By Robert L. Reymond in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith
Following Aristotle’s lead, Thomas Aquinas set forth his famous “five Ways” in his Summa theologica, I, 2, 3, and Summa contra Gentiles, I, xiii. By it he attempted to demonstrate from sense data alone without any a priori equipment the existence of God. For the following reasons his arguments are invalid:
1. One simply cannot begin with the existence of sensory data and proceed by formal laws of logic to the existence of a nonsensory conclusion.
2. Aquinas believed that the mind, prior to sense impressions, is a tabula rasa, a blank slate. But a tabula rasa epistemology is freighted with insur-mountable obstacles to the build-up of knowledge, for if all the mind has to work with are sense-perceptions as reports of what is going on in the external world, knowledge can never rise to the universal and the necessary since from flux only flux can come. In other words, Aquinas’s denial of innate ideas of God or of anything else makes the build-up of knowledge impossible.
3. In order to arrive at a first unmoved mover, Aquinas argues that the series of things moved by other things in motion cannot regress to infinity since such a regress would rule out a first mover. Of course an infinite series of moving causes is inconsistent with a first unmoved mover, but if the argument is designed to demonstrate the existence of the latter, the latter’s existence cannot be used ahead of time as one of the premises in the argument. This is a blatant “assertion of the consequence.”
4. Aquinas’s arguments require that the universe as a whole be an effect. But no one has ever seen the universe as a whole, and no observation of the observed parts of the universe gives this necessary assumption. There is no demonstrable reason why the universe as a whole might not be made up of interdependent contingencies which, operating together, sustain and support each other.11
5. Because Aquinas was convinced that nothing can be predicated of creation in the same sense that it is predicated of God, when he argues from the “existence” of the world to the “existence” of God, he uses the word existence in two different senses and thereby commits the logical fallacy of equivocation.
6. Granting, for the sake of argument, the validity of the cause and effect relationship, if it is valid to conclude from observed effects the existence of their cause(s), it is not valid to ascribe to their cause(s) any properties beyond those necessary to produce them. All the existence of a finite world would demand is the existence of a finite cause sufficiently powerful to cause it, a far cry from the omnipotent Creator of the Bible. Moreover, since much of what one observes involves what Christians call moral evil, a strict application of the cause and effect relation would require the conclusion that the ultimate cause of these effects is not completely morally good.
7. Granting, again for the sake of argument, that Aquinas demonstrated from motion the existence of an unmoved mover, yet when he adds, “And everyone understands this to be God,” we may demur. The argument taken at face value would prove the existence merely of an unmoved cause of physical motion. But such a mover has no qualities of transcendent personality. It is highly significant that the terms Aquinas employs to denote the God he believes he arrives at by this method are all neuter: ens perfectissimum, primum movens, etc. In other words, if his arguments were valid, since there is nothing transcendent or supernatural about Aquinas’s first cause, they would be destructive of Christianity with its infinite, personal God.12
All of the empirical arguments of natural theology (construed methodologically)13 for God’s existence may be reduced to the cosmological argument or variations of it.14 This argument assumes at least five things which should not and cannot be assumed but rather must be demonstrated if the argument is to be accepted:
1. the validity of the epistemological theory of empiricism;
2. an empirical criterion to screen out unwanted sense data;
3. the “effect” character of the universe;
4. the validity of the cause and effect relationship; and
5. the impossibility of an infinite causal regress.
To validate and demonstrate these matters (and there are many other issues that would have to be addressed along the way) will require the Christian’s engagement in endless and intricate argumentation which if wrong at any single point in his chain of reasoning nullifies his entire intellectual enterprise. I will explain.
First, the validation of the epistemological theory of empiricism, it seems to me, would require that it be done empirically. Empiricists, as I noted in the last chapter, believing that a world of real “brute facts” are “really there” to be studied, comprehended and “rationalized,” urge that knowledge is to be gained through the inductive method of the scientist—observing, forming hypotheses, experimenting, and inferring conclusions from that experimentation. They are satisfied that such a procedure provides man with a program for the achieving of knowledge. But aside from the fact of myriad a priori assumptions (shall I say presuppositions?) that are implicit in the inductive method, one who would consistently follow the empirical approach to knowledge must either surrender many claims to knowledge that he would otherwise make without hesitation or find some way to overcome the objections, posed by John Frame and many others, that
empiricism cannot justify a general proposition, such as “all men are mortal,” … cannot justify any statements about the future, … cannot justify any statements about ethical values [for one can never move from “is-ness” to “oughtness”— author] Therefore empiricism cannot justify empiricism. For empiricism is a view of how one ought (an ethical “ought”) to justify his beliefs, and on an empiricist basis, we cannot justify from sense-experience the proposition that we ought to justify our beliefs in that way.15
Then, too, if God’s being is resistant to empirical checking procedures, as he, being spirit, most assuredly is (he cannot be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, heard, measured in any way), the Christian evidentialist must demonstrate how his empiricism does not rule out arriving at any and all claims to a knowledge of the Christian God at the outset.
