Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind… Dr. R.C. Sproul points out that there are compelling, logical reasons to believe in God's existence, and they have enormous consequences. We've been looking at various ways in which Christian theologians and apologists have sought to defend the truth claims of Christianity, and we've looked at the crisis that ensued from the critique of Immanuel Kant and how some have gone to a historical, evidential means of trying to prove the existence of God. Others have tried to establish belief in the existence of God on the basis of a leap of faith. We've seen a brief introduction to the Presuppositionalist school of apologetics, and what I promised the last time was that I would begin to give you a presentation on how the classical method would proceed to try to establish proof for the existence of God.
And so that's what we're going to begin with this session. Now, the way I like to proceed in arguing for the existence of God is by following a method that in its rudimentary form was first established by St. Augustine many, many centuries ago, and I've tweaked it a little bit using various insights from philosophers and apologists throughout history. But the basic approach that Augustine used was to try to establish a sufficient reason to explain reality as we encounter it. And what we mean by a sufficient reason is a reason that is capable of meeting the task, of giving a rational explanation for the world as we encounter it.
And also, Augustine approached this question by looking at it via a process of elimination, looking at possible theoretical options and then testing them to see if they met the test of rationality or failed the test of rationality. And so what this means is that we start with four basic possibilities to explain reality as we encounter it. And the first is this, that our experience of reality is itself an illusion.
That's one possibility. The second is that reality as we encounter it is self-created. The third possibility is that the reality that we encounter is self-existent.
And the fourth possibility is that it is created ultimately by something that is self-existent. Now, I'm aware that in the history of philosophy and apologetics, there have been nuanced approaches to the question of proving the existence of God that do not fall immediately and exactly into these terms or categories, but I'm using these four categories as the generic categories under which I believe we can subsume all other forms of argument. That is, all other forms of argument for or against the existence of God or for accounting for the universe as we know it can be subsumed under one or more of these categories. Now, I've done this many times with many different audiences, with professors, with scientists, with philosophers, and so far I've never met anybody who wouldn't agree that their assumed alternative to one of these four categories under further reflection couldn't in fact legitimately be subsumed under one of these four.
So to cut the Gordian knot here, I'm going to proceed saying that basically in my judgment these four categories give us an exhaustive list generically of all of the possible explanations for experience or for reality as we encounter it. Now, if I can step back for just a moment and say this, that I have always said that the simplest argument for the existence of God is this, that if anything exists, God exists. Now, that's a very abbreviated form of an argument, and there's all kinds of steps that I have leapt over in the process without stating. But what I'm going to try to show you is that if something exists, then something must exist necessarily, that is, must have the power of being within itself. Or to look at these four categories, what I'm going to try to show is that if something exists, if anything exists, then reason demands in the final analysis that something must be self-existent. Now, let me just mention about these four options that of the four options that we have on the board, two of them include the idea of self-existence.
We have number three that says that which is is self-existent. For example, I have a piece of chalk that I'm holding up in front of me. And let's suppose just for the sake of argument that this piece of chalk is not a Fig Newton of my imagination, that it actually exists, that it's real.
And I'm going to have to demonstrate that in a little bit, but for now just to skip over that part and let's agree that there is a piece of chalk here. I'm saying that this piece of chalk is either an illusion, and it's not really there, or this piece of chalk has ultimately created itself, or it is self-existent, or ultimately has come into being as a result of the work of something that is self-existent. So I'm saying to give a sufficient reason for the piece of chalk I'm holding up to you, one of these four principles must be true, two of which establish the necessity of something that is self-existent, and if self-existent, it would therefore be eternal, as I hope also to show you. So that means that really the burden that we face most heavily here is with options one and two, namely that reality is an illusion or the world as we know it is in some sense self-created.
Now, before I proceed any further, let me say this. There have been some who have argued that all experience of reality is illusory, that it's all an illusion, and I'm going to talk about that and give a whole lecture to it, I hope. But the second principle, that idea that the universe is self-created, is far and away the most popular and widely held alternative to divine creation. If you remember at the beginning of this course I said that I spent time teaching a course in atheism where I insisted that my students read the primary sources of the most profound minds in Western theoretical thought who attacked the idea of God, and we analyzed the arguments that they brought forth against the existence of God and the arguments they substituted to account for the universe as we know it. And I'm trying to show you that virtually all of those came to the conclusion that instead of there being a God who accounts for things as the sufficient reason for any things existing, that the universe in some sense is self-created.
