Thursday, June 30, 2016

What Is God Like - Incommunicable Attributes

(For the workshop attendees from our Green Lake conference.)


Why this study?

         It’s about knowing God better… who God is.

         Knowing who God is helps us…  How?

The Attributes of God.

         What is an “attribute?”

         What is an essential attribute?

QUESTION – Let’s begin by naming attributes of God.

         Make a list on the white board.

         Communicable attributes      Incommunicable attributes  

There are “communicable attributes” of God, and “incommunicable attributes” of God.

Communicable attributes are those attributes of God that God shares or “communicates” with us. (E.g., God’s wisdom.)

Incommunicable attributes are those attributes of God that God does not share or “communicate” with us. (E.g., God’s eternity; God’s omnipresence)

A.V. - How do we come up with the attributes of God?

         A.V. - Two sources:


         Perfect being theology

The concept of God is underdetermined by the biblical data.

That is, the biblical data do not always make it clear how we are to understand God’s attributes.

For example, the Bible affirms clearly that God is eternal, but it doesn’t make clear whether this means that God is infinite throughout all time or whether God transcends time all together. The biblical data is underdeterminitive with respect to how we grasp or understand divine eternity.

A.V. - Scripture guides us in seeing what God has revealed about himself.

The concept of God enunciated by St. Anselm as the greatest conceivable being (or the most perfect being) has guided our theological reflection upon the raw data of Scripture so that God’s biblical attributes are to be conceived in the greatest possible way – in a way that would serve to exalt God’s greatness.

So when the Bible says, for example, that God is all-powerful or that God is all knowing, we should take this attribute to the greatest possible degree that we can and that is coherent – to say God is omnipotent and omniscient and to construe these attributes in ways that would exalt God’s greatness.

A.V. - God is an infinite-personal God.

Insofar as God is infinite, there is a great chasm that separates him from everything else in all creation including man, animals, and inanimate life. God stands alone as the infinite being.

On the other hand, insofar as God is personal, man (as made in the image of God) finds himself on God’s side of the chasm that separates him from all of the rest of creation which are not persons.

This is in contrast to the gods of many other religions in the world. For example, the gods of Greco-Roman mythology were certainly personal beings, but they were not infinite. The god of Eastern pantheism like Hinduism and Taoism is infinite but this concept of god is not personal. What the Bible says is that God is both infinite and personal.

Incommunicable attributes of God

A.V. - God’s Independence

This means that God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.

This is sometimes called God’s self-existence, or his “aseity.” (From the Latin a se, meaning “from himself.”)

Aseity comes from the Latin words a se which means “by itself” or “in itself.” The idea here is that God exists a se; he simply exists in himself. Or, as I put it here on the outline in English, God is self-existent.

          Discuss “aseity.” Does it make sense to you?

 Acts 17:24-25 - 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

No one, or nothing, made God.

God did not create human beings because he was lonely.

“If this were true, it would certainly mean that God is not completely independent of creation. It would mean that God would need to create persons in order to be completely happy or completely fulfilled in his personal existence.” (WG, ST, 161)

Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God

 God’s independence is seen in his self-designation in Ex. 3:14 – “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’”

God’s being is something totally unique.

It’s not just that God does not need the creation for anything. God could not need the creation for anything.

Grudem – “God exists in a fundamentally different order of being. It is not just that we exist and God has always existed; it is also that God necessarily exists in an infinitely better, stronger, more excellent way.”

W. L. Craig - Aseity or self-existence is even stronger, even more robust an attribute than simply existing independently of other things.  Aseity means that God exists by a necessity of his own nature. That is to say, it belongs to God’s very nature to exist. He doesn’t just happen to exist and happen to be independent of everything else. Rather, God exists by a necessity of his own nature.

Wayne Grudem – “The difference between God’s being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the arctic icecap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God’s being is qualitatively different.”

If God’s nature is possible – if it is logically possible for God to exist – then he exists. He exists by a necessity of his own nature.


         Discuss and explain.


God is eternal

God’s aseity entails God’s eternity.

If God exists by a necessity of his own nature then it is impossible that God would ever fail to exist, and therefore that he could come into being or go out of being. If God exists by a necessity of his own nature then he will exist permanently without beginning or end. That is to say, he will be eternal. God’s attribute of being eternal is entailed by his aseity.
God’s eternity means this: God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.

