Biblical Justification for Classical Arguments

Since I am Reformed, I have often been criticised for my use of classical apologetics such as Cosmological Arguments on the basis that it has an unbiblical anthropology. The presuppositionalist claims that we shouldn’t grant the ground to the atheist that they can use reason, since reason is grounded in God and depends on God. Under their worldview, there is no God, so there is no justification for why they can use reason.

Further, claims the presuppositionalist, by doing this we allow man to sit in judgement over God. Man gets to weigh the evidence, and then use their reason (for which they depend on God) to judge whether God is God or not, whether God exists or not. But in reality, God is the judge, and we have no authority over Him.

I think there is some merit to this, but I do not think this disqualifies classical arguments. And indeed, I think there is biblical precedent for these arguments and a place for them in apologetic practice.

First and most obviously, we appeal to Romans 1. Here is the section I have in mind (please read the context yourself):

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Why are men without excuse? Because knowledge of God was freely available to them: His eternal power and divine nature are displayed in creation. But they did not approve of having God in their knowledge, so they suppress the truth and their foolish hearts were darkened.

This affirms what cosmological arguments claim: that we can look at the world, and reason about it, and deduce that there is a God. This also applies to fine-tuning arguments. Paul affirms that this kind of reasoning (though not individual arguments, just the kind of reasoning) is valid, and in fact, people are morally guilty for failing to accept the conclusions of this kind of reasoning.

Now the presuppositionalist claims that yes, this is the case. But their foolish hearts were darkened, and they cannot see this any longer, as they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The only thing that can undarken their hearts is God regenerating them, the hearing of the Gospel, and faith in God.

I agree. And I think that no apologetic encounter is complete without the Gospel, and in fact, the proclamation of the Gospel must always be central. Don’t get me wrong, if you walk up to someone, run them through the LCA, and leave, you’ve done them basically no good.

But I don’t think that means that cosmological arguments do no good. Part of the proclamation of the Gospel is that there is a God, there is a Designer and a Judge, and we have failed to live up to His standards. And if we must justify that claim, we will, and we will use cosmological arguments as part of that justification.

And of course, no-one will listen unless God regenerates their heart. But if God does regenerate their heart, as is His prerogative, then cosmological arguments which demonstrate to their mind the truth of God can be an effective part of Gospel witness. And if He doesn’t, then they expose inconsistency. More on that later.

The second main point I want to make is this. The presuppositionalist says that the atheist has no ground for using reason without appealing to God, no reason to believe that reason is reliable apart from God. I want to point out that that is precisely the same way cosmological arguments proceed, but in reverse. The presuppositionalist claims “Reason is reliable only if God exists”, and the classical apologist claims “If reason is reliable, God exists”. These two statements are logically equivalent. For we assume reason and conclude God, so reason entails God. And so when the atheist says they can use reason but have no God, then if the classical arguments are sound, we can say that they are inconsistent.

And notice that no matter which path we take, classical or presuppositional, we must appeal to reason at some point. If we do present a convincing argument that reason is grounded in God, the atheist must use reason to accept the argument. We both assume they are able to reason, even if they don’t have a sufficient ground for it.

Now it is true that discussions cosmological arguments can often get lost in what we might call meaningless minutia, and we lose our focus on God. But I submit that not only is this true for any kind of argument, but also that it isn’t a huge problem. While every conversation we have must have Christ at the centre, not every sentence needs to. Clearly, in negative apologetics, we know this, when we respond to a supposed contradiction in the Old Testament we normally don’t talk much about Christ in that particular subpoint.<

We also see from Paul at Mars Hill that it is valid to in a sense “enter into” someone else’s worldview in order to preach the Gospel. Paul begins his evangelistic and apologetic work at Mars Hill by appealing to a god the Athenians worshipped, the unknown God. He identifies this god with God, claiming that this God created the universe and everything in it. He then quotes parts of some works describing Zeus and attributes them to God. Paul enters into their worldview to make a point, to demonstrate the truth of God inside their worldview. Because of course, we know that any worldview without God is inconsistent. So if we enter their worldview and pretend that it is consistent, we ought to be able to prove God exists. This is what cosmological arguments do: let’s enter into the atheistic worldview, pretend that we can reason, and deduce that God exists.