Again, I will explore that in much greater detail. Now, I would say today roughly 95% of atheists who want to account for the world as we know it fall back on some concept of self-creation while others will argue that the universe or this piece of chalk that I've held up is itself self-existent and eternal, that there was no beginning to the universe. You usually hear the idea of the Big Bang or other kinds of cosmology and cosmogony that will say that 12 to 15 or 17 billion years ago the Big Bang occurred, beginning the universe that we encounter. Some small percentage still argue, however, for the eternality of matter, and we'll have to look at that when we come to it in our examination. But for the most part, even those who argue for a self-existent universe at least agree that there's a self-existent something, and then we have to determine whether that self-existent eternal something is a spiritual transcendent immaterial being called God or if it is matter itself. But again, I remind you that of these four categories, two of them are already committed to the principle of self-existence. Now, some might say, well, wait a minute, I thought that you said you were going to prove the existence of God, and now all you're doing is talking about a self-existent something.
Well, that is true. What I am trying to prove is that reason demands the assertion of a self-existent eternal being in order to account for the existence of anything in this world, and that you cannot be consistently rational by denying the necessity of a self-existent eternal being. That is what I'm trying to show you, that both reason and science demand the existence of a self-existent eternal being to account for the existence of anything else. Now, the character of that self-existent eternal being, whether it's personal or impersonal, wise or foolish, good or evil, remains for further discussion.
But right now, the central point that we're going to be concerned with is the actual existence or essence of a self-existent eternal being. Now, again, I have said that the difference between the classical approach to apologetics and what's called evidential apologetics is that the evidentialist tries to give you a probability argument based upon physical evidence, or on what we would call empirical evidence, evidence that is available to the five senses. We know that there is a built-in limitation to the proof value of empirical evidence. It never delivers what we call in philosophy formal proof or absolute rational proof, such as can be found in the area of mathematics, for example, which is purely formal. Two and two equals four.
That's a logical equation and carries the force of logical compulsion. Now, I have said that what the classical approach tries to do is to give compelling proof of the existence of this self-existent eternal being and going beyond the level of mere probability, and therefore differs from what we call the evidential approach. I mean, there's a difference between giving evidence and good evidence, great evidence, and absolute proof. And so we are arguing here that what we're trying to show you is not just evidence but proof. Now, in order for that to be the case, then that means that I can't start with the piece of chalk, because if I assume the existence of the piece of chalk, I'm assuming sense perception, and I'm assuming the physical reality of this piece of chalk, which immediately throws me into the arena of the empirical, of the sensational, that is, of what I perceive with the senses, and that can never get me to absolute philosophical proof, only evidence. That's why we have to find a starting point that is of purely a rational nature.
And that starting point that I will seek to find in time is the starting point of my own consciousness. And we will explore that, again, in a separate approach to the matter. But before we do, what I, again, let me clarify, what I'm trying to offer here is not evidence but proof. There is a difference. A rational proof that compels a rational person to acquiesce to the proof.
Now, let me say it again. A rational proof that compels a rational person to acquiesce or to surrender to that rational proof. Now, before we do that, again, I have to make a very important distinction that has been made in theology for centuries. It was certainly popularized by John Calvin, and that is to distinguish between proof and persuasion. Proof and persuasion. I don't remember whether I've gone over this with any detail.
I don't believe I did if I may have mentioned it in passing, but I want to take some time with it now. The difference between proof and persuasion. Proof is something objective.
Persuasion is something subjective. And somebody could give a proof, theoretically, that was logically conclusive and compelling, rationally certain that a person could refuse to accept. I could prove that if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then beyond a shadow of a doubt, the conclusion of the syllogism is that Socrates is mortal. That is a logically compelling conclusion given the premises.
That is, if all men are mortal and if Socrates is a man, then there is no if-ness about the conclusion that Socrates would of logical necessity by what Luther would have called a resistless logic be mortal. Alright? But I could show that in a diagram in logic and syllogism, and somebody could say, I'm from Missouri. I don't care how rational it is. I don't care how logical it is. I don't believe it. I'm not persuaded. Because for me, reason is no proof of anything.
John Montgomery tells the story, I think is an illustrative anecdote about this distinction, where he tells of Charlie, who one morning when his wife called him to get up, he said, I can't get up and go to work today because I can't get out of bed. And she says, why not? What's wrong? He said, because I'm dead.
She said, Charlie, don't be silly. You're talking with me right here. I can see you. Your eyes are open. You're breathing.
You look fine to me. Now quit sandbagging. Get out of the bed.
Get your clothes on and go to work. He says, I can't. I'm dead. And dead men can't work.
Don't you understand that? And so Charlie kept insisting that he was dead. So his wife did the rational thing. She called the doctor. The doctor came to the house, took out a stethoscope, listened to Charlie's heart. He said, Charlie, your vital signs are fine. Your heart is beating. You have a good pulse rate.
