Does God Exist?


Does God Exist? (Click the link to listen to the two hour radio show)

Even the question seems absurd to those that already know Him. I half-apologize for asking the question because I know that to those that have long walked with Him, the question carries within it a certain kind of hubris (arrogance). How can it even be asked? He is everywhere and involved in everything, and every molecule in the universe holds His special signature. And yet we should not be so bold as a people of faith to disregard the struggles of the earnest seeker as they grapple with things that might be obvious to us, but a violent battle for them. It’s too easy to forget the paths that took us from faithless to fidelity.

For some of us, we had that special blessing of having been born into a Christian family and so from the time we could understand the words we’ve had God-talk in our ears. We have always been pleasantly engaged with the presence of the Deity. For others, at least, He has always been in the ornamentation of our lives in the songs of the Holydays, publicly recognized religious observances, our friends with a religious orientation, or even the general presence of Judeo-Christian ethics that so powerfully pervades our culture, if inconsistently so. Then there are those that have not had such privileges and so the entire line of reasoning seems to be stated in a foreign language. What are you people even talking about? Are you all crazy? You say you see things I don’t see at all. You all seem to be hearing something where there is no voice. You are just praying into the air. There is nothing there; just silence. The universe is an accident of matter in the void. There is no meaning. Death waits.

That is a much more difficult kind of person to talk theology with (theology just being the study of God either through the Bible or philosophy). We seem to lack a common language through which we can communicate. Polite discussions readily breakdown into angry debates or muted silence. Religious people get defensive and begin to attack non-religious people themselves; non-religious people often feel that there is some kind of trick in the entire discussion or that they are being asked to check their brain at the door. Really neither of these extremes is very helpful.

If we take revelation (the Bible) seriously, we see that the vast majority of bad people within it were if anything, deeply religious. We also see some of the most important figures of the most excellent faith came from either irreligious or questionable moral backgrounds so that the entire mode of insulting the unbeliever becomes immediately off limits within the scope of Christian practice. Doesn’t it say in regard to dealing with those that disagree with us, “deal with every one with gentleness and respect, hoping that God will bring them to a knowledge of the truth.”? That might be a difficult burden to bear but it does not seem to be Christian optional.

As to the antitheists or the merely un-religious, the common claims of the absence of intellectually credible Christian thought seem fragile when compared to the commanding history of philosophy, science, and religion that seems to be the very foundation of the most recognized aspects of Western intellectual culture. Not that Western is to be inherently prized above Eastern or Southern or Northern, but as non-theism (the belief that there is no God) seems to be a particularly Western infatuation it is best to focus on that way of thinking. Theism (the belief in a God) is intellectually defensible. More than that, it is philosophically defensible. More than even that, to the vast majority of the people in the world through out all ages of human history, it seems vastly superior to any non-theistic interpretation of who and what we are and our place in the universe, if not to our understanding of the universe itself. This, of course, does not make it true, but it might lead one to think that the chorus of voices so intent on singing the song of an indefensible faith have not seriously studied their music. Had the faith of the faithful been as weak as men claim, it would long ago have been lost in the dust of history; as it is our engagement with God seems more vibrant than ever, and this in the intellectual and not merely the spiritual ways of thinking.

Christopher Neiswonger

Atheists Don’t Exist

I do not believe in the existence of atheists. No, this is not a play on words or a trick statement. Atheists don’t exist. By “atheist” I am referring to the ideal person who does not believe in the existence of God, not the person who labels themselves as an atheist. Clear as mud? All people who label themselves as “atheist” are not, by definition, atheists, because they all believe in the existence of God.

I know they believe in the existence of God by their irrational behavior. I am not referring to the inconsistency of their lives with their claims. For instance, the nonbeliever (I believe I will refer to our “atheist” friends by that term for the duration of this article) necessarily holds the belief that we are the result of time plus matter plus chance, merely evolving accidents, the product of random collisions of matter. Yet they wish to believe that these accidental collisions produce truth, fact, and a coherent understanding of the universe. They are an accident producing accidents. As C.S. Lewis said, “It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.” I am not referring to that irrational behavior, though I did enjoy pointing that out.

The irrational behavior I am referring to is the nonbeliever’s inability to admit when they have been defeated. Many nonbelievers are well educated people. They have done well to keep Theists on the hot seat. But when a well educated man — especially one schooled in logic — has his entire belief system completely dismantled and displayed as inconsistent and false, everybody else knows that this smart person knows he has been defeated. But he refuses to concede. He will not admit defeat. Instead, he retreats to his study to continue his search for one — just one — argument or proof that God does not exist. And he will repeat this over and over.

