Thursday, December 06, 2007

Session 2 - The Moral Argument

In the first session, we talked about our need to interact with our culture, and the role of apologetics in evangelism. We discussed the situation we find ourselves in today and talked about how it is somewhat necessary today to engage in a sort of pre-evangelism. I also said that the goal of this weekend is to provide us with a few simple arguments in defense of the Faith. In this session, we’ll look at how to defend the first major tenet of the Christian faith - the existence of God.
There are historically 4 main lines of argument for the existence of God. These 4 are known as the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the axiological argument, and the ontological argument.

Cosmological Argument
The cosmological argument basically states that the best answer for the question ’why is there something rather than nothing,’ is that God exists. If you ask the question why are we here, the cosmological argument states with significant force that the best answer to that question is because God exists. The argument can be made in 3 simple points:
1) Things that begin to exist have a cause
2) The universe began to exist
Therefore 3) The universe had a cause

The first premise seems to be self-evident. When we look at the things around us, we assume that something caused them. I, for example, had a cause. The clothes you’re wearing had a cause - someone made them. The chair you’re sitting on had a cause - someone made it. It would be very difficult for us to believe that a BMW would pop out of thin air in front of us. We in fact call into question the honesty of such people who try to convince us that they got something out of thin air. This point seems to be self-evident.
The second premise is that the universe began to exist. This point which was usually argued against in the past, is now almost universally accepted by modern thinkers. Breakthroughs over the last century have shown without a shadow of a doubt that the universe did indeed begin to exist. So it would seem that we have a solid argument for the existence of God. Yet what one finds today is that atheists who have been forced to accept premise 2 based on the scientific evidence recently gathered, are now making an illogical leap and denying premise 1, that things that begin to exist have a cause. William Lane Craig tells of his colleague Quentin Smith who says the best explanation of the universe is that the universe came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing. And this just seems terribly illogical, denying the basic truth which we all know to be true: out of nothing, nothing comes. This is the cosmological argument.

Teleological Argument
The second argument I mentioned was the teleological argument. The word teleological is derived from the Greek word τελοσ, which means end, or goal. The argument is built off of the apparent design of the universe. You may have heard it stated in this fashion: looking at the things we find in nature, the intricacies of flowers, plants, animals and even ourselves, it would seem likely that in order for these things to be built the way they are, they must have been designed and built by someone. A common example given is the illustration of a pocketwatch. When you open up a watch, all of the parts inside working so well together indicate to us that there was a watchmaker. An example we could use here in 거제 is that when you see a ship, it is generally a good assumption that someone designed and built that ship. It would be thought quite illogical to presume that the ship just apeared out of nothing. This argument which seems to be so convincing of an argument, helps us to understand a little more clearly how the Psalmist can say ‘the fool has said in his heart, there is no God.’ From these first 2 arguments we have briefly looked at, it seems very clear that the atheist is forced to make illogical assumptions, and therefore we can safely say that it is foolish to be an atheist. C.S. Lewis has said that Atheism is the philosophy of schoolboys. His point is exactly this: there are too many illogical assumptions that must be made for Atheism to be true. Atheism is simply an utterly inferior worldview, and we don’t need to be afraid of it.

Ontological Argument
Skipping the axiological argument for now, let’s briefly discuss the ontological argument. This is a highly debated argument and we will discuss it only in passing, partly because of the difficulty of its formulation. The ontological argument appeals to the idea of contingent and necessary beings. What we mean by a contingent being is a being whose non-existence is a possibility. Rabbits dogs, you and I are all contingent beings. Our existence is dependent on something else. But if God were to exist, He would have to exist in and of Himself, therefore He would be a Necessary being. Since a Necessary being is a being which must exist in every possible world by definition, and we can conceive of a world which a Necessary being does exist, it follows that a Necessary being must exist in every possible world imaginable, by definition.
This argument is one which is very difficult to wrap our brains around, since it is such an abstract argument. It is very difficult to comprehend, and so is very difficult to use evangelistically, because we have to be able to formulate it perfectly. Because this argument is so difficult to use in an evangelistic setting, we will spend no more time discussing it.
These 3 arguments, then, plus the argument we’re about to discuss are the 4 main lines of argument used by Christians starting only a century or so since Christianity’s beginning.

Moral Argument
The final argument which has generally been used as one of the main lines of reasoning for the existence of God, is known historically as the axiological argument. A more common and understandable way to title this argument is the moral argument or argument from morality. I have chosen to spend this session primarily on the moral argument because of the relative ease with which we can transition from this argument to an appeal to the gospel. If we can show that there is an objective moral standard, then we can appeal to that standard to show the need for our salvation from sin. We’ll discuss this transition in greater detail a little later.

Argument Stated
For now, let’s formulate the argument. There are 2 main premises to this argument followed by a conclusion based on those premises. The argument is this:
1) Objective moral values cannot exist without God
2) Objective moral values do exist
Therefore 3) God exists

The conclusion God exists is inescapable if we grant the first 2 premises. So when we present this argument to unbelievers, we need to emphasize the point that they need to prove either one of the premises to be false. This may be very difficult to do, because most people today give lip service to the philosophy that there are no objective values, but they live as though objective moral values do exist. We’ll come back to this.

