Amateur Apologetics: On God and Proof

This is my submission to the GOD or NOT Carnival carnival. Volumes of literature on the existence/non-existence of God (and proof thereof) have been written. It would be rash to suppose that one such as I has much substantial to add to this corpus, yet … blogging shares with late night bull session some properties of dialog which make the effort worthwhile.

First what is “proof” and what does that mean in the context of “god or not?” Typically this narrow in on proof of the existence of god in general and the particular faith claims of Christianity in particular. Proof has many meanings in different contexts. Proof for a Mathematician means a different thing than proof for a historian. To what standards of proof in the non-mathematical arena that one requires a hypothesis to satisfy often says more about the questioner than the question. So with that preface, shall we begin?

I’ll begin by arguing that the existence of God is reasonable. Two attributes commonly attributed to God include His status as the First Cause and as representing what Plato might describe as the Good Ideal. Modern science, as well as ancient philosophy, point to the non-infinite duration of the observable universe. Having a well defined age, the Universe must have had a beginning. The “First Cause” is that which initiated the whole ball of wax into being. A common objection to a First Cause, is that who caused the first cause? This can be dealt with in an argument borrowed from High School calculus (specifically the existence of countable limits). First let’s label the “first” First Cause, g1. This in turn was brought into being by the 2nd g2. We continue on in that fashion, then stepping back, we “relabel” the full Set {g1,g2,g3,g4, …} as God. Is this reasonable? Well inasmuch as limits and preliminary calculus is on firm foundation it is as well. Deny that, and you must toss aside most of post 18th century Mathematics and beyond, which I suppose is your right … but it won’t put you at the head of the non-“faith” based class.

The existence in the abstract of the Ideal for Good, is indisputable. Just as “one” has an abstract meaning, so one can consider Good to be a similar concept for the purpose of philosophy. That this Ideal is a concrete thing which is a mover and shaker in the Universe at large is less obvious.

Thus both the Ideal of Good and a Creator (First Cause) are both reasonable and well assured hypothesis. The ansatz taken by those who believe in God is that these two things are one and the same and that He not done with the universe which He created. Physics and Mathematics deal with assumptions like this all the time. The test comes while examining what the consequences of that assumption. Does it work? Is the useful, a simplification, and explanatory? The competing theory, insofar as this particular carnival is concerned, is that there is no First Cause and that the only force at work shaping our particular corner of Creation is the deity commonly known as Fortuna, or blind chance. Both of these ansatz “fit the facts” equally well and it cannot be denied that the second is simpler. However … one might question the usefulness of the second hypothesis vs the first. For the the 2nd hypothesis leaves you nowhere to go.

Modern science, Physics in particular, has been strongly influenced by a pragmatic outlook. If a theory has predictive and explanatory powers then that theory is superior to one that is less able to suffice. So this brings more of the picture into place. Starkly contrasted against deification of Fortuna, Deism (and Christianity in particular) supplies a theory which ties Creation and existence to moral imperative. Two of the objections to this hypothesis that is often touted include the opposite extrema, that a Creator would have no reason in the vastness of the Universe to find man of note and on the other extreme, why hasn’t He made himself known. This leads into to the next point.

Setting this aside for a moment, let’s move to the particular truth claims of Christianity. Christianity pins its existence on one striking fact that a singular man, one Jesus from 1st century Israel, was crucified, died, and then three days later returned to life, spending some 40 (+1?) days amongst his followers. This is not claimed as fable, but historical fact. How do we verify historical facts? None of the readers of this particular essay I would guess doubt the prior existence of Cicero or Cato. None of us have seen verifiable “proof” that a “man” Cicero really existed, gave magnificent speeches, thought and taught philosophy and politics, and wrote stunningly complicated prose (in a dead language no less) for which students thought the ages have been eternally (uhm) grateful. That the writings exist is known. But how do we know an actual man named Cicero existed? Can you “prove” it?

