« Atomic Sentences and Syncategorematic Elements | Main | Word of the Day: Eloignment »

Thursday, January 17, 2019


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Hi Bill,
What troubles me about Romans 1: 18-20 is the religious provincialism that it expresses. If we pose the question as one of Christian theism or atheism, we pose it too narrowly; rather, the weakness of Paul’s position is more evident if we view it from the far broader perspective of divine searching, East and West. Specifically, one does not have to be a scholar of ancient religious thought to grasp that a prolonged, sincere intellectual and spiritual search for “God's invisible qualities” had been and was going on during the life of the Apostle in places within and far removed from the Mediterranean basin. What are we to make of this search and those who devoted themselves to it? Are we to judge the adherents of Advaita Vedanta, whose conception of Brahman (ultimate reality) involved a radical rejection of theism, as having been simply blinded by sin? Must the same not be said of Plato and Aristotle, for example, both of whom arrived at concepts of God that diverge significantly from those of the Judaic world? Paul’s assertion is simply too parochial to be taken very seriously. Although I am no scholar of medieval thought, it appears that Aquinas, among others, recognized that something of God’s “eternal power and divine nature” had been glimpsed, however imperfectly, by diverse classical, Islamic, and Jewish philosophers. What Aquinas would have said about Shankara or his later critic Ramanuja is entirely conjectural, but that he would have taken their thought seriously and not simply evidence of sinfulness, if only to critique it, is beyond question. I guess what I am saying, and as you know, I am an amateur in these things, is that there is really no sound alternative to the Catholic position on the existence of reason in man and its ability to discern something of the divine.
Warm regards,

In the Gospel of John, the Apostle clearly states that the world, cosmos, was created thru the Logos. Nature, or the cosmos, is the First revelation of God. Here is an article that lays that out and that Greek philosophy is built on Nature. "Christ, Reason (Logos) and Greek Philosophy"

And then the real, original natural law does dictate a Triune God, it here in
"Macrocosm/Microcosm in Doric Thought Part I, 4th Rev."

As Plato says in the Timaeus, philosophy is derived from the nature of the cosmos (Timaeus, §47a-b). Nature as created by God, tells us about God. If you look at Antiques Roadshow, many times the experts can tell where an object comes from because how it was created/designed, made. Same with the cosmos. We know God thru the Cosmos.

Now I am not a philosopher or even a very smart person, but, nonetheless, I can follow what you say in this article. I remember reading that some atheist once said that God should have given us some evidence, if he really expected us to believe in his existence. So, I ask: what evidence could God have left us to convince us that He exists? Is there anything at all that cannot be denied? I think there is nothing which cannot be denied. Therefore, I take it that Paul in Romans 1:18 spoke the truth.

I realize this may be shallow thinking, so fell free to just leave it be.


That's a good statement.

The really interesting background question here, for me, is whether it is legitimate to hold a person morally culpable for refusing to accept a body of doctrine that the person, after the exercise of due diligence, cannot bring himself to believe.

There is a strong tendency to think that there are some positions such that if one holds them, then one shows oneself to be morally corrupt, at least in part. Don't we all believe this about some things? And in some cases with justification? The NAMBLA line for example in support of man-boy sexual love.

M. G.,

You are right that almost anything can and will be denied by someone. So even if the evidence of God's existence were greater than it is, some atheists would refuse to accept it.

The claim of van Til, drawing on St. Paul, however, is that it is a plain and obvious fact that God exists, a fact so plain and obvious that one is morally culpable for not acknowledging it. That is what I am denying, not that there is no evidence of God's existence.

