are people who assert that there is no God. They may say that
atoms or their component parts in space make up the sum total
of all reality. Whatever the analysis, these people assert that
finite physical reality is all there is—that there is nothing
else. There are several divisions in this group. One historically
prominent group is the Logical Positivists. By an analysis of
language, they conclude that theology is not so much false as
it is plain nonsense. To them, speaking of God is like saying
that the typewriter is the bluish-green sound of the square root
of minus one. Theology is not good enough even to be false; it
is simple nonsense. Other devotees of scientism are not Logical
Positivists. Their theories are called naturalism or humanism,
and they would call theology bigoted falsehood. Various political
liberals are atheists, and often their socialistic creed attacks
theology as a reactionary hindrance to social advancement….
of this may expect to find a straightforward refutation of atheism.
But he may be disappointed, for the situation is somewhat complicated.
In the first place, one might accuse the atheist of never having
proved that the physical universe is the only reality and that
there are no supernatural beings. This would be satisfactory,
if the term atheism means the argued denial of a Deity.
But atheists, like agnostics, shift the burden of proof and say
the theist is under obligation to demonstrate the truth of his
view; but the atheist considers himself under no such obligation.
Atheists usually wobble back and forward. Yet, Ernest Nagel, who
may be called a naturalist in philosophy, seems to argue:
“the occurrence of events [he means each and every event
without exception]...is contingent on the organization of spatio-temporally
located bodies.... That this is so is one of the best-tested conclusions
of experience.... There is no place for an immaterial spirit directing
the course of events, no place for the survival of personality
after the corruption of the body which exhibits it.”
This is an atheistic, not an agnostic, statement.
He argues that science has proved the nonexistence of God, but
the argument is invalid. No scientist has ever produced any evidence
that man’s intellect ceases to function at death. Since
his methods have not discovered any spirit, Nagel assumes there
can be none. He refuses to question his methods. Atheism is not
a conclusion developed by his methods; rather it is the assumption
on which his methods are based. The agnostic, however, is not
so dogmatic. He shifts the burden and demands theists prove that
an omnipotent spirit has created and now controls the universe.
This is quite a challenge, and it is one that the Christian is
duty bound to face. No Christian with intellectual ability can
excuse himself by claiming theology is useless hairsplitting.
Peter has warned him otherwise. …
Now, the answer to the agnostic’s very pertinent
question is rather complex, and the reader must not expect anything
simple. Furthermore, the answer given here will appear unsatisfactory
and disappointing to some very honest Christians. For these reasons
the present reply to agnosticism will begin with an explanation
of how not to answer the question. If this seems a cumbersome
and roundabout way of going at it, and the impatient non-theologian
wants immediate results, it must be pointed out that the initial
choice between two roads determines the destination. Choose the
wrong road and one ends up lost and confused. Remember Bunyan’s
Christian and how he looked down two roads, trying to see which
one was straight. Then there came along a swarthy pilgrim in a
white robe who pointed out to him, with great confidence, which
road Christian should take. It ended in near disaster. Therefore
we shall begin by pointing out the wrong road.
Now, I do
not wish to say that those who recommend the wrong road in the
present matter are flattering deceivers whose white robes are
hypocritical disguises. On the contrary, a large number of respectable
and honest authors, from Aristotle to Charles Hodge and Robert
Sproul, insist that the best and indeed the only way to prove
the existence of God is to study the growth of a plant, the path
of a planet, the motion of a marble. They support this seemingly
secular method by quoting Psalm 19:1— “The
heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his
handiwork.” Therefore we should study astronomy to refute
the atheist and to instruct the agnostic. Paul says that God’s
omnipotence can be deduced from the way a little boy shoots a
marble—a thing that has been made. Some stalwart Romanists
boast that Paul foresaw and placed his stamp of approval on Thomas’
There are two difficulties with this enthusiastic
recommendation. The first is not conclusive, but those who approve
of the argument must pay attention to it. The difficulty is its
difficulty: It is a very hard method. The second difficulty is
its virtual uselessness.
difficulty—inconclusive evidence and a hard method to prove—can
be best addressed with a few examples. Suppose we can get a microscope
and examine the internal phloem of the Lykopersikon esculentum.