This is sometimes called God’s “infinity.” To be “infinite” is to be unlimited. Time does not limit God.

This is related to God’s unchangeableness. If God does not change, then time does not change God. Time has no effect on God’s being.

For example, God never learns things or forgets things. That would mean a change in his perfect knowledge.

The passing of time does not add to or detract from God’s knowledge: he knows all things past, present, and future, and knows them all equally vividly.

God is timeless in his own being.

         Ps. 90:2 - Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Job 36:26 - How great is God—beyond our understanding!
    The number of his years is past finding out.

Rev. 1:8 - “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Jesus, in John 8:58 – Before Abraham was, I am.

Exodus 3:14 – I AM WHO I AM suggests a continual present existence.
Job 36:26 which says, How great is God—beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.

The Scriptures seem to teach that God existed before time began.

Jude 25 - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.


God’s Unchangeableness

This means that God is unchanging in his being, perfections [= essential attributes], purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.

         This attribute is also called God’s immutability.

Scripture attests to this.

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
           and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
    and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.

Malachi 3:6 – God talks about his qualities of patience and mercy, and says, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”

James reminds his readers that all good gifts come ultimately from God “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

God is unchanging with respect to his being and with respect to his perfections (that his, God’s attributes or the various aspects of his character).

God is unchanging with respect to his purposes.

Ps. 33:11 – “The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.”

God claims through Isaiah that no one else is like him in this regard:

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
          I am God, and there is no other;
           I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’
11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
    from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.

What I have said, that I will bring about;
    what I have planned, that I will do.

Here is what J. I. Packer says.

1.    God's life does not change. That is to say, God exists forever and he neither matures nor regresses. God is permanent, eternal, never begins to exist, never ceases to exist, and as Packer says he neither gets better or gets worse. He neither matures nor regresses. He has a perfect permanent life.

2.    God's character does not change. God's mercy, love, faithfulness, justice never change. God's moral qualities are essential to God. Although he may deal with people in different ways, they will all be consistent with his fundamental moral character which is immutable.

3.    God's truth does not change. That is to say, the word of the Lord endures forever. God's revelation to us stands secure. Obviously, that revelation progresses from the old covenant into the new covenant as further truth is unfolded. But God's word is trustworthy and true and therefore can be relied upon.

4. God's ways do not change. Again, God certainly does deal with people in different ways. He dealt with the people in the old covenant in a different way than he deals with us. There was a system of animal sacrifices and temple worship in the old covenant that is done away with now. But I think what Packer is saying is that God, in the ways he deals with people, is consistent in dealing with men. He punishes sin consistently. He bestows grace freely. It is not as though God is capricious or changing in the way he deals with people. His different ways will be expressions of that deeper consistent way of dealing with human persons – punishing sin and unrighteousness and awarding or bestowing grace and forgiveness freely.

5. God's purposes do not change. God's plans are from eternity past with full foreknowledge of the future. Nothing catches God by surprise. He doesn't need to change his plan or adjust with mid-course corrections because his plans are set from eternity past. Therefore there is simply no need to change. Indeed change is ruled out in virtue of his full foreknowledge of the future. So God's purposes and plans are unchangeable.

6. God's Son does not change. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”


God sees all time equally vividly.

Ps. 90:4 - A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.

Persons like you and I remember recent events more vividly than we remember past events.

In Ps. 90:4 we are told that God remembers past events like they just happened yesterday.

Grudem – “All of time since the creation is to God as if it just happened.

2 Peter 3:8 – With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

This means that, from God’s perspective, any extremely long period of time is as if it just happened. And any very short period of time (such as one day) seems to God to last forever.

Thus, God sees all events past, present, and future with equal vividness.

God relates to time in a way that we do not and cannot experience. God’s experience of time is not just a patient endurance through eons of endless duration, but he has a qualitatively different experience of time than we do.


God is omnipresent

God’s omnipresence can be defined like this: God does not have size or spatial dimension and is present at every point in space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.

God is fully present everywhere.

God is unlimited with respect to space.

