“No Argument For God” by John Wilkinson

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Book Review

John Wilkinson believes strongly in reason and in argument in the pursuit of spiritual truth. He employs both, at length, to deny the usefulness of reason and argument in the pursuit of spiritual truth. His book is titled No Argument for God: Going Beyond Reason in Conversations About Faith, and its central thesis goes like this (page 102):

It comes down to this: virtually no one I have had a conversation with about their faith journey has ever admitted they came to faith through arguments. Most people’s journey to faith is specific, strange, peculiar—irrational. Augustine heard a child’s voice singing, “Take up and read” and thought it was God telling him to read the Scriptures. Martin Luther came to faith after suffering from depression about his own sinfulness. John Wesley talks about his heart being “strangely warmed.” I don’t think I know any who were argued into the faith. That is because there is no argument for God. Our faith comes to us in a Person.

Wilkinson is a youth pastor, which places him among my most respected persons on earth. I wouldn’t want to set aside lightly what he has to say. There is indeed much of value in it. I loved his second chapter, “Seeing Things For the First Time,” in which he tries to help us old-timer Christians appreciate how outlandish is the story we’re trying to tell our secular friends. Virgin births, miracles, visions, resurrections—it’s all so unlikely on the face of it. Rarely have I seen anyone convey so eloquently what I regard as one of our most severe missiological problems: helping our contemporaries accept all this strange stuff as real.

If only he hadn’t given away so much in the process! He argues from the obvious limited sense-perception and reasoning skills of various species (including humans) to the conclusion, “Because our sense abilities are rather narrow, so is our logic…. reason is stunted by the limits of being human” (emphasis in the original). Reason is finite, he tells us, and in this he is obviously correct. Knowledge of God comes to us by revelation, he also rightly says, and most fully in a relational mode, God revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ. No act of human reason could ever take us to Christ apart from God’s revelation.

But no argument for God? There are multiple arguments for God: cosmological, teleological, historical, prophetic, ontological, axiological, existential, and on and on. What are these, if there is no argument for God? It’s not clear how Wilkinson would answer that, except with a general disregard for reason’s usefulness in matters spiritual. Picking up from where I left off in the first quote, he says,

Because our faith comes to us in a person and not in a proof-text, there are going to be things that are beyond what we can explain. As people of faith, we need to be okay with what some call nonsense. Yes, we do believe in a God who has existed for eternity. He has no beginning and no end. This same God formed us out of the dust of the ground and breathed a soul into being …

Some call it nonsense, says Wilkinson. A page or so later he waxes eloquent (I mean that sincerely—the author is gifted with language) and adds,

The Christian message, in all its bizarre glory, comes from across the sea—beyond the horizon. We heard it from someone else who heard it from someone else who heard it from the person who saw it all. The only thing different about people of faith is that they choose to believe the testimony handed down to them. The only thing they have is faith, which is absurd, but that’s okay. And all of the things that come with it: prayer, worship, charity, sacrificial love—all of it too is nonsense…. There is something there that makes sense, but only when we step into it.

What Wilkinson underplays continually is how much sense it makes at when we take that step. Granted, there is a divine move that brings us into knowledge of God; granted, it is God’s initiative and not our reason that draws us to truth; granted, our grasp of knowledge and truth are woefully incomplete—still there is truth and there is knowledge in the truth that we know; and inadequate though reason may be, what reason truly affirms in the knowledge of God may be affirmed reasonably to be true.

Wilkinson’s dispute with this seems at least partly due to a misapprehension of what reason is about. He speaks of the circular move faith makes when it makes its choice based on that which it cannot prove, which is well and good; but he does so in a chapter titled “Circular Reasoning.” This is mistaken. Circular reasoning is a form of fallacious argumentation: an argument which is (borrowing from the title of the book) no argument. But accepting God’s gifts by faith is not arguing, validly or otherwise; it is choosing and accepting. To do one thing in a circle does not mean that I do all things in a circle, and it certainly does not entail that I argue in a circle.

He says (page 56) “reason only answers what; it doesn’t answer why” (emphasis in the original); but that depends on the question, doesn’t it? And in the context there, he seems to have reason tightly bound together with the methods of the empirical sciences, which is considerably more truncated than any reasonable view of reason need be.

Toward the end of the book Wilkinson owns up to the value of reason—sort of:

We cannot escape the fact that reason is necessary to advance even the basic thesis of this book…. Without logic, all ideas fall apart. This book is nonsense because I use logic to deconstruct logic…. We do [not] completely do away with reason and logic; we only want to rid ourselves of the idea of its supremacy…. to return reason to its proper place.

What is that place? He thinks (p. 150) nothing related to faith and spirit makes sense; he annoys himself by his own habit of asking people, “does that make sense?” But he is giving away more than was meant to be. Reason alone cannot reveal God’s character; reason alone could never have deduced the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount or the way of salvation in the Cross; but reason can explore these things and find that they make sense in the light God grants us. Reason can even help the unbeliever see that these thing make sense, or at least that they are certainly not nonsense, no rational barrier to belief.

