Objections To Belief In God (part 1)November 11, 2007 Time: 01:04:08
I can’t tell you how delighted Jan and I are to be back. I don’t just say that. I really mean it. We really miss this class when we are away. I was in Chicago yesterday speaking at a fabulous apologetics conference at Moody Church, but I insisted on leaving early in the afternoon from the conference just so I could get back here in time for this Sunday School class because we want to be with you. For us, that is the real priority.
We’ve come now to the end of the Forty Days of Purpose campaign. We are ready to get back on to our regular curriculum. I don’t know about you, but I am excited to do that – to get back to Christian doctrine and apologetics. So that is what we are going to start doing again.
I wanted to just share a little bit with you about what I was doing yesterday at Moody and then about this trip to Hong Kong that Jan and I just returned from. Normally I don’t do speaking at Christian conferences. My ministry focuses on university evangelistic-type speaking, but this conference they were having at Moody was so extraordinary that even though it is something I don’t normally do, and even though it came right on the heals of this exhausting trip overseas, I really wanted to do it. They were having a one-day apologetics conference at the historic Moody Church – the church founded originally by D. L. Moody in downtown Chicago. They had for the panel of speakers: Ravi Zacharias, myself, Philip Johnson, Erwin Lutzer, Emir Caner, and Frank Peretti, the novelist. I learned that Frank Peretti has sold over twelve million books, which really was a daunting statistic. I also had another daunting task – I had to follow Ravi Zacharias on the program, which was really interesting. They had well over 2,000 people come to this apologetics conference for one day of training in defending the faith. I met folks during the book signing part of the conference from Michigan and Iowa and St. Louis. They came from all around the mid-West as well as Chicago to be involved in this. So many people as I talked to them one-on-one expressed how much in their personal lives reading a certain book or seeing a video had meant to them and strengthened them in their faith or saved them from losing their faith in some cases. It was just confirmation, again, to me that there is going on in America right now a real grassroots revolution of interest in Christians becoming engaged with their minds with their faith and trying to understand reasons to believe and being able to articulate their faith in an intelligent way in the public square. The thirst and the hunger that is out there that is evident in this conference is for me just very, very gratifying and exciting. What we are doing here is just part of a much broader movement that is happening all over the United States.
I wanted to share with you a little bit about Hong Kong and say, first of all, how much Jan and I appreciated the prayers and the support that you folks lent to us while we were there. It was an exhausting trip. They were determined to use me for all I was worth while I was there. Sometimes I was speaking three or even four times a day, followed by long Q&A periods, and then talking one-on-one with students afterwards. It was a really rich time. It was very differentiated in the kinds of outreaches they did. I spoke primarily in either churches to Christian groups (giving them training in apologetics) or else I spoke evangelistically at secular universities there.
With respect to the first type of speaking, I was preaching in three churches – the Kowloon International Baptist Church, the International Baptist Church, and then Northpoint Alliance Church. This latter church – Northpoint – was really interesting. It is a huge alliance Chinese church right down in the center of the city. I spoke in the afternoon on the problem of evil and suffering. How can God permit so much pain and suffering in the world? It was completely packed. They had over 1,000 people in the main auditorium, and then an overflow room with another 500 people or so. We had a tremendous time just interacting with people on a very personal level after I spoke on this whole problem of evil and suffering. That was a very exciting meeting.
I also had a chance to speak at a few seminaries. I spoke at the Chinese Graduate School of Theology which is the largest seminary in Hong Kong. I talked to them on the quest of the historical Jesus. I also spoke at Alliance Biblical Seminary which is a seminary that is on an island out in the bay of Hong Kong. It is on Cheung Chau Island, which is a little island that can only be reached by ferry boat. When you get there, there are no automobiles permitted on the island. You have to walk or bicycle everywhere you go. So we walked from the ferry dock up to the peak where Alliance Biblical Seminary was. I also gave a talk on the historical Jesus to this group. I think this talk was as much an encouragement to the faculty as to the students. It was really a shot in the arm and an encouragement to these faculty to be engaged and engaging their students in confronting the challenges that radical biblical criticism and things like The DaVinci Code and so forth are posing to the church. There was one other seminary – Hong Kong Baptist University has a divinity school at which I also spoke.
I did a series of three apologetic evenings at Mongkok Baptist Church. Mongkok in Chinese means literally “crowded corner.” Mongkok is the most densely populated part of Hong Kong. When you go there it is like wall-to-wall people just filling the sidewalks and the streets. Overhead are these bright neon lights with gigantic Chinese letters that stretch from one side of the street to the building on the other side almost. It is just an incredible scene at night to go down to Mongkok. The Mongkok Baptist Church is not actually a church building, it is the ninth floor of one of these high rises in Mongkok that is the church. All over Hong Kong you just see bristling these gigantic high rise apartments 40 and 50 stories tall. Everything is built straight up because there is so little room. The church is on the ninth floor in one of these high rise buildings. These were very good meetings because they would have a sympathetic respondent at each one of these meetings. Someone from a local divinity school or Hong Kong Baptist University who was also a Christian but who would give some interaction with the apologetic lecture that I gave. Then I would get a final counter-response to that person. That kind of mixed it up a little bit, and gave a little more liveliness to the discussion. These were very well attended, and gave good training to these Christians in various areas of apologetics.
