EXCERPT FROM DR. JOHN GERSTNER'S THEOLOGY IN DIALOGUE
Taken from Theology in Dialogue written by Dr. John Gerstner before his death in March of 1996. This section of this book is posted with the permission of Soli Deo Gloria. Anyone who wishes to reproduce publicly any of these excerpts must seek the permission of Soli Deo Gloria. This is the policy of Soli Deo Gloria and not Sound Words.
This excerpt begins a discourse between a Christian and an Inquirer. In this book, Gerstner engages with himself in "dialecture". I have decided to post this in the non-Christian section of Sound Words in an attempt to present a most sound defense of the Christian religion. Dr. Gerstner will be our resident defender of Christianity for the time being. Dr. Gerstner earned his Ph. D. in philosophy from Harvard University. Thus, he is more than qualified to fill this position.
To the readers of this "dialecture," I offer the opportunity to respond in defense of the inquirer. If you wish to respond and submit an article, Sound Words has an obligation to those who subscribe to post the best submissions and to remain objective and unprejudiced, although the editor is a Christian. That is, Sound Words will always attempt to consider and present things in an objective manner rather than a subjective manner. We will extend the privilege of being our debate guest to all who seek to plead the case of the inquirer.
Christian : Hello, my friend. How are you today? Or, more importantly, what are you
thinking these days?
Inquirer: I am fine, thanks. Actually I was thinking about you.
C: Really? Whatever for?
I: I was thinking about what makes you tick.
C: What do you mean?
I: I know you pretty well, and I know a good deal about you, but in reality I do not know you at all. You and I talk about books, sports, current events, historical developments, occasionally some philosophical ideas, and once in a great while we venture into religion. Still, I know that it is religion that makes you tick. I know from our acquaintance and a few casual conversations that religion is the very heart of your being. That is what set me to thinking. I know that you are a religious person, and yet, I do not know what your religion really is. I know it is Christian, but I do not even know what Christianity is.
C: I guess that is true, and so I am quite ashamed of myself. You rightly sense that religion is the core of my being, and yet, I have not even explained what my religion is. You know that I am a Christian, but you never have learned form me what Christianity is. I really am ashamed of myself. You may be interested to know, though you may not believe it, that I have been praying for you for months--that you too would become a Christian. Here I am praying for you yet saying nothing to you until you yourself bring up the subject, may I explain to you what Christianity is, and why I think you should believe in it as well as I?
I: I am not actually interested in Christianity. I am merely interested in you. Since, as you say, Christianity makes you tick, I guess I am interested in that religion, at least indirectly. So tell me a little about it. For instance why do you pray that I become a Christian? I am happy the way I am. I am not religious, but neither am I anti-religious. You must know form our conversations that I am not religious.
C: Yes, I sensed that. That is probably the reason I never broached the subject. I suppose I did not know how to go about it, since you did not seem to have native interest. Still, I consider it the most important thing in my life, and eve in your life, and that is why I have prayed about it. Now, lo and behold, you were the one (thank God) who brought up the topic!
I: That is interesting. I have never known anyone who was concerned about my religion before. I know many folks who are concerned about their own; but you are the first to say you have been praying for me!
C: Yes. I have been praying for you for some time.
I: Why? I am quite satisfied without any religion.
C: To be honest, I do not think you should be satisfied without religion.
I: Now you are really confusing me! If I am perfectly happy without religion, why not be content with that and just let me be?
C: I think that is the worst thing about you, frankly.
I: What do you mean?
C: You need religion. If you understood this--that you need religion-- I would not feel so sad. But you are content without it, and you should not be.
I: Why not? I am getting along comfortably, thank you. I do not need any religious crutches. I do not mind other people having them. Have I ever tried to talk you out of your religion? No, because you seem happy with it. Why not let me be content without it?
C: I do not think you can get along without religion, wither in this world or in the one to come. That is why I am not content with your contentment. I would be much more contented with your discontent! Do you see what I am getting at?
I: Yes. I understand that if I need religion and do not have it, then I am in for trouble. And if I am in trouble and do not realize it, and I am happy despite being in trouble, then you might be rightly worried about my dangerous contentment.
C: Precisely. I see your need better than you see your need.
I: We are getting into a deep subject here a little too quickly. Do we even know what we are talking about? You say I ought to have religion, and I should not be content without it either in this world or in the world to come. I grant that, if that is true, you would be correct in worrying about me; and if true, I should also be worrying about me. But the question is; Why do you think that I, who am content without religion, must have religion now and in some world that think is yet to come?
C: You and I are both reasonably intelligent people. So let me ask you this: If religion is necessary, and you are thinking it is unnecessary and are happy with that mistaken idea, do you admit that you are "in a bad way"?
I: Certainly. I think I have already admitted as much.
C: Okay, then we agree on that foundational point: that your contentment does not settle the matter. You and I both agree that if you are contented about something you should not find contentment in, then that is the wrong kind of contentment. Correct?
I: That is correct. I admit that if I am content when I should not be, it would be a bad kind of contentment. But you know what you must show me before you take away my contentment.
C: Yes, I know what I must do. I will begin to attempt this, if you are willing to go along with me. We have already agreed on the fundamental point, that contentment alone is not enough. In fact, it can be a positive liability, if a person is contented about something he should not be contented with.
I: We agree on that. Now, show me why I need religion if I am going to have a sound basis for contentment.
C: I am happy to try, and I appreciate your willingness to talk about religion with me.
I: I am grateful, since it is my well-being that we are discussing here. You are content with your religion, and yet you feel that I should be discontented. From your standpoint, I am the one who needs this conversation, though I do not, at the moment, believe it. In contrast, I do not think you need my non-religion. I am not distressed about your contentment. I think that your contentment is naive, and I think your religion could not possibly be necessary; but at the same time, it meets a need in your life, so I am pleased that you have it. You can understand how I would not be discontented about your contentment, and I can understand why you are discontented at my contentment. So we seem to understand each other. You are the one who is taking the trouble to make me discontented with my present contentment. I think you are mistaken, but I am grateful for your concern.
C: You are a most candid and refreshing person. I could not think of anyone more delightful to have this conversation with, because of your approach to the matter. You are absolutely detached, and that is the best way (and only way) to consider the truth or error of any subject; especially on the most important topic of all: religion. So without any further ado, let me try to persuade you to become discontented rather than contented. You realize that I mean you no harm: I do this because I fear that your present satisfaction is dangerous. The question now is, why do I think your situation is dangerous, and why do I think your contentment is improper. Let me ask you one question right now: Do you believe that there is a God?
I: If I believed there was a God and yet I did not have religion, then I would of course be discontent. You know that when I say I have no religion, I mean I have no " God." I do not believe that there is a God; therefore I do not need Him. If you think there is a God, as I assume you do, you will have to show it to me. This may encourage you. I agree that if you can show me that there is a God, you will succeed in removing my present contentment. I doubt that you will be able prove such a point. But I will listen.
C: Let us see if we agree on a rather obvious point. Would you agree that if there is a God, He could account for our existence and for that of our ancestors? I am not saying that there is a God and begging the question--just asking, while we seek for an explanation about our existence, would the existence of a God account for our existence?
I: Of course. But it does not necessarily follow that just because He could meet the job description, He is the only candidate for the job. Do you grant that?
C: I grant that at the outset, theoretically. And I admit that my observation is not proof that God is the explanation of being. I only say that if God does exist, He would be a solution for the mystery. To continue--if we ourselves are not self-existent and therefore self-explanatory, can we say this much--that whatever (or whoever) explains us must not be like us?
I: I think I see where you are going with this, and I cannot stop you. I see no way of denying that whatever or whoever explains us cannot be like us, since if He were just like us, He would need the same explanation that we do. I presume that is what you were about to say.
C: Exactly. You took the words right out of my mouth. I am glad we agree on that. Whoever or whatever our explanation may be, it cannot be a being like ourselves who would need an explanation of itself/himself. Continuing--would not such a being have to be self-existent? Is it not true that only a self-existent being could himself ( or itself) explain to humans, who depend on this "other" for their existence?
I: I suppose that conclusion is inevitable. When we said that it cannot be a being like ourselves ( whose existence is not self-existent), we implied that it would need to be explained by a being other than ourselves. I suppose we are saying, then, that it could not be a dependent being like us; it would have to be an independent or self-existent being unlike us. Yes, I must grant your point, that the only kind of being that can explain us dependent beings must be an independent being, who exists in and of itself (or himself).
C: We know at least one characteristic of the being who can explain our being. That being must be independent or self-existent. Can we say any more about it or him? For example, would it have to be an eternal being?
I: I do not see why that should necessarily follow.
C: Let us see. If this being is not eternal, then, of course, it must have come into being in time. That would follow, would it not?
I: It seems to. If the being is not eternal, then he (or it) would be temporal.
C: If this being were temporal, would it not have the same problems we have? If it were temporal, would it not be dependent on something else which brought it into being?
I: Why would you say that?
C: If it were not dependent on something else, it must have been eternally only on itself.
I: I can see that it would have to be independent. But why does it have to be eternal?
C: If it were independent, then it could never have been dependent. If it ever was dependent, it would have to have been temporal. Otherwise, it was independent of anything else except itself. If it were dependent only on itself, then it must have always been so. Right?
I: I still do not understand. Why would it have to be dependent only on itself eternally?
C: If it was not dependent on itself alone, eternally, then it must have been dependent on something else to bring it into being in time. I guess I am not being very clear. Let me try to make the point more obvious. If this being were not eternal, then there was a time when it did not exist. If there was a time when this being did not exist, then presumably something else must have brought it into being, in time. It could not bring itself into being, because it was not in existence until it came into being.
I: I can see that. I cannot deny that this being we depend upon must be independent, and therefore, eternal. I guess I must grant that we are face to face with an eternal being. Now I see more plainly where you are heading. I see no way to stop you, but still, I will watch every turn you make in the argument.
C: That is all I can ask: that you simply consider what is being said. And you will notice that I am listening to any conceivable objection you can raise at any point. I hope I am listening to you as carefully as you are listening to me. I will try to be just as honest in giving full credit to any of your objections.
I: Okay. Let us go on.
C: We now have a source of our being: an eternal, independent being. Can we say more about this mysterious being? Would it not seem that this eternal, independent being would have to be infinite also?
I: Whoa! That is a bit of a jump, is it not? Why must an independent, eternal being also be an infinite one?
C: Pardon me. I thought that was plain, but perhaps it is not. It seems to me that this eternal, independent being would also have to be infinite because, if it were not, then it would be limited by some other beings Is that not so?
I: Yes. If this being is not infinite, it must be finite. That means it is limited by other finites.
C: Thank you, I was just about to make that observation myself. If this is a limited being, it is not only finite, but that being or beings which limit it must be finite also. We have a mutual limitation here: the being we are talking about, along with these other beings that have come up (if they do exist), must all be finite. Do you see what the problem is?
I: Yes, I do. These other finite beings, whatever they are, must be like us, needing and explanation. And the one being who was meeting the qualifications for explaining us has now been destroyed, and we are back at square one. Is that what you are driving at?
C: I could not say it any better. I seems to me that if we do not maintain that this independent, eternal being is also infinite, then it is a finite being and is like us: dependent on other beings for its existence, and, therefore, a temporal being after all. Consequently, if our reasoning to this point has been sound, our more recent reasoning that the being is not infinite must be unsound. So if we agree that this being is eternal and independent, then we have also established that he/it must be necessarily infinite. Do you agree?
I: I have to grant that I see no way out of affirming that this mysterious being must also be infinite. so now we have an independent, eternal, infinite being.
C: Does it not go without saying, then, that this being is omnipotent?
I: Yes, that is pretty obvious. This being accounts for our being and the existence of every other being. It would be the only one which has power of itself. Any power that any other beings have would need to be explained by it, which alone exists eternally and infinitely and independently. These other beings must have gotten their power from that particular source. That seems utterly inevitable to me, in light of our discussion so far.
C: Well then, we have ever greater clarification about the nature of this mysterious being upon whom we all depend. It is an independent, eternal, infinite, omnipotent being. If I may pause for station identification for a moment, I will observe (and I am sure you have observed it also) that everything we have so far noticed is part of the traditional definition of God. we do not have God yet, but neither do we have anything here which would rule out the possibility of God, and everything here would suggest the reality of God because these are all standard attributes of the traditional divine being. We he not yet proven God. I readily grant you that; but we have prove a being who (or which) has at least four characteristics that are associated with the name of God. Do you agree?
I: Yes, that is certainly true. I can see that it is going to be extremely difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is indeed God. We have not yet arrived at the divine being. I will not deny, though, that we are certainly moving in that direction, and nothing said so far raises any objection to the existence of God (in whom I still do not believe).
C: I again congratulate you for not believing before there is compelling evidence. And I do believe that since you are an honest and objective-minded person, you will believe if the evidence does come in. In the meantime, I will say (strange as it may be) that I am glad that you are not a believer. I do not want you to believe in God until you are convinced that there is a God. So far, I have great admiration for your intellectual posture. You understand of course, I do not agree with your atheism. But I do agree with your atheism. That is: I do not agree with your atheism, but I do agree with your atheism.
I: I understand what you mean, and I appreciate your attitude.
C: To continue, we agree with Aristotle that there must have been a first mover. This being would be the only source of power who could presumably have brought anything into being and have the power to continue it in being, since he is the sole source of power. He, himself must be self-moved; all the rest of us beings must be moved by it or him. May I presume that the question "Who moved the first mover?" is a silly one?
I: Yes, that is as silly as a question could be, though I admit that I have raised that question before. . . before I went through the process of thinking about this ultimate being. I realize now, form our dialogue today, that this being cannot himself be moved by anything else. Otherwise it would also require an explanation, and we would be back at square one. We are positing the existence of this being precisely because he is, in and of himself, able to account for all other motion and power. If he needs an explanation, then there is no such thing as an explanation. We both agree that there cannot be anything before the first. What is next, my Christian friend?
C: Would it not seem that this being must also be infinite in intelligence?
I: There I have a problem. I think I know what you are going to say. You are going to say that we are intelligent beings, and there is evidence of intelligence all around us, and since our first mover is the ultimate being, would he not have to be the source of all this intelligence?
C: Once again you are reading my mind. But I gather that you disagree. You are suggesting that I have made an unsound argument?
I: I am not ready to call it an unsound argument, but I do wish to raise a question about it; we will see if you can answer it before I am so bold as to dub it "unsound." My question is this: Granted that this being must be the source of all beings and power, is it not conceivable that he brought things into being and then they, once in existence, developed something that we call intelligence? In other words, is it not intelligent to suppose that we may have created our own intelligence?
C: Yes, that is an intelligent question. It seems, on the surface at least, an intelligent assertion that we, having been brought into being by the ultimate being, were non-intelligent at the outset and later developed intelligence ourselves. That would seem hypothetically possible. But you are asking me what I would say to this. First I would ask this question: Would we not have to agree from the outset that this being was the ultimate source of all intelligence, since no beings like ourselves could develop intelligence if he had not brought them into being and preserved them? Must he not, in that sense, be the ultimate source of intelligence?
I: Yes. If he had not brought us into being, then there would be no intelligence developed by us. I cannot deny that. After all, we have already seen that if this being did not bring these other intelligent beings into existence, then there could not be any intelligence anywhere among the created beings. That cannot be denied. I will admit that this ultimate being is the ultimate source of intelligence in the sense that without his bringing other beings into existence, there would be not intelligence. But that certainly does not prove that he is an intelligent being, does it?
C: Does it not? Can a thing rise higher than its source? Can we conceive of all these rational creatures we have in this universe being superior to their creator? Can we understand what he cannot? Can we think about him, while he cannot think about us? Is that thinkable? Do we go over his head? I admit that boggles my mind to imagine us transcending our maker.
I: Mine too, I confess. That sounds idiotic. I suspect you are suggesting, not too subtly, that the eternal, unchangeable, independent, omnipotent being must be omniscient?
C: Yes, and while we are at it, may we not also drop the mask, and call Him God?
I: Yes, I will grant that God is, though I do not know what that is going to do to me.
C: Would you like to continue this discussion?
I: Most definitely.