Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Debating an Atheist -- Round Three

Third Round

Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Hello all,

Russell Glasser wrote his response against my last one. Go to the following link to read his response.

Please read his response before reading my response to him. As I said in my last post, I disabled your ability to comment because I want this to be a one-on-one debate rather than a free-for-all where everyone gives their two cents. When Russell and I agree that the debate is done, the comments will be enabled thus allowing people to comment on it. I may even continue posts for Christians as a post-debate discussion. As a side note, whenever I quote Russell in a regular paragraph, I italicize the quotation. If I place a statement in quotation marks but it is NOT italicized, it is NOT a quote from Russell, but instead is a hypothetical quote that I am inserting into the argument. Such quotes come from past experiences debating unbelievers and reading much literature on the subject. With that said, I can begin.

Russell, I must say that I am disappointed in your response for a number of reasons. First, it feels like you either did not read or perhaps did not understand much of what I wrote. I thought I was pretty clear. Russell, I agreed to your starting assumptions with one revision, namely that the existence of the laws of logic needed to be added to your list of starting assumptions. I agreed that the world is real, that we learn from sense experience, etc., but I added that we need deduction in order to make sense out these things as we relate classes with categories. This is what I was getting at with the “extremely elementary concepts” of logic. I used it as a mere illustration to show how we relate classes and categories in order to demonstrate in a VERY simple way why it is not good enough to say we learn primarily through sense experience alone. So your condescending remark about me spending many paragraphs on something trivial was unwarranted and unnecessary.

With that said, you are doing exactly what I feared you would do. Like so many other atheists, you are putting forth smoke and mirrors to try to get out of the trap that your position puts you in. You assume the world is real. Excellent! It is real. You assume that we learn from sense experience. Great! We do learn from sense experience. Yet, you have failed to ask if these very things could exist in an atheistic universe where the governing principle is random chance. Can we move from elementary logic to higher levels of transcendental logic if you insist on ducking the issue of presuppositions?

I find it entirely ironic that you accuse me of circular reasoning, when you reason as follows: 1) The world is real. How do I know? Well, I assume it is real. 2) We learn through sense experience. How do I know? Well, through sense experience of course! 3) Logic is valid. How do I know? Well, through logic of course.  Russell, any good student of logic knows that all logic at its core is guilty of circular reasoning.  What we are looking for is who is guilty of narrow circularity. At the end of the day, it isn’t the Christian position.  You accused me of “trying to inject the irrelevant and unnecessary assumption” that God is the necessary precondition of intelligibility and you asserted that I am the only one trying inject such a thing. I often wonder if you apply your own standards to yourself. You are tacitly injecting the notion that a random-chance universe can account for intelligibility. Rather than acknowledging this, you are putting up smoke and mirrors claiming that you have no burden of proof, but instead you get to happily assume your assumptions with narrow circularity, and if I am going to debate you, I then have to play by your rules and assume that these agreed assumptions exist without any preconditions. I am sorry, but that is poor logic and it creates a dishonest debate.  

Russell, there is no point playing games over these issues, so please answer me honestly. Do you or don’t you have assumptions that depend on presuppositions? And if your presuppositions can be shown to be impossible, then does not your entire position come tumbling down? The answer is yes, whether you like it or not. I think the reason atheists try to avoid these types of questions is because they are put in a difficult position to justify any argument they advance. In the case of your response to me, you made many loaded comments that were nothing more than a distraction from the questions above. Apparently you have come across some sort of attempt at a presuppositional argument in the past, but I must say that your “magical tiara” example proves that you have not understood the nature of the Christian presuppositional argument. A magical tiara is not a precondition of any of our assumptions, but God, as defined biblically, is the total precondition of each of our assumptions. Knowing in advance that I would be required to make that case, I defined my terms in my opening statement.

With that said, I will get into some specific arguments against your position. I told you in my first post that atheism has four big problems. These problems are related to the necessary preconditions of intelligibility. I will deal with at least one of them in this response. Among the most important of these problems is inductive inference. In laymen’s terms, this refers to the uniformity of nature. In both of your responses to me, you generally agreed that world is real, and we learn through senses. These two assumptions definitely fit within the framework of inductive inference.

Against atheism, I will label this as the problem of causality. All science rests upon the precondition of the uniformity of nature. Inductive inference takes something that we experienced in the past and then projects it into the future. If you step on a nail and it causes pain today, you assume the same thing would happen at anytime in the future if you stepped on it again. Don’t you agree? Thus, the way things were in the past in terms of causal relationships will also be present in the future. All real science depends on this being true. If we could not project into the future what we have learned from the past, then scientific experiments would be a waste of time. If the laws of nature changed every day, then everything you learned via experiment today would be irrelevant tomorrow. Well, obviously the world is as such that nature’s laws do not arbitrarily change like that because the world is uniform. This is why I said it is not good enough for me to “assume that the world is real and that I learn from sense experience,” but instead I want to ask myself (and you) what is the necessary precondition for such. After all, the world is real and we do learn from senses. Well, fine. I’m glad we can agree on that. So, given that this is true, what transcendental precondition must also be true in order for this basic life assumption to be true? Well, for starters, it’s the uniformity of nature or inductive inference.