Second, the Christian evidentialist must also face the fact, once he makes his initial appeal to raw sense data as evidence for God’s existence, that no sense datum can be excluded from consideration unless he can provide an empirical criterion to screen out the sense data he does not want to consider. I have never seen such a criterion offered. Sense data per se include a nature which is not only seemingly at war with mankind in the latter’s survival efforts but also “red in tooth and claw” relative to itself. Sense data also include the evils of history. Hitler gassed several million Jews and Christians, Stalin murdered a larger number of Ukrainians. Mao slaughtered thirty or possibly fifty million Chinese and virtually annihilated the Tibetans. And, of course, there were Genghis Khan, Ivan the Terrible, and Attila the Hun, not to mention the world’s recurring natural disasters such as floods and droughts, hurricanes and fires, and the birth of congenitally deformed and diseased infants. In other words, sense data intrude the problem of evil into the discussion. But add these sense experiences to the “effect” of Aquinas’s motion of a marble (see his “first way”) and see what happens to the argument that attempts to prove the one true God’s existence on the basis of empirical data alone.
The great Puritan pastor and theologian, Jonathan Edwards, who is something of a “patron saint” to the Ligonier apologists in their effort to resurrect the evidentialist apologetic in our time, clearly saw the futility of human reason, working independently from special revelation, trying to prove by sense data alone the existence of God precisely because of this fact of the presence of evil in the universe:
I cannot tell whether any man would have considered the works of creation as effects, if he had never been told they had a cause.… But, allowing that every man is able to demonstrate to himself, that the world, and all things contained therein, are effects, and had a beginning, which I take to be a most absurd supposition, and look upon it to be almost16 impossible for unassisted reason to go so far; yet, if effects are to be ascribed to similar causes, and a good and wise effect must suppose a good and wise cause, by the same way of reasoning, all the evil and irregularity in the world must be attributed to an evil and unwise cause. So that either the first cause must be both good and evil, wise and foolish, or else there must be two first causes, an evil and irrational, as well as a good and wise principle. Thus man, left to himself, would be apt to reason, “If the cause and the effects are similar and conformable, matter must have a material cause; there being nothing more impossible for us to conceive, than how matter should be produced by spirit, or anything else but matter.” The best reasoner in the world, endeavoring to find out the causes of things, by the things themselves, might be led into the grossest errors and contradictions, and find himself, at the end, in extreme want of an instructor.17
Third, the “effect” character of the universe must be demonstrated without first assuming that it is an effect, since this feature of the universe is a major part of the issue under debate. That is to say, the Christian evidentialist must first prove empirically, that is, from raw sense data, that the world as a whole had a first moment before he can begin to inquire about its cause. But, to be quite frank about it, no empiricist has ever seen the world as a whole and observation of only parts of the world cannot give this necessary datum since the world as a whole could be essentially different from the sum of its constituent parts.
Fourth, the cosmological argument, it seems to me, commits the logical fallacy of petitio principii (“begging the question”) (1) by simply ruling out at the outset infinite causal regress as an impossibility since this would leave no room for a first cause, and then (2) by “affirming the consequence,” namely, by asserting or positing—not demonstrating—the existence of God as the first cause to account for every lesser cause. It commits another logical fallacy when it insists that the essence of this first cause is altogether different (infinite, supernatural, uncaused, nonempirical) from the essence of all of the second causes upon which its existence is made to rest (finite, natural, caused, empirical) since it is a violation of logic to ascribe to a cause any properties beyond those necessary to account for the effects.
Fifth, the cosmological argument, as traditionally framed, is in form an inductive argument and as such claims to be a probability argument.18 (Of course, apart from Christian theism the world is a world in which Chance is ultimate, rendering the very concept of probability meaningless.) In actuality, it is only a possibility argument which falls short of apodictic proof or certainty and does not do justice to the evidential data, which the Christian knows to be theistic, revelational data pointing incontrovertibly to God. And an argument that reduces revelational data to “brute data” pointing at best to the possibility of God’s existence is a totally inadequate, even apostate, argument that Christians should not use or endorse.
As with the ontological argument, the Ligonier apologists offer their own version of the cosmological argument which, they claim, overcomes this possibility (or probability) problem. They begin by asserting that every effect, by definition, has an antecedent cause. The world is neither an illusion nor is it self-created. If it is self-existent, that is, noncontingent, then it is in effect transcendent and we have found “God.” If the world, however, is contingent, since an infinite regress of contingent prior causes (they aver) is inconceivable, it must be the effect of a self-existent, that is, noncontin-gent being, and once again we have proven God.19
Frame has something to say about this argument as well:
What is most notable to me is that … the authors fail clearly to rule out the pantheistic alternative, namely that the universe is its own god. About all I can find in the book responding to this objection is one sentence: “(God) is personal because He is the pervasive cause of all things including the purpose and the personal” . But it is by no means obvious that a being must itself be personal in order to be the cause of personality.20
Moreover, it is simply not the case that an infinite chain of contingent prior causes is inconceivable. There is nothing illogical about such a conception. Buswell, who places great value on the theistic arguments in his Systematic Theology, rightly acknowledges as much:
We must reject the notion that an infinite regress of causes is impossible to conceive. Rather, it is the case that it is difficult to conceive of the opposite. To argue that since every event has a cause, therefore there must be some event at the beginning which has no cause, is clearly a fallacy.
… There is no ground for saying that an infinite chain of contingent beings could not have existed.…
That the conditional demands that which is absolute and unconditioned is … a fallacy.… There is no logical reason why the entire universe might not be made up of inter-dependent contingencies.21
The Ligonier scholars insist that they eschew a Christianity that is only probably true fully as much as presuppositional apologists do (Christianity must be certainly true; otherwise, men have an excuse for unbelief). But since they do not want to be “presuppositional” and appeal to special revelation for this desired certainty, they appeal, as the ground for their natural theology, to certain “universal and necessary assumptions,” namely, the law of noncontradiction, the “law of causality,” and “the basic reliability of sense perception,” which, they contend, “no one denies … regularly and consistently,”22 and which, for them apparently, are more non-negotiably certain at the beginning of their quest for God and truth than God himself is.23 These assumptions, they say, along with any and all of their implications (one of which, they attempt to show, is the existence of the Christian God), must be regarded as certain.
But when Christian certainty is grounded in assumptions which are regarded as “religiously neutral” and not distinctively Christian, and, in the case of sense perception, can be and often is very unreliable, how can such assumptions logically imply and compel the Christian worldview? Can it be that some unwitting presupposing of the Christian worldview is occurring along the way? While these scholars claim that their argument for God here is, in a sense, “transcendental,” that is to say, they are positing assumptions that they claim are necessary for life and knowledge to be possible,24 and whose ultimate implication, they say, is God, I believe that their conclusions are still freighted with the problem of uncertainty which empirical apologetic systems have never been able to overcome because of the limitations of empirical epistemology and because sense perception in particular is not always dependable, indeed, is often unreliable.
Sixth, the entire approach of natural theology as a method treats people (some, at least) as though they are “neutral” about the fact of God’s existence, “simply operat[ing] according to human nature,”25 and as though they are open to having—indeed, need (at least some of them) to have—the existence of God proven to them. But Holy Scripture teaches otherwise—that human beings do not need to have their Creator’s existence proven to them, because (1) he has revealed himself to them through natural revelation (Ps 19:1; Rom. 1:19–20) and (2) they understand (νοούμενα, nooumena) that revelation because it is clearly seen (καθορᾶται, kathoratai) by them (Rom. 1:20–21, 32; 2:14–15). Nevertheless, they neither glorify Him as God nor are they thankful to Him and are therefore without excuse before Him (Rom. 1:20).26 And, far from being neutral, they are doing everything they can in their sinfulness, because it is now their nature to do so, to suppress that knowledge, bringing God’s wrath down upon them as the result (Rom. 1:18).
All this means that there is no such thing among mankind as an actual atheist. There are only theists, some of whom claim to be atheists. But God’s Word declares that these “atheists” are not real atheists; they only attempt to live as though there is no God. But they know in their hearts that He is “there” and that He will someday judge them for their sin. As we have said, they are theists who hate, and attempt to do everything they can to suppress, their innate theism. Their “intellectual problems” with Christianity are in reality only masks or rationalizations to cover up their hatred of God and their love of and bondage to sin. These “practicing atheists” insist that the burden of proof lies with the theist to prove God’s existence to them. But the burden of proof actually is theirs to prove that the physical world is the only reality and that no supernatural spiritual being anywhere exists. This, of course, they cannot do. Thus their “atheism” is their unproven “grand assumption”—an assumption, by the way, with which they cannot consistently live!
Seventh, the God of Scripture calls upon human beings to begin with or “presuppose” him in all their thinking (Exod. 20:3; 27 Prov. 1:7). But beginning as the Christian evidentialist does in his quest for knowledge, not with God as his ultimate standard and basic reference point for all human predication (in order to “avoid circular reasoning at all costs”), but either with no criteria at all or with the “provisional” criteria of the non-Christian and with “the facts” viewed simply as “brute, uninterpreted facts,” he
posits an exception to 1 Cor 10:31: that when you are just beginning your quest for knowledge, you do not need to think “to the glory of God”; you can justifiably think to the glory of something/someone else.28
Such a beginning is out of the question for the Christian for whom “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Benjamin B. Warfield is a leading example of those who begin their apologetic for Christianity at the wrong place when, in his introductory note to Francis R. Beattie’s Apologetics, he writes:
Before we draw it from Scripture, we must assure ourselves that there is a knowledge of God in the Scriptures. And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is a knowledge of God in the world, And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that a knowledge of God is possible for man. And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is a God to know.29
Here Warfield calls for a very complete natural theology to be erected by human reason. It would be very interesting to learn from him how he intended to prove, without presupposing the truthfulness of all that the Scriptures affirm about such matters, that the one living and true God exists, that man is natively able to know him, that there is a knowledge of God in the world, and that this God has made himself uniquely known propositionally at the point of the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures, and to prove all of this before he draws any of it from the Scriptures. Frankly, if men could assure themselves of all this on their own, and assure themselves of all this before they draw any of it from Scripture, it may be legitimately asked, would they need Scripture revelation at all? And would not their “religion” be grounded in their labors, a monument to their own intelligence? With greater insight into man’s need to reason “presuppositionally,” Jonathan Edwards wrote:
Ratiocination, without … spiritual light, never will give one such an advantage to see things in their true relations and respects to other things, and to things in general.… A man that sets himself to reason without divine light is like a man that goes in the dark into a garden full of the most beautiful plants, and most artfully ordered, and compares things together by going from one thing to another to feel of them all, to perceive their beauty.30
For Christian evidentialists such reasoning smacks of circularity, of course, and circular reasoning is the big “bugbear” for them—to be avoided at all costs. It is also their major criticism of what is known today as “presuppositional apologetics.” Presuppositionalists, they declare, “presuppose” rather than prove the conclusions which they hold and insist that the unbeliever should presuppose them as well. Thus, according to evidentialists, the church is left with no defense of its beliefs.
The evidentialist concern not to leave the church defenseless is certainly legitimate and commendable. But presuppositionalists do not believe that they leave the church in that state. To the contrary, they believe (1) that it is the evidentialist who leaves the church defenseless in that the church is left on evidentialist grounds with no absolutely certain authority,31 and (2) that it is the presuppositional apologetic alone which offers a sound defense of the Christian faith which does not at the same time compromise the “Godness” of God and the self-authenticating character of Scripture. A word of explanation about this apologetic approach is in order.
At bottom, it is really quite simple. As presuppositionalists employ the word, “presupposition” can be used both objectively and subjectively. Employed objectively, it refers to the actual transcendental foundation of universal meaning and intelligibility, namely, the triune God. Used subjectively, it refers to a person‘s most basic personal heart commitment, this commitment having (1) the greatest authority in one’s thinking, being the least negotiable belief in one’s network of beliefs, and (2) the highest immunity to revision. In matters of ultimate commitment then, if one is consistent, the intended conclusion of one’s line of argument will also be the standard or presupposition which governs one’s manner of argumentation for that conclusion—or else the intended conclusion is not one’s ultimate commitment at all. Something else is. For the Christian presuppositionalist, “the two concepts coincide, for his basic commitment is allegiance to the One who really is the foundation of all universal intelligibility.”32
Believing that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7), that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ” (Col. 2:3), and therefore that the triune God (and/or the self-attesting Christ) is the transcendental, necessary ground of all meaning, intelligibility and predication, the presuppo-sitional apologist maintains that the truth of God’s self-authenticating Word should be presupposed from start to finish throughout one’s apologetic witness. Accordingly, while the presuppositionalist values logic he understands that apart from God there is no reason to believe that the laws of logic correspond universally to objective reality. While he values science he understands that apart from God there is no reliable basis for doing science. While he values ethics he understands that apart from God moral principles are simply changing conventions and today’s vices can become tomorrow’s virtues. While he affirms the dignity and significance of human personhood he understands that apart from God man is simply a biological machine, an accident of nature, a cipher. And while he values the concepts of purpose, cause, probability and meaning he understands that apart from God these concepts have no real basis or meaning. Therefore, he thinks the Christian evidentialist is being untrue to his own faith when he grants to the unbeliever the hypothetical possibility of this being a non-theistic world that can successfully function and be rightly understood in terms of the laws of logic and the human sciences. And to suggest that the law of noncontradiction, the “law of causality,” and “the basic reliability of sense perception” are more non-negotiably certain in this world than God himself is to deny the existence of the sovereign God of the universe “for whom and through whom and to whom are all things” (Rom. 11:36). To do so is also to abandon the Christ who “is before all things, in whom all things consist” (Col. 1:17), “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), and without whom man can do nothing (John 15:5). He reminds the evidentialist that it is not God who is the felon on trial; men are the felons. It is not God’s character and word which are questionable; men’s are (Job 40:1, 8; Rom. 3:4; 9:20). And it is not the Christian who is the unauthorized intruder in this world. This is his Father’s world, and the Christian is “at home” in it.
It is not then the Christian primarily who must justify his Christian presence in the world but the non-Christian who must be made to feel the burden of justifying his non-Christian views.
