Monday, December 22, 2014

Debating an Atheist Evangelist at the Festival of Lights!

Pastor Stephen Feinstein

P1110587 WPOn Friday evening, December 19, 2014, myself with a team of evangelists from Sovereign Way Christian Church from Hesperia, CA went down to the Mission Inn area in Riverside, CA to hand out gospel tracks to the multitudes who were shopping during the Festival of Lights. It was quite an eventful night, for we were not the only evangelists there. Believe it or not, there were evangelists of atheism on the street holding up signs that declared God to be the adult version of Santa Clause. Their signs dubbed themselves as free thinkers. So true to form, I finished my cup of coffee and headed straight towards them to engage in a discussion. I got into a decent debate with a 31 year old atheist named John.

I felt compelled to comment here and now on my interaction with this atheist. Although our discussion touched on many of the typical issues, I want to just focus on one. When we were debating, I sought to demonstrate that naturalism and materialism cannot account for the immaterial laws of logic. He attempted to argue that they can, which I found interesting. Giving you the bottom line up front, his position was tantamount to him saying, “Logic is because it is.” I told him this, and though he was not happy with that, there was no escaping it.

His stated position went something like this. As long as two different things exist, the law of identity must exist by default. And thus, the existence of material reality by itself would create laws of relationship or logic. So in other words, because stuff exists, logic too must exist. Therefore, you do not need the biblical God to account for logic. Now of course, this is arbitrary. I pointed out to him that he essentially is saying because the universe exists, logic exists, and thus he is arguing that logic is because it is.

Materialism can never successfully account for the existence of immaterial logic. So when we were done addressing this and everything else we addressed such as moral laws, the uniformity of nature, and evolutionary theory, my team and I all agreed that every argument he advanced was launched from groundlessness. So I was satisfied that we soundly defeated him as far as the intellectual side of this went. I asked him if he would allow me to share the gospel afterwards with him, but he declined. That was the most tragic part of this.

The real reason I am writing this post, however, is because when I was driving home, his argument about logic hit me hard. It seemed that I was due for a second battle with his argument, but this time it was isolated to my mind alone. This second battle was much fiercer than my battle with the atheist himself. It did not help that while this raged in my mind, my sweet eleven year old daughter was talking my ear off thus interrupting my thoughts. She had no idea of the battle in my head during that time, and so I tried to talk with her and with myself at the same time. Well, fortunately, there came a point where I had about two minutes of silence in the car, and then the answer came to me. Given that such a battle occurred in my mind I felt compelled to share the real strength of his argument with you, but then show you how it utterly fails. This way if you ever encounter this argument from an atheist, you will see its absurdity.

So let me begin with the strength of it. He is right about one thing. If two different things do exist, then the law of identity will exist too. Two or more distinct things exist, therefore the law of identity exists. So here you have an immaterial conceptual law that exists, but it seems to exist because many distinct material things exist. And given that all laws of logic tend to be laws of relationship between classes and categories of things, it could stand to reason that all the laws of logic do in fact exist because the universe exists. This threw me for a loop when the force of the argument clicked in my mind. For the first time in all of my debates with atheists, one of them finally gave what seemed to be a justification of immaterial logic from a materialistic worldview. This was a huge feat for this guy when you consider the fact that I debated Russell Glasser, one of the hosts of the acclaimed atheist TV show, The Atheist Experience. After all, Glasser had no good response against my argument from immaterial logic. I have debated a number of atheists, and it seemed to me that the best they could do is change the subject by asking how God accounts for logic, which is an easy thing to answer. But on December 19, 2014, I, for the first time, received an answer from an atheist that almost worked to defend the existence of logic from a materialistic worldview. But once I had two minutes of silence, I was able to see the problems with this argument.

Truly, this forces us to go back to Plato vs. Aristotle all over again. It is interesting that good arguments over metaphysics never get outdated. Plato looked around the world and realized it is made up of stuff that changes, decays, and disappears. He reasoned from this fact that the ultimate ground of reality must be something that does not change, decay, or disappear. Thus, he theorized that there exists a world of immaterial forms that are eternal, and these forms govern and dictate much of what happens in the material world, which he called the world of particulars. So you have multiple humans on earth who are the particulars made out of changing, decaying, and disappearing matter. Yet, the concept of humanity itself does not change, decay, or disappear, even after millions of individual material humans do change, decay, and disappear. In fact, without something stable like the concept of humanity, we would have no way to understand or make predictable sense of ourselves as particulars since everything changes too much. So Plato took this concept and applied it to everything, including logic. Logic never changes. The law of identity is always the same, as are other laws of logic. These laws govern all things that exist in the material world, and yet are themselves not material. They last unchanged forever, whereas all things made of matter do not. So from Plato’s perspective, the immaterial world of forms (where logic resides) is primary, whereas the material world of particulars is secondary and cannot exist without the world of forms.

