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“God Talk” and the Problem of Oneness

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 26, 2022 12:01 am

“God Talk” and the Problem of Oneness

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 26, 2022 12:01 am

Since God is so far above and beyond us, is it even possible for us to say anything meaningful about Him? Today, R.C. Sproul introduces the way we can speak truly about God and His revelation.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

Today on Renewing Your Mind… Dr. R.C. Sproul continues his series on Christian apologetics, and he'll help us recognize the errors we find in these modern attacks on language. We continue now with our study of apologetics. There's an aspect of basic necessary conditions for knowledge that we've yet to cover.

I mentioned that there are four, the law of non-contradiction, the law of causality, the basic reliability of sense perception, and we've covered those three already. And the fourth one, you will recall, is the principle of the analogical use of language. Now, this is probably the one that seems the most esoteric, perhaps, to the layperson who's engaged with issues relating to apologetics in our day.

And so what I'm going to do today is try to explain what this issue is all about. You remember that these elements or principles came out of our inductive study of atheism when we looked at those who rejected classical theism and listened carefully to the arguments that were waged against Judeo-Christianity. And I said that there were certain elements of thinking that were present in the critics of classical theism, such as the denial of the law of non-contradiction or the denial of causality, and so on. And now we come to this question of language.

In the 20th century, in contemporary philosophy of the period, we saw a shift in philosophy to concern with human language. And in the midst of this shift in philosophical focus came a controversy that's known as the God talk, the God talk controversy. Now, you may not be familiar with that, but one of the things that came out of the God talk controversy was a movement in theology called theothanatology. Now, there's a word for you, theothanatology. Now, you maybe haven't even heard of that term. How many of you here have never heard of the term theothanatology? Okay, nobody's heard of it. Well, that's the fancy word for the death of God. Now, how many of you heard of the death of God movement?

Ah, now we're beginning to become familiar a little bit with it. We heard philosophers and theologians announcing the death of God in the 60s, while what was behind that movement of the death of God was a crisis in the philosophy of language that had its roots, first of all, with a philosophical school that emerged in the 20th century coming out of Great Britain called logical positivism. And in logical positivism, one of the central theses was a principle that was called the law of verification or the principle of verification. And we know what it means to verify things.

To verify, coming from the word veritas, meaning truth, is to authenticate or show that something is true. If I make a claim, then I don't back it up. My claim is as yet not verified. If I can prove the truth of my claim, then I have verified it. Now, the verification principle that grew out of logical positivism was this principle that only those statements are deemed to be true that can be verified empirically. Or to state it in another way, only statements that can be verified empirically are true statements. Now, to verify a statement empirically would be to show it to be true through sense perception, that is, by seeing, hearing, or so on. I say to you, there is gold in Alaska.

The only way I can prove that that statement is true is if I can go to Alaska and find some gold. There I scientifically prove, I empirically demonstrate that there is gold there by finding it and showing it to you so that you can see it with your eyes, feel it with your fingers, and so on. That's what we mean by empirical verification, something demonstrated to be true by the senses, the five senses. Now, this principle of verification made a tremendous impact in the philosophical community for a while until somebody observed, or it should have been obvious at the beginning, that if the only statements that are true are statements that can be verified empirically, then that would mean that the law of verification itself was not true because the law of verification can't be verified empirically. It is simply a gratuitous premise, and so then that school of thought sort of retreated with a little bit of egg on their face, but despite that stumbling block and that obvious error there with the principle of verification, still the guns of criticism were leveled against historic theism with respect to language about God. And the critics were saying that statements about God cannot be proven in any way scientifically because no one can see God, you can't subject God to a test tube or to a laboratory analysis, and so the idea of God remains unprovable, unverifiable, and not only unverifiable, but also unfalsifiable.

Now, that's a critical thing. A lot of Christians take comfort in the idea that things that they say they believe cannot be proven false, and just because something cannot be proven false does not mean that it is true. For example, if I say to you that I believe in ghosts, and somebody says, Well, have you ever seen one? I say, No, but I believe they're there. Well, do we have any scientific evidence of ghosts? And I say, Well, no, but there's a reason for that.

Ghosts don't like scientists, and any time scientists come around with any kind of measuring devices that could possibly detect the presence of ghosts, the ghosts leave because it's part of their ghostly nature to flee from scientists, and so therefore scientists have never been able to verify them. Or it's like saying that there are little men made out of green cheese who live on the opposite side of the moon who have the same kind of allergy to telescopes, and any time a telescope is pointed in their direction, they make sure that they're out of the way, and that's why we never see them. Now, do you see somebody posits a belief like that. He can neither prove the truth of his premise, but neither can anybody prove him wrong because the impossibility of falsifying the statement is built into the premise.

