Hi, I’m a Christian who’s been having….philosophical shower thoughts, let’s just say. These thoughts I’ve been getting have made me doubt my faith and I need help.So I’ve been thinking…what if God is playing us all for fools? What if, despite all He’s said in His Word, He’s actually the OPPOSITE of what He said? What if, He lied about never lying, and everything is a lie? What if He KNOWS objective mortality, good and bad, are the opposite of what He tells us, what He put in us by nature? What if the whole Salvation plan, the miracles, the Resurrection, everything, was a cruel prank by a God who only lies and takes pleasure in deceiving everyone, then blames Satan for it? My Faith is really shaken by this prospect…please debunk it.
I’m sorry to hear that your faith has been shaken. I don’t really feel the force of any of what you said, and it’s my goal to hope you see that as well. Your long series of “what if” questions really boils down to one objection; “What if God is not a morally perfect being who always tells the truth but is constantly deceiving us?”
What you’re proposing is basically philosopher Rene Descartes’ demon thought experiment. In the first of his 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes imagines that an evil demon, of “utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me.” This evil demon is imagined to present a complete illusion of an external world, so that Descartes can say, “I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement. I shall consider myself as not having hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as falsely believing that I have all these things.”
Descartes was a philosopher famous for searching for a level of certainty that has come to be known as Cartesian Certainty. This is a level of certainty where you have so much evidence and logic to affirm the truth of a proposition that you cannot possibly be wrong. Only when one reaches this level of certainty can one said to “Know” something.
The problem is that this level of certainty is utterly unobtainable in most areas of life. No matter how much evidence you have for X, there is always a possibility that you could be wrong. Even if you are able to shrink the possibility of being in error down to a microscopic margin, you’ll never be able to get rid of it entirely. There are only a few areas in which you can have Cartesian certainty. One of those is your own existence. As Descartes himself said “Cogito Ergo Sum”, in English that’s “I think, therefore, I am.” This is because as soon as you doubt your own existence, you have to concede that there is someone in existence to have the doubt; namely yourself! So if you think about anything, including the possibility that you don’t actually exist, it entails that you do exist.
I think that Cartesian Certainty is an unreasonably high standard for knowledge. I’m defining knowledge here as “Justified True Belief”. Instead of trying to be so certain of something that it is logically impossible to be mistaken, we should aim for a lower, yet pretty high standard of knowledge. In a court of law, this standard is the “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” standard.
J. Warner Wallace wrote that “In legal terms, the line that must be crossed before someone can come to the conclusion that something is evidentially true is called the ‘standard of proof” (the ‘SOP’). The SOP varies depending on the kind of case under consideration. The most rigorous of these criteria is the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard that is required at criminal trials. But how do we know when we have crossed the line and are ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’? The courts have considered this important issue and have provided us with a definition:
‘Reasonable doubt is defined as follows: It is not a mere possible doubt; because everything relating to human affairs is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction of the truth of the charge.’
This definition is important because it recognizes the difference between reasonable and possible that we discussed earlier. There are, according to the ruling of the court, ‘reasonable doubts,’ ‘possible doubts,’ and ‘imaginary doubts.’ The definition acknowledges something important: every case has unanswered questions that will cause jurors to wonder. All the jurors will have doubts as they come to a decision. We will never remove every possible uncertainty; that’s why the standard is not ‘beyond any doubt.’ Being ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ simply requires us to separate our possible and imaginary doubts from those that are reasonable.”1
So then, on this standard of proof, we should then ask whether any doubt we have is truly reasonable or not. I don’t think your doubts fall into this category. It is strictly logically possible for God to be behaving exactly as Descartes’ demon. Strictly logically possible it is, but not broadly logically possible. I don’t think it is broadly logically possible (a.k.a metaphysically possible) for God to be a liar. The Modal Ontological Argument shows that if it’s possible that a Maximally Great Being (a necessarily existent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, morally perfect being) exists in some possible world, then He exists in every possible world, and if He exists in every possible world, then He exists in the actual world. Check out my recent YouTube video “The Ontological Argument For God’s Existence (Introduction)” for more information. To say that a Maximally Great Being necessarily exists is to say his non-existence is broadly logically impossible a.k.a metaphysically impossible. Part of Maximal Greatness is moral perfection since a being is greater if He is good than evil, and it is morally better to always tell the truth and never lie.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Fine-Tuning Argument, and The Local Fine-Tuning Argument, all show that a Creator and designer of the universe exists and is responsible for why the universe exists.