This irrational behavior is indicative of the real issue, and that is, that God exists, they know it, and they don’t like Him. If they admit He exists, then they have to bow the knee. Their rules no longer apply, God’s law does. That law of God that is written on the heart of every man is eating them alive, and they want very badly to make Him go away so that hopefully the guilt will go away as well. And so despite the evidences to prove the existence of God and the inconsistency of their own worldview, they continue to irrationally hold on to these beliefs.

To further my point, compare the debate over the existence of God to the debate over the existence of unicorns. I could just stop there, right? What debate? And who cares? What bearing does that have on my life? If an intelligent person were clearly shown that belief or non belief in unicorns were unfounded and false, and unicorns did or did not exist, then for them to continue to hold that belief would be an insult to their intelligence. If God were just some unicorn theory that had no real affect on a person’s life, as some nonbelievers claim, then why don’t they treat it as such? Why don’t they just shrug and go on?

Here is how this works, and how I know I’m right. When the believer is discussing the existence of God with a nonbeliever, ask them why they don’t like God. Every one of them will present a list. That list will ultimately consist of areas of God’s law and His character that interfere with the self-law of the nonbeliever. They don’t want a God to tell them what to do and not to do: don’t fornicate, don’t steal, love your neighbor, go to church. They will also likely present a number of misunderstandings about God and the Church. They don’t understand grace. God to them is one big meanie and that if they don’t follow all of His rules perfectly, all the time, God will have no mercy and fry them like Uzza. And most of the time, the list usually begins and ends with Christians being such big jerks, which is, unfortunately, one thing the nonbeliever got right. They don’t want to believe in God because they don’t want to end up like us.

Whatever the list of reasons, they are the subjective beliefs of the nonbeliever. Proofs for the existence of God don’t address a person’s subjective arguments, which is why most apologists don’t ever address them. For some reason it is beneath the apologist to talk to a nonbeliever like he is a human being and not a broken math equation. By all means, use truth, logic, evidences, and arguments. After all, we have truth on our side. But after you have handed their worldview back to them in a broken heap, and they break into irrational behavior, find out what their real problem is with God.

There are no atheists. If you were to find one real atheist, as G.K. Chesterton says, you will have found a madman.

Dante Tremayne

Pitfalls for Atheists to Avoid


Through countless discussions surrounding atheism, it has become apparent that someone must be feeding bad advice to atheists.  Since the following errors are made repeatedly, this partial list has been populated to warn atheists of this underground movement in order for them to avoid these pitfalls.  If you are an atheist and hear any of the following advice, realize that if used, it will be harmful to your cause.

1. Assume that because you compare theism to believing in pink unicorns or fairy tales that you have made a good argument.

2. Become hostile and use degrading vulgarities while maintaining that Christianity is an immoral religion.

3. When you are having trouble answering an argument posed by a Christian theist, simply say, “well even if this were true, it doesn’t prove the existence of the ‘Christian’ God.”

4. Assume that simply because you explain a phenomena from a naturalistic perspective that it constitutes an argument which must be true.

5. When arguing against the Christian God, simply say that you only believe in “one less god” than most people, as if that does not require you to defend an atheistic understanding of cosmology, anthropology, ethics, philosophy of history, philosophy of politics, philosophy of science, and epistemology.

6. Make metaphysical statements that suggest that metaphysics are a useless waste of time.

7. Argue that we should only believe things proven by empirical evidence without proving it with empirical evidence.

8. Use logic like it is a universal, transcendent, unchanging reality when atheistic naturalism cannot account for universal, transcendent, unchanging realities.

9. Argue that there is no evidence to believe in the existence of God because all the evidence that is produced fails to pass the standards of evidence which have been constructed from the belief that God does not exist.

10. Argue that human beings are robots, puppets, and machines programmed by natural selection in a closed system of cause and effect, and then argue for free thought and moral agency.

11. Place your ultimate trust in human reason while believing that man’s mind evolved from lower animals such as monkeys and will continue to evolve until we become the monkeys from which the minds of the future will have evolved.

Doug Eaton

*Updated 2/24/09 has done a radio show elaborating these points.  Click the link below to listen

10 Arguments Thoughtful Atheists Won’t Use

ATTN: Unbelievers, Unconverted!

Bear with me, if you will. Consider this text in Scripture:

Mark 10:17-22

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

To All:

Salvation is free, but it ain’t cheap. Salvation is free, but it’s gonna cost ya something. Salvation is free, and if you’re one of the hell-deserving, law-breaking, darkness-loving, light-despising sinners whom God has so graciously given His free gift of salvation, then you should be aware of the high cost you may someday face because of Christ. To those of you who’re yet to be confronted by the Gospel…I want to address you.

