Christian Apologetics - Lesson 11


Arguments for and against evidentialism.

Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Lesson 11
Watching Now

Rationality of Belief in God

Part 1

I.  Evidentialism

A.  Introduction

1.  It is irrational to believe anything on insufficient evidence.

2.  W. K. Clifford

3.  Alvin Plantinga vs. Antony Flew

B.  Two Refutations of Evidentialism

1.  Logically Self-defeating

2.  It goes against many foundational beliefs.

a.  External World

b.  Other Minds

c.  Memories

C.  Christian Evidentialism

D.  Evidence

1.  Propositional

2.  Provided by Direct Experience

E.  Reformed Epistemology

1.  Belief-forming Dispositions

2.  Triggering Conditions

  • Introduction to Apologetics.

  • Apologetics involves finding evidence and presenting arguments to defend the Christian faith.

  • Two prominent worldviews are Christian theism and naturalism.

  • The law of non-contradiction states that A cannot be B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.

  • Explanations and responses to different worldviews.

  • If God is good and all powerful, then why does evil exist?

  • Discussion about how the existence of evil is consistent with God's character.

  • Your noetic structure, presuppositions and view of epistemology are important elements in the formation of your worldview.

  • Discussion of deductive presuppositionalism vs. inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Objections to inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Arguments for and against evidentialism.

  • Arguments for and against foundationalism.

  • Discussion of natural theology.

  • There are valid, sound and cogent arguments for the existence of God, but no coercive proofs.

  • Discussion of different arguments for God's existence.

  • One version of the cosmological argument for God's existence emphasizes God as first in time, another emphasizes God as first in importance.

  • A possible world is a way the real world could have been. Modal logic, propositions, state of affairs and eternal entities are some of the considerations when discussing a possible world.

  • Something is logically possible if its description does not include a logical contradiction. The existence of the laws of knowledge refute the system of naturalism.

  • Middle knowledge is a form of knowledge attributed to God by Molina.

  • Miracles are a dividing line and central to Christianity.

  • David Hume's rational arguments against miracles and responses to those arguments.

  • Two miracles central to Christianity are the incarnation and resurrection.

  • The question of whether or not Jesus is the only savior touches on pluralism, inclusivism and exclusivism.

  • Pluralism is the view that all religions have salvific value.

  • Inclusivism is the view that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for a person to be saved.

  • Salvation is totally the work of God and all children who die in infancy are elect of God.

  • Discussion from a biblical perspective of God's character and attributes.

  • Open theists believe that God does not have a perfect knowledge of the future.

  • Divine omnipotence and divine omniscience are two attributes of God.

  • When contemplating life after death, remember, Jesus has been there and come back. Will you commit your life to him or reject him?

These lectures were given at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida during the fall of 2001.