So then what does he mean by “No argument for God”? If he had meant there is no argument sufficient to take us all the way there, I would have heartily agreed with him. If he had meant that a living relationship with God encompasses far more than reason can apprehend, I would shout “yes!”—for truly life with Christ happens in many more delightful dimensions than that. If he had truly meant (as the subtitle says) we ought to go “beyond reason in conversations about faith,” I would agree: we can do that. But to say there is no argument for God is tantamount to saying there is no reason to believe in him. That’s just not true.

It’s also poisonous to faith. I sincerely hope Pastor Wilkinson’s youth group members experience a very rounded, multi-dimensional encounter with God through his ministry and teaching. It ought to be all it can be: founded on Scripture, embracing the deep mysteries, relational in every way, and walking in the faith of what cannot be proved. And it ought also (contrary to what Wilkinson says in this book) to be well-seasoned with a strong respect for what our God-given reason can be and do for us. It ought even to include training for reason, as well as for relationships, faith, prayer, and all else that belongs to life in Christ.

Someday someone is going to tell these kids there is no reason to believe in God, so they might as well give up the faith. I can hear them answering, “You’re probably right. It sounds a lot like what my youth pastor taught me. He even wrote a book about it.” The youth pastors I know best would hate to leave their students a legacy like that. I believe Wilkinson would hate for his book to have that effect, too. I just don’t know how he’ll prevent it now.

No Argument for God: Going Beyond Reason in Conversations About Faith, by John Wilkinson. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011. 169 pages plus notes. Amazon Price US$8.95.

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70 Responses to “ “No Argument For God” by John Wilkinson ”

  1. I wonder, Tom. Does Wilkinson ever apply this to atheism? Does he make the argument that reason is useless to get one to atheism or such? Or does he exclusively talk about God?

  2. “Every argument has God as one of its (usually unstated) meta-premises. God isn’t a conclusion. God is the source of rationality. There never was, nor never can be a ‘therefore God exists’. Existence depends on God. Language depends on God. Logic depends on God. There is no ground for logic apart from God. There is no ground for language apart from God. There is no ground for existence apart from God. Saying ‘{anything at all} therefore God exists’ is certain to make God laugh.”

  3. Tom: “Someday someone is going to tell these kids there is no reason to believe in God, and that they ought to give up the faith. I can hear them answering, “You’re probably right. It sounds a lot like what my youth pastor taught us. He even wrote a book about it.”

    I agree. However one comes to believe, it does not follow that belief in God is irrational.

    A rational basis for believing in God is critical to sustaining belief.

    Furthermore, arguing that God is irrational also makes an absurd (and unbiblical) apologetic.

  4. Doug Peters wrote:

    There never was, nor never can be a ‘therefore God exists’. Existence depends on God.

    I disagree. It’s logically possible that God does not exist, therefore it is important to argue for His existence as an explanation for why anything else exists.

    For what it is worth here is an argument that I developed for God’s existence.

    I would argue that it is logically necessary that something has always existed. However, if Big Bang cosmology is true then we know that that something cannot be the present universe. Logically it can only be (A) something that transcends the present universe, or (B) nothing created the universe.

    B is rejected as irrational and absurd.

    Argument #1

    1. Something has always existed.
    2. If the universe had a beginning then it cannot be the always existing something.
    3. Therefore, the always existing or eternally existing something, is not only the cause of the universe, it must be something that transcends the universe.

    Argument #2

    1. It is logically possible that an eternally existing transcendent something could be either (a) intelligent, or (b) non-intelligent.
    2. Logical possibility 1a (intelligence) is a more probable explanation for the apparent fine-tuned-ness of the universe.
    3. Therefore, whatever caused the universe to come into existence is almost certainly something that is not only (from argument #1) eternally existing and transcendent but also intelligent.

    Notice that my argument assumes that it cannot be logically demonstrated that God (an eternally existing transcendent intelligence) is a metaphysical necessity. If it is logically possible that x exists; it is also logically possible that x does not exist. This is a logical argument that applies to everything including “God.”

    Rather, I would argue that considering proposition p, that

    p: an eternally existing transcendent intelligence exists,

    is a better explanation for why the universe, life and consciousness exists, than

    ~p (not p): an eternally existing transcendent intelligence does not exist.

    My approach, therefore, compares the explanatory power of two logically possible positions.

  5. Wilkinson says,

    virtually no one I have had a conversation with about their faith journey has ever admitted they came to faith through arguments

    I don’t mean to be unkind, but all this shows is that he hasn’t met enough people. I don’t know anyone who came to faith entirely through arguments, but I know many for whom arguments played a crucial role.

  6. Right. I’m one of them.

    Also, did you happen to think (I did) that the word “admitted” was an odd choice in that context? He’s a skilled writer, as I already noted, so I have to believe he chose it for a reason. What would it have been? It seems out of place, unless he thinks that coming to faith through arguments is the kind of thing to which one must “admit;” as if there were something wrong with it.