However it is you’ve happened upon this blog, I don’t know. Whether it was a google search, an “accident”, or whatever, I ask you don’t turn a blind eye to this. Everyone will be accountable one day. You can be sure of it. Whether you think Christians are quacks, or not, that’s really irrelevant. The question is, what do you think of Christ? Better yet, Who do you think Christ is?

Elsewhere, I’ve written the following. Please consider its content…

I exhort you to heed the command of God to repent and believe on His Son Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. This is not a hokey, “God loves you and has a plan for your life” thing, nor is it a plea for you to “find your purpose.” The Bible says in Proverbs 16, “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of doom.” Does that send chills down your spine? The God of the Scriptures hates sin, and yet He loved the world so much that to those who believe, follow, and obey Him, He gives eternal life. With this change of mind (repentance), comes a change of action (sanctification) as secured and guaranteed by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you know not Christ yet, cast yourself at His mercy, for it is your only hope. No trust can you put in yourself or your goodness, for you have none. You are deserving of only hell, but God will never cast out any who come to Him.

How’s this to be done? Well, in Scripture God has given us a revelation of Himself and His standards. Originally God had made a covenant with Adam, the first of all mankind and, thus, the Representative of all mankind. Adam was created upright and holy, but when he sinned he plunged himself and all mankind (remember, he was our representative) into sin.

In this regard, all men are born spiritually dead and separated from God. Yet, even right after Adam’s transgression, God spoke of His plan of redemption. The seed of woman (Christ) would crush the head of the serpent (Satan). Genesis 3:15 is the first time the Gospel is preached. You can read more about this here. Moving on to the crux of the matter. After Adam introduces sin into the world, mankind has the sinful misconception that somehow he can earn salvation with God. “Well, I’m better than so and so.” or “My good outweighs my bad”, etc. This is the mentality of our natures.

As has been noted, God had a standard with Adam. Adam broke covenant. There is a portion of Scripture which sums up all the law/standards of God. In this portion of Scripture we learn about the 10 Commandments. Guess what? We’ve all broken at least one of them. Repeatedly. Now, if this is God’s standard for “getting in”, then where does that leave all of mankind? On the way to hell. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. So, if you answered “No” to question 1, you’re in the same predicament as everyone else. You cannot earn the salvation of God. You have nothing to offer Him. He will accept nothing less than perfection . . .THAT’S SCARY, HUH? Yet, my friend, there is hope.

You see, the first Adam failed in his covenant with God. But there is a second Adam. And He did not fail. His Name is Jesus Christ. As Adam represented all of mankind and plunged all mankind into sin, Christ represents His people and has secured all of them into God’s salvation. So, we’ve found that God requires perfection for entrance into His kingdom. But we’ve also learned that all mankind is sinful, thus no one is perfect. Scripture itself says, “There is no one righteous. No, not even one.” and “. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” If we are to stop here, there is no hope for any of mankind. But the Gospel means “good news” and it doesn’t stop here! We can never be perfect, thus we cannot merit God’s favor or salvation. But Christ can and did! He is the second Adam, the one Who crushed the head of the Serpent.

He came into this world, without sin, lived a perfect life according to the law of God, and then fulfilled all righteousness to be a sacrifice for those who would believe on Him, satisfying God’s requirement of perfection on their behalf! What glorious news! Do you believe yourself to be hopelessly lost and destitute, and sinful? Do you realize that in your wickedness you have offended the thrice holy God who knows no sin? Do you want entrance to His kingdom, forgiveness of sin? Then acknowledge your great rebellion against Him, cast your sinfulness aside, and plead to God for His mercy according to the merit of Christ! There is no mystical prayer that obligates God to do this. It is simply His offer of salvation for those who believe on His Name by faith, not trusting in anything of themselves, and who repent of their sinfulness, following Him, loving, knowing, and obeying His Word, and, if need be, dying for Him.

Will you?

We began this post with a passage in which a man was not willing to give up everything for the sake of Christ? Don’t go away sad because you want to hold on to something…or even, anything.

Gordon Clark’s Argument for the Existence of God from Truth.

Gordon Clark being a presuppositionalist normally did not argue for the existence of God, but in this case he thought it was valuable. Taking his cue from Augustine, he developed this argument. This argument is also given by Alvin Plantinga in a slightly different way. The following is Ronald Nash’s explanation of Clark’s argument.

Gordon Clark’s account of the argument from truth utilizes six steps:

1. Truth Exists
2. Truth is immutable
3. Truth is eternal
4. Truth is mental
5. Truth is superior to the human mind
6. Truth is God

1. “Truth exists.” Clark establishes this point by reminding us of the self-defeating nature of any attempt to deny the existence of truth. Since skepticism is false, there must be knowledge; and if there is knowledge, there must exist the object of knowledge, namely truth.