If you are serious about this debate, then you should agree with everything that was stated in the previous paragraph. I will soon explain why this is a problem for you. First, let me speak hypothetically. If I were in a lecture hall, and you and your community were my students, and I grabbed the dry erase marker and asked you what would happen if I dropped it, what would you say? You would predict it would fall due to the acceleration due to gravity. What if I made it more difficult by forbidding you from generalizing the outcome based on past personal experiences with similar objects? In other words, I am removing the assumption of the uniformity of nature from the test. You are not allowed to assume. In such a case, what could you honestly predict as an outcome? If you were a good philosopher, you would say that you do not know what will happen because you have never experienced this type of thing in this particular room with this particular marker. Well, let’s say I drop it, and it hits the ground. I pick it back up and ask you to predict what will happen the next time I drop it. Most would predict the same thing would happen. Is this justified? If I pushed the issue, I could say that since we have not experienced the future, we still cannot know what will happen. There is no guarantee the future will respond like the past unless nature is uniform.

I would expect you as an atheist to argue that since the experiment is performed under the same conditions, you can expect the same result. Good. By making that point, you have assumed (though not proved the uniformity of nature). Russell, I want you to assume the uniformity of nature. This is especially true since in your first response you stated, “I personally do lean towards materialism, humanism, and a scientific approach to learning about the world.

So here is my question to you.  Can you, the materialistic atheist, from your own worldview/presuppositions assume the uniformity of nature to be true? Russell, you cannot dismiss this question as being irrelevant. It is totally relevant. Your fundamental assumption is that the universe is governed by random chance. How in the world can randomness account for uniformity? They are antonyms! Science depends on predication, reliability of the senses, reliability of the mind, etc., and all of these things depend on the material universe operating with predictable, uniform, and unchanging laws. Yet, true randomness by its very definition would forbid predictability; it would disallow uniformity. Yet you would ask people to believe that a universe governed by random chance is at the same time completely uniform and predictable. If the universe were truly random, then no two things should happen in a predictable manner. Yet, the fact that the universe is uniform and predictable (an assumption we both agreed upon) means that the universe CANNOT be random.

What are you going to say against this? Will you use the example of sand dunes like you did when Ray called into your show? Are you really going to say that uniform predictable processes that compile sand into dunes somehow proves randomness? That would cause you to contradict yourself in the same sentence. By the way, I did not miss your point on the dunes. Your point was that they appear beautiful and designed, but they occurred through natural processes. I don’t want you to miss my point. Those natural processes are not random, but they are uniform and predictable. Therefore, in a universe governed by random chance, you could never truly explain how dunes are made, since no predictable uniform natural processes would exist. The very fact that you can explain dunes to me disproves your fundamental presupposition of a universe that is governed by random chance.

To me, it seems clear why atheists put the smoke and mirrors up. It seems obvious why they try to steer clear of transcendental reasoning. In my first two posts I tried to get you to agree that we need to test our assumptions, but via your two responses, I could not get you to agree to talk about these issues. I believe your reluctance is due to the fact that you cannot answer these types of questions. All you can say is, “The world is real, let’s start from there, and since I’m starting from there I don’t need to presuppose your God.” Do you really expect me to fall into that trap? No. The world is real and it is uniform, so let us figure out what has to be true in order for it to be uniform. Let’s take your presupposition of random chance mixed with 14 billion years of time, and see if it accounts for uniformity, predication, causality, etc. It can’t because by the very definition of random, we can’t have a real world that is predictable. So you either A) have to assume the universe isn’t random, or B) you have to admit that your position is irrational, but you are committed to it anyway.

I don’t have this problem Russell. The following is an excerpt from a book that I have written on this subject. I hope to publish it soon:

The Christian can justifiably go to the science lab since he/she knows there is a sovereign personal God who governs this universe, controls it, and has made it regular so that we could learn about it through projecting past experience into the future, and therefore have dominion over the world. The Christian can understand why we can govern certain chemical reactions, build automobiles and airplanes, and launch rockets into space because the Christian worldview can make sense out of projecting from the past what will work in the future. But why would the atheist go to the science lab? In a random universe of chance, why expect regularity or uniformity? In an uncertain material cosmos, why anticipate predication is possible since ultimately the dice can roll the other way at any time? This is a destructive criticism against atheism. The science they claim to believe in would not even be possible if their worldview were true. They have no right to rely on inductive inference or to expect causality, and therefore they have no basis for doing science. Biology, Physics, Astronomy, Psychology, Mathematics, and even Grammar are all destroyed without inductive inference. The Christian worldview makes complete sense out of inductive inference. 

This is quite different than believing in a magical tiara. We have a material universe that is orderly and uniform, and all things ever observed work through the process of non-random causation. This is pretty simple stuff. Do you really think it is rational to believe that from nothing, the material universe began (or from some mysterious compressed dot of matter), and through continued randomness has provided uniformity, even when everything is still supposed to be random? The entire idea is totally inconsistent.

Everything in the universe has a cause. They are all contingent. They are caused and sustained by other objects that they have no control over. This is true of all physical things that have ever been observed. Yet, you (if I understand your position) believe it is rational to think the universe itself (something that is entirely physical) is uncaused and unsustained. What do you base this on Russell? Observation? No, that would be impossible. What else? Other atheists said so? Well, that isn’t too academic, so I will give you the benefit of the doubt on that one. So what is it then? What do you base your presuppositions on? I believe that you base it on nothing else other than your mere opinion.

In philosophical terms, you are guilty of arbitrariness. Arbitrariness is to believe something without any justification whatsoever. Well, you have never observed something come from nothing, so to assume the entire universe happened this way is to be guilty of arbitrariness. Furthermore, you believe that random materialism accounts for your assumption that world is real and that sense experience is reliable, but once again have you ever observed absolute randomness create anything that is orderly and predictable? No. Furthermore, by definition such a thing could not happen, otherwise it would not be truly random (hence the sand dune example). This is why I believe you wanted me to simply start with your assumptions, and not ask you to justify them. I agree with your assumptions, but I am the only one here who can account for them.

