This is the transcript of the radio debate between presuppositionalist Greg Bahnsen and atheist George Smith on the topic, “The Case For/Against God.”
George Smith – Opening
Moderator: Well, let’s start with the George Smith. The status quo is existence of God. Most people would believe in that, so since you are sort of opting to challenge the status quo, let’s start with your background.
George, in The Case Against God, give us your background, you know, why don’t you believe there is a God.
Smith: Well, first of all, let’s be clear about what the definition of atheism is. It’s used by most atheists. Atheism is typically the absence or lack of belief in a God.
So, up to the question, do you believe in a God, if you answer, “No,” that makes you an atheist. I don’t believe in a God, primarily because I don’t see any good reason why I should.
In other words, the burden of proof, in my mind, clearly falls on the theists or the God-believer first to define what he’s talking about when using the term God and secondly then to provide arguments or proof of some kind that such a being exists.
Moderator: And what type of proof are we talking about? Apodictic certainty, talking about the preponderance of evidence, what would you accept as sufficient proof to have you change your point of view?
Smith: Well, it depends on the kind of being that is defined. I mean, it seems to me require stronger evidence of proof of certain things than do others, especially when something is so out of our context of ordinary experience.
For example, it seems to me that if someone claims to have seen a man rise from the dead, we’re going to require a fairly strong degree of proof to accept that assertion.
I think the problem, though, with theists, as I have encountered them, is not in the area proof. It’s that they stumble at the first requirement, which is providing some kind of coherent description. It’s not a definition of what kind of being they have in mind when they describe God, a description if not utterly unintelligible or at least if not contradictory.
And that’s the problem I have in many cases I when I ask people, “What do you mean by God?” I don’t get any answer that makes much sense to me. They might as well say, “I believe in a blark. It’s a nonsense word in that sense of my mind.
Moderator: George when we talk about, you know, your working definition, that you don’t see any evidence for God or sufficient evidence for God and there are shades of definitions here of agnostic and atheist. So, you’re just using loosely the term atheist to describe those that have never seen enough evidence for God.
Smith: But simply do not believe in a God. And I, admittedly, since I’m using the term God, I should try to at least the rough estimate of what I mean when I use the term a God. For me, generally speaking has to be some kind of a supernatural, or if you like, transcendent being in my mind.
I’d reject any naturalistic concept of God. In other words, if somebody says to me, I believe that nature is God, I say, fine, but why call it God? Why not just call it nature?
So at least the minimum requirement has to be that it’s some kind of being that transcends or falls outside the natural context of the nature, falls outside natural law.
So a God presumably can perform miracles, do things that natural creatures cannot.
Moderator: But apparently by your presence here, you’re open to discuss it as if enough evidence were adduced, you would be willing to modify your perspective.
Smith: Yeah, and I’ve been asked before the question what would it take to convince me. Well, not to be too flippant about it, but I suppose it if in Monty Python like manner, you know, the clouds were to open and a giant hand were to come down from the clouds and grab me by the scruff of the neck and shake me and say, “I’m here, I’m here,” that would do it for most people right out. That would get me thinking.
Moderator: The reason I ask these is to try to, for my own understanding, determine whether you would fall into the category of what I would call a soft-world or a hard-world agnostic or somebody that least is open to discuss it or you’ve totally ruled out any possibility of God’s existence?
Smith: Well, again, until someone tells you if someone tells me what they mean by God, I would have to, I can’t answer that question it’s like do I roll out the possibility of life on other planets? I don’t know. I mean it depends on the arguments.
So, I guess I’m open in principle. It’s just that I’ve heard I’ve been and have been an atheist for many years now, involved myself in a lot of debates, and I think I’ve heard most the arguments I’m going to hear.
So, someone’s going to have come up with something new.
Moderator: And just one more point before I bring Greg Bahnsen into this. But in terms of background, and I don’t mean to get ad hominem, but I mean did you have any type of religious training?
Smith: I considered myself myself a fundamentalist Christian until about sophomore, junior, about a sophomore in high school. I was devoutly religious. I had many different what I called religious experiences.
My family was not especially religious, but I was I. I prayed when I went to bed. I was a working church services. I’ve got my garden country merit badge and Boy Scouts. I was a model Christian child by all indications.
And things happen. I discussed that my latest book there’s a part called, “My path to atheism.” I go through the de-conversion process as I call it.
Moderator: And when you say, you know, that you were religious did, you did you consider a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
Smith: Oh yes. Well, I was raised on Air Force bases. The churches were technically nondenominational, but my experience was, I can’t say it was Baptist or any particular theology, but I was.
I’d consider myself a fundamentalist. I accepted what I consider to be a literal belief in the Bible.
Greg Bahnsen – Opening
Moderator: Dr. Greg Bahnsen, your doctorate from USC and epistemology. And as the Christian theologian, of course, you have done many debates and written in the area of God’s existence. So where does one begin in presenting evidence for God? How would you approach George Smith, for example,
Bahnsen: Well, what I appreciate about George—we met in this afternoon, but what I appreciate about his writings is that he understands how important epistemology is to the whole discussion.
We’re going to talk about the existence of God. We’re not going to want it to reduce to the question of emotion or just volitional commitment of some sort without man’s intellect being engaged.
I think he’s right about that. As Christians we do not give up our intellect when we believe in God or follow the Scriptures. And so, since the issue is epistemology—this may not be what many of your hearers would like to get into perhaps—what we need to talk about: what amounts to proof, what amounts to knowledge, and how these things are possible.
And I would say that we have to be extremely critical. I know that Christians often have the reputation for not being critically minded, and I think that’s probably a failing in our part when were like that. But, if we’re going to be critically minded, we need to examine the presuppositions of our thinking and we have to look at the worldview that were espousing. We argue in a particular way or not.