2. “Truth is immutable.” It is impossible for truth to change. As Clark says, “Truth must be unchangeable. What is true today always has been and always will be true.” For Clark, all true propositions are eternal and immutable truths. He has no use for pragmatic views of truth that imply that what is true today may be false tomorrow. If truth changes, then pragmatism will be false tomorrow-if, indeed, it could ever be true. Truth itself is unaffected by the fact that sentences like “I am now typing” are sometimes true and usually false. Since I’ll present a rather long argument in defense of this claim later in this chapter, I’ll assume that this possible problem can be answered and move on to Clark’s next point.

3. “Truth is eternal.” It would be self-contradictory to deny the eternity of truth. If the world will never cease to exist, it is true that the world will never cease to exist. If the world will someday perish, then that is true. But truth itself will abide even though every created thing should perish. But suppose someone asks, “what if truth itself should perish?” Then it would still be true that truth had perished. Any denial of the eternity of truth turns out to be an affirmation of its eternity.

4. “Truth is Mental.” The existence of truth presupposes the existence of minds. “Without a mind, truth could not exist. The object of knowledge is a proposition, a meaning, a significance; it is a thought.” For Clark, the existence of truth is incompatible with any materialistic view of man. If the materialist admits the existence of consciousness at all, he regards it as an effect and not a cause. For a materialist, thoughts are always the result of bodily changes. This materialism implies that all thinking, including logical reasoning, is merely the result of mechanical necessity. But bodily changes can be neither true nor false. One set of physical motions cannot be truer than another. Therefore, if there is no mind, there can be no truth; and if there is no truth, materialism cannot be true. Likewise, if there is no mind, there can be no such thing as logical reasoning from which it follows that no materialist can possible provide a valid argument for his position. No reason can possible be given to justify an acceptance of materialism. Hence, for Clark, any denial of the mental nature of truth is self-stultifying. In Clarks words,

“If a truth, a proposition, or a thought were some physical motion in the brain, no two persons could have the same thought. A physical motion is a fleeting event numerically distinct from every other. Two persons cannot have the same motion, nor can one person have it twice. If this is what thought were, memory and communication would be impossible…It is a peculiarity of mind and not of body that the past can be made present. Accordingly, if one may thing the same thought twice, truth must be mental or spiritual. Not only does [truth] defy time; it defies space as well, for if communication is to be possible, the identical truth must be in two minds at once. If, in opposition, anyone wished to deny that an immaterial idea can exist in two minds at once, his denial must be conceived to exist in his own mind only; and since it has not registered in any other mind, it does not occur to us to refute it.”

To summarize Clark’s argument thus far, truth exists and is both eternal and immutable. Furthermore, truth can exist only in some mind.

5. “Truth is superior to the human mind.” By this, Clark means that by its very nature, truth cannot be subjective and individualistic. Humans know certain truths that are not only necessary but universal. While these truths are immutable, the human mind is changeable. Even though beliefs vary from one person to another, truth itself cannot change. Moreover, the human mind does not stand in judgment of truth: rather truth judges our reason. While we often judge other human minds (as when we say, for example, that someone’s mind is not a keen as it should be), we do not judge truth. If truth and the human mind were equal, truth could not be eternal and immutable since the human mind is finite, mutable, and subject to error. Therefore, truth must transcend human reason; truth must be superior to any individual human mind as well as to the sum total of human minds. From this it follows that there must be a mind higher than the human mind in which truth resides.

6. “Truth is God.” There must be an ontological ground for truth. But the ground of truth cannot be anything perishable or contingent. Since truth is eternal and immutable, it must exist in an eternal Mind. And since only God possesses these attributes, God must be truth.

“Is all this any more than the assertion that there is an eternal, immutable Mind, as Supreme Reason, a personal, living God? The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thoughts of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind. Since further, God’s mind is God, we may… say, we have a vision of God.”

Therefore, When human beings know truth, we also know something of God’s nature. There is a sinse in which all knowledge is a knowledge of God.

-Ronald Nash – Faith and Reason – p. 161

On Darwinism’s Attempt to Preserve What it Destroys

“Darwin himself wrestled repeatedly with the skeptical consequences of his theory. Just one example: “With me,” he wrote, “the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.” (Significantly, Darwin always expressed this “horrid doubt” after admitting an insistent “inward conviction” that the universe is not the result of chance after all, but requires an intelligent Mind, a First Cause. In other words, he applied his skepticism selectively: when reason led to a theistic conclusion, he argued that evolution discredits reason. But since reason was also the means by which he constructed his own theory, he was cutting off the branch he was sitting on.)

