August 30, 2008

The Great Debate: Does God Exist? : Part I

This is the first of three posts that I made on a podcast I found. It is the debate between Dr. Greg Bahnsen (Christian) and Dr. Gordon Stein (Atheist) at the University of California, Irvine in 1985. I have links to the other posts at the end. (I cannot include the posts within this blog yet, because the other one's are not posted. I will be updating that as I go along). I posted all three on September 20th, 2005.

Dr. Greg Bahnsen versus Dr. Gordon Stein
At the University of California, Irvine, 1985
OK, I got sent a copy of this really incredible debate between the theist Bahnsen and the atheist Stein. In fact, I feel that it is worthy of several posts. You would expect the first to be some kind of summery of the debate, but I wont do that. Instead I am just going to look at Stein's opening statement.

Stein wishes to state the he is victorious if he has officially discredited all of the arguments for God, since theism has the burden of proof. Ironically, Bahnsen's whole argument will undermine this wish of Stein's. However, for his opening statement, Stein simply goes through all of the classic arguments for God and then refutes them. Ironically, Bahnsen doesn't use a single one of these, so he never comes to their rescue.

This kinda bugged me since I felt that Stein's "refutations" were, in fact, inaccurate. So, I'm just going to go through and refute his refutations.

  1. The First Cause (Cosmological) Argument

    Everything must have a cause, therefore the universe must have a cause, and that cause was God. God was the first or uncaused cause.

    Response: This leads to a real logical bind for the theist, because, if everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If God had a cause, he cannot be the first or uncaused cause. If God did not have a cause, then not everything must have a cause. If not everything needs a cause, then perhaps the universe doesn't need a cause. Thus, there is a logical bind and the proof fails.

    There are two matters of contention with this response.

    1. He doesn't deal with the initial premise: "Everything must have a cause." He doesn't deny the premise, nor does he offer an alternative answer. Thus, he hasn't really refuted the argument.

    2. He actually presented the premise incorrectly. It isn't that "everything" has a cause. It's that all things which are bound by time must have a cause. The universe itself is bound by time, and therefore must have a cause. Therefore, there must be some uncaused cause that exists outside the bounds of time which caused the universe. God fits this description, and is thus a reasonable hypothesis to answer the question.

      The response I usually get from this is "how does one verify that the universe is bound by time." The answer is that all things which have a beginning are bound by time, since the concept of beginning is a temporal concept. Thus, since the universe has a beginning (which has been demonstrated by science), then the universe is bound by time, and must have a cause. The Big Bang theory actually hurts atheists. Atheist scientists are always trying to find a way to make the universe eternal and infinite. It's the only way to make atheism logical, and they know it.

  2. The Design (Teleological) Argument

    The universe is wonderful and exhibits evidence of design and order. These things must have had a designer that was even more wonderful, and that designer was God.

    Response: Surely if the world is wonderfully designed, and God, the designer, is more wonderfully designed, then God must have a designer even more wonderful than He is. If God didn't need a designer, than neither should the relatively less wonderful thing such as the universe have needed one. Again, there is a logical self-contradiction.

    Again, he presents the argument incorrectly. It isn't that "These things must have had a designer that was even more wonderful". It is that these things must have had a designer which was intelligent. Intricate things come from a mind, not necessarily from something intricate. How can one explain teleos (perfection or completion) within the universe without some kind of mind to put it all together. In fact, those philosophers who proposed this argument insisted that God is ontologically simple.

  3. The Argument from Life

    Life cannot originate from the random movement of atoms, and yet life exists. Therefore the existence of a God was necessary to create life.

    Response: Basically, life didn't originate from the random movement of atoms, and no scientist would say so. Because there are limits of a chemical composition and physics of atoms, and they do not move in any possible way, chemicals do not combine in any possible way. That's why when you see these one billion to one kind of odds that people have set for life originating. They're all wet. They haven't considered the possibility that not every reaction can occur. So, it's possible to explain the origins of life without a god and using the principle of parsimony or Occam's Razor, I think we are left with the simpler explanation [which is] the one without the God.

