Saturday, November 2, 2019

"On Proving God: Strategies for Defending the Existence of God"--Deep Faith Apologetics Conference

* My notes from the 2019 Deep Faith Apologetics Conference.

Deep Faith Apologetics Conference
November 2, 2019

“On Proving God: Strategies for Defending the Existence of God”
Richard Klaus

1.    Introduction—why this topic?

a.    Philosophy 101 class—asking about God’s existence

                                               i.     Theists

1.     “I believe God exists.”

2.    But no reason or evidence

                                              ii.     Atheists

1.    “No evidence for God.”

2.    “God is a social construct to enforce public morality.”

3.    “People believe in God because their parents told them.”

b.    Goals:

                                               i.     Provide some instruction on how to argue for God’s existence

                                              ii.     Provide some specific examples of argumentation

·     NOTE: Using and recommending: James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity? (Christian Focus, 2016)

2.    Worldview Analysis

a.    Components of a worldview

                                               i.     Metaphysics

                                              ii.     Epistemology

                                            iii.     Ethics

b.    Everybody has a worldview

                                               i.     Atheism and skepticism is not neutrality

                                              ii.     There is no neutrality

3.    Worldviews in conflict: What happens when worldviews come into conflict/conversation?

a.    What we do with our worldviews

                                               i.     Proof

                                              ii.     Defense

                                            iii.     Offense

b.    Tests of a worldview

                                               i.     Consistency 

                                              ii.     Coherence

                                            iii.     Explanation

                                            iv.     Evidence

                                              v.     Existential fit

4.    Proof: Presenting positive evidence and reasons 

a.    Doesn’t require certainty

b.    Not the same as persuasion

c.     Nature of the object of knowledge determines the kind of evidence and reasons we can expect

5.    God as an object of knowledge: The Nature of the object of belief

a.    God—the Christian God—is not like any other piece of knowledge

b.    Skeptic’s view: knowing God’s existence is like…

                                               i.     Belief in Loch Ness monster

                                              ii.     Fairies

                                            iii.     Flying Spaghetti Monster 

c.     “What these skeptics often fail to recognize is that the God of the Bible is a fundamentally different kind of being than Santa Claus, the Yeti, and so on, and therefore the way in which one proves God’s existence must be fundamentally different too.”[1]

d.    “Indeed, according to Christianity God is fundamentally and radically different from every other thing in existence.”[2]

6.    The Significance of the object of belief

a.    Loch Ness monster

                                               i.     Little significance hangs on their existence

                                              ii.     Intriguing and some media coverage but no impact on our everyday lives

b.    “Not so with God.  If God exists, that affects everything, simply because of who God is.  If God exists, everything else depends for its existence and nature on God.  If God exists, the ultimate reality is personal and rational and moral in nature.”[3]

c.     “The question about the existence of God, likewise, is not just a question about whether one more thing exists in the inventory of reality.  It is a question about the ultimate context for everything else.  The theist and the atheist should see everything differently.”[4]  

7.    The Christian God: Completely Unique

a.    God transcends both space and time

                                               i.     Loch Ness monster and Flying Spaghetti Monster exist in space and time

                                              ii.     God created both space and time

b.    God is an infinite being

c.     God is absolutely independent: self-existence

                                               i.     a se= Aseity

“The term aseity comes from the Latin phrase a se, meaning ‘from or by oneself.’  In the theological literature, the term designates a divine attribute b which God is ‘what he is by or through his own self.’  Since God is a se, he does not owe his existence to anything or anyone besides himself, nor does he need anything beyond himself to maintain his existence.  He is not like the idols that depend for their existence on select materials, skilled craftsman, and ritual offerings (Isa. 40:19-20; 44:15-17; Ps. 50:8-15).  Indeed, he has no needs at all (Acts 17:25).  So the terms self-contained, self-existent, self-sufficient, and independent are often used as synonyms for a se.”[5]

                                              ii.     Everything else depends for its existence on God but God depends on nothing for his existence.

8.    Acts 17.16-34: Paul at Athens

a.    Sophisticated unbelief: non-Christian philosophers (v. 18 Epicurean and Stoic)

b.    Read Acts 17.23-29

c.     Paul is presenting a radically unique view of God: correcting and refining their faulty notions

                                               i.     v. 29: “… we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like…”

                                              ii.     We ought not to think that God—the biblical God—is like…

1.    the Loch Ness monster

2.    Flying Spaghetti Monster

3.    Thor or Odin

9.    Naturalism as a major worldview competitor to Christian theism

a.    “Ideally, a worldview should be evaluated in comparison with otherworldviews—at least with the major alternatives.  The reason for this is that if we think a certain worldview faces some difficulty or problem, we might be tempted to dismiss it simply for that reason, without taking proper time to consider whether competing worldviews face the same or similar challenges—or perhaps even greater challenges.”[6]

b.    Definitions of naturalism

                                               i.     “Naturalism asserts that all of reality—including us—consists at bottom of nothing more than fundamental physical particles and forces, operating according to the laws of physics.”[7]