Similar self-contradictions are endemic in the literature on evolutionary psychology. A prime example is The Moral Animal, where Robert Wright spends hundreds of pages describing human beings as “robots,” “puppets,” “machines,” and “Swiss Watches” programmed by natural selection. He insists that “biochemistry governs all” and that free will is sheer illusion. He unmasks our noblest moral impulses as survival “stratagems of the genes,” as mere devices “switched on and off in keeping with self—interest.” But then, in a grand leap of faith, Wright insists that we are now free to choose our moral ideals, and he urges us to practice “brotherly love” and “boundless empathy.”

This persistent inner contradiction stems from the fact that evolutionary psychology is essentially a search for a secular morality. Darwinism cut the modern world loose from religious traditions and systems of meaning; the result is a culture adrift in a sea of relativism. Now Darwinism is itself being plumbed as a source of meaning, a cosmic guide for the problems of living. Yet the Darwinist view of human nature is so negative, so counter to traditional notions of humanity dignity, morality, and reason (not to mention common sense), that there is an almost irresistible impulse to take a leap of faith back to those traditional notions, no matter how unsupported by the theory. For who can live with a theory that tells us that “ethics is illusory,” and the ‘morality is merely and adaption put in place to further our reproductive ends,’ in the words of Michael Ruse and E.O Wilson? Who can live with a theory that tells us that if ‘natural selection is both sufficient and true, it is impossible for a genuinely disinterested or “altruistic behoviour pattern to evolve,” in the words of M.T. Ghiselin?”

Nancy Pearcey, “Singer in the Rain,” First Things vol. 106

On Religious Experience: The use of it as proof for the existence of God.

On Religious Experience: The use of it as proof for the existence of God.

Part 1.

Religious experience is, I think, the basis for a very powerful argument, but only powerful upon people that have had such an experience. (This is a complicated claim that I will expand upon a little later.) With my theological background flowing from the Reformed tradition, I would say that all people have such an experience whether or not they are willing to admit it. I’m taking “religious experience” here, which could mean almost anything, to include almost anything that anyone would want to throw into it.

It’s become strangely common for people to think that when they talk about religion, it’s ok to call a foul when someone wants to bring in their religious experience as a source of their religious understanding. As if there were some kind of cheating involved in drawing personal experience into the debate on God, the world, and everything. In fact, the Christian should not have the slightest caution in using their experiences as part of the content to be considered, and more than this, useful in expressing to other people what they think and why they think it. It’s doubtful that we can even talk about these things intelligibly without doing so. But as popular as the tactic of making an artificial rule against it is, and as beneficial for those that take a negative position on the existence of God, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious rational problem with using religious experience as a proof for the existence of God.

Modern theologies might want to narrow it down to some kind of direct existential euphoria, or an outbreak of tongue speaking, or a vision of angels but none of this kind of thing seems essential to claims of religious experience. First, because the vast majority of religious peoples have never claimed to have those kinds of experiences. Second, because the traditional theologies tend to hold the innate knowledge of God as primary and the ground of any subsequent experience. It’s not the flavor of religious experience itself that implies the existence of God but the mere fact of it’s presence in the experiencing person.

Counter to many, I would say that not only do all people have some such experience but that for some the level of knowing can rise to the level of certainty. “Certainty” is considered a dirty word in current theological and philosophical circles. Any claim of certainty is accompanied by that accusation of Cartesian rationalism, Foundationalism, Modernism and any number of other crimes against humanity. To say “I know”, is immediately followed by the question of “How so?” And answering the ‘how so’ for the ‘I know’ is notoriously difficult.

But this is a necessary Christian claim that I’m not willing to part with, even in light of the arguments raised against it by well meaning Christians and obnoxious aggressors. Christian theology by its very nature, and as an implication of the Christian claims of having received Special Revelation, includes the possibility of certainty (as opposed to only probability or mere psychological persuasion). It also includes what the theologians have called “assurance” as the normal state of a person’s faith, but that’s a different subject. For the Christian to say that it is impossible to know with certainty that God exists or to know with certainty that they are reconciled to a loving relationship with Him, instead of it simply being rare or un-provable to others seems to import some limitations and definitions of “knowing” that are irreconcilable with a solidly Christian understanding of these things.

That “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free”, seems by all reasonable accounts to presume the idea of really, and not just probably or possibly, knowing the Truth. To take it as saying that “The truth will probably set you free” or “what is probably true could possibly set you free” just doesn’t carry the same desperate magnitude of importance implied by the statement. The tragic attempts to dismiss the idea of really knowing the truth as the effect of a Modernist or “Cartesian” influence in theology are not only weakly argued in the studies on the subject but also against the grain of historical theology (Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc). Something being un-provable to others does not imply that it is not known, and does not imply that it is not known with certainty. It simply means that it is un-provable in a way that is philosophically justifiable for others who do not know it. But theology is not dependant upon philosophy; philosophy is dependant upon theology.