A magical tiara is not sovereign or intelligent. Nor is it personal. Furthermore, it is not a unity of plurality. In the universe we see persons and non-persons (e.g. a tree). We have seen persons come from other persons, but we have never seen persons come from non-persons. Given that we are in a universe that is governed by causality rather than randomness, what are we to assume based on our observations and abilities of deduction? Persons came from non-persons? Life came from non-life, etc.? Given that these things have not been observed even under the great conditions of the earth as it is now, would it not be arbitrary to assume that it happened in such a way?

The God of the Bible is the ultimate original person. We are all derivative persons caused by other persons, but due to the causal chain, there has to be a personality that is original from which all other personalities are derived. Once again, we are talking about necessary preconditions here. It is awful arbitrary to assume no original person when we are in a world with billions of persons that are derivative.

I am not sure how familiar you are with Thomas Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument. By the way, the basic junior college dismissal of it doesn’t count. Have you studied the 10-step argument as outlined in Summa Theologica I, Question 2, Article 3? Just for the purpose of classical education, I recommend it. Although I reject the semi-pelagian presuppositions of the classical argumentation for the existence of God, Aquinas actually gets somewhere good between the 5th and 6th step. He previously demonstrated, philosophically speaking, that only two types of beings can exist: necessary and contingent. Contingent beings are caused, sustained, and determined by factors outside of themselves, and thus when we look around at all things in the universe, they are contingent since they fit into those parameters. A necessary being, then, could not be contingent and therefore would be uncaused, unsustained, and undetermined by anything else outside of itself. This means that the universe cannot be the necessary being since it caused, sustained, and determined. If you try to ascribe this to randomness, you are going to lose that point in a moment.

And now comes the point. Unless there is a necessary being, there cannot be contingent beings, for nothing contingent causes itself, not even the first contingent beings. After all, by definition they are caused by something outside of themselves. Looking around the universe we MUST conclude that contingent beings actually exist. After all, this present debate is a battle between two contingent beings. Contingent beings exist, therefore a necessary being exists. Once again, this is transcendental logic. The necessary precondition of contingent beings is a single necessary being. If you studied the argument further, it shows how by definition there cannot be more than one necessary being, but I will save any explanation of this for you if you should so choose to push the issue.

The point in all of this is that our very personhood is contingent upon the necessary person. The necessary person then cannot be part of the physical universe since the physical universe is contingent. This is why I said in my first post that God is distinct from creation. God is affected by none of the same temporal limitations that we are bound by. He is uncaused, timeless, unsustained, and undetermined. So the foolish argument of, “If God made us, then who made God,” is a terribly ridiculous argument since it tries to reduce God to a contingent being, thus missing the point of the entire argument. Transcendental logic demonstrates that a necessary being is just that, necessary! Thus, the precondition of a uniform universe of nearly innumerable contingencies is the singular transcendent necessary being, who sovereignly controls the entire universe and purposefully causes and sustains predictability (Genesis 8:22).

Furthermore, the fact that God is a Trinity is relevant too. This universe of many contingent objects is made of a plurality of atoms. In fact, the field of philosophy has struggled with the “one and many problem” for centuries. Is all reality one, or is it many? If all is one, then plurality is the illusion. I don’t truly exist, you don’t truly exist, but instead, only one thing exists (whether it is matter or something else). Yet, if all is many (plurality), then unity is the illusion, and instead the universe is nothing more than a whole bunch different objects completely unrelated to each other thus rendering all meaning as meaningless. Yet, if the universe is both one and many, then it is a unity of plurality. So I am one united person comprised of a plurality of atoms; the social world is one system comprised of plurality of people; the solar system is one system containing a star and plurality of planets; the galaxy is one galaxy containing a plurality of solar systems; and the universe is one universe made up of a plurality of galaxies. It seems clear that the way we think and live as intelligent sentient beings is under the assumption of both one and many. And yet the entire one and many arrangement of the universe is still contingent, and therefore it is caused, sustained, and determined. The transcendental precondition of all of this is a necessary being who is the foundation of one and many, or the foundation of a unity of plurality. Only the Christian position speaks of the God who is One God that is comprised of three persons. He is the original unity of plurality, just as He is the original person. We are all derivative unities of plurality and derivative persons. If you really think a magical tiara somehow is just as valid of an argument for the transcendental preconditions of the universe, then truly logic and reason is lost on you. Truly, you have traded rationality for absurdity.

This is why I insisted that logic be added to our assumptions, because through logic I just showed how the Christian God is not an arbitrary precondition, but instead is the only transcendental precondition that works to justify and account for the things that DO in fact exist. The uniformity of nature was just one of those things.

In my second response to you, I gave the following thesis: “The Biblical God must exist, because if He does not exist, then we can know nothing at all. Or let me put it this way. Christianity must be true because without it we lose all intelligibility.” Applying this to the uniformity of nature then, you should agree that if the uniformity of nature were not true, then we could not know anything at all. All intelligibility would disappear! Knowledge (intelligibility) would be impossible since the random universe would constantly change.  Well, I think I made a strong logical argument based on transcendental logic that the Biblical God is the necessary precondition of the uniformity of nature, which in turn is one of the necessary preconditions of intelligibility. This is simple logic, it is easy to follow, and you will not be able to casually dismiss it without looking ridiculous to the thousands that are now reading this. One thing is for sure. Your random materialism, if it were true, would render the uniformity of nature impossible, and therefore destroy intelligibility. Thus, with this one argument, I did exactly what I said I was going to do in that thesis. And truly, I am just getting started.

