June 2010

I have encountered a number of Oneness Pentecostals who not only object to the Trinitarian concept of God as “three persons,” but object to calling God a “person” at all.  In what follows, I provide typical objections offered against calling God a person, followed by a response.

Objection: The Bible never uses the term “person” of God
Response: The question is not whether the Bible uses the term per se, but whether the nature of God as described in Scripture can rightly be described as personable, given the definition of person: a conscious, rational, thinking, subject of various experiences (a mind).

Furthermore, the Bible does not speak of humans as “persons” either, and yet no one disputes the legitimacy of applying such a term to human beings.  The mere fact that such terminology is not used of God no more means that God is not accurately described as being a person than the absence of such terminology for humans means we are not accurately described as persons.  If we do not hesitate to call ourselves persons, neither should we hesitate to call God a person.


A clinic in Spain is offering homosexuals treatment to “cure” their same-sex attraction.  The Spanish government is now investigating the clinic.  If they are found guilty of offering treatments to cure homosexuals, they could be fined.  Why?  Apparently because it goes against the country’s pro-homosexual agenda.  As Spanish gay rights leader, Antonio Guirado commented, “You cannot treat something that is not an illness.”

So much can be said here.  


One of the objections against studying and using apologetics I often hear from fellow Christians is, “It doesn’t work.”  Why do they think this?  Because they learned a few evidences for the Christian faith, tried them out on unbelievers, and discovered that it didn’t make everyone immediately fall down on their face in repentance.  So, they concluded apologetics do not work.  If by “work” they mean successful 100% of the time in causing conversion, I would agree.  But surely this can’t be the standard by which we judge success.  If it is, then we would also have to deem the simple Gospel presentation a failure as well since the majority of people who hear it do not convert to Christianity.  Even Jesus failed to persuade the vast majority of all those He encountered.

The problem is not with the message/method/evidence, but with the heart of man.  According to Paul, unbelievers suppress the knowledge of God so they can continue in their moral rebellion (Romans 1).  Unbelief is primarily moral and volitional in nature, and only secondarily intellectual.  It should be no surprise, then, that intellectual arguments fail to persuade some people: they do not want to be persuaded.  As Winston Churchill once said, “Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”  And yet, rational arguments for the Christian faith can be instrumental in leading the open-hearted to faith in Christ.  Indeed, many former atheists can testify to the fact that apologetics “worked” to bring them to a belief in Jesus Christ.  Apologetics is no magic bullet, but it is a valuable tool in our evangelistic tool box.

Alternative Responses (cont)

 Colin McGinn, philosopher at the University of Miami

As mentioned in my second post, Colin McGinn (echoing Immanuel Kant) makes a distinction between asking why some particular existent within the whole of existence exists, and why the whole of existence itself exists.  The former question can be answered by appealing to some other preexistent existent within the whole of existence, but the latter question appeals to some existent outside the whole of existence to explain the whole of existence.  It is impossible, however, for something to exist outside the set of the whole of existence.  By definition there cannot be additional entities outside the set of “every existing thing.” 

 McGinn thinks this problem can be remedied by reformulating the question as “Is it true of every concrete thing that it exists contingently, or necessarily?”  He affirms that every concrete entity exists contingently.  So far so good, but why do concrete entities exist, then?  Here is where McGinn fumbles.  He affirms that the whole of concrete, contingent existence just exists inexplicably!  Surely this is absurd.  Contingent beings, by definition, derive their being from something outside themselves, and thus there must be an explanation for why they exist.  It is metaphysically absurd to speak of an uncaused contingent being.  Inexplicability is appropriate for a necessary being, but not contingent beings (and all concrete entities are contingent beings).


Alternative Responses

Now that I have put my own view on display (See parts 1 and 2 of this mini-series), let us take a look at how a few philosophers have answered this puzzling philosophical question. We will explore the views of Quentin Smith, John Leslie, Colin McGinn, Hubert Dreyfus, and Bede Rundle.

Quentin Smith, philosopher at Western Michigan University

According to Quentin Smith, the answer to why there is something rather than nothing is so simple that it seems rather trite: The reason Y exists at time t4 rather than nothing is because X existed at time t3, and caused Y to exist.  Likewise, X exists at time t2 rather than nothing because W existed at time t1, and caused X to exist, and so on.  In other words, the present something exists because a previous something caused it to exist.  Why did that previous something exist rather than nothing?  The reason is that it, too, was caused by something that existed before it, and so on.  The answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing, then, is simply that something is always preceded by something else.

The problem with Smith’s answer is two-fold.  First, he shifts the locus of the question from why anything has ever existed to why something exists right now.  The question, however, seeks a reason for the whole of reality, not just each temporal state of reality. 


Why is there Something, Rather than Nothing?

“Why is there something rather than nothing?”  This is considered by many to be the most fundamental of all philosophical questions. The question, however, presumes that “nothing” and “something” are two equally possible states – that nothingness is a genuine alternative to something.  If what I have argued thus far is sound, nothingness is metaphysically impossible, and thus it is not a logical alternative to something.  Something must exist.  But what if my reasoning is flawed, and it turns out that non-existence is logically possible?  How would we answer this long-standing philosophical question, then? 

To answer the question we first need to be clear about what is being asked.  For example, what is meant by “why?”  Are we seeking to discover the cause of existence, or the purpose for existence?  If we are seeking a purpose for existence, then we are already presupposing the existence of some supreme mind, because only personal agents create things for particular reasons and with some purpose in mind.  Without access to that mind, it is difficult to discover what purposes it had for creating.  It is much simpler to identify the cause of existence: the what rather than the why. 


Women often wonder what men are thinking about.  Jerry Seinfeld once joked that the answer is, “Nothing.”  For the past several weeks, I too, have been thinking about nothing – not nothing as in “not anything,” but nothing as in the concept of nothingness.  What is nothing?  Is it possible that there could have been nothing rather than something?  If so, why is there something rather than nothing?

What is Nothing?

Nothing is a very difficult concept to wrap one’s mind around.  As A.J. Ayer pointed out, we are often fooled by the grammar of nothingness into think that since “nothing” is a noun, it must refer to something.

But “nothing” is a term of universal negation, not a term of reference.  It’s similar to words like “no one ” and “nowhere.”  “Nowhere” does not refer to a place, but to the absence of any place (not anywhere).  Likewise, “nothing” does not refer to something, but to the absence of anything (not anything).  If someone asked you what you had for lunch today, and you say “nothing,” you don’t mean you had lunch, and what you ate was called nothing, but rather that you did not have anything for lunch.  If they ask you what nothing tasted like, tell them, “Chicken, of course.”

The minute we begin to think about nothing, we mentally transform nothing into a something; an object to be contemplated.  It is even impossible to imagine nothingness, because every image we conjure up is an image of something.  We often imagine nothing as an infinite expanse of black, empty space (a vacuum) – but empty space is something, not nothing.  Nothing is “not-even-space.”  Nothing is not a little bit of something, or “something-lite,” but literally no-thing; the absence of being.  Perhaps Macbeth said it best when he said, “Nothing is but what is not.”  It is the absence of any and every existent, including the very concept of existence.  Could this kind of nothing “exist”?