Dr. Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Lesson Transcript


[00:00:01] Okay. Now, what is what is going on here in part two of the Faith and Reason book? It has to do with what we could call the rationality of belief in God. And that requires me to make a couple of introductory statements about what the word rational, what the terms rational or irrational mean. And I begin in this way Perhaps there is a way, a sense in which it is hard to define the word rational. But we we certainly know it when we see it. We know irrationality when we see it. And so what I give you on page 70 are seven examples of an irrational belief. And I think they are they they exhibit degrees of greater and greater irrationality. In other words, here's irrational belief. Number one, Jones believes that Cleveland, Ohio, is America's premier city. When I wrote the book that was funny. Cleveland's come back a little bit, quite a bit. I probably ought to change that. You know, the home of the Cleveland Indians, the home of the new Cleveland Browns, conquerors of those evil guys in Jacksonville. There's nothing irrational today about believing that Cleveland is America's premier city. Okay. Jones believes that he is Napoleon. Would you concede that that's irrational? Okay. Three. John seriously doubts that other people in the world have minds. Would you not agree that somebody who doubts that other people in the world have minds is irrational? Four Jones believes that tomorrow the sun will rise in the West. There's a pretty good candidate for irrationality. Even worse is somebody who believes that Ron Nash is America's best golfer. Gopher wood. That would be rational. Nap Man Nash is a golfer but not a golfer. Six. I stopped using this a few years ago. Nash. Billy Jones. Billy Jones believes that God told him to shoot his philosophy teacher. Mm hmm. That's irrational. Don't do that. Don't do that. And Stephen Jones believes this is the epitome of irrationality. Jones believes that he is God. Now, all of these people are crazy to want to know what is crazy, irrational. Maybe there's some overlap there. But is there any greater sign of irrationality than to believe that you are God? But then notice my footnote. My footnote. It is worth noting that Jesus believed He was God, and Christians think He was correct in this belief. Hmm. See my discussion of this issue in chapter 19. Okay. Now, here's what is afoot in chapters five and six. There are enemies of the Christian faith out there. Who have who have gotten to the place where they're not necessarily interested in proving that Christianity is false. What they want to do is argue that being a Christian is in some way irrational. And over the last 20, 30, 40 years. Irrationality vs of the Christian faith has been defined by two. Paradigms, two models that we're going to talk about in chapters five and six. One of those two models is called evidential. Now all of you have became evidential is the first all of you became experts on evidential, as in the first day we met. Okay, here is how evidential ism poses a challenge to the rationality of Christian belief. It goes like this. It is irrational to believe anything on insufficient evidence. Let me give you one of the most famous quotes in the philosophy of religion, and it happens to be the basis of the evidential is challenge to religious belief. The quote appears on page 73 in a writing in a 19th century article written by a British mathematician named W.K. Clifford. He was not a philosopher. He was a mathematician. Here's the quote. It is wrong. Always everywhere. And for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence, taking the word evidence to mean and this is very important, taking the word evidence to mean argument or proof. So many enemies of the Christian faith have, over at least the last 50 years claimed The Christian faith is irrational because we simply don't have evidence to base our Christian belief upon true story. I was not present at this event, but I know people who were. Sometime in the mid-seventies, Alvin Plantinga agreed to have a debate in Dallas, Texas, with perhaps Britain's most famous atheist, a man named Anthony. Flu. Anthony Flu is still alive. He's a he's he's he's a very famous British philosopher. He used to teach until he retired. I guess he has retired. He used to teach one semester a year at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Okay. Anthony, Flu made this statement in front of an audience of several thousand people. Anthony Flu said to Alvin planning a l. I will not accept a single thing you say tonight unless you first begin by proving that God exists. Listen carefully to me. If you ever get in an argument or a discussion or a debate about your Christian faith, you're likely to hear that very challenge. I will not accept another thing you say tonight until you first prove to me and to everybody else in this audience that God exists. Now, in those days, planning a who's a very nice, mild, meek guy, in fact, you know, he lectured here a couple of years ago and planning in those days smoked a little cigarillos. Now, we can excuse him for that, but planning it doesn't smoke anymore. You know, there's a there's a tumor in every puff. You've heard me say that. No doubt he smoked in those days. And what he had a tendency to do when someone made a statement like flu is he took a deep puff on his cigarillos and he blew smoke in his opponent's face. And planning it did that very effectively. A pipe just doesn't do it as well. You've got to understand, pipe smoking won't work that well. So here's how planning I answered you just tell me I have to prove. And he says, I don't have to. And Clue's jaw dropped. He said, Yes, you must. You must prove that God exists. Planning. I said, No, I don't. Yes, you