But for me the most exciting meetings were definitely the evangelistic meetings. Those are the ones that are on my heart and are what I really went for. I spoke at five of the universities in Hong Kong. The first one was at the Polytechnic University. That meeting was on a campus where there really isn’t any Christian group to organize it. So it was the smallest of the meetings. We had about thirty kids come to that. I spoke on the absurdity of life without God. It really connected with the students. You could tell from the kind of questions they were asking that these were deep existential questions that they were facing. What began to emerge right away that was interesting to me during the question time was the totally different cultural background from which these students were coming. Because the questions they were asking were things like, “How does what you are saying relate to what Confucius says about this or that issue?” or “In the Buddhist perspective, we believe this or that, how does that compare with what you are saying?” The questions were very different in that sense from Western audiences in that I was interacting with Buddhism and Daoism and later Marxism when we went into the mainland. So that was a really different angle on things. But just really rich questions.
One of the questions that came up over and over again that kind of surprised me was the question, “Where did God come from?” Because I would talk on the origin of the universe and they would say, “Where did God come from? Who made God?” I thought this was an odd question to have posed so often until we began to visit during some of our free time some of these Buddhist and Daoist temples in Hong Kong. These were really quite an experience because my familiarity with Buddhism and Daoism was on a kind of high philosophical level, but on a folk level the folk religion is just gross polytheism. It is just crass polytheism. They go in these temples and shake and burn incense in front of these altars to these gods and goddesses. They believe there is a goddess of the sea that they worship. They pray to these gods and goddesses, these spirits, for protection or for good fortune. A number of people said to me these temples are basically all about selfishness. There is no spirituality really there at all. You just go there to get the god on your side, protect you against harm, or to give you good fortune. These spirits and these polytheistic deities they worship are just finite entities. I thought later: with this conception of God it is no wonder they wonder where God came from. They don’t have any conception of a transcendent, timeless, spaceless Creator of the universe who is necessary in his existence. It was against that background, I think, that this question kind of made sense again. That was just a little flavor of the kind of interaction we had during these sessions.
The next university that I spoke at after the Polytechnic was Hong Kong University. There they booked an auditorium for the crowd because they were expecting a bigger crowd for that. In fact, they had over twice as many students show up for this as they were expecting. This set the pattern for the rest of the trip at these universities. In every case, the organizers were just shocked when twice as many students showed up at these talks than they were expecting to have. It just showed the kind of interest and hunger that there was out there to hear messages on this kind of thing. I talked on the subject “Five Reasons God Exists, and Three Reasons It Makes a Difference.” Some of you heard that talk. Again, we had great interaction afterwards, including some interaction with one of the professors at the university who came and raised an objection. I was able to answer that. That was a good time.
After Hong Kong University I went to a university called The Chinese University which is a sort of consortium of several colleges. Kind of like Oxford and Cambridge is. This was the best meeting yet. We had over two hundred students come to the meeting. I spoke on the problem of suffering and evil. Again, the interaction was just so personal and so sincere. Students would come up to me afterwards and say, “I am not yet a Christian. I come from a Buddhist background. But this is what I am thinking of; can you help me?” Then we would talk. I stayed for a long time afterwards just chatting one-on-one with students and trying to meet their needs. Then the local Christian group would be able to follow up with these students afterwards. That meeting at Chinese University just put me on a high because it was so interactive and it was so personal in touching these students with a real question they were dealing with.
After the Chinese University, the next one we went to was the University of Science and Technology, which is out in a part of Hong Kong on the mainland called The New Territories. It is out on the north coast. It was just breathtakingly beautify – this campus. It was looking out over the islands and the craggy shore of Hong Kong out into the Pacific Ocean. It was just beautify. I spoke there on “Do all roads lead to God?” This talk is really in-your-face because what is implied in this talk in saying Christ is the only way of salvation is that their ancestors have gone to hell – at least a lot of them have. Ancestors are revered in China, even almost worshiped. So this is a question that Chinese feel very deeply about – this question about pluralism and how can you say Christ is the only way? What was neat about the Science and Technology University is that there were so many students there from mainland China – from communist China – studying that the lecture was translated simultaneously, not into Cantonese (which is what they speak in Hong Kong) but into Mandarin, which is the language of the mainland. They did also have a Cantonese translation over headphones for any students in the audience who didn’t speak Mandarin but wanted to hear the Cantonese lecture. They could get that with headphones. This was, again, even better than the Chinese University. It was so exciting to see the students interact with me about Christianity. These students from the mainland, you could tell, had almost no familiarity with Christianity because they come from communist China. So the questions they were asking weren't about my talk; they were asking just basic questions they had about the Bible and God and Christ and things of this sort. Again, after that meeting, after the Q&A was over, I stayed for another hour or so just sitting in the isles of this auditorium just talking with this big group of students around me that were bombarding me with questions. It was a wonderful time of doing evangelism with folks who had scarcely any familiarity with the Gospel at all, which was really exciting.