By presupposing the Triune God of the Christian Scriptures and the Scriptures of this God, with all of its truth statements, the presuppositionalist does not have to begin by developing intricate in-depth arguments to justify his employment of the law of noncontradiction, the law of causality, and the general reliability of the senses, for the Scriptures as God’s certain Word justify these matters for him.33 To illustrate, the Scriptures justify the legitimacy of the law of noncontradiction, first, by its assertion that every person, because he is the image of God, innately possesses the laws of reason as the bestowment of the divine Logos himself (John 1:3, 9), second, by the fact that the God of truth employs the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages—which presuppose the laws of reason—to communicate his truth to the human mind, and third, by its many uses of various kind of logical argument and logical inference. It justifies the idea of causality with its employment of such words as כִּי, ki, יַעַן כִּי, ya˓an ki–, the preposition עַל, ˓al, with the infinitive, ὅτι, hoti; γάρ, gar; διά, dia, with the accusative case, and the causal participle. And it attests to the general reliability of the senses by declaring that all of man’s senses are of divine origination (Ex. 4:11; Ps. 94:9; Prov. 20:12), and these are represented in Scripture as playing a regular role in the acquisition and build-up of knowledge (Luke 24:36–43; John 20:27; Rom. 10:14–17; 2 Pet. 1:16–18; 1 John 1:1–3; 3:14).34
The presuppositional apologist believes that his propagation and defense of the faith should be worked out then in a way which is consistent with his most fundamental commitment lest it become incoherent and ineffective. Accordingly, he does not believe that he can improve upon the total message that God has commissioned him to give to fallen men. Taking very seriously all that the Scriptures say about the inability of fallen man to understand the things of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14; see also Rom. 8:7–9; Eph. 4:17–18),35 he speaks God’s message, not to the so-called rational, neutral man who claims to be standing before him (this is fallen man’s erroneous presupposition about himself), but to the spiritually blind, spiritually hostile, and spiritually dead person who God says is standing before him. And he does this with the confidence that God’s Spirit, working by and with God’s Word, will regenerate the elect and call them to himself. Should the evidentialist object that the presuppositionalist is only “throwing gospel rocks at the unbeliever’s head” when he insists that the unbeliever must accept his biblical criteria for truth verification, the presuppositionalist, undaunted, will respond that he must continue to follow this approach just as the psychiatrist must continue to reason with a mental patient even though the latter lives in his own dreamworld and believes that it is the therapist who is out of his mind.
In his argumentation with the unbeliever the presuppositionalist is happy to employ all the biblical data and their implications for nature and history as (divinely preinterpreted) evidence for the truthfulness of the Christian position (and it is powerful evidence indeed).36 But he is unwilling to answer the “biblical fool” (that is, the unbeliever) according to his folly, that is, he will not argue the case for Christian theism utilizing the tests for truth of the unbeliever’s world-and-life-view, lest “he become like the fool” (Prov. 26:4). When he does “answer the fool according to his folly,” he does so only as an ad hominem, to show him the unintelligibility of this world without God and the dire results of living consistently with his godless world-view (of course, no unbeliever, as Francis Schaeffer consistently argued through the years, is living or can live consistently with his anti-theistic world view), and the presuppositionalist does so in order to keep the unbeliever from “becoming wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:5).
In conclusion, the presuppositionalist wishes the evidentialist would recognize that he too has his presuppositions as do all other people, and that he too reasons circularly.37 For instance, though the evidentialist will not permit the Bible to be self-authenticating, he presupposes (wrongly) that sensory data (cosmic, historical, archaeological, etc.) are self-authenticating,38 and thus he is as much a “dogmatist” on sensory experience as the presuppositionalist is on revelation. Hence the objection of circularity that the evidentialist levels against the presuppositionalist applies to himself with equal force. But his method, starting where it does, namely, with “uninterpreted” brute sensory data, is rendered logically invalid for the reasons stated in this introduction and thus can never arrive at the one living and true God or get the facts either.
Eighth, the Bible declares that human beings (and this includes Aristotle and Aquinas later who sought to demonstrate the existence of the unmoved Mover) have never been able, beginning with themselves, to reason themselves to God (1 Cor. 1:21), and their very attempt to do so is badly misguided.39 Edwards writes:
He that thinks to prove that the world ever did, in fact, by wisdom know God, that any nation upon earth or any set of men ever did, from the principles of reason only without assistance from revelation, find out the true nature and true worship of the deity, must find out some history of the world entirely different from all the accounts which the present sacred and profane writers do give us, or his opinion must appear to be a mere guess and conjecture of what is barely possible, but what all history assures us never was really done in the world.40
Ninth, by the evidentialist method the base of Christian belief is shifted and made to rest in doctrines certified by the declared “probability” of massed evidence, and more ultimately in the skill, craft and art of the human amasser of the evidence and not in the truth of God’s Word and the work of God’s Spirit. That is, the ultimate ground of faith becomes the work of man and not the Word of God.41 But Paul expressly rejects such a ground:
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Cor. 2:4–5)
Finally, methodological natural theology does not square with the actual apologetic activity of the early church as we find it depicted in the book of Acts. The natural theologian maintains that it is not right to ask skeptics to believe in Christ on the basis of scriptural authority before they have had a chance to consider the evidence supportive of the Christian claims. But does the unbeliever possess some independent criterion of verification which can and should authenticate the truth of Christian revelation in advance of faith? I think not. Otherwise, we must conclude that Dionysius the Areopagite, who believed in Christ simply on the basis of Paul’s testimony prior to any investigation into what Paul proclaimed, was the biggest fool on Mars’ Hill that day in a.d. 50 (Acts 17:22–34), and that the most intelligent men there were those who determined to hear Paul again on some subsequent occasion! No, the missionary efforts of Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul never urge lost men to do anything other than to repent of sin and bow in faith before Jesus Christ. When they debate, they draw their arguments from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2; 18:28). They never imply that their hearers may legitimately question the existence of the Christian God, the truth of Scripture, or the historicity of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ prior to personal commitment. Never do they suggest by their appeal to the evidence for God’s presence and benevolence (Acts 4:9–10; 14:17; Rom. 1:20–21) that they are endeavoring to erect a “probability construct.” They went forth into the world not as professional logicians and philosophical theologians but as preachers and witnesses, insisting that repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ are the sinner’s only proper responses to the apostolic witness. They went forth with complete confidence that their message, as to its truthfulness, was incontrovertible and unassailable, and as to its effect, either the fragrance of life to those who were being saved by it or the stink of death to those who were refusing to bow before its claims (2 Cor. 2:15–16), rendering them culpable, by their refusal, of “making God a liar” (1 John 5:10). They were confident that, though for some their Christ would be a cause of stumbling and for other foolishness, yet for the effectually called He would be both the power and wisdom of God.