Dr. Vallicella,

I have done some research into this area, and it is amazing how, when pressed, many unbelievers will admit that their objections against God are moral rather than evidentiary (or at least the moral ones are ultimately more significant to them). I have also noted how some unbelievers have little problem with deism, but find theism very distasteful; an interesting point given that the main distinction between the two views is that the latter includes an involved and morally interested God whereas the former does not. Incidentally, there is also some research which suggests that atheism is correlated with autism and harmful mutations in humans, a fact which might explain the existence of persons who reject the divine for non-moral reasons. Thus, I think that an entirely plausible hypothesis is that atheists either reject God for moral reasons or they suffer from some cognitive abnormality which hinders their ability to believe in God. Ultimately, this is an empirical question which will hopefully be studied in the future.

However, moving to Romans 1, I think that a point that is often overlooked is that since Paul is claiming that God's existence is obviously inferred from the existence of cosmos, then it needs to be remembered that Paul is making an empirical claim. And like all empirical claims, the conclusion can always be denied if a person is skeptical enough (as you yourself mentioned). But here is the point: sometimes, not only is skepticism not rational, but it is morally culpable. For example, if a jury member was evaluating a murder case where there were thirty credible and detailed eyewitnesses to the murder, video evidence, forensic evidence, and the on-scene confession of the accused himself, as well as no counter-evidence, then any claim that such a case did not meet the threshold of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ would be irrational and absurd. And any person who used some form of hyper-skepticism—perhaps arguing that aliens did it--to not convict the accused of the murder would not only be a fool, but would also be morally blameworthy for his skepticism as well.

Now, I take Paul as saying something akin to this: for a reasonable person--where a 'reasonable person' is defined in a generic sense, like in the case of the law--the existence of an extremely powerful Creator God can be easily inferred from the features of the world. To deny this, you need to be unreasonable, and unreasonable in a way that you should not be, and for which you will be seen as being morally culpable (maybe because you apply a hyper-skeptical standard to theism that you don't apply elsewhere, and you do so for moral reasons). And it is easy to see examples of this. For instance, think of the eliminative materialist who denies the existence of his own consciousness, beliefs and thoughts because that is the only way he sees physicalism as being rational. Is such a person reasonable? Or think of an unbeliever like Richard Dawkins, who claims that we should never believe anything on faith, and then says that he believes that atheistic-abiogenesis occurred even though we have no idea how it happened or even if it is naturalistically possible; and he does so in order to maintain belief in his naturalism. Is he reasonable? Or take an atheist like JJC Smart, who has said that even if the stars realigned themselves to form the Apostles Creed, he would believe a naturalistic explanation (even to the point of thinking himself mad) rather than believe a supernatural one. Again, is he reasonable? I would answer these questions negatively, and I would also point out that the beliefs and actions of the aforementioned people—actions and beliefs which allow them to deny theism—are so egregious as to warrant moral culpability.

So, my point is that many “reasonable” objections to theism or to theism-friendly positions are anything but. They are quite non-sensical, and the one who holds them should be held accountable for doing so, since he knows better (given that he does not apply those standards to any other aspect of his life except for theism).


Just two days ago I signed up for ProtonMail, having heard about it only a few days before that. And now I see that your e-mail account is with Proton, the first Proton address I have received here. Strange! A mere coincidence most likely, of the sort to which we are too eager to ascribe Deep Meaning.

Your first sentence reminded me of C Hitchens. As I recall, his main objection to God was moral.

I agree that some doubts are morally culpable. This offers a response to those who invoke W K Clifford and assert that it is morally wrong to believe anything on insufficient evidence. It is equally morally wrong to doubt without good reason, as in your courtroom case. This could be deployed against opponents of Cap Pun who claim that one can never be sure that the accused did the dastardly deed.

But 'surely' one has good reason to doubt that a loving father cares and provides for his critters given the manifold horrors of history, not that the fact of evil conclusively shows the nonexistence of God. So it appears that we disagree on the main point.

But your comments are excellent nonetheless. I agree with you about elim. mat'lism. I have described it in these pages as a philosophy of mind for the lunatic asylum. But you have given me a new thought, namely, that one could be taxed with moral failure for subscribing to EM.

Your other examples are also plausible.

