Category Archives: Atheism

A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part V The Moral Argument For Deity

 

The moral argument for God’s existence. This is a popular one among contemporary Christian apologists such as CS Lewis in Mere Christianity. Although different variations of it can be seen as far back as Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) in the fourth of his Five Ways. Ironically the German philosopher Immanual Kant (1724 -1804) argued that if you come across a man who tells you he has five proofs for the existence of God, you can be sure he doesn’t have any, because if he had any it would only take one. So which argument did Kant chose? The moral argument for God.

Kant’s version of the moral argument becomes very influential in the history of theology and philosophy. He held that moral beings will “the highest good” if they can have confidence that within the causal structure of nature the highest good can be achieved by moral means. Thus belief in God is the guarantor that the highest good is achievable. And from this you might be able to detect the dilemma Russell will present us with. Because if one were to remove God from this equation you can see how the whole moral project implodes.

The reason I mention Kant is because Russell mentions him in his rejection of this argument. He writes,

“Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say that there would be no right or wrong unless God existed.”

You might have heard Christian apologists who argue the way Russell is explaining. It seems compelling since many non-believers have not consider the nature of morality. As a result some will confess that they don’t know where morals come from. There are some in “new atheist” literature who aren’t amused by the question in the slightest. Some of them will say that morality is the utilitarian standard of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Others might give a pragmatic response but one thing they are sure of is God is not a necessary condition for morality. Granted I believe these points can be refuted successfully by the theist and in fact should be. However, when you think about it, are these individuals being consistent with their own perspective on reality and the world? They are after all doing what Paul describes and suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Thus for them to insert the idea of God as evidence for morality is like putting the square peg in the round hole.

Moving on, Russell continues by arguing:

“The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God’s fiat [command or decree] or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that He made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.”

Once again Russell offers one of his arguments of dichotomy. The dichotomy is either right and wrong are irrelevant to God, or God must appeal to moral laws which are “anterior” or outside of God. I hope you see the dilemma he is making here. Leave me a comment if you would like more explanation. My response would be that if God was a finite being, such as you and me are finite beings, this argument would have some traction. God however is an infinite Being so that when He says what Right conduct is He is simply reflecting on His own Being. Therefore we say that God is good and is the standard of goodness.

There is no dilemma as Russell is suggesting. Rather Russell is working from the assumption that God is finite and operates at this finite level. Such an assumption gives Russell the impression that he can stipulate standards for himself and impose them upon God from his finite realm of experience. Once again this isn’t the Christian conception of God and therefore Russell hasn’t made his case for not being a Christian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part III Natural Law Argument

The next in the series of rejections to Christianity that Russell offers is the rejection of the argument from natural law. The argument is typically framed in this way:

  1. Nature operates according to fixed natural laws
  2. If natural laws exist there must be a natural law giver
  3. We call that natural law give God

Essentially the argument observes that there is regularity in the universe and such regularity means there is a God who keeps control over nature. In other words if you have a universe that operates under certain natural laws then there must be a universal God who governs these laws.

Initially Russell offers something more like critiques of the natural law argument that wouldn’t qualify as a refutation. For example he says that the natural law argument is intellectually lazy because it simply states “God did it” which Russell says is easier than trying to find explanations. Else where he criticizes the use of the term “natural law” because he doesn’t believe there are these natural laws that exist in the natural world. Rather he says what we call “natural law” are more like conventions of thought and agreed upon by those in the field of investigation in question. I don’t want to get into the critique of Russell’s critiques which can be easily surmised. However, I would like to discuss the argument that he does offer.

Russell’s explains his argument in this way:

The laws of nature are of that sort as regards a great many of them. They are statistical averages such as would emerge from the laws of chance; and that makes this whole business of natural law much less impressive than it formerly was. Quite apart from that, which represents the momentary state of science that may change tomorrow, the whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were, you are then faced with the question “Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?” If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others — the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it — if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary.