do. No, I don't. Yes, you do. No, I don't. The argument was going nowhere. All right. Now, I suggest if you ever get in that situation, apart from the smoke. All right, respond exactly the way planning it did. And here was his reason. Anthony, Flu was presupposing this position. He was presupposing it. He was he was assuming remember what we talked about the first day of class. He was assuming, what did we call it? The presumption of atheist. He was assuming that the burden of proof is always upon the Christian. And what planning it was really saying is you're not going to. You're not going to you're not going to pull me into that corner. You're not going to back me into that corner. I am. I do. I am under no obligation at all to begin by proving that God exists. And the reason is because if I were to do that, I would be surrendering to your basic presupposition. And the truth, Anthony, is that your position is a logically self-defeating position. I am not. You are not going to set the rules of this debate. I don't have to prove that God exists. Now let's take a look at evidential ism, because what planning it does here, and I quote him in this chapter he comes up with and I quote them the two and only two refutations that anybody needs to dismiss. Anthony Flus basic presupposition first of all planning a says Anthony flus evidential ism or anybody's evidential ism for that matter is a logically self-defeating theory. It is logically self-defeating and here's why. And you know this because you can always ask what evidence proves that your evidential ism is true. So it is it is irrational or immoral, whatever the right term would be there. It is irrational or immoral to believe anything without sufficient evidence. Okay, Tony, what's your evidence for evidential ism? And the truth is that no one has ever been able to come up with any evidence. That is an argument that would prove that this proposition is true. So if it's irrational to believe anything without sufficient evidence and there is no sufficient evidence to prove this evidence was thesis, then it's irrational to be an evidential. I'm not going to I'm not going to be pushed into a corner by a fundamental presupposition that is self-defeating. Boom. Planning is absolutely right here. If we've all got to if we've all got to provide some kind of evidence or argument for our beliefs, then you have to do it, too, Tony, and you can't do it. So therefore, I don't have to prove that God exists. Now, the second argument the planning a makes against evidential ism is this If anybody is foolish enough to be an evidential as to him, then he is going to be cut off from any warrant for or any justification for or any rational support for some of the most important beliefs that any human being can ever hold. If you I'm going to speak somewhat pejoratively here. If you are dumb enough to be an evidential test, then you have no right to believe. And then you give a list of important human beliefs that cannot be supported by evidential ism. Now there are three such beliefs that planning uses here. You can get this from your textbook. I'm not going to write this on the board. But this point, too, is, as I've just said, that an evidential list cuts himself off from any way in which he can possibly justify or support many of the most important beliefs that any human being can hold. Here's the first one. If you're an evidential you cannot your belief in an external world cannot be rational. Let me illustrate that. What are we talking about when we talk about the external world? We're talking about the world that exists independently of your mind. Look outside the window. Those pretty trees, the driveway. They're about there. The lake. How do you know that? That world that you see through the window really exists? I mean, we don't have to look out the window. Look at the front of the room. Look at me. How do you know that I exist? Now, it's kind of risky to raise that question, okay? Because sometimes I hear I'm a man. How do we know this guy exists? Now, this is those of you who've taken the history of philosophy. Course you should know the history of the debate about the external world. It goes something like this. Many philosophers agreed that all that we're ever conscious of immediately are ideas that are in our minds. Okay, here's a tree out here, we think. But then there's a picture or something else of a tree in our mind. But how do we know that corresponding to the ideas in our minds. There are real objects in the world outside of our mind. I mean, you all perceive me as bald, light complexioned, beautiful baby blue eyes. But when it comes to confidence with which you all believe that the ideas in your mind actually correspond to and are caused by. Me. Maybe I look totally different. Maybe in the world outside your mind. I've got a full head. A blond, curly hair. Okay. That makes even Barry Manilow jealous. A sin. All right. And then I go over there. You don't see this piano over here, but they're you know, you can't perceive this piano over here. But I could go over here and I could play one of Barry Manilow songs. Now, I know he's a little bit out of style right now. But how do you know the world outside of your minds really is like the world that exists inside your mind? Well, probably there's a deeper problem. How do you know there's any external world at all? Now, of course, in the history philosophy course, and you're welcome to say amen. If you remember this, I prove to you that the external world exists. You remember that? Remember the day you walked out of that class shouting Glory. There really is a world out there. Remember some of you? You were perspiring for 2 hours is now going to finally prove to us that the world. Well. It's a proof of sorts, isn't it? What's the other