    Or maybe it wasn’t such an intentional word choice after all. I just wonder.

  7. C.S. Lewis made a comment similar to the one made by this book. He recognized that apologetics is not sufficient to bring someone to faith in Christ just like having good supply lines in an army is not sufficient to win a battle. However, to argue that apologetics is therefore useless would be a mistake. Lewis observed that it is far better for people to recognize that Christianity is intellectually and historically credible when they consider the claims off Christ, than to believe that Christianity has no intellectual or historical credibility at all.
    -Neil

  8. JAD wrote:

    It’s logically possible that God does not exist

    Really? Can you demonstrate that — logically? 😉
    Consider the (“meta-logical”?) requirements for “logic” in the first place. Is there any logic at all without existence? Is there any logic at all without communication? The statement “It’s logically possible that God does not exist” requires the trivial (and almost certainly false) meta-logic that existence and communication are “given”. If there is no existence without God, and no communication without God, then there is no logic at all without God, and therefore it is not logically possible that God does not exist. That is, logic-per-se depends on God!

  9. JAD: It’s logically possible that God does not exist

    Doug: Really? Can you demonstrate that — logically?

    I said above, commenting on my own argument:

    “If it is logically possible that x exists; it is also logically possible that x does not exist. This is a logical argument that applies to everything including “God.”

    For example, there is an orange cat right now sleeping on top of my computer (there really is). I know he exists because I can see him. It is also possible that he could not exist.

    You want me to assume that a being “God” that I cannot see exists and it’s logically impossible that He does not exist. However, you haven’t given me a reason to believe that what I cannot see exists in the first place.

  10. JAD,

    I think that’s a hard one for you to support. Doug doesn’t develop his point to its full possible extent, but there is good reason (which I won’t develop either) to suppose that logic is dependent on God for its reality and existence.

    But we need not dive into the depths of that one. Consider the case where x = logical possibility. I think we agree it is logically possible that logical possibility exists. Is it then logically possible that logical possibility not exist?

  11. Tom: “I think that’s a hard one for you to support.”

    I don’t need to support anything. I am the one who is not convinced that Doug is presenting a good argument or non-argument. What are you saying that because logic exists, God exists, and that is self evidently true? I am convinced that things exist in the world around me because I experience them. Doug and apparently you want me to believe that something that you have not proven to me must exist because you , not I, believe that it‘s non-existence is logically impossible. Try that one out on a fair minded atheist like Bradley Monton and see how far you get.

    “Consider the case where x = logical possibility. I think we agree it is logically possible that logical possibility exists.”

    A couple of objections:

    1. Logic is abstract, so to say that it exists in the same way that computers, coffee mugs and orange cats exist is to make a category error. Or are you are arguing that God is an abstraction? In that case why use something abstract like love– you know “God is love” therefore, love is God… so wherever you find love there’s God.
    BTW I am not debating whether or not that a transcendent mind, God, is the best explanation for reason and logic, (as a theist I agree it is) but if I was an atheist unconvinced that God exists in the first place, I would seek another explanation, or no explanation (agnosticism) for the existence of reason and logic.

    2. A lot of thing that are logically possible don’t exist. For example, unicorns are logically possible.

    In one of his books, Christian Apologetics, Norman Geisler deals this issue (p 251) and agrees with me (actually he convinced me) that it is logically possible that nothing at all, including God, exists and that it is a mistake to use this line of argumentation against non-theists.

    Hopefully that is what we are concerned about here, logical but practical arguments for the existence of God that have some real apologetic value.

  12. Hi, JAD,

    I think both you and Doug have made positive assertions that stand in need of some support. Yours is that it is logically possible that God does not exist. I have addressed that without any reference to what Doug has said, so I think we can leave his assertions out of the discussion you and I are having. (You and he may have another discussion, of course.)

    I am not saying that it is self-evidently true that because logic exists, God exists. I’m surprised you would think that, considering I pointed out that I was not developing my reasons for seeing a connection between the existence of logic and the existence of God. If I thought it were self-evident I would not have had to tell you something like that; I could have just pointed out what I considered to be self-evident about it. I only mentioned that there is an argument that can be made, and then I went on to something else. So your charge beginning “Doug and apparently you…” is false and I think also rather unfair.

    The reason I thought I could take that approach, simply making reference to an argument but not developing it, is because I wasn’t trying to prove my case or Doug’s, I was trying to highlight a weakness in yours. If you want to do your own research into that argument, you can find it in various places under the general heading of The Argument From Reason. You might already be familiar with it, but other readers may not be.

    Now, I was going to go on and respond to the rest of your comment, but I just got a call from my daughter who unexpectedly needs me to pick her up from school. I’ll post this much and see when I can back to the rest.

  13. It comes down to this: virtually no one I have had a conversation with about their faith journey has ever admitted they came to faith through arguments. Most people’s journey to faith is specific, strange, peculiar—irrational.