Of course, I don’t want this debate to go on forever. I want to move on to my other points, for this was just the first of many preconditions that materialism destroys. But I have already written a lot just on this one point. So I am going to take some wild guesses at what you might try to fire back with, and deal with them right here and now.

You might try to recover from the problem of induction by saying the future “probably” will be like the past, since at all times in the past it always happened this way. “So we atheists do not need your God to have relative certainty that the marker will fall to the ground in the future.” Well, I would not allow that one to slip by me so easily. The atheist would be smuggling back into the argument the very thing he is trying to prove. If you said the future would probably be like the past, you are assuming past information. Well, if you did not assume the future would be like the past, then all probabilities from the past would be wasted information since they could tell us nothing about the future, unless the uniformity of nature is true. It does not matter how many times something occurred in the past if nature is not uniform. However, since nature is uniform, we can project past experiences into the future. So either way, this typical atheist attempt to squeeze out of this problem still presupposes the uniformity of nature; something a random universe could never account for. Any and every argument you can give will ultimately have to assume the uniformity of nature is true. Thus you have to assume the principle to prove the principle, which in logic is the fallacy of begging the question, or narrow circular reasoning.

So yes, you do need my God to have relative certainty that the marker will fall to the ground in the future. Of course, I doubt you would ever admit this because as Romans 1:18-19 says, you in “unrighteousness suppress the truth, for what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” The text goes on to say that it is obvious in creation that God is the creator. In this post, I have shown that something as simple, yet necessary, as the uniformity of nature transcendentally depends on the God of the Bible.  You have to depend on my worldview to even be able to do science in the first place. It doesn’t mean you have to believe in my worldview. It is perfectly possible for someone to be convinced that air does not exist, and yet at the same time breathe it in to form the very words of their argument to claim that air doesn’t exist. I see the atheist being in a similar position – an utterly irrational position. You may still object and claim that the Christian worldview is not necessary since everyone presupposes or knows of the uniformity of nature without it. In other words, you arrived at your assumption without reading the Bible, and so the Christian worldview is not necessary. However, this would be the fallacy of irrelevant thesis. The fact that everyone knows of the uniformity of nature is irrelevant to the question of “why” is there uniformity and “how” humans know about it.

What is your escape? Will you take the arbitrary route of the atheist Gordon Stein in his debate against the Christian Greg Bahnsen? Stein was so bewildered by the nature of this argument, that in an attempt to save face he asserted that the inherent properties of matter caused it to behave in a uniform way. What kind of answer is that? How does Stein know what the inherent properties of matter are, and even if he did, how does that allow for randomness to account for uniformity? In effect, all he did was use academic language to say, “That’s just the way it is.” What if I said, “The inherent properties of creation cause matter to behave in a uniform way?” Would the atheist accept that? No! By the way, I have not done that here. Instead, I argued that the absolute person, that is distinct from creation, who is sovereign and triune created the universe and sustains it in a uniform way, and I logically showed how He is the necessary precondition of the uniformity of nature.

Nature’s contingent uniformity depends upon it being designed this way by the necessary being. And just to note, Hume’s critiques against the teleological (i.e. design) argument is irrelevant here since I have cut to the chase and am talking about “ultimate reality,” rather than contingent reality (e.g. watches and landscapes). The whole contingent universe is grounded in some sort of ultimate reality. You believe that the ultimate reality is impersonal random chance. Well, it is impossible for that to be the necessary precondition of uniformity. Yet, the Biblical God as the ultimate reality totally and certainly accounts for the uniformity of nature since He is the ground of the entire contingent creation and designed it in a uniform way. 

As I wrap this up, I will address one thing that often comes up. Once the atheist is boxed in by the problem of causality, they often say something like, “Well, the majority of great scientists are atheists. If Christianity is true and necessary for science to even exist, why don’t these scientists realize this?” Here is the simple answer. These materialistic atheists are not really good or consistent materialistic atheists. They say one thing with their mouths, but they believe an entirely different thing with their hearts. They say there is no God and that the universe is random, but in their hearts they believe in regularity and are not worried that a safe experiment yesterday will all of sudden blow up in their face today. If they really believed their worldview, they should be very worried since there is no way to know what would happen in a random-chance based future. Atheists cannot function without the uniformity of nature, but the truth of it actually contradicts their worldview, thus demonstrating their position to be hopelessly inconsistent.

I would like to conclude here by responding to your conclusion. You asked me to offer some suppositions that we can both agree to. I did in my last response, but since you apparently missed them, I will repeat them here: 1) The world is real; 2) We learn from our sense experiences; 3) We learn from logic; 4) Reasonable standards are necessary; and 5) Bald assertion proves nothing. I made that clear then. I am asking you now to truly deal with the issues. Each of these assumptions has necessary preconditions. These need to be addressed in a non-arbitrary manner. They need to be applied to sound logic (a reasonable standard). It truly seems like you blew past some important statements in my response, which causes me to wonder if you really are seeking to have a discussion in good faith.

Here are a few more suppositions that you should honestly agree to: 1) You and I are not neutral and we do not interpret evidence neutrally (otherwise you would not have said God has never been observed for I believe the evidence greatly shows that He has); 2) Epistemology is extremely relevant in addressing our positions and assumptions; and 3) If you really believe it is better not to believe something is true without good reasons then you need to also apply that standard to your own brand of atheism. To be honest, I don’t see me as losing anything in this debate so far. I believe in each post I have interacted with your comments much better than you interacted with mine. Furthermore, in my last response I refused to allow you to box me into any traps where I surrender the philosophical nature of this argument.