Jer. 23:23-24 - “Am I only a God nearby,”
declares the Lord,
    “and not a God far away?
24 Who can hide in secret places
    so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
    “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.

Ps 139:7-10 - Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

God does not have spatial dimensions.

         1 Kings 8:27 – Heaven and earth cannot contain you.

God is not a localized deity, like the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

         God says, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?”

God does not live in a localized building.

The fact that God is everywhere present should encourage us in prayer no matter where we are.

The fact that no place can contain God should discourage us from thinking there is some special place of worship that gives people special access to God. God cannot be contained in one place.

This does not mean that there is some really big space, bigger than the universe, where God is. This makes the mistake of thinking of God in spatial terms, or size.

         God is a being who exists without size or dimensions in space.

Also, this is not pantheism, the false teaching that everything is God, or that God is everything.

God is present everywhere in creation, but is also distinct from creation.

God’s omnipresence means: we can contact God at every location. No matter where we are we can call upon God and he is there.

It also means: We should practice the presence of God. We should be aware and constantly conscious of his presence with us.


The unity of God

God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times.

         This is also called God’s “simplicity.”

Grudem – “When Scripture speaks about God’s attributes it never singles out one attribute of God as more important than all the rest. There is an assumption that every attribute of God is completely true of God and is true of all God’s character.

For example, John can say that “God is light” (1 John 1:5) and then a little later say also that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). There is no suggestion that part of God is light and part of God is love, or that God is partly light and partly love. Nor should we think that God is more light than love or more love than light. Rather it is God himself who is light, and it is God himself who is also love.” (Grudem, ST, 178)

God’s whole being includes all of his attributes: he is entirely loving, entirely merciful, entirely just, and so forth. Every attribute of God that we find in Scripture is true of all of God’s being, and we therefore can say that every attribute of God also qualifies every other attribute.

Each attribute is simply a way of describing one aspect of God’s total character or being. God himself is a unity, a unified and completely integrated whole person who is infinitely perfect in all of these attributes.



Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. This is arguably the best systematic theology book there is. Grudem’s chapters 11, 12, and 13 are on the attributes of God.

William Lane Craig, Click on ‘Media.’ Click on ‘Defenders Podcasts.’ Click on ‘Doctrine of God.’ See especially transcripts/podcasts 5 ff.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God.

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker. This book is about the creativity of the Trinitarian God, and how God communicates to us his creativity.

A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God.

A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy.

My Calling to Be a Pastor

Praying on a Sunday morning at Redeemer

Moses' calling by God changed his life forever. Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"When God spoke to him out of the burning bush, he was asking Moses to take the difficult journey of “rising to personality”—rising to the full purpose of his being here on earth—in order to realize the meaning of his life. He was asking him to become more fully the person he had always been and at the same time to transcend it." (Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 83) 

My transcending moment came through a church bulletin announcement. It altered the course of my life forever. I was 21 and a brand new Jesus-follower. My heart was untainted by church politics (or any politics), and my knowledge of the Bible and Jesus was slim. I just knew I had been rescued by Jesus and loved him for this. 

The line in the bulletin read: "Please pray that our church would find a new youth leader." This was Tabor Lutheran Church, in Rockford, Illinois. I grew up in Tabor. I liked my church family. My father served as a deacon. He was a quiet man, so it still creates wonder in me to think that he taught Sunday School, and I was in one of his classes.

I was never involved in Tabor's youth group, being consumed with playing sports and practicing guitar. I never led anything like a Sunday School class or a Bible study, nor would have wanted to. I'd never prayed out loud. I rarely prayed at all. I didn't turn to God for anything, ever, until the day when, in my desperation, I said "God, if you are real, help me." And he did.

For two Sundays in a row the line in the bulletin read: "Please pray that our church would find a new youth leader." You mean we haven't found one yet? The kids in this church need a leader! Having been spiritually leaderless myself I knew this to be fact. Every kid needs a mentor. I had been mentored by my peers, did a lot of self-mentoring, and the results were disastrous. I was "lost." But now, at last, was "found." I wanted Tabor's teens to experience The Rescue, as I had.

On week three of the announcement I came to Sunday morning worship service looking forward to, of all things, reading the bulletin. There it was: "Please pray that our church would find a new youth leader." I felt an urgency about this. I began praying. Throughout the following week this was on my prayer list: "O God, please, please bring someone to help our church's youth." And then it happened. I told God, sounding like Sarah, "Surely you are joking?"