                                              ii.     “Naturalism denies that there are any spiritual or supernatural realities transcendent to the world or at least we have no good ground for believing that there could be such realities… It is the view that anything that exists is ultimately composed of physical components.”[8]

10.In light of the radical nature and significance of God’s existence, how do we go about proving or demonstrating this to be true?

a.    “So how can God’s existence be proven? Here’s my answer in a nutshell,… Even though God cannot be directly perceived like the ordinary things within the universe, it turns out that we cannot make sense of ordinary things we do perceive—and the universe as a whole—unlessGod exists.  In short, only a worldview centered on a transcendent, perfect, personal Creator can make rational sense of the very things we take for granted all the time.”[9]

b.    James Anderson lists out six features he discusses:[10]

                                               i.     God and Existence

                                              ii.     God and Values

                                            iii.     God and Morality

                                            iv.     God and Reason

                                              v.     God and Mind

                                            vi.     God and Science

c.     Others have argued in similar fashion with regards to similar sets of features:

                                               i.     Roy Abraham Varghese[11]

1.    Rationality

2.    Life: the capacity to act autonomously

3.    Consciousness: the ability to be aware

4.    Conceptual thought: the power of articulating and understanding meaningful symbols such as are embedded in language

5.    The human self: the “center” of consciousness, thought, and action

6.    Varghese adds this helpful comment:

“Three things should be said about these phenomena and their application to the existence of God.  First, we are accustomed to hearing about arguments and proofs for God’s existence.  In my view, such arguments are useful in articulating certain fundamental insights, but cannot be regarded as “proofs” whose formal validity determines whether there is a God.  Rather, each of the five phenomena adduced here, in their way, presuppose the existence of an infinite, eternal Mind.  God is the condition that underlies all that is self-evident in our experience.  Second, as should be obvious from the previous point, we are not talking about probabilities and hypotheses, but about encounters with fundamental realities that cannot be denied without self-contradiction.  In other words, we don’t apply probability theorems to certain sets of data, but consider the far more basic question of how it is possible to evaluate data at all.  Equally, it is not a matter of deducing God from the existence of certain complex phenomena.  Rather, God’s existence is presupposed by all phenomena.  Third, atheists, new and old, have complained that there is no evidence for God’s existence, and some theists have responded that our free will can be preserved only if such evidence is noncoercive.  The approach taken here is that we have all the evidence we need in our immediate experience and that only a deliberate refusal to “look” is responsible for atheism of any variety.”[12]

                                              ii.     Gregory Gannsle[13]

1.    “A World That Is Ordered and Susceptible to Rational InvestigationFits better in a Theistic Universe.”

2.    “A World with ConsciousnessFits Better in a Theistic Universe.”

3.    “A World with Significant Free AgencyFits Better in a Theistic Universe.”

4.    “A World with Objective Moral ObligationsFits Better in a Theistic Universe.”

11.My list for today:

a.    Consciousness and the ability to reason

b.    Moral values and obligation

c.     Science

·     NOTE: Each of these topics could be its own session—in fact, the last one regarding Science, was my breakout session last year!  

·     The goal is to get the structure of the argument.  You will need to fill in the details with further study.

12.Consciousness and the ability to reason

a.    Features of consciousness

                                               i.     First-person subjective perspective on the world

                                              ii.     Thoughts, feelings, and experiences

                                            iii.     Pain

1.    “An experience of pain is what philosophers call a quale.  It is an experience with a feel or a way it seems to be to its subject from a first-person point of view.  Pain is a certain way of feeling that each person apprehends experientially.  To ask whether extreme pain feels extremely painful is odd because extreme pain is feeling painful.  Pleasure similarly has an experiential what-it-is-like feeling, or quale.  Multiple quale are termed qualia.”[14]

                                            iv.     Intentionality: our thoughts are about something

b.    These mental events are not physical in nature.

c.     Naturalism/materialism’s problems with consciousness

                                               i.     All that exists is material in nature—how to explain the mental?