And so, if I were, you know, talking with George over coffee I think I would probably talk to him first of all about what outlook he has on the world what does he conceive reality to be. How does he know what he knows? How should he live his life? And I would compare that to the Christian worldview. What we understand to be reality and how we know what we know and how we should live our lives.
And then, of course, we’re going to have to eventually get to the point of deciding, “How does one choose one worldview over another?” At some point, maybe after 2 or 3 cups of coffee, I would eventually challenge George that on the Atheist worldview, the presuppositions of atheism, do not provide a foundation for proving anything whatsoever.
And therefore, in one sense, the strongest evidence, an argument for the existence of God is that without a belief in God, you can’t prove anything. And so I would make that the foundation for reason.
Often, and I think you’ll see this if you read George’s book, you have people who present something of a Thomistic approach to faith and reason where faith fills in the gaps where reason let’s us down or is inadequate. My own theological perspective is more Augustinian rather than Thomistic and I would argue instead that everything we do engages the reason as a tool of man’s intellect.
But that the cogent use of reason is impossible apart from the foundation of faith. And you see, I would preach that to my Christian brothers and sisters. They need to, you know, read the Scriptures and use their minds and not simply have an emotional Christianity.
But that would also be the premise that I would approach an atheist or an unbeliever with. I’d say that the best use of reason—in fact, the only use of reason—comes about when Christian faith is the foundation for the worldview in terms of which you use your reason.
Moderator: But Greg, you wouldn’t defer to faith as being some mystical faculty or credulity. You’re talking about a belief based upon evidence then?
Bahnsen: Yes, there have been plenty of Christians throughout history that had taken that mystical approach to faith. They’ve defined it as a second approach to knowledge apart from man’s reason and so forth.
I think those are misguided. I would say that faith is essentially belief and the reason we talk about faith and reason is because when we have faith, that means we are trusting somebody else’s expertise in some area. In that sense, the student at the University who first hears lectures about US history or about logic or what-have-you begins to learn about these fields because he or she has faith in the instructor that they’re giving them, you know, the straight scoop and that sort of thing.
Christians have faith in another person. I mean, not apart from that, but in addition, we have faith in the person of God Himself revealed in the Scriptures. But I wouldn’t say that that faith is apart from reason. I would say that engages the faculty of reason and it is in fact the foundation for the use of reason.
Moderator: So, the proper reasoning leads you to believe in the existence of God?
Bahnsen: I would argue that there isn’t any proper reasoning apart from the foundation of belief in God. That apart from—it’s not so much that it leads to belief in God as belief in God is the necessary precondition for using reason at all.
Smith’s Response to Bahnsen
Moderator: Okay, George Smith. It sounds like there needs to be sort of an a priori understanding here to arrive at the proper conclusions. How does that fit into your thinking?
Smith: Well, there’s several issues that were raised. I don’t really understand exactly what Greg means when he talks about belief in God as a precondition for reason.
He might mean that to prove the validity of reason, but he just said in order to even reason you can’t even do that without belief in God. I don’t believe in a God and yet I presumably reason, maybe not to everyone’s satisfaction, but I nonetheless do reason.
As far as this idea of faith being trust in another, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that use of faith. It’s been used that way for many centuries. That if I take the word of somebody else that I have not personally—with something I’m not personally witness—I’m having faith in it.
But that kind of faith presupposes that you think the authority can himself prove what he believes in. In other words, I may have faith in a physicist about some scientific experiment he’s done, but that assumes that I believe the physicist himself is not acting from faith, but himself can prove what he says. So, in that sense I would say faith itself is dependent upon the assumption that somebody somewhere can prove what they’re talking about.
And I really don’t understand this idea that reason itself, or to prove the validity of reason, we must have faith. It seems to me we’re talking about two entirely different things and it seems to me reason stands quite well on its own. I can talk about “a is a.” that’s a self-evident truth.
Where’s the faith? I can talk about the table being in front of me. Now, if you want to say I have faith in the table there I—without getting to that kind of picking any sort of argument—I think that’s absurd. I have direct physical contact with the table that sits. It’s quite obvious it’s there.
We have truth of mathematics. Where is the faith there? And you can extend that out now. Then reason, I think, and there are degrees of proof and so forth, but it seems to me reason is quite capable of indicating itself.
Bahnsen’s Response to Smith
Moderator: Let’s take a break. We’ll come back and let Greg Bahnsen respond. I want to talk about this area of evidence and where it is faith to fit in, where does evidence fit in, or what kind of evidence should we look for to come to the conclusion there is a God or that it’s reasonable to believe in a Supreme Being.
My guests are Greg Bahnsen and George Smith. We’re talking about theism and is there a case against God. Stay with us we’ll be right back.
Does God exist? Well, most people listening would probably say yes, but what is the reason for you coming to that conclusion? The evidence, some people think that God’s existence is self-evident.
The Bible nowhere attempts to more or less prove God exists, but assumes that He does and says it’s foolish to do otherwise. Why are some people agnostic or atheist in their outlook? And that’s what we’re talking about.
… Greg, let me go back to you and perhaps to respond to George. He is wondering, you know, is that, does he lack reason because he doesn’t begin with the premise of accepting that God’s existence? And then, if you were to respond further to this whole area again of what type of proof or evidence are we looking for that would make the case compelling? To begin where you’re beginning?
Bahnsen: Yeah, I’m glad that George replied the way that he did because it allows for a clarification that I think we often overlook if we take it for granted, if we’ve studied philosophy. But, often people don’t see that there’s a difference between talking about how you account for something and then what you are able to do whether you can account for it or not.
I can have tuberculosis and not be able to give you any idea of the medical facts and dynamics of tuberculosis. So there’s a difference between doing something and being able to account for that, or for having something true about you and you’re not being able to account for it.
And I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that George Smith, for instance, doesn’t reason. He does reason. He attempts to do that. He tends to do it consistently and so forth, but when he says to your audience, I reason, but I don’t have faith in God, my response is, “No, we do have faith in God and one of the problems is—and this is why God would be unhappy with your life, George—is because you don’t give him the credit that He deserves. You don’t glorify him because your very ability to reason depends upon your knowledge of Him and submission to him.
Now, of course, George doesn’t outwardly worship God. He doesn’t go to a Christian church. He doesn’t profess faith in Christ. He doesn’t believe the Bible. Those sorts of things. And I take him very seriously about that.
But my challenge to him as a philosopher and as a fellow human being would be that, at a deeper level, he does know this God that I’m talking about. The Apostle Paul in Romans 1 describes this as suppressing the truth by means of unrighteousness. That people can know God and yet they don’t outwardly profess it.
And because they do know God, they are able to do things. They can balance their checkbook. They can drive a car. They can make sense out of human relationships and love. And they can reason. They are able to do that, but now, are they able to give an account of that?
And that’s where we get back to the whole question of the Atheist worldview and the Christian worldview. In terms of the Atheist worldview, I would challenge George that he cannot give an account of the reasoning that he’s doing.
An example of that a seminary professor once used that stuck with me for many years. Dr. Van Til once said, “There’s no question that atheist count. Sometimes, they count better than Christians and they can do their math very well. They do count, but they cannot account for their counting.”
That is, in terms of their outlook on the world, what they profess to be true about knowledge and about reality, you know, the universals and absoluteness of mathematics would not make any sense whatsoever. And so, I would read that George does reason, but I would suggest that he cannot, in terms of his worldview, make sense of the reasoning that he engages.
Moderator: One clarification on that. Would that mean that all atheists are somehow unconscious theists?
Bahnsen: Yes. I I will want a more sophisticated sophisticated way of describing that, of unconscious, but that is generally what I was suggesting here. Is that in their heart of hearts they do know God and they are rebelling against that knowledge by their outward profession and the way in which they attempt even to put together a rational worldview or appeal to reason, as George very well does.
But you see, on his worldview, there is no reason to appeal to. I was thinking, if you don’t mind George, my quoting from your book for a moment. I just took one sentence, but I thought would be a good point of departure for a conversation with you.
In your introduction to your Atheism: The Case Against God, you say to advocate irrationality is to advocate that which is destructive to human life. And, you see, I read that sentence and I say, “I agree with that. I think to advocate irrationality is a bad thing to do. That’s not the way to go. I don’t want Christians to understand faith in that way and I agree with you that irrationality is destructive of human life.”
But now, here’s the interesting counter to that. Why, in an atheist worldview, shouldn’t the person be irrational? You might say, well, because it’s destructive of human life, but then the next question is, “Well, why shouldn’t I be destructive of human life if I were an atheist?”
Now, you know why I don’t believe in being destructive to human life. The question is, “Why did you put that in your book? Why does it bother you to be destructive of human life?”
Smith’s Response to Bahnsen
Smith: Well, before I get into that, I’d like to address a couple other things you said. First of all, there’s a little bit of conversion by definition going on here. This idea that atheists are really somehow unconscious, crypto-theists has been around a long time.
Kaufman in a very good book called the fate of a heretic talked about this problem and pointed out he was less than thrilled by the prospect that no matter how much you profess not to believe something, people said, “Well, you know, you really do believe it.”
I might just as well say that I could—I’m sure I could derive a theory to justify it—that all Christians are really just atheists underneath and just don’t realize it. Once they put away their childish things, they will realize they’re atheists and so forth. I don’t think that gets us anywhere. I’m not a crypto-theist.
Smith on Reason
And this business about justifying reasoning through faith in God strikes me as bizarre because, as an atheist once said, “To explain the unknown by the known is a logical procedure. To explain the known by the unknown is a form of theological lunacy.”
I’m very familiar with the precepts of reasoning, rules of logic, etc. We don’t need any, we don’t need to derive faith into explaining these things or how we’re able to do them.
That’s—by the way, how were able to do it, that’s more of a biological issue, issue with evolution and the nature consciousness and so forth—but to be more specific, it seems to me that even if there is a problem there, to say, “God is responsible”… Well, we’re dealing with this mysterious vague notion of a God and we’re going to have faith in this thing and how did God bring all this about?
In other words, it seems to me we’re dealing with something relatively simple and straightforward and can be done with reason, with philosophy. And the theologian comes along and says, “I’m gonna explain everything and I’m explaining it by positing an unknowable being who does things using some unknowable means and there, that clears up the problem.”
That for me simply compounds the problem on top of philosophers’ possible problems we already have. We’re adding this whole theological scene now, which also has to be explained. So, I simply disagree.
Now, you want to address…
Smith on Morality
Moderator: The destructive to human life. I’m interested in that as well. Why should it matter? You know, people are irrational. That leads to destruction of human life. I mean from an atheist perspective, so what?
Smith: You’re getting into the issue of ethics. and a quarter of the book deals with the questions related to that. Now, let me just first say one thing. I’m not alone on this.
I know that Greg says he’s more from the Augustinian tradition rather than the Thomistic tradition, but philosophers in the Thomistic tradition and not just Catholics—those from that general background—they themselves admit that reason can discover certain precepts of natural law unaided by revelation.
That God created the universe in a certain way and this is called natural revelation. The deistic movement of the 18th century, late 17th century, talked about this. Now there’s a difference, as Greg well knows, it’s different traditions here.
Unlike Augustine, Aquinas held that although he believed in original sin, he did not hold this argument that original sin had corrupted man’s reasoning ability to the extent that Augustine had. So he argued that even with original sin, it was still possible for human beings, through the use of reason, to discern certain natural laws.
Now, certainly, he thought they had to be aided and supplemented by revelation, but he held that the reason was efficacious in that respect. So, the Atheist is not alone in holding that the precepts of morality—and if you understand what I mean by natural law, ethics is traditionally what it’s been called, the use of Reason investigating the nature of human beings, the nature of the environment in which we find ourselves, the nature of decision making—you can arrive at general principles and how to live a good life.
Now, the question, “Why should we care?” Okay, let’s, that’s a legitimate question. I care, because for me, it’s happiness is the goal itself. A good life is a goal in itself.
Smith – Questions Concerning Morality for Christians
I could put the same question to the Christian. Suppose God does exist. Why should we care? Because He tells us to care? What kind of basis is this for ethics? I mean, it puzzles me.
It seems that a philosopher has to be concerned with rational arguments for an ethical system. Along comes the Christian who says, “I have a basis for ethics. God will punish you if you do this and He won’t punish you if I reward you.”
If you do that that sounds to me like the system of commandments. You know, either you do this or you don’t. Where is the reason? Is it right only because God wills it, or does God will it because it’s right? That’s a classic question.
Is murder wrong only because God’s says it’s wrong? If God tomorrow changed His mind and said, “Thou Shalt murder,” does that make murder right? Or does God forbid murder because murder is intrinsically wrong?
It seems to me the Christian is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Either he has to take a hard line it’s wrong because God wills it to be wrong, in which case morality is reduced to a set of arbitrary decrees with no reason behind them, or he has to say that God Himself forbids certain things because they are simply wrong, in which case there’s a standard of morality apart from the will of God.
Moderator: Greg, to address what George had just raised, why don’t you just respond to it and perhaps any people just tuning in, they can figure out what’s going on here.
Bahnsen – Crypto-Christian claim can’t simply be reversed
Bahnsen: Yeah, let me kind of catch the audience up here. I have suggested that Christians do not renounce the use of reason. To actually argue that reason cannot be intelligently utilized apart from the Christian worldview and that therefore, when we find atheists like George Smith trying to be reasonable using criteria for intelligibility and so forth, they are in fact acting like crypto-Christians.
That is they are there working in terms of a Christian worldview, all the while denying what they know about God in their heart of hearts. And now, George has responded to that—and I can understand why he would say that, well now, you know, that maybe just the kind of reversion of name-calling.
It’s like you say you’re an atheist but I say you’re really not, so nyah nyah, and yeah, and I can respond by, well you say you’re a Christian I say you’re an atheist, nyah nyah.
But you see, that is not the nature of the claim here. If George believes that this is a reversible claim, then of course we need to engage in some rational combat here and talk about that. I would argue that the reason I say that he really does know God in his heart of hearts is because he gives evidence of depending upon the Christian worldview even when he reasons against the Christian worldview.
And I’m not going to do that right this minute, but just so you have some idea what I’m talking about, if George appeals to moral absolutes, I’m going to say, “Well, that’s the sort of thing the Christians do that makes sense if there’s a God, but the moral absolutes that you appeal to in order to renounce belief in God, it doesn’t make any sense and you’re without…”
Let me finish and I think when you appeal to the use of scientific method and you assume the uniformity of nature, but of course, on an atheist world, you can’t make sense out of the uniformity of nature.
Those are the sorts of things that we would end up talking about if I was going to show that, as a matter of fact, even his use of reason and moral argumentation presupposes what he’s arguing against. Now, let’s bring this back to our conversation. He has suggested that I could argue just the opposite with you. That as a matter of fact, what you’re doing presupposes atheism.
And to that, I would simply say, George name that tune. Go ahead. If you think that you can show that I’m presupposing atheism I’d like to see the argument for that because I wasn’t just making an empty authority claim when I said you’re presupposing the Christian worldview. I’m going to give you evidence that you’re presupposing and I’m going to show you can’t make sense of your reasoning and your morality apart from it.
And what you need to do now is to show that I can’t make sense of my Christian morality apart from the non-existence of God. Now, it doesn’t strike me as a very likely prospect for a philosopher to get to that conclusion, but I’d be open to that. It’s not just a matter of name-calling and reversing authority here when we talk about the preconditions of intelligibility.
Bahnsen on Christian Morality
Now, when it comes to morality. I need to move on quickly here. George has commented that even certain Christian theologians have said that natural law is a basis for a natural knowledge, of at least some moral precepts, maybe not all that we need, but some fundamental ones.
And to him I would simply say I would argue against those Christian theologians just as much as I would argue against him. That natural law is not in fact a source for moral absolutes. That one cannot argue from what is the case—even the natural regularities that we see about us—to what ought to be the case.
You can’t move from a description of the world that we live in, in our experience, to the way things ought to be. So he is right that some Christian traditions would be closer to him, but you see, my severe challenge to the atheist would remain—and I’d say I put the theologians who argue for natural law right over there too and say, “Let’s see if you can justify ethics based on that any better than George can.” I don’t think they can.
Now, is punishment the basis for Christian ethics? The suggestion was made that we believe that murder is wrong because God has said so and he’ll punish us if we don’t agree. But, that of course is not the Christian position at all.
Did god forbid murder arbitrarily? This is the issue of volunteerism in theology and the old conundrum from the days of Plato has supposedly been, well if God does this simply on the basis of his sheer volition, He just wills murder to be wrong, then of course tomorrow he could will murder to be right.
On the other hand, if God has some reason for willing murder to be wrong then of course, you don’t need God in order to believe murder was wrong because the reason God has would be the basis.
What that overlooks completely is, from a Christian standpoint, God forbids murder because it’s contrary to his own unchanging character. And God’s volition—that is to say, his expressed will—saying, “Thou shalt not murder,” is based upon who He is and the kind of God he is. And that is unchanging. And so the character of God is the basis of Christian morality, not simply the revelation of God or threats of eternal punishment if we should be murderers and so forth.