I called Pastor Harvey Johnson and made an appointment to get together. I had never done anything like this before. (The words "I've never done something like this before" were to become thematic in my life.) I wonder what he thought I wanted to talk about?

I admired and respected Pastor Johnson. I was nervous on the day I met with him. Part of me felt foolish, a rookie with zero job experience applying for a job that begged for credentials.

"I have seen the announcement in the bulletin. Has any progress been made on finding a youth leader?"


I can't remember the words I used next. Somehow I expressed my idea, my sense, that God was appealing to me to work as Tabor's Youth Leader. I remember feeling how unwise this sounded to me. I told Pastor Johnson about my new life in Christ, and confessed that I had not even heard the words "seminary training" before. After much listening and sharing he affirmed my calling. "I think God wants you to do this, so let's do it." He seemed genuinely grateful that God had finally answered his prayers.

Sometimes I have wondered what my life would look like had that announcement not been in the bulletin, or if Tabor found another youth leader, or if Pastor Johnson had told me "John, you don't have the training and experience for this." That would have been understandable. I am still amazed that he supported me in this! T

Barton quotes Greg Levoy:

"Calls are essentially questions. They aren’t questions you necessarily need to answer outright; they are questions to which you need to respond, expose yourself, and kneel before. You don’t want an answer you can put in a box and set on a shelf. You want a question that will become a chariot to carry you across the breadth of your life." (Ib., 84)

This was my calling to be a pastor. I began to shepherd Tabor's teens. In a few months Linda would join me. Now I see God's hand in it all, and I have never wanted to rewind my life so that things would have turned out differently.

See my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Praying Shapes Chaos Into Order

Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin - Linda and I will be here today and tomorrow!

When I pray I am peaced back together. Since to pray is to live experientially in Christ, I am the recipient of His peace. I love the way Richard John Neuhaus describes the power of God's peace (shalom):

“This means the bringing together of what was separated, the picking up of the pieces, the healing of wounds, the fulfillment of the incomplete, the overcoming of the forces of fragmentation.” (Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry, 72)

Praying takes inner chaos and transforms it into order. The Hebrew word shalom means "peace" in the sense of things or events or persons once distanced and in conflict come together. In praying God peaces the heart together. This is heaven’s peace experienced now in an unpeaceful world.

See my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Robert George on Peter Singer and Infanticide

Robert George is Professor of Law at Princeton University. Here's Robert George's take on Peter Singer's logic re. abortion and infanticide:

"Once one recognizes that the scientific evidence establishes that the fetus, no less than the newborn, is a human being, one must logically treat the two the same in assessing the question of their rights and our duties towards them. And so Peter Singer, a leading advocate of abortion and a recent appointee to a distinguished professorial chair of bio-ethics in my own university, argues that infanticide is sometimes morally justifiable and ought, up to a certain point, to be legally permissible. While Singer's views have caused outrage and made his appointment at Princeton controversial, the truth is that he is merely following the logic of a pro-choice position in light of an honest assessment of the scientific facts. He recognizes that "birth" is an arbitrary dividing line when it comes to the humanity and rights of human beings in the early stages of their development. Hence, if abortion is morally justifiable, so is infanticide. Of course, I believe that Singer is tragically wrong in supposing that abortion and infanticide are morally justifiable; but he is right in claiming that either both of these practices are justifiable, or neither can be justified."

But of course!

My recently published book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Empirical Verifiability of Sin

University of Michigan

I was recently asked, "What, if anything, is the common thread running through the world's religions?" The answer to that is: the world's religions all agree that ours is a troubled world. The world's religions all attempt to help people live in our messed-up world. (See Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World.)

We, the people, are messed up. Including you and me. This is beyond-easy to verify. Alvin Plantinga, in Knowledge and Christian Belief, writes: "G. K. Chesterton once remarked that of all the doctrines of Christianity, the doctrine of original sin has the strongest claim to "empirical verifiability."" (K1179) Crudely, this means: open your senses and behold how screwed up humanity is. 