There is also very powerful evidence for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just using the criteria of authenticity that historians use when examining secular documents and applying them to The New Testament, including extra biblical documents and archeological finds, we come to the conclusion that 5 facts surrounding the death of Jesus are true real historical facts; (1) Jesus died by crucifixion, (2) Jesus’ tomb was found empty the following sunday morning, (3) The disciples sincerely believed they saw Jesus alive after His death, (4) a church persecutor named Saul converted to Christianity on the basis of what he believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus, and (5) Jesus’ skeptical brother James became a Christian on the basis of what he believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.
Although atheist and other non-Christian historians have tried to explain these 5 historical facts without concluding that Jesus actually rose from the dead, none of them work. The only explanation that has adequate explanatory power and scope is that Jesus really rose from the dead. See my blog post series on the resurrection of Jesus, and get my book “My Redeemer Lives: Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus” for even more content not covered in the blog series. This book is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle. There’s also an audiobook version available exclusively to Cerebral Faith patrons.
These arguments, and others, has convinced me that Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt. It is, of course, possible that I could be mistaken about any one of them. Maybe one of the premises in one of the arguments isn’t really true. Maybe there’s some reason to think one of the premises is false. For example, it is entirely possible that there is a refutation to the second premise of The Kalam Cosmological Argument (i.e the universe began to exist). Perhaps science will one day show the universe is eternal and didn’t begin to exist at The Big Bang. Maybe there are even flaws in the arguments against actual infinites. I don’t think there are, but there is always a tiny possibilitiy that there could be.
This is one reason I love debates between prominent Christian Apologists and prominent atheists. And it’s a reason why I welcome non-Christians to challenge me. When I see Christianity stand up under scrutiny time after time after time after time, I start to think “Is this all they’ve got?”
I know of many attempts to refute the arguments for God’s existence and Jesus’ resurrection, but they’re all failed attempts. And at this stage in my studies, I’m not coming across any new objections. It’s just the same old same old, whether it’s arguing with skeptics online or watching a William Lane Craig or Michael Jones debate. It’s vindicating because it’s a sign to me that they’ve run out ammo. This strengthens my confidence in Christianity’s evidential case. If I start to think “What if I’m wrong?” or “What if this isn’t the best argument”, some atheist will come along, try to shoot it down, fail, and I’ll be like “Maybe, but most likely not.”
It is strictly logically possible that the reason I think the arguments for Christianity is so sound is that an omnipotent demon is tricking all of my senses and cognitive faculties. But why should that cause me to doubt Christianity’s truth? It seems to me that this a possible doubt, but not a reasonable doubt.
And if this should cause us to doubt Christianity, then it should cause us to be hyper skeptical about literally everything! How do you know you’re even reading this blog post right now? Maybe it’s God fooling you into thinking you are but you’re really in a comatose state dreaming about this? How do you know your political views are true? This could be the result of Cartesian Demon as well. Maybe you don’t really live on Earth. Maybe you were abducted by aliens in your sleep, taken to an alien planet, andGod is forcing you to believe that you are on Earth, that you never even left. Moreover, perhaps he convinces the resident aliens to believe that you are one of them. He tricks their senses into seeing a fellow little green man.
In conclusion, you really only have two opinions.
1: Doubt the truth of not only Christianity, but literally everything except your own existence.
2: Accept the fact that although we can’t absolutely rule out that God is a cartesian demon-like entity, this shouldn’t prevent us from claiming we “know” things (e.g Christianity is true, God is not a liar, we’re saved by faith alone, etc.). We no reason to think that God is the ultimate scam artist, and in the absence of some reason, we should discard this as a possible-yet-unreasonable doubt.
