Are Christian Apologist delusional? Are they lying to themselves? Do they actually believe what they are saying? Should we respect apologetics as an academic discipline? In this episode, I take a look at this topic and respond to a few claims often made by apologist for the existence of God. This is C-Webb’s Sunday School!
I find the discipline of Christian apologetics inherently dishonest and disingenuous. Although apologetics is defending a position, when employed by Christian’s, it’s defending a position to the exclusion of logical consistency and systematic exclusion of contradictory information to promote the gospel of Jesus. When an apologist is presented with a contradiction in the Bible they try various methods to explain away the contradiction. One tactic that is often used is harmonization. Harmonization is taking two contradictory events or passages and creating a third, combined but often different passage. If you ever want to see this in action, ask any believer about the discrepancies in the four gospels. Believers will typically respond by saying the four gospels tell the same story, just from different angles and if you take some of Mark, mix it with Matthew, stir in some Luke and add a pinch of John, you get the complete story. That’s what they’ll have you believe but what they actually are doing is creating an entirely different gospel, one of their own creation, not what the four tell us. That is what harmonization is all about. How does one learn apologetic tactics?
There are schools that teach students how to apologize for their faith. They teach their students how to defend, argue and refute the arguments against their faith. Often times I hear Christian scream about indoctrination of children taking place in public schools and universities. That they are liberal, atheistic indoctrination camps setup by the liberal elite to destroy Christianity! Good, wholesome schools like Liberty University is a place Christians can learn without feeling persecuted. Here, to get a degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, students need 18 credit hours in Theology and Apologetics. They are training students to be apologist. Is it any surprise that the vast majority of New Testament scholars are Christian? The ones that are not Christian, later de-converted after their studies or during their studies because the saw the dishonestly and flaws in the arguments. Bart Ehrman is a good example of this. If there are atheist out there that hold a theology degree and you were an atheist before getting the degree, contact me please, I would love to do an interview with you. But even the degree descriptions say that they are training people to be leaders in the evangelical tradition [link]. Even their Art and Science degrees have a focus on creation “science” where students will learn to:
- Demonstrate a consistent, biblical worldview regarding origins
- Explain key scientific evidences and arguments used to support the theory of evolution as well as difficulties with the theory
- Provide scientific and biblical arguments in support of creation [link].
They are not true academics, they are working backwards from their conclusions. They start with the premise that the Bible is true and everything we teach, learn and know is filtered through that worldview. It’s the antithesis of real academic research. It’s dishonest and disingenuous. I can respect the time and effort needed to obtain any high level degree, I can also respect the intelligence of some Christian apologist. If you ever doubt that, listen to Hugh Ross speak about the universe. He sounds like your typical astrophysicist but some of the conclusions he draws are jaw dropping. I heard him say that experts shouldn’t speak outside of their fields of expertise but then goes on to say that highly advanced mammals could never evolve because after about 7 pounds, they become too complex and die, therefore God created each creature on this planet uniquely. First of all, what happened to not speaking outside of your area of expertise? He’s an astrophysicist not an evolutionary biologist. Second? What? I tried hard, real hard to find where he got this information from but I could not find it anywhere, not even on his own website [link]. So, yes apologist can be highly intelligent and I take nothing away from that but what it illustrates so brilliantly is that they fall victim to the same cognitive biases that all humans do, they are not above these biases, no matter how much the protest otherwise.
Often times when having discussing with someone who believes differently, we end up screaming past each other, hurtling insults and saying “no you are!” Lines of communication break down and both parties retreat thinking the other is an idiot and why did I just waste my time arguing. So let’s give the apologist a break and listen to their three most airtight arguments for theistic God.
For this section, I will be calling on my good friend Jared from Conversion Radio to defend his position with his best evidence. I will actually be reading off his website, conversionpoints.org and a section called 3 Basic Undefeated Arguments…for God and they are (drumroll):
- Contingency Argument
- Teleological Argument
- Evidence of Interaction [link]
Some of these may sound familiar to you because I covered them in early episodes but now we have an actual self-proclaimed apologist to counter and we can put what we learned into action. Again, I am taking these off of Jared’s website so if I get anything wrong or misinterpret what he said, blame him, not me. Ready? Let’s get right into it, shall we?
The Thomisitic contingency argument, made famous by the medieval Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas, says that contingent things exist in the world. A contingent thing is any entity that begins to exist and whose existence is dependent on another thing existing. Thomas Aquinas goes on and says that not all things are contingent because if they were, there would be nothing to ground their existence. This is called infinite regress or a circular argument. How do we account for contingency? A necessary thing or being. This necessary being never began to exist and cannot cease to exist and whose very existence is not dependent on anything. This necessary being is God [link]. There are several variations of this argument but Jared opts for the William Lane Craig version, which is one of the weakest.