In my last response I said that I was going to say, “Let’s start by assuming the Bible is true and let’s start by assuming atheism is true.” Well, I did this very thing in this present response concerning the necessary precondition of intelligibility for inductive inference. Assuming materialistic atheism was true and the universe was random, we could not have inductive inference. Assuming the Bible is true, we could and should have inductive inference. Furthermore, going beyond just the uniformity of nature, I spoke on contingent beings/objects and how in the atheistic universe we run into more transcendental problems. Yet, in the Biblical universe, we have the only philosophically proper necessary being who accounts for all contingent beings and objects. Finally, I brought up the one and many problem. In a random universe there is no unity of plurality, but instead everything would be unrelated to each other, disconnected, and in constant chaotic change. In the Christian universe, the God who is the original unity of plurality is the logical ground of the same derivative versions within the universe. I applied this to the attribute of personhood as well. So in each case of transcendental reasoning, I assumed both of our worldviews, and yet yours is absolutely hopeless when it comes to accounting for anything that we see and observe in the universe. So now I have given you the real argument you asked for.

If you simply brush this off and say it is not a real argument, then fine. It shows me that you are not serious in this debate. It shows me that when atheists don’t get to set the rules in a way that is entirely in their favor, then they don’t want to play the game. It shows me that they don’t care that the very ability for them to offer arguments and evidence depends on the very preconditions that their presuppositions deny. It shows me that by virtue of you showing up to this debate, I have already won.

With much respect, I await your reply.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Debating the Atheist -- Round Two

Second Round

Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Hello all,

Russell Glasser wrote a response to my opening statement, and it is found on his blog. The link is:

Please read his response before reading my response to him. As many of you have noticed, I disabled your ability to comment. I want this to be a one-on-one debate rather than a free-for-all where everyone jumps in. When Russell and I agree that the debate is done, the comments will be enabled thus allowing people to comment on it. I may even continue posts for Christians as a post-debate discussion. With that said, I can begin.

Russell, first I would like to add more clarity to what I said about that particular Atheist Experience episode where you and Matt debated Ray Comfort. The video is still on YouTube at, and the dialogue that we both are referencing begins at 57:02 and ends at 57:18. For the most part, your transcript is right, but some sort of comment is necessary. The context was Matt claiming it was dishonest for Ray to judge four other religions by Biblical presuppositions, and Ray said that everyone does this. Matt then said that we all actually don’t do this. Russell, after listening to this five times, it seems clear to me that when Ray said, “Well we all do that,” he was saying that we all judge other positions from our personal presuppositions. I personally do not see how Matt interpreted that as Ray saying that atheists interpret things from Ray’s Biblical presuppositions. Thus, to the casual viewer (myself), it seemed clear that Ray tried to say that everyone judges opposing views with their own presuppositions, but Matt Dillahunty said, “Well, no we actually all don’t.”

Why am I bringing this up? Really, just for my own defense. I do not want to seem as though I purposely tried to take what Matt said out of context. I have spoken with a number of atheists that do not believe they have presuppositions, but instead they charge the very idea of this as being circular reasoning. So when I heard Matt say what he did, it sounded like he was saying the same type of thing. I appreciate your clarity on this, and I am glad that you asked Matt what he really meant. I am not going to accuse him of dishonesty, but instead I will gladly admit that I misunderstood him, with the caveat that I think the statement would have naturally been understood by the casual viewer in the way that I understood it.

With that said, since you admit that your starting point is “subject to unprovable assumptions,” you have saved me a lot of time. As I have said, I have had to deal with the nonsensical idea from some atheists that they arrived at their position because they were an unbiased neutral person with no assumptions, and the evidence alone led them to their atheistic conclusion. You are philosophically past that, which is great to hear. And I do apologize for my misunderstanding of Matt and my assumption that he was trying to support that very thing.

Now that this is out of the way, let me answer a very important set of questions that you posed. You asked:

Having agreed to the idea that everybody is subject to some unprovable assumptions, I think we can probably agree that if you and I hope to have a meaningful exchange with each other, arguing over which set of assumptions to accept will be a relatively useless exercise.  The first thing you said was “atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible.”  I assume that you’re going to try to demonstrate this to the satisfaction of me and the readers of our two blogs, which means that you’re going to do more than simply say “Let’s start by assuming that the Bible is true.”  Right?

First, I totally disagree with you over the claim that, “arguing over which set of assumptions to accept will be a relatively useless exercise.” The assumptions that you accept will cause you to interpret evidence in a particular way. For example, if you assume uniformitarianism (a geological theory advanced in the 18th century still held by many geologists today), then you will interpret all decay-based dating methods to be accurate and you will assume that we live on a very old earth. If I reject uniformitarianism in favor catastrophism, then I will assume that since rates and conditions change due to massive changes on the earth, that your dating methods are irrelevant and interpretively flawed. So the question at hand is whether or not we are at an impasse. Do we simply agree to disagree, or do we actually start evaluating our assumptions? Do you simply commit the logical fallacy of ad populum and say, “Because a majority of scientists hold position A, therefore it must be true,” or do you instead say, “Truth and fact cannot be reduced to majority opinion, and therefore we need to judge the merit of each assumption?” I hold to the latter, and I hope that you do as well.

