Calling all atheists for the Atheist Challenge Part 2 (Part 1), the late Greg Bahnsen would like to make a challenge to you. Using the Great Debate with Gordon Stein, we summoned his arguments with the atheist. Emphasis mine.
The Transcendental Proof of God’s Existence
When we go to look at the different world views that atheists and theists have, I suggest we can prove the existence of God from the impossibility of the contrary. The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist world view is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic or morality. The atheist world view cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world and moral absolutes. In that sense the atheist world view cannot account for the very debate in this blog!
We are debating the existence of God. I specified I would be speaking in order to avoid logical contradictions on one particular view of God, the Christian view of God, which I personally hold. The atheist often times will not restrict himself to the Christian conception of God. That’s fine, he may not. But all the time he uses anything outside the Christian conception of God will be irrelevant. In fact I would join him in refuting those other conceptions of God. The existence of God that I’m arguing is the Christian one.
The atheist may hold to logical binds and logical self-contradictions. The atheist may say that the laws of logic are universal; however, they are conventional in nature. That is not at all acceptable philosophically. If the laws of logic are conventional in nature, then you might have different societies that use different laws of logic.
It might be appropriate in some societies to say, “Well, my car is in the parking lot, and it’s not the case that my car is in the parking lot.” There are laws in certain societies that have a convention that says, “go ahead and contradict yourself”. But then there are in a sense, some groups in our own society that might think that way. Thieves have a tendency to say, “this is not my wallet, but it is not the case that it’s not my wallet.” They may engage in contradictions like that, but I don’t think any of us would want to accept this.
The laws of logic are not conventional or sociological. I would say the laws of logic have a transcendental necessity about them. They are universal; they are invariant, and they are not material in nature. And if they are not that, then I’d like to know, in an atheist universe, how it is possible to have laws in the first place. And secondly, how it is possible to justify those laws?
The laws of logic, you see, are abstract. As abstract entities, which is the appropriate philosophical term, not spiritual – entities that most atheist speaks of – abstract entities – that is to say, not individual (or universal in character). They are not materialistic. As universal, they are not experienced to be true. There may be experiences where the laws of logic are used, but no one has universal experience. No one has tried every possible instance of the laws of logic.
As invariant, they don’t fit into what most materialists would tell us about the constantly changing nature of the world. And so, you see, we have a real problem on our hands. The atheist wants to use the laws of logic in the discussion. I maintain that by so doing he’s borrowing my world view. For you see, in the theistic world view the laws of logic makes sense, because in the theistic world view there can be abstract, universal, invariant entities such as the laws of logic. Within the theistic world view you cannot contradict yourself, because to do so you’re engaging in the nature of lying, and that’s contrary to the character of God as we perceive it.
The transcendental argument for the existence of God, is that without the existence of God it is impossible to prove anything. And that’s because in the atheistic world you cannot justify, you cannot account for, laws in general: the laws of thought in particular, laws of nature, cannot account for human life, from the fact that it’s more than electrochemical complexes in depth, and the fact that it’s more than an accident. That is to say, in the atheist conception of the world, there’s really no reason to debate; because in the end, as the atheist could only say, all these laws are conventional. All these laws are not really law-like in their nature, they’re just, well, if you’re an atheist and materialist, you’d have to say they’re just something that happens inside the brain.
But you see, what happens inside your brain is not what happens inside my brain. Therefore, what happens inside your brain is not a law. It doesn’t necessarily correspond to what happens in mine. In fact, it can’t be identical with what is inside my mind or brain, because we don’t have the same brain.
As the laws of logic come down to being materialistic entities, then they no longer have their law-like character. If they are only social conventions, then, of course, what we might do to limit debate is just define a new set of laws. and ask for all who want the convention that says, “Atheism must be true or theism must be true, and we have the following laws that we conventionally adopt to prove it,” and see who’d be satisfied.
But no one can be satisfied without a rational procedure to follow. The laws of logic cannot be avoided, the laws of logic cannot be accounted for in a Materialist universe. Therefore, the laws of logic are one of the many evidences that without God you can’t prove anything at all.