1.    “The important point about the standard evolutionary story is that the human species and all its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process… If this is the correct account of our origins, then there seems neither need nor room, to fit any nonphysical substances or properties into our theoretical accounts of ourselves. We are creatures of matter. And we should learn to live with that fact.”[15]

2.    “The brain is a physical system whose operation is governed solely by the laws of chemistry and physics.  What does this mean?  It means that all of your thoughts and hopes and dreams and feelings are produced by chemical reactions going on in your head.”[16]

                                              ii.     “[F]or naturalists the key philosophical project of strict naturalism is to locate the mental in the physical world, and this means explaining the mental in terms that are not mental.”[17]

1.    “Naturalism’s major problem, then, is explaining how mindless forces give rise to minds, knowledge, and sound reasoning. But every naturalists wants others to think that his Naturalism is a consequence of his sound reasoning.”[18]

2.    “Once you understand the nature of matter, mass-energy, you realize that, by its very nature, it could never become ‘aware,’ never ‘think,’ never say ‘I.’  But the atheist position is that, at some point in the history of the universe, the impossible and the inconceivable took place.”[19]

3.    “The difficulty for Naturalism is that it’s very hard to conceive how minds could arise out of purely material processes. Conscious minds have very distinctive features, such as first-person subjective perspective on the world and a capacity for thoughts, feelings and experiences.  Such features are so thoroughly different from physical properties such as mass, energy and size, that there seems to be a fundamental discontinuity between the mental and the physical.  No scientist or philosopher has come anywhere near close to explaining how conscious minds could be generated by non-conscious physical structures, no matter how complex those structures become. Increasing the complexity of something doesn’t result in a fundamentally different kind of thing coming into existence: a self-conscious subject of thoughts and experiences.  A highly complex physical structure is still nothing more than a physical structure.”[20]

d.    Theism and consciousness

                                               i.     Two views

1.    Matter preceded and produced mind (naturalist option)

2.    Mind preceded and produced matter and other minds (Christian theism)

                                              ii.     “The Christian worldview… affirms that mind preceded matter.  Not human minds, of course, but God’s mind.  God is an eternal, self-existent, transcendent, personal being with a mind—and not just any mind, but a perfect, absolute, infinite mind.  Furthermore, God created a universe that had both material and mental aspects from the outset: He created humans with minds as well as bodies.  Not only can we physically manipulate the universe with our bodies, we can think aboutthe universe with our minds.  Our finite minds aren’t the first minds to exist in the universe; on the contrary, our human minds are dependent on—one might even say modeled on—an eternal divine mind. We are literally designed to think God’s thoughts after Him.”[21]

13.Moral values and obligation

a.    Moral realism: 

·     objective moral values exist; moral values are discovered—not created

·     these moral values are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not

Note: Four observations about moral facts and explaining them[22]

1.    Moral facts are not physical in nature; they don’t have physical properties.
2.    Moral facts are a kind of communication; a proposition which is a command. Commands only make sense with two minds involved.
3.    Moral facts have a force of feeling—a feeling of “oughtness.”
4.    Moral facts can be violated and this produces a certain kind of discomfort—a sense of guilt.

How to explain—moral rules are…
1.    an Illusion
2.    an Accident
3.    a product of Intelligence

b.    Quotations regarding the difficulty of reconciling naturalism/atheism with moral realism.

·     Jean-Paul Sartre

“The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it.”[23]

·     Julian Baggini

“If there is no single moral authority [i.e., no God] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… [and] that means that moral claims are not true or false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error.”[24]

·     Friedrich Nietzsche

“There are altogether no moral facts”; indeed, morality “has truth only if God is the truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.”[25]

·     Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg—“Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life” (2003)

“Darwinism thus puts the capstone on a process which since Newton’s time has driven teleology to the explanatory sidelines. In short it has made Darwinians into metaphysical Nihilists denying that there is any meaning or purpose to the universe its contents and its cosmic history. But in making Darwinians into metaphysical nihilists, the solvent algorithm [random variation acted on by natural selection] should have made them into ethical nihilists too. For intrinsic values and obligations make sense only against the background of purposes, goals, and ends which are not merely instrumental.”[26]

“…morality is at most an instrumentally useful illusion.”[27]

“But when we combine an evolutionary account of ethical beliefs with the conception of Darwinian theory as a ‘universal acid’… the result is moral nihilism.  If all apparently purposive processes, states, events, and conditions are in reality the operation of a purely mechanical substrate neutral algorithm, then as far [as] explanatory tasks go, the only values we need attribute to biological systems are instrumental ones.  An evolutionary account of moral belief will not only explain ethics but it will explain it away.”[28]

c.     This leads Christian philosopher Mitch Stokes to conclude:

“If naturalism is true, there’s no morality apart from what humans value, want, or prefer.  Morality is purely a matter of taste.  In short, naturalism implies moral nihilism, the view that there are no human-independent moral rules.”[29]

d.    How can the naturalist respond to this charge of moral nihilism?

