The overarching question for my ten-year plan is:
Is Christianity true or false?
After I clarify this overarching question, the first major question to investigate is this:
Does God exist?
I will, of course, at some point need to address the traditional arguments for the existence of God (ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments). But I want my investigation to be systematic, and to avoid the problem of BIAS in the selection of arguments and evidence to be considered, especially to avoid the problem of CONFIRMATION BIAS (which is a common problem with Christian apologetics, including Richard Swinburne’s otherwise very careful case for God).
Here are some thoughts on how to approach this investigation:
FIRST, I will need to analyze the meaning of the sentence “God exists”. I will probably follow Swinburne and analyze this sentence in terms of criteria, but then advocate, as Swinburne did, using a necessary and sufficient conditions definition instead of the criterial definition.
SECOND, following Swinburne, I will determine whether the sentence “God exists” is used to make a coherent statement.
If I determine that the statement “God exists” is incoherent, then that settles the issue:
One should reject the assertion that “God exists” because this sentence does NOT make a coherent statement.
Coherence is connected to logical possibility, so one way of analyzing the question “Does God exist?” is in terms of logical possibility and logical necessity and certainty and probability (click on image below for a clearer view of the diagram) :
I believe, however, that the sentence “God exists” can be used to assert a coherent statement, if one makes a few significant revisions to the concept of “God”, along the lines that Swinburne has suggested, with a couple of other revisions. So, I expect that I will determine that some traditional conceptions of God make the sentence “God exists” incoherent, while with a few significant changes, a concept of God that is similar to the traditional conceptions will allow the investigation to continue beyond this initial question of coherence.
THIRD, there are various alleged ways of knowing or having a justified belief that “God exists”, which need to be considered:
1. Innate Knowledge
2. Religious Experience/Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit
3. Deductive Arguments for (and against) the existence of God
4. Non-Deductive Arguments for (and against) the existence of God
In terms of deductive arguments, I initially thought that it is possible that the issue could potentially be settled at that stage, if there were sound deductive arguments for the existence of God or against the existence of God. But on reflection, I don’t think that is correct.
First of all, it is possible that there will SEEM to be sound arguments for the existence of God AND sound arguments against the existence of God. If I identify any such arguments, then I would, obviously, focus some time and effort on trying to weed out one or more of these arguments as merely SEEMING to be sound, but not actually being sound. But it is possible that I will end up with what SEEM to be sound arguments on both sides, in which case deductive arguments will NOT resolve the question at issue.
Furthermore, even if I find sound deductive arguments only for one position, say for the existence of God, and do not find sound arguments for the opposite position (say, for the non-existence of God), this still probably will NOT settle the issue. The problem is that one or more premises in the sound argument(s) is likely to be less than absolutely certain.
Philosophical arguments for and against God usually involve some abstract principles, like the Principle of Sufficient Reason. While some such premise might seem to be true, it is unlikley that a reasonable and objective thinker will arrive at the conclusion that such a premise is certain. Because there is likely to be a degree of uncertainty about the truth of one or more premises in any deductive argument for or against the existence of God, the identification of one or more apparently sound deductive arguments will probably not settle the issue, even if all of the sound arguments support one side (theism or atheism).
So, it seems very unlikely that one can avoid examining evidence for and against the existence of God, evidence which only makes the existence of God probable to some degree or improbable to some degreee. Furthermore, non-deductive arguments or cases can be quite strong. If you have enough evidence of the right kinds, you can persuade a jury to send a person to his or her death for the crime of murder. Sometimes, if the evidence is plentiful and the case is strong, a jury will return a verdict of “guilty” for first-degree murder in short order, without any significant wrangling or hesitation by the jurors. Evidence can sometimes justify certainty or something very close to certainty.
If sound deductive arguments can fall short of making their conclusions certain, and if non-deductive reasoning from evidence can sometimes make a conclusion certain or nearly certain, then it would be foolish to fail to consider both sorts of arguments for and against the existence of God, even if we find some sound deductive arguments only for one side of this issue, and no sound deductive arguments for the other side. Evidence and relevant non-deductive arguments/cases would still need to be considered.
Another possible way to analyze the question “Does God exist?” is in terms of the traditional roles that God plays:
Q1. Is there a creator of the universe?
Q2. Is there a ruler of the universe?
Q3. Assuming there is a creator of the universe and a ruler of the universe, are these the same person?
Q4. Has this person revealed himself/herself to humans through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings?
The first three questions are sufficient to determine whether “God exists” is true, so the fourth question is a bonus question that allows for a distinction between what I call “religious theism” and “philosophical theism”.
It seems to me that a very basic and important question to ask about God’s character is whether God has attempted to reveal himself/herself to humans. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all agree that God has attempted to reveal himself through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings, and this is a very basic and important belief in these western theistic religions. So, this traditional view of God can be called “religious theism”. But one could believe in the existence of God without buying into the idea that God has revealed himself through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings. I call such a stripped-down version of theism”philosophical theism”.
Here is a diagram that spells out this way of approaching the question “Does God exist?” (click on the image to see a clearer version of the chart):
I have in mind, by the way, time frames for each of the above questions:
Q1*. Did a bodiless person create the universe about 14 billion years ago?
Q2*. Has an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good person been in control of every event in the universe for the past 10 billion years (or more)?
Q3*. Did a bodiless person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, create the universe about 14 billion years ago, and then procede to control every event in the universe for the past 10 billion years (or more)?
Q4*. Did a bodiless person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, create the universe about 14 billion years ago, and then procede to control every event in the universe for the past 10 billion years (or more), and then in the past 10,000 years reveal himself/herself to humans through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings?
I believe that Jeff Lowder’s approach to the question “Does God exist?” involves general categories of evidence, which he then examines for both evidence that supports the existence of God and evidence that goes against the existence of God. This is somewhat similar to Swinburne’s approach, which starts out looking at evidence concerning the physical universe, then looks at evidence concerning evolution of human bodies, then evidence concerning human minds and morality, then evidence concerning human history, then religious experience. But Jeff is more systematic in covering broad categories of evidence and more objective in looking for evidence supporting either side of the issue.
If you have another systematic approach to answering the question “Does God exist?” I would be interested to hear about it.