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The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Second

Geoffrey Berg’s second argument states that since God is so far outside the realm of human experience and comprehension, that he is simply unknowable.  Therefore, you shouldn’t believe in him.

This Man and God Comprehension Gulf Argument is formulated as follows:

  1. Man is finite (in time, space and power etc).
  2. God if he exists in infinite (in time, space  and power etc).
  3. Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God or even know that God exists.

I have no issues with either premises.  Man is finite per (1), and God is infinite per (2).  Neither is a problem for me.

As a conclusion, (3) overreaches; Berg should have stuck with the first clause: “Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God … .”  That would have been a far more reasonable conclusion given the data.  Still a demonstrably false conclusion, but a much more reasonable one.

As for “… even know that God exists,” that is simply not true.  God is the inference to the best explanation: we see design, order, natural laws — the universe makes sense.  It works together like a machine, and machines are designed and built by an intelligent mind for a purpose.

Therefore, God is a reasonable conclusion from natural philosophy (even if a controversial one).  So I disagree that mankind cannot “… even know that God exists.”

But is it true that man simply wouldn’t know God because God is infinite?  Berg says:

It is simply not possible for any entity that is mortal like we humans are to know for sure that some other entity is immortal.  How could we humans recognize God because how can we humans be sure it will not die sometime after we ourselves die?  Furthermore how can we humans be sure that it has lived for all eternity before our birth, indeed before even the formation of our planet?  It is also simply not possible for any entity like us humans that is confined to a small area of Space to know what lies out in the far reaches of Space.  So we humans cannot know whether an apparent God is genuinely God over all Space or just a local potentate over our region of Space with no control over the outer reaches of Space. (p. 51)

This is starting into an argument ad absurdum (he goes on from there, positing possible higher-ranked Gods that could kill the local potentates), so let’s move on:

How could we humans even identify an entity of supreme intelligence and be entirely sure that there is not somewhere else an entity of even greater intelligence?  It is even worse than a Neanderthal Man having to distinguish between the intellects of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein — and then having to predict whether and in what ways the intellect of Einstein might in future be surpassed by another person! (p. 51)

I have three objections.  The first is that humans can know that something is above themselves — but not with certainty how far above.  In the example of distinguishing between the intellects of Newton and Einstein, for example, I know that both are way smarter than I am.  I don’t know if I can make a fair judgment which one is smarter, but I recognize that both men were geniuses.

Applying that reasoning to God, I would therefore be able to tell if a being was more than me, but not know for certain if he is truly infinite.  The question of how much certainty I require before worshiping this being as God.  More on that as I consider the third objection.

The second objection is rooted in faith — authentic Christian faith, not “belief without evidence.”  Here, I’m talking about trust.  God has presented himself to us in the form of Jesus Christ.  We can verify the trustworthiness of much of what Christ says, and that can be shown to be reliable.  Therefore, we can trust that the things we can’t verify — omniscience, omnipotence, eternalness, and timelessness — are also true.

The third objection is that no one is this skeptical day-to-day.  With this level of skepticism, you’d have to follow your spouse everywhere she goes to make sure she wasn’t having an affair.  You’d have to personally research every scientific paper published to make sure it was true.  First grade teachers would have to walk the kids through mathematical proofs for 2+2 = 4 and 2+3 = 5, etc.  Why should the kids just believe?

With this level of skepticism, nothing is epistemologically sound because we can’t know anything with absolute certainty outside of own subjective experiences.  “I think, therefore I am” is the only statement we can be reasonably assured is true under this hyper-skepticism.

No one really practices this level of skepticism consistently; at some point, they have faith (trust) that their wives aren’t cheating, the scientists were academically honest in the research being published, and their teacher isn’t a rogue agent trying to destroy the nation’s math grades in some Doofenschmirtz-like plot to annoy Danica McKellar.

Berg anticipates this line of reasoning, but resorts to special pleading and restating himself in replying to it.  Until Berg can adequately explain why we need more evidence for God than anything else, then my objection stands.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on September 18, 2012, in Apologetics, Atheist Books, God, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I don’t fully understand the original argument by Geoffrey Berg. It looks like there is a missing premise, something like: 2a. finite humans cannot know whether infinite things exist.

    Cory Tucholski said: “We can verify the trustworthiness of much of what Christ says”

    but we are not trusting Joshua, we are trusting the anonymous authors of the stories about Joshua?

  2. I think (2a) is implied by stating man is finite (1), but God is infinite (2). The problem is, for reasons I already explained, it isn’t true. A person can know they are the presence of something greater, but they may not know how much greater.

    The authorship of the Gospels is NOT questioned, despite what you might be led to believe. Even so, where does “anonymous” ever automatically equate to “untrustworthy?” If the Gospels aren’t trustworthy, surely you can make a better argument than “They were authored anonymously.” (They weren’t; so if you do make that argument prepare to be absolutely DESTROYED by cold, hard, historical FACTS.)

  3. I think we are in agreement re Geoffrey Berg’s argument.

    for the authors, in line with the method that I use, my understanding is that for the 27 NT books, all of the authors are unknown except for Paul with 7 letters.

    What method do you use, and what do you conclude?

    • That’s plain untrue. We DO know who wrote every book of the NT except for Hebrews — it is only extremely liberal scholarship with bad arguments that produces the ridiculous notion that we only know Paul wrote 7 of the attributed letters for sure and the rest is anonymous or pseudopigraphy.

      J.P. Holding’s series on YouTube is a good intro; the first four videos prime you on how we determine authorship of ANY work while the remainder address specific letters and why traditional authorship holds.

  1. Pingback: “Six Ways of Atheism” Answered | Christian Apologetics Alliance

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