This is the crux of Russell’s argument:

FIRST DILEMMA

  1. If there was no reason for the laws which God gave
  2. Then not everything functions by laws

SECOND DILEMMA

  1. If there was reason for the laws which God gave
  2. Then God Himself was subject to law
  3. Thus the God answer makes no progress in explaining natural law

This is the dilemma that Russell brings up. In this case we have a false dilemma since there is a third option that Russell does not discuss.   The third option calls into question premise two. Within premise two there is a categorical error because God Himself cannot be subject to anything external. If God were subject to external laws then He Himself wouldn’t be God, but rather the law that He is subject to would reign over Him. To take this one step further such a being is not the Christian conception of God so any time Russell speaks of such a being who is subject to laws he is not addressing the Christian God and his argument wouldn’t be relevant.

In classical Protestant Theology we speak of the “asciety” of God is an attribute of His Being. This refers to the property by which God exists in and of Himself; without which He would lose His God like character. Thus God is not contingent upon anything outside Himself. Unlike you or me who are contingent upon God for it is He in whom we live and breath and have our being. God requires nothing or is contingent upon nothing outside of His Being.

In short Russell does not have the Christian God in mind when he makes his argument rendering his argument irrelevant to the reasons why he says he is not a Christian.

 

 

 

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A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part II First Cause Argument

A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part II First Cause Argument

In the last post I discussed Russell’s definition of what it means to be Christian. You can read Russell’s presentation here. In this post I will discuss Russell’s first reason for not being a Christian, the First Cause Argument. There are different variations of the argument and Russell provides yet another variation. However Russell’s understanding of the argument can be framed this way:

  1. Everything we see in the world has a cause
  2. Each cause regresses back to a first cause
  3. The first cause is God

Russell’s response to the argument is:

  1. If everything must have a cause then god must have a cause
  2. If god had a cause then he cannot be the first or uncaused cause

The problem that comes up is found in premise one of the response. If everything has a cause “then God must have a cause”. The First Cause Argument never articulates or alludes to by implication a God that is caused. In other forms of the argument premise one is read “everything that begins to exist has a cause”. Notice the use of the term “exist”. In classical theism “existence” is never used of God because “existence” in its classical understanding assumes contingency. Only contingent things can “exist”. God is not contingent thus He at no time ever existed. In classical theism we believe in God’s Being or reality but not His “existence” because He is not contingent.  If God required a cause His Being would be contingent upon that cause and He would lose His God like quality since God cannot be contingent upon anything. In premise one of the argument Russell restricts causation to only those things seen in the world. Because of God’s non-metaphysical nature He can’t be grouped among those things that we see in the world, and therefore causation can’t be a necessary attribute of His Being. This is a categorical error that I believe to be of significant proportion.

However, to Russell’s credit, he is speaking from a naturalistic perspective. Arguments can be made that such a restricted perspective-like naturalism- does not reflect adequately on the whole reality of human experience, a discussion for another post. Suffice it to say, from his naturalistic assumption Russell is being consistent with his naturalism. If one begins his interpretation of reality with a naturalistic foundation as Russell does in his response, then all facts of his experience will be based upon that naturalistic assumption including causation when it comes to God. Notice how different Russell’s response is from the First Cause Argument he sites. The argument begins with temporal earthly “existent” or contingent things that owe their contingent existence to the “non-existent” or non-contingent universal first cause. However, Russell’s response assumes God is part of the temporal “existent” or contingent world. I think this demonstrates Russell’s inability to deal with the argument at had. His pre-commitment to naturalism cannot reflect adequately on the argument from First Cause.

