Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Demonstrating: "if God does not exist, life is absurd"

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Ecclesiastes 12:1 "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them.”


The opening passage for today's post derives from the pen of King Solomon - the wisest and wealthiest king who ever lived. He had it all - lineage (son of king David of Israel); wisdom (there was hardly any area of knowledge he had not mastered); fame (kings and queens traveled from all over the globe just to hear him speak); untold pleasures and wealth. Yet, despite having experienced (at least by human standards) near-heaven-on-earth, Solomon's life became morally and spiritually bankrupt. He was brought to the brink of despair. Solomon's counsel is a word to any young person dazzled by the temptation to live a life as if God didn't exist.

Review from last post

In our last post, we introduced what I called: "an argument for God's existence from the non-absurdity of life". Reader's can click here to read the last post: 

We noted that in the history of human thought, a consensus has emerged that many non-believers and believers in Christianity assert as a truism: "If God does not exist, life is absurd." We crafted the following argument:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, meaning, value and purpose does not exist

Premise #2: Objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world

Therefore: God exists.

In today's post, we want to unpack this argument, premise-by-premise, to offer evidence that leads to the conclusion.

Demonstrating the "non-absurdity of life" argument for God's existence

As we develop this argument, we need to lay out some definitions: "objective", "meaning", "value" and "purpose". 

First, consider the term "objective". Its not too difficult to prove Premise #2 (objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world) when you think about it. When I say "objective", I mean that which is universally the case, whether you and I believe it or deny it, or whether we like it or despise it. 
When we refer to "meaning", the concern deals with what is considered "significant". Whenever someone mentions the idea of "value", this chiefly is concerned with the areas of morality (right, wrong) and duty (good, bad). The final element, "purpose", is that element of reality that points to an ultimate end to which everything else is moving. 

Whether someone believes the universe and life to have ultimate meaning (i.e significance) or not is to assign some sort of meaning. A couple of illustrations will serve to show how atheists cannot abandon an ultimate belief in meaning - despite the fact that they deny it. 

1. Atheist author and Zoologist, Richard Dawkins, may claim in his book - "The God-delusion" - that life is "pitiless indifference", yet, Dawkins' public foundation: "The Richard Dawkins Foundation", makes its mission to promote science and the secular worldview. Despite affirming the meaningless of life, Dawkins shows himself inconsistent in touting a worldview that places human flourishing as the centerpiece of life's meaning. 

2. Physicist Steven Wienberg in his classic book: "The First Three Minutes", draws out implications from his reflections on the initial moments following the beginning of the universe. In his estimation, since the universe is all that exists, assigning meaning is pointless. However, Weinberg obviously doesn't consistently hold to such a notion, since he spent countless hours co-developing a scientific theory that has become the Standard Model for describing the sub-atomic realm (thus netting him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1979). To say that the universe is without meaning is to assign a meaning to it!

As these two examples demonstrate, the atheistic worldview is inconsistent, resulting in it not having practical application.

When we speak of "value" in premise #2, we are referring to moral values and duties. Morality deals with right and wrong and duties deal with good or bad. To quickly illustrate, a doctor that saves a person's life is performing their moral obligation, since watching a person die, just for the fun of doing so, is morally wrong. It is the duty of my children, once reaching adulthood, to get a job and make a living. However, if they decide not to become a doctor, they're not committing an immoral act. In other words, it is good for people to have jobs. The question we must raise is: 
"are moral values and duties immaterial, universal and abstract or are they material, personally subjective and concrete?" 

Once again, the atheistic worldview cannot remain consistent. Sam Harris, a vocal author, philosopher, scientist and one of the so-called "New Atheists", affirms that there are objectively right and wrong values and right and wrong actions. Harris argues in his book: "The Moral Landscape", that moral values and duties arise from physical brain states and are measured by human well-being. The problem with this idea is when we raise the following question: "did moral values and duties exist prior to the existence of human beings?" If such values emerged at the advent of human beings, then Harris' definition of "good and evil" does not escape the trap he so desperately tries to avoid: namely, that morality is a matter of personal taste or what culture so defines it to be. Practically put, we only need to raise the follow-up question: "who is to say, such-and-such is right or wrong?" Contrary to Harris' claims, we find that meaning and values cannot be grounded in this material realm.

