The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
Get the Book!

God and Christian Theology

"Theology is but the ignorance of natural causes reduced to a system...in this...light is no more than darkness; evidence is doubtful or false; impossibilities are credible; reason is a deceitful guide; and good sense become madness...theology is a continual insult to the reason of man..."
Paul Henri D'Holbach (1723-1789)

"One may say with one's lips: 'I believe that God is one, and also three,' - but no one can believe it, because the words have no sense."
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

The Evolution of the Trinity

Contrary to what most Christians believe, the Christian concept of the triune godhead did not come "pre-packaged" in the teachings of Jesus, Paul or the Bible. The New Testament contained a few vague, triadic, formulas such as that found in II Corinthians 13:13 which are often understood, anachronistically, as Trinitarian. The formulation is more properly understood as speaking of different entities that are closely related to one another. A good example would be the English phrase "fighting for king and country". The terms "king" and "country" are not synonymous but are concepts closely related to patriotism; with the former normally being viewed as the visible symbol of the latter. As the Macmillan Compendium: World Religions explains:

[E]xegetes and theologians agree that the New Testament does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity. God the Father is the source of all that is (Pantokrator) and also the father of Jesus Christ. "Father" is not a title for the first person of the Trinity but a synonym for God. Early liturgical and creedal formulas speak of God as "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"; praise is to be rendered to God through Christ (see opening greetings in Paul and deutero-Paul). There are other binatarian texts (e.g. Rom 4:24, 8:11; 2 Cor. 4:14; Col. 2:12; 1 Tm. 2:5-6, 6:13; 2 Tm. 4:1) and a few triadic texts (the strongest are 2 Cor. 13:13 and Mt. 28:19; others are 1 Cor 6:11, 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 1 Thes. 5:18-19; Gal. 3:11-14) Christ is sent by God and the spirit is sent by Christ so that all may be returned to God. [1]

The final Trinitarian formulation was the result of theological battles that were fought during the first four centuries of the Christian era.

The first battles were fought mainly in the field of Christology.

The statements regarding the nature of Christ in the New Testament were so vague that any attempt at reasoning and elaboration would lead inevitably to differences of opinions. The first attempt at an elaboration on the nature of Christ was Gnosticism. Although Gnosticism was eventually wiped out as a "heretical" [a]sect. In the field of Christology, Gnosticism may be thought of as the first, tentative steps towards the deification of Jesus.

After Gnosticism, there were other early experiments in Christology. Eventually, as a backlash against the evolving deification of Jesus, came the most famous theological battle of all, the Arian controversy. The Arian controversy forced the issue of Jesus' divinity head on. A council was called in 325 CE to resolve the issue once and for all. Thus Jesus can be formally said to have become God in the council at Nicaea in 325 CE.

The Arian controversy was just a foretaste of what was to come. The Athanasians (the theological rivals of the Arians-who eventually got to call themselves "orthodox") has substituted the commonsensical Arian idea with one obviously nonsensical. Yet the theological evolution was to develop even further away from common sense to absolute absurdity. The christological evolution was to culminate in a doctrine that was completely devoid of any sense or meaning.

Similar theological battles were also fought over the exact definition of the Holy Spirit.

Back to the top

The Existence of God: Classical Arguments

We have seen how Christians came to believe that Jesus was God. Yet the existence of God itself was a question that had never been satisfactorily handled by Christian theologians. The belief in the existence of God is, of course, fundamental to all Christians. The first thousand years or so of Christendom was spent elaborating Christian dogmas, with the idea of God's existence accepted as a given fact of nature. Ironically it was the spread of another monotheistic religion, Islam, which forced the Christian scholars to look more closely at the philosophical basis of their belief in God. The Arab Muslims infiltrated the intellectual culture of Europe with their skeptical writings and their translations of the works of Aristotle, long since forgotten in Europe, into Latin. Confronted with the skepticism of Arab philosophy, the Christian thinkers were forced to attempt to put their belief in God's existence on a more rational basis.[2]

It is important to note here that the burden of proof lies with the believer, not the atheist. By and large Christian theologians and philosophers had tried to meet the burden head on. At the last count, there are over one hundred types of arguments for God's existence. But most of them are variations of these four historical types:

  • St. Anselm(c.1033-1099) and his Ontological Argument is one of the oldest arguments for God's existence.

  • Thomas Aquinas(c. 1225-1274) and his Five Ways, which are versions of the Teleological and Cosmological arguments. Aquinas' arguments is considered authoritative by the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Teleological Argument, or the Argument from Design, is one of the most seductive of all the arguments for God's existence.

  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) tried to prove God's existence via his deeply felt feelings of morality, also known as the Categorical Imperative.