    What, then, are we to make of 1 Peter 3:15? Arguments may not be sufficient to compel faith, sure. But at some level they do seem necessary to allow for it, or even to sustain it sometimes. Why would anyone in their right mind maintain belief in something they truly thought was irrational?

    I agree with you Tom, this type of thinking can be poisonous to faith.

  14. Tom sez:

    Doug doesn’t develop his point to its full possible extent

    “guilty, your honor.”

    JAD sez:

    …to say that [logic] exists in the same way that computers, coffee mugs and orange cats exist is to make a category error

    innocent!
    However, it could appear that JAD is making the more fundamental category error of saying that God exists in the same way that computers, coffee mugs and orange cats exist!!

    But here is the argument in a nutshell:
    If there is no logic at all without God, then it is senseless to say that God’s existence is up for logical grabs. And while seeking another explanation for the existence of logic or taking an agnostic stance are legitimate positions, the source of logic is not nearly as trivial or obvious as to eliminate the very real possibility that “there is no logic apart from God”. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the existence of logic requires God no less than the existence of the universe (i.e., JAD’s argument). Logic (like language) only exists in minds. And logic (like language) requires the transmission of that logic (language) from another mind. As much as the laws of causality require that the material universe has a first cause, a first cause is equally required for logic (language)!

  15. No, not guilty by reason of extenuating circumstances, namely, if you had developed the argument fully it would have extenuated your comment beyond any reasonable length.

  16. Here is something that I wrote before upgrade:

    Tom,
    My apologies for being too presumptive earlier. Sometimes I get started, wound up and go farther than I should. Let’s back up and look at what I believe you and Doug think is the “offending” concept.

    I wrote:

    It’s logically possible that God does not exist.

    To which Doug responded:

    If there is no existence without God, and no communication without God, then there is no logic at all without God, and therefore it is not logically possible that God does not exist. That is, logic-per-se depends on God!

    I find the argument a little bit confusing. If you begin with the premise (?) that “there is no existence without God” (if we conceive of God as a transcendent being having a mind) of course communication and logic follows, but that begs the question. Why should I assume that God exists in the first place? Is his existence necessary?

    As far as the premise that “It’s logically possible that God does not exist,“. Norman Geisler writes:

    All the non-theist must show is that there is a logical possibility that a necessary Being does not exist. This can be readily illustrated from the fact that it is a logical possibility that nothing ever existed including God. For the nonexistence of everything is a logically conceivable state of affairs. If the theist objects that the proposition “nothing exists” is un affirmable without self destruction, the non-theist may correctly reply that this is true only because one is really beginning with the actual existence of the affirmer. But to argue “something actually exists so (viz. an affirmer), therefore, it is un affirmable that nothing exists” is not the same as arguing from the mere inconceivability of the non-existence of a necessary Being. The necessity is merely conceptual and not actual. And if there is no actual necessity that God exists, then it is conceivable that he does not exist. (Christian Apologetics, p251.)

    Have I understood your objections/ criticisms correctly?

    Do you agree or disagree with Geisler? Or, are we all on completely different pages?

    I also have a guest post up at Telic Thoughts that you might want to check out.
    http://telicthoughts.com/an-argument-from-self-existence-the-theological-implications-of-the-big-bang/#comments

  17. I think I follow: it is a logical possibility that a not-actually-necessary God does not exist.

    But any God worth the name is certainly actually-necessary! The God that I was referring to was indeed.

  18. JAD, I find “ex nihilo” to be a legitimate context for Creation, sure (if that’s what you are asking).

  19. JAD asks:

    Why should I assume that God exists in the first place?

    How about: God’s existence is a requirement for you to assume anything at all! 🙂

    One can, of course, presume to assume counter-factual things. But what value is it?

  20. Doug,
    Let me restate my argument as follows:

    Argument #1 (extended)
    1. It’s not logically possible for Something to come into existence uncaused from Nothing.
    2. However, it is logically possible that Something has always existed.
    3. If the universe had a beginning then it cannot be the always existing something.
    4. Therefore, an always existing or eternally existing something, is something that not only transcends the universe, but must also be it‘s cause.

    Over at Telic thoughts Euphrates asked me,
    “Why do you think it’s logically valid? Is it controversial to say no-thing, by definition, has no existence?”

    I responded, I think it is logically valid because we use it that way in logical arguments. Consider, for example, the negative version of premise #4:

    1. It’s NOT logically possible for Something to come into existence uncaused from Nothing.

    For this argument to work we need to conceive of the concept of Nothing in a specifically defined way that is itself constrained by the rules of logic. For example, Nothing is not a black void, an empty space, a quantum vacuum or anything that can be consciously conceived of. Indeed if you are imagining a state of nothingness, it can’t be really be nothing because you are thinking of something. Is it conceivable that something can come into existence uncaused from such a state? It seems that is absurd if you have a logically accurate concept of Nothing.
    http://telicthoughts.com/an-argument-from-self-existence-the-theological-implications-of-the-big-bang/#comment-266379

    Do you agree this kind of nothingness is state of nothingness out of which God created the universe?