Part 2.

The confusion seems to come in when religious experience is used as a Public instead of a Private claim. The distinction between Public and Private claims to knowledge is sometimes insufferably difficult, but there is no avoiding the fact that if one person has had an experience that they cannot communicate publicly, it does nothing to undermine their personal use of said experience as a source of their own knowledge and understanding of themselves and their place in the world. Public examination is not only unnecessary to such knowing but in some cases might be practically impossible.

I can imagine Einstein telling me, “I just had the experience of thinking the equation E=mc2. I’ve solved the general problem of relativity in time/space relationships.” And I would say, “Yeah… sure.” And he would say, “No, really… Just look at these equations.” And as he sprawled out page after page of calculations my comprehension would grow increasingly dim until I would need to decide that he were either 1) insane, 2) a genius, or 3) just saying things that I have no ability to understand within the limited purview of my own experience.

Now I, of course, might have my own experiential content that Einstein could never understand, but without more insight into his personal experience that depending upon many factors, like the fact that I failed calculus, might bar me from such an understanding, his lack of insight into my human experience should in no way be viewed by me as an argument against my experience.

It might sound like this kind of argument could justify almost any absurd claim but it is really not meant to have that kind of broad an applicability. There are many things that should be counted by me as an argument against the veracity and intelligibility of my own experience against myself. But self interpretation being the most needful kind, and the logic and philosophy books being stuffed with information on this kind of thing, I’ll bypass the subject to stay in focus.

But if I know that I have had a religious experience, and I have no rational basis for doubting such an experience, then I would actually be irrational to not believe that I’ve had such an experience. It is an act against myself. It would be an act against interest. It would be a crime against reason. This seems easier than it is because I am not really defining said experience, but in general, this applies to most of our everyday experiences and is not amazingly different. People that doubt their own personal experiences should need very persuasive evidence to the contrary in order to be considered reasonable people. How could someone intelligibly live that way? Doubting themselves at every turn? It’s one thing to say that we have not experienced something so we don’t accept it but entirely another to say that we have experienced something in which we do not believe. The world needs to be something like what we experience it to be or everything becomes incoherent. The strange thing is not when people understand that having a religious experience entails something real that must be correspondent to the experience, but when against sound reason they convince themselves to accept an understanding of the world that makes the experience they had impossible to have had.

To simply presuppose that people really don’t have such experiences seems to be begging the question. How do you know that they don’t? By having had experiences of people not having such experiences? We could ask which one seems more likely… that someone would have an experience of God or that they would be crazy? Well, if we aren’t being irrational by guessing before we begin thinking about the issue that people don’t have such experiences, it would seem they are equally likely. Let me explain. There are not really any a priori (prior to experience) odds on people being crazy. It’s an empirically observable phenomena that we measure by certain chosen criteria. If the basic criteria include a measurement of some standard that we will call “normal” then anything outside of normal could be considered crazy.

So then you need to decide whether or not you are crazy, which is very difficult. First because crazy people are rarely coherent enough to understand that they are crazy. And second, because there doesn’t seem to be any rational basis for saying that crazy people can’t have experiences of God (maybe they are better at it?). You could be crazy as a loon and really have a religious experience. They don’t seem to be mutually exclusive and this makes the distinction unhelpful.

Someone could say that anyone that has a religious experience is crazy and so simply define it into the abnormal category, but since most of the people that have ever lived seem to have had one (on an almost universal scale and this includes the claims of many current atheists), and since crazy seems to be judged by normal and abnormal psychological functioning based loosely upon what the majority judges the abnormal case to be, this would seem to imply that anyone that hasn’t, or at least claims to have not had a religious experience is crazy. And we wouldn’t want to say that. I don’t really think that those who say they have never had any kind of religious experience are crazy, and not only that but I would be glad to say that many of them are stable productive members of society in spite of their deficiency. But if you rule out crazy and have no overwhelming reason to doubt your own personal experience, then you seem to be stuck with the fact that you have had a religious experience, whether you like it or not.

So one either needs to show why there is religious experience without religion, which seems incoherent, or why we should be inclined to deny what for some of us includes the vast majority of our experiences, or why they should be taken as false in the light of some one else’s claimed non-experience? Atheists commonly claim their only problem with Theism is a lack of perceived evidence that shows that we should not believe in God. But it is very confusing to say that someone else’s Private absence of experience, without any Public proof to the contrary that would cause us to doubt our Private experience, should be taken as proof of the falsehood our own experience. In a court room, for example, the first hand testimony is always preferred to the testimony of someone who didn’t see anything. This would be like having a murder trial and allowing the defense to bring in witnesses that weren’t there to give testimony that they didn’t see anything. The courts don’t even allow that kind of testimony; they call it “irrelevant” and ban it from the proceedings. An experience outweighs a non-experience in the measurement of evidences. What someone does not see is simply not as persuasive as what someone does.