·     Accept moral nihilism—but this has problems

1.    Violates our fundamental moral intuitions (e.g., “Torturing babies for fun is wrong” is not reducible to relatativism)

“Like sense perception, we have certain moral intuitions or instincts that are basic to properly functioning humans.  If we don’t have them, something’s wrong with us.  And in the absence of strong reasons to overturn these intuitions, they should be taken seriously.”[30]

2.    Lose the objective basis for human rights

3.    Lose the objective basis for condemning morally abhorrent people and practices

-Hitler, Bin Laden
-Rape, torture

4.    Lose the objective basis for moral motivation—“Why uphold some arbitrarily chosen moral standard; especially if such a standard puts unwanted restrictions on me?”

·     The other option a naturalist might try: reject moral nihilism and attempt to ground moral realism on a naturalistic basis.

e.    Some attempts to ground moral realism in naturalism

·     Evolutionary accounts—evolutionary mechanisms simply produce moral realism

1.    Stuart Kauffman Reinventing the Sacred(2008)[31]

2.    Kauffman attempts to show how moral norms evolved:

“A wonderful experiment was carried out with Capuchin monkeys. The experiment consists of two monkeys in two cages facing one another but separated by a partition so neither can see the other.  Adjacent to these two cages is a third cage in which a third monkey can observe both of the other two.  The experimenter feeds one of these two apples, bananas, and so forth.  The second monkey receives scraps.  At some point, the observer monkey, well fed himself, is given extra food.  What does this animal do?  It gives the extra food to the monkey who received the scraps.  These monkeys have evolved a sense of fairness.”  (Kauffman, 2008, p. 260)

3.    Problem: Kauffman begs the question!

“…two questions will illustrate the fallacy.  1) Is fairness ethical simply because monkeys evolved it?  2) Or did monkeys evolve towards an ethical standard that is independent of themselves?”[32]        (a Euthyphro-like dilemma!)

--can’t be second option since this takes us out of the range of naturalism

--If (1) then what about other behaviors that have evolved among animals: male lions hoarding female harems, some animals eat their young

                                                “Clearly, Kauffman presupposes ‘fairness’ is ethical, and then 
goes looking for an example to support his conclusion.  But if evolution is the source of our moral norms he cannot appeal to a standard external to evolution to discriminate between naturally evolving behaviors.  Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer’s book, A Natural History of Rape(2000) defends rape as a normal reproductive strategy developed to guarantee the survival of one’s genes. Few evolutionists will sympathize with their thesis.  But how can an evolutionist condemn the evolution of rape and condone the evolution of fairness without presupposing an ontologically, transcendent standard of behavior?”[33]

4.    Problem: Reduces morality to conduct and neglects non-behavioral components such as motive and intentions.

“We can’t infer actual moral obligations from the mere fact of a chimp’s conduct.  We can observe that chimps in community share food and that when they do they survive better.  But we cannot conclude from this that Bongo ought to share his bananas or else he’ll be immoral because he hasn’t contributed to the survival of his community.”[34]

“Motive and intent cannot be determined simply by looking at behavior.  In fact, some good behavior might turn out to be tainted, depending on the motive and intent: giving to the poor when one wants to be well thought of, instead of having a genuine concern for the recipients. Indeed, it seems one can be immoral without any behavior at all, such as plotting an evil deed that one is never able to carry out.

“Morality informs behavior, judging it either good or bad; it’s not identical to behavior.  Rather it is something deeper than habitual patterns of interaction.  Therefore we can’t draw conclusions about animal morality simply based on what we observe in their conduct.”[35]

5.    Problem: Kauffman concedes his arguments are insufficient

“Still ethical and moral reasoning goes far beyond what can be accounted for by evolutionary arguments.” (Kauffman, 2008, p. 262)

·     Sam Harris: grounding objective value in scientifically demonstrated well-being

1.    Problem: reduces moral value to prudential value

-prudential goods: good for a subject

-moral good: good, period.

2.    “In other words, he [Harris] seems to be in danger of changing the subject and not giving us a theory of morality at all.  Well-being alone seems to be a prudential good, something that is merely good for the subject experiencing it. Another way of stating the problem with Harris’s view is that the concepts of morality and well-being can come apart.”[36]

3.    “At the end of the day Harris is not really talking about moral values.  He is just talking about what’s conducive to the flourishing of sentient life on this planet.”[37]

·     Erik Wielenberg’s non-theistic moral realism.  Paul Copan summarizes key components of Weilenberg’s view:

“Atheist Erik Wielenberg claims that objective morality’s foundation consists of certain brute ethical facts: they “have no explanation outside of themselves; no further facts make them true” (the ontological claim), and we can know these brute ethical facts immediately without inferring them from other known facts (the epistemological claim). Necessary moral truths didn’t evolve with humanity but are “part of the furniture of the universe,” he claims. They “constitute the ethical background of every possible universe,” creating the framework for assessing the actions of any moral agent (whether human or divine).”[38]