  21. Hey JAD,

    You said:

    1. It’s not logically possible for Something to come into existence uncaused from Nothing.
    2. However, it is logically possible that Something has always existed.
    3. If the universe had a beginning then it cannot be the always existing something.
    4. Therefore, an always existing or eternally existing something, is something that not only transcends the universe, but must also be it‘s cause.

    1. Based on common usage of “logical”, “come into existence”, “cause”, “Nothing” and “Something”, your #1 is unobjectionable. But be warned: the common usage is not necessarily the best way to go with this argument.
    2. Agreed.
    3. An odd way to put it, but ok.
    4. A bit of a leap from the first three, wouldn’t you say? There might be many transcendent things, most of which are not causes of the universe. There might be subtleties on “eternally existing”, too. I.e., an entity might be “outside” our universe, and yet “eternally existing” might not be a good descriptor for its temporality.

    You write:

    …if you are imagining a state of nothingness, it can’t be really be nothing because you are thinking of something.

    Are you serious?

    Is it conceivable that something can come into existence uncaused from such [ref?] a state? It seems that is absurd if you have a logically accurate concept of Nothing.

    I think I agree. It is also physically absurd to think that something can come into existence uncaused from a physically accurate Nothing.

  22. Doug,
    Okay we agree that absolute nothing + God could exist. Indeed I think most theists will agree that God created the world out of absolute nothing. So you agree that such a state of nothingness is a logically possible ontological state.

    Now suppose that you are discussing or debating this view with an atheist and he agrees with you that it is logically possible that there could be a state of nothingness as you have described. He then adds it is also logically possible that nothing at all could exist including God. Give our hypothetical atheist an argument that this is not logically possible.

  23. “thinking requires being” — i.e., neither logic, nor logical possibility can derive from the state of nothingness that our hypothetical atheist posits.

  24. Does the Bible encourage an intellectual ministry?

    Jesus and the apostles were in the habit of answering questions and offering people reasons for faith by using their minds. They used intellectual words to tell people the truth about God, whether it was someone that they had a relationship with, or whether it was a person that they had recently met. Is there a reason why Jesus and the apostles used reasoning with people so often? Gordon Lewis argues “Only if relational love is based on the foundational framework of Jesus’s revealed propositions can his spiritual legacy remain distinct from the world’s perennial mysticism”.

    As Christians, we should seek loving and healthy relationships. However, we should not avoid or downplay the intellectual and spiritual task of theology and apologetics. We see many times where Jesus and the apostles enjoy relationships and intellectual discussion in the following verses along with a general biblical support for a focus on the mind and the ministry of apologetics.

    “….it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated (studied) everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3,4)

    “Then after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his answers” (Luke 46:47)

    “And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the scriptures, explaining and giving evidence” (Acts 17: 2,3)

    “……so he was reasoning in the Synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing gentiles and in the market place” (Acts 17:17)

    “Great are the works of the Lord; They are studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2).

  25. Too bad he retains those nasty habits of using logical connectives for every single thing he’s pushing, and actually having to depend competely on the ultimately decisive use reason to pass supreme judgment on the need to get rid of reason’s supremacy.

    Does this guy really think he’s fooling anyone into giving his schizophrenic mindlessness a pass? One could defend any view, real or just made up, on the same self-contradictory and convoluted basis. His entire book is one big argument against argument.

    What’s the criteria for the proper role of reason that doesn’t necessarily ape reason itself in the process of evaluating that role?

  26. So I can just stay intellectually drunk, so to speak.

    But still be cool. Far out, man.

    Oh, and about that “role of reason” thing: are you going to be slaping oughts and shoulds around? You know, sort of mimicking reason and moralizing, to justify things in spite of reason’s fall? Why the *need* to justify if reason is no longer supreme? Logic and reason still seem to be treated as the Supremes.

  27. . . . so I can just stay intellectually drunk, so to speak.

    But still be cool. Awesome

    Oh, and about that “role of reason” thing: Can we start slaping oughts and shoulds around at other people now? You know, sort of mimicking reason and moralizing, to justify things in spite of reason’s alleged fall, and hope no one picks up on it.

    Although that nagging need to somehow justify things anyway—I thought sure we were getting rid of that, it’s such a hassle—I’m starting to forget just what that pretended dethroning of reason was supposed to get me.

    Logic and reason still seem to be treated as the supremes. But hey—self-exemption is like totally!

  28. In John Wilkinson’s book: “No Arguments for God: Going Beyond Reason in Conversations About Faith page 102, we read: “It comes down to this: virtually no one I have had a conversation with about their faith journey has ever admitted they came to faith through arguments. Most people’s journey to faith is specific, strange, peculiar—irrational. Augustine heard a child’s voice singing, “Take up and read” and thought it was God telling him to read the Scriptures. Martin Luther came to faith after suffering from depression about his own sinfulness. John Wesley talks about his heart being “strangely warmed.” I don’t think I know any who were argued into the faith. That is because there is no argument for God. Our faith comes to us in a Person.”

