We have been looking at a few theological arguments that if successful provide evidential warrant for accepting God’s existence. We will spend much more time examining them, the evidential weight for their premises, and the common objections brought against them. However, for now we will examine several reasons why I believe it is important we memorize the arguments and their premises. Towards the end of this essay I also want to encourage a spirit of humility and gentleness in engaging skeptics.
Arguably one of the most important reasons for memorizing theological arguments is because many skeptics and unbelievers don’t actually know that they exist. Sometimes just by being able to name the arguments for God’s existence without having to defend the premises is astonishing to many unbelievers. I found this to be the case during a recent dialogue I had with a skeptic until the early hours of the morning. It was quite evident from our discussion that he had never actually engaged any religious person who had reasons for their beliefs, nor was he really clear on what he himself believed. After exchanging ideas and listening to him keenly for hours, I summed up his worldview and identified him as a philosophical naturalist as well as a hyper-skeptic, though he wasn’t sure what a philosophical naturalist or hyper-skeptic actually was. In fact, he appeared most familiar with a relative’s belief without evidence (blind faith), which seem to vitalize his stereotype of all religious belief and religious people.
Nonetheless, when I mentioned that some notable leading philosophers had articulated deductive and inductive arguments for God’s existence he was quite taken aback; it was the first time he was hearing this. So, with his zealous appetite to confront a new challenge, he asked me to name one such argument in hope that he could shoot it down. So, I did and laid out the premises for the Kalam Cosmological Argument from memory which I found to be quite effortless given its simple premises. My friend hadn’t heard of the argument before so he didn’t tackle its premises. Knowing this I chose to move on to other points, namely the definition of faith, that every single person alive, religious or not, has faith, and that there exists metaphysical truths that are empirically unverifiable; my hope was to get my friend to consider the irrationality and the assumptions of his naturalism. We could talk for hours on end about theological arguments but if one hasn’t understood the very foundations of worldviews, especially the differences between a theistic and naturalistic worldview, then a deep examination of an argument might be ineffective in that specific situation.
This encounter showed that not every unbeliever has cogent reasons for his or her disbelief in God. Often their disbelief is little more than some stereotype that they hold or just what they’ve heard someone else say online or face-to-face. Of course, it would be disingenuous to say that this is true of all unbelievers.
Furthermore, for Christian theists specifically, it is instructed that he or she is able to give reasons for belief. 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts Christians to have an answer for anyone who asks for the reason for his or her hope. Again, speaking from experience, it is absolutely amazing just how many Christians do not know why they believe what they do, and have absolutely no comprehension of any of the arguments or pieces of evidence for their beliefs. What does such a Christian then do but look ignorant and silly when an unbeliever, who can actually smack an argument together, presents an argument against belief in God? “The Bible says it and that settles it!” is often the response, one that comes to everyones dismay.
However, if one can give reasons for belief in God, then she can be bold in her efforts when dialoguing with non-believers. Just to touch upon another anecdote, at a previous university I encountered a fellow student who knew that I was a Christian, and so she asked how I could believe in God when Stephen Hawking had disproved his existence. Sophisticated atheists who know anything about Hawking and science wouldn’t argue such a line given that the burden of proof it obviously requires for its epistemic justification. This opened up an avenue for discussion that continued for a number of weeks and resulted in a friendship. I explained that although Hawking had come out as an atheist, he had not disproved God’s existence; rather, his argument was that it is irrational to hold that God created the universe, and so on. Besides, as any good philosopher of science would tell you, it is not possible for science to disprove philosophical and metaphysical beliefs given science’s own methodological constraints. Thus, from just being bold, mostly due to my increasing familiarity with the subject of apologetics at that early time, I was able to plant a seed. It was amazing that three years later, after both of us having graduated from that university, I came across a friend of this girl in an unexpected place. The friend informed me that the she still remembers me and the conversation we had! The conversation evidently opened up the possibility of belief, as is my hope for the girl. Thus, for anyone simply being confident in his or her belief as a result of having reasons for that belief, it increases the credibility of the belief in the eyes of others.
Moreover, memorizing the premises to the arguments is helpful for keeping exchanges relevant. Often an exchange can be led off course as a result of some red herring. Thus, it is always helpful to observe a counter challenge and see which premise of an argument it challenges. If it does not challenge any premise then it is irrelevant. For example, I outlined the moral argument for God’s existence, and one atheist seemed to deduce that the argument suggested that unbelievers are immoral because they don’t believe in God. I am often amazed at how many atheists, sophisticated ones as well, seem to deduce such a misconception. Thus, if one takes the atheist’s line, “How can you honestly argue that we atheists can’t live good moral lives!,” it is quite evident that no premise within the moral argument actually says such a thing. Knowing this allows for the defender of the argument to not only correct misconceptions about the arguments themselves, but also keep the dialogue relevant.
Nonetheless, it is important that when presenting arguments for God’s existence it should be done humbly, and with gentleness and respect. It is mightily unproductive for one to use arguments to prove their intellectual “superiority” over others, an act that does far more harm than good. Becoming confrontational with those who disagree will simply push them further away from ever believing in God. For example, I’ve witnessed numerous anecdotes of former atheists who were entirely put off of their atheism because of the vitriol, contempt, and fundamentalism espoused by the likes of Dawkins and co. towards those who disagree with them. I thus only wonder how many former believers have left Christianity because of similar things. Moreover, becoming angry and contemptuous towards an ideological opponent is demonstrative of a weak faith that is easily threatened. Yet, if one has an understanding of the arguments for God’s existence, then she shouldn’t become agitated within an exchange. Quite to the contrary the theist can take delight in discussing the arguments with those who oppose them, even if others don’t accept the arguments themselves.