1.    Problem: Arbitrary and unwarranted assumption that objective value has emerged from valuelessness.[39]

“But to assert is not to justify, and this claim hangs on a mere metaphysical wish that maybe value could emerge from valueless matter; the claim is not anchored in ontological realities.”[40]

2.    Problem: massive cosmic coincidence (“lucky coincidence objection”)

“Earlier he admitted that if ‘there is no God, then it is in some sense an accident that we have the moral properties that we do.’  He also acknowledged that his ‘view undoubtedly entails that certain elements of the universe (the actual laws of nature and basic ethical facts) fit together in a nifty and perhaps amazing way.’”[41]

“An example may help to illustrate: One evening in the middle of a Scrabble game you notice the phrase ‘do not go’ formed in the random spray of letter tiles on the table.  Is this a command that ought to be obeyed? Of course not.  It’s just a random collection of letters.”[42]

“The non-naturalistic moral realist in this case holds that (a) certain necessary moral facts exist and (b) self-reflective, morally responsible and intrinsically valuable beings eventually appear on the scene (through unguided, highly contingent evolutionary steps) who both can recognize these pre-existing facts and are duty-bound to them. This Platonic-like moral realm, it appears, was anticipating our emergence, just waiting for us to comply with it—a remarkable cosmic accident! A far simpler, less ad hoc explanation is available, however: a good, personal God—the very locus of objective moral values— created human beings with dignity and worth. Moral fact-hood and moral worth have always existed since both applied to God before his creation of human beings. Theism affords a far more elegant and natural explanation.”[43]

·     Impersonal Transcendent Source of moral value (Platonic and Platonic-like views): see appendix

f.     Christian theism and moral value and obligation

·     In contrast… Christian theism does provide a worldview that more readily comports with moral realism.

1.    God is the standard of moral value—he is himself “the good”

2.    God’s commands provide a basis for our moral duties

3.    God as a personal, righteous Judge ensures moral accountability—evil will be punished appropriately and justice vindicated

Excursus: More fully developed thoughts on the above by William Craig

·     William Craig offers the following three points that are illustrative of Christian-theistic ethics and compatible with the teaching of Jesus.

·     (1) “First, if theism is true, we have a sound basis for objective moral values.  To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or evil independently of whether anybody believes it to be so.  It is to say, for example, that the Holocaust was morally evil even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought it was good.

“On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God.  He is the locus and source of moral value. God’s own holy and loving nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions are measured.  He is by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth.  Thus, if God exists, objective moral values exist.”

·     (2) “Second, if theism is true, we have a sound basis for objective moral duties.  To say that we have objective moral duties is to say that we have certain moral obligations regardless of whether we think so or not.

“On the theistic view, God’s moral nature is expressed toward us in the form of divine commands that constitute our moral duties.  Far from being arbitrary, these commands flow necessarily from his moral nature.  On this foundation we can affirm the objective goodness and rightness of love, generosity, self-sacrifice, and equality, and condemn as objectively evil and wrong selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression.”

·     (3) “Third, if theism is true, we have a sound basis for moral accountability.  On the theistic view, God holds all persons morally accountable for their actions.  Evil and wrong will be punished; righteousness will be vindicated.  Despite the inequalities of this life, in the end the scales of God’s justice will be balanced.  We can even undertake acts of extreme self-sacrifice that run contrary to our self-interest, knowing that such acts are not empty and ultimately meaningless gestures.  Thus, the moral choices we make in this life are infused with an eternal significance.”[44]


* NOTE: I presented an entire talk on this topic at the 2018 Deep Faith Conference: “Who’s Afraid of Science? Why Science Needs God!”[45]  I also turned these notes into an essay: “Why Science Needs God: Analyzing the Religion and Science Conflict[46]

a.    Science rests upon philosophical assumptions

                                               i.     These philosophical assumptions are not proven by science but have to be presupposed in order to do science

                                              ii.     Scientism is false—see J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2018) 

b.    Moreland offers the following list of presuppositions that are utilized by scientists to undergird the scientific methodology.[47]

(1) The existence of the external world.

(2) The orderly nature of the external world and its knowability.

(3) The uniformity of nature and induction.

(4) The laws of logic, epistemology, and truth.

(5) The reliability of the senses and the mind.

(6) The adequacy of language to describe the world.

(7) The applicability of mathematics and the existence of numbers.

(8) The existence of values.

c.     Christian theism makes better sense of these philosophical presuppositions

                                               i.     “The nature of the assumptions of science do not prove the existence of a God very much like the God of the Bible, but in my view, they provide reasons for preferring theism over scientistic naturalism.  The assumptions are at home in a theistic worldview; they fit quite naturally.  If God is himself a rational being, then it stands to reason that he would create a rational, orderly universe.  If he created us, then it naturally follows that he would give us the proper faculties to know and appreciate the inner workings of his world by ‘thinking his thoughts after him.’  The existence of objective values makes far more sense if there is an objective Lawgiver than if there is not.