Plato’s greatest student Aristotle disagreed with this position and held to a form of materialism. He believed that change, caused by motion, was the most pervasive thing in the universe, and it explains all that we observe. Due to this, Aristotle did not believe a world of forms was necessary to explain what occurs in the real world. In fact, he believed if such a world existed, we could not know it and therefore it would be useless to humans for acquiring knowledge or explaining things. Thus, Aristotle only needed matter in motion to explain the world. I do not want anyone to misunderstand me, however, for Aristotle was not an atheist. He believed in a first mover that caused all motion since.

I only bring these two up to show how in 2,400 years, we still wrestle with the same fundamental issues when it comes to relating immaterial logic and concepts like love, justice, truth, etc., to a material universe. Christians will argue that the only way for this relationship to exist is if beyond the material universe exists a spiritual reality as well (heaven), and even beyond that is the personal, absolute, infinite, tri-une, and sovereign God of the Bible – for all things that exist are by Him, to Him, through Him, and for Him. Materialistic atheists will argue that matter itself somehow accounts for these immaterial concepts, and thus they will say that no God is necessary. As far as Plato and Aristotle go, they were both arbitrary in their positions, as they started with their own finite reasoning to define realities that are far greater than themselves. Plato’s world of forms was his mere invention – a necessary invention for him since he rightly saw that materialism cannot account for immaterial laws of logic and concepts. Aristotle’s “matter in motion” explanation was also arbitrary since his own empirical observations could never confirm that all things in existence are explained by motion. Furthermore, motion and change does not explain unchanging concepts like logic, truth, justice, love, etc.

Atheists are in the same position as both Plato and Aristotle, as they start with non-exhaustive finite human reasoning to build their positions. Christians are not in this position since we begin with a revelational epistemology. We begin with certain truth that was revealed to us by the infinite God that is the ground of all truth and possesses exhaustive knowledge of everything. As long as finite minds build on that foundation, what we build will stand the test of time.

So here we are in 2014 with the same issues and arguments. So why does the atheist argument fail? It is quite simple. John claimed that since different things exist, the laws of logic will exist automatically. With that explanation, the material world is primary, meaning it is the ground of immaterial logic. But on a closer evaluation, can this be so? Think about it. Let us grant that the universe just popped into existence by itself (the idea of this is so entirely absurd that I had difficulty writing it just now). When multiple things came into existence, John says logic also came into existence. And yet when we stop and think about it, those multiple things no longer exist. They have changed, decayed, and disappeared. The very things that allegedly brought logic into existence no longer themselves exist anywhere in the universe. And yet the laws of logic still exist, and they have not changed even in the slightest since that time. So we must ask is it possible that material things that move, change, and disappear can be the ground of immaterial laws that do not move, change, or disappear? Would that not be a contradiction of thought, one of the very laws of logic that the materialist claims can exist simply because matter exists? Logic has none of the properties or characteristics of matter, and yet John attempted to argue that matter’s existence is what created the laws of logic. If there was no matter, there would be no logic, and yet this makes no philosophical or even scientific sense. Pretty much, he is unwittingly arguing that finite and temporary matter created infinite and eternal immaterial laws.

Ontologically speaking, even the simplest of philosophers understands that things that are mortal, finite, and temporary are lower on the ontological scale than things that are immortal, infinite, and eternal. And yet, the materialist position flips this scale on its head and puts the lesser things on top and seeks to make it the ground of the greater things. I am sorry John, but your position fails basic philosophy. You cannot have materialism as the ground of immaterialism. However, it is philosophically possible to have the reverse. Immaterial, eternal, and unchanging things can be the ground of lower immaterial ones. Plato was keen enough to realize this, though his explanation does not suffice.

So what explanation does suffice? Well quite simply put, the laws of the logic are more than simple laws that exist to explain relationships between categories and classes. They are laws of thought, and thought itself is a property of minds, and minds are themselves immaterial. Perhaps the atheist will not grant this since they equate the mind with the brain, but I believe this shows philosophical imprecision on their part. It requires a mind to understand and articulate the laws of logic. Furthermore, above and beyond this, it requires a mind to be the ground of logic since logic is a function of mind. It cannot primarily be a simple function of relationships between different material things due to the reasons already explained – changing, decaying, and disappearing stuff cannot be the ground or even the origination of things that are immutable, imperishable, and everlasting.