But as we saw above, the dark-hearted fools who are unregenerate won’t accept it. More often than not, they admit they have no response to the argument, but retreat to “Well sure maybe God exists. But if He does, He is a moral monster and is evil and I would never worship Him.” And this is the appropriate place to quote Romans 9: “And who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”. We affirm, like our concerned presuppositionalist does above, that God is the judge and we are not. We point out their pride and wrong-headedness in sitting in judgement over God.

They pretend their disagreement with God is intellectual, not moral. But we know from our study of Romans 1 that it is indeed moral. Cut away their intellectual pretence, and they are forced to admit the truth. This is where we cut to the heart: man placing Himself above God. And if God grants them a regenerated heart to see this and repent, then they can turn and be saved.

This is why I think cosmological arguments, and other classical arguments, are valuable. Never do they comprise the entirety of our apologetic preaching or methodology, but they are valuable components. Paul affirms their soundness in Romans and applies a similar methodology (to Pagans rather than atheists) at Mars Hill. Not the only valuable arguments, but good ones to have in our bag when the need arises.

More fine tuning quotes

Here is a collection of more quotes from notable scientists that support our fine tuning argument. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Drs. Zehavi, and Dekel (cosmologists): “This type of universe, however, seems to require a degree of fine tuning of the initial conditions that is in apparent conflict with ‘common wisdom’.”
  • Ed Harrison (cosmologist): “Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God – the design argument of Paley – updated and refurbished. The fine tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes or design that requires only one…. Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline toward the teleological or design argument.”
  • Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): “When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.”
  • Vera Kistiakowsky (MIT physicist): “The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine.”
  • Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics): “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”

Fine Tuning: Why Privilege Life?

When presenting the fine tuning argument, skeptics may respond that we are unduly privileging life as something special in the universe. For example, someone might object that the universe is also fine tuned to produce iPads. Why is the existence of life significant in a way that entails God, but iPads are not? The restriction to life is ad hoc. So here I will give an attempt to respond to this claim, and give some reasons why theism predicts life.

The claim of theism here is that there exists a deity, and by this we mean that there exists an all powerful, all knowing, always good creator of the universe. Or something along those lines. Importantly, we think that God is in some sense the goodest thing possible, perhaps even Goodness Itself. And we also think that God is intelligent. Perhaps God’s intelligence is somewhat different to our intelligence, since God is timeless and unchanging and simple. But still rightly called intelligence.

Since God is good, we can say that in creation, He is pursuing something good. In fact if we believe Leibniz (and I do, this fits well with Calvinism) then we can say that the world God creates is actually the best possible world. The best possible world must include some good things.

I claim now that intelligent beings are some of the goodest things. Since God is Goodness Itself and is intelligent, the least we can say is that intelligence is very good. We can indeed go further and say that intelligence is fundamentally linked to goodness, as all of God’s attributes are. And further still, we can argue that in creating the best possible world, God would create beings in His image. He is Good, so His image bearers must be at least very good.

Given this, we have some pretty good reasons to think that God would design a world that could support not just life, but intelligent life. Many atheists, especially Kantians, think there is something special about humanity, namely: reason. Our ability to reason is unique, and morally significant. Kantians think that reason is the basis for morality. So it seems like the Kantians would agree that if there is a God, then God would create beings with reason. Intelligent beings.

Since we can demonstrate that if theism is true, then the universe will support intelligent life, we can indeed rightly use a fine tuning argument. This is not ad hoc, we have not arbitrarily selected intelligence to examine, we have shown how intelligence is significant for God.

The Fine Tuning of Cosmological Constants

The fine tuning argument is in principle quite simple. Atheism strongly predicts that this universe will forbid life. Theism strongly predicts that this universe will permit life. Clearly, the universe does permit life, so this favours theism over atheism.