Then after the University of Science and Technology, I spoke again at Hong Kong Baptist University. The undergrad at Hong Kong Baptist University is sadly no longer a Christian university. Although it has the name “Baptist” that was its origin. It is now a public state university. So really it is a secular university though there is a Christian presence still on the faculty there. I spoke again, I think, that night on the problem of evil. This was a question that I was invited to speak on about three times. I said, “Wouldn't you like more topics?” They said, “No, this is a question we want to talk about.” This was one that really, I guess, they felt deeply. Again we had a great attendance at that meeting – a real big crowd and good interaction after that.
The last and final university that I spoke at was for me the real highlight of the trip. This was the most exciting of all. We took the train and went through the border into mainland China into Guangdong Province which is the communist part of China that borders on Hong Kong. We went to the city of Guangzhou, or in English this is called Canton. This is a city twice as big as Hong Kong – something like 13.5 million people are in Guangzhou. It was also twice as polluted as Hong Kong. Hong Kong – the air was polluted. But in Guangzhou the air was so thick with pollution the buildings were even obscured. Just a milky haze filled the air. The Pearl River which goes through the city, we were told, is just a stream of industrial waste. So it was really polluted. But it was a beautify city nonetheless. The buildings are beautify. The area is beautify. If China, as I said to Jan, ever someday passes a clean-air act, it is going to be a beautify country. But as it is now it is sad to see how thick with pollution everything is. But we went to the university which is named after Sun Yat Sen, the founder of modern China. You may have studied about him in your history class in junior high school or high school. In Chinese, I guess, his name is Zhongshan, and this was named Zhongshan University. I was there not at the invitation of a campus Christian group as I was in Hong Kong but there they had arranged things so that I was there at the invitation of the university as a guest of the philosophy department. So the philosophy department met us there, took us to the university – beautify and spacious campus, tree lined, walkways, palm trees growing. It reminded me of Savannah. It really looked like Savannah except what looked like Spanish Moss dripping from the trees was actually roots from the Banyan Trees that were all coming down. It was just a gorgeous campus.
They had arranged for me to speak in an afternoon seminar to the philosophy department after lunch. Over lunch I sat next to a Chinese philosopher in the department, and he confided to me in a whisper, he said, “We have forty men in the department, but he said only half of them are real philosophers.” I knew what he meant from my experience in Soviet Russia. The philosophy departments in these communist countries are the departments where the Marxist indoctrinators are ensconced. That is what philosophy has been in these communist countries. It was just teaching Marxist propaganda. So half of the department were still these old-line Marxists. The younger faculty were more bona fide thinkers who would study real philosophy.
During the seminar, I spoke on “Science and Religion, Friend or Foe?” I gave six ways in which science and religion are friends and can interact together to help us discover the truth. There were two of these old-line Marxists in the audience. You could just tell because they were older and grizzled. They just went after me in the Q&A time. They got very exercised – they were wagging their finger at me, jabbering in Chinese just a mile a minute scolding me like a child. But when they would translate this for me into English to respond to, they really had no substantive objections at all – they were just venting their emotions that they didn't like this idea of science and religion getting together. So I would try to respond in a very gracious and calm way. I think it just made these fellows as they ranted and raved look more and more isolated and more and more behind the curve if you know what I mean. It was very clear, I think, that where the real excitement and cutting edge is is on the integration of science and faith. That is where you needed to be doing your serious thinking. So it was a wonderful opportunity to be a Christian witness to the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith in the midst of this communist department and faculty.
That evening, after supper, they had a public lecture scheduled that would be open to all the students. But they didn't hardly publicize this thing. They just put up a few hand-written posters that very day. But nevertheless when we got to the room that night it was packed with just wall-to-wall students. They were just squeezed into this. They were out the door. Fortunately, they had amplification so students remained outside and listened to it over the loudspeaker even though they couldn't get a place in the room. I spoke on “Can we be good without God?” I argued basically the moral argument – that apart from God there are no objective values, no duties, no moral accountability. So if you do believe in those things you have to believe in God as a basis for those.
