Is it possible to know for sure whether or not God exists? Can you prove God’s existence using Science, or using a mathematical theorem?
Today, there is a movement within orthodox Christianity that claims to be able to prove, using a very old argument called the Transcendental argument for the existence of God, that in fact, God exists and we have definitive proof.
- If there is no god knowledge is not possible.
- Knowledge is possible.
- Therefore a god exists.
It’s proponents are men like Eric Hovind, President and Founder of Creation Today (and son of the infamous Kent Hovind) and Sye Ten Bruggencate, a Canadian apologist.
They both follow a very tight script, from which they’re lost at any deviation. It takes a special patience and cunning to have an intelligible conversation with these men as they will do anything in their power to keep it from happening.
Personality-wise they come across as mind numbingly repetitive, to the point of being childish and annoying. Eric Hovind has perfected his “pastor voice” to the point that you feel like you’re back at a Christian teenage summer camp. This debate between Alex Botten and Sye Ten Bruggencate perfectly summarizes the beliefs of Bruggencate and Hovind.
Botten: I’m trying to think of a way of rewording this so that I’ll actually get a straight answer from you. Yes or no? You will accept the word of a being that appears to you, and tells you that it is telling the truth, without checking. Yes or no?
Botten: Ok, there we go. I think that’s all we need to know…
I have to disagree with almost everything Hovind and Bruggencate propose. I view their attempts to resurrect the Transcendental argument as a knee-jerk reaction to the advent of New Atheism and fear of Christianity evolving like it did in past, to accept what science has proven to be true, Heliocentrism and Germ Theory being just two examples of such concessions of Christianity over the centuries, which are now completely unquestioned even by the likes of fundamentalists.
Here you can witness a 6th grader destroy Hovind’s argument:
Basically, the 6th grader was trying to say, “You’re telling me, ‘If you don’t know everything then you don’t know anything, unless you know someone who does’. Ok then how do you know that someone who knows everything exists, if you can’t know anything? How can you then say such a person exists, and that person is God?”
I don’t agree with Alex Botton’s assertion that there is no God, but this exchange is vitally important to understanding a fundamental difference between Christians and Atheists, and between extremist fundamentalist Christians and more moderate Christians.
Bruggencate: Since God is my authority, when things don’t make sense to me, I lean not on my own understanding and in all my ways acknowledge him and he will make my paths straight, that’s what Proverbs says.
Botten: Yes Sye, but the thing is what you’re doing there is you’re actually using your reasoning and your own authority to then come to a decision. Now you may be able to, in your mind…
Bruggencate: There’s things that I don’t understa…
Botten: Let me finish. You may be able to in your mind shunt that off onto an all knowing invisible super-being, but the fact of the matter is, from my position as an outsider looking into what you’re doing, you are using exactly the same faculties as I have to make reason. Now you’re making a faulty assumption based on what you’re reasoning, but you’re still using the same tools as I am. Uh, the thing is..
Botten: No, let me finish. You use most of them successfully all the time. Because you don’t trust a god when you cross the road. You trust that reality holds and that uniformity holds and you cross the road based on that. Most of the time, you live within my world view…
Unfortunately for Sye, Alex the Atheist is right on this point. The argument Bruggencate uses is to say that he didn’t invoke his own reasoning in order to accept scripture’s assertion that scripture is his ultimate authority. It’s the same thing as when Christians say, “God told me…” as a way to shut down any opposition to their prophecy, opinion, or life decision.
God told me to be an artist,
God told me the bible is true,
God told me to be an engineer,
God told me to break up with you.
Whether or not people like Hovind and Bruggencate admit it, there are basic assumptions about the universe that all men must accept before you can even pick up a bible to determine if what it says is true, before you can even use the language faculties in your brain to communicate with other humans. These assumptions are:
- The universe exists.
- You can learn something about reality.
- Models with predictive capabilities are more useful than models without predictive capabilities.
Without #1 you’d remain a vegetable and not interact with anything. Without #2 you would never learn anything. Without #3 you wouldn’t survive due to being unable to give a somatic response to an autonomic instinct (for example, you wouldn’t eat when you were hungry).