    Wilkinson’s “apologia”?

    There are a few issues in John Wilkinson’s observation that I would like to critique. This critique is meant only to challenge his proposition against the value and requirment of apologetics. First, I would dispute his perception of apologetics. Apologetics or “Arguments for God” is a discipline that offers a defense of God, it also offers rational discourse and puts forth in a cumulative effort, that Christanity is the most plausible worldview. Apologetics and apologists never rely on “arguments” alone as sufficient in bringing someone to faith in Christ. Regardless of Soteriological commitment, theology proper (Orthodox Protestant) always takes note of the fact that God has called us. (2nd Tim 1:9). The task of apologetics is never to bring an individual to faith in Christ, its meant to offer reasons for it, thus, faith has its reasons.

    Argument and Reason

    Wilkinson believes in using reason and argument to put forth his essential feature: “No arguments for God”. He argues that reason has no place in the conversion of the mind and will, yet, he hopes to convince those that do apologetics to do just that; adjust their way of thinking and being based upon his assesment. Historically, all have come to God by God. Reason is an element that the Church uses to offer a commitment to Christ. Augustine, Luther and Wesley were drawn to Christ by God. As all that are drawn to Christ, they collected a reflection, an experience that will never perish in this life. Augustine, Luther and Wesley shared differences in this, as all others do. However, these are all memories of their conversion and the details may be the penetrating force of this process, however, we must never neglect that God was behind this. God is the source of the “conciousness of Augustine”, the “guilt of sin for Luther” and the “warm heart” of Wesley.

    When argument and reason has been part of the Journey

    At Acts 17: 1-4, The Apostle Paul is on a journey. He is traveling through Amphipolis and Apollonia, then, he arrives at Thessalonica. He approached a Jewish Synagogue. Paul spent three Sabbaths there reasoning and offering incentives for the truthfulness of Christ from the scriptures. At verse 4, we take note that some were persuaded and believed and consorted with Paul and Silas.

  29. Tom refers to:

    the inconsistency of using reason to denigrate the value of reason.

    …but the word “inconsistency” might be a bit strong.

    As the thoroughly consistent Blaise Pascal would have it:

    The last proceeding of reason is to recognize that there is an infinity of things which are beyond it.

    and

    There is nothing so conformable to reason as this disavowal of reason.

  30. Incidentally, here is a wonderful testimony of being “argued…into Christianity”. Granted, Jim admits that putting it that way “leaves enough out that it could be misleading” 🙂

  31. Lets start with a new thread . . . and here is the test as to whether anyone really wants to talk about this more in-depth.

    Only those that read the book can discuss . . .

    I think that will kill it.

    -John

  32. John’s approach to discussion is comparable to his approach to reason:

    It appears that he wants to use reason, but he doesn’t.

    It appears that he wants to have a discussion, but he doesn’t.

    😉

  33. Hey Doug –

    You are right, I had a little too much sarcasm there.

    Seriously, though. I would like to discuss the issues raised in the book – but only with people who have actually read it. I hope that ‘makes sense’ to you all. Otherwise we have nothing to begin our discussion from.

    So how about it, anyone in? If so, reply here and maybe Tom can assign a new thread and give us a week or so to read it and present our thoughts.

    Otherwise, everything else is armchair philosophizing ; )

    John

  34. I was going to suggest this instead:

    No one should participate unless they have read the book, except that if they have a response to something you actually write on the thread, or a question concerning something someone else has had to say about it. If they’re responding to something tangible like that they should be able to contribute. I would remind them that whatever impressions I or anyone else might have given them about the book should be taken as second-hand, and that they must take time to make sure they’re hearing from you, so as to double-check those impressions.

    I will certainly encourage everyone to read the book.

    Since there are atheists/skeptics etc. who frequent this blog, I would also set up a special discussion guideline: this is not the time for potshots against Christian belief. The topic is not whether Christianity is true, but about how we know it is true (if we in fact can know that), how we communicate the truth of the faith, and (putting those two together) whether and how we communicate how we can be confident the faith is true.

    Does that sound okay? If so I’ll get it started as soon as I hear from you.

  35. Also: I think you ought to have the opportunity to kick off the discussion, if you want, by posting a response to my review. Send it my way when you’re ready, and I’ll put it in a blog post. Thanks!

  36. This comment thread is a perfect example of why I much prefer talking to rationalist-objectivist atheists rather than bait-and-switch schizoid Christians who trot out these grandiose convolutions about reason and logic, neither of which they’ve taken the trouble to clearly understand in the first place.

  37. machinephilosophy,

    Do you really know whereof you are speaking? Have you read the book? Respectfully I say to you, your accusations are out of place if you haven’t; it is the kind of second-hand conclusion-drawing I intend to rule out of order in the discussion.