thing? Another thing you can't believe if you're in there is no proof for the existence of the external world. Therefore, if you're an evidential list, you have no right to believe that Mr. Flew. Secondly, whence comes your belief in what we call other minds? Hmm? Now, look at me. I know you may not want to, but do it. All right. What do you see? Well, you see a body. You see good taste in clothes. Okay. You see various physical motions. But how do you know what is a bad question to ask? How do you know I have a mind. Now, I phrased that badly. I should have asked. How do I know that you have minds? That's what I should. That's the key question. See, because you've got my books, assuming they exist. All I've got are your quizzes and your exams. And that's enough to make us who laughed on that point? That's enough to make a skeptic of almost anybody. Right. Does this guy have a mind? I can see you guys at your wedding here. Maybe. If anyone knows any reason why these two should not be lawfully joined together, let him speak now or forever hold his peace. And I can see some of you saying, Well, Preacher, ever since I took Dr. Nash's course, I've been wondering if other people have minds. Oh, that's not a good way to start a marriage. That's not a good way to do that. If instead of kissing you, she picks up a chandelier and hits you over the head, then she's got a mind. All right, That that ought to. She's heard what you said. Thirdly, how do we know about memory beliefs? For example, I have a memory right now of having breakfast at the International House of Pancakes. You must know how desperate I am, if that's the best I can do. And I'll veto. All right. They have a little thing called a German pancake. All right. And it's not bad. But how do many of us know that any of our beliefs? Is there any proof for any of your memory beliefs? Not really. Not. Not it? Not many. So here's planning it, Tony. You're demanding that I prove the existence of God. And the truth is that on your premise, you can't even prove your basic assumption. And you can't prove the existence of the world outside your mind. And you can't prove that other people have minds and you can't prove that any of your memory beliefs. Tony, you're picking on me. And you're you're you're unhappy because I don't I don't subscribe to your worldview. Something's wrong here, Tony. So this is evidential ism and this is one of the two basic grounds upon which many people have tried to dismiss the rationality of belief in God. Now, I want to make a couple of additional points. In the realm of apologetics, there are non-Christian evidential issues and there are Christian evidential issues. And I talk about this in the chapter. There are Christians who agree that it is a it is irrational to believe anything on insufficient evidence, but then they counter with the claim that there is sufficient evidence to prove the existence of God. And sometimes I think this is the way in which my friend R.C. Sproul approaches this. Now, I once had R.C. Sproul tell me we weren't. When we were on the other campus, we met in a hallway passing like ships in the night, and he said, Nash, I want you to know that I am not an evidential test in the sense that you critique and your your book. But then he kept going his way, and I kept going my way. But certainly, if R.C. Sprawl is not an evidential list, then certainly John Gerstner was Gerstner being R.C. Sproles mentor. There are other examples of Christian evidential, as Josh McDowell certainly looks like an evidential list to me. And what I mean by a Christian evidential list is someone who I think for insufficient reasons, just surrenders and accepts this basic presupposition that is that's deadly stuff. That's something deadly. That's a deadly thing to do when you're engaged in trying to defend the Christian faith. Don't do that. What's wrong is to accept that basic presupposition. I am going to argue that evidence can be important, but we must never be dumb enough to say it's irrational to believe anything without sufficient evidence. Okay. Now, the next thing we want to do is make clear to you, as I do in the book, that there are two senses of the word evidence. One of them is relevant. One of them is not. The first is what planning calls propositional evidence. Don't you love it when we can come up with fancy words? Now, what is propositional evidence? Well, here's the answer. It is simply an argument. It is a putative proof. It is this kind of evidence that we must challenge when when the evidential says it is it is irrational or it is immoral to accept anything on the basis of insufficient evidence. What he really is saying is, give me a proof, give me an argument in language that functions as a proof for your belief, planning as saying this is the kind of evidence that we don't have to provide. Parentheses. We don't have to provide it, however. We can if we want. All right. If you want arguments for God's existence, I've got him rolling out the barrel. In fact, I once heard planning a read a paper at Wheaton College titled Two Dozen or So Proofs for God's Existence. Now here's planning his position. I don't need proofs for God's existence in order for my belief that God exists to be rational. However, if you want to sit and listen to me talk for 2 hours, I've got at least 25 arguments for God's existence. Right. But I don't think producing those proofs is necessary for Christian faith to be rational. So keep that in mind. It's the question. It's the difference between having a proof and needing a proof friends. And those are two different things. If you get somebody who backs you into a corner where you think your faith can't be rational unless you can come up with a proof in the next minute or two, you're in trouble. You've lost the debate right