Honest Faith and Humility
The failure of the Transcendental argument for the existence of God is in getting the most basic human assumptions wrong. Furthermore, there’s the deception that you do not rely on your own mind to come to conclusions about the existence of God. They believe that the knowledge of the Christian God is intrinsic, and a base human assumption, and those that don’t accept God are in rebellion against that knowledge in an active effort to suppress it, taking Romans 1:19 as applying to the whole human race past, present, and future.
Where people like Hovind and Bruggencate (religious fundamentalists) go wrong, is their insecurity in their faith in God. I think that honest faith and humility go hand in hand. You get the sense that if they have to have faith in the existence of God, rather than proof of the existence of God, that they feel they’re conceding ground to atheists1. To concede that ground destroys what’s left of the flawed political argument that Christians have to force our views and ideologies on the rest of humanity. Some Christians don’t want that political argument destroyed, and hence the demand for the justification of political power has supplied us with men like Hovind, in a last ditch attempt to salvage the failure of Christianity in the political and educational spheres of influence. Remember the Alamo. The fledgling movement has all but died, and due to the loss of moral authority of Christians worldwide, no person of any widespread public repute accepts Hovinds position, Christian or not.
Why do I think it’s a political power rally? Because these people are always asking for money for their ministries. They’re always pushing ideological agendas like teaching intelligent design in schools, or telling parents to homeschool their kids2. It’s because nowhere in the bible does it ask or require that you “know” that God exists. Rather, the words “believe” and “faith” are used throughout the entire New Testament. In fact, the ONLY place in any way insinuates that knowledge of the existence of the Christian God is innate is in Romans 1. Even then, salvation isn’t contingent on the knowledge of God. Salvation is contingent on grace through faith in Jesus 3.
In the Proverbs 3:5 example earlier, Bruggencate takes scripture to an extreme. If he was “consistent” (a word they value tremendously and equate with intellectual honesty), they would cross the street with their eyes closed. Obviously they don’t do this, due to their still being alive, so that abuse of scripture is to try to “sound Christian,” because there are some false doctrines that teach that when the biblical interpretation and science or objective truth come into conflict, you choose your faulty interpretation rather than modify your interpretation to conform to reality.
Like the Bill of Rights are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. I’ve made some amendments to the 10 commandments in my personal life. I invented the 11th 12th and 13th commandments.
Thou shalt not lie to thyself.
Thou shalt not lie to make God sound better.
Thou shalt not lie to make the bible true.
Romans 1, the singleton scripture
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:21
If Romans one told me “You believe in Snrocinu”. I’d say, “No that’s not correct. I don’t even know what Snrocinu is. Why would I believe in something I don’t even know exists, and when I’d never even encountered such a word before?”
If I still held up the authority of scripture, which I do, I’d think that this is either talking to a specific group of people to which not everyone is included, or it’s a mistranslation of the original meaning, or it’s a misinterpretation. You know why I’d say that? Because of the 13th commandment. I’m not going to lie to myself to try to make the bible true. If I don’t know what Snrocinu is, I’m not going to convince myself that deep down I really know what Snrocinu is, much less that I believe in it and so does the rest of the world that’s never even heard of them. I’m willing to accept a critique on my state of being (e.g. you are sinful), but not on the state of my thinking (e.g. pink is your favorite color). To accept a false position on my state of thinking would be lying to myself.
Snrocinu is “unicorns” spelled backwards, and is only used to make a point.
The idea that you can use the bible to tell other people what they’re thinking is arrogant and a misappropriation of scripture. You can use scripture to preach to people, show them that Jesus is the way, tell them the consequences of their actions and sin. But once you enter the territory of “You’re telling me sky is blue, but you’re lying, you really believe the sky is red,” that’s just nonsense in my opinion.
God can tell people what they think, since he’s omniscient, but you’re finite and finite people make mistakes when trying to interpret scripture, so they must make room for the possibility of being wrong, and for humility. Trying to interpret scripture in a way that gives you license to grant yourself psychic powers telling Athiests that “No, you really actually believe in God” is inappropriate.
Testing Romans 1 against reality
Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:32
To interpret that as meaning some remote village somewhere full of people who know nothing of the Torah, intrinsically know that if a child is disobedient to his parents, he deserves to die (stoned to death) is ludicrous.