Do you see that? Now, that's what we call cheating in the theoretical realm of thought. And so we understand in philosophy that in many cases falsifying a statement is much more difficult than verifying it. For example, let's go back to our analogy of gold in Alaska. If I say to you there is gold in Alaska, and I can verify that, all I need to do to verify it is to go to Alaska and find some gold there.

Then I've proven the truth of my assertion. But suppose somebody says there's no gold in Alaska, or oppositely, somebody's going to prove that there's no gold in Alaska, or in other words, to falsify my statement that there's no gold in Alaska. And so they go to Alaska, and they go in the first time, they look around, they can't find any gold. Does that prove that there's no gold in Alaska? Now, how much of Alaska would they have to examine to prove that there's no gold there? All of Alaska. Every square inch of Alaska. How far deep down in the ground does Alaska go? How far do you have to dig before you can say we've excavated all of Alaska? And then you suppose you do that, and after all is said and done, the scientists said, well, we excavated every square inch of Alaska, couldn't find an ounce of gold, therefore we've falsified the statement that there's gold in Alaska.

And I say to them, wait a minute. How do you know that when you were shaking that sieve up there near Anchorage, and that dirt that you were checking out, somebody didn't miss a speck of gold that fell through the sieve? You better go back and test it again.

And you can do this forever. In other words, it's much harder to falsify empirically than it is to verify. However, with logic, that's another matter.

If something violates the law of contradiction, the argument is falsified, and that's not too difficult. But because of the problem we have with God that nobody's ever seen God, and we don't hear His voice, we don't have any scientific evidence, as it were, for His existence, our belief in God or faith in God is based on some kind of rational argument apart from physical evidence or upon inferences drawn from that which we can see, like the created universe. We look at the universe, and we deduce from the universe a Creator who stands above and beyond the universe and who made the universe.

And the question is whether that kind of reasoning is valid reasoning, and we're going to get to that a little bit later on in this course. But in the meantime, what the critics and the skeptics in the middle of the 20th century were saying is, since there is no physical proof of the existence of God and following basic principles of verification, statements about God are at best emotive. That is, language about God is merely emotive. When I say, I believe in God, I'm not really saying anything meaningful about what exists outside of me. All I'm doing is telling you something about me, that I happen to be a believer and that I have some kind of emotion or passion bound up with the idea that God exists. But I've told the story of a discussion I had with a college student several years ago who asked me if I believed in God, and I said yes, and they said, well, if you believe in God, do you pray to God?

And I said yes. Do you sing about Him? Yes. And do you go to church? Yes, I do all these things. Do you read the Bible?

Yes. Does that mean anything to you? Oh, yes, it's very meaningful to me. And that college student said, well, then for you, God exists. But the student said, but I don't believe in God. I don't sing hymns.

I don't say prayers. I don't read the Bible, and I don't find the idea of God personally meaningful or significant to me at all. So for me, God does not exist. And of course, this is relativism with a vengeance. And I said, well, we're not talking about the same thing.

And she said, what do you mean? And I said, well, when I say and I assert the existence of God, I am asserting the existence of a being who exists apart from me, outside of me, who's not a part of my subjectivity or of my emotional makeup. I'm saying that that God whom I'm proclaiming, if in fact He does not exist apart from me, all my praying to Him, singing to Him, reading about Him, and finding meaning in believing in Him does not have the power to create Him. I'm simply deluded and wrong. On the other hand, the God I'm talking about here, if He does exist, all of your unbelief, all of your disinterest in Him and that you find Him meaningless does not have the power to annihilate Him.

So that's what we're talking about. Let's keep that in view, that when we're discussing the existence of God, we're talking about the objective existence of God, not my subjective feeling about it. But, well, you see, this movement in theology and philosophy was saying that God talk may be reduced simply to human emotions and that statements about God say nothing meaningful about objective reality outside of the people who are making the claims. Now that's an extremely skeptical approach to the idea of God.

And then I have to ask, what's behind that? Well, one of the main things that's behind it was the struggle in philosophy and in theology in the 19th century and in the 20th century. In the 19th century, following the Enlightenment, we saw a massive attempt among philosophers and theologians to redefine religion, to redefine historic Christianity particularly in naturalistic terms. Remember that the single most important affirmation of the Enlightenment of the 18th century, the principle of Enlightenment was this, that the God hypothesis, the idea of God, is no longer necessary to explain the presence and the origin of the universe or the origin of human life. You see, before the Enlightenment, even secular people were very much impressed by the classical arguments for the existence of God as a necessary postulate to explain the universe and to explain human life. And it was only in the Enlightenment that a believable alternative to creation made an impact on Western thinking, particularly in Germany and England and in France with the French encyclopedias.