Well, the same methods used to verify the existence of Cicero can also be applied to the life and times of Jesus and in particular to the Resurrection. N.T. Wright has written (so far) three books in a scholarly series under the rubric Christian Origins and the Question of God. In these books, Wright wears two hats, that of historian and theologian and directly addresses these questions. He starts out with a careful explanation of historical methods and what that entails, and builds the methodologies he will use to examine 1st century Israel and those particular events in question. From the perspective of the Roman world, there is less independent documentation extant concerning what “went down” in Israel. But, what writings have survived, e.g., Josephus, do seem to independently indicate that there was an itinerant teacher named Jesus, who had inspired a following at that time. The names and time-frames of the major Roman and political figures line up with what was is independently verified and there to my knowledge there are now extant historical evidence to counter the claims (btw: See also Mark D Roberts recent series on the historical accuracy of Jesus and the Gospels)

There are some problems posed for those who would doubt the accuracy of this event. There might have to be some evidence that in 1st century Israel an “empty tomb” would be connected with an expectation of Resurrection. If this was lacking, and I think or more accurately Wright has convinced me that it is, then a reason for the insistence on an unreasonable miracle begs explanation. Moving past an empty tomb, other posited explanations include that Jesus did not in fact die on the cross. But again, a badly beaten, bruised man also would not convince his followers that he was the Messiah or the Christ. Unlike modern man, brutality and its consequences were more prevalent in everyday existence.

What does this have to do with Good, the Creator, and our little ansatz? Well, first off, the Hebrews were a odd people. Unlike the rest of the pagan world around them, they worshipped (mostly) one God. This god, unlike the other peoples concept of the divinity, was unusual in that he was, well basically, in accord with the ansatz I proposed, that is he was not a thing of and in the Universe, but that he was the Creator and the source of all things (including Good). This relationship between the Hebrew people and their God is not a static one. It has a story “arc”. And the climax (for Christians) of this story is the Resurrection. This singular historical event, which is as verifiable as Cicero, ties the whole thing up neatly.

More might be said, but at this point, for a blog essay I’ve run off at the mouth more than enough … comments?

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8 comments

  1. Swap Blog says:

    God or not?

    Mark Olsen over at Pseudo Polymath decided to jump in on the God or not carnival. Mark, understanding that there are VOLUMES of books and texts on both sides of this issue, openly admits that he did not venture into this venture planning to shift the e…

  2. God Or Not Carnival – 2nd Edition

    Ding, Ding, Ding!!! Amidst a flurry of anticipation and baited breath, Round 2 of the GOD or NOT Blog Carnival is now underway… (cheering ensues)
    In this corner: The Atheists – weighing in with rationality and modernism and skepticism. …

  3. […] Mark Olsen at Pseudo-Polymath offers up what he calls “Amateur Apologetics on God and Proof”. In this post, Mark cites N.T. Wright’s apologetic arguments affirming the evidence for believing in the resurrection of Christ. […]

  4. Mark says:

    LPPB,
    I don’t think you’ve quite cottoned to what Plato means when he speaks of the Ideal of Good. It doesn’t necessarily dispute that your view of Good might differ than mine, but that much like your idea of 2 might differ than mine, Good as an abstract idea (that is without dwelling on particulars) is a useful concept.

    And if you deny the existence of Cicero, well, I’m afraid you’ve backed yourself up to a stance where the whole practice of history is just a useless fraud and fiction. History is not just “hearsay and anecdotal evidence”.

    And I was less trying to “convert” than to show that Christianity (and deism) is reasonable and demands reason, which so many atheists deny.

  5. […] Mark at Pseudo-Polymath offers up some “Amateur Apologetics: On God and Proof”. […]

  6. Christian Carnival #95

    Is up over at Eternal Revolution

    It is large, in charge, and has quite a diverse selection.

    If nothing else, check out “I Deserve to Be Happy”, “Jesus on a Wardrobe”, “Success”, and “Amateur Apologetics”.

  7. She Lives says:

    She Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Proof!

    The latest edition of the God or Not Carnival is up. The topic this time is Proof. Eternal Revolution did a knock-out job of hosting with audio clips along the way to accompany your reading pleasure. My musical tastes didn’t