    1. Here the problem is far more conceptual. I, myself, wouldn't use the argument for this very reason. Atheists define life functionally; Theists define life ontologically. (BTW, ontology is the study of being, or existence) In other words, this argument presupposes the human soul. Therefore, even though his response is actually irrelevant to the proposed argument, it is true that this argument will not work against an atheist, for one must first prove the human soul, something that was not in doubt until recently.

    2. It is also important to note, that even if one prescribes to the functional definition of life, his statement: "That's why when you see these one billion to one kind of odds that people have set for life originating. They're all wet. They haven't considered the possibility that not every reaction can occur" demonstrates a perverse ignorance. Yes, there are some... simplistic creationist statements that emphasis that randomness prescribed by atheistic theories of the origin of life cannot produce the complexity of life. However, those "billion to one odds" are founded on more than just the "randomness" criticism. They are scientifically accurate and universally accepted by those in the scientific field.

  4. The Argument from Revealed Theology

    The Bible says that God exists, and the Bible is the inspired word of God, therefore what it says must be true. Therefore God exists.

    Response: Well this is obviously a circular argument. It begs the question. We are trying to show whether God exists; therefore, calling the Bible the word of God is not permitted, because it assumes the existence of the very thing we are trying to prove. So, if the Bible is not the Word of God, then we cannot give any real weight to the fact that it mentions that God exists. Thus, it does not become a proof. In fact, to prove God from the Bible is standing things on its head. First you must prove God, then you may say whether God dictated it or inspired it. But you can't really use the Bible as Dr. Bahnsen seems to want to do as evidence for existence of God, per se.

    This is such a gross oversimplification. Though most who use this argument do use it that way, that is not the power of the argument. This argument presupposes that the realm within which one must investigate to determine God's existence is unreachable. Thus, in order to know whether or not God exists, God must tell us.

    This argument is far more important when discussing God's nature than whether or not God exists, but it still is something not to be overlooked. What right does anyway have to say whether or not God exists? Only God has that right. Thus, an appeal to his revelation is not illogical, though it is admittedly unconvincing to one who doesn't recognize it as revelation.

    I would like to add that this is the essential argument when dealing with anyone who states that all religions are just as true. Either one is true, or none are true, because only God knows who God is; only God can describe God; only God can assign proper worship. Thus, without revelation, there is no such thing as an accurate religion.

  5. The Argument from Miracles

    The existence of miracles requires the presence of a supernatural force, or a God. Miracles do occur, and therefore there is a supernatural force or God.

    Response: Again, this is begging the question; it requires that you must believe in a God first, beforehand. Then you say there are such things as miracles, which are acting of a God who creates violations of his own laws. So, it is not evidence, per se, it can serve as supplementary evidence, once you have good evidence in another kind of way for the existence of
    a God - you can use miracles as a additional argument, but in and of itself it doesn't show the existence of a God, because it assumes that which needs to be proven.

    A quote from Thomas Paine about miracles: "When you see an account is given about such a miracle, by a person who says he saw it, it raises a question in the mind that is very easily decided. Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man could tell a lie? We have never seen in our time Nature go out of her course, but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in this same time. It is therefore at least millions to one that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie" I think those are good odds.

    This one's funny. Christianity actually states that miracles are a horrible proof because they can be faked, and demons can also perform them. Thus, given that something is a miracle, it doesn't prove God, only the supernatural. That isn't to say that we don't use it, but only in very precise circumstances, where it has been shown that it was God who worked the miracle, such as the resurrection or the exodus.

    However, let us consider his response: How is this begging the question? Yeesh, if you are going to refute something, at least do it right! This simply demonstrates that naturalist presumptions of the atheist. The argument goes: given that a miracle has happened, there is supernatural forces. This doesn't beg the question. He states later on in the debate that in order to be convinced, he would have to see a miracle. But here he says that quoting a miracle isn't a good argument. What he is really saying is that since there are no miracles, a reference to a miracle is stupid. But instead of phrasing it bluntly, he phrases it stupidly. All he actually does is present a definition of miracle which includes the word "God" (in other words, the mention of God's law). To get around "begging the question", all one has to do is replace God's law, with scientific law, and his argument, "miraculously", vanishes.

    The real problem with the atheist look at this argument is that they actually believe in it. All they have to do to get around its power is to deny anything which is claimed to be a miracle, and given enough imagination, this is always possible. They think by simply proposing a natural explanation, they have explained away the miracle. It is here that we see the true conceitedness of the atheist.

  6. The Ontological Argument

    God is, by definition, perfect. A necessary quality of any perfect object is that it exists. If it did not exist it would not be perfect. If perfection requires existence, then God exists.

    Response: There is a problem with the word exists. In order for something to be perfect, it must first exist. If something didn't exist, the word perfect wouldn't mean anything. First you must have existence, then possibly you may have perfection. So, this again is going backwards; you must first have an existing God, and then you can decide whether He's perfect, if perfection is a quality of a God, then He may be perfect, but He first must exist.

    Again, I would like make two points:

    1. This isn't the ontological argument. The ontological argument is an argument from being, not from perfection, though perfection is used in the argument. It is actually one of the most powerful arguments, and one of the hardest to understand.

      The phrasing of the argument is important. It starts with a definition for God: that with which nothing greater can be conceived. This definition is not saying that God is perfect. It goes far beyond that. It means that in all qualities, the concept of God is unsurpassable. Because of this, the concept of God itself requires that God is unsurpassable in existence, and thus must exist, for otherwise the concept itself cannot exist. Thus, the fact that we can conceive God necessitates his existence.

    2. The difference is subtle, but very important. For instance, it isn't that God must exist because God is perfect. It is that because we have this concept of God, God must exist. This argument is, I think, the strongest case for God, but requires a proper understanding of God in order to even comprehend. I think that is the fun of it. Therefore, it isn't really an apologetic argument, but one that grants confidence to the believer.

      One must remember, when Anselm first proposed the argument, it was him reflecting on this God that has saved him. Reflecting on this God, he realized that this God must exist simply because of what the concept is. However, one must fully know this concept in order to get the argument, yet once one does, the argument forms itself. Its use boils down to this: if you actually think that God doesn't have to exist, then you don't understand what I mean by the word "God." There is its power. It gives its user such a supreme confidence in this God, and creates a form of mystery about God to those who the argument is proposed to. Personally, I think this is quite strong.

  7. The Moral Argument

    All people have moral values. The existence of these values cannot be explained unless they were implanted in people by a God. Therefore, God exists.

    An atheist's problem: There are simpler ways to explain the origin of moral values without requiring the existence of a God to implant them into people. Besides, if moral values did come from a God, then all people should have the same moral values. They don't. People's moral values are a result of an accommodation they have made with their particular environment and have taught to their children as a survival mechanism.

    Well, I somewhat agree with him here. I don't think the moral argument is very strong. However, the belief in morality, and the universality of morality (which does actually exist) requires explanation in a atheistic world view, which he doesn't provide. I'm not going to get into this point, since it will involve Bahnman's actual argument, which I will get into later. However, I would say that the moral argument is a poor argument against atheists.

  8. The Wish Argument

    Without the existence of a God people wouldn't have any reason to live or be good, therefore there has to be a God. Most people believe in a God, therefore there is a God.

    Response: This really isn't a proof, it is just a wish. It's like saying that it would be nice to have a God (which it would), but that doesn't have anything to do with whether there is one or not.

    This argument is strictly liberal or postliberal. It is an unchristian argument, and its stupid. In fact, I usually see it as the atheist explanation as to why there are religions, rather than as an argument for God's existence.