    If you’ve actually read the book, then you’ll have an opportunity to talk about it soon. Even then it would be appropriate to be more careful to avoid ad hominem attacks. Thanks.

  38. machinephilosophy refers to a “clear understanding” of “reason and logic”. Too bad those concepts are beyond understanding (let alone “clear understanding” 😉 ), isn’t it?

    – What is the meaning of “meaning”?
    – How do we understand “understanding”?
    – What are the reasonable underpinnings of “reason”?

    Folks like Russell, who had the chops to establish answers to questions like this if anyone did, ran into paradoxes of self-reference that made him give up the effort.

    Until machinephilosophy demonstrates his “clear understanding” of reason and logic, his post will be assigned to the “troll” bin.

  39. I think we have at least enough understanding of reason and logic to be able to apply them, even though (as Gödel also showed) we’ll never be able to construct a system within reason and logic to explain reason and logic. (There’s an argument for a personal God to be made there, but that’s for another time.)

  40. I’m not the one using reason to universally qualify the use of reason, and then continuing to reason along as if all is well in my cognitive world. Can I too get a pass if I vacillate on the ultimacy and adequacy of reason itself?

    In fact, what would be objectionable about using the exact form of his own writing straight out of the book (since I’m a book dealer, I actually sell the book), but using different subject terms, and see how people like the approach, such as No Argument for Nihilism, or No Argument for Terrorism, or even No Argument for Argument (That’s my favorite, btw.).

    It’s difficult to see what the rules are when those rules are what the original document has called into question. Or has it? What would be the rules for reliably knowing even that, one way or the other?

  41. It would be odd if a commitment to the ultimacy of reason were considered a prerequisite to the use of reason…

    The fact is that we all “reason along as if all were well in our cognitive world” in spite of reason’s limitations (whether or not we are blind to those limitations).

    Yes: it is difficult to see what the rules are in the midst of self-reference and recursion. In fact, it may be impossible (for human beings, anyway) to establish those rules (at least Pascal, Russell, and Gödel, three fellows smarter than any of us, thought so).

    Does this mean we abandon reason? Certainly not. We don’t abandon classical physics because there are limits to its application, etc. We simply season it with an appropriate dose of humility. 🙂

  42. I didn’t see anything – sorry Tom, what is it you were referring to?

    I saw your review of my book and all the comments so I thought I would offer to interact with a group to press the issue further and see what we all could learn (I was excited to learn new things).

    But the only caveat would be that you would have to read the book to discuss it (pretty basic). But it looks like no one wants that. So what were you referring to?

    John

  43. John, comment just before this one I had links to a proposed set of ground rules. I’ll link there again: please see here and here.

    As you’ll see, I agree with you there should be some careful boundaries drawn around this discussion. It would be out of character for this blog to draw them quite as tight as you have suggested, and I wouldn’t personally want to be responsible to police it that tightly. But I would be happy to do it on the basis described there, which is a middle ground: not as open as the usual discussion here, but not completely restricted.

    That will make more sense, of course, once you read the proposed ground rules that I’ve linked to.

  44. Do you mean this:

    I was going to suggest this instead:

    No one should participate unless they have read the book, except that if they have a response to something you actually write on the thread, or a question concerning something someone else has had to say about it. If they’re responding to something tangible like that they should be able to contribute. I would remind them that whatever impressions I or anyone else might have given them about the book should be taken as second-hand, and that they must take time to make sure they’re hearing from you, so as to double-check those impressions.

    I will certainly encourage everyone to read the book.

    Since there are atheists/skeptics etc. who frequent this blog, I would also set up a special discussion guideline: this is not the time for potshots against Christian belief. The topic is not whether Christianity is true, but about how we know it is true (if we in fact can know that), how we communicate the truth of the faith, and (putting those two together) whether and how we communicate how we can be confident the faith is true.

    Does that sound okay? If so I’ll get it started as soon as I hear from you.

    Sounds like
    a. Read the book
    b. Don’t take potshots

    Is that right?

    John

  45. Not quite. It’s

    a. Don’t participate unless you’re read the book, except that you may participate to the extent that you are writing in response to something that has been previously stated on the thread, or have a question concerning something someone else has had to say about it. I would be offering to let people participate on that basis if they have not read the book.
    b. Don’t take potshots.
    c. Reading the book is obviously going to be encouraged along with the above.

  46. On second thought, it makes more sense just to post an announcement today. I want to give readers time to acquire the book and read it before we start. A week’s advance notice should be enough, though because of my travel schedule I’ll have to wait until next Wednesday to initiate the discussion. Sound good?

  47. Looking forward to the discussion, but my copy is somewhere between Amazon’s warehouse and my front door.

    Earlier, I wrote:

    It would be odd if a commitment to the ultimacy of reason were considered a prerequisite to the use of reason…

    to which machinephilosophy replied:

    Why would it be odd?