I’m maintaining that the proof of the Christian world view is that the denial of it leads to irrationality. That is, without the Christian God, you cannot prove anything.
An atheist universe cannot account for the laws of logic.
What are the laws of logic, Mr. Atheist, and how are they justified? We’ll still have to answer that question from a materialist standpoint. From a Christian standpoint, we have an answer – obviously they reflect the thinking of God. They are, if you will, a reflection of the way God thinks and expects us to think.
But if you don’t take that approach and want to justify the laws of logic in some a priori fashion, that is apart from experience, something that he suggests when he says these things are self-verified. Then we can ask why the laws of logic are universal, unchanging, and invariant truths – why they, in fact, apply repeatedly in the realm of contingent experience.
Once again we have to come back to this really unacceptable idea that they are conventional. If they are conventional, then of course, there ought to be just numerous approaches to scholarship everywhere, with approaches to history, to science, and so forth, because people just adopt different laws of logic. That just isn’t the way scholarship proceeds, and if anyone thinks that is adequate, they just need to go to the library and read a bit more.
Now if you want to justify logical truths along a posteriori lines, that is rather than arguing that they are self evident, but rather arguing that there is evidence for them that we can find in experience or by observation – that approach, by the way, was used by John Stuart Mill – people will say we gain confidence in the laws of logic through repeated experience, then that experience is generalized.
Of course, some of the suggested logical truths, it turns out, are so complex or so unusual that it is difficult to believe that anyone has perceived their instances in experience. But even if we restrict our attention to the other more simple laws of logic, it should be seen that if [their] truth, cannot be decided independently of experience, then they actually become contingent. That is, if people cannot justify the laws of logic independent of experience, then you can only say they apply, as far as I know, to any past experience that I’ve had.
They are contingent, they lose their necessity, universality, and invariance. Why should a law of logic, which is verified in one domain of experience, by the way, be taken as true for inexperienced domains as well? Why should we universalize or generalize about the laws of logic- especially in a materialistic universe, not subject to the control of a personal God?
Now, it turns out, if the a priori and the a posteriori lines of justification for logical truths are unconvincing – as I’m suggesting briefly they both are – perhaps we could say they are linguistic conventions about certain symbols. Certain philosophers have suggested that the laws of logic would not be taken as inexorably dictated, but rather we impose their necessity on our language. They become, therefore, somewhat like rules of grammar, and as John Dewey pointed out so persuasively earlier in the century, laws of grammar, you see, are just culturally relative. If the laws of logic are like grammar, then the laws of logic are culturally relative, too.
Why then, are not contradictory systems deemed equally rational? If the laws of logic can be made culturally relative, then we can win the debate by simply stipulating that a law of logic that says “anybody who argues in this way has gotten a tautology on his hands, and therefore it’s true.’
Why are arbitrary conventions like the logical truths so useful if they’re only conventional? Why are they so useful in dealing with problems in the world of experience?
We must ask whether the atheist has a rational basis for his claims. Atheists love to talk about laws of science and laws of logic. They speak as though there are certain moral absolutes from which Christians were just a few minutes ago being indicted because they didn’t live up to them. But who is the atheist to tell us about laws? In a materialist universe there are no laws, much less laws of morality that anybody has to live up to.
When we consider that the lectures and essays that are written by logicians and others are not likely filled with just uninterrupted series of tautologies, we can examine those propositions which logicians are most concerned to convey. For instance, logicians will say things like “a proposition has the opposite truth value from its negation.”
Now when we look at those kind of propositions, we have to ask the general question: what type of evidence do people have for that kind of teaching? Is it the same sort of evidence that is utilized by the biologist, by the mathematician, the lawyer, the mechanic, by your beautician? What is it that justifies a law of logic, or even beliefs that there is such a thing? What is a law of logic, after all?
But it isn’t absurd to ask the question that I’m asking about logic. You see, logicians are having a great deal of difficulty deciding on the nature of their claims. Anybody who reads in the philosophy of logic must be impressed with that today.