You can imagine the kind of questions this provoked from an audience that has been schooled in atheism. Many of the questions were written on paper and they just kept pouring forward through the audience and piling up in front of us. Others were students standing up. But the questions weren't hostile. They weren't hostile questions. They were searching questions wanting to know the answer and trying to understand what was being said. So I put up on the whiteboard behind me the premises of the argument. Then I symbolized it in logical notation and explained the logic of it so they could understand it. You could tell they were just really getting this. My translator who was a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University just did a cracker jack job of translated. He was so on top of it. I was told he was accurate on every word. He did it with intonation and emphasis. It was just terrific.
During the Q&A time one student finally asked me right out – are you a Christian and what makes Christianity superior to other world religions? I thought this is my chance to share my testimony. What we've been emphasizing in this class for weeks and weeks. So I shared my testimony about how I came to Christ. When I got to the part about how I cried out to God and I felt this infusion of joy as God came into my life and I ran outside, looked up at the stars, and thought I've come to know God, at that point the whole student audience burst into applause spontaneously. I then wound up my testimony by explaining why I thought Christianity was the truth, and then encouraged them to do what I did if they were not yet a Christian – to pick up a New Testament. At that point I saw a girl sitting about two rows back in the audience, a Chinese girl, smiling from ear to ear and she held up her New Testament. Not so others could see it, but just enough for me to see it. She had her New Testament with her. I said to pick up a New Testament and ask yourself, “Could there really be a God who exists who loves you and who sent his Son to die on the cross for you and could change your life just as it changed mine.” At that point they all burst into applause again. The philosophy faculty who were there were just stunned by this. They had no anticipation that this many students would come; they had no idea there was this kind of interest. They were especially shocked that they all applauded when I shared my story. I said, “Yeah, they did!” Afterwards, the philosophers said to me, “Any time you would like to come back to Zhongshan University again, you are welcome.” So it was really just an open door to further ministry there.
We were accompanied on that trip by about fourteen of the Christians from Hong Kong who were kind of scouting it out to see what ministry opportunities there might be there for them to come back and try to build a movement on the campus.
So it was just a really great time. There were many, many other things that we said and did and saw that I don't have time to describe it. Those were just some of the highlights. I felt that especially that trip to Zhongshan University in Guangzhou was really frontier evangelism. It was missions frontier because these were kids from parts of China where the Gospel isn't freely proclaimed. I thought afterwards that no missionary could have done what happened at this meeting because it is illegal. But I was there as a guest of the university as an academic lecturer. I get in, the door is open, and I shared my testimony. It is just exciting to see how God can use Christian academics in settings that would be closed to your traditional missionaries. They are talking now about maybe doing a tour of various Chinese universities in the mainland where I would be able to give these kinds of academic talks. They are really apologetics talks, but to them academic talks. Then followed by Q&A. They said that when I called for the students to pick up a New Testament and make a commitment to Christ that I really kind of stepped over the line. They said you shouldn't have done that. That is what my Hong Kong friends said, not the philosophers. The Hong Kong folks said, “This isn't supposed to happen, these kinds of things.” But they said if there are any ripples, any problems, we will just say there was a student who asked you straight out the question and you were merely responding to the question. They said we don't think there will be any trouble. But it did remind me – you have to mind your P's and Q's. There are limits.
Answer: Certainly at the universities at Hong Kong there is followup because I was there at the invitation of the InterVarsity and Campus Crusade groups and the Christian Scholars Faculty Fellowship. They will certainly be there. But at Zhongshan there is nothing that I know of, and I don't think that they knew of formerly, to follow up students there except these informal contacts. Certainly these Hong Kong folks want to go back there again, as I say. They want to see something happen there. I expect there were some emails and business cards that were exchanged. That is very traditional in China. So only those informal contacts. But given the situation, that is about the best you could do. Clearly there were some Christians there, like the girl who held up the New Testament. So this undoubtedly, you can imagine the encouragement this was to her faith. She will probably be witnessing to her friends hopefully. That is the kind of thing we just have to trust the Lord. There isn't anything organized that I know of.
Answer: That's right. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the growth.” So Paul says neither Apollos counts for anything nor Paul for anything but only God who gives the growth. I was just reading that verse in 1 Corinthians 3 because at Moody yesterday I had to follow Ravi Zacharias on the program and I thought, “I am not here to compete with Ravi. We are here to help train these Christians.” Apollos and Paul are just stewards of the grace of God. It is God who gives the growth. I was just doing an attitude check using that verse in following him, because that can be intimidating.
Answer: We were told that Bibles are accessible there. That is not a problem. But doing this kind of evangelism is something that can't happen publicly.
