One curious objection I have seen and heard to arguments for the existence of God is that these arguments apply to deism, not Christianity. For example, Michael, an atheist blogger, writes, “Note that these are effectively arguments for deism, not Christianity!” about the Moral Argument (here). Another example is found in the irrational and rather virulent attack on theistic argument (laughably, they use Dawkins as the primary source for saying that all arguments for God’s existence have been refuted) can be found here. The author, confused about the implications of the cosmological argument, writes, “YECers actually deny the Big Bang, but Craig appears to be a deist.”
I must confess at least a little confusion about these comment and others which I have seen and heard. The objection seems to be that an argument for the existence of God (such as the cosmological argument) that could be utilized for deism doesn’t help the epistemic justification for belief in the Christian God. This objection is completely misguided, however, for a number of reasons.
First, Michael objects in this way in his discussion of the Moral Argument. But deism is the belief in “a creator who has established the universe and its processes but does not respond to human prayer or need” (Honderich, 195 cited below). Clearly, then, this god of deism cannot be the God towards which the Moral Argument points. The moral argument places God as the objective standard of morality for the universe (note, it doesn’t place God as the arbitrary decision maker for what is right or wrong–but argues that God has objective goodness necessarily or essentially, thus avoiding the Euthyphro dilemma Michael presses). It is hard to see how a god which doesn’t care about or respond to human need could be the objective standard of morality.
Second, the classic arguments for the existence of God don’t each point specifically to the Christian God, but serve as a cumulative case to demonstrate His existence and attributes. The Moral Argument argues for omnibenevolence; the teleological argument demonstrates omniscience and omnipotence (along with omnibenevolence, to a lesser extent); the cosmological argument illustrates omnipotence, transcendence, and necessary existence; the transcendental argument shows God’s transcendence and necessity; the ontological argument combines all of the attributes into its first premise (usually); the argument from consciousness demonstrates God as mind; the argument from reason demonstrates the rationality of God; the list could continue. Furthermore, almost all of these arguments show that God is personal, and therefore, by definition, not deistic but theistic. The objection is specious already.
Furthermore, how is it an objection to these arguments to say that they don’t each individually demonstrate the Christian God is the one true God? This seems to be a confusion about how arguments work. Argumenst for the existence of a god, as long as they don’t contradict the God of Christianity, can be taken as evidence for the existence of the God, namely, the Christian God.
Take an example of a case in court. A man is accused of committing murder. The victim was found hung in his room. The prosecuting attorney argues that the accused had the means–he recently bought some rope. He then argues the accused had motive–the victim had recently gotten a promotion for which the accused was vying. He also shows that the accused has rope marks on his hand and scratch marks on his face, which show the struggle which occurred as the accused allegedly hung the victim. He argues, finally, the accused had opportunity–he was in the room at the time the victim died and he was also the only other person in the room.
Now imagine how ridiculous it would be if the defense attorney stood up and complained that these arguments don’t really apply to the case at hand, because none of them demonstrates the accused committed the murder! They just show, individually, that he had means, motive, and opportunity; not to mention the strong evidence for the accused being involved in a struggle with some rope and another person. But to demonstrate the guilt of the accused, the defense continues, the prosecution must come up with an argument that demonstrates all of these things at once! Otherwise, they just demonstrate the other things individually!
Obviously, the defense attorney has something wrong here. But then the atheistic objector also has something wrong. The Christian philosopher of religion has argued that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, transcendent, necessary, etc.; the atheist responded by saying “those arguments individually only demonstrate a deistic God!” [Discounting, for the moment, that a deistic God wouldn’t share some of these attributes.] But that isn’t how the arguments work. Any argument which demonstrates that a God exists, as long as that God is not contradictory to the Christian God, can serve as evidence for the existence of the Christian God.
Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Guide to Philosophy (New York, NY: Oxford, 2005).
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