Examining the Premises
First, let’s examine the premises. Premise 1: Objective moral values cannot exist without God. This really appears to be a point which is unarguable. What this premise is saying that with the absence of an objective standard, there is just no basis to make meaningful statements about right and wrong. For example, to say that love is good, is really a statement without meaning, because goodness is arbitrary. There is nothing outside of myself that I can appeal to to say love is good. This is an area where we can appeal to the writings of prominent atheists themselves to validate our point. Michael Ruse has stated:

The position of the modern that humans have an awareness of morality...because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than are hands and feet and teeth.... Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, [ethics] is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…. Nevertheless…such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction and…any deeper meaning is illusory…

If we look closely at what he is saying, we can see this first point demonstrated very clearly. He says that when somebody says, ‘love thy neighbour as thyself, they think they are referring above and beyond themselves... nevertheless such reference is truly without foundation.’
What he is saying is that without an objective standard, a standard that exists independently of my perception of it... without this standard, there is no foundation for moral statements. Moral statements are without meaning, because there just is no such thing as real moral values... he calls them illusory.
Demonstrating this point further, Richard Taylor has said:

The modern age, more or less repudiating the idea of a divine lawgiver, has nevertheless tried to retain the ideas of moral right and wrong, not noticing that in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well.... Thus, even educated persons sometimes declare that such things as war...or the violation of human rights, are ‘morally wrong,’ and they imagine that they have said something true and significant.

And what Mr. Taylor is saying is that without God, there just simply is no right or wrong. Morality is just a convention of society, and is ultimately meaningless.

Premise 2

And so we see that our first premise seems to be pretty solid. But what about premise 2?
I mentioned earlier that most people today give lipservice to this worldview of no objective moral standard, but they live as though there is an objective standard. This becomes important when we begin to discuss our 2nd premise. Premise 2 states that objective moral values do exist. If we remember the conclusion we drew from premise 1 that without an objective moral standard, right and wrong, good and evil are meaningless? Premise 2 is an appeal to our sense of right and wrong.
When illustrating this point, I like to use very far-fetched graphic illustrations. One such illustration is that we know that there is a real moral difference between a father who picks up a child in his arms and lovingly cares for it, and a deviant who takes that child and slashes his face with a knife and rapes it. When we give an example like this, it is very hard for a person to say that there is no real difference between the 2 scenarios. We know that there is a difference because God has given us the capacity to understand the difference between good and evil.
And so it would seem that by reflecting on our moral experience, we have a pretty solid point in premise 2. What we find may happen when using this line of reasoning, is that the person will deny the first premise, but when we show that the first premise is sound, they will deny the second premise. But when we show that the second premise is sound they go back and deny the first premise again.
Or another situation may arise, which has happened to me recently when sharing this argument with a friend. In an e-mail dialogue we were having concerning the idea of objective morality, the point was pretty powerfully demonstrated that without an objective standard of morality, there is no morality. His response to this inescapable argument was this:

You seem to find the argument against a moral objectivity and against morality itself identical, and even self-evidently so. I see your point on this, and although I’m not sure I can come up with a convincing rebuttal, I’m not convinced that this is the case.

So in the end we see that the philosophy espoused by atheists is truly an unliveable one. The majority of people who say that they don’t believe in a morally objective standard still try to appeal to one. This is evident by our society’s hatred of intolerance, and a conservative mindset. People make moral judgements every day, and they live in such a way that shows that statements of morality really do have meaning.

Transition to the Gospel
As we bring this session to an end, there is one final point that I would like to make. Earlier I had mentioned my reasoning for discussing the moral argument today, that it is somewhat easy to transition from the argument to an appeal to the gospel. What I meant is this: that by establishing an actual right and wrong which is found outside of ourselves, we can appeal to the Scriptures to show the wickedness of the human heart and mankind’s need of salvation. It is impossible to convince someone of their need for salvation, when they don’t believe there is anything they need saving from. So when we establish an objective standard of right and wrong, not only do we give good evidence for the existence of God, but we provide the non-believer with a point of reference to begin to understand the gospel.
This is why I feel this argument has so much importance... because it enables us to have real communication with the person we’re talking with concerning sin and the human heart. And that is a good starting point for sharing the gospel. When a person understands that when we speak of sin, we’re speaking of something more than a merely historical concept of things deemed not good for society, only then can we really discuss the condition of the human heart.
Last century we saw the freedom of man from moral responsibility. We also saw more bloodshed than has been witnesses in any of the previous 19 centuries, and some would even say more than all of them put together. We saw the rise of such political systems as Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. We saw the attempted extermination of several races. We saw the loss of humanity itself, human beings becoming nothing more than beasts, tools existing for the purpose of governments t maintain power. As C.S. Lewis would say, we have created ‘me without chests.’ Emotions became merely the effect of chemical reactions, and so the heart of man was cut out. We exist only as pure matter, nothing more. There is no ghost in the machine, becasue ghosts are not made of matter.
Chesterton speaks of this attempt to escape objectivity by saying this:

My friend wants to believe what he believes in spite of who he himself knows he is. And it’s true that our society is trying to escape our humanity, but cannot. Nietschze stated that God is dead, but that it would take us some time to realize what this means. We are now living in an age where we understand what it really meant when the 19th and early 20th century thinkers killed the God idea. We have lost ourselves, and have no answer to speak to the wickedness we see in our own hearts.

The band Autopilot Off uses this metaphor: Some will find their way back by looking towards the sky, some will leave their fate up to these ocean tides.

The Christian worldview provides the answer for modern man’s dilemma. The reason why wickedness seems so awful is because it is so awful. The reason we don’t trust ourselves is because we need a regeneration of our hearts. Chesterton describes the modern man this way...
Every man is that man… (who) walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is.

This lostness we feel is not unique to our time however, but it is our inability to perceive that lostness which is unique.

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