“If we begin with ‘In the beginning there was the Logos,’ then we have reasonable explanations for these assumptions. But if we begin with “In the beginning were the particles (or plasma, strings, etc.),’ it is hard to see how these assumptions could have obtained.”[48]

                                              ii.     “Atheistic worldviews can’t account for why science is reasonable and successful because they can’t provide any rational justification for the foundational assumptions of science.  Ironically, then, atheistic scientists have to live by faith!  Or to put the point more provocatively: they’re tacitly depending on a radically different worldview—a God-centered worldview—whenever they engage in their scientific work.”[49]


a.    My goals

                                               i.     Provide some instruction on how to argue for God’s existence

1.    What are we talking about when we talk about “God?”

a.    Nature and Significance of God as an object of knowledge

b.    God of the Bible is completely unique; not like other objects of knowledge

2.    Compare worldviews

a.    Naturalism as a worldview contender

b.    No neutrality

3.    Only the existence of God makes sense out fundamental realities we encounter and use all the time

a.    Without the existence of God, nothing else makes sense!

                                              ii.     My list of fundamental realities

1.    Consciousness and ability to reason

2.    Moral values and obligations

3.    Science

Appendix: Impersonal Transcendent Source for Moral Value

Perhaps moral value is simply a brute given—a primal reality without explanation.  This seemed to be Plato’s view of the form of the Good.   We can call this the impersonal transcendent source view(ITS).   Some might attempt to argue that the ITS view is  simply a species of naturalism but this seems to be too quick and facile. Naturalism, as defined above with the illustrative quotations, is a different sort of philosophy than ITS. George Mavrodes draws attention to the contrast between a Platonic world and a “Russellian” world.  By “Russellian” world he is drawing on Bertrand Russell’s ideas of naturalism in which all of life is an “accidental collocation of atoms” as noted in the following quotation:

“That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.  Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”[50]

  In light of Russell’s view, Mavrodes notes:

Perhaps, Plato did think that goodness, or some such thing related to morality, was an ultimate fact about the world.  But a Platonic world is not very close to a Russellian world. Plato was not a Christian, of course, but his world view has very often been taken to be congenial (especially congenial compared to some other philosophical views) to a religious understanding of the world.[51]

Mitch Stokes outright denies that Platonism is a form of naturalism.  He argues:

You might reasonably think that a view like Plato’s is a way to support moral realism on the assumption of naturalism.  On the Platonic view, moral reality is ultimately dependent on eternal forms that exist independently not only of humans but also of the cosmos itself.  Although the issues surrounding Platonism are deep and perplexing, the fact that this independent moral reality—if such there be—is outside the natural world immediately renders naturalism false.  Platonic forms, strictly speaking, would be supernatural.[52]

So ITS seems more metaphysically robust than naturalism but it can still be atheistic since it denies a personal nature to the transcendent source.  Perhaps it can be considered “quasi-atheistic.”[53]  

There are, however, problems for a view that posits an impersonal transcendent source for moral value. Remember that for ITS there is no subjectively aware being with causal powers that has teleological intentionality (i.e., no personal deity).  Consider the following problems and tensions:

1.                    The issue of the origination of humans with the requisite reasoning capacity to perceive the moral value derived from ITS seems problematic—especially if conjoined with the naturalistic accounts of evolution.  The standard neo-Darwinian model of evolution gives no reason to think that its non-teleological process will sufficiently ground the needed reason which is a precondition for understanding and engaging with moral value.  J. P. Moreland, in a short essay analyzing Thomas Nagel’s recent work Mind and Cosmos, draws attention to Nagel’s critique of naturalistic evolution and the mind in this way:

Since our natures/capacities are contingent (they didn’t have to be this way), how is it that they are able to gain contact with the realm of necessary truths of, for example, logic and mathematics, when we can easily imagine worlds in which they fail to have this ability? How can we explain creatures with these abilities, especially when they go far beyond what is needed in the struggle for survival?[54]

Moreland goes on to summarize Nagel’s objections to naturalistic evolution as the source for reason.
But there are several problems Nagel mentions with the naturalist attempt to account for the faculty of reason itself:
(a)Reason isn’t just pragmatically useful; indeed it is self-refuting and circular to assert that it is.

(b)Reason isn’t a contingent, local, perspectivalist feature of our evolved nature.  It has universal applicability.  Evolution produces local, contingent dispositions, not universal, necessary ones.

(c)  Reason is intrinsically normative.

(d)Reason takes us beyond appearances to the hidden, intelligible structure of the world.