Some say the laws of logic are inferences comprised of judgments made up of concepts. Others say that they are arguments comprised of propositions made up of terms. Others say they are proofs comprised of sentences made up of names. Others have simply said they are electrochemical processes in the brain. In the end, what you think the laws of logic are will determine the nature of the evidence you will suggest for them.
Now in an atheist universe, what are the laws of logic? How can they be universal, abstract, invariant? And how does an atheist justify the use of them? Are they merely conventions imposed on our experience, or are they something that look like absolute truth?
The atheist wants me to use the laws of logic, in so doing, is borrowing the Christian world view. He’s using the Christian approach to the world, so that there can be such laws of logic, scientific inference, or what have you. But then he wants to deny the very foundation of it.
It is important to note that the argument doesn’t say that atheists don’t prove things, or that they don’t use logic, science or laws of morality. In fact they do. The argument is that their world view cannot account for what they are doing. Their world view is not consistent with what they are doing; in their world view there are no laws; there are no abstract entities, universals, or prescriptions.
There’s just a material universe, naturalistically explained (as) the way things are happen to be. That’s not law-like or universal; and therefore, their world view doesn’t account for logic, science or morality.
But, atheists, of course, use science and morality. In this argument atheists give continual evidence to the fact that in their heart of hearts they are not atheists. In their heart of hearts they know the God I’m talking about. This God made them, reveals Himself continually to them through the natural order, through their conscience, and through their very use of reason.
They know this God, and they suppress the truth about him. One of the ways that we know that they suppress the truth about him is because they do continue to use the laws of logic, science and morality though their world view doesn’t account for them.
Therefore, from a transcendental standpoint the atheistic view cannot account for this discussion; because this discussion has assumed that we’re going to use the laws of logic as standards of reasoning, or else we’re irrational; that we’re going to use laws of science; that we’re going to be intelligent men; that we’re going to assume induction and causation and all those things that scientists do. It’s assumed in a moral sense that we’re not going to be dishonest and try to lie or just try to deceive you.
I don’t want a lot of details, just begin to scratch the surface, – how, in a material, naturalistic outlook on life and man his place in the world, can you account for the laws of logic, science, and morality?
The atheist world view cannot do it, and therefore I feel justified concluding as I did in my opening presentation this evening by saying that the proof of the Christian God is the impossibility of the contrary. Without the Christian world view this discussion wouldn’t make sense.
The Bible tells us, “the fool has said in his heart: there is no God.” It’s trying to describe somebody who is dense in the sense that they will not use their reason as God has given him. (someone who is rebellious and hard hearted) It’s the fool who says in his heart there is no God.
Paul tells us in I Corinthians the first chapter, that God has made foolish the wisdom of this world. He calls rhetorically, “Where are the wise? Where is the debater of this age?
Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” In a sense I think what Paul is telling us, if I can amplify or read between the lines, is that the whole history of Philosophy is an argument for the existence of God. The whole history of Philosophy is an argument for the existence of God because of the impossibility of the contrary.
Someone who wants to say [something that is] contrary to what the Bible says about God, let him stand up and answer these questions. Let him show that in his heart he may say there is no God, but he can’t live that way. He can’t reason that way.
In Romans the first chapter Paul says God is making himself known continually and persuasively to all men, so that men do not have an excuse for their rejection of the existence of the Christian God. That isn’t to say that all men confess this God. Not all will own up to Him as their heavenly Father. Not all will submit to Him. Some continue to rebel. Some continue to devise their fools’ errands and rationalizations of why they don’t have to believe in Him.
What I want you to do right now is to think and consider whether there isn’t something to that: Why is it that some people continue to use laws of logic, morality, science, and yet they have a world view that just clashes with that; and [yet] they just won’t do anything to resolve that contradiction.
We haven’t touched all the issues that you may want to look into.
However, in broad strokes we have touched on a very important issue. If you’re going to be a rational man, a moral man, a man of science, can you do so in an atheist universe. Dr Bahnsen said you can’t and I agree with him.