- Religion and Philosophy»
- Exploring Religious Options
A Self-Evident God?
I've always been interested in philosophy and intellectual debates and naturally much of that interest is in the debate over the existence of God and whether such a thing can even be proved or disproved. There is one tactic that I've mentioned in a previous hub that seems to unite most debaters who side with monotheism and that is that, when pressed, believers resort to presuppositional apologetics and the idea of a self-evident God.
In this hub I want to talk more about the absurdity of presuppositional thinking in regards to the supernatural and touch upon the divide between deism and theism as it relates to classical arguments for god's existence.
Knowledge and Faith
When he makes his arguments infamous presuppositionalist Sye Ten Bruggencate often discards the concept of faith and states that he and everyone else inherently knows that God exists and that atheists are just theists in denial. Similarly professional philosopher and Christian William Lane Craig openly admits that if presented with concrete evidence against his own beliefs he would still hold them as true due to the “witness of the holy spirit” in his “heart”.
What this tells us about presuppositionalists is that they cannot be told they are wrong or reasoned out of their position no matter how strong the evidence against their position may be. This intellectually disingenuous and it amazes me that some apologists not only admit to this insane level of bias but wallow in it and wear it as a badge of honor.
Rather than attesting to their knowledge of God this merely attests to their arrogant closed-mindedness and blind unyielding faith. Knowledge is a necessarily malleable thing. Any five year old knows the sky is blue, it's a common fact, but in high school when the child is older and learns the sky only appears blue due to sunlight scattering in the atmosphere it is easy for the average child to simply adjust to the new knowledge. Amending ones previous base of knowledge to include new or clarified facts is not a weakness, its a strength and its one of the reasons we have airplanes, space shuttles, vaccines and computers.
People like Sye and Craig are admitting that they will not, under any circumstances, amend their ignorance if knowledge steps in to replace it. This makes presuppositionalism inherently intellectually dishonest.
The Leap of Faith From Deism to Theism
One of the hardest hurdles for theists to cross in debates is the leap from proving a deistic non-interventionist deity to proving a personal and miracle performing God. This is because the deistic God is a nebulous assumption about the nature of the Universe and Cause and Effect and, essentially, doesn't need to be a being or person at all but can be any sort of Prime Mover to get the Universe started or give it order from the chaos. This featureless God doesn't even need to be considered supernatural to function as a first cause.
Philosophers will tell you that disproving such a nebulous God is nearly impossible because the Deistic God remains hidden, unseen, and might not even exist anymore (if we are assuming it did in the beginning). Most arguments for the existence of God however establish exactly this sort of deity, a God of the gaps to fill in our current understanding of some unknown or misunderstood aspect of reality. The Moral Argument and Cosmological argument are prime examples of trying to establish that natural reality or some aspect of our lives could not exist without an initial supernatural intervention or absolute foundation.
It is true that some mysteries remain regarding the birth of the Cosmos and regarding the order, harmony and chaos that exist within it. Atheists such as myself do not find the idea of a God, especially a specific theistic God such as Allah or Yahweh (The Abrahamic God), to be a satisfying explanation for these questions.
There are all sorts of nonsequiters employed by theologians and apologists to sneak in their religion of choice once they feel they have established this nondescript deistic God. Yet none have been able to draw a meaningful link between their particular God that cannot be just as easily established with some other pantheon, some other god or gods.
The Galaxy on Orion's Belt
Let's say we find a second Universe within our own, similar to the Galaxy from the popular film Men In Black but one which we do not know the origin of. What good does it do us to say that someone or something must have made it? On the face of it is seems Obvious that SOME force, whether the intentional act of a being or a natural unguided processes, brought it into existence (barring the third Solid State option). What does it tell us to say that a God did it? Or an alien? It gets us no closer to the actual truth to posit such nebulous designers. Only through actual investigation and a search for evidence can we apprehend the truth.
So when theistic debaters retreat into rhetoric about the awe and beauty of nature, the harmony and cohesiveness of reality, and the complexity and intricacies of life they are merely asserting a God of the gaps. Often they will delve into a version of presuppositionalism here claiming that the fact that there is something rather than nothing or that the Universe is “Fine Tuned” makes the existence of God self-evident. The Bible does state that the unseen is made clear by the seen, in other words a version of the classic Ray Comfort argument “creation implies a creator”, assuming that some aspect of the nature of the Universe demands a designer.