What about purpose? Does the universe, life and humanity have a purpose? Just like the previous two observations, purpose is connected to meaning and value. If meaning and value are derived from outside our material universe, then purpose is as well.  

Again, on atheism there is no purpose to the universe, life and humanity. Atheists like the late philosopher and mathematician, Bertand Russell, asserted that life had no purpose. Yet, he wrote volumes of philosophy that  despite life having no purpose, we have to "bravely hold onto the despair of it all". If Russell's philosophy is held to consistently, it all but begs the question: "why even bother to be brave?"

Closing thoughts:

Therefore in reflecting on philosophical (Camus, Russell) and scientific authorities (Dawkins, Harris, Wienberg), we can see that even among foremost atheistic thinkers, the reality of objective meaning, value and purpose is inescapable. Furthermore, any attempt to ground meaning, value and purpose in anything but God is fruitless. Thus, premise #2 holds in the following argument:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, meaning, value and purpose does not exist

Premise #2: Objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world

When we consider how both premises together are logically valid (the form of the argument follows the rules of logic) and sound (the premises say something true of our world), the conclusion thus follows:

Therefore, God exists.

Friday, February 8, 2019

If God does not exist, life is absurd

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Edvard Munch - "The Scream" -

Isaiah, prophet in ancient Israel,  Isaiah 22:12-13 

"Therefore in that day the Lord God of hosts called you to weeping, to wailing, To shaving the head and to wearing sackcloth. 13 Instead, there is gaiety and gladness, Killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep, Eating of meat and drinking of wine: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”

Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:32-33

"If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."

Albert Camus, French atheist and existentialist, The Myth of Sisyphus

"Here is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is

not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."

The absurdity of life without God

What happens when people adopt a view of life that excludes God? In the three opening passages above we see the attitude and the outcome. Though Isaiah and the Apostle Paul wrote over 700 years apart from one another, their observations concerning the absurdity of life without God are identical. They each saw in their day the consequences that follow when entire cultures opt for living as if God didn't exist. The point of these excerpts is to show that if God did not exist, then the only alternative would be to "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die".

Albert Camus, a French atheist that was part of a movement in early 20th century existentialism called "The Absurdists", hits repeatedly upon the theme of "life's absurdity" in light of God's non-existence. The above quoted work of Camus - "The Myth of Sisyphus", develops how people try to function in a world they perceive as  without meaning. Camus defines "absurdity":

"What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity."

For Camus, the key project of all human thought is to discover how to navigate between the impulse to kill oneself in the perception of life's absurdity and the impulse to live in revolt against the first impulse.

Whether we are talking of the "prince of the writing prophets", Isaiah, or the author of two-thirds of the books in the New Testament, Paul, or the prominent figure among French atheists, Camus, all three see what follows if we take seriously the belief in atheism. In the history of Biblical and philosophical thought, the consensus of believer and non-believer is this: if God does not exist, life is absurd. Such a startling observation can supply a powerful argument for God's existence.

What we're not saying about life's absurdity and the question of God's existence

Now let's make something perfectly clear: I am not saying that lack of belief in God means that one cannot discover meaning, value and purpose in this life. Many atheists and people who claim to have no belief in God are good parents and fine citizens. The issue at hand is not whether belief in God or lack thereof determines objective moral values and duties. Rather, the point made by these quotes is that if God did not exist, there would be no meaning, value or purpose to discover in this life. 

What we are saying with respect to life's absurdity and the question of God's existence

On atheism, we should not expect to discover such things as meaning, value and purpose. Atheism is incapable of simultaneously maintaining consistency and happiness. Per the atheist worldview, there is no meaning, value purpose, causes worth fighting for and value to life. Yet, atheists will still champion causes for justice, tolerance and the value of human life. Someone like an Albert Camus illustrated the contradiction that is atheism: assert that life is meaningless and God doesn't exist, while clinging to life, since living in revolt to such meaningless is the point.