Bahnsen on Happiness Being a Goal
When George says that happiness is a goal in itself, see, I would throw the voluntarist problem back on him at that point and say, “Well George, even assuming you know—and I don’t think this is correct, but just for argument’s sake, assuming that on the basis of happiness as your telos or goal for living that you could make sense of, why you don’t murder or why you try to be reasonable—I would still challenge you.
Why can’t another individual freely say, “Well, I don’t want to live for happiness and I don’t want to live for life-affirming values and so forth”? That is, in an atheist universe, there would be no absolutes at all. It’d be everybody for himself, or, as Schaffer put it, “Sound and fury signifying nothing.
Smith: Okay a lot of stuff there. I’ll try to be brief.
Atheism Isn’t a WOrldview
First of all, there’s confusion here, and this goes back to Greg’s original point. There is no atheistic worldview. Let’s be straight about that. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in God.
It does not by itself suggest or dictate any positive philosophy. There are a lot of atheists with a lot of different worldviews. Suppose, for example that I don’t believe in magic elves, which I don’t, and let’s call my disbelief a-elfism.
It’s as if Greg would say, “Well, a-elfism as a worldview doesn’t explain anything.” Now, I agree, it doesn’t. It wasn’t meant to explain anything. It’s the absence of a belief and I’m the first to admit it. Yet, that lacking a belief doesn’t explain anything.
It’s the rule of philosophy. After you’re an atheist, you construct a positive philosophy which may have no intrinsic relationship to your atheism per se. There are atheist existentialists or atheist Marxists or atheist advocates of Ayn Rand’s subjectivism.
Atheism again, is not a worldview, and that’s the basic confusion here. In that sense I suppose the Christian worldview does explain more than the atheistic worldview simply because even if the Christian worldview explains one thing it’s got it over atheism. because it’s an atheistic worldview and it doesn’t, it wasn’t meant to explain anything. So in that sense, I agree.
As for this stuff about, you know, God is unchanging. Let me just address the ethics thing. The problem with this is that it would take a lot of airtime and a lot of discussion to sit here and discuss the rational foundations of ethics. So rather than do that let’s just sketch.
Alright well I’d rather address one of the points first. This idea that somehow, implicitly, I show evidence of having a Christian, maybe not Christian beliefs, the belief in God. You know, did Christianity invent these things? Was Aristotle somehow a a Christian at heart even centuries before the time of Jesus?
My view is Aristotelian if anything, and unless we’re going to argue that these pagan philosophers—by the way, that was a, interesting question addressed by the early Greek apologists to what extent the pagan or the Greek philosophers could have had true knowledge without knowledge of Christ and they argued kind of that they thought that Moses got his wisdom from I mean I’m sorry that the Greek some of the great philosophers governor wasn’t from Moses Nate went around in circles trying to justify how anyone who obviously were not Christians because it was before the time of Christianity could have received true knowledge so I just think I don’t really know how to respond to that exactly it seems to me that it’s we’re playing word games essentially there’s nothing implicitly theistic about me saying a is a and to take a very simple example why does that evidence belief in God a is a is of self-evident truth the existence of God certainly isn’t it seems to me that a is a is much more evident than the exists of God is again I don’t see any reason there to suppose that when you give a leading on let me suggest first of all that you’re right that there is no one Atheist worldview in the sense that all atheists agree with each other about epistemology and ethics and metaphysics now I was being general when I talked about the Atheist worldview but to state it more precisely all we’re saying is no particular Atheist worldview can make sense out of Reason ethics the sorts of things that are necessary for human life to make sense out of life and so if you want to talk about existentialism then we’ll take time to do that it’s going to talk about Aristotle take time to do that what I’m saying is in each and every case those who reject the worldview that I’m describing as biblical Christianity are not able to make sense out of proof and science and ethics and so forth atheism is not a generic name for a positive worldview but there is no positive atheistic your view where reason is even a necessity much less something that can be made sense out of now when George in his last answer by saying a is a is self-evident well what I would say is go back and study logic I mean the law of identity has been rejected by some people there are some worldviews atheistic non-christian will abuse that don’t agree would now look I do agree with the law of identity I believe in my action and so forth but you see I believe that I can make sense out of that because I am a Christian that in a non-christian worldview there really wasn’t a reason why we couldn’t deny the law of identity or come up with other kinds of what we might I thinking I would agree would be contradictory approaches to logic but nevertheless are clogged logic in some worldviews settling to jump in will take a break and come right back coming up we’ll take your phone calls talking about atheism and God’s existence your phone calls coming up at 1-800 three three one KKL a toll-free 1-800 three three one k KL a stay with us listening to FM 99.5 KK L AM John Stewart we’re here live Monday through Friday 4 o’clock to 7 we deal with the issues head-on we’re talking about the existence of God what is the proof my guests are Greg Bronson Christian apologist and George Smith atheist and author of the book atheist in the case against God coming up your phone calls at 1-800 three three one KKL a her go to the phones Greg Bronson you were sort of on a roll there I think I cut you off prematurely yet what were you about to say well I wanted to respond real quickly to George’s good question was Aristotle a Christian at heart and I’m going to bite the bullet and say yes he was I don’t mean by that of course any anything like what the early Christian struggled with whether Aristotle or Moses had learned she’s BR Sala Plato had learned about Moses and through Moses and so forth we as Christians believe God has revealed himself in the natural order and through the conscience of man we believe that all men know this God even if they haven’t had a biblical revelation of him so in that sense Aristotle had a Christian worldview in his heart of hearts even if he didn’t know about Moses or Christ for that matter in the same way that an Old Testament Jew would have been able to make sense out of reason and ethics and science because of the worldview provided to him by God in Revelation in in George’s book I noticed something again that I appreciated very much when he said that it’s the responsibility of the philosopher to identify the underlying assumptions of commonly held beliefs and I think on that note he and I could have a very fruitful discussion trying to identify the underlying assumption say the scientific method if I understood that one out I’d like to know how George would deal with this we know that those who engage in scientific method are able to extrapolate knowledge from the past into the future by assuming what’s called induction that is that future cases will be like past cases or in popular parlance the informative nature now I know George believes and the procedures of science I do too as a Christian and the reason why I would rely upon the principle of induction is because I believe in a sovereign God who controls the universe but I admit was interesting to know what underlying assumption George would have when he engages in the same scientific procedure as me in seeing is he using induction as a principle and if so why is that arbitrary your underlying assumption is that a thing is what it is an existing thing has specific characteristics and it can is restricted to the range of behavior or action as defined by those characteristics a cat will not give birth to baby elephants because that’s the nature of the cat well that’s begging the question to say it’s the nature of the cabbies a miniature of God all the time I could say it’s a nature of the cat no actually what I’m not just saying is the nature of God I think God reveals himself to kinda thing right um I’m saying my view of causation is that causation is essentially the law of identity applied to action things act as they do because they’re specific determinate characteristics and then AIT’s the physical or whatever nature of a existing thing determines the nature of the actions that that things can take so when one billiard ball strikes another billiard ball the nature of the billiard balls in each of the motion determines what the causal result will be that’s that’s why we get down to the law of identity there’s regularity in nature because things are existing determinate things with specific characteristics well it’s a tremendous philosophical mistake to assimilate the law of causality to the laws of logic but if you study the history of philosophy you’d know that this idea that things have a determinate nature and that’s why they behave the way they do is associated with the conclusion that there can be no change that is it’s impossible for things that well because the law of identity prevents them from changing so now I will continue the discussion let’s look at our underlying assumptions how is it possible to extrapolate into the future if you use the law of identity there’s no change to look for in the future let’s assume that I’m wrong okay I could refer you to books hwv Joseph’s book on logic may be considered outdated bran Blanchard held a very similar view it’s been held Richard Taylor holds a similar view okay but let’s assume they’re all wrong and it’s a minority view on the nature of causation granted but at least I’m trying to reach an explanation within the sphere of reason in other words it seems to me that my explanation even if you don’t accept it makes a lot more sense to saying God desert I mean to me that explains nothing if you’d like to quarter another life in my book both the line why I said the concept of God explains nothing the reason I don’t talk when you’ve been up talking to me about how can we explain this how can we make sense of it okay I’m attempting to give an explanation and maybe an incorrect one but it is within the realm of human understanding I would challenge you to tell me how God explains anything let’s assume there is a problem if I say you know the my explanation for that let’s make sense out of it a block did it that’s all I say I would say to you Greg I’d say you know Greg you know you really couldn’t reason if it weren’t for the existence of a block you’d be a little bit puzzled circle wouldn’t compete them you understand the problem here so to me if we’re going to talk about explanation right or wrong it has to be within the realm of human understanding and human reason you simply plug in the word bark or in your case the word god whenever you encounter a problem it doesn’t solve the problem that is my essential that is my fundamental point I understand the fallacy here is the ferrous analogy that when a person appeals to God he is appealing to an undefined word like blood but you haven’t defined it well I would be glad to do though we can’t we can open up the Bible we can look to the Westminster Confession of faith for a definition of God I don’t think you have any doubt that they’re Christians have a definition of God they have not here they have many deputies well they do and we’re going to deal with the one that I hope some cuz I’m the one arguing good point but does appealing to God explain anything look worse when you ask philosophically what is an explanation the answer is of course it does it may strike you as being as easy as a sunday-school child’s understanding but if I’ve got a Heavenly Father who created the entire universe and controls every detail even to the hairs on my head and I say of this creative personality who has the sovereign might and plan that he sees to it that gravity holds on planet Earth day by day by day that does in fact explain it that it may not be the explanation that you want I’m just talking about now what counts as an explanation an explanation is something which enables you to predict the future and to account for why you predict it that way okay gentlemen stand by we’ll take a break we’ll come back we’ll take your phone calls at one eight hundred three three one KKL a stay with it you listening to FM 99.5 KKL a I’m John Stewart we’re live Monday through Friday 4 o’clock to seven s we deal with the issues head-on we’re talking about the existence of God with dr. Greg Johnson and George Smith off of the book atheist in the case against God taking your phone call let’s go to Benny a first-time caller from Hawaiian Gardens Benny you’re on KK L a yeah hi John my question is for mr. Smith and what I would like to ask him is this earthís II believe life started or came from okay that question can be taking one of two ways as a philosophical question or they scientific question I’m not a scientist of my scientific answers I don’t know by the way if I can mention a book called the blind watchmaker by Richard Dawkins which is I think one of the best books I’ve seen directly addressing is creationist argument I think it’s a very plausible book for people who might be skeptical about solution but it seems to me that what the car might be getting at is the philosophical problem of the origin life without going into all the problems there and by the way documents that address them let me say that philosophically life is just one natural aspect of universe it seems to have evolved and can be rather unusual as far as we know you know long thin planets among planets but I don’t think is any philosophical form involved there any concern about first cause that you need to get into from your perspective George well no I mean it’s again it depends when you’re asking me philosophically or scientifically philosophically I don’t think the first college argument holds up the so-called argument from life’s Whitman to not hold up as a philosophical point because there are other objections speed argument but it seems to me one of the prime objections one of the ones most commonly raised is that it all the argument always has to go back one step further if everything must have a cause and we reach the conclusion that therefore God doesn’t have a cause that seems to be part of the argument well if everything has to have a cause then God has to have a cause unless there’s an infinite regress Greg Bunton how would you address so what bene advanced here about life well I think Benny’s questions are very good ones he I would follow it up George by asking is it your belief that life came from non-life or is it your belief that life is I think as she was saying part of the characteristics of reality or the universe in which case there always has been life it never did have to come into being it’s always been in being and then secondly and I’ll be quiet at that point I think the question of first cause arguments has not been adequately dealt with if you only talk about the overly general approach to the cosmological argument that says everything has to have a cause and then the question naturally is this God have to have a cause a more profound question is what do we presuppose when they use the concept of causality and this is going to be a repeat of what George’s heard earlier I would argue that when people use the causal motion or the inductive principle that they are presupposing a Christian view of the universe and that’s what makes science possible so I wouldn’t argued that you go from cause back to cause back the cause and finally get to God that’s a very I think primitive understanding of that argument but I would argue that the very notion of causality presupposes the Christian God as well but back to life does life come from non-life that’s a scientific question and I don’t know my best guess would be that it could be complex protein molecules that go into the building blocks of life probably did come out of synthesizing processes and so forth Dawkins goes into that but again that’s a scientific not a philosophical question and I might only is competent answer but I do think it it illustrates something it’s very important for your hearers to know John and that’s that atheists are just as much full of what we might call faith commitments as Christians are clearly they are different commitments but you have George here saying that he’s willing to acknowledge the possibility that life comes from non-life the next question would I thought I said I don’t know he doesn’t know but I mean after all we have to have some view of life and we talked about that that’s a there’s a there’s an empty faith commitment here about life it seems to me when you say you don’t know maybe it did come from non-life that irrational possibility exists did intelligence come from non intelligence the morality comes from non morality there are always these leaps and gaps in the non Christian worldview that obviously in two minutes we’re not going to get to the bottom of but they’re worth exploring so I’m glad Benny asked that question okay Benny appreciate the call let’s go to Garrett a first-time college and Costa Mesa Garrett you’re on KKL a hi John my question is for Jorge the name of his book is what atheism the case against God that’s his first book a second book as atheism Ain Rand and other heresies okay speaking of what everybody’s talking about today with evidence the Bible being our evidence with like the appearance to Moses the history of prophecy and how they came true the claims and miracles of Christ and the eyewitness evidence of the resurrection of Christ we have evidence but yet I haven’t heard any evidence from mr. Schmidt of a claim of no evidence against God the belief in God or the existence of God as I said at the beginning of the program the atheist is not obliged to prove any ageism simply the lack of belief if you do not believe in the existence of magic elves it’s not incumbent upon you to prove they don’t exist or to give reasons why you don’t believe if I come forward to you and say Oh some magic elf running across the room and disappeared in a puff of smoke and challenge you to disprove it why don’t you believe it we simply say well if you want me to believe it prove it or give me some reason to think that it wasn’t just a figment of your imagination website I think in the history of the vocabulary of atheism agnosticism and so forth that it would be a fair remark although I’d no jealousy for the words who cares about the words but I do think that atheism has not meant what George is portraying I mean that’s closer to what we’ve called agnosticism but it is interesting to me and I think your your caller is onto something that I wondered about too and I look at George’s book it’s subtitled the case against God he’s not saying that there’s no case for God which is the only thing he’s done this afternoon to say well you know the burden of proof is on you but when you write a book George against God I think you do bear the burden of some proof to show why we should be against and not just mutual on the question that’s not that’s what the 3 9 27 pages are about oh ok we’ll leave it at that I appreciate the call Gary we’ll take a break come back and dig more – your phone calls stay with it we’re talking about the existence of God and atheism the case against God my guests are George Smith author of the book atheism the case against God and atheism an ran and other heresies also dr. Gregg Bahnson who has numerous books and articles out there and as a Christian apologist taking your phone calls before we go back to the phones George you wanted to give more or less your definition of evasion well I’ve already given it that but Gregg rates the point which is a very common misconception that somehow defining atheism is the absence of belief as opposed to what’s called the positive definition the outright denial is sort of an idiosyncratic definition in fact it’s not and my recent book I have an entire aside called the finding atheism I present at just as example 12 to 15 or more prominent atheists who for the last 200 years that define atheism and precisely that manner along with a number of prominent theologians Richard Watson around the mid-1800s Robert Clinton in a very important book on agnosticism who was a Christian who sink which that atheism simply don’t lack with the absence of even got my point is that we should look to what atheists have been arguing for many years and what they themselves claim they have been saying not to critics you tell us what they should have said okay let’s go back to the phones Mac the first time call from Canoga Park oh I think you’ve heard from max before max you’re on KKL a howdy-doo okay George yes I’ve got your break-in it’s the dog geared and underlined and highlighted all over the place I think it’s the best book that has ever been written when Judaism but the root the title should really be atheism the case against the idea of God yes and that’s what you meant yeah there was a little dramatic license taken that would have spoiled a symmetry in the title right so it is it is the case if the philosophical case against God obviously and as to this explaining thing how does one explain existence to me that is totally absurd I agree our existence is simply the causal primary in other words if you ask for causal explanation of something that presupposes something that exists and acts as a causal agent exactly and all of the arguments or the existence of God presuppose the existence of God it’s question begging there’s no problem the beginning to end hold on max that’s a great bonds and respond to that good all right yeah I think that is one of the most common and silly arguments against the Christian apologetic imaginable of course arguments in favor of God presuppose the existence of God just like arguments in favor of a theistic reason presuppose a theist agrees oh wait a minute wait a minute Sarah wait a minute just one minute there is no reason to presuppose reason reason exists naturally oh it does reason we wouldn’t where to generate in there where did you find reason growing naturally show me where that is someplace in the United States reason is the human brain third all it is well then what you’re talking about is electrochemical processes in the brain advance a necklace is that not natural that certainly is natural but that’s not at all what you mean by reason I assure you when you talk about the use of the laws of logic because your brain cells are not being controlled by anything like the laws of logic or what a mighty mighty be controlled well I would argue they’re being controlled by God but that’s not the that’s not the answer you want the question that I have for you is if you assume the laws of physics and biology and so forth I would I would think that you believe your brain cells are being controlled by those laws in which case