In reality they are no different than ancient man, seeing a volcanic eruption that he had no real capacity to understand the cause of and claiming it to be the angry mouth of a vengeful God spewing down fire. For in the face of such devastation how could gods anger not be self-evident. Or the ancients looking up and seeing that the stars and moon foretold the seasons and when to plant and when to harvest. Seeing such guiding lights written in the heavens would have seemed a powerful sign that the gods were watching and that they had set those lights in the firmament, the dome of the heavens.
Furthermore the idea of a self-evident God is made absurd when you consider that Christianity has been spread both by conquest and missionaries to peoples and cultures that have never heard of its God and some that have no gods at all, for a Christian apologist to claim that everyone knows God or that God is self-evident is to be entirely ignorant of the history of religion. These people are not arguing that a general idea of the supernatural is known all around the world but instead that their specific God is self-evident even to people who've never heard of it.
Paley's Watchmaker and the Coasts of Norway
One of the most famous arguments for the design of the Universe is the Watchmaker analogy a version of which Ray Comfort uses (as seen above). The idea is that even if you were primitive and lacked understanding you would come upon a pocket-watch and know instantly that it was designed, that it had purpose, that it was unnatural, and so to would you see the order and natural laws of the cosmos and assume a designer, a purpose
There are many problems with this argument, but my favorite is what I like to call the Slartibartfast rebuttal. In the book Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy it is revealed that a group of aliens who look like mice colluded to create the Earth with a bunch of other scientists, artists, workers, etc. One of them, an alien named Slartibartfast, won a special award for his work designing the coast of Norway. The point being that if we assume the entire Earth is too complex and amazing to have formed naturally why don't we assume the same thing for specific parts of the Earth? Perhaps the Grand Canyon was designed by God, or Mount Everest, or the Hawaiin Islands and yet we KNOW in each case that these things formed naturally. We know that nature is capable of producing complex patterns and we have no evidence of divine tampering in any of it.
We can enlarge this argument or shrink it down to any size and it fits. For creationists and apologists will say that the Universe is too complex, some will say the Earth is too complex, others will say the biological cell is too complex. The Fine Tuning argument and the argument from irreducible complexity are birds of a feather and both are broken as can be. For why assume that it all has a creator when we know how many of these things form. We know how stars, planets and galaxies form and so the gap to force their God into becomes smaller.
Creationists constantly crone on about the irreducible complexity of even single-celled organisms yet none of them would be asinine enough to suggest that every single bacteria was specifically designed. And none of them would be dumb enough to suggest that the ocean has a separate god from volcanoes or that angry spirits affect the outcome of the harvest or that if you displease your ancestors there will be a plague. The complex order and complex chaos of the natural world do not denote an underlying supernatural pattern, such things are superstitious and devoid of merit.
How Many Gods?
The leap from Deism to theism is indeed a leap of faith, not one that can come from arguments or evidence and that fact alone is powerful evidence that all the gods man has ever worshiped are fictional. For how can we call Allah the self-evident God when Islam has only existed for a tiny blip of time compared to how long humanity has been here? How can we say that Jesus is the one true God when there were sons of God raised from the dead long before he was supposedly born?
We are not all that different from the ancients, living chaotic and often short lives surrounded by war and disease and disaster and trying to make sense of it. Our lives are filled with chaos and yet we search for order, for patterns, for a message amongst the madness.
Where once our Gods were blood-thirsty tyrants upholding the reigns of corrupt Kings as our societies have progressed our Gods have become kinder, gentler, more distant from our lives and more forgiving of our faults. It is because we have changed and slowly our gods have changed as well. They have been changing from the beginning because they are OUR creation and not the other way around.
So which gods shall we say are self-evident? Which gods shall we claim all men KNOW in their hearts to be real? Because that claim can be made about any of them and there are thousands. Presuppositionalism is the last hiding place of an apologist has nothing new to offer to the debate.