"Empirical verifiability" means this: a statement is true (= a certain state of affairs obtains) if that statement is verifiable in principle via the five senses. (Analytic statements, such as A is A, are true analytically; i.e., the predicated state of affairs is contained in the subject.) Plantinga writes:

"It has been abundantly verified in the wars, cruelty, and general hatefulness that have characterized human history from its very inception to the present. Indeed, no century has seen more organized hatred, contempt, and cruelty than the late and unlamented twentieth; and none has seen it on as grand a scale." (Ib., K1188)

People who live self-reflective lives have, upon introspection, discovered "seeds of destruction" and "violence within." I have. You would see the same in you, if you routinely subjected yourself to self-examination.

One more thing: the cause of most human suffering due to sin has been perpetrated, at least in the 20th century, by atheists. Plantinga writes elsewhere:

"Of course the world’s religions do indeed have much to repent; still (as has often been pointed out) the suffering, death, and havoc attributable to religious belief and practice pales into utter insignificance beside that due to the atheistic and secular ideologies of the twentieth century alone." (Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism . Oxford University Press. Kindle Location 104.) 

Thus we can be done with the sophomoric, unstudied idea that sin is the special province of religious people. And the truly foolish idea underlying John Lennon's "Imagine" song that we can make a better world and live as one without religion.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Read Larry Taunton's New Book on Christopher Hitchens

I felt sad when atheist Christopher Hitchens died. I felt sad this week when I read Larry Taunton's The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist.

I laughed when I read it, too (and I don't laugh at many things).

This book is beautiful and brilliant. I couldn't put it down.

Taunton was a very good friend of Hitchens. They traveled together and hung out together, a lot. Taunton has insights into Hitchens that increase my interest in him and my compassion and even respect for him.

Taunton is a Christian theist. Was Hitchens an atheist? Maybe. Maybe not. You have to read this book to understand this. Even well-known atheist Michael Shermer says, "Read this book."

Part of my respect for Hitchens was that he was no ideologue. He despised and dismissed most atheists, and especially his adoring Facebook fan atheists. And even, it seems, atheist Bill Maher.

Hitchens upset Maher on the latter's show. Taunton writes:

"In a 2006 appearance on Maher’s Real Time, Maher wrongly assumed that because he and Hitchens were both atheists and vociferous critics of religion that the two would be ideological soul mates. Indeed, one gets the distinct impression that Hitchens is, for Maher, something of a hero. Christopher promptly dispels any such notions of solidarity when Maher infers that George W. Bush’s religious beliefs were no less nutty than those of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When Maher’s anti-Bush audience applauds this remark, Hitchens comes off the turnbuckle like a professional wrestler: “Your audience, which will apparently clap at anything, is frivolous . . .” The audience boos loudly and Christopher raises his middle finger to them and says enthusiastically, “. . . F— you!” Maher looks genuinely hurt. But Hitchens isn’t done.

[Hitchens] "I’ve been on the Jon Stewart show, I’ve been on your show, I’ve seen you make about five George Bush I.Q. jokes per night. There’s no one I know who can’t do it. You know what I think? This is now the joke that stupid people laugh at. It’s a joke that any dumb person can laugh at because they think they are smarter than the President . . . like the people who make booing and mooing noises in your audience . . . none of whom are smarter than the President."

He finishes with another middle finger."

I am not a fan of the middle finger. I haven't used it in forty-seven years, except to play guitar, finger-style. Actually, I spend my life attempting to invert the message of the middle finger. But I do admire Hitchens correctly identifying the mindless ideological stupidity of Maher and Maher's fans.

Get this book and read it.

After that, get my book and read it. Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Solitude Comes Before Community (and Before Conversation)

Manistee, Michigan

The ontological order of spiritual formation into Christlikeness is:

1. Solitude.
2. Community.

Then, return to solitude, and back to community, over and over again and again, year after year. This is a dialectical movement, meaning a forward motion where every return to solitude is a small but significant gain in Christlikeness, which is then brought to community, and so on and on as Christ is formed in us. (Galatians 4:19)

Practically, in my life, it looks like this.

I take time alone with God.

Linda and I meet with a small group of Jesus-followers every week (we've done this together for 43 years).

Linda and I meet with the large group community (our church family, on Sunday mornings at other times).

