Turretin on the Existence of God

In his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, in the first volume, Francis Turretin (1623-1687) includes a section on the irrefutable demonstration of the existence of God. By the way, elenctics pertains to the persuading of non-Christians of the truth of the Christian faith (particularly the gospel). In the third topic of the first volume, the question is posed: “Can the existence of God be irrefutably demonstrated against atheists? We affirm.” It is here that Turretin takes up the task of demonstrating the existence of “The One and Triune God” (the title of the third topic), a demonstration he says is “irrefutably demonstrated”. Of course, one should not think that irrefutably demonstrated means that all atheists are going to denounce their atheism after being confronted with such arguments. Rather, it means there is no reasonable counter-argument that can be given; the premises supplied are true, and their conclusion of the existence of God is likewise therefore true. If someone wishes to assert an absurdity so as to escape the truth, leave them to their absurdity.

Turretin recognizes that the truth of God can be known “because God has condescended to reveal himself to us both in nature and in the Scriptures….” [3.1]. Indeed, the bulk of his argumentation is rooted in creation (or nature). He responds affirmatively to the question of whether “a knowledge of the deity is implanted in men by nature, that no one can be wholly ignorant of him; or whether the existence of God can be demonstrated by unanswerable arguments, not only from the Scriptures, but also from nature herself” [3. 4].

The form of his argument is laid out in four parts, although some parts have multiple arguments: “(1) the voice of universal nature; (2) the contemplation of man himself; (3) the testimony of conscience; (4) the consent of all mankind.” Indeed, “God, the wonderful artificer of the universe, has so deeply stamped upon all its parts the impression of his majesty that…God cannot be wrested from nature without totally confusing and destroying it.” [3. 5] In other words, God has made himself abundantly known in creation (though not savingly, as the gospel is part of special, not general, revelation), that to deny God is to metaphorically regress creation back to its formless and voidless state, prior to God ordering and beautifying it (cf. Gen. 1). The apostle Paul speaks of it as resulting in actions that are idolatrous and “against nature” (Rom. 1:18-32). Need we wonder at the chaos and confusion manifesting itself in our society? As a society, we no longer know the basic and natural difference between man and woman, nor do we recognize the dignity of life in the womb. This is indeed the result of wresting God from nature. Yet, it is still His, and He is making all things new in Christ. For those who trust in Christ, there is yet hope (a sure and unfailing hope).

So, on to Turretin’s arguments for the existence of God. In what follows, I seek to distill his arguments, focusing on his primary points. I have largely relied on quoting Turretin directly, though in some places I have provided elaboration or clarification. I will group his arguments (the bullet-points) according to his fourfold foundation.

The Arguments

1- The voice of universal nature. This foundation includes the cosmological argument (argument from creation), teleological argument (argument from design), and ontological argument (argument from being).

Cosmological Argument

  • “For if it is certain and indubitable that out of nothing, nothing is made and that nothing can be the cause of itself (for then it would be before and after itself), it is also certain that we must grant some first and unproduced being from whom all things are, but who is himself from no one” [3.6].
  • “Neither can an infinite series of producing causes be allowed because in causes there must necessarily be some order as to prior and posterior. But an infinite series of producing causes rejects all order, for then no cause would be first; rather all would be middle, having some preceding cause” [3.6].
  • Related to the previous point, “the commencement of motion and of time proves the necessary existence of God. For if the world began, it must necessarily have received its beginning from someone. Inasmuch as it could not be from itself, could be from no other than God.” Turretin uses the example of day and night (a change): “It is inconsistent that day and night have been from eternity since they would either have been at the same time (which implies a contradiction) or successively (which destroys the eternity). Again, if time is eternal, there could not have been a first day, for if there were, time had a beginning.” [3.7].

Teleological and Ontological Arguments

  • Approaching now the teleological (and ontological) argument, Turretin states: “The wonderful beauty and order of the universe is another proof. For if order requires wisdom and intelligence, the most perfect supposes the most perfectly necessary and infinite wisdom which we call God” [3.10]. In other words, everywhere we see human beings using wisdom and intelligence to produce works of beauty, order, and purpose. It is foolish to think that the wisdom (e.g. trees yielding fruit after their kind), beauty (e.g. the designs on butterfly wings), complexity (e.g. the human cell or anatomy), and order (e.g. the seasons) existing in creation, which far surpasses anything man has produced, came about by blind, purposeless, evolutionary processes.
  • Continuing the former argument, “You may say perhaps that these things were so arranged by chance and by a fortuitous concourse of atoms…. [But] things which come by chance are uncertain and ill-arranged and have nothing constant and similar; but nothing can be conceived more regular and composed than this universal frame” [3.11].
  • “The tendency of all things toward an end confirms this. For since all natural beings act for the sake of some end (which they always certainly and infallibly pursue), they must necessarily be directed by the design of some ruler…. Now that external counsel can be attributed to no other than the author and ruler of nature” [3.12]. In other words, there is an inherent purpose in the created order, but impersonal accidents don’t contain within them order or purpose.

2- The contemplation of man himself. Turretin does not present a completely different argument from this foundational principle. He is merely focusing in on the intelligence and design of man, thereby evidencing the image of God in man.

  • “If he would withdraw his attention from all things and reflect upon himself, he would recognize no less wisdom in the little world than in the great, and admire in his body a visible (and in his mind a scintillating) divinity. For whence is the body constructed with such wonderful and truly stupendous skill? Whence so many different members created together by a mutual interweaving and so fitly disposed to their peculiar offices, unless from an immense spirit? Whence the mind, a particle of the divine breath, possessed of so many faculties, furnished with so many gifts, unless from a supreme intelligence?” [3.13].

3- The testimony of conscience. Here Turretin takes up the moral argument, of the law of God being written on the heart of men (Rom. 2:14-15). That is to say, man is a moral being.

Moral Argument

  • “This is especially taught by this power and stimulus of conscience (the inseparable attendant of crime either begun or finished) whose sense can neither be blunted, nor accusation escaped, nor testimony corrupted; nor can it fail to appear on the appointed day, nor its tribunal be shunned. For how comes it that the conscience is tormented after a crime committed (even in secret and with remote judges), where no danger threatened from men (even in those who held supreme power) unless because it is affected by a most intimate sense of deity….?” He goes on, “Therefore, willing or unwilling, they must believe that there is a God whom right reason itself teaches them to fear and orders them to recognize as the Lord and Judge of all” [3.14]. Our conscience convicts us of right and wrong. However, in an impersonal and accidental world, you don’t get right and wrong, for such things assume an absolute standard. Even those who object to an absolute standard know when an injustice is committed against them.

4- The consent of all mankind. The notion of God, albeit in varying ways, has been the conviction of man across cultures and time. Man cannot escape this notion, although atheists certainly try. C.S. Lewis would later use this argument, in combination with the former, in his book, The Abolition of Man.

  • “Another argument is the constant and perpetual sense and consent of all men. For although they may have entertained different notions concerning the nature and number of the deity and the reason and method of worshipping him, they erred for the most part most wickedly. Still in so great a variety there was this uniform agreement in the belief that there is some deity who ought to be religiously worshipped…. No more than the monsters and prodigies which are sometimes seen contrary to nature can overturn the regular laws established by God; or the instances of insanity overturn the definition of man as a rational animal” [3.16].

Turretin then explains that the knowledge of God becomes clearer and more distinct to us “from the supernatural revelation of the word, in which he has clearly manifested himself to us” [3.18]. Other possible arguments are then listed off, such as fulfilled prophecies and miracles [3.19]. These arguments “are more clearly confirmed by the testimony of the irrefragable [or irrefutable] word” [3.20]. Further, without God there would be no virtue.

What would the world be but a mere den of robbers in which license would be each one’s law, no such thing as right or wrong, no right of government, no necessity of obedience–the most abandoned, the superior and the most powerful, the master? No check would be placed upon the oppression of rulers and the rebellion of subjects. Each one would follow the bent of his own inclination. Again, if there were no God, no mortals would even for a moment be safe or secure from violence, fraud, perjury, slaughter of blood. Every hour everything would have to be be feared.

3.21

Turretin is obviously not saying that such violence does not exist in the world since God exists. Obviously, the world sees violence everyday. However, without God there would be no moral law on which to build our governments and their legal systems. Without God, there would be no justified reason to feel opposed to or to object to such violence. In a world of blind chance, with no meaning or purpose, nothing actually matters. The sin we see in the world is the result of man rejecting God. As we see in Romans 1, the more a society rejects God and does that which is contrary to nature (goes against natural law and order), the more God gives them over to their desires.

Bare Theism or Yahweh of the Bible?

Some may object that the above merely argues for bare theism. Such, however, is to not recognize the necessary implications of the arguments. Norman Geisler, in When Skeptics Ask, details several attributes of God implicit within the arguments above.

God is all-powerful (omnipotent): “The argument from creation proves not only that God exists, but also that he has power. Only a God with incredible power could create and sustain the whole universe” [p. 20].

God is all-knowing (omniscient), intelligent, and wise: “The argument from design shows us that whatever caused the universe not only had great power, but also great intelligence” [p. 20].

God is morally perfect: “The existence of a moral law in the mind of a moral lawgiver shows us that God is a moral being, a morally perfect being…. His nature sets the standard for morality” [p.20-21].

God is necessary: When the ontological argument is understood in relation to the cosmological argument, we see that “God is a necessary being; that is, he cannot not be. What he is, he must be. He cannot be otherwise than he is” [p. 21]. This is another way of saying that God is the uncaused cause — nothing caused Him, because He is the first cause, and therefore the necessary cause for all subsequent causes.

God is changeless or immutable: “Since God is a necessary being, he must also be changeless, for a necessary being cannot change into anything other than he is” [p. 21]. In other words, if a necessary being could change then that being could become unnecessary, in which case that being wasn’t necessary to begin with.

God is eternal: “Further, a necessary being must be eternal, for a necessary being cannot come into being or cease to be” [p. 21]. In other words, if God were not eternal, then He would have had a cause that preceded Him, in which case He wouldn’t be God. This, however, does not open the door for an infinite regression, as has already been shown.

God is infinite: “Also, a necessary being must be infinite (without limits) for it has nothing that could limit it; it must be what it is” [p. 21].

God is indivisible or simple (not made of parts): “Nothing can be divided unless it has the potential to be divided, which is a change. But God has no potentiality and cannot change” [p. 22].

God is unique: In light of the previous attributes, God “is a class of one by definition…. There can only be one infinite being and no other” [p. 22].

God is Lord over creation (He is sovereign): “And as the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator, he has control over the creation. Not only does God exist, but his creation also exists distinct from him” [p. 22].

This God is Yahweh of the Bible: In Exodus 3:14, God reveals Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM,” speaking to His uniqueness and self-existence (aseity). “The Bible also calls God eternal (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:2), unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:18), infinite (1 Kings 8:27; Isa. 66:1), all-good (Ps. 86:5; Luke 18:19), and all-powerful (Heb. 1:3; Matt. 19:26)” [p. 23].

Conclusion

Turretin has argued the existence of God from creation (cf. Rom. 1:19-20), although noting that God has made Himself more clearly known (especially savingly) in the Scriptures. Everything that has a beginning has a cause. Because it is illogical that the universe is eternal, the universe had to of had a cause, and this cause, which must be uncaused, is God. The wisdom, beauty, and complexity evidenced within nature also points to a Designer. The conscience of man demonstrates that man is a moral creature, which points to an ultimate Lawgiver (an absolute standard). This is further strengthened by the universality of the conviction of a deity. What is more, these arguments go beyond proving a bare theism; they prove that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, the standard of morality, infinite, self-existent, etc. This God is the God of the Bible.

Tolle lege. Take up and read.