on. These statements listed one after another on your notebook paper are all states of affairs that could exist, and so, form a possible list. I’ll confess, all of the prior statements are not only true of a possible world, they’re true of the actual world. Now, if you change some statements on your sheet of paper, you arrive at a different possible world. This is really all a possible world is: an exhaustive list of statements that could be true of reality.
Maximally Great Being = This is a being that has all properties or attributes that go to make a person great (e.g power, knowledge, presence, moral goodness) and it has these properties to the greatest extent possible (i.e omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, morally perfect). If an attribute would make a person great if he had it, a Maximally Great Being will have that attribute, and moreover, will have it to the greatest extent possible.
Now that we’ve defined our terms, let’s look at the premises of this argument.
1: It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists.
2: If it is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists, then a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world.
3: If a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4: If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5: If a Maximally Great Being exists in the actual world, then a Maximally Great Being exists.
6: Therefore, a Maximally Great Being exists.
This is a logically valid argument. The conclusion follows from the premises by the rules of logic.
Premise 1: It is possible that a Maximally Great Being Exists
By possible, I mean that something like a Maximally Great Being (MGB) could exist in reality. I don’t mean it like a weak agnostic that says “Well, it’s possible that a Maximally Great Being exists and it’s possible that He doesn’t.” I mean that an MGB is metaphysically or logically possible. It does seem to me that this premise is true. I don’t see any reason to think that it isn’t possible that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, morally perfect, necessarily existent being exists. Such an entity seems intuitively possible.
Premise 2: If It Is Possible That A Maximally Great Being Exists, Then A Maximally Great Being Exists In Some Possible World
This premise follows from the first. If the existence of anything is logically possible, then it exists in some possible world. The only way it would exist in no possible world would be if the thing in question were logically impossible, such as a square circle, one ended stick, a married unmarried man, or a physical object with no shape. Such things are contradictions. A shape is either a square or a circle, but not both. A man is either married or unmarried, but he can’t be both! A stick always has two ends. These things violate the laws of logic and therefore exist in no possible world. By contrast, things like a little green alien or a unicorn, while these don’t exist in the actual world, they do exist in some possible worlds because their existence is possible. If God’s existence is possible (see premise 1), then He at least exists in some possible worlds.
Premise 3: If A Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world, then He exists in every possible world.
This premise is true because of how one defines an MGB. A Maximally Great Being is, by virtue of being maximally great, necessarily existent. A Being who is necessarily existent is intuitively greater than one who is contingently existent. When something necessarily exists, this means that it could not possibly fail to exist. Its non-existence is impossible. Many mathematicians think that numbers, sets, and other mathematical entities exist in this way. If they exist, they have to exist and could not possibly fail to exist.
Now, if a necessary being exists in some possible world, it is impossible for it to not exist in all other possible worlds. 2+2=4 is a logically necessary truth. If it’s necessarily true in some possible world, it will be true in all of them. 2+2=4 is a logically necessary truth. If it’s necessarily true in some possible world, it will be true in all of them. 2+2 will not equal 4 in some possible worlds, but 5 in others. Necessary truth and necessarily existent being either exist in all possible worlds.
Premise 4: If A Maximally Great Being Exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
This premise follows from the previous one. If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world, then, of course, it will exist in the actual world. The actual world is a possible world. We know this precisely because it is actual. If it were an impossible world (like a world with a square circle) then it would not and could not exist. Given that it does exist, we know that it certainly is logically possible.
Premise 5: If A Maximally Great Being Exists In The Actual World, then a Maximally Great Being Exists.
Obviously, if something exists in the actual world, it actually exists.
Conclusion: Therefore, A Maximally Great Being Exists.
An omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, morally perfect, necessarily existent being exists in the actual world.
The premises of both of this, so it follows that a necessarily existent, morally perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, personal being exists.
I hope you can get your atheist friend to see how misguided his thinking is here. He clearly conflates peoples’ intuition of the existence of one or more higher powers with carefully formulated philosophical arguments the premises of which are backed up by arguments and evidence. Additionally, he probably hasn’t thought to compare the attributes of, say, Thor, with the Maximally Great Being of The Ontological Argument. If he had, he would have gone “Wait a minute. These two are totally unalike”. The God of the Ontological Argument is, for example, omnipotent. Thor is not. If he were, The Avengers would have been a much shorter movie! A proper study of Natural Theology combined with a study of comparative religions would do him good.
Finally, the article your atheist pal linked to doesn’t say anything that even addresses The Kalam, Moral, or Ontological Arguments, much less refutes them.
If you have any questions about Christian theology or apologetics, send Mr. Minton an E-mail at CerebralFaith@Gmail.com. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or Non-Christian, whether your question is about doubts you’re having or about something you read in The Bible that confused you. Send your question in, whatever it may be, and Mr. Minton will respond in a blog post just like this one.