Then it's back to solitary, alone-times with God, and the forward-moving spiral begins again.

Solitude makes me better in community. Henri Nouwen writes:

"Why is it so important that solitude come before community? If we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we are going to expect someone in the community to make us feel that we are. We will expect someone to give us that perfect, unconditional love. They cannot." (Nouwen, 
A Spirituality of Living, p. 21) 

(For a presentation of how solitude comes before conversation, see Sherry Turkle's brilliant Reclaiming Conversation.)

The Argument from Consciousness for the Existence of God

Downtown Monroe
The Argument from Consciousness for the Existence of God
This argument is J.P. Moreland’s, and is found:

· Go to “Resources.” Scroll down to: "Argument from Consciousness for God's Existence." ($1.95 for the mp3)

·         Moreland’s hyper-academic  Consciousness and the Existence of God:A Theistic Argument.

J.P. is one of the best teachers I have ever encountered. His writing is crisp-clear. He's a brilliant thinker. He understands the relevant issues. Ultimately this argument succeeds as an example of abductive reasoning:

1) irreducible consciousness exists
2) the best explanation for irreducible consciousness is either theism or naturalism
3) it's not naturalism
4) therefore, theism is the most probable explanation for the existence of irreducible consciousness.

Here is a synopsis, notes I use when I teach students this argument.

1.  A “Recalcitrant Fact” – a fact that resists explanation by a theory.

a.    Imagine, e.g., that you are a prosecuting attorney has strong evidence that John committed a murder. HOWEVER…  there are 10 credible people who say they were watching a ball game with John at the time the crime was committed.

b.    That is a “recalcitrant fact.” It does not fit your theory.

c.    You could try to explain it away. How?

d.    But every attempt to explain away the recalcitrant fact fails. The fact remains “recalcitrant” (unyielding; won't go away).

e.    At this point the recalcitrant fact provides evidence for an alternative theory.

2.  The existence of consciousness is a recalcitrant fact for atheists.

a.    If atheism is true, then all that exists is matter and its various arrangements.

b.    This is called “naturalism,” or “scientific naturalism,” or “philosophical naturalism.” Or “materialism.”

c.    If all that exists is matter, then how can you get “mind” from “matter?”

d.    But “mind” does exist.

e.    Therefore the existence of “mind” (consciousness) is a recalcitrant fact for atheism-as- philosophical naturalism.

f.     Antony Flew, in There is a God, points to the existence of consciousness as a problem for atheists.

g.    Also presenting a problem for atheists is free will, and a “unified I.”

h.    But what if Christianity is true? If it is, then it follows that we are made in the image of God. There’s something about us that is like God.

 3.  Consciousness – what is it?

a.    Think about water. Water can exist in three states: liquid, solid, and gas. Each of these three states is a different state of water.

b.    In the same way there are at least 5 states of consciousness.

                                          i.    A Sensation.

                                        ii.    A Thought

                                       iii.    A Belief

                                       iv.    A Desire

                                        v.    A Volition, or an Act of Free Will

 4.  #1 – A Sensation (Mental State #1)

a.    Two levels of sensations.

                                          i.    Those that come through a sense organ.

1.    An awareness of “yellow”

2.    An awareness of “sweetness”

3.    An awareness of the smell of a rose

4.    Note: If I see a red object in lighting that makes it look orange to me, I experience it as orange, even though it is red.

                                        ii.    Those that do not come through a sense organ

1.    Pains, itches, emotions, etc…

2.    The difference between a pain and an itch is that they are different forms of sensory awareness.

3.    The difference between anger and the taste of a banana is that they are different forms of sensation.

b.    A sensation cannot be true or false.

                                          i.    It can be accurate or inaccurate.

                                        ii.    E.g. – Upon seeing a banana I say, “I have a sensation of ‘yellow’.”

                                       iii.    This sensation is not “true” or “false,” but accurate or inaccurate.

c.    You can have sensations without being able to think.

                                          i.    E.g. – I am sure that frogs have sensations. But it’s not clear to me that frogs can think.

                                        ii.    Frogs can feel pain, they can see flies. But they can’t have thoughts about flies.

d.    A sensation is just “a state of sentience.”