Part 3.

This is a proof of the truth of the Christian religion, but a Private proof. I’m not saying that there might not be many kinds of observable public effects from such a thing happening, but the thing itself, is not publicly producible. You can’t show it to somebody or take it into a laboratory for testing. That doesn’t mean that you can’t tell people about it, and for some people, depending upon many factors about you, the kind of person you are, and the kind of experience that you claim to have had, some people might actually take your testimony as evidence for the truth of your claim. But it in itself is not Public.

Now, Christians make a great deal of their Publicly producible evidences. There are the historical manuscripts, the witnesses, testimony of the kind we still use in courts today, distinguished and time honored philosophical arguments, the shown self-contradictions and incoherence of worldviews contrary to the Christian one, the verification and falsifications from the hard sciences in the light of current evidence (as changeable as scientific theories might be), the necessity of beginning with certain apparently theistic axioms in order to escape skepticism and nonsense, the unintelligibility of non-theistic moral systems and the claims rooted in them, the unthinkable consequences of materialism and nihilism as ways of being, the existential necessity and psychological need as indicative of theism being most obvious to the kind of thing we find ourselves to be, and whatever other things philosophers and theologians have used as public evidence for and refutation of the denial of Christian claims. And all of these have their place but without specifically Christian religious experience they might rise to the level of making it more probable than not that Christianity is true, which is sufficient for belief and rationally persuasive, but religious experience is what brings all of these facts into focus in the category of “knowing”. In fact, the work of faith in the heart of the Christian by the Spirit of God seems to be the reason that we spend so much time producing evidences in defense of the faith. We already know; now what we know needs to be protected from the belligerent and the confused.

I’ve had a conversation with a professional Christian philosopher who is known for giving arguments for the existence of God. I asked him if he was certain that God exists. He said that we can’t have apodictic certainty about anything but that he is quite persuaded that it is so. So I of course asked if that was because he thought it was impossible to be certain because of some problem inherent in the process of knowing or because he thought that the Christian religion taught this. He said that he didn’t understand the question. So we went over all of the places in the Scriptures where people seemed to be much more than rationally persuaded or that their understanding did not seem to be that it was just more probable than not that God existed: Adam in the Garden, Job in conversation with God, Moses who spoke with God face to face, Elisha with the resurrections of the dead, Paul who was taken up into Heaven, Jesus in his perfect humanity, and this implies certain things about our final state, of how we will be in the communal presence of God Himself. This doesn’t seem to imply that we can by nature only have a very probable belief that God exists, and leaves open the door for God Himself to bring our knowledge to the level of Certainty.

He said that while that might be so, we can’t presume the theological data as a ground for the interpretation of the philosophical data. We would need to prove such from philosophy alone and then if the answer is more probable than not, we can use the Bible from there. So I explained that even if he only believed the Scriptures were true by the rational obligation flowing from it being more probable than not (which I consider to be a poor position to take), then if the Scriptures are taken as true and they teach that God can give someone certainty, then to tell people that they can’t be certain that there is a God stands against what he had just said as to the rational necessity of believing what is most probable. To use a shorthanded argument, if we are compelled to believe there is a God, and belief in God compels one to believe that the Scriptures are true, and the Scriptures teach that it is possible to know that God exists with certainty, then we are rationally compelled to believe that it is possible to be certain that there is a God. Which implies that the beginning premise that we cannot know anything beyond the level of probability is incoherent when applied to Christian theology, because if it is true, it is probably false, and according to his own criteria, what is probably false cannot be reasonably believed.

It is really the method that holds all of the problems. The exclusion of one aspect of human experience in favor of another lesser aspect instead of taking religious experience as just as reasonably part of the whole is an exclusion that lacks a rational basis. In adopting insufficient principles for the interpretation of human experience, be they scientific, or philosophical, or even theological, we can easily bind ourselves in epistemological or metaphysical confusions that in order to reconcile our understanding of ourselves and the world in a coherent way, we are trapped saying things that in a further analysis don’t make any sense. We simply have no compelling reasons to deny the possibility that an all-powerful, infinitely wise God, cannot bring our recognition of His existence to the level of Certainty if He chooses to do so.

Part 4.