Answer: Yes, I can actually. It is really very odd. There is a Christian physicist at Hong Kong University named Chris Beling. He was wanting to teach in some of his classes about intelligent design, which is this kind of new movement in biology that Christians are spearheading to argue against the Darwinian mechanisms of evolution by saying you need an intelligent designer. But Hong Kong University clamped down on him and said, “You may not teach these things.” They prohibited him from teaching a couple of these courses. He was so frustrated by this he said, “We need to bring in some kind of an outside speaker who can address these issues and put them on the table so they will be discussed.” So he wrote to me and said, “Would you be willing to come to Hong Kong?” I said, “Yes, I would be delighted to!” I think he said later that kind of caught him by surprised because now all of a sudden he found himself in charge of this speaking tour that he knew nothing about. So I suggested he contact other groups in Hong Kong, and immediately he got in touch with InterVarsity, Campus Crusade, and other Christian academics. There was one gal there named Pauline Chu who is a Christian chemist at Hong Kong University. She studied at the University of Toronto and spoke flawless English. She really helped to mastermind and plan this trip, along with just a number of other people in these churches that I mentioned at which I spoke. So it was really a coalition of these various groups just cobbling this thing all together. Then under Pauline and Chris’s supervision, and with Bob and Mary’s tremendous help as a catalyst in helping to organize it, it all came together beautifully. It turned out to be a beautifully organized trip.
Answer: Was there any kind of protest or any thing of that sort? Nothing like that. You know, this is funny, I find this in the United States, too. I never seem to get hostile people. There will be skeptical questioners but never anybody that is really threatening or hostile in that way. I guess I think if you just approach these questions with sweet reason people respond in that way. So, no, it wasn’t like that at all. The audiences were very sincere. You can tell from the questions they weren’t hostile; they really wanted to know the truth and were interested in what I had to share.
Answer: That was done through a philosophy professor named Kai-man Kwan whom Jan and I had met years ago at a conference at Beijing. He is a Christian philosopher – a good brother. Kai-man had some kind of connections with the philosophers at Zhongshan University. So Kai-man, I guess, contacted them and said, “We are having this Christian philosopher from the United States speaking at our university here in Hong Kong. Would you like to have him there?” Apparently they said, “Yeah, it sounds great.” So it was, again, through this network of fellow Christian philosophers. I just love these guys. Phin Sing and Kai-man are just such dear Christian brothers committed to Christ and also committed to doing first-rate Christian scholarship in their fields of theology and philosophy respectively. They are just great guys. They both translated for me. They knew all the vocabulary and the concepts and were able to do a masterful job. It was through him that it was set up.
Answer: It is hard to know. We really had to deal a lot with just physical illness and exhaustion while we were there. Poor Jan had a head bursting with sinusitis when we went. I then, after I was there, also fell ill. But we had these antibiotics with us that we had brought with us from Atlanta. That really saved the day. Plus, I could tell after speaking three times about the second day I spoke three times in a row. The last time without amplification which was a mistake. I could tell afterwards I am losing my voice. I am going hoarse. If I give the talk tonight I’m going to have total laryngitis. What I arranged for Pauline Chu to do was she actually gave my talk that night. I have my talks all written out word for word so Pauline took the text and she gave the talk. She did a great job! She had emphasis and intonation and everything. I thought this is a good way to give talks! I just sit back and have her give it. I answered the questions during the Q&A. That saved my voice and saved the rest of the trip really.
But when we went into these Buddhist temples and Daoist temples, I was a little leery, frankly, because I thought could these be inhabited with demonic beings? Might we in some way infect or oppress ourselves by entering these things. I have to say I didn’t sense that at all. When I went into these places, they were like commercial enterprises. You know what the centerpiece of these temples is? It is fortune-telling. People go in there and they throw these pieces of wood and then tell you whether or not you are going to have good luck or bad luck. It was really commercial enterprise. People weren’t in there for spiritual reasons, in the sense to meet with God or anything. It was so unspiritual. It was so crass and commercialized and mechanical that I didn’t sense any kind of evil spirits there at all. Did you, honey? [Jan speaks off-mic]. It was really depressing seeing these poor people going through these mechanical, meaningless prayers and things. So we had the illness to deal with but nothing apart from that. I think the trip was really bathed in prayer on both sides of the Pacific. We felt, I think, very comfortable being there.
One aspect of the trip that I forgot to mention and I wish I brought it with me this morning to show you, but in preparation for my being there they translated four of my articles into Chinese. The one on contemporary scholarship and the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, the five arguments God exists and three reasons it makes a difference, the article on the necessity of theological foundations for morality, and the one called The Ultimate Questions of Origins – on the Big Bang and how it points to God. These then were put into four separate little booklets that were then put into a box set that they would sell and make available to students. The graphics on these were so slick; they were just beautifully done and very polished. Little booklets in this box set. It was a wonderful tool for folks to follow up and to learn more about what was said. It was something that they could take with them. That was one of the sharpest things that they did for this trip – having these translated materials.