5.  A Thought (Mental State #2)

a.    A “thought” is the mental content that can be expressed in a sentence.

b.    For example:

                                          i.    Schnee ist Weiss.

                                        ii.    Nieve es blanca.

                                       iii.    Snow is white.

c.    All three of these sentences have the same content.

d.    The content is in my mind; the sentence is on the board, or on the sheet of paper.

e.    The sentence isn’t the same thing as the thought.

                                          i.    You can see the sentence.

                                        ii.    You can’t see the thought.

f.     A thought is a state of consciousness.

g.    Thoughts are different than sensations.

                                          i.    A thought can be true or false.

                                        ii.    A sensation cannot be true or false.

h.    Thoughts are different states of consciousness than sensations are.

6.  A Belief (Mental State #3)

a.    A belief is something you take to be true, between 51% and 100%.

                                          i.    For example, I am 80% certain that the Lions will make the playoffs this year. I’m “80-20” on this.

                                        ii.    For example, I am 100% certain that I exist. I’m 100-0 on this.

b.    A belief is your view of how things are; of what you take to be true, or to be the case.

c.    Beliefs are like thoughts – both can be true or false.

d.    But beliefs aren’t the same things as thoughts.

                                          i.    E.g. – thoughts only exist while you are having them.

                                        ii.    But you have many beliefs that you are not now aware of or thinking of.

                                       iii.    E.g., as I now speak to you I have thousands of beliefs about…

1.    Linda

2.    The multiplication table

3.    The New Testament

4.    Frogs in my backyard

5.    History

6.    Birds

7.    Etc…..

                                       iv.    I have many beliefs I am not now paying attention to (not now thinking of).

                                        v.    But it wouldn’t make any sense to say, “I now have a thought that I’m not thinking about.”

1.    Thoughts only exist when you are having them.

2.    Beliefs exist whether you are aware of them or not.

                                       vi.    Another example: I have thoughts that I don’t believe.

1.    E.g. – I am now doing a great job teaching.

2.    You can have a thought that you don’t believe; you can have a belief that you are not thinking.

e.    Thoughts and beliefs are like liquid and solid. They are different states of consciousness.

7.  A Desire (Mental State #4)

a.    A “desire” is a felt inclination toward or away from something.

                                          i.    E.g. – a desire for a cupcake.

                                        ii.    E.g. – a desire not to have a root canal.

                                       iii.    E.g. – a desire to be a good friend.

b.    Desires are not thoughts or beliefs.

                                          i.    A thought doesn’t have a felt inclination for or against something.


c.    Desires aren’t the same things as sensations.

                                          i.    Many people confuse a desire for God with a sensation of God’s presence, or an experience of God.

                                        ii.    People can have a desire for something that is a long-term desire…

1.    Like a desire to be a good teacher, or a good friend, or a godly parent.

                                       iii.    You can tell a long-term desire by the behavior that comes from it.

                                       iv.    E.g., the desire to be a good guitar player.

8.  A Volition; an Act of Free Will (Mental State #5)

a.    A mental action

b.    An exertion of effort

c.    This is a state of consciousness, of free will.

d.    Libertarian free will – a conscious choice that cannot be fully reduced to prior (antecedent) causal conditions.

9.  All 5 of these are states of consciousness. Not one of them is physical.

a.    But how do we know that?

b.    How do we know that these 5 states of consciousness are not physical?

c.    You don’t need a brain to think.

d.    E.g. – God doesn’t have a brain, and God can think.

e.    God doesn’t miss not having a brain.

10. Three Reasons Why Consciousness Is Not Physical

a.    There are things that are true of consciousness that are not true of the physical brain.

                                          i.    If this is true, then consciousness and the brain cannot be the same thing.

                                        ii.    Like what?

1.    A thought can be true or false. But no physical state of your brain can be true or false.

2.    E.g. – when you think, “That cupcake was good,” there is brain activity going on. Something may be happening, in your physical brain, that is closer to your left ear than your right ear, and it may be 10 cm long.

3.    But the thought “That cupcake was good” is not nearer your left ear than your right, and it is not 10 cm long.

4.    Thoughts don’t have geometrical size or shape. But the states of your brain do have geometrical sizes and shapes.

                                       iii.    Another example: Think of a pink elephant. Some of you may be able to think of putting a blue blanket on it.