A "non-absurdity of life" argument for God's existence

Authors such as the late Francis Schaeffer and theologian and philosopher William Lane Craig have illustrated how value, meaning and purpose are likened unto an upper story in a house, with man living in the lower story:

Meaning, Value, Purpose


Human beings

What can explain the impulse to spend years at university, preparing for a career? Or, what can explain mankind's insatiable desire to find his place in our vast and expanding universe? Is physics, energy, matter and chemistry enough to justify or provide grounds for the meaning, value and purpose of life?To find such a grounding, one must look outside the universe to it's Creator. If we were to construct an argument as to why value, meaning and purpose are only possible with God, it would go something like this:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, meaning, value and purpose does not exist

Premise #2: Objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world

Therefore: God exists

In the next post, we will expound further on this argument to see how well it does under close scrutiny. 

More next time....

Monday, February 4, 2019

What Jesus taught about scripture - making an argument to inerrancy

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Luke 24:44 "Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”


In the last two posts, we presented the first two parts of an argument: "an argument 'to' inerrancy". When we speak of Biblical inerrancy, we mean that the writings of the Old and New Testaments contained no errors as originally written by the prophets and apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To state the doctrine positively: the original documents of the Old and New Testaments are totally true in every subject, even to their very wording, as revealed by God through the words written by the Biblical authors. Since we no longer have the original documents (also called "the autographs), we have to rely upon the thousands of copies and ancients translations to reconstruct the wording of the original text. 

In our first post, we considered how through the science of textual criticism, we have an over 95% certainty in the Old Testament and 99.9% certainty of the original words in the New Testament, resulting in the preservation of the words of scripture. The first post in this series can be reviewed here:

The second post dealt with the historical reliability of the Bible - with particular focus on the New Testament Gospels. In as much as it is important to know that we have the wording of the original documents among copies and translations, the next issue to consider was whether or not these documents are historically reliable. By the combined disciplines of textual criticism and historical studies, the reader can arrive at the conclusion of the reliability of the the Bible in general, and the New Testament Gospels in particular. To see the details of the last post, the reader can click here:

Reliability is highly important, but, reliability does not get us to the goal of showing why the Bible as a collection of books is inerrant.  Today's post will conclude our three-part argument "to" inerrancy by noting Jesus' view of the Bible. Since we have established that we have access to the original wording of the Bible and that it is reliable, we can treat the Gospel records as first-hand sources of Jesus' life, teachings, death and resurrection. 

1. Jesus taught that the scripture is inspired, inerrant and revealed by God.

In Jesus' day, the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible, the Tanak, as it is sometimes referred) was the only Bible known. There were no New Testament books, since Jesus had not yet died, raised and ascended. The Old Testament books were revealed by God through the prophets in Hebrew (98% of the Old Testament text) and some Aramaic (2% of the Old Testament text). By the first century, almost every Jewish person in Israel spoke Aramaic, which meant that the copies of the scriptures read in the synagogues were Aramaic (called "Targums", meaning, "to interpret"). Other Jews throughout the rest of the Greco-Roman world had access to Greek copies of the Old Testament associated with the Septuagint Greek Old Testament (so-named due to the tradition that the project was translated by seventy Jewish scribes, symbolized by the Roman numeral LXX). The Septuagint (LXX) was translated over a period of a century, beginning in 275 b.c. It is likely that Jesus and the Apostles had familiarity with either the Aramaic Targums or Greek Septuagint. 

