Trinity

Without God, Nothin': Why Atheists Steal from their Creator

By Warren Leigh

Back in 2001, the popular Christian hard rock/rap band P.O.D. released a song on their album Satellite titled "Without Jah, Nothin'" featuring guest vocalist Eek-A-Mouse. Although from a musical standpoint the song was even worse than it sounds, it made a massive theological and philosophical point, a point that I don't believe was even fully realized by the band members themselves. The name "Jah," of course, is an abbreviated form of God's own personal name, Yahweh, usually translated "LORD" in the vast majority of English Bible translations. The song's lyrics proclaim the fact that without God, Christians are no different from the unbeliever—everything good about us is entirely the work of God. This is absolutely true, but I want to argue here that, if we are to be both biblically faithful and truly effective in our apologetic method, then we must take the statement "Without God, NOTHING" and apply it to the whole of reality.

Stealing from God, by Frank Turek
Stealing from God, by Frank Turek

At the recent Be Ready 2016 conference, Frank Turek delivered a message titled "Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case," based on his book of the same title. In both the talk and the book, Turek demonstrates that even the most articulate and well-educated atheists (e.g. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the like) cannot argue their case without constantly stealing ideas and terminology from theism, particularly Christian theism. Other Christian apologists and thinkers, such as Greg Koukl, have observed the same thing.

While arguing that there is no such thing as evil, Richard Dawkins writes his famous laundry list of adjectives in The God Delusion describing how evil and horrible the God of the Old Testament is.[1] However, the question that almost never seems to get asked is, "Why must atheists do this?" "Must" they do it? In order to answer these questions, we need to ask another one: without God's prior existence and revelation, what is the very basis for reality, especially for that of those immaterial gods of knowledge, reason, logic and so forth that atheists love to worship so wholeheartedly?

To put it another way, what makes argument even possible in the first place? Is the atheist going to argue that argument, logic and reason are material entities made up of elements that can be found on, or at least added to, the Periodic Table? But the atheist's problems are not limited to immaterial realities. Either matter is eternal, which has been shown to be impossible, or it suddenly popped into existence out of nothing. And by nothing, I mean nothing, be it time, space, laws, forces or even raw elements themselves. There was not even enough space for the matter to be condensed into a dot the size of a period, from which it could then expand, nor were there any forces or laws in existence to cause such an expansion, even if it were possible for matter to suddenly appear. As Cornelius Van Til, that great 20th-century Reformed apologist, once said, "Unless God is back of everything you cannot find meaning in anything."[2] And yet, Richard Dawkins, as a human being made in God's image, must live in God's world and must therefore also take His existence for granted while simultaneously suppressing this truth by his unrighteous thinking (Romans 1:18), thus stealing that which only rightfully belongs to God and those He has redeemed.

Both God's existence and His revelation are necessary if we are to have any basis for reality. Paul writes in Colossians 2:3 that it is Christ "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."[3] This is not just referring to spiritual knowledge and wisdom since "[a]ll things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3). At creation, the Father spoke through the Son (John 1:1-3, Genesis 1:1,3), whose word was then carried out by the Spirit (Gen. 1:2). Creation was, therefore, a Trinitarian act. In fact, all of God's revelation, whether creative (general) or redemptive (special) is explicitly and thoroughly Trinitarian. This is because in order for God to reveal himself, He has to be able to relate Himself to his creation. He must therefore have relational qualities in and of Himself. This in turn means that there must be a plurality of distinct persons within God Himself, all of whom are nevertheless united in essence and in will. General theism, therefore, is not what believers are called to defend, for it destroys the very notion of God's self-revelation and therefore causes the rest of reality to collapse.[4] Thus, our apologetic defense, like the God whom we are defending, must be Trinitarian from the outset. Otherwise, we are defending a god who doesn't exist.

Warren Leigh is a volunteer with Faith Beyond Belief, who was a member of the original organizing committee of FBB's first event back in 2009, featuring Greg Koukl. He is a graduate of Liberty University (with a BSc in Religion), and is working on a book titled The Reality of Our God. Warren is passionate about doing apologetics in a biblically faithful manner.

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 269-283.

[2] > Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed: 1998), 122.

[3] Emphasis added. Scripture citations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[4] K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 48.

 

 


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A Hijab and a Philosopher

holy-trinity.gif

By Justin Wishart

A short time ago, Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College, was suspended for saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.[1] Many people came out in support of Wheaton, while others supported Dr. Hawkins. The main controversy was over her Facebook comment: "And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God." One supporter of Hawkins is Catholic philosopher Dr. Francis Beckwith. He wrote two articles in support of Hawkins, and by extension his pope.[2] Much ink has been spilled commenting on Hawkins' and Wheaton's actions, so this article will focus on and analyze Beckwith's articles.

It's important to recognize the implications here and Beckwith's desire to defend this position. "As the Church declared in Nostra Aetate (1965): '[Muslims] adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men. . . . Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet.'" Beckwith views this as Catholic dogma, and his desire to defend Hawkins becomes evident.

The Argument

His first argument is to point out that just because people use different names doesn't mean that they are talking about something different. "Take, for example, the names 'Muhammed Ali' and 'Cassius Clay.' Although they are different terms, they refer to the same thing, for each has identical properties. Whatever is true of Ali is true of Clay and vice versa." Beckwith points out that if one person uses one name for God and another person uses a different name for God, this does not mean that they are speaking about different gods. I agree. Even Christians in Middle Eastern countries call God "Allah." "So the fact that Christians may call God 'Yahweh' and Muslims call God 'Allah' makes no difference if both 'Gods' have identical properties."