(e)In contrast to the senses, which put in contact with objects via causal chains, reason is not mediated by mechanisms that could be selected by evolutionary processes; rather, reason puts us in immediate, direct contact with the rational order.

(f)  Reason is active and involves agency (for example, it isn’t Sphexish); sensation is passive.[55]

2.                    Apart from the issue of humans’ rational faculty above there is also the problematic correlation between the impersonal transcendent source of value and the contingently developed human being.  Naturalistic evolution is a contingent process but the ITS view has to maintain that this process produced a being sufficiently correlated to necessary moral facts.  Paul Copan notes that “This Platonic-like moral realm, it appears, was anticipatingour emergence, just waiting for us to comply with it—a remarkable cosmic accident!”[56]  Of course, one could attempt to circumvent this objection by positing some teleological mechanism that guides the evolutionary pathways in a purposeful manner.  But this runs into at least two problems.  One, this appears ad hocin that arbitrarily positing such a teleological mechanism within a background of an impersonal transcendent source does not seem to fit well.  One is ultimately alleging a purposive process directed to some teleological end by a transcendent source that is not subjectively aware, does not have causal power, and cannot engage in teleological intentionality. The second problem is that such a teleological mechanism places one at odds with contemporary neo-Darwinian explanations of human evolution.  

3.                    Apart from the reason problem (#1 above) and the contingently correlated problem (#2 above) there is the further difficulty of explaining moral obligation.  Even granting the ad hocnotion of a teleological mechanism that guides human evolution to be sufficiently correlated with  previously existing objective moral properties, this does not explain why humans are morally obligated to align themselves with this moral source of value.  John Frame brings attention to this issue:

The fundamental question is whether any impersonal principle provides a sufficient basis for morality. In my judgment, the answer is no.  Even if the universe were governed by an impersonal principle, and even if it were possible for people to discern what kinds of behavior that principle rewarded or punished, it would remain an open question whether we ought to practice the rewarded behavior.  And I cannot imagine any reason why we should feel morally bound by the dictates of any impersonal principle at all.  Impersonal principles, like gravity, electromagnetism, and the like, have the power to push us around, but they don’t have the power to tell what we oughtto do.  To claim they do is to commit the naturalistic fallacy.[57]

Notes: Further Resources

Quotations on the meaning of life from non-theistic perspective:

     [1]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 94-95.
     [2]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 95.
     [3]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 97.
     [4]Thomas Morris Making Sense of It All  (Eerdmans, 1992), 25.
     [5]John M. Frame, “Divine Aseity and Apologetics” in Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologeticseditors: K. Scott Oliphant and Lane G. Tipton (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007), 115.
     [6]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 48.
     [7]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 98.
     [8]Kai Nielson as quoted in Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, Naturalism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 9.  James Sire’s The Universe Next Door—5thed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2009) has a chapter—chapter four: “The Silence of Finite Space: Naturalism”—which contains a good discussion of philosophical naturalism.  
     [9]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 96-97.
     [10]He does this in his book Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 102-135.  He also summarizes this discussion in his article “The Inescapability of God” Christian Research Journalvol. 40, no. 05 (2017)—online:
     [11]Roy Abraham Varghese “The ‘New Atheism’: A Critical Appraisal of Dawkins, Dennett, Wolpert, Harris, and Stenger” in Antony Flew There Is A God (HarperOne, 2007), 161-162.
     [12]Roy Abraham Varghese “The ‘New Atheism’: A Critical Appraisal of Dawkins, Dennett, Wolpert, Harris, and Stenger” in Antony Flew There Is A God (HarperOne, 2007), 161-163.
     [13]Gregory E. Gannsle A Reasonable God: Engaging the New Face of Atheism(Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2009), 168-175.
     [14]Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, Naturalism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 44-45.
     [15]Paul Churchland as quoted in J. P. Moreland, “Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Psychology as Research Programs: A Comparison of Their Most Plausible Specifications” in Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse in Dialogue(Fortress, 2007), 130.
     [16]Quoted in J. P. Moreland, “Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Psychology as Research Programs: A Comparison of Their Most Plausible Specifications” in Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse in Dialogue(Fortress, 2007), 131.
     [17]Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, Naturalism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 84.
    [18]Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1988), 259.
     [19]Roy Abraham Varghese “The ‘New Atheism’: A Critical Appraisal of Dawkins, Dennett, Wolpert, Harris, and Stenger” in Antony Flew There Is A God (HarperOne, 2007), 163.
     [20]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 123.
     [21]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 125.
     [22]These are taken from Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), 165-169.
     [23]Quoted in Peter S. Williams “Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?” (2011)—online:  Williams is quoting Sartre’s Existentialism Is a Humanism(New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007), 28.
     [24]Quoted in Peter S. Williams “Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?” (2011).  Williams is quoting Julian Baggini Atheism: A Very Short Introduction(Oxford University Press, 2003), 41-51.
     [25]Quoted in Paul Copan “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives, Angus J. L. Menuge, ed. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 5. Note: pagination is to online version:  Copan is quoting Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ(New York: Penguin Books, 1968), 55, 70.
     [26]Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life” Biology and Philosophy18(5); November, 2003, 653.
     [27]Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life” Biology and Philosophy18(5); November, 2003, 655.
     [28]Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life” Biology and Philosophy18(5); November, 2003, 661.
     [29]Mitch Stokes, How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2016), 227.
     [30]Paul Copan “A Moral Argument” in To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland, eds. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 110.
     [31]This brief discussion and quotation of Kauffman’s work is dependent on the analysis provided by Brenton H. Cook, “Hume’s Guillotine and Evolutionary Ethics: Evaluating Attempts to Overcome the Naturalistic Fallacy” Answers Research Journal8 (2015), 1-11.  Available online:  For a recent analysis of Kauffman which argues that his entire philosophical program is at odds with the scientific endeavor itself see D. T. Timmerman “Are Naturalistic Theories of Emergence Compatible with Science?” Philosophia Christi19 (2017), 37-58.
     [32]Brenton H. Cook, “Hume’s Guillotine and Evolutionary Ethics: Evaluating Attempts to Overcome the Naturalistic Fallacy” Answers Research Journal8 (2015), 3.  
     [33]Brenton H. Cook, “Hume’s Guillotine and Evolutionary Ethics: Evaluating Attempts to Overcome the Naturalistic Fallacy” Answers Research Journal8 (2015), 3.
     [34]Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), 160-161.
     [35]Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), 161.
     [36]Mitch Stokes, How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2016), 192.
     [37]William Lane Craig, “Navigating Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape” (2012). Online: Also see the debate between Craig and Harris—video and text available here:
     [38]Paul Copan “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives, Angus J. L. Menuge, ed. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 3—bold-face added. Note: pagination is to online version.  Copan is quoting Erik J. Wielenberg “Objective Morality and the Nature of Reality” American Theological Inquiry3 (2010), 79.
     [39]Wielenberg has written “I offer my own slogan in its place: From valuelessness, value sometimes comes.”  Erik J. Wielenberg, “In Defense of Non-moral, Non-theistic Moral Realism” Faith and Philosophy26 (2009), 40n. 
     [40]Paul Copan “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives, Angus J. L. Menuge, ed. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 3.  Note: pagination is to online version.  
     [41]Adam Lloyd Johnson, “Debunking Nontheistic Moral Realism: A Critique of Erik Wielenberg’s Attempt to Deflect the Lucky Coincidence Objection” Philosophia Christi17 (2015), 362-363.  Johnson is quoting from Wielenberg’s Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism(New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 56, 175.
     [42]Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), 167.
     [43]Paul Copan “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives, Angus J. L. Menuge, ed. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 4.  Note: pagination is to online version.  
     [44]William Lane Craig, “Opening Statement” Is Goodness without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics; editors, Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield), 30-31.
     [45]Richard Klaus, “Who’s Afraid of Science? Why Science Needs God!”—Notes from Deep Faith Apologetics Conference (October 20, 2018)—online:
     [46]Richard Klaus, “Why Science Needs God: Analyzing the Religion and Science Conflict” Christian Post(January 12, 2019)—online:
     [47]The following list of presuppositions is drawn from J. P. Moreland’s Christianity and the Nature of Science(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1989), 108-133 and Scientism and Secularism(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2018), 57-69.
     [48]J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2018), 75.
     [49]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 135.  Also see James Anderson’s essay, “The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God: The Theological Foundation of Modern Science” Reformed Faith & Practicevol. 4, issue 1 (May 2019)—online:
     [50]Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship” (1903) in Why I Am Not a Christian(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 107.
     [51]George I. Mavrodes, “Religion and the Queerness of Morality” in Rationality, Religious Belief, and Moral Commitment: New Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright, eds. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1986), 224.
     [52]Mitch Stokes, How To Be An Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough(Crossway, 2016), 160.
     [53]See Peter Lupu’s essay “Why I Am a Quasi-Atheist” Maverick Philosopher (April, 30, 2011)—online:
     [54]J. P. Moreland, “A Reluctant Traveler’s Guide for Slouching Towards Theism: A Philosophical Note on Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos,” Philosophia Christi 14.2 (2012), 435.
     [55]Moreland, “A Reluctant Traveler’s Guide for Slouching Towards Theism,” 435-436.
     [56]Paul Copan, “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives(Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 4—note this pagination is to online version:
     [57]John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life(Phillipsburg, Penn.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 62.