The one thing these classical arguments have in common is this: they all failed to prove God's existence.

Back to the top

The Existence of God: Modern Attempts

Of course, modern theologians and theistic philosophers have not given up. Some have tried to revive the classical arguments in a slightly different guise:

  • Alvin Plantinga argued that belief in God is a basic belief that does not require proof.[b]

  • Richard Swinburne used probability theory to show that the Cosmological Argument points to the probable existence of God.

  • William Craig, recently resurrected (no pun intended) an old (sixth century) version of the Cosmological Argument called the Kalam cosmological argument.

Valiant though these attempts are, they all fail to save the Christian god from non-existence.

Back to the top

The Existence of God: Intelligent Design

As we mentioned above, the Argument from Design is seductive. Since about a decade ago, some conservative Christians have tried to resurrect the argument but this time in a quasi-scientific garb. The movement is called Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC). With young earth creationism on its death throes, IDC has evolved to take over its place. Unlike its precursor, IDC is more specialized and has, ostensibly, more modest aims. The intelligent design creationists try to look for subtle hints in nature that "point" to a designer. However the modesty disappears upon close examination. Using IDC as a "wedge" (in the words of one of its main proponent, the lawyer Phillip E. Johnson) they intend, not only to prove God's existence, but also to ultimately topple science as we know it. Let us look at some of their main arguments:

In the final analysis, IDC is unconvincing as an argument for God's existence and as a wedge to topple science.

Back to the top.

The Existence of God: Other Arguments

There are, of course, other types of arguments for the existence of God. These include:

Needless to say, these arguments are also unconvincing.

Back to the top

The Case For Atheism

Thus we have reviewed the full range of arguments for God's existence from the philosophical to the "scientific" to the folksy. None has succeeded. The reader is asked to pause for a minute here. If any one of the above arguments actually provides proof of god's existence, there would have been no need to keep coming up with new ones! Thus this continued generation of new arguments for god's existence is a tacit admission that all previous arguments have failed.

Thus the fact that theist philosophers have been unable to prove the existence of God, is enough for anyone to not have any belief in God. In other words, the absence of evidence is a strong case for atheism. [c]

However the skeptic need not stop here, there is also evidence of absence. The concept God, as believed by Christians, cannot correspond to anything real in the external world. There are two basic arguments for this:

  1. The first is the so-called argument from evil. That argues from the fact that the existence of evil is evidence against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God.

  2. The second is the argument on the impossibility of the concept of God based on the argument that the attributes bequested upon God by Christian theologians are logically contradictory.

    • As a sidenote, we need to mention that God, as depicted in the Bible, not only contradicts the basic attributes of the systematic theologians, but is also a very nasty character.

Back to the top

The Theological Remnants

We have already finished the major issues concerning God. This section is purely to show further the absurdities in Christian theology.

We start with a look at one of the major tenet of Christian theology, the doctrine of the atonement. Upon closer examination we see that this doctrine makes no sense.

Finally we will look at liberal theology and see it for the sad thing that it really is: ramblings of a group of atheists without the courage of their convictions.

Back to the top

Conclusions

What are our conclusions here? That:
  • The Christian conception of God as a trinity is not found in the Bible but is the result of centuries of theological battles culminating in the council of Nicaea in 325 CE.
  • Christian theologians and philosophers have tried to prove the existence of God. Yet with more than one hundred tries, they have still failed.
  • The problem of evil is proof positive of the non-existence of the Christian conception of God.
  • The Christian concept of God, whether from the fruitful minds of the theologians or from the murky depths of the Bible, is sometimes contradictory, sometimes meaningless but mostly ugly.
  • Liberal theologians are atheists without the courage of their convictions.

    Back to the top

    Notes

    a. The "labels" of heretic and orthodox were given by the historical winners of the theological battles. Thus it is no wonder that "orthodoxy" always won out against the "heretics". For the winners defined themselves as orthodox.
    b. This is an interesting question for Christians who believe that the traditional argument already proves God's existence. Why would a philosopher like Plantinga need to expend so much intellectual energy to defend the position that belief in God is rational even without proof if it had already been proved?
    c. This is the so-called "weak" from of atheism: i.e. that one who is without belief is already defined as an atheist. The belief that God does not exist is called the strong form of atheism.

    References

    1.Macmillan Compendium; World Religions: p1122
    2. McCabe, The Existence of God: p46-49

    Back to the top


[Home] [The Central Thesis] [Christianity] [The Bible] [Jesus] [Paul] [God] [History] [Pascal's Wager] [Atheism FAQ] [Bibliography] [Links]
© Paul N. Tobin 2000
For comments and queries, e-mail Paul Tobin