    It would be odd in precisely the same way that it would be odd to require folks using classical mechanics to claim heart-and-soul (against all evidence) that classical mechanics holds at the quantum level. Folks using classical mechanics can legitimately hold to its expediency in macro contexts. Similarly, folks using reason can hold to the contextual expediency of reason.

  48. That’s a question-begging analogy. The issue is the justification of the oddness claim. Any such justification uses reason as the ultimate arbiter for qualifying reason’s ultimacy in the first place, just as it’s used to justify the claim by means of an analogy, as if that somehow rules ultimately over reason’s ultimacy.

  49. On the contrary, the analogy is a descriptive one rather than an argumentative one.

    Your line of argument seems to be (feel free to correct me) that it is impossible to establish limits on reason by reason (if reason itself it used as the arbiter of its limits, it is certainly valid beyond those limits, etc).

    But humor me: please establish the ultimacy of reason via reason. If you are unable to do so (without begging that question), then you must (reasonably) agree that this very conundrum is a defeater to the ultimacy of reason!

  50. Logical or rational establishment of reason’s ultimacy contradicts that ultimacy, but that is the point of such an ultimacy claim. If it’s not ultimate, nothing logical or rational can be put forward to evaluate, much less deny that issue.

    The issue here is not the logical establishment but that denial of reason’s ultimacy, which is not only question-begging, but if it is any kind of reasoned denial, is self-referentially inconsistent. Moreover, the requirement that reason be established as ultimate, is not only question-begging and self-contradictory, but assumes that ultimacy, as the ultimate arbitrating criterion of that ultimacy itself.

    And to allege a defeater for the ultimacy of reason is to merely assume reason’s ultimacy all over again as an ultimate arbiter of the question of that ultimacy.

    If reason -is- ultimate, then the only way to know this logically is from the implications of its denial precisely because of what that ultimacy means. That too assumes reason’s ultimacy, but that’s not a defeater but a confirmation of the position in the very nature of what that position is.

    No ultimate view of reason has ever claimed any kind of positive logical argument for that view in the procedural inferential sense, in the entire history of philosophy.

  51. I’m surprised that you are unaware of the limitations (=lack of ultimacy) imposed on logic by self-reference. In fact, you seem to confuse self-reference (which is a well known limitation of logic) with question-begging. They really are not at all the same!!

  52. Let’s see some actual argument, then, as to where and how I confused self-reference and question begging.

    Let’s also see some argument for why self-reference imposes limitations on logic, and how such alleged limitations are tantamount to a lack of ultimacy in logic.

    Also, how does one argue such things without using logic as ultimate arbiter of its own limitations and non-ultimate status in that same process of argument itself?

    Or do such grand universal pronouncements about logic’s supposed limitations get a free epistemic pass on pain of pretending to have the inferential authority of that which is denied by those pronouncements themselves?

  53. You mean to tell me that you’ve never heard of Russell’s paradox? Never been exposed to the logic of the statement “this statement is false?” What were you doing in logic class when the rest of the kids were finding recursion and self-reference to be so much fun?

    but you said earlier:

    the requirement that reason be established as ultimate is not only question-begging [it is] self-contradictory

    I respond “nonsense”. Feel free to provide “some actual argument” to establish either claim!

    As entertaining as your demands for “some argument” are, we both know that “some argument” cannot establish the thing that you are requiring. That you are unwilling to recognize that this is (in itself) a demonstration of the limits of logic is odd, to say the least.

  54. Russell’s paradox pertains to statements with unreferenced subject terms. So that’s a false equivalence claim, but typical, as made fun of by the instructor of my Logic, Sets, and Functions course in the very first lecture several decades ago to, as he said, “clear the air of schoolboy paradox notions”.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t even apply to either your own unsubstantiated gospel-thumping about the alleged limits of logic, or to my ignored arguments, which you continue to try to feign arguments against with pseudo-“demonstration” rhetoric, in spite of the obvious implication of that claimed limitation on itself.

  55. Usually “false equivalent claims” involve claims of equivalence… but strawmen are so much easier to attack, aren’t they? “Gospel-thumping?” “feigned arguments?” “ignored arguments?” “pseudo-demonstration rhetoric?” Please. If you ever decide to actually discuss logic, let me know.

  56. The record is clear as to who is ignoring the arguments of whom, who is bring up subjects and then not addressing responses, who is trying to use logic to make self-exempting supervisory claims about logic’s limitations.

    From your perspective, I’m sure logic seems extremely limited. It’s a wonder how that alleged fact itself ever occurred to you in the first place. In fact, I’m wondering if you’re just a bot, since I’ve seen the exact same closed-loop sequence of statements at least a hundred times since the late 1980s.

  57. Not only are you unable to distinguish between self-reference and question-begging, but it is clear that you are incapable of distinguishing between your many insults (which I have up until now ignored) and actual arguments (which I have been waiting patiently for). Quite sad, really.

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