For this reason I tend not to use the argument of First Cause outside of a Christian context that can make sense out of universal first causes. Even more problematic is that the First Cause Argument does not argue for a God who is triune, but rather a general first cause, what ever that might be. I think this approach misses the point. Purpose of teaching about God is not to teach an abstract form of God as a universal first cause but to teach Him as He is in His full triune Being. In any case I would say Russell’s first reason for not being a Christian is insufficiently articulated and should be reconfigured or rejected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Apologetics

A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell

Russell’s paper might be a little dated (presented in 1927) but its arguments are still being circulated today even among those in “New Atheism”. You can judge for yourself as you read along. Having recently read through Russell’s paper I found plenty of discussion topics to comment on. The first one being Russell’s explanation of what a Christian is.

WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?

What is interesting about the answer he gives is that it tells us quite a bit about how the Church portrayed itself and the way in which the Church was understood by the culture around the end of the 19th beginning of the 20th century. He begins by saying, “It is used in these days in a very loose sense by a great many people. Some people mean no more by it than a person who attempts to live a good life. In that sense I suppose there would be Christians in all sects and creeds”. In spite of the fact that I disagree with Russell on almost anything and everything, I will agree with him on this point, if Christianity is the cultivation of moral behavior, there would be many outside the church who would be regarded as Christian since there are many who attempt to live a good life. I would say from the Christian perspective there is an aspect of moral living which we call sanctification, but it isn’t as central to Christianity as justification typically holds that place.

Just a few years prior to Russell presenting this paper across the pond another intellectual J Gresham Machen, who is a Christian and was President of Westminster Theological Seminary before his death. Machen wrote a very important book that is still being sold and read today, Christianity And Liberalism. Here Machen writes, “Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time (that is true of this present time as well); there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a “condition of low visibility.”[1] Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from “controversial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life.” So while Russell struggles to find a definition of Christianity based on what he has experienced, Machen is calling for for precision in our teaching for the reason that a Christianity without it results in a faith that “will never stand amid the shocks of life.”

I think we can probably spend a great deal of time unpacking just this quote of Machen’s alone. However the review is on Russell so I will attempt to stay focused. Machen was speaking specifically of theological liberalism or modernism of his day. Early in modernity some decided to practice the “if you can’t beat em, join em” school of ecumenism (Church unity). The end result was a re-configuring of Biblical teaching that was for the most part gutted of true Biblical content. One of the first teachings to go was the atonement. Once that was out the cross of Christ was no longer the means by which our sin was atoned for. Rather, modernists looked at the crucifixion as an act of love one that we ought to emulate. When all was said and done Christianity amounted to what Russell referred to as ” a person who attempts to live a good life”.

It isn’t as if Russell was ignorant about this matter. Moreover, this isn’t a case of an atheist with an axe to grind. Later he wrote in this discussion, “I think that you must have a certain amount of definite belief before you have a right to call yourself a Christian. The word does not have quite such a full‐blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions”. Notice the distinction between what Russell observed in his day compared to how he describes Christians in the pre-modern era. Moreover, here we are in the 21st century and there isn’t too much that is different from Machen and Russell’s era.

Returning to Russell, he has this to say about defining Christianity, “Nowadays it is not quite that. We have to be a little more vague in our meaning of Christianity. I think, however, that there are two different items which are quite essential to anyone calling himself a Christian. The first is one of a dogmatic nature ‐‐namely, that you must believe in God and immortality. If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think that you can properly call yourself a Christian. Then, further than that, as the name implies, you must have some kind of belief about Christ.” He begins by saying these days are not like the past where people were self conscious of their Christian beliefs. He says that now there is more ambiguity as to what one believes about Christianity. So he offers up 3 things that one must believe which are belief in God, immortality, and some kind of belief about Christ. Interesting choice of words; he is attempting to encompass all that go by the name Christian which is quite ambiguous. Obviously there is more to it than just that. Such a description still falls into the dilemma stated earlier of encompassing those who are not Christian. However, that is the definition that Russell goes by.

At this point I feel that I have bitten off a little more than I can chew for one post so I will have to continue with Russell in a second installment.

