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JONAL ENTRY 1208 | DECEMBER 12 2011

Last time, I referred to two of the classical logical arguments or proofs for God, one of which I named, the ontological argument that says that if anything exists it points to the existence of a Higher Being capable of creating it and other lower forms. I also referred to the teleological argument, but did not name it. Teleology means purpose, and the simplified take on the argument is that if anything exhibits purposeful design, that demonstrates a Purposer and Designer behind it, To flip it the other way, it holds that if there is no God, life has no purpose. The other major logical argument is known as the cosmological, which says that whenever an a effect can be observed, it always points back to a cause and a Causer. There is no effect without a cause, my Edwardsian friend likes to say. All of these arguments sound to me like variations on a single theme.

These arguments are called logical proofs because thus far there has been no logical argument that can irrefutably "disprove" them. Though these arguments mesh well with the popular conception of the "idealistic" philosophy of Plato (c. 424 - 347 BC) which, simplified, says that every phenomenon in the material world is but a "shadow" of its ideal or perfect prototype in the spiritual or perfect realm, these arguments had their greatest support among Christians during the age of reason, in the eighteenth century. The Platonic approach to such a view was popularized in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, especially the final book in the series, The Last Battle, in which the material Narnia is destroyed and the followers of Aslan (the original Lion King, the Messiah of Narnia) are transferred to the ideal Narnia, or heaven.

Though rationalism argues that reason is the only thing needed for a full life (excluding religion, faith, and revelation from the Scriptures and the church) Jonathan Edwards and other Christian thinkers tried to use rational arguments in a biblical context. I think the Bible supports that approach. Unlike the Hindu vedas discussed here last time, there is never a logical disconnect in the Scriptures of Old and New Testament. There is never an assertion that is then followed, as one of the assertions in the vedas last time was, by a skeptical rejoinder like "this could be how it happened, or not" or "the cosmos may have been the work of a creator, or may have come about in some other way." The Bible is written in the prescientific vocabulary of its writers, but it has never at any point been shown to be wrong scientifically.

Both the anti-theistic rationalism and its biblical version were soon superseded by later philosophies, probably the most influential of which was empiricism, which can be described as turning the "scientific method" into a philosophy. To empiricists, the only "valid" proof is that which can be demonstrated in a laboratory sense, and to such thinkers "logical proofs" prove nothing. This is also known as modernism, which may have had its apotheosis (highest point) in the 1940s when modernist theologian Rudolph Bultmann declared that anyone who has flipped on an electric light switch or used modern medicine cannot believe in miracles (his claim is not sensible, of course, but many "higher thinkers" of that age—including most of those in the media, in the establishment universities and the Washington establishment—thought that way).

Some Christians who have wanted to affirm empiricism while defending orthodoxy have tried to prove that God answers prayers by doing double blind studies of healings or failures to find healing that were supported by prayers and comparing an equal number of healings or failures in patients who had no prayer support. Lewis is one of many Christians who considered such experiments misguided (is God likely to honor an "experiment" in which prayer has been withheld, when He has specifically commanded that His followers are to always pray?).

Of course the teleological argument can be used in an upside-down way to support the religion that denies purpose. Many people obviously would rather believe the world has no purpose—that the cosmos is irrational—than give up their freedom to sin or to have things their way than live the way the Judeo-Christian God would have them live. So it seems likely that they will prefer scriptures, like the vedas, which encourage open-ended skepticism than a closed system of rational faith.

Maybe I'm seeing the extremes while overlooking a larger middle?

What do you think?

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy