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Epistemology and Arguments for the Existence of God
Romans 1:27–32
Romans Lesson #014
April 7, 2011
www.deanbibleministries.org

From Romans 1:18, 19 we know that God says that He has constructed the creation in such a way, and the human soul in such a way, being in the image of God, that there is an inherent knowledge of God within every human being. This inherent knowledge of God also is connected in some way to an external testimony of who God is by His creation. We can look at His creation and there is something non-verbal that attests to the power of God and His invisible attributes. That is not the same thing as the so-called arguments for the existence of God, which are an attempt to articulate this in a philosophical structure. This knowledge is prior to an argument.

Philosophical arguments are different. This is prior to an argument. This is when a person first comes to God-consciousness before they ever hear any kind of argument for the existence of God. There is something inside them that tells them without a shadow of a doubt that God exists. When they look on God’s creation it is as if God has branded everything in His creation, from the smallest element inside of a molecule all the way up to the largest element, with His brand. So when a human being is growing up and he comes to self-consciousness where we realize we are not a dog or a cat and we identify where those boundaries are where we stop and everything else begins. And then sometime after that he comes to a recognition that God exists. This is not an intellectual or rational construct. It is not mysticism; it is just this sort of internal connection that God builds into every single person so that they know He exists. When they look on these external things that God created they see that brand. Everything God created speaks out as to who the creator is. And it is the rejection of that that is the basis for God’s judgment on mankind within human history. In that denial of truth there is a basic substitution of that which is true with a fantasy that is conjured up by the rebellious human soul.

Once a soul rejects God it seeks for explanations of ultimate existence, explanations of knowledge, explanations of right and wrong on its own terms apart from God. That is the essence of rebellion. In the garden of Eden Eve is going to evaluate whether God knows what He is talking about when He said if you eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will surely die. So what is the basis issue there? The issue of authority. It is an issue of truth, an issue of how you know something is true. It is really those ideas that reverberate down through history and each individual has to make up their own mind in relationship to that. Romans 1:20 NASB “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 states that since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. Notice that comes after verse 19, which puts the internal knowledge of God prior to verse 20. Verse 19 says that what may be known of God is manifest in them for God has shown it to them. Then verse 20 explains how God shows it to them. 

Then there are questions about the basic issues of life. Why are we here? What is right or wrong? How should we conduct ourselves or live our lives in certain areas? This is in the arena of ethics where we talk about marriage, family, law, politics, economics, things which have to do with social structures. But ultimately it is how should we conduct ourselves? Then the question is: if you are going to say that is right and this is wrong, on what basis do you know that? That is epistemology, truth claims. How do you know what is true? Then you say because God told me or, because I just feel it in my heart, or whatever the answer is; and that is an appeal to authority. So once again what we have is a truth claim that is resolved by an appeal to authority.   

General revelation has to be interpreted in the light of special revelation, which is the direct verbal self-disclosure of God to His creatures. Mostly for us this refers to the Scriptures. The problem is that in getting it from the Scriptures we have this fallen nature that gets in the way (Jeremiah 17:9). This isn’t the Calvinist view of total inability. In that view they misunderstand that metaphor about being spiritually dead and they think it means that a person can’t do anything at all towards God. In Romans 1:20 we have words like “clearly seen, understood,” words that relate to knowledge in these verses. They became futile in their thoughts, in their thinking. “Futile” is MATAIOO which means to make worthless. So once a person makes the ethical or spiritual decision to reject God then it has an epistemological consequence. In other words, if you make a decision to reject God it starts messing with your thinking, and the more you reject God the more it distorts your thinking. The more your thinking gets distorted the more you create a fantasy world and you live in them. The word for thinking is DIALOGISMOS which has to do with their reasoning. It is not that they can’t come up with logic, but their starting point is wrong so their end point is wrong. Their reasoning processes have become distorted because they have rejected the starting point, which is God.

Their “foolish heart was darkened” – “foolish,” ASUNETOS, they are senseless, foolish because of their thinking. God doesn’t have a very high opinion of these thought capabilities of triple PhDs from Harvard who reject God’s existence. Romans 1:22 NASB “Professing to be wise, they became fools” – fools: MORAINO, from which we get our word “moron”; wise: SOPHOS; and combined this words come to “sophomore,” somebody in the second year of a course or curriculum and he thinks he knows more than he does.

In all of these verses what is the basic problem? That man’s foolish heart is darkened? That his reasoning process is out of kilter? No. The basic problem is that he rejects God, negative volition. That is what starts everything going. His basic problem is spiritual. There is a spiritual rejection of God and this changes the person’s view of reality. These same words are picked up in Ephesians 4:17-19 as Paul describes the Gentiles. NASB “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility [MATAIOTES] of their mind [NOUS], being darkened in their understanding [DIANOIA], excluded from the life of God [the ultimate cause] because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”

The issue that we have seen here is knowledge: how does a person know God? If you are talking to an unbeliever how are you going to talk to him about the gospel? Option A is to shoot him with your gospel gun, a drive-by. That is the wrong answer because that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to somebody. What do you mean by believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Who is that? The more we live in a pagan world the more we have to pay attention to that.

The basis for knowledge: This relates to authority. Authority answers the question: how do you know something is true? To what authority do you appeal? If you are a Christian and you are talking to an unbeliever and we assume that unbeliever is consistent within his thought pattern and you are consistent within yours, how are you going to communicate to them? To what authority will you appeal when you say the Bible makes truth claims? The unbeliever says, how do you know it is true? You can’t just say the Bible says so. 1 Peter 3:15 NASB “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always {being} ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…” Often when we are witnessing to somebody it is not a monologue, not a drive-by one-shot decision, it is a conversation, a dialogue. So we have to think about these things.