If you choose 1, this will utterly paralyze you. You will literally not be able to live your life. At least if you live consistently. You won’t believe anything because “There’s always the possibility that some omnipotent demon is deceiving me.” Maybe your wife or girlfriend doesn’t really love you. Maybe she doesn’t exist but is a figment of your imagination caused by the omnipotent demon. Maybe no one really exists. Perhaps you’re the only person on Earth because the omnipotent demon is making you think there are other persons. In this case, you might not pursue relationships because “Why bother? It’s possible they’re not even real.”
Luke Nix of Faithful Thinkers once said that “Hyper Skepticism is having to drink an entire galon of milk before concluding the milk went bad and should have been thrown out after the first sip.”
Skepticism can be a good thing. I do believe there is such a thing as “Healthy Skepticism”. But there is an unhealthy kind of skepticism that I believe you’re experiencing, unfortunately.
Don’t get me wrong. I would love to have Cartesian Certainty, but since it’s unobtainable, I have to settle for certainty beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, I could even be wrong about not being able to have cartesian certainty. I’m only certain beyond a reasonable doubt that cartesian certainty is unobtainable.
I would advise that you not only take into consideration how unwarranted this level of skepticism is, but that you would also pray about it. Let’s not forget that there is an enemy of our souls who would love nothing more than to see us fall into unbelief and stray from God (1 Peter 5:18). Go to the one who is the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2) and ask him to help you not be a hyper skeptic (cf. Mark 9:48-49).
1: J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, Kindle Locations 2163-2195, David C Cook.
This Post Has 4 Comments
This is a great post! Reading about this reminds me of someone I met in college who was dealing with something very similar. I remember her talking about cartesian certainty as well when discussing about the Ontological Argument. I remember her saying that the OA needs to at least have this level of certainty. She would often assert that it must be successfully shown that an MGB is a logically coherent concept and that a reverse OA (“An MGB doesn’t exist in some possible world/It is possible an MGB doesn’t exist.”) with utmost certainty before the OA is viable. But like you have said, there is always a possibility that one could be wrong, so she highly doubts the OA. She also believes that the concept of God must be absolutely certain (“because a God whose existence is evident to everyone is better than one who is not!”)
We usually ignored her though. I didn’t pay much attention to her since I was in a pretty good place with my faith but I’m curious on what you think about the things she said?
I used to look for certainty too so I understand her. Now I’ve simply given up on finding certainty and have accepted that “beyond reasonable doubt” is enough. It’s sad how too much doubt leads others to an unhappy place. I recall seeing that girl cry once because of doubts that constantly plagued her mind. It really breaks my heart seeing others deal with it.
It’s interesting that you should bring up reverse ontological arguments because immediately after writing this blog post, I responded to another email questioner who was talking about the same thing. That blog post went public this morning. Link is below.
Is cartesian certainty for the existence of God logically necessary? I know someone who kept saying that if God is the ultimate greatest being, His existence should have cartesian certainty because again, God is the ultimate greatest being. A God whose existence has cartesian certainty is better than a God whose existence doesn’t.
Since God’s existence is not clear to us, God doesn’t exist. That is the objection I’ve heard and it’s been bothering me so I’m glad I saw this post. The objection seems to have a point. The only answer I could give is that perhaps humanity having cartesian certainty of God’s existence is not logically possible to start with, or it’s not feasible for the type of world God wants to make. But any thoughts on this?
That objection seems like a garbled and confused objection to The Modal Ontological Argument. Cartesian Certainty is an epistemological category, not an ontological one. A Being can’t have certainty as a property. I think what the objector is really getting at is the old problem of divine hiddenness; that if God were omnipotent, He’d make it impossible to doubt His existence. But what if God has some good reasons for maintaining a level of hiddneness; enough to know He’s there but not enough to make it impossible to be an atheist? I already wrote some articles on this website, this being, in my opinion, the best among them –> https://cerebralfaith.net/how-an-atheist-helped-me-overcome-the-divine-hiddenness-objection/