The bottom line is we must have a battle of epistemology here. We both are claiming that certain things happened, and we both need to be able to justify what we claim. Yet, if our presuppositions are epistemologically weak, or even worse they are impossible, then we cannot justify what we claim. So it is not useless to talk about these assumptions, for it is here that I am going to effectively refute your positions.

Second, you asked if I am going to do more than say, “Let’s start by assuming the Bible is true.” The answer is certainly yes. I plan on saying, “Let’s start by assuming the Bible is true,” and I also plan on saying, “Let’s start by assuming atheism is true.” From there we are going to talk about the necessary preconditions of intelligibility to see which set of assumptions is even possible in the first place. Russell, you and I are having an intelligible debate right now. We are using words that make sense to each other and we have large audiences following along who also are making sense out of this. Through our senses we learn intelligible things everyday, as we also do through the laws of logic. We both seem to assume that humans are to be treated with dignity, and therefore we both speak against dishonesty and so on. This is just a tiny portion of intelligibility, and I refuse to let us take any of these things for granted.

It is not good enough for me to say, “Russell, I agree with you that this world is real, that we learn from the senses, that reasonable standards are necessary, and that bald assertion fails to prove anything.” By the way, I agree with you on all of these things, but with one revision. However, I want us to account for these things. What are the necessary preconditions of this universe, as we know it? Why are we able to rely on our senses? What are the necessary preconditions for our senses to be reliable? Why must there be reasonable standards? What are the necessary preconditions for any standards at all that avoids the hopelessness of relativity? Epistemology will help us construct workable lists of what things are necessary in order to make these assumptions of ours a reality. Furthermore, we cannot even take epistemology for granted, but must ask what are the necessary preconditions of it too? And at the end of the day, atheism cannot provide for these necessary preconditions. It is too early in the debate for me to give specifics, as I plan to wait for your next response.

Concerning my revision of our agreed assumptions, I would add that apart from our senses, we learn maybe as much from logic or deduction as we do from sense experience. Deduction is when a person takes a group of information and then applies certain laws of thought and relationships (between classes and categories) to that information, and then draws a conclusion. Rather than baldy asserting this, I will illustrate it with an example. I “know” (reasonably speaking) that I will not in the course of my life meet a human being that is 50 feet tall. How do I know that? Well, if I depended on sense experience alone, then I would have to physically observe with my senses all 7 billion people on earth. This is an impossible standard of knowledge, and the Achilles Heel of bald empiricism. Instead, I can reasonably know, through logic, that no one is 50 feet tall. Perhaps a basic syllogism will help with this:

All humans are less than 50 feet tall.
Some random guy I might one day meet in Israel is a human.
Therefore, that random guy will be less than 50 feet tall.

This example drew connections between the class of humanity and the class of height, and then the single member class (random guy in Israel). In other words, all P is Q; D is P; therefore D is Q. The reason this is important is because without the laws of logic, we would not be able to truly advance knowledge since all we would have to rely upon are one-time experiences all isolated from each other. We would know only momentary experience since we would not be able to relate classes or propositions to each other. The beauty then of the laws of logic is they allow us to learn about things that we have not directly experienced with our senses, and they allow us make reasonable connections between the things we have experienced with our senses, thus allowing for reasonable knowledge. Thus, deduction is just as important as induction, and we will need to discuss the necessary preconditions of both. But as I said earlier, that will be saved for a future response.

Moving on, when you commented on the Biblical definition of God, you then asked me how I plan on justifying any of it since you personally agree with none of it. This too will come as we advance further in the debate, but for now I am going to advance a preliminary argument that will sound absurd to you. Here it goes. The Biblical God must exist, because if He does not exist, then we can know nothing at all. Or let me put it this way. Christianity must be true because without it we lose all intelligibility.

Why did I frame it this way knowing that you will shake your head at it? Well, it is rather simple. It is the thesis of my argument for the existence of the Biblical God. After we go back and forth a number of times, it will have plenty of meat and bones and it will stand over anything you might be able to say. Of course, I don’t want you to start worrying that I am going to turn this into fideism, meaning faith against reason. No my friend. I will give you a lot of evidence. I will use much reasoning and logic. I will fall back to epistemology frequently. And at the end of it, your position will no longer justifiably be called as rational. To see it as rational would be to do so in spite of reality. I understand that this is bold for me to speak like this, but I am so convinced of the transcendental necessity of the Biblical God and all of the reasoning and evidence to go along with it, that I have this confidence. I am so convinced of the truthfulness, perspicuity, and infallibility of the Bible and the worldview it presents that I confront your position with such boldness. Please take no offense over this, for I mean not to offend. I am sure you have confidence and boldness in your position as well.

Continuing with what you wrote, you posited that my argument that atheism is a distinct philosophy is incorrect. I disagree with you on this. All things considered, atheism is a metaphysical position about reality. Regardless of what any given atheist holds (e.g. materialism, non-divine spirits, Theravada Buddhism), the position that no God exists is a distinct view of reality. Fine, not all atheists are the same. Likewise, not all theists are the same. Yet, theism and atheism at the bare bone minimum are views of reality. That is the first marker of a philosophy. Second, all atheists have a distinct view of knowledge (e.g. human autonomy; Theravada yoga; etc.). They believe that we learn truth about reality through certain means. You admitted that your view is that we learn primarily through sense experience. Finally, atheists believe in a theory of ethics. Even the psychopath has the ethical position that no authoritative ethical position exists that he/she is bound by. By definition, that is still a position. The atheist college professor that says there is no objective moral truth is still quick to fail the student that blatantly cheats on the final exam or plagiarizes the research paper, even if that student claimed it was the morally responsible thing to do in his/her personal system of ethics. So atheists can claim to hold no meta-ethical position, but this simply is not true. Every fiber of how they live their life denies such a statement from their mouth. You and Matt were apparently indignant when you felt Ray was being dishonest, meaning in your ethical view dishonesty is not good.