As we have seen, the theistic proofs are invalid as logical arguments. But though they are invalid as logical arguments, some Christian apologists contend that they are still useful as “testimonies” to the existence of God. One is reminded here of Alasdair C. MacIntyre’s remark:
One occasionally hears teachers of theology aver that although the proofs do not provide conclusive grounds for belief in God, they are at least pointers, indicators. But a fallacious argument points nowhere (except to the lack of logical acumen on the part of those who accept it). And three fallacious arguments are no better than one. 42
I must conclude that their use is the employment of shabby tools as means to win men to Christ. The defects in the arguments are many and apparent. Is not the apologist, then, leaving himself open to being humiliated should his auditor have the ability to point out the defects in them? And is there not something suspect—even dishonest and dishonoring to the self-attesting God of Scripture who sovereignly commands men everywhere to repent and bow before his Christ—about one’s position when one attempts to win people to faith in Christ through the use of what one knows are specious intellectual arguments?
J. I. Packer has written concerning the theistic arguments:
All arguments for God’s existence, all expositions of the analogy of being, of proportionality and of attribution, as means of intelligibly conceptualizing God, and all attempts to show the naturalness of theism, are logically loose. They state no more than possibilities (for probabilities are only one kind of possibility) and can all be argued against indefinitely. They cannot be made watertight, and if offered as such they can be shown not to be watertight by anyone who knows any logic. This will damage the credit of any theology that appears to be building and relying on these arguments.43
I concur with Packer and affirm that I believe in the existence of the Christian God because I am a Christian by the grace of God and because of the incontrovertible evidence which the Christian faith entails, grounded as that faith is in the truthfulness and history of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. In sum, mine is a Christian commitment and an apologetic attempting to be based upon the Bible alone. And let no one—certainly no Christian, especially no Reformed Christian committed to the Westminster standards—brand such a faith commitment as simply sheer “fideism,” that is, a faith founded on nothing, for my faith as a Christian in the Christian God and the self-attesting Christ of the New Testament is the result of the regenerating work of the Spirit of God which he wrought in my heart by and with the objective, revealed truth of the self-evidencing, self-validating Word of God.44
Accordingly, we will not begin our study of the doctrine of God with the question, “Does God exist?” Of course God exists. As Gordon H. Clark has argued repeatedly, anything that has any faint meaning at all “exists.”45 But it makes a great deal of difference whether God is a dream, a mirage, the square root of minus one, or the infinite personal God of sacred Scripture. Consequently, I will begin this study of the doctrine of God where the Shorter Catechism begins, namely, with the question, “What is God?” and set forth the nature of the God who, according to Romans 1:20–21, all men already know because he has revealed himself to them. Apologetically speaking, it is the existence of this God—the Triune God of Holy Scripture—that provides the only viable answers to the most perplexing questions respecting the origin and nature of the world and mankind and the titanic issues of life and death!
11 See Buswell, Systematic Theology, 1:80.
12 See Carl F. H. Henry’s rejection of natural theology in favor of a “revelational alternative” on similar grounds in his God Who Speaks and Shows, vol. 2 of God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1976), 104–23. See also Karl Barth’s opposition to the theistic arguments in Church Dogmatics, ed. and trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957), 2:1, 79ff.
13 There is a legitimate sense in which the awareness of God that all people have by virtue of their being created in his image and by virtue of his inescapable revelation of himself to them in nature (Rom. 1:20) may be called “natural theology.” With this use of the term I have no problem; indeed, I wholeheartedly endorse it. But when I refer to “methodological natural theology” I am referring to that theological method whereby a “first floor” philosophical prolegomenon is first built by natural reason working independently with what is portrayed as “neutral data” upon which a “second floor” set of beliefs derived from special revelation is later placed. In this kind of “natural theology,” the Christian revelation, not intended to displace or to function as the ground of the philosophical prolegomenon, presupposes the philosophical prolegomenon and presumably confirms and supplements it. I argue against “natural theology” in this latter sense in The Justification of Knowledge.
14 See my The Justification of Knowledge, 118–30.
15 John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), 117–18.
16 Edwards could have spared his reader this “almost,” since no one has ever observed the “all things” that the world contains in order to demonstrate their “effect” character.
17 Jonathan Edwards, “Observations on the Scriptures;—their authority—and necessity,” Miscellaneous Observations from The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 2:476, emphasis supplied.