But the Romans 1:18 case cannot be assimilated to them. The Elim stance with respect to mental data is unreasonable to the point of being insane. One cannot reasonably doubt that one feels pain when one feels pain, etc. But one can reasonably doubt that the physical universe has the Christian God as its creator and sustainer and who loves each of us poor schmucks with an infinite love.

So while it is reasonable to affirm the existence of God on the basis of cosmo args, teleo args, my very own onto-cosmological argument, args from truth, etc. it is not unreasonable to deny the existence of God.

Faith is not knowledge. Faith involves a leap. So leap! Why not? To paraphrase Wittgenstein (Culture and Value): Go ahead and believe! What harm can it do?

Dear Dr. Vallicella,

Thank you for your interesting reply.

First, let me just make it clear that I am not actually convinced of the presuppositional reading of Romans 1. Rather, based on the anecdotal evidence that I have seen, I have a reasonable suspicion—in the legal sense of the term—that atheism may be due to both moral objections against God and to autistic abnormalities. What I really hope is that this matter is investigated further, as the results of such an investigation would be fascinating.

Concerning your view that ‘surely’ there are good reasons to doubt the existence of a loving God given the manifold horrors and evils of history, please note that I am entirely sympathetic to this view. But three points can be said in response to this. First, it could be argued that Romans 1 is only claiming that a hyper-powerful Creator God would be seen from nature, not that all the attributes of the Christian God would be. Second, it could also be argued that evil itself points to such a divine realm, for evil—genuine evil, not just suffering—would not exist if atheistic-naturalism were true; hence, evil itself points to the divine. But the third point is the most interesting one, and that is that perhaps the presuppositionalist could argue that while it is, in theory, true that a person could have good non-moral reasons to reject belief in God, it is nevertheless the case that, in practice, all people who reject belief in God do so for moral reasons. Thus, the presuppositionalist could claim that while Romans 1 is not true in theory, in reality, what it claims is the case. Granted, this might be difficult to justify such a view, but it could be done (perhaps by showing that in a large and random sample of atheists, the vast majority of them reject belief in God for moral reasons). Furthermore, for the contention that belief in a Creator God is obvious, the presuppositionalist could point to evidence which shows that god beliefs are natural and arise naturally given the structure of our cognitive faculties. Essentially, when our cognitive faculties perceive the world, and so long as they are unhindered, they naturally form belief in the divine. And this seems to be backed up by research from such individuals as Justin Barrett. Thus, belief in God is both obvious to normal people, and is rejected, in reality if not in theory, for moral reasons.

In terms of the point about eliminative materialism (EM) (as well as the others), my goal was simply to show that it is quite possible that a person might embrace EM because, to him, it is the only rational form of naturalism, and he embraces naturalism because he cannot stand the idea of God. But if that was the case, then given the sheer irrationality of EM, the person would be morally culpable for holding a belief that was obviously irrational given that he was only holding it as a way to avoid belief in God.

All the best,


RDM said :"maybe because you apply a hyper-skeptical standard to theism that you don't apply elsewhere, and you do so for moral reasons."
Take, for instance, this standard, called, by Peter van Inwagen (essay entitled "Quam Dilecta" in "God and the Philosophers", edited by Thomas V. Morris) "Clifford's Principle" (CP) for W.K. Clifford:
"It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence".

I have only seen CP actually used as a standard when one is attacking religion. Religion, for some reason(s), is treated differently than other disciplines. PvI uses the obvious examples of Freud and Marx as those not held to the same CP standard, but the 'Difference Thesis' (DT) seems to be ubiquitous. Is the DT then a moral choice?
The book of essays, btw, I found intensely interesting. In addition to PvI, Wm. Alston, W.J. Wainwright, Eleanore Stump, Marilyn McCord Adams, and other luminaries contributed to a very thoughtful book.

I found a link to "Quam Dilecta" on this valuable resource, which Bill has referenced at least once:

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



February 2019

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28    
Blog powered by Typepad