I suppose your disagreement/confusion was caused by the fact that I used examples (this is why they were in parentheses) that are consistent with the typical run of the mill Western atheist. I acknowledge that not all atheists fall into that framework. However, of the most notable atheists that have written in the last 300 years, most do fall into the definition and examples that I gave. It is not surprising to me that you personally hold to materialism, empiricism, etc., because just about every atheist I have ever run into thinks the same way. So yes, I understand that we are talking about your opinions, but I still assert that we are talking about the most prevalent stream of atheistic thought in the Western world, and thus this debate is against far more than just your personal view. Instead it is the typical atheism that we Christians run into on a daily basis, and my position is not just my own, but instead it represents the Biblically minded Christians that atheists run into everyday. And I do understand that you have run into a lot of misinformed souls who tried to defend the Christian position and were pathetic at it, and likewise I have run into atheists that did not know the most rudimentary basics of logic and science. I am assuming here in this debate that I am debating a well-read articulate atheist that can represent the typical worldview that I encounter in atheists, and I believe that you are debating an articulate Christian that can represent Biblical Christianity.   

I will finish up with a simple response to your following statement:

For me as an atheist humanist scientific skeptic, here’s one of my primary principles: All else being equal, it’s better not to assume that something is true without good reasons.  That means I don’t currently believe in space aliens that visit the earth and probe farmers, I don’t believe in millions of dollars waiting for me to unlock them from offshore bank accounts, and I don’t believe in an absolute being who is split in three parts and rules the universe while being separate from it.
I could make the same statement. It is better for me not to assume that the universe somehow made itself through random processes, that time (a category of motion) started its own motion from non-motion, that personal beings randomly came into existence from impersonal matter and chance, and so on since there is no good reason whatsoever to believe it. I’ve seen persons come from persons, and I’ve seen orderly systems of technology come from designers. I have seen a farmer produce a field of agriculture, but I have never seen a field produce a farmer. I have seen mechanics produce tractors, but I have never seen a tractor produce a mechanic. So with that being said, I have by your own words that I should not “assume that something is true without good reasons.” A personal God, distinct from creation, that is sovereign, and that is Triune makes so much better sense. I think atheism is far more akin to the millions of dollars in offshore bank accounts from Nigerian princes, rather than Christianity. As the argument progresses and we get into the preconditions of intelligibility, I believe this will become far more apparent.
Russell, I will give you good reasons to believe in the God of the Bible and I hope to demonstrate to you that you are the one who believes in atheism for no reason, whereas I have plenty of reason to believe in my God. I think by this point I’ve shown you which direction I am going to take this. I am interested to see where you are planning to take it. I think the phase of using feelers is coming to an end.
I appreciate the time you are putting into this. This next week will be busier for me and so my responses may be a litter slower. I ask for grace on this. Thanks.
With much respect, I await your reply.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Debating an Atheist

Opening Statement

Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Hi Russell,

As I said the last time I wrote, I was awarded some extra time and so I can start the debate a few days early. Not wanting to overextend myself early on, I will give a general opening that will describe the Christian position, how I plan to debate the issues, and why I believe atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible.

Matt can tell you from the start that I do not argue for a god, nor do I attempt to win opponents over to theism first, only later to try to convince them of Christian theism. No. Instead I argue from the outset for the Christian position only, and I affirm that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility.

With that said, let me begin with Christianity. I hold to the historic Christian faith as elucidated from the Christian canon (the 66 books of the Protestant Bible). Yes, I am defending a theological position, but Christianity is more than just a theology, it is also a philosophy. It holds a position about ultimate reality (metaphysics), possesses a distinct view of knowledge (epistemology), and it contains a system of moral and ethical absolutes (metaethics). All people are theologians and philosophers whether they realize it or not. Most people are careless when it comes these subjects and as a result they are inefficient at both. All science, all theories of cosmology, all viewpoints of anthropology, and just about everything else falls under the scope of philosophy and specifically epistemology. As a result, I am going to push all of our arguments into this realm, because it is where they belong by logical necessity.

That being the case, the historic Christian position holds a distinct metaphysical view. We believe in a two-level concept of reality (as opposed to materialism’s one-level concept). Simply put, you have the Creator and the creation. The Creator is eternal meaning He has no beginning and no end, and possesses all of the omni-characteristics. He is what in philosophy is referred to as a “necessary being,” whereas all of creation by contrast is “contingent beings.” As such He is not part of the world, nor does He depend upon the world (world meaning the physical universe), but instead He is over it and He actively sustains it. Thus, the world depends on Him. This can be illustrated with two circles on a white board with a small circle on the bottom representing the creation and a giant circle on the top representing the Creator. The Creator informs the creation through the general revelation of the created order and through special revelation with mankind through the means of language. Only religions influenced by the Bible hold to this kind of conception of God.

Concerning God, I will divide the Christian metaphysical understanding into 4 points. 1) God is an absolute personality. Simply put, He is an absolute being, meaning He is necessary and is in no way, shape, or form contingent. Yet, He is also a person. In fact, He is the original person, and "personality" is an essential attribute of God. His personhood is original and ours is derivative. We are persons because He is the absolute person. Once again, only religions influenced by the Bible have this concept of God. 2) There is a distinction between the Creator and creation. I will henceforth call it the Creator/creature distinction. God is not the world, and the world is not God. He is transcendent, meaning He is totally “other” to the world and is not contained by it. Yet, He is also immanent, meaning there is no place within the world where His presence and power are not in effect. Only Christianity and Judaism have a God that is both transcendent and immanent. The Creator/creature distinction is going to be important when we start diving into epistemology. 3) God is sovereign. This means that God has total rule over the entire universe. He is in control, and all that comes to pass is part of His will. Rather than getting too theological here, I will say for now that I am referring to His decretive will as opposed to His inclinational or moral will. This will be very important when you bring up the problem of evil in this discussion. God’s sovereignty also is important because it plays a large role in epistemology as well. 4) God is a Trinity. God, as presented in the Bible, is one God who exists as three persons. As great of a mystery as this is, it is the only conception of God that A) solves the one and many problem of philosophy and B) avoids the self-defeating contradiction inherent in all views of a unitarian God. 

Case in point, an attribute is defined as a characteristic of God intrinsic to His nature, to where it is impossible for God to be God, and yet not have that characteristic. Thus, an attribute of God is “personality” as I have already said. Personality requires relational existence. Therefore, if God were not a Trinity, who then did God have a personal relationship with prior to creation? He would not be a person until He made other persons, which would make Him dependent upon creation, thereby removing His distinction from it and His sovereignty, thus causing the whole concept of God to drown in contradiction. If God did not have the attribute of personality until the start of creation, then He existed without a characteristic that is necessary to Him by definition. I think you get the point. The triune God solves this problem since for all eternity the one God had a personal relationship among the three persons of the Trinity.

Bear in mind that I am not yet offering arguments showing how such a God is the necessary precondition of all intelligibility. Instead, I am simply showing that I am making a defense for the Christian worldview alone. No other religion or philosophy holds anything close to what I just mentioned. In fact, every other worldview holds to a one-level concept of reality, an impersonal ultimate (whether it be chance or Brahmin), and is committed to the epistemological autonomy of man. Christianity alone runs counter to this. And at the end of the day, only the existence of the Christian God can rightly account for all that exists.

With that being said, what we are inevitably doing is arguing over entire worldviews. I hold to the Biblical worldview as expressed in Scripture (every theological/philosophical position stated above has many Biblical proof-texts). I am assuming that you hold to a worldview that favors the ultimate reality as being that of impersonal time and chance (randomness) and that the universe and all that is in it (both inorganic and organic) come to us via macroevolution. Given that it is a battle of worldviews, we are going to have to use transcendental logic to see which worldview is even possible in the first place.

Russell, the bottom line is most people take for granted what they believe. Even more axiomatic, they take for granted presuppositions. Everyone has them, and everyone comes to conclusions based on them. The way evidence is interpreted is never neutral, but it is always 100% of the time bound by one’s presuppositions. When you and your partner debated Ray Comfort on your show, your partner accused Ray of having presuppositions that caused him to reach Biblical conclusions, whereas you atheists have no presuppositions but instead are led by the evidence alone and make your conclusion from there. I mean no disrespect at all by saying this, but that is a careless and philosophically absurd statement. It is careless because it shows that your partner so takes his presuppositions for granted that he does not even realize that they are there. Matt, the young man who arranged this discussion between us, ran into the same problem with me. Every time he made an argument, I identified for him the distinct presuppositions behind that argument and then demonstrated that without those presuppositions his conclusion was unwarranted. I then showed him that his presuppositions were in fact impossible. This is why he worked tirelessly to arrange a debate between you and I.   I can only assume that he hopes you will find a way to deal with this. So then, it is fair to warn you that I will constantly bring us both back to presuppositions at every step of this. I admit that I have mine, but I want you to see yours too. From there, we can then get to the heart of the debate. Having a background in history I love facts and I love evidence. Yet, I will not argue endlessly about facts without first arguing about the philosophy of fact. Afterwards, I would love share evidence and counterevidence. This will all come to light a little later as we dialogue.

I will finish this up with a brief discussion about atheism. As a worldview, atheism has a number of huge problems that savage it. First, let me acknowledge that I know many atheists claim atheism is not a worldview, but instead it is merely a rejection of a worldview. However, that is careless philosophy once again. Atheism possesses a distinct view of reality (materialism), a distinct view of epistemology (human intellectual autonomy), and a theory of ethics (whether it is evolutionary, utilitarian, etc.). This makes it just as much of a worldview and philosophy as anything else.  And as a philosophy, it has problems that render it irrational. I will begin with only 4, and as the debate moves on I can bring in some others. The 4 are as follows: 1) Problem of Inductive Inference; 2) Problem of Deductive Inference; 3) Problem of the Mind/Brain; and 4) Problem of Moral Absolutes. I will not get into these now because we will have plenty of time to jump into them as we go on. When the theory of evolution is advanced, there will also be a plethora of problems with it as well. I think we will both enjoy getting into these high level arguments.

Russell, I figure that you see problems with the Christian worldview that you believe discredit it. I eagerly await these as I hope to offer satisfactory and convincing counterarguments against them. I unabashedly presuppose the Bible, as I believe all rational knowledge depends on such. I hope by the end of this all, you can see very clearly where I am coming from and seek to know the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank you for your willingness to discuss these matters with me.  Hopefully a mutual respect and admiration will build between the two of us as we seek to convince each other concerning these most important issues.

With much respect, I await your reply.