Answer: I would say obliquely, not directly. I never mentioned Marxism. I never even mentioned, I don’t think, the word atheism. But what I would say would be things like, “If God does not exist, there is no sound foundation for morality because without God there are no objective values, there are no objective moral duties, and there is no moral accountability.” Then I would argue that there are those things, and therefore you need to believe in God. Implicitly, yeah, that denies atheism and denies Marxism. But I didn’t say things like Marx was wrong, or dialectical materialism is wrong. But it was shot through everything I said about science and religion and about moral values. There is this veneer of Marxism to which lip service is given, but I don’t think a lot of these philosophers even believe it themselves. We were very careful not to ask them about any of their beliefs because you don’t want to out them and endanger them. But we suspected, for example, that one of these philosophers may have well been a Christian secretly because he was so enthusiastic and warm and welcoming. We just had a feeling that he knew the Lord. But we didn’t try to out him in any way.
Answer: Not from the trip per se but from things that we read in preparation for going there. It is pretty bad in China right now, unfortunately. The government is really cracking down on the house churches and imprisoning its leaders. It is ugly. It really is a hideous kind of government and system that exists there. You just kind of have to, as I say, go below the radar a little bit and not try to overtly stand up and make an issue of it. Then you will be all right, at least, if you are there as I was. As a guest of the university I was officially there. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. So we were safe in that sense. But yeah the persecution is ongoing right now and even accelerated in recent years.
Answer: There has been a change in government and the new guy is cracking down. He is tightening the reigns even more. There is another cult in China called Fulang Gong which is, I don’t know, a mystical cult. The Chinese government is committed to eradicating it. These people are brutally persecuted. We saw posters in Hong Kong protesting the persecution of Fulang Gong. They had pictures of people with bloodied feet that have just been beaten until their feet were raw, and bruises all over their legs and bodies. It was really horrible what is happening in China to these people. Even though they are a cult, nevertheless, they have a right to religious freedom and belief, we think. But not in China. It is pretty sad.
Answer: That’s the hope. As they become more and more a capitalistic economy – and, boy, you could see that there – that this free enterprise would bring more political and religious freedom. But up to this point, at least, they are able to do this balancing act of having a kind of free enterprise capitalistic economy but have no political or religious freedom at the same time. The horror would be a China that becomes vastly wealthy, capitalistically speaking, but continues to have a communist government. That would be really scary.
Answer: The question is whether or not they can do it. That is what they are determined to do. That would be horrible. You could see that leading to a world war someday. The hope is that, as in Russia, this government will eventually have to change, too. That will be a glorious day.
Again, thanks so much for your prayers and all the support that you lent to us. It was an exhausting but really a very rich and rewarding time. We were glad to be there as representatives from JFBC and this class as well.
We have a little time left so maybe we can have a word of prayer. Then we will say something about our lesson today.
[Dr. Craig leads off the class material with prayer, reminds people about an invitation card that he has for people to hand out to invite people to class, and he hands out an outline.]
We’ve been looking at arguments for the existence of God. It occurred to me, as we watched that Austin Dacey debate at Purdue University and especially the one gal who said after seeing his first speech, “Are you sure this doesn’t do more harm than good?” that maybe what we ought to do is spend a little time looking at arguments against the existence of God, such as those that were raised by Austin Dacey, and seeing exactly where the weakness in those arguments lie. So we will have not only a positive case for belief in God, but we will also have a defensive critique of the objections that are typically raised against God’s existence.
So we want to begin by looking at what I call epistemological objections. Epistemology is a big word that you should learn – it means theory of knowledge. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge – how we know things. It comes from the Greek word episteme which means “knowledge.” These arguments are basically rooted in the impossibility of having a knowledge of God’s existence. Somehow the evidence isn’t enough or that it isn’t rational to believe in God. These are arguments based upon theism not meeting the requirements for knowledge. So that is why I call them epistemological objections. Somehow theism or the belief that God exists just doesn’t measure up to what we call knowledge.
The first challenge that I want to think about with you is called verificationism. Verificationism was a philosophy that was dominant during the first half of the 20th century in the Anglo-American world. It belonged to a school of thought called logical positivism. Basically what logical positivism tried to say is that religious beliefs or other types of beliefs like this are unverifiable through the five senses and therefore they are meaningless. They championed something called the verification principle of meaning. According to the verification principle of meaning, an informative sentence, in order to be meaningful, must be capable of being empirically verified. That is to say, you have to be able to verify it through your five senses. If it cannot be empirically verified then the statement isn’t false, it is meaningless. It is neither true nor false. It is just a meaningless combination of words. Since statements like “God exists” or “God loves me” or “God sent his Son into the world” were in the view of the verificationists not capable of being verified through the five senses, they said that they are meaningless. It would be like saying “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe” - just meaningless. It is not false. It doesn’t even have the dignity to be false. It is just meaningless.