18 Benjamin B. Warfield affirms the “probability” character of his apologetic method in his article, “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948), 218–19. But while his method purports to provide a probability argument, it does not really do so. By “probability” in this context is normally meant the degree of verifiability that can be attributed to a religious hypothesis or belief. But for any religious belief, regardless of the number of confirming or favorable test instances, there are an indefinite, if not an infinite, number of possible test consequences, which simply means that it is not possible to calculate mathematically the probability of that belief. Indeed, if the number of possible test consequences is infinite, the probability of that belief can never rise above zero. It is meaningless, therefore, to speak of a given religious belief, on the basis of empirical testing, as “probable” or “highly probable.” In fact, apart from Christian theism this world is a world of chance in which the very concept of probability is meaningless.
19 Sproul, Gerstner, Lindsley, Classical Apologetics, pp. 111, 116–23.
20 Frame, “Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic,” 296.
21 Buswell, Systematic Theology, 1:79–80. John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, N.J.:Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994), 112, argues that if there is no first cause at the beginning of the chain of causes, then there is no “cognitive rest” for human reason. While he represents his argument here as an epistemological argument, Frame is too intelligent not to recognize that his is more an emotive than a probative argument.
22 R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics, 72. Of course, this universal negation is not true. Many scientists and philosophers of science today regularly deny the law of causality (for evidence of this, see Gordon H. Clark’s review, “Classical Apologetics,” in Against the World: The Trinity Review, 1978–88, ed. John W. Robbins [Hobbs, N.M.: Trinity Foundation, 1996): 190–91.
23 These assumptions, as their beginning point, reflect the Ligonier apologists’ conviction that Christian apologetics “must start with the person who is making the intellectual journey” (Classical Apologetics, 212): “From time immemorial all people have assumed that they must begin their thinking with themselves for there is no other place where they can begin. Christian and non-Christian thinkers alike, being human, have found no starting point but in the human subject” (ibid., emphasis supplied). But are we to make no distinction here between Christian and non-Christian thinkers (see Exod. 20:3; Prov. 1:7; 1 Cor. 10:31)? For these apologists, apparently not. But does this reflect a doctrine of depravity worthy of Calvinists? Moreover, since every datum of the universe is in some way related to every other datum, how can they be certain, beginning with themselves in their finiteness, that they have interpreted even the first datum, namely themselves, correctly?
Apart from the fact that their universal negative is patently untrue, for neither Euclid nor Aquinas nor Spinoza began with himself, and presuppositional apologists certainly do not begin with themselves, when the Ligonier apologists admit in their attempt to justify their appeal to “the basic reliability of sense perception,” “How can we be sure that our senses are even basically reliable and not totally distortive? We cannot. That is why we are left with the common sense necessity of assuming it” (87), they are placing their faith in an unsubstantiated assumption, and thus reveal their own “fideism.”
Their assumptions, of course, actually cannot even exist or have any meaning apart from the Christian worldview. The beginning of the buildup of certain knowledge with “this-worldly” assumptions that are viewed as “religiously neutral” appears to deny the theistic origin of these assumptions and to put the “creaturely” ahead of the Creator.
24 In private correspondence dated April 3, 1996, Frame described the Ligonier transcendentalism as “at best” an ad hominem: “They hope the unbeliever will concede these assumptions. Perhaps most unbelievers will. Then the Ligoniers get busy drawing assumptions. But you do run into some skeptics who won’t grant any initial assumptions.”
25 So the Ligonier apologists, Classical Apologetics, 233. Frame rightly asks: “Seriously now: is this a doctrine of depravity worthy of Calvinists?” (“Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic,” 292).
26 Some theologians have argued on the basis of the aorist (punctiliar) tense of the participle γνόντες (gnontes, “knowing”) in Romans 1:21 that, while the entire race may have known God at some point in the past, that knowledge has not continued into the present and therefore the aorist participle does not describe everyone today. John Frame has responded to this argument in his Apologetics to the Glory of God, 8, fn. 12:
Paul’s purpose in this passage … is to show that all have sinned .… How can [Gentiles] be held responsible without access to the written law? Because of the knowledge of God that they have gained from creation. If that knowledge were relegated to the past, we would have to conclude that the Gentiles in the present are not responsible for their actions, contrary to 3:9. The past form is used (participially) because the past tense is dominant in the context. That is appropriate, because Paul intends to embark on a “history of suppressing the truth” in vv. 21–32. But … he clearly is using this history to describe the present condition of Gentiles before God. Therefore, the aorist gnontes should not be pressed to indicate past time exclusively. As the suppression continues, so does the knowledge that renders the suppression culpable.
27 Westminster’s Larger Catechism, Question 106, informs us that the words “before me” in the first commandment are intended, among other things, “to persuade us to do as in His sight whatever we do in His service.” This includes apologetics.
28 Frame, “Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic,” 287.
29 Benjamin B. Warfield, “Introductory Note” to Francis Beattie, Apologetics (Richmond, Va.: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1903), 24, emphasis supplied.
30 Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies #408,” in The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards, ed. H. G. Townsend (1955; reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1972), 249, emphasis supplied.
31 See part one, chapter three, pp. 74–78, for my discussion and assessment of the Ligonier apologists’ argument for the authority of the Bible.