Here is how this argument proceeds according to Jared:
- Premise 1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
- Premise 2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
- Premise 3. The universe exists.
- Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.
- The explanation of the universe’s existence is God.
Now let’s have Jared explain his reasoning:
- Premise 1: There are only two possible explanations of existing entities
- Premise 2:
- The universe was caused and is not self-existent
- The cause of the universe needs to be self-existent to avoid infinite regression
- God is by definition a self-existent being capable of causing the universe
- “Given that we have a powerful explanation for the universe (supported by Historical interaction with said Being) it is completely logical to conclude the veracity of this premise [link].”
These two premises are the most important to the argument so I will stop there and examine these claims. Let’s see if they provide enough evidence and proof to assert God as this necessary being.
Before we go on, I want to address infinite regress. Atheist love to pull the infinite regress card when talking with theist. If God does exist and everything needs a cause, who created God’s god and so on. This is the cosmological argument or first cause argument. The argument from contingency is a part of this argument. This may seem like a valid argument against god but what most atheist don’t realize, science also has to deal with the problem of infinite regress. The theist will usually say that God has always existed and is a necessary being. Atheist say that the universe or whatever caused the universe to exist has always existed and the theist can rightfully ask, what created the universe’s universe and so on. Science claims there are multiple universes and our universe can be one of an infinite number universes. That still doesn’t address the problem of infinite regress. Atheist say multi-verse and theist say God. Both are valid explanations that address the infinite regress problem. Science is guessing on the multi-verse as much as the theist is guessing on God. Sure, they both may have their specific evidences but they are far from solid proof for either explanation. What we can hope to do is provide a logical foundation for one answer over another. Let me show you why this is important for the contingency argument.
How do we know something is contingent, especially the universe? If the universe is made up of contingent beings, then the universe as a whole is contingent, so says the apologist. Bertrand Russell addresses this concern using the Fallacy of Composition, which mistakenly concludes that since the parts have a certain property, the whole likewise has that property. However this is an informal fallacy of content, not a formal fallacy which is a pattern of reasoning that is always wrong due to a flaw in the logical structure of the argument [link], because sometimes the totality has the same qualities as the parts. The theist will argue that if all the matter and energy in the universe ceases to exist, the universe as a whole ceases to exist. If the universe is able to not-exist, it is contingent and requires an explanation for its existence. In this argument, God is posited as a non-contingent being. If non-contingent beings can exist, like God, then by this logic, it is possible for a non-contingent being to exist. If this is true, it is possible the universe can be a non-contingent being so we don’t need God to explain the existence of the universe, the universe could be this necessary being.
If necessary beings must exist and that necessary being is persistent and does not change, then there is no need to ask for a sustaining cause of what always persist such as the matter that makes up our universe. Matter has necessary existence though it under goes change, the given volume of matter found in the universe is persistent and persisting matter does not have or need a cause as per the necessary being requirement. Another argument against the infinite regress problem is do we need a complete explanation of all existence? This is referred to as the Completist Fallacy. Richard Swinburne notes that an explanation is complete when “any attempt to go beyond the factors which we have would result in no gain of explanatory power or prior probability.” He is saying we know the universe exist but does making a multi-verse or God add to the explanatory power of the universe? I disagree with this because it could limit scientific advancement.
All of these points and counter points hinge on the idea of a necessary being. Immanuel Kant had a problem with this necessary being. Kant posits that the existence of an absolutely necessary being, attempts to prove the existence of a being whose nonexistence is impossible and is absolutely inconceivable. This argument relies on the ontological argument which defines a being with all perfections, including existence. The ontological argument says said perfect being exist through its own concept, basically by its own definition but the fact is that nothing can be determined to exist in this manner, it’s a pretty weak argument. But is this true in the context of a necessary being in the contingency and by extension, the cosmological argument?
Not necessarily. The concept of a necessary being is one that if it exist, it neither came into existence nor can cease to exist and correspondingly, if it does not exist, it cannot come into existence. If it exist, it eternally maintains its own existence; it is self-sufficient and self-sustaining, on a metaphysical level. But, if this necessary being is God and relies on metaphysical necessity, God’s existence is contingent, meaning that there is some reason for God’s existence [link]. If God is contingent, He cannot be the metaphysical necessary being, according to the contingency argument. We are back at square one in saying, who created God’s god?