Botany is even worse than theology in its use of long and technical
words. We get a clear picture of the internal structure of a plant,
but we cannot discover God by a detailed, microscopic look into
a tomato. If we carefully observe the motion of the planets, we
will see that the squares of their periodic times are proportional
to their mean distances from the Sun. If we succeeded in getting
this information, we could conclude that God is a great mathematician
and that salvation depends on understanding mathematics. Essentially,
this is what the ancient Greek philosophical school of the Pythagoreans
said. They believed that a happy life after death was the reward
for studying arithmetic and geometry. …
However, the mere fact that an argument is difficult
and complex does not prove that it is a fallacy. Geometry and
calculus may drive students to despair, but the theorems are usually
regarded as valid deductions. Contrariwise, when one examines
the argument as Thomas actually wrote it, serious flaws appear.
In another work, I have detailed some of Thomas’ fallacies.
One of them is a case of circularity, in which he uses as a premise
the conclusion he wished to prove. Another is the case of a term
that has one meaning in the premises and a different meaning in
the conclusion. No syllogism can be valid if the conclusion contains
an idea not already given in the premises.
The conclusion therefore is: The so-called “cosmological
argument” is not only extremely difficult—since it
would require a great amount of science, mathematics, and philosophy
to prove it—but it is inconclusive and irremediably fallacious.
This is no way to answer the atheists.
difficulty is that even if such an argument were valid, it would
be useless. This objection applies more to modern authors than
to Aristotle. Aristotle’s notion of god was quite clear:
the Unmoved Mover, thought thinking thought; and this metaphysical
mind has a definite role in the explanation of natural phenomena.
But the god of contemporary empiricists seems to have no role
at all; mainly because the meaning they attach to the word God
is utterly vague. …Christians should be more concerned about
what kind of God exists rather than about the existence of God.
The explanation of a second method must begin
with a more direct confrontation with atheism. If the existence
of God cannot be deduced by cosmology, have we dodged the burden
of proof and left the battlefield in the possession of our enemies?
No; there is indeed a theistic answer. Superficially, it is not
difficult to understand; but, unfortunately, a full appreciation
of its force requires some philosophic expertise. A knowledge
of geometry is of great help, but it is seldom taught in the public
high schools. One cannot realistically expect Christians to have
read and to have understood Spinoza; and Protestant churches usually
anathematize plain, ordinary Aristotelian logic.
In geometry there are axioms and theorems. One
of the early theorems is, “An exterior angle of a triangle
is greater than either opposite interior angle.” A later
one is the famous Pythagorean theorem: the sum of the squares
of the other two sides of a right triangle equals the square of
its hypotenuse. How theological all this sounds! These two theorems
and all others are deduced logically from a certain set of axioms.
But the axioms are never deduced. They are assumed without proof.
There is a
definite reason why not everything can be deduced. If one tried
to prove the axioms of geometry, one must refer back to prior
propositions. If these too must be deduced, there must be previous
propositions, and so on back ad infinitum. From which
it follows: If everything must be demonstrated, nothing can be
demonstrated, for there would be no starting point. If you cannot
start, then you surely cannot finish.
Every system of theology or philosophy must have
a starting point. Logical Positivists started with the unproved
assumption that a sentence can have no meaning unless it can be
tested by sensation. To speak without referring to something that
can be touched, seen, smelled, and especially measured, is to
speak nonsense. But they never deduce this principle. It is their
non-demonstrable axiom. Worse, it is self-contradictory, for it
has not been seen, smelled, or measured; therefore it is self-condemned
If the axioms of other secularists are not nonsense,
they are nonetheless axioms. Every system must start somewhere,
and it cannot have started before it starts. A naturalist might
amend the Logical Positivist’s principle and make it say
that all knowledge is derived from sensation. This is not nonsense,
but it is still an empirically unverifiable axiom. If it is not
self-contradictory, it is at least without empirical justification.
Other arguments against empiricism need not be given here: The
point is that no system can deduce its axioms.
The inference is this: No one can consistently
object to Christianity’s being based on a non-demonstrable
axiom. If the secularists exercise their privilege of basing their
theorems on axioms, then so can Christians. If the former refuse
to accept our axioms, then they can have no logical objection
to our rejecting theirs. Accordingly, we reject the very basis
of atheism, Logical Positivism, and, in general, empiricism. Our
axiom shall be, God has spoken. More completely, God has spoken
in the Bible. More precisely, what the Bible says, God has spoken.
and edited with permission from , P. O. Box 68, Unicoi, TN 37692. Originally
appeared in The Trinity Review, July/August 1983. The full essay
is available under “Review Archives” at the Trinity
Foundation’s website: .