32 From private correspondence to me from John M. Frame, dated May 6, 1996.
33 Every fact that is is a theistically-justified fact. There is no such thing as a “brute,” that is, uninterpreted, fact anywhere in the universe. Every fact that is enjoys its “thatness” by virtue of some activity of God and thus already carries His “interpretation” within it. For a man truly
to know any fact would mean then that his interpretation of a given datum of this world would have to agree with God’s prior interpretation of it. Such knowledge, as Van Til declares, would be “receptive reconstruction,” that is, thinking God’s thoughts after Him, rather than “creative construction,” that is, placing meaning on “brute” facts for the first time by means of human intellection.
34 The laws of reason and even ever-reliable senses would by themselves still not give men certain knowledge, for with the aid of these learning apparatus alone, the most learned scholar in the world could not know for sure that the entire universe had not sprung into being five minutes ago with starlight already reaching the earth, trees complete with rings, humans with navels, ideas we call memories, etc. In addition then to these apparatus, men need an infinite reference point—an Archimedian ποῦ στῶ, pou stō, outside the universe—providing certain knowledge to them from which to launch their effort to justify their claims to knowledge and meaning. The Christian finds this transcendent ποῦ στῶ, pou stō, in the Triune God’s comprehensive and certain knowledge of all things, a part of which knowledge God has condescended to share with us in Scripture. And men also need the self-attesting Christ, the one great Teacher (διδάσκαλος, didaskalos) (Matt 23:8) and providential governance over them, guiding and governing their employment of the laws of reason and sensation, if they are ever going to come to the least knowledge about anything.
35 Richard B. Gaffin points out in “Some Epistemological Reflections on 1 Cor. 2:6–16, ” Westminster Theological Journal 57 (1995): 122–23:
[W]here we might most expect [1 Cor. 2:6–16] to be treated [in Classical Apologetics], there is nothing, not even a parenthetical reference. Most remarkably, v. 14 (the inability of the unbeliever to understand) and the antithesis in vv. 14–15 are not even mentioned, much less addressed.… Apparently the authors of Classical Apologetics consider the passage irrelevant. Then they at least need to show us how that is so: for example, … how the cognitive inability of unbelievers in v. 14 does not exclude the rational competence to arrive at a sound natural theology, or how the “all things” of v. 15 must be circumscribed and does not include the truths of such a theology.
Ephesians 4:17–18 is also not cited.
36 See, e.g., part one, chapters one through three, for my argument for the divine origin of Scripture, part one, chapter five, for my argument for the Genesis creation, and part three, chapter fifteen, for my argument for the supernatural Christ. See also John Calvin, Institutes, I.8, a careful reading of which much-discussed chapter (which, in my opinion, would be better titled, “Evidences from Scripture for the Credibility of Scripture”) will show that Calvin is in the main presenting biblical data in favor of the Bible’s truthfulness. Virtually all of his argumentation for the credibility of Scripture (“the heavenly character of its doctrine,” its “very heavenly majesty,” “the beautiful agreement of all the parts,” its “incontestable miracles” and “confirmed prophecy”) is drawn from the Bible. What little evidence he adduces not drawn directly from Scripture (the indestructibility of Scripture through the ages, its wide acceptance by the nations, martyrs willing to die for it; I.8.12, 13) is not the main thrust of his chapter and is not compelling (the same could be said of other books such as the Koran). To the degree that he used these external evidences Calvin compromised his own sola Scriptura principle.
37 See Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 130–33.
38 See Warfield’s admission, cited in part one, chapter five, p. 113, fn. 6.
39 If men can do and have done so, then Paul is wrong when he declares: “ … in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him.” But if Paul is right, then we must conclude that all of the theistic arguments launched from earth toward heaven, even if we are not able to pinpoint any of their fallacies, fail to accomplish what their advocates claim for them.
40 Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies #986,” in The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards, 213, emphasis supplied.
41 A classic example of this shift may be seen in Warfield’s defense of inspiration in his “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian And Reformed, 1948), 169–226. See my critique, “Warfield: A Case Study in Traditional Apologetic Methodology,” The Justification of Knowledge, 47–70.
42 Alasdair C. MacIntyre, Difficulties in Christian Belief (New York: Philosophical Library, 1960), 63.
43 J. I. Packer, “Theism for Our Time,” in God Who Is Rich in Mercy (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1986), 13.
44 Christians committed to the theology of the Westminster standards believe that “the authority of the Holy Scriptures, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (Westminster Confession of Faith, I/iv). They also believe that the Holy Scripture “doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God” (I/v) by clear incontrovertible “arguments” such as “the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery [disclosure] it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof” (I/v).
45 See Gordon H. Clark, Three Types of Religious Philosophy (Jefferson, Md.: Trinity Foundation, 1989), 43–44. Merely to say that a thing “exists” is to predicate of it an idea without meaningful content:
Stars exist—but this tells us nothing about stars; mathematics exists—but this teaches us no mathematics; hallucinations also exist. The point is that a predicate, such as existence, that can be attached to everything indiscriminately tells us nothing about anything. A word, to mean something, must also not mean something.… [But] since everything exists, exists is devoid of information [since it does not “distinguish anything from something else”]. (“Atheism,” in Against the World: The Trinity Review, 1978–1988, ed. John W. Robbins [Hobbs, N.M.: Trinity Foundation , 1996], 135.)