There are four ways in which man has developed his sense of authority in terms of knowledge. The first three are ways that are valid in a limited sense. You can apply any one of them in isolation and come up with some things that are true, but only the last one gives truth with a capital T. The first system is rationalism. In its pure sense it is the idea that we were born with certain innate ideas and we can start with those innate ideas and through a method of logic and reason we can answer all the questions in life; we can come to truth—decide what is right and wrong, the nature of man, whether or not there is a God, and make all kinds of decisions.

Empiricism in its technical sense is based on sense perception. The idea was among the empiricists that there is no total depravity, no fallen nature; we are just like an erased tablet, a blank slate, and our knowledge comes from whatever we experience—taste, touch, sight, whatever. Rarely do we meet people outside of the philosophy classroom that are pure rationalists or pure empiricists. Usually they are a mix of the two, and that is what most scientists are. They mix rationalism and empiricism and what is critical is that their method is the same; it is an independent use of logic and reason. So if you grant their assumptions about whatever it is they’re talking about, and if they are consistent in their use of logic, then their conclusion will follow. That’s where it gets slippery because they approach things with the assumption that God is not there. If they are an unbeliever they are approaching with the assumption that the God—not just any god—of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Trinitarian God, isn’t there; the God of the Bible isn’t there. That is their starting point. And what did Paul say earlier in Romans about how that affects their dialogue, their ability to reason? It messes it all up; it becomes empty and worthless. We have to be aware of the fact that nobody out there is just neutral. The other thing is that they are operating just as much on faith as you and I are. This is one of the real problems that came out of the Middle Ages and came out of the Enlightenment: this attempt to juxtapose faith and reason. This really came out of a lot of Roman Catholic theology in the Middle Ages because they were blending the Scripture with the study of Greek philosophy, first Plato and then later Aristotle.

Every system always operates on faith. At some point you have to believe something. When Descartes said “I think, therefore I am” and starts there, thinking he can get to the existence of God through the rigorous use of logic, his faith is in human ability. The same thing happens with empiricism: the thought that you can get from sense perception to the existence of God. So it is always faith in human ability.

Mysticism also puts faith in human ability. It starts with inner private experience. Where are innate ideas and rationalism? Inside your head. Where are inner private experiences? Inside your head. So they are both starting with something that is inside your head but the difference is that the mystic uses a non-logical, non-rational, non-verifiable method to reach his conclusion; he is not getting there through logic. That’s why it is so hard to talk to somebody who says: I just know it is true, don’t confuse me with facts. You can’t argue with me because it is true, I just know it. It is totally experience based; it is a mystical experience.

Some people blend all three of these together. The difference is that all three are operating in human autonomy or independence from the authority of God. And that is the last category: revelation. Sometimes you will even see this classified as authority: that we are told something by an authority. The issue is rejection of what God has said in His Word. When we start with the objective revelation of God—whether it is the non-verbal general revelation and then we go from there to special revelation and build on that—we use logic and reason but our starting point is different; we are using it under the authority of God to get to our conclusion. There are those who will say you have to use reason. Really? All they have is an autonomous use of reason. Aren’t they compromising themselves to go over there? If they say it is empiricism they have the same problem, and in mysticism, the same problem.

So as believers, whenever we are talking with an unbeliever we have to make sure we don’t compromise the integrity of the Word of God in the process. Basically what that means is that we have to realize that the person we are talking already knows God exists through internal evidence and external evidence. What God is going to use us to do is, in the communication of the gospel and how we can answer questions or ask questions to get them to think, we are going to expose the fact that they have got something stuffed down in a box in the corner of their soul, and it is that knowledge of God that is going to pop out. Sometimes when it pops out people get mad at us because they don’t like the fact that all of a sudden we have reminded them that there might be a God to whom they are accountable.

When we look at rationalism and empiricism we have to realize that the problem man has is that he is finite and his amount of knowledge or experience is extremely limited.

In terms of common ground each of the arguments for the existence of God—cosmological, teleological, moral, anthropological, ontological—presuppose that there is a common ground between the believer and the unbeliever that is either going to be reason or history. What is the problem there? If the common ground is above revelation then you’ve compromised your authority by appealing to an idolatrous authority. Truth is not established by history. History can validate and be a witness to truth but it doesn’t establish truth; it is not the authority. The authority isn’t experienced, isn’t reasoned in logic.

So if you appeal to experience, reason or intuition what you’ve done is basically said: I am going to step out of my truth zone, and I am going over to this pagan unbeliever who is thinking consistently within his system and says, this is what I believe establishes truth. What have you done? You have compromised your truth rather than, in terms of a strategy, say, okay let’s just think about what you just said establishes truth and see if there are any problems with that. Can you really live on that basis or does it have problems?

Paul says there gospel is truth; there is one truth. In Galatians 1:6 he castigates the Galatians because they had gotten away from this and had brought in something else. It wasn’t a reliance upon grace and God’s provision but a reliance upon trusting God and doing something. So he says that he is amazed that they so quickly turned away from “Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel”—different of another kind, which is not another of the same kind but it is categorically different; it was a works based gospel. This verse uses the word “gospel” in a narrow sense: deliverance from eternity in the lake of fire.

Jesus also said in His high priestly prayer to the Father in John 17:17 NASB “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” He presupposes an absolute truth, an absolute body of doctrine that is the basis for our spiritual growth and spiritual life, and that is embedded within God’s Word, God’s revelation.

Colossians 1:5 NASB “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel [6] which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as {it has been doing} in you also since the day you heard {of it} and understood the grace of God in truth.” Fruit: the results that God intended; production. “the grace of God in truth”—here we have that “in” clause in Scripture in the Greek indicating by means of truth. The only way we know the grace of God is by means of the truth. And the truth is where? In God’s Word.