    However, if you pay attention, there is actually two arguments in there. The first one is "well God makes people feel good" which is the stupid one, because it isn't an ontological statement. The second one is "most people believe in a God." This is a good argument in that humans seem designed to worship a God. There are people who were raised atheist, who are now pagans, or what have you. Even atheists worship reason and human progress. It seems impossible for humans not to worship. Why is that? I would argue, by way of Occum's Razor, that us being created to worship is a far more reasonable hypothesis than God being a sociological construction.

  9. The Argument from Faith

    The existence of God cannot be proven by the use of reason, but only by the use of faith. The use of faith shows that there is a God, therefore God exists.

    Response: Reason is a proven way to obtain factual information about the universe. Faith has not been shown to produce true information about the universe because faith is
    believing something is so because you want it to be so, without adequate evidence. Therefore, faith cannot be used to prove the existence of anything.

    In addition, there is the fact that faith often gives you the opposite answer to what is given by reason to the same problem. This also shows that faith does not provide valid answers.

    This isn't really an argument for the existence of God. More or less, it is an explanation for the lack there of. As an explanation, it is quite worthy, though I disagree with its assessment. But as an argument, it doesn't' really prove anything. So, I sorta agree with him here.

  10. The Argument from Religious Experience

    Many people have claimed to have a personal experience or encounter with God, therefore God must exist.

    Response: This is a difficult one to handle, because, first of all, I've never had such an experience, but I'm sure that people have absolutely honestly thought they've had such experiences. But, the feeling of having met God cannot be confused with the fact of having met God. There is a semantic confusion; and also, we cannot use our own feelings as if they were valid
    ways to obtain information about the world. They are feelings that we have inside of us, but we cannot demonstrate them to another person. They cannot be used as an evidence. If everyone had that same experience; like if we all looked around the room and we all agreed that there is a clock over there, then we might say that the vision of a clock is a consensual one, if everyone agreed on it. Other than that, if you saw a clock and no one else did, or if only two or three people did in the room, then you have a bit of a problem.

    Again, I agree with him here. It isn't a very strong argument. However, it is a liberal argument, and more so a postliberal one; not a Christian one. So I have no qualms in disregarding it.

  11. Pascal's Wager

    We have no way of knowing if a God exists or not, and we have no way of finding out, but you have nothing to lose by believing in a God, but on the other hand, you do have a lot to lose by not believing in a God, and it turns out later on that there is one after we're dead,

    Response: This is only true if 1) You are right about a God, and 2) you have picked the right religion, because you might wind up on the Judgment Day and be right about a God, but He says, "What religion were you?" and you say, "I was a believer in Islam." And He says, "Sorry, Catholicism is the right religion. Down you go." So, in addition, you might have a God Who punishes people who have lived virtuous lives, say an atheist who has lived a virtuous life, did wonderful deeds in the world, but just does not believe in a God, if the God punishes him, you have an irrational God who is just as likely to punish the believer as the unbeliever.

    OK, three points:

    1. "This is only true if you are right about a god". Well, that's sort of the point. If we are right, you, as an atheist, are in trouble. Is it really worth the risk?

    2. "This is only true if you have picked up the right religon." So? The way I tend to phrase the Wager in today's pluralistic society is this: you are in a room where there are several doors. One of them may lead out, maybe none of them do. If you pick the wrong one you will starve to death. But choosing a door is still far better than just sitting in the room, complaining about the plethora of options. Me, I chose a door.

      Now, I would also say that Christianity is also the most logical choice. But one must remember is that Pascal's Wager doesn't promise that making a decision will be easy. It just says that making no decision is stupid, and this remains true. Stein did not settle Pascal's Wager

    3. "you might have a God Who punishes people who have lived virtuous lives, say an atheist who has lived a virtuous life, did wonderful deeds in the world, but just does not believe in a God." I would like to take this time to point out that Stein stated that he wasn't just arguing against the Christian God, yet this argument is only directed against Christianity, and Christianity is the only religion that has an answer for it. In Christianity, the idea of "people who have lived virtuous lives" is an oxymoron. They don't exist. Therefore the idea that God punishes those who lived virtuous lives isn't true.

click here for the link

post II
post III

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