Now let’s look at contingency as described in this argument. When using contingency is this form, it is saying that everything happens for a reason and that there are good, sufficient reasons why this or that happened. Because of A than B, because of B than C and so on. This is the wrong way to think of contingency. We often think of things as being contingent in that we could have chosen differently, the free will argument. If things could have been different, an infinite number of different paths to choose from, then there must be no reason why they aren’t different. Things are what they are randomly, not due to any cause. This is how our universe operates at a fundamental level according to quantum mechanics. Things are what they are due to no cause, truly contingent but under certain restraints given the known properties of our universe. So, if things are what they are due to no cause, then premise one is false and the rest of the argument falls apart.
But regarding the two possible explanations of existing entities which is the necessity of its own nature or an external cause, there arise some problems with this understanding. Physics is the process of describing the nature of things which means all things exist and all things exist do so since it was the nature of their antecedents to spawn them. In the world around us, objects affect each other but this does not undermine the nature of specific objects, it’s part of their very nature. An object tends to move in a straight line when no force is applied to it, as this is its nature but it’s also its nature to change course when force is applied to it. The object arriving at its destination is never due to its nature alone, as if isolated from all other existence. Its arrival at its destination is due to its nature and the nature of all things around it, working together to allow the object to arrive at its destination. The dichotomy of premise one is a false dichotomy, which is existing do to its own nature or due to an external cause because things exist due to both their nature and the nature of other things, they don’t operate in a vacuum.
Taking it in another direction, we really don’t know the existence of anything. To a medieval theologian, I can see how this argument could make sense but what says existence has to be contingent on anything else? We do know some things exist but we don’t know why. Science can offer explanations on how things came to be but not why they exist. Within a quantum vacuum, particles pop in and out of existence and science can offer an explanation but right now, it cannot answer why. Introducing quantum mechanics, fatally wounds premise one. As stated with the quantum vacuum, an explanation for the existence of things in not necessary and may not be known. If, on the micro level, certain events appear to not have explanations, as with the quantum vacuum, what justification do we have for premise one? If premise one falls, so does the whole contingency argument.
The problem we have with premise two is that it ignores premise one, specifically the part about existing due to the necessity of its own nature. Jared posit that the universe was caused but could we also say that the universe, by its very nature, has to exist? It would fit with premise one, the necessity of its own nature. Why posit God here? He then follows up with saying the cause of the universe needs to be self-existent. I don’t disagree with this unless you ignore everything I just said. Premise one is on very shaky ground so the validity of premise two is contingent on the validity of premise one. Apologist will claim that the universe cannot, by its own nature, exist because of anti-matter and the annihilation of particles, meaning they turn into nothing. They are trying to show that the universe can exist and cannot not exist, which means it cannot be this necessary being, which is required for existence but since energy and momentum must be conserved, the particles are not actually made into nothing, but rather into new particles so they are persistent and have to exist and cannot not exist. So again, we have a possible explanation for the universe existing, due its own nature. No need to introduce God.
But the theist posits God here, why? Does God have the same limitations that the theist places on the universe? If we come up with a description of this necessary being and all its required attributes, do we arrive at the God of the Bible? Hardly but that is another topic of another episode but it is safe to say that as science and philosophy changes, so does the attributes of the God of the Bible. Christian continue to move the goal post. There are infinitely many possibilities to explain the existence of the universe in a naturalistic way and not to mention supernatural means that are not the God of the Bible. Why does the Christian God hold a special place? Premise two is wrong once again so the following premises can be ignored but Jared appears to have evidence of his God’s existence because of personal interaction with his God which I have shown in episode 28 to not be objective, empirical evidence so using it as evidence for your God’s existence does not help your argument.
Again, there is no guarantee that the universe needs an external cause. Apparently God does not need an external cause and if you can say God needs no cause, so can the universe unless you resort to special pleading, which Jared does in his explanation of this argument. What Christian’s posit and specially William Lane Craig (whose sole purpose is to further the Christian agenda) is the God of the Bible being this necessary being but like I said before, there is an infinite number of possibilities for this necessary being, if this necessary being is even required. Is the argument from contingency really an undefeated argument? That is a little presumptuous on Jared’s part. There is enough doubt and improbability to label this argument as weak proof for the God of the Bible, which is what Jared is arguing. William Lane Craig uses this argument frequently and has a stated mission of winning people over to Christ, which is what Christian apologetics is all about, this leaves room for intellectual dishonestly which leads to the promotion of weak arguments as undefeated proofs, such as this one.