There were of course copies of the Hebrew text, however, very few Jewish people knew the Hebrew. Despite various translations of the Old Testament in circulation by Jesus' day, His view of the Divine authority carried by such translations did not alter. Several key phrases that Jesus used to describe the scriptures attest to His views, which ought to inform us as to how to view our translations of the Old and by extension, the New Testament. 

a. "It is written" 

Jesus would sometimes use the phrase "it is written" to assert the Divine authority of the Old Testament (Matthew 4:4, 6, 7, 10; 11:10; 21:13;  26:24, 31 /  Mark 1:2, 7:6, 9:12, 13; 11:17; 14:21, 27 / Luke 4:4, 8, 10, 17, 7:27; 10:26; 18:31; 19.46; 20.17, 22, 22:37; 24.44, 46 / John 6:31,45; 8:17; 10:34; 12:14, 16; 15:25; 19:19, 20, 22. At least 16 times in the Old Testament do we find this phrase used to refer to the words of other Old Testament books as being God's word

b. "Scripture"

Jesus used another closely associated term, "scripture", to describe the Old Testament (Matthew 21:42, 22:29, 26:54, 56/ Mark 12:24, 14:49 / Luke 24:27, 32, 45, John 5:39). In these instances, Jesus describes the scriptures as fulfilled, having Divine authority, without error or "inerrant" (Matthew 22:29) and incapable of failure or "infallible" (John 10:35).

c. "It is fulfilled"

The third term used by Jesus in His teaching on scripture is His often used phrased it is fulfilled (Matthew 4:14; 
5:17; 8:17; 12:1; 13:14,35; 21:4; 26:54, 56 / Mark 1:15; 14:49 / Luke 4:21; 21:22, 24 / John 12:38; 13:18, 25; 17:12). In John 17:12, Jesus uses the phrase: "scripture is fulfilled". In John 18:9 and 19:28, reference is made to scripture "being fulfilled". Jesus' teaching about scripture's ability to accurately predict the future spoke to it's prophetic function. He saw himself as the basis of fulfillment. Fulfilled prophecy is the most unique mark of  divine revelation - with the Old and New Testament books uniquely possessing such a property among any other religious text.

d. "Truly, Truly, I say to you"

The fourth set of phrases that Jesus used to teach about the Bible was where he would either say "but I say" or "truly truly". These particular statements refer to Jesus's own self understanding of his Divine Authority as delivering the very words of God. He would often contrast himself with the Jewish traditions as found in the teachings of the Pharisees and Scribes. Hence, Jesus used the phrase "truly truly" in John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20, 21, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23 and 21:18. 

We then find Jesus using the phrase "I say" with reference to his own Divine Authority in Matthew 5:18, 22, 22, 26, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44; 6:2, 5, 16, 25, 29, 8.10, 11; 10:15, 23, 29; 11:23, 24; 12:43; 13:30, 37: 14:9, 14, 18, 25, 30 / Luke 4:24 and Luke 5:24. In Luke 6:25, Jesus would use the phrase "but I say" to contrast himself to the Jewish traditions, as seen in Luke 7.9, 14, 26, 28, 47.10:12; 11:8, 9, 51; 12:5, 22, 27, 37, 44. 

As Jesus proclaimed His own self understanding, He claimed the ability to forgive sins (Luke 7:47; 12:8) which is something the Old Testament taught that Yahweh alone could do (see Isaiah 43:10,11; Jonah 2:9-10). Finally, we this phrase "but I say" used in John 1:51 and in Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44 / Luke 6:27 / John 5:34.

e. "Word of God" 

The final major term that Jesus used to describe the scriptures was the phrase "the Word of God". Whenever we use the phrase "word of God" to describe either the writings of the Old and New Testament or Jesus Himself, we are describing something or someone who speaks in God's place. Thus, Jesus used this phrase "word of God" in places such as Matthew 4:4; 15:6 / Mark 7:13 / Luke 8:11, 21; 11:28 / John 3:34; 8:47 / John 10:35.  In John 10:35, Jesus uses the particular phrase: "the word of God cannot be broken" to refer to scripture's infallibility (that is, it's incapability of ever being wrong or ever failing to be right).