This verificationist principle went through a number of revisions, one of which was called the falsification principle. According to the falsification principle, a meaningful sentence must be capable in principle of being falsified; that is to say, there must be some empirical test that you could perform in principle that would show the statement to be false. If there is nothing you could do to prove it was false then the sentence was just meaningless. The prospects for religious language under the falsification principle were no brighter than under the verification principle because these thinkers believed that there is no conditions under which religious statements could be falsified or verified because they were just totally non-empirical. That is to say, they were about entities that aren’t discernible by the five senses, like God. God loves me. There is nothing you can do to empirically verify that or falsify it through your five senses.
To give an example. There was a symposium held at Oxford University in 1948 called Theology and Falsification which featured the famous British philosopher Antony Flew. Flew borrowed a story that he had heard from another philosopher to illustrate the falsification principle in operation against religious language. He said let’s imagine that there were two explorers working their way through the jungle. They come upon a clearing in the jungle in which they find a patch of flowers growing. The one explorer is convinced that this patch of flowers is in fact a garden that has been planted there by some gardener who tends it. The other philosopher says, no, this is just a natural clearing in the jungle in which some flowers happened to grow. In the story that Flew tells they try to find the gardener. They camp out near the clearing but no gardener is ever seen. They set up electrical trip wires around the clearing and no alarms ever go off. They are never able to find any trace of the gardener. In order to save his hypothesis that there is a gardener, the one explorer has to continually revise his hypothesis by saying maybe the gardener is an invisible gardener, or maybe he is intangible so never trips the electrical fence. It is an undetectable gardener. Finally, in frustration, the other explorer replies, “Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from no gardener at all?” Well, the gardener in the story is obviously a symbol of God. The idea here is that an intangible, undetectable, eternally elusive God is no different than no God at all. So the story was meant to illustrate the meaninglessness of the God hypothesis, just as the gardener hypothesis was said to be meaningless.
As you think about this story, I think we would all agree that the gardener hypothesis had, in fact, suffered death by a thousand qualifications, as Flew put it. It had become so revised and contrived that it was no longer plausible. But why does that disqualify the gardener hypothesis? What was wrong with that? I think the answer is that the gardener hypothesis becomes increasingly and increasingly contrived to fit the results. In other words, it becomes what is sometimes called ad hoc. ad hoc is Latin meaning “to this” and it means in a sense that the hypothesis becomes tailored to the facts. It doesn’t explain the facts. Just whatever the facts are you just adjust the hypothesis to fit it. So it becomes increasingly ad hoc and therefore is not a good explanation.
To give an illustration in science, in the late 19th century, physicists believed that light was carried by an invisible medium called the ether, just as waves in the ocean are carried by water or sound waves are carried by the air. So they thought light was waves in this invisible medium of the ether. But attempt after experimental attempt after experimental attempt failed to detect any presence of the ether. The concept of the ether got continually revised. It was said that maybe the ether somehow binds to the Earth and travels along the Earth with it like an atmosphere, and that is why we can’t detect our motion through th ether. Maybe the ether has certain intangible properties that prevent us from detecting it. It finally got so contrived and revised that the ether became no different than nothing at all. It was just revised and contrived right out of existence. So the ether hypothesis became so ad hoc and contrived that it was abandoned by modern physics.
In exactly the same way, this gardener hypothesis is an unacceptable hypothesis because it becomes so artificially tailored to the facts and contrived that it becomes unacceptably ad hoc. But what Flew was arguing was that the gardener hypothesis was meaningless. That is very different, you see. To say the hypothesis is unacceptable because it is contrived or ad hoc is not to say it is meaningless. Flew seemed to think that the conditions for falsifying a hypothesis were part of the meaning of the hypothesis. The conditions for falsifying it were part of what the hypothesis meant. So if there were no conditions that would falsify it, the hypothesis was literally meaningless. That is obviously wrong because the very fact that the two explorers were able to disagree on their hypothesis shows that they clearly understood each other. The problem with the gardener hypothesis was not that it was meaningless, it was that it was false. It was ad hoc. But it was clearly meaningful because the explorers could argue about it and could set up tests to try to detect the gardener. So they clearly understood it. Similarly, the God hypothesis is one we clearly understand. We understand what it means to say God loves me, or God created the world. The question then is not whether those hypotheses are meaningless but in this case whether it is unacceptably ad hoc or not. So the gardener story that he gave really failed to show, I think, that religious statements, if they are unverifiable or unfalsifiable, are meaningless.
Answer: Oxford University. It was a symposium called Theology and Falsification.
In general, the verification principle of meaning suffered two debilitating weaknesses.
First of all, the principle was too restrictive a criterion of meaning. It was very quickly realized by epistemologists (or theorists of knowledge) that if you follow this principle it would force you to regard as meaningless vast stretches of human discourse and language, including not just religious statements but ethical statements, aesthetic statements, metaphysical statements, and in the end even scientific statements. There are a lot of statements in science that are not verifiable or falsifiable in and of themselves. So the principle would just be utterly unreasonable because it would be far too restrictive. We clearly have meaningful discourse in areas of human language which are not subject to either verification or falsification.