If you’re really looking for a law written on men’s hearts. You look at human nature, you don’t just ignore human nature and look only at scripture. Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Don’t try to lie to make the bible true.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. Genesis 9:6
That sound’s like a law written on men’s hearts. If someone killed one of your family members you’d want revenge. Simple, and intuitive, with examples found all over scripture and in everyday life, because it’s evident in our human behavior and biases.
I can go to people in a remote village, and they’d understand that human urge for vengeance or justice, because it’s written on their hearts, regardless of them ever having heard of Jesus or the bible, or the law that God told Noah.
Hyperbolic Scriptures and their hyperbolic interpreters
When scripture says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and that all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. I know that I have to start with God in order to know anything for certain. You on the other hand make certain knowledge claims and can’t justify them. Sye Ten Bruggencate
When Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Does this nullify the entire New Testament and mean that when the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart that “Jesus is Lord, ” you can’t trust it because your heart is wicked?
When Romans 3:4 says, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” Does that mean that you can’t trust the missionary trying to preach the Gospel to you? Or does he have to preface his gospel message with, “I am God,” before you believe the gospel message?
If you take a reasonable interpretation of those scriptures, rather than extremist literalism, you find the breathing room to trust your heart at times, and be skeptical of it at others. You find the freedom to hear the gospel and believe, even though it’s being preached by a fallible man.
Likewise, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” does not mean that without God you can’t know anything.
When 2 Cor 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” it doesn’t mean that we lower our IQ 70 points, put our fingers in our ears screaming “La la la la!” when someone disagrees with us, or in a more literal sense with presuppositional apologetics, reply “Ya, well how do you know that?” to every assertion someone makes.
The theme of the New Testament
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? Romans 10:4
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 16:15-17
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” John 11:25-27
The theme of the NT seems to be:
- You need to be saved.
- You’re saved by believing in Jesus.
- The only way you can believe in Jesus is if the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to you.
That’s partially why the train of thought in Romans 1:19 seems so out of place. You have to remember that most early Christians didn’t have the OT, and many couldn’t even read. All they had was the epistles (letters), or just someone preaching to them. That’s why there’s an understanding that the New Testament teachings alone must be sufficient for believers, otherwise Jesus left many of his children I’ll equipped. I’m pretty sure several generations of Christians in Corinth had never even read Paul’s letter to the Romans. They didn’t exactly have a printing press. For me to take presuppositional apologetics’ interpretation of Romans 1:19, it needs to be all over the New Testament, like the doctrines of “belief” and “faith”. Following the idea that you use scripture to interpret scripture, you can’t go building doctrines off of singleton verses in the bible, because that’s how cults get started.
There are aspects of Romans 1, like those regarding human sexuality, that are echoed numerous times throughout the New Testament, so I know I can take those teachings seriously, and apply them in my personal Christian walk.
Eric Hovind vs. Atheist and Agnostic Theist
I’ve done the heavy lifting for you already4. Watch from 1:23:00 till 1:40:00 if you want to understand the basis of the entire debate. Watch the whole thing if you want to pull out your hair.
Well, does God exist?
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11:6
In a previous post of mine called The Devil’s in the Details I attempted to explain who or what I think God is. I made it clear that God is not the light shooting off of him, even though he’s described as light. God is not the flames that burn in his presence, though he is described as a consuming fire. Light and fire are created things, and God is not a created thing. He is the foundational object of reality. God is a mind, a consciousness.
There are two kinds of faith toward God, and they’re explained in Hebrews 11:6. You believe that he exists, and then you believe that he rewards those who diligently seek him. In other words, (1) you believe that he exists (2) and that he is who he says he is.
When Jesus died on the cross, the disciples dispersed, and Peter denied Jesus. This was the same Peter that declared that Jesus was the Son of the living God. Peter saw Jesus face to face, so he had no problem believing that he exists. What Peter had to believe was that he is who he says he is, and that aspect of his faith wavered upon Jesus’ crucifixion.
For us as Christians today, we don’t get to see Jesus face to face. We must believe both that he exists, and that he is who he says he is.