1.    The thought is of “pink” and “blue.”

2.    But there is nothing physically pink and blue in your brain. Right now, if we could examine your brain, we would find nothing that is pink and blue.

                                       iv.    Therefore there are things that are true of consciousness that are not true of the physical brain. If this is true, then consciousness and the brain cannot be the same thing.

b.    There is a “what it is like to feel consciousness…”

                                          i.    E.g. – What it is like to feel pain…

1.    … to feel anger…

2.    … to be thinking about lunch…

                                        ii.    This is available from a first-person perspective.

                                       iii.    BUT NOTE: There is no first-person perspective on “what it is like to be physical…” Everything that is physical is only available from a 3rd-person perspective.

                                       iv.    See here Thomas Nagel’s famous essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?

1.    Here Nagel suggests that the subjective aspect of the mind may not ever be sufficiently accounted for by the objective methods of objective science.

                                        v.    E.g., suppose a physicist knew all the physical facts about the universe.

1.    Suppose she was blind from birth.

a.    Then, all of a sudden, she gained the ability to see.

b.    This person would learn some brand new facts. There would be facts about “What it is like to see the color yellow.” Etc.

c.    She already knew all the physical facts. But now she gained a bunch of new facts.

d.    From this it follows that the new facts she has come to know are not physical. They are, instead, mental facts.

e.    Thus, there is knowledge that is not available from a 3rd-person perspective.

2.    A scientist can know more about your brain than you do.

a.    But he cannot know anything about your mind, about what it is like to be you, unless you tell him.

b.    You alone have 1st-person knowledge of your mind, but not your brain.

c.    If your mind was your brain, you should be able to have a scientist tell you what is going on in your mind by reading it off what’s going on in your physical brain.

c.    Intentionality

                                          i.    This is “of-ness”; “about-ness.”

1.    Your thoughts/beliefs/sensations are “of” or “about” things.

2.    My sensation is a sensation of a tree.

3.    My desire is a desire about a cupcake.

4.    My fear is a fear of tornados.

                                        ii.    Our thoughts/beliefs/sensations are said to have “intentionality.” Which means they are “of” things or “about” things.

                                       iii.    Pure physical states don’t have intentionality.

1.    It doesn’t make any sense to point to an an area of the physical brain and say, “That brain state is about the Second World War.”

                                       iv.    States of consciousness do have intentionality.

1.    Therefore, the states of consciousness are not states of the brain.

                                        v.    For these three reasons (and others) the 5 conscious states are not physical.

11. What About the Brain?

a.    Science can establish correlations between the brain and the mind.

                                          i.    This doesn’t prove that they are the same thing.

                                        ii.    E.g. – just because fire causes smoke, it does not follow that fire is the same as smoke.

                                       iii.    Just because I poke you and it causes pain, this does not mean that the thing going on in your physical brain is pain. 

b.    It’s possible that consciousness uses the brain to work, like a driver uses a car to move.

c.    Moreland uses out-of-body experiences to validate this. Therefore, people don’t need brains or eyes to see.

d.    So, establishing correlations doesn’t prove they are the same thing.

12. The Problem for Atheistic Naturalism

a.    The problem is… if you begin with matter… and start with matter as it is described in physics and chemistry…

                                          i.    …then the history of the universe will be a history of the rearrangement of matter into ore and more complicated arrangements of matter.

b.    The problem is…  before sentient (conscious) life existed, there was no consciousness, on naturalism.

                                          i.    If this is true, then how can you get something from nothing?

                                        ii.    How do you get consciousness coming into existence from matter by merely rearranging brute, inert matter according to the laws of chemistry and physics?

                                       iii.    Moreland says: “There is no explanation for the origin of consciousness if you start from matter. Period.” Moreland says he has read every attempt, on naturalism, to explain this.

                                       iv.    Moreland says: “This is why the majority of philosophers working in philosophy of mind today deny the reality of consciousness.

13. Consciousness is explained if Christian Theism is true.

a.    If you begin the universe with mind (logos) rather than with matter (b-bs), then you already start the universe with conscious self, and the existence of subsequent selves is no problem.

b.    This is because the universe at its core is a Conscious Being, not brute matter.