2. Jesus' resurrection validates everything He taught and accomplished (including His views of scripture).

Having looked at Jesus's teaching on the character scripture,  we finally turn our attention to Jesus' resurrection from the dead. In making the historical case for Jesus resurrection, scholars refer to "facts" or details which they conclude are fundamental to verifying any historical event and it's meaning. There are four main facts that virtually all New Testament historians (whether believing or unbelieving practitioner) have arrived at as a consensus regarding Jesus's life and death. 

A. Jesus died by crucifixion. 

In almost a dozen sources outside the New Testament as well as the multiple attestation of his death in the four gospels and throughout the New Testament Epistles as well as Acts of the Apostles, there's hardly no debate that Jesus death by crucifixion occurred. Passages such as Deuteronomy 21:22 and Galatians 3:10-13 signify that Christ's death on the cross was viewed as a curse. On almost 10 occasions throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus predicted that he would be handed over to both the Jews and the Romans to be tried, falsely accused, and crucified.

B. The second fact that is agreed upon by the majority of New Testament historians is the discovery of Jesus's empty tomb three days following his crucifixion. 

Whenever one reads all four gospel accounts in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20, all four counts record that Jesus is empty tomb was discovered by his closest women followers. The testimony of women in the ancient world was viewed as inadmissible in a court of law. Yet, the fact that women are recorded as first-hand eyewitnesses attest to the genuineness of the accounts (referred to by historians as the "criterion of embarrassment). 

C. The third fact surrounding the events of Jesus resurrection are his post-resurrection appearances. 

Forty days following his resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared on a dozen occasions to various groups, from believers to unbelievers, to individuals to all twelve of the Apostles and to even 500 Witnesses at one time. These eyewitnesses claim encounters the risen Christ despite there being no Jewish teaching of resurrections occurring before the end of the world. Virtually all New Testament historians count these claims by the eyewitnesses as a fact of historical investigation. 

D. The fourth fact concerns the sudden change from skepticism to faith among those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus's post-resurrection. 

We see for example the disciples who were hiding in fear at the end of all four gospels suddenly becoming robust evangelists of his resurrection in Acts of the Apostles. Jesus's own half-brother per Jesus' humanity, James, was converted to the belief that Jesus had raised from the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15). The persecutor of the early church, Saul of Tarsus, had a profound encounter with the Risen Christ and Acts chapter 9, and our accounts such in Acts 22, and 26.

The best explanation of these facts derives not from naturalistic theories (such as someone stole the body, or that Jesus's appearances were just hallucinations, or that the disciples somehow mistook the location of the tomb, or that it was a mass hoax). Instead, research has borne out in the last 200 years that the explanation: "God raised Jesus from the dead", has shown itself to be the most consistent explanation of all the facts just mentioned. And what does this have to do with the teaching of biblical inerrancy? 

As we've already seen, Jesus taught that the scriptures are inerrantly the Word of God. He also taught that God, being perfect and thus incapable of lying, was the scripture's main Author (along with the human authors). Inerrancy follows from God's character (see Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). As we've seen in the foregoing historical argument for Jesus's resurrection from the dead, Jesus resurrection validates everything that He taught and lived. Therefore, by basing the doctrine of inerrancy on Jesus' teaching and resurrection, we have a firm foundation for the inerrancy scripture itself. 

When we consider this foundation in addition to statements the Old Testament New Testaments makes about themselves make with reference to their inerrancy and historically verified fulfilled prophecy, we find  a two-fold foundation for stating the inerrancy of scripture: namely, what the scripture says about itself as well as Jesus's on teaching and resurrection. These twin pillars provide for us proper justification for firming the inerrancy of scripture. 


Thus our argument to inerrancy is complete. We have seen that the words of the original manuscripts are preserved in our copies and translations. We've also seen that the biblical documents are reliable with respect to their recording of history and other matters. Then by seeing what Jesus taught about the scriptures, God, as well as his resurrection from the dead, we now can bridge to the conclusion that the Bible is inerrant as originally given and that this authority carries down to all our copies and translations.