And over the millennia theologians and apologists have been very inventive, devising numerous arguments for theism from a variety of angles, such as that the universe needed a cause, that the design we find in the world indicates the existence of a designer, that moral norms necessarily imply a moral law-giver, etc. Once belief in theism has been accepted, there’s an argument to defeat every possible criticism of god-belief that naysayers and spoilsports might raise. And the motivation for devising such arguments should not be too difficult to understand: once belief in the supernatural has been accepted as a true account of reality, one will need to protect his pride from the baddies of the world who scoff at such beliefs.
Unfortunately, sometimes apologists grow weary of the task of defending their faith, or rather defending a set of arguments, especially if one’s faith in those arguments has itself weakened. In such cases, apologists typically find ways to put the blame non-believers for their fatigue. For example, Steve Hays of Triablogue writes:
Many atheists think Christians are supposed to start from scratch every time they meet a new atheist. As if every time we meet an atheist, we're expected to repeat all the arguments and evidence. It's like requiring every teacher to instruct each student individually rather than classroom instruction. (Required reading for atheists)
What I’d find more valuable than a rehearsal of theistic arguments, were believers I know willing to discuss their god-belief, is simply identifying their starting point. I’ve examined numerous arguments for the existence of a god and have not found one that is at all convincing. But that’s because I’m already aware of an important truth:
When we arrive at the conclusion of an argument for the existence of a god, we have no alternative but to *imagine* the god whose existence the argument is intended to prove.
Moreover, some may say, as Cornelius Van Til puts it, “God is not found at the end of an argument. He is found in our hearts.” (Why I Believe in God)
Frankly, I take the attitude expressed here to be a damning admission to the effect, not only that the believer’s arguments are really more of a distraction than anything else, but that his god-belief is actually sourced in his imagination. For this is an admission that he does not actually infer the existence of his god by culling together evidences which he finds by looking outward at the world, a process which would admittedly be fallible and open to scrutiny.
Rather, the believer finds his god by looking inward - he tells himself and everyone else that he’s peering into his “heart” – and there he comforts himself in the security of a place no outsider can penetrate, and it is there where he can feign an infallibility of sorts. For who can contest what one claims to have found in his “heart”? He offers no insight into any method of establishing his beliefs that impartial observers can examine and find free of faults. And if the believer can call the source of his god-belief his “heart,” which innumerable believers in fact do, he can thereby avoid implicating his own imagination as an accomplice to his god-belief. Appealing to one’s “heart” puts his imagination safely out of everyone’s view, including his own, while dignifying the content of his beliefs with unearned virtue. If we accept the unstated premise that one’s “heart” has some special cognitive endowment, then whatever he claims to find in his “heart” will be unassailable. However, if “heart” in such contexts is really a euphemism for imagination, such beliefs are at root empty of factual content.
Hearts are not organs of cognition – all you’ll find there is muscle, tissue and blood cells. But they lend themselves quite readily to metaphors for some things which we might prefer to go unidentified. No one wants to admit that what he believes in is imaginary. I know as a former Christian that it was quite difficult, especially after the personal investment I had made in my confession, to admit to myself that what I professed to believe was really imaginary. But finally doing so was supremely liberating: no longer did I feel compelled to sustain a pretense that what I imagined was real, and now I was able honestly to distinguish between what I knew to be real and what I was really only imagining all along.
So when a believer strains to press arguments for his theism, ask him if his god is found in the conclusion of an argument, or in his heart. Given the alternative, he’ll likely go with the latter option, which provides an out when his arguments fail to be persuasive in the first place. But then ask how he distinguishes between what he finds in his “heart” and what he may merely be imagining, and how he distinguishes what he calls his “heart” from his imagination to begin with. For if he has not made this distinction in the first place, how does he know he hasn’t mistaken his imagination for a reliable source of knowledge? And if his god were real in the first place, and not merely an invention of the imagination, why would he need to look inward to find it instead of looking outward at the objective world and point to objective evidence? Blank out.
Now Van Til himself, in the article cited above, states that he does not think that the attitude expressed in the token quote is acceptable, explaining that “a testimony that is not an argument is not a testimony either, just as an argument that is not a testimony is not even an argument.” But he also states in the same article that he “cannot even argue for belief in Him, without already having taken Him for granted.” So he does in fact admit that before he even gets to the stage of assembling and presenting any argument, he has believed all along. And, as he admits in his paper, he believed since he was a child, long before he could even formulate any arguments.
But, like any other child, he could certainly imagine!
by Dawson Bethrick