Now, not everybody in the Enlightenment period agreed with all of these principles, and the most militant were the French encyclopedias and particularly Diderot who defined himself as, quote, the personal enemy of God. And what they were saying was that we no longer need to affirm the existence of God because now, through the advent of modern science, we know that the universe and human life and all of these things come about through the principle of spontaneous generation. That became the scientifically acceptable alternative to creation in the Enlightenment, the idea of spontaneous generation, namely that things just pop into existence on their own. Now, later on in this course, we'll take a close look at that concept.

But for now, I'm trying to explain where this crisis in language came from. So, the 19th century, following on the heels of this critique of theism in the Enlightenment, which was a critique of supernaturalism, 19th century philosophy and theology sought to accommodate that kind of skepticism by reconstructing Christianity in naturalistic terms. So, 19th century liberalism rejected anything supernatural in historic Christianity.

Old Testament prophecy that was advanced before events actually took place, that was revised and thought, well, that's just later editors reading back into the text their contemporary situations and so there's no real supernatural thing such as predictive prophecy. The virgin birth of Christ was rejected because that would be supernatural. The atonement as a cosmic event was rejected because that would be supernatural. All of the miracles of the Bible, both Old and New Testament, were rejected as mythological accretions into the historic documents and so on.

No resurrection of Christ, but the meaning of Christianity now becomes love for your neighbor and having a sociological agenda of humanitarianism on the natural plane without any belief in the supernatural. Now, this concept of a naturalized religion also was married with philosophy in the 19th century that was heavily evolutionary or what we call immanentistic. That is, the theology that prevailed was pantheism. See, so God is not something above and beyond the universe, but if God exists, He exists as part of the universe. And we understand that pantheism in its simplest form means everything is God, all is God, and God is all.

But now think about that linguistically. If everything is God and God is all, then the word God itself does not refer to anything particular. If it refers to everything in general, it refers to nothing in particular. So the term God has no particular meaning or significance. And so with this imminence concept, there was a crisis of language, of whether you could speak meaningfully about God at all. Now, this provoked a crisis in philosophy and theology, and at the turn of the 20th century, there was a reaction in Europe against liberalism and an attempt to reconstruct the transcendence of God, the sense in which God is above and beyond the universe and the stream of history. And this renewed emphasis to try to redeem Christianity from liberalism and restore the supernatural did what often happens in attempts to correct one error.

The pendulum swings in the other direction to an overcorrection. So that philosophers and theologians who were now studying God in His transcendence came off with language like this, that God is wholly other. God is so different from the universe, we must flee so rapidly and strenuously from identifying God with the universe, as pantheism does, that we have to say that God, not only is God not to be identified with nature, not only does He exist above nature, but He exists totally above and beyond nature. Not only is He different from us, but He is, as one German philosopher said, gons andra, completely different. And then the other phrase the following generations referred to in English as God's being wholly other. Now, this attempt to salvage transcendence as well-meaning as it was paved the way for an even worse crisis about speaking meaningfully about God than the previous movement did.

And we'll see how that rolled itself out in our next session. Augustine said that God does not expect us to submit our faith to Him without reason, but the very limits of reason make faith a necessity. Each Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul is helping us apply reason to our Christian convictions through his series on classical apologetics. It's called Defending Your Faith, and we'd like to send you this 32-message series. Just request it when you contact us today with your donation of any amount.

You can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343, but you can also find us online at And when you receive your packet, you'll also find a bonus disc containing the MP3 audio files of the series and a PDF of the study guide. That guide has additional reading suggestions, study questions, and an outline of each message. The series makes a perfect curriculum for a Sunday school class at your church or a small group meeting in your home.

So again, request Defending Your Faith when you call us at 800-435-4343. Our web address again is Before we go today, let me encourage you to explore the many podcasts that Ligonier Ministries produces.

There are nine of them in all and more in the planning stages. Maybe you'd enjoy a moment of insight from Dr. Sproul's Ultimately with R.C. Sproul. If you're interested in the people and places that have shaped Christianity through the centuries, you'll enjoy listening to Dr. Stephen Nichols' Five Minutes in Church History. And Barry Cooper hosts another podcast called Simply Put, where he sheds light on theological and biblical terms using helpful illustrations to apply them to our life.

You can browse through all of our podcasts at slash podcasts. Next week, Dr. Sproul will take a look at the dangers of a prominent 20th-century theologian's ideas. There is a crisis in the church today, and we must be alert. So we hope you'll join us next Saturday for Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-15 13:34:28 / 2023-05-15 13:42:29 / 8

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