Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Friday, May 11, 2007

    ABC Face Off - Proving God

    As the debate has come and gone, and my time for writing has been limited, let me make a few brief remarks about the debate as well as about a few of the arguments discussed during the debate. I'm sure more will come from my team members here at CS.

    The debate itself, while a good idea and while it has received a great deal of publicity, offers little by way of apologetic stimulation and impression, and even less when it comes to pursuasive argument in either direction, though the gospel itself was presented, and the difference the gospel makes in a person was on one level displayed.

    As with any debate, the initial defining of the topic, parameters, participants, etc. are all of significant importance, and weakness in any area (or more than one area)will be reflected in the debate that follows. I'm sad that this was true in several areas concerning this debate. This is not to take away from any of the participants (theists or non-theists)for they are each good at what they do, but not necessarily at what this debate sought to accomplish. While the initial question publicized "Does God Exist?" is a good one, the more specific plan and direction this debate followed was not the best for addressing this issue (as revealed in the number of times the debate naturally drifted from the beginning premise) and in the end we were left with little more than a surplus of unsupported assertions, a litany of common arguments left unanswered, and both sides claiming victory (or at least a positive interaction) to their own constituency.

    Perhaps, in the future, the debate can be repeated, with a differet format (where each side speaks to the question "Does God Exist?" or "The Proof for God", or "Has God Revealed Himself?", etc., and respond back and forth to the other side's arguments), with different participants (who not only possess belief on their side of the argument but are educated specific areas of learning and skilled/experienced in apologetics)

    Specific Remarks concerning the debate.
    1. While the theists premise is true on one level (in that natural revelation is sufficient to leave man without excuse... and therefore does give sufficient evidence that God exists), their methodology failed not only to take into account that unbelievers deny that evidence, but also that unbelievers are eager and content to attempt to explain away the evidence, and find satisfaction in their false interpretation of the evidence.

    (One could think of this in another way, that while the theist's points are true, and while they themselves in their ministry proclaim their arguments are primarily designed to "cirmcumvent the reason and deal primarily with the conscience", by using the framework and making the claims they did, they set their (good, valid & defensible) arguments in the context of reason alone, and in doing so not only detracted from the power and effect their presentation could have had on the conscience, but placed themselves in an area where though they provided "some" good responses, due to inexperience in the field of apologetics, failed to provide all the powerful and convincing arguments that could and should have been made.)

    2. While the theists sought to accomodate the non-theists and deal with them on their own turf by limiting the debate to science (natural revelation), given the above truth, their position would have been better served in also including special revelation (which is on the same level but superior to interpretation of the evidence (as well as the presuppositions) offered by the non-theists.

    3. The place where I believe the non-theists did themselves the most damage was in the hatred and animousity that was shown not only in the participants of the debate but by the participants watching the debate. While on one level at places it appeared they may have stumped the theists, though better apologists could have easily answered any of their questions, the place where many seekers are looking today, especially among the younger generation and "emergent" generation, is not as much the place of the intellect (though this is of critical importance), but in the person's character and the way they interact and respond to others, particularly whether they show love, care and respect for other people. In this area, especially in light of the humility and compassion shown by the theists, the non theists presented a damaging profile.

    Specific remarks to the debate issues:
    I. Is God a Projection of your Own Culture?

    The assertion in the debate is that Christians just either accept the teaching common to the culture where they grow up, or project God according to their own thoughts which are influenced by the culture in which they live.

    Several points can be made:
    1. Christianity, while from an earthly perspective may be predominantly regionally located (i.e., a western religion, though it came from the Jews, and is found in many places where the predominant culture is opposed to Christianity), is MORE than that. It is a spiritual faith and community.
    2. The Christian gospel is propagated through human witness and proclamation. It should not surprise one to find Christianity in greater measure where its proclamation has been greater.
    3. Christians martyrs and those who have suffered and died and gone without and taken the more difficult path, etc., provide a strong witness that goes beyone cultural influence.
    4. The testimony of every believer stands opposed to the "cultural assertion." My own testimony and experience reveals that while I grew up embracing the very cultural influence and traditionalism others speak of ... following others and calling myself a Christian, etc., even affirming and proclaiming Christian truth and principles, it was this very influence, religion, tradition, etc., that the gospel confronted in bringing me to see that Christ himself stood opposed even to the "cultural Christianity" that many embrace and serve, but through regeneration, justification and the transformation that comes with genuine conversion, one is enabled not only to see the difference but to the reject the former in light of the latter! The appeal of the "cultural" argument is a weak and misguided attempt by those who don't understand true Christianity.

    II. Eternal Matter or Eternal God

    The question was raised "Who created God?" This question failed to recognize the difference and presuppositions between creation and a creator. The fact that non theists think themselves victorious on this issue is almost laughable!

    Regarding the claim that matter is eternal. Does science prove or even suggest in the least that matter (anything in matter) possesses or displays the ability to originate or bring from life, intelligence, beauty, etc.? Absolutely not! Life does not come from non-life.

    Regarding the claim by non theists that "All science points to the fact that the universe has always existed", I'd like to see their support for this. They are clearly misinformed.

    III. The Issue that "Just Because a Person Believes Something Does Not Make It True"

    The opposite can also be stated: Just because a person believes something is not true, does not make it so.

    In the same way that one may believe an invisible object is on his shoulder when it is not suggests that a person could believe there is a god when there is not, ... one could also assert that just because one may believe an invisible object is on his shoulder when it is not, does not mean that a person who believes he is wearing blue pants is wrong if indeed he is wearing blue pants. The logic of the non theists was laughable here as well. Too bad, the theists were primarily evangelists and not apologists. They could have had a cakewalk.

    IV. The Issue that "Ray" has made up a God because ...."

    This was a nice little argument that may have persuasion among the undiscerning, but when one sees it in light of the truth that Ray is not alone in his belief, but his belief has been shared by many from almost every tongue, and tribe and nation, those over all generations, from various continents, from a variety of languages and people groups, and from all walks of life - not only including children, but teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc., it's a shame that even such a slight should go unrefuted.

    There's much more to be said. I'm sure it will. Christ's glory and truth shines in all that takes place.


    jazzycat said...

    Good points sword guy. It appeared the show was edited and we did not see the entire back and forth exchanges. I think at the point when the atheists asked who created God was a great opportunity to have pointed out that either inert matter or an intelligent being (God) must have the power of being in an of itself. One of these choices must be self-existent and not be able to not be, because if there were ever a time or point when nothing existed, then nothing would exist today. Therefore, the two basic choices are matter or an intelligent entity (God). Granted the concept of it being God is hard for the human mind to grasp, but it is pure nonsense to assert that matter/energy is the answer.

    If some atheist wants to explain how something comes from nothing absent an outside cause or that matter has always existed, then I am all ears. To deny God is not enough. They must prove one of these two positions since their atheistic faith is based on one of them being true.

    Puritan Lad said...

    I was going to write a different piece, but I’ll include my observations here, as it has been difficult to organize anything from the disjointed nature of the RR Squad arguments.

    1.) I respect the stand that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron took, but we all agree that we would prefer someone with more experience to participate in a televised debate of this type. In fairness, I would suggest that most atheists would rather see someone other than the “Rational Response Squad” as