But secondly, and this was the especially damning criticism, it turned out that the verification principle is self-refuting. Just ask yourself the question, is this statement verifiable or falsifiable: “A meaningful sentence must be verifiable.” Is that verifiable? No! There is no scientific test, no experiment you could perform, to determine the truth of this. Therefore, the verification principle turns out by its own criterion to be just a meaningless combination of words! That sentence has no meaning by its own criterion. Therefore, there is no reason to be bothered by it, no reason to be troubled by it. At best, it would just be an arbitrary definition which we are at liberty to reject. Indeed, not a very good definition because, as I said in point one, it is evident that there are vast stretches of human language and discourse which are meaningful even though they are not verifiable or falsifiable.
Therefore, by the second half of the 20th century, the verification principle had collapsed under the deficiencies of its own incoherence. It was self-refuting, self-referentially incoherent. It refuted itself. Therefore, logical positivism and its verification principle collapsed. What happened in the second half of the 20th century is that there has been a revival of metaphysics. Metaphysics is the area of philosophy that asks about the nature of ultimate reality, and talks about issues that are beyond empirical verification, beyond your five senses. With this renaissance of metaphysics has come as well a renaissance of philosophy of religion, and particularly Christian philosophy of religion.
So in large measure, the contemporary burst of activity, this renaissance of interest in philosophy of religion, is due to the collapse of logical positivism and verificationism in the second half of the 20th century.
Sadly, however, I find in speaking at universities you will still hear people espousing this kind of verificationism, particularly people in the sciences who were educated back in the 40s and 50s or students who were educated under those type of men and have never done any work in epistemology outside of that. You need to help gently explain to these folks that they are just out of touch. They are completely out of date. For those two reasons that I just gave, this verificationist theory of meaning is just untenable.
Answer: What that person is talking about is not science. What he is talking about is logical positivism. That is what you need to help the person see. Say, “You are not talking about science. You are talking about a philosophy of science called verificationism.” If you adopt this verificationist epistemology you will destroy science because science itself has unverifiable statements in it.
Let me just give you one, if you need an example. In science, there is a principle called the Copernican Principle which says that we occupy no special place in the universe. That is to say, the laws of nature that we observe governing Earth are the same laws of nature that govern Andromeda and the distant galaxies that we see. But there is no way to prove that. There is no way to prove that there is not a wholly different set of laws of nature that govern the other galaxies. We simply have to assume in science in order to do science that the same laws of nature that obtain here obtain there. That is called the Copernican Principle. It is a foundational assumption of science. It cannot be proved scientifically. So if you only believe in things that are empirically verifiable, you have to reject the Copernican Principle and you completely destroy science. As I say, this is not a Christian critique. This principle in positivism succumbed under the criticism of secular philosophers of science who realized this theory of meaning was too restrictive.
As well you point out to your friend the other point – there are truths that are not accessible by science like ethical truths and aesthetic truths and truths about the nature of the world like, for example, that there is an external world. Remember I gave examples earlier that you cannot prove scientifically that you are not a brain in a vat of chemicals being stimulated by electrodes.
Answer: But see, that wouldn’t work on a strict verificationist view. Because if you were a brain in a vat of chemicals you would have exactly those same sensations. Your feeling yourself is nothing but the sensation of your nerve endings in your brain. You don’t have to actually have a body to have the feeling that you are touching a body. All you have to do is have those nerve sensations. If you are wired up with electrodes in a vat of chemicals – your brain is – he can make you feel your body, see these other people, hear them. All of that. Again, I am not trying to make you a skeptic, but what I am trying to say is that if you adopt the epistemology that you only believe what can be empirically verified, you won’t believe in those kind of metaphysical truths like there is an external world, which is crazy.
So, you show the person that it is too restrictive, and then you also show them that it would undermine itself.
Answer: I am so glad you brought that illustration up. I had forgotten about that. But the movie Contact I think is a brilliant critique of verificationism. Especially what I like is when she has that vision of the cosmos and she cries, “I never knew. I never knew.” It is like a person when is first comes to know Christ, first comes to know God. You go back and you try to tell people, “It is real. God is real. He is there.” And they say, “Show me the evidence. Prove it.” And you are at a loss for words. Yet you’ve experienced that self-authenticating presence of the divine in the same way she did in the movie. I thought that was a beautiful illustration of just the inadequacies of this kind of verificationism. That is a good cultural bridge. If you can talk to someone, ask if they saw the movie Contact. It is just like that. I think that is very helpful.
Next time we will come back and look at the presumption of atheism. I hope to show that indeed atheism is very presumptuous, and that we have no reason to presume it is true.
 Total Running Time: 1:04:46 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)