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Knowledge Of God

John Calvin on the Knowledge Of God

The previous post-debate between Brunner and Barth-raised the question of John Calvin’s teaching on the knowledge of God. It is a fundamental question that we all raise but also seems to be confused on occasion. Calvin teaches that there are three fundamental aspects when it comes to the knowledge of God: the Sensus Divinitatis (SD) (“sense of the divine in man” or internal knowledge), external Knowledge of God, and knowledge of God the Redeemer.

For Calvin SD amounts to a universal belief in God the Creator. In regards to SD Calvin gives us the following reasons: (1) Observation shows us that all men demonstrate belief in God. (2) The various expressions of religious worship throughout the world seem to indicate a genuine appeal to a conception of deity or ultimate authority (3) Even those who object to God have a conception of Him that they are objecting to. Such a conception of God renders all men without excuse before God their Creator. Therefore, this natural conception of God that is held by all is related to theological and moral knowledge (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 3)

Calvin also taught that an external knowledge of God can be seen in the physical world. This is similar to what Paul says when writes  “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1 ). Calvin does not offer a syllogistic argument for God’s existence in his discussion of the external knowledge of God. But he does teach that God’s attributes such as power and wisdom are revealed in creation (Institutes, Book 1, Chapter 5).

For Calvin, knowledge of God is distinguished from knowledge of God the Redeemer. The key distinguishing factor between these is the former is arrived at through natural revelation (external) while the latter through special revelation by the Holy Spirit (internal).

The key take away is the three part aspect to the knowledge of God SD, external, and knowledge of God the redeemer. Understanding how it is that we come to know God will help us understand how it is that we are to do as Christ explained in the Great Commission “make disciples”. Relying solely on external as some tend to do is insufficient. It is when we realize that the work of making disciples is completely God’s work then we can rely on God’s appointed means, the Gospel which is the power unto salvation, and the Holy Spirit the reveal-er of Gospel truth.

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Theistic Atheists? Atheistic Theists?

These are strange time we’re living in. Apparently recent studies show that 21% of atheist believe in God. Not sure what to think of this. My first thought is we might be a little unclear on the definition of the term “atheist.” Traditionally an atheist is someone without a belief in God.

“Pew Forum surveys, with sample sizes of more than 35,000, found 4% self-identifying as atheist or agnostic in 2007, and 7% in 2014. Pew gets consistently higher numbers than ARIS on this question; there may be a real increase over time in willingness to claim these labels and also some difference in how Pew asks the question. Pew in 2014 found another 15.8% who said their religion is “nothing in particular,” for a total of 22.8% reporting no religion, and only 0.6% who did not know or refused to answer. . . .

Some of the no-religion people report rather conventional religious beliefs. In the 2014 Pew survey, nearly half the “nothing in particulars” and a majority of the atheists and agnostics also said that religion is somewhat or very important in their lives.

More remarkably, in the 2007 Pew survey, 21% of self-identified atheists said they believe in God or a universal spirit, and 10% of atheists said they pray at least weekly. You cannot assume that survey respondents all understand the questions the same way you do.

These answers suggest believers with no religious identity. But other Americans report a religious identity without having much in the way of belief.

When ARIS asked about the existence of God, 12.3% said “There is no such thing,” “There is no way to know,” or “I’m not sure.” These are the atheist and agnostic answers, and they appeared nearly eight times as often as people who labeled themselves atheist or agnostic.

Another 6.1% refused to answer. It seems unlikely that belief in God is an important part of the lives of those who refuse to answer the question. Another 12.1% said, “There is a higher power but no personal God.” That leaves 69.5% who said “There is definitely a personal God.”. . .

And of course, not everyone who tells a pollster he believes in God is actually religious. The religiously indifferent who rarely think about it much may report belief in God when asked. They may also live their daily lives on a thoroughly secular worldview, with belief in God rising to consciousness only when someone asks.”

Read the whole article here.

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Half of Atheist Kids Wind Up Believing

According to Pew, more than half of those raised in non-religious households will eventually identify as a believer in something. Why? Because they got married, most likely. Read more here.

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