you’re not really thinking and making free decisions when you say the things you do even arguing against God you’re simply the subject of biochemical responses that is not what we have matches thoroughly by the use of reason sure as the controlling things by natural laws natural laws are nothing more than uniform occurrences that this too happened with unburying uniformity natural laws we had heard those things have you ever seen on a national law party and match have you ever seen a natural law I beg your pardon max have you ever seen a natural law have you ever tasted one smelt one horse not the entire concept of the law is totally abstract exactly about direct experiment in you explain to me how in an atheist universe there are such things as abstract entities come on every idea every thought is an abstraction that’s right every one of them is proof that you’re wrong as an atheist that they how do you account for the existence of abstract ideas in an atheist universe they don’t grow on trees max you’ve already granted that oh boy oh boy well now look live by your own presuppositions that’s all I’m calling you to do is God an abstraction gray no God what a wood arsenal God is a personal non-physical being non-physical there you go what is it what is it give me more specific I mean you know non-existence is not physical as well so how do we distinguish God from non-existence I’m not hanging out George let them explain God okay I’m actually I’m doing my best Mac Mac appreciate the call okay go ahead well obviously you distinguish God a non-physical being from say the concept of love or say the concept of number or the laws of physics or the laws of logic you distinguish them according to their characteristics God as a person makes choices and does things numbers you know the non-physical person he’s a non-physical person that’s right oh you know that already we’ll make your point I’m trying to I don’t understand what concept first obviously I notice as Max said there’s a question here you’re getting on his case about these abstractions and you’re claiming God somehow explains oh no I don’t think there’s any problem with app strategies and wane to some extent in an English universe in an atheist universe what you have is a physical eyeball and a physical ear and you know some kind of stuff inside the hell well Bram you know whatever the okay I want to know is where you get abstraction let me know that but it is achill particular the CEO was working you’re going from the known to the unknown this is why I’m oh my god I’m going to marry to the known whatever however you think abstractions originate or where they come from how we explain them I think we can agree we do abstract we do think conceptually we know that now listen the fact that we abstract you know is not the issue here it’s accounting for abstraction which you can’t do the other thing but we can agree at least to begin with that we do and I do not disagree there are abstractions do exist in our universe that make sense yeah and yours are done all right so at least we can agree that I know I know what an abstraction is broccoli look saying now you claim and abstractions need some kind of explanation and I say okay what’s yours now Greg let me never let me finish okay I say Greg what’s your explanation for abstractions and you say it’s a personal non-physical person you know I think you’ve mistaken me I you ask what God was and I answered that and I think we both know in an abstraction is I didn’t ask for an explanation of an abstraction as though you’ve got to give me some kind of causal story of where the abstraction came from I asked for how abstractions make sense are cogent within a worldview where there’s nothing but matter okay gentlemen why don’t we hold that thought we’ll take a break come back and take more your phone calls in a final segment talking about the existence of God stay with it ISM and does God exist and I guess for George Smith and Greg bonds and taking your phone call to go to Tina first time caller from Covina Tina you’re on k KL a hi Todd my question is to George okay and my question is George and I was wondering has he studied the Bible that’s the question yeah well that’s part of the question what’s the whole question we have to a short time oh well it’s a tough one I was wondering what his conclusion is of what he had studied and what does he think about the Bible does it contain true with okay yours well when I was in high school the thing that really started getting me very skeptical when I read the Bible from cover to cover for the first time because like many devout Christians I’d never read the whole thing I’d read two pre-selected excerpts primarily from the New Testament especially the Gospel and John and I must say the Old Testament centralism that the violence is ceremonial laws I wouldn’t say dissuaded me from Christianity but we got me thinking bring to my neighborhood gospel supply about the Abington Bible Commentary started buying the interpreters Bible commentaries have Sat Bible dictionaries concordances so in that sense it was many years ago but yes I study the Bible and now I don’t believe everything I read that’s my reaction to it it has some very nice I must say literally literally literally speaking book of Ecclesiastes is a beautifully written in King James translation Song of Solomon so I mean it’s literature some of it’s quite nice though as far as being the source of truth well I mean the suit decent things the Bible sure I mean if there’s some elegantly expressed moral Maxim’s that sort of hang out it’s a myth well it’s a collection of books it’s not one book so what I like some of I’ll read bonds and quick response attina well I think the question was really a personal and biographical one for George and I understand his answer maybe I’d say just in favor of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament which are often a stumbling point for reading that in a sense if you read them as foreshadows of the coming Savior there’s really a lot of beauty even in those ceremonial laws God displaying outwardly to his people what the Messiah and His redemptive work would be like from the king in the King James Version the Song of Solomon to bring some of the more radically expressed passages if you look at the headings they’re running heading to the King James Version a second flight Christ expresses his love for his church find a hard time buying that was the song song was really about Idol to George of course yes a lot of those they’re composed talk understandings of the Bible but not everyone accepts well I appreciate my guest joining us George Smith your books atheism the case against God atheism Ain ran other heresy those are available in bookstores published by Prometheus from atheist open Buffalo free want to thank your being with us after Greg Dodson is with the Southern California Center for Christian studies Greg how can folks contact if they wanted to find out about material you available yeah they may want to get a pencil if they would like more material on Christian apologetics and ethics so they can write to the Study Center at peel box one 802 one in Irvine California nine to seven one three that’s box one 802 water-vine nine to seven one three and they might be especially interested in my debate with gordon stein that was held in 1985 i take it at UCI and if they will send in $10 to the Study Center we’ll be glad to get a copy of that to them that was a formal debate on it was a formal debate on the existence of God okay so that would be post-office box one eight zero two on earth line nine two seven one three to reach dr. great bonds and at the Southern California Center for Christian studies well Greg and George I appreciate both be joining this and I think it was a very interesting lively discussion thanks so much thanks