Let’s elaborate on what it means for the universe to permit life. I’m not referring to things like the location of Earth relative to the Sun (though others have done so), instead I’m talking about universal constants. Things like the charge on an electron, or the gravitational constant, or the rate of the expansion of the universe at the Big Bang. It’s no secret that these constants are finely tuned to create a universe that can permit life, and if they were changed often by a fraction of a percent, the universe itself could not exist for more than a few seconds. Sometimes not even that.

In support of this, I’ll cite some physicists:

  • Stephen Hawking:

“The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life… It seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at their beauty”

  • Paul Davies (British astrophysicist):

“There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all….It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe….The impression of design is overwhelming”

  • Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics):

“Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”

I’ll allow you to do your own research on the topic, but the fact is that the level of precision in the cosmological constants is overwhelming. This paper gives some more details about the specific constants. 

Many people will counter this argument by appealing to the anthropic principle. That is, the fact that we are observing the only type of universe that could permit us is not surprising, because we are here to observe it. We could not observe it if we did not exist.

It’s clear that this type of reasoning alone is not sufficient. Anthropic reasoning only indicates that the probability that the universe will permit life given that it is observed is high. It doesn’t indicate that the probability that the universe will permit life given atheism is high. If I were about to be executed by a firing squad of 100, I heard them all shoot, and then observed that I was uninjured, I’d rightly be surprised. It’s true that it’s not surprising that I’m observing it, given that I’d have to be alive to observe it. But it is surprising that all 100 missed. That’s the flaw in this reasoning.

Another common counter-argument is that the cosmological constants can’t actually vary. That they must necessarily be the way that they are. That the laws of physics couldn’t have been different, and neither could the starting conditions of the universe. It seems to me that if you’re willing to accept this, then you implicitly accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which states “For every true fact, there is a reason or explanation for why that fact is true”. To accept that the physical state of the universe is necessary is to accept the PSR for at least the physical universe.

If you’re happy to do that, then you should stop reading this argument and instead read my page on the cosmological argument, since the PSR is one of the premises of that argument. If you reject the PSR, then you only have one option available to you to reject the teleological argument.

By far, the most common objection to the teleological argument is the argument that there exists some large (perhaps infinite) number of universes. Couple this with the anthropic principle mentioned above, and you do seem to have a strong objection to the argument.

So why should we reject the multiverse? The most obvious argument is that of Occam’s Razor. We shouldn’t multiply entities needlessly. Since we’re talking about something on the order of 10^500 universes (there are 10^80 atoms in the observable universe) that’s a huge multiplication of entities. Entities that we can not observe, and have no evidence for. If our options are either a designer of this universe, or an unimaginably large number of universes, one of these certainly seems to have fewer entities.

Let’s suppose, however, that we don’t accept Occam’s Razor. We might have good reason to reject it here: under a model like Vilenkin’s, it’s not clear that the universes in the multiverse are separate entities, they are just different locations in space. Or perhaps we take a different understanding of Occam’s Razor, perhaps it is not entities that we want to avoid multiplying, but types of entities, or perhaps behaviours. 

Let’s suppose that there is some huge number of universes. Then there must be something which has conditions which allow multiple universes to begin. Vilenkin proposes such a meta-universe, but this structure itself requires some fine-tuned constants in order to exist. Vilenkin requires a particular level of inflation for his model, for example. We have not really defeated the argument, instead, we’ve just moved the problem.

(The existence of a multiverse comprising mostly life-forbidding universes would lower the degree to which theism predicts that this universe will permit life, but multiverse-hypotheses only predict a generally life-forbidding multiverse given atheism, which begs the question in this context.)

I am no physicist, but the interpretation of QM which predicts multiple universes is not popular among physicsts who specialize in foundations of quantum mechanics, instead the most popular interpretation among this group is a pilot wave theory, in which not only is there no multiverse, but the universe is in fact deterministic. So even appealing to physics doesn’t necessarily make the case for a multiverse. 

For a more detailed discussion of more modern inlfation multiverse models, see chapter 5 of this paper. I will in the future attempt to produce a summary of this, but for now the paper will have to do. Helpfully, the author of the paper also wrote this blog post in summary.

Further reading