This is where Beckwith gets into his first bit of trouble. If his above argument is true, and I think it is, then the object in question must have "identical properties." Anyone who has compared the Islamic idea of tawheed and the Christian idea of Trinity knows that they don't share "identical properties." Beckwith anticipates this objection. He attempts to argue that Islam and Christianity share concepts that are identical. "In the same way, there is only one being that is essentially God: the uncaused, perfect, unchanging, self-subsistent, eternal Creator and sustainer of all that which receives its being from another." Both faiths have these identical beliefs about God; Beckwith rightly calls this "classical theism."

Yet, the immediate question focuses around the differences between the two faiths. Beckwith anticipates this, as well, and argues that just because people have different notions about something does not mean they are talking about different things. He uses this analogy:

Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of "being a father to several of SHs children." On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of "being a father to several of SHs children."

Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. . . . Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity [How does he know this?], but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? . . . The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person—whether human or divine—does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.

This is the distinction that holds Beckwith's argument together. From this argument, he concludes: "For these reasons, it would a real injustice if Wheaton College were to terminate the employment of Professor Hawkins simply because those evaluating her case cannot make these subtle, though important, philosophical distinctions."

Analysis

For clarity, I will list Beckwith's points succinctly:

1. Just because people use different names does not mean they are talking about different things. If they have "identical properties," they are the same thing.

2. Muslims and Christians ascribe many identical properties to God, which is called "classical theism."

3. Just because Muslims have less knowledge of the true God, doesn't mean they are necessarily talking about a different god.

My analysis will focus primarily on point #3, as I essentially agree with the first two points.

The major blunder in Beckwith's argument is that he confuses epistemology and ontology. Epistemology focuses around knowledge, for example, how one gets to know God; and ontology focuses around being, for example, what God is. Looking at Beckwith's analogy, one sees this epistemological focus. It is because "Bob does not find the evidence convincing" that he doesn't believe that Thomas Jefferson "sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings." This clearly has no bearing on whether Thomas Jefferson actually "sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings." Now, let's make his analogy into an ontological analogy. If Fred's Thomas Jefferson actually did "[sire] several children with his slave Sally Hemings" and Bob's Thomas Jefferson actually did not "[sire] several children with his slave Sally Hemings," then they cannot both be talking about the "Third President of the United States."

To say that God is triune, or to say that God is tawheed, is not an epistemological expression, but an ontological one. As the Athanasian Creed states, "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God."[3] This is clearly an ontological claim. Likewise, when Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips explains the meaning of tawheed, he says "that Allah is One, without partner in His dominion . . . One without similitude in His essence and attributes . . . and One without rival in His divinity and in worship."[4] Since these are both ontological statements, expressions of what God is, the differences actually do make "God" different between the two faiths.

To make matters worse, the knowledgeable Christian deniestawheed and the knowledgeable Muslim denies the Trinity. It's not as if Muslims believe in "classical theism," which doesn't contradict the Trinity, and when shown the Trinity he accepts it. It is precisely the opposite: it's exactly the knowledge that has been shown to him that he rejects. To lump in Abraham and Moses into this discussion is to say that Moses only has "classical theism" in mind when talking about God, a dubious claim, and if shown the Trinity he would have rejected it as well. Does Beckwith believe this? Sure, it is probably correct to say that Paul had a more complete view of God than Moses. But Moses' view of God never contradicts Paul's. Yet, Mohammad's view does.[5] It is the contradictions that equally matter. For Beckwith to focus on what Muslims and Christians agree on is to not really have a meaningful discussion on this subject. It's not that Muslims have a lack of knowledge, it's that they reject this knowledge. The laws of thought demand that we cannot be talking about the same thing anymore. Muslims do not worship the same God as we do.

Space does not allow me to point out that God Himself does not think He is like any other God, or provide the copious scriptural evidence to support this. Molech and Yahweh also shared identical properties, but God clearly didn't say the Canaanites worshiped the same God. Why should we accept Beckwith's "classical theism" as the benchmark for sameness while denying the similarities found within other religious conceptions of God? On what basis? Beckwith has not provided a meaningful argument here. It is disappointing that someone of Beckwith's calibre produced this fallacious argument because he "cannot make these subtle, though important, philosophical distinctions."

[1] Manya Brachear Pachman and Marwa Eltagouri, "Wheaton College Says View of Islam, Not Hijab, God Christian Teacher Suspended," Chicago Tribune, December 15, 2015, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-larycia-hawkins-20151216-story.html.

[2] Francis J. Beckwith, "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?," The Catholic Thing, December 17, 2015, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/12/17/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/, and Beckwith, "Why Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God," The Catholic Thing, January 7, 2016, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.thecatholicthing.org/2016/01/07/why-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/. All quotations attributed to Beckwith are taken from these two articles.

[3] "The Athanasian Creed," New Advent, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02033b.htm.

[4] Abu Ameenah Bilaal Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawḥeed (Islamic Monotheism), 2nd ed. (Riyadh: International Islamic Publishing House, 2005.), 17.

[5] "O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, 'Three'; desist—it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs" (Quran 4:171, Saheeh International translation).


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