Blood pressure is fine. You're just having a bad hair day. You need to get up and go to work. He says, I don't believe that stethoscope, and I don't believe the testimony of this doctor.
I can't go to work. I'm dead. And as hard as the doctor tried to prove to Charlie that he was not dead and he was alive, Charlie refused to believe it. And finally he gave up, and he said to Charlie's wife, he said, ma'am, I can't get anywhere with Charlie.
This requires a different kind of doctor from the kind I am. You're going to have to call in the psychiatrist. So they brought the psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist tried to work with Charlie and convinced Charlie that he was being delusional and irrational and that, in fact, he was really alive and Charlie would have none of it. So the psychiatrist came up with a plan. He says, Charlie, I want you to come with me. We're going downtown.
What for? He says, I'm taking you to the morgue. I'm going to give you a lesson on dead people. So he takes Charlie to the morgue, and he said, Charlie, I want you to understand something. He says, you know, when people die, their heart stops beating, so they don't bleed anymore.
So he got one of these cadavers out of the locker, and he took a pin, and he stuck this corpse in the toe, and no blood came forth. And he said, so you see, Charlie, the dead men don't bleed. Charlie says, that's amazing. He said, I never realized that. He said, well, are you sure? Do you understand what I've just done? And Charlie said, yes, I see that. He says, I'm an intelligent man.
I can understand what you're doing. And the psychiatrist says, that's great. He said, now, Charlie, give me your thumb for a second. So Charlie stuck out his thumb, and the psychiatrist took his pin, and he poked Charlie in the thumb, and immediately Charlie's thumb began to bleed. And the doctor says, see, Charlie, what do you think of that? Charlie says, well, I'll bleed. He said, dead men bleed after all.
I love that story because we've all met people who, despite all reason and all evidence, refuse to acquiesce because of emotional reasons or bias or whatever there may be. And so this is what John Calvin gets at in the beginning of the Institutes when he talks about the Scriptures. He believes that the Scripture gives objective evidence to stop the mouths of even the most obstreperous, that it is in fact the Word of God, that the indications or the evidences for its supernatural origin are plain and clearly there. But, he said, because man is so ill-disposed towards the things of God, has such a profound bias against the truth of God, that he will never be sufficiently persuaded until or unless God the Holy Spirit changes the disposition of his heart.
Because what Calvin says when it comes to Scripture, the problem is not an intellectual one so much as it is a moral one. And I submit to you that that's exactly what we encounter when we're dealing with the question of the existence of God. The questions of the existence of God is not an issue that is played out on a neutral playing field. As we saw earlier on in this course, there is an enormous amount at stake here because if we can prove that God exists, the eternal God of the universe, without a doubt exists, that means, and as everybody understands, I'm going to be held accountable for how I behave and how I live. And one of the reasons why people want to get rid of the idea of the God hypothesis is to be free from guilt and free from accountability. So the unbeliever has a huge reservoir of wishes and desire for the argument not to be compelling. So even if the argument is as compelling as God's argument is that we saw in Romans 1 where God Himself makes His existence plain to every man, that doesn't mean that everybody is willing to admit to it. But it is not my task to persuade anybody that God exists. We are not called to persuade people, but we are called to give a reason for the hope that is within us. And we are called to be faithful to that responsibility, and that's what we're going to try to do as we continue with this in our next session.
That's Dr. R.C. Sproul showing us that there are logical reasons for God's existence. But he just made a critical point. Everyone is born in rebellion to God's rule. Mankind doesn't want to be accountable to God. In other words, people have a deep-seated reason to resist the existence of God.
R.C. is helping us think more clearly about these things in his series Defending Your Faith. In 32 Messages, he looks at the history of apologetics and helps us defend the historical truth claims of Jesus. We'd like to send you the 11-DVD set when you contact us with a financial gift of any amount today. You can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343, or you can find us online at renewingyourmind.org. When you receive the series in the mail, you'll discover a bonus disc that contains audio files for the series and a digital copy of the study guide.
Again, we'll send you all 12 discs when you call us with a gift of any amount. Our number is 800-435-4343. Our online address is renewingyourmind.org. Ligonier Ministries has produced thousands of resources to help you study the Bible. When you download our free app to your phone or tablet, you'll have access to a huge virtual library of helpful study tools. You can find it by searching for Ligonier in your app store. Well, next Saturday we will continue Dr. Sproul's series Defending Your Faith, and he'll take a look at the ideas of a French thinker who wanted to recreate the philosophical world. I hope you'll join us for the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind.
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