This leads us to the most powerful refutation for religious experience that the Christian contends with, as it is a refutation not of the religious experience itself, which we claim as universal, but as to the veracity of the Content. There is no religious experience without content, of course, because an experience without content is self contradiction. An experience must by definition be an experience of something. Which is proven by the fact that if we say that we had an experience of nothing it doesn’t seem to mean anything. For any claimed religious experience the Christian has certain external controls on what might be claimed and what is to be forcefully denied to be true content. In other words, it is not all reducible to personal experience and claimed to be true simply because it has been experienced. Christian religious experience is measured carefully by a common Special Revelation (the Bible; the Holy Scriptures) which is held out as an objective source of measurement for claims of religious experience.

The Apostle Paul wrote this on the universality of religious experience…

“Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” Romans chapter 1:19-22

And so, though we take a bare religious experience to be universal, we do not at all take all religious experience to imply either a good nature in the person having the experience or a good effect arising from the experience. At least within the context of historic Christian theology, universality of religious experience, here spoken of as a universal knowledge of God’s existence and His attributes, doesn’t work out as always bringing a great deal of benefit. There is no 1:1 correlation between the experience and a positive response from those who have the experience. As a matter of fact, some seem even worse off for the fact of their religious experience.

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” Romans 1:28-29.

Paul even goes so far as to warn the Christians in ancient Galatia, that if an “Angel from Heaven” seems to be bringing them a different message that the one that they first heard, that they have a duty to disregard the message…

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-8.

In the histories of Israel found in the scriptures the common theme was for the nations around them to be flush with religious experience, and with a variety of gods as the distorted consequence of the fact, and in this to express a remarkable capacity for doing evil, including even the sacrifice of their own children to their gods in exchange for power and favor. The way these things are measured within historic Christian orthodoxy is that the fact of religious experience is not equatable with the truthfulness of religious claims framed within the context of that religious experience. Christian theology validates the fact of religious experience but not the truthfulness or goodness of the religious experience itself, nor the effect that seems to be caused by the experience.

And so, Christians are slow to deny religious experience to the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and whoever else we might have in mind, but that shouldn’t be misunderstood as a validation of either their faith or practice following from the given experience.

Religious experiences, it seems, are not created equal, and neither are the reactions that a person might have to them. Is this in concession to the common claim that religion produces many of the world’s greatest evils? No, the evil is already there. Religion in general can be an obvious vehicle for the expression of such evils because bad men will find ways to do bad things even through the very best of things. Religion is the greatest opportunity for good, and so when corrupted, or twisted, or used for power and selfish gain, carries within itself the greatest opportunities for evil. So I guess I do and do not agree. If it is accepted that True religion is the greatest source of good then I also accept that bad religion is the greatest source of evil.

Part 5.

On whether or not accepting the prima facie acceptability of religious experience as a Private proof of the existence of God is submitting to irrationality, it should be said that there is nothing irrational about taking religious experience as it is. Rational, does not mean “provable” by deduction from some pre-existing of premises ala Sherlock Holmes. That’s a common misunderstanding. The person that says “I don’t believe in anything I can’t prove” is ultimately immune to believing anything. You need to believe things before you can prove other things (Augustine). Otherwise the laws of logic and deduction itself would be called irrational, because we cannot prove them to be logical without using them as the measurement of what is rational. Basic human experiences are the resistant to any kind of measurement and among the least provable, if for no other reason than that we need to be having experiences before we can analyze them, which is kind of circular in a way. And yet it is universally considered unreasonable to disregard them as untrue even though they cannot be proven from some pre-existing platform of previous truths so that we can say with authority that we are having experiences.

How do we usually use these in an argument? We simply appeal to the assumption that everyone else is having the same kind of experiences of the same kind of a world that we are, and hold each other accountable for attempted variations with stiff social penalties. Mocking is the usual answer followed dutifully by the exclusion from the conversation of anyone with the gall to question the accepted universe as the one that exists. We demand, in order to begin the discussion, that everyone involved will take as a “given” the things that none of us can even come close to proving but that all of us need to assent to “knowing” with little if any evidence other than social consensus. And this is never viewed as being irrational, because it is basic personal experience and we don’t have any other way to do this thing.

And back to the point…

There is no necessity in a religious experience being Publicly verifiable in order for it to be a clearly reasonable Proof for those to whom it has been given as a Proof. Others might doubt it, but they can’t really say. What the Christian needs to do is be firm in their own mind as to what they know, and Whom they have known. The Christian can have a great confidence in this, unassailable by the tricks and philosophical trinkets that the world offers to replace a much firmer foundation found in Christ. As for Publicly available “proofs”, and arguments, and debates, and experiences, there seems to be more than enough of those to go around. But the combination of Public evidences and Private religious experience? That seems to be a lock that only irrational people can deny.

Christopher Neiswonger

Subsidiary reference:
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1.

IV. The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.