Is this an underutilised argument for the existence of God?
I was at a conference yesterday and I chatted with a well known Australian preacher Phillip Jensen. We got chatting about arguments for the existence of God and Phillip shared with me an argument that he has used and is convinced by, but he felt hasn’t had much traction. I mentioned I’d try it out on this blog and garner some reactions.
The argument is a form of the argument from revelation and also from providence. Phillip speaks about the way that Israel is promised to be ‘known to the nations’ in Deuteronomy 4. In Deuteronomy 4:5-8 a promise is made to Israel that as they enter the Promised Land that they will be known as great to the nations around them. Because this has happened i.e. Israel has been ‘known to the nations’, it demonstrates that this ‘revelation’ and this prediction is true.
I thought I’d outline the argument and then expand on it.
Premise 1: ‘If the God of Israel is the true God then his weak and insignificant special people will be a great nation compared to the other ‘superior’ nations around them’
Premise 2: The Jews are a great nation compared to the other ‘superior’ nations.
Conclusion: The God of Israel is the true God.
The argument requires a little explanation (this is also my first formulation of it, so I’d appreciate some refinement).
The passage in Deuteronomy makes a prediction based on the revelation and providence of God that Israel will be known to the nations for their wisdom and understanding (Deut 4:6). This is a fairly astonishing prediction to make because Israel was the smallest and weakest of the nations vying for space in the ‘Promised Land’. Deuteronomy 7:1 makes is clear that the other seven nations in the land, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites were all larger and stronger than the nation of Israel. The people of God were the smallest and weakest of these nations. Hence the prediction that Israel will be ‘known to the nations’ made in Deuteronomy 4 is quite astonishing. It is astonishing because a rational person would never expect this small insignificant nation to survive let alone be ‘known to the nations’ in contrast to these larger and more established nations.
The key point that Phillip then makes becomes premise 2 of the argument, that even though the nation of Israel (the Jews) was small, weak and insignificant compared to these other ‘superior’ nations – the Jews still exist today!!
This stands in stark contrast to the other ancient powers. The Hittites, Hivites, Amorites etc, have all vanished from the Earth. When was the last time you met a Hittite? Yet many of us have met Jews!
So in many respects the promise of Deuteronomy 4 has come true! The Jews are known now to the nations around them, and in fact they have outlasted and survived them.
Effectively this argument revolves around explaining why there are still Jews around today as a distinct cultural group. The explanation of the revelation of God and his providence certainly bears consideration.
Now I don’t for a second consider this to be in any way a knock-down argument or a fool-proof explanation. There may be clearly other potential explanations for why Israel existed but not these other nations. Yet the fact that the small and weak Jewish people survive (as a distinct group) in contrast to these other more powerful nations does require explanation.
This might be an underutilised argument for the existence of God because it is relatively weak (there are other potentially plausible naturalistic explanations). But Phillip’s argument certainly does offer food for thought, why should the Jews still exist today?