Can you prove that God exists? If God is a mind, which I believe he is, it will be impossible to prove his existence, for the same reason it will be impossible to prove that you have a conscious mind, and for the same reason it will be impossible one day to prove that computers don’t have a conscious mind. The best you can do is have sufficient evidence to be willing to treat someone as if they have a conscious mind.
It is impossible to use the scientific method to prove the existence of consciousness. This includes my consciousness and yours.
But unfortunately we cannot merely apply the scientific method to help us understand consciousness itself. Why not? Because the scientific method presupposes an independent observer, and we don’t have that privilege when studying our own consciousness. You cannot independently observe your consciousness without affecting it. We cannot separate the subject from the object in our experiments in consciousness. We play the role of both the observer and the observed simultaneously. Steve Palvina
I think the truth of this answer is that you will never know for certain, and the only way to know for certain is for you to be God (to be omniscient). That doesn’t mean that you can’t be reasonably certain of his existence any less than you are reasonably certain that I’m a person and not a figment of your imagination.
Even if you died and went to Heaven, there’s no guarantee that you’re not being deceived by a powerful alien, or you’re not a brain in a vat. You must continue to have faith that God is who he says he is.
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
To exchange faith for absolute knowledge is to try to remove an element of risk in your relationship with God. I don’t think there can be true love or intimacy on our part as God’s creation without some element of risk.
Through the revelation we come to an intimacy with Christ, we risk it, we experience it, and we become persuaded. Bob Greaves
This leaves us with the idea that faith may very well be an eternal requirement for a relationship with God.
I think that alongside faith, you can inquire about the universe around you to become reliably certain of the existence of the Christian God. The question is, do you want him to exist?
I think that He cares more about that, than your certainty of whether or not He does exist.
* * *
Update 05/22/15, for those that care
Really, I think Romans 1 is talking about Israel specifically, and the world only metaphorically, because Israel was given the Law, which is special revelation, not general revelation.
Romans 1:32 says, “Though they5 know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die.”
What things? Verse 30-31 says “Envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
Because a “death penalty” for everything on that list outside of murder is special revelation (i.e. you would have no way of knowing that outside of the Torah, or reading Romans 1, or God appearing to you), not general revelation, so it can’t apply to anyone who hasn’t received that special revelation. Israel did receive this special revelation, the rest of the world didn’t. For example:
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. Deuteronomy 21:18-21
No matter how you want to look at it, no one but the ancient Israelites were given such a commandment by God. The Aztecs didn’t know that. The Zulus didn’t know that. The Samoans didn’t know that.
“The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.” Romans 2:27
The book of Romans is really a letter to the Roman Jewish Christians. There are no chapter and verses in Paul’s letter, so 2:27 gives more context to the entire idea of Romans 1.
It’s clear by the list of special revelation in Romans 1, the context of Romans 2:27, and the entire rest of Romans, that Paul is talking about Israel. Romans 1 is not talking about the whole world, past, present, and future. I’m not saying those commandments are invalid for a God to impose on his creation, but that they’re not inborn. They are not written on men’s hearts. No one is born believing they deserve to die for being disobedient to their parents, and you don’t have any idea the Christian God exists, apart from special revelation.
Regarding the harshness of the Israelite Law:
“Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian…There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:21-28
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Romans 9:30-33
What every Christian should know before they watch Exodus, goes a little bit into why the Old Testament God was so extreme, and why the New Testament God isn’t a different person.
Cake or Death: How I became a Calvinist, goes a very much into why people think it’s ok to write a story with good guys and villains and make a billion dollars (like the Harry Potter Series), but they think it’s not ok for a God to write a story with good guys and villains.
That’s why they’re also super set on controlling people’s behavior. If God is really in control, God will punish all sin, you don’t need to be involved as his divine police officer. God has only called governments to punish crime, not sin.↩
I’m not opposed to these things, just pointing out the ideology, and their insistence that if you don’t do these things, you’re not being a good Christian.↩
I added “in Jesus” because apparently it wasn’t obvious to some people that I meant “in Jesus”. *rolls eyes* ↩
Meaning I watched this whole debate and another 10-15 hours worth of Hovind/Bruggencate debates↩
The same they the chapter has been talking about the whole time↩