there. On the other hand, you know, if you're going to have what we could call a reasonable discussion, there are lots of arguments out there, and I present some of them in this book and some in the intro book. Now, what's the other sense of evidence? It is the evidence of the senses. This planning, a contends, is crucial. This is important and it's available to us. But here's how this evidence functions. Consider these reasons why somebody might believe that God exists. Okay. I feel unclean inside, and I believe God is talking to me about the sin in my life. Notice that's different from simply saying, you know, I saw God last night or something like that. Now, here's another example. When I'm standing in front of a beautiful scene like the Grand Canyon at sunrise or something else like that, I feel God speaking to me. This is the kind of experience, the planning of things is relevant to the existence of God. Okay, now let me jump ahead of myself a little bit. I want to tell you where we're going at the end of this chapter in the next chapter. And I want to go back to some stuff that I gave you last week about reformed epistemology, because we're right in the middle of planning a reformed epistemology here. I told you last week that there are two ingredients to reformed epistemology. There is first of all, there are, first of all, what we could call belief forming dispositions or mechanisms. And secondly, there are triggering conditions. Now, I'm going to assume that you remember what we talked about last week so that I don't have to repeat that. But let's get right to the heart of planning his position. He believes that in addition to all of the various belief forming dispositions or mechanisms that God creates us with belief forming mechanisms that lead us to form beliefs about causation that aid causes be. Among these other belief form mechanisms is the belief that the world exists outside of us. God gave us that belief. Believing that there is a world existing outside of our minds is the most natural thing for a human being to do. You don't have to teach a child that. I don't have to sit down my grandson and say, Andrew, do you know that there's a world that exists outside of your minds? Andrew would say, Grandpa, what's wrong with you? Don't you believe that any seven year old kid knows that there's a world that is all right? Only a fool, only a stupid philosopher would doubt the existence of the external world. Now I'm getting, you know, one of these days I'm going to get excited like that. I'm going to keel over and die. That other people have minds. You'd have to be an idiot to doubt that or that your memory beliefs are true. Among the belief forming dispositions that God has given all of us is the disposition to believe in an external world that other people have minds. And you want to know something. There's another belief forming mechanism. God has given each of us a disposition to believe that He exists. Now all of these belief forming mechanisms are there. I would say innately from birth. But we need triggering conditions to stimulate them. So if you assume that every human being by nature from birth has an inherent disposition to believe in a creator God. But that you also recognize that something must come along, a triggering condition that gets that disposition working. What kinds of things would produce that belief? Well, one of them could be an experience. Now, listen to me here. I say this every time I teach this course. If you become a pastor and you find that you have a family in your church where the wife is a believer and the husband is not. Right now, I'm thinking about a former neighbor we had in a town where we lived, and the husband never went to church. But, you know, he was a good husband. He loved his wife. He loved his daughter. Once in a while, he would go to church. But, you know, this doesn't wasn't very high on his agenda. If you've got a if you've got a family like that in your church and the wife is about to give birth, let's say, to the first child, you had better follow my advice. You had better be in that hospital, in that waiting room with that husband while the delivery is going on. And then when that nurse brings that newborn baby out and pulls the blanket away so that the new father can see the face of this new child, you be there and you put your arm around that guy and you say, This isn't God, wonderful. Now I'm going to tell you this. If that guy doesn't feel a triggering condition going on right there, he's dead from a heart up. He's hopeless. Triggering condition. Now, let me give you some other examples of trigger and conditions. An argument can function as a triggering condition. We don't need arguments, we don't need proofs. But it is very in in in you know, in the history of the church, arguments have worked. They can work as triggering conditions. Even bad arguments can work. All right. Consider all of the bad arguments that Democratic politicians throw at their constituencies every election. They work. They're logically invalid. They're. Well, they're. They're. They're untrue. I almost said the L word. All right? They're lies. Well, most of them are. Of course, Republicans are pretty good at this, too, I suppose. Triggering conditions. So we're not out there dealing with an empty headed person or a soul as we're dealing with a person created in the image of God who may never come to faith. But in our work as an evangelist, as a pastor, as an apologist, we're there to seek a triggering condition that the Holy Spirit might use to bring that person to faith. That's reformed epistemology as opposed to the evidential ism, let's say, of a John Gerstner, who says, you first got to prove that God exists. No, you don't, John. No, you don't. That's surrendering to the enemy right there.