But what do we do with John’s argument that the existence of at least two distinct things creates logic? Why does the mere existence of two things require the law of identity? First, let me rephrase it to be more philosophically appropriate. Why is the mere existence of the law of identity required to explain the relationship of two things that exist? I hope you can see what I have done here. I just pointed out that this question is just like the chicken and egg question. John’s very argument asserted and presupposed that the matter comes first. He took this for granted and made no attempt to prove it. The theist could just as easily present it as I just have, and now it assumes and presupposes that the immaterial law must exist first and prior to the existence of distinct material things. Given the discussion above on this, ontologically the theistic position makes much more sense since changing, decaying, and disappearing things cannot be the ground of the existence of things that do not change, never decay, and always remain in existence. So, if an atheist like John ever presents this kind of argument, you would do well to understand the distinction between the immaterial and the material. You would also do well to then flip-flop the statement to demonstrate the chicken and egg nature of their assertion. This removes their ability to take their statement for granted. Finally, you can show them with the very reason and logic they claim to embrace that their position cannot be true with the arguments that I presented throughout this post.

Of course, there is still one more thing. Are we Christian’s in a better position? We most certainly are. We are not helpless like Plato and stuck in a position that forces us to simply assert that immaterial concepts are eternal. In Plato’s reasoning, these concepts are impersonal. If that is so, then they cannot direct anything in a personal way. Yet in the real world and in real practice the laws of logic along with concepts like love, justice, and truth are applied in a personal way and only affect persons. Therefore, our own experience shows us they do not exist as mere abstract impersonal things. Furthermore, they as concepts presuppose intelligence and teleology (purpose or design). How can love, truth, or justice make any sense apart from intelligence? How can logic make any sense apart from intelligence? Therefore, these immaterial things that exist are more than what Plato thought they were. They are not just concepts that are self-existent. They are derivative from the infinite and omniscient mind of God, which happens to be the highest level of intelligence possible. They exist because God exists. He did not create logic as some atheists claim our position requires. No, logic exists because God is a person and because immaterial concepts are products of mind. Since God is eternal and infinitely intelligent and wise, so too are His thoughts and the patterns of His thoughts. Therefore, logic is original to God, and since all humans are made in His image, logic is derivative to us.

Seven billion humans can all reason according to these laws because we alone are made in the image of the One from whom all of these laws and concepts originate. We are simply “imaging” God to a finite degree. If our minds were simply brains governed by random electro-chemical processes, then it makes no sense for seven billion different humans to all operate off of the same general laws of thinking. It makes no sense for them to access immaterial concepts like justice and love and to understand these things in similar ways. You see, just like the atheistic explanation cannot account for the existence of logic and immaterial concepts, it also cannot account for the universality of the use of such concepts by all members of the human race. Yet, the biblical worldview alone accounts for their existence due to the mind of God, and it accounts for humanity’s usage of such laws since all of us are made in the image of the very God to whom these laws are original.

Again and again, the atheists at the Festival of Lights said there is no evidence for God’s existence. And yet, the evidence screams in their face. Immaterial logic exists. Diverse humans share identical immaterial concepts and use objective words in debate. For these two things to be true, there must be an objective standard, otherwise, our ability to dialogue intelligibly would not exist. The fact that we debated, understood each other, and talked about immaterial reality should be plenty of evidence for the existence of God. Yet, they refuse to see it because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-21). The great irony was they said they have no idea what caused the Big Bang, and they said they cannot know what happened in the first plank second, which means they have no evidence that such a cosmology even occurred, and yet at the same time they claim to not believe in God because they lack sufficient evidence! That, my friends, is the irrationality of atheism. On a daily basis they use functions that are only possible if the biblical God exists, and yet they say there is no evidence. But then they believe in a cosmology that they apparently have no evidence for. It is for this reason that Christians have nothing to fear at all from atheists. Atheism in all times and places is groundless, irrational, and untenable.

As I close this, I would like to also thank another group of Christian evangelists from Sovereign Grace Community Church from Perris, CA who went out on the same night and open-air preached. They too debated with these atheists. May God bless them for their boldness that comes only from Him! Amen.

The following link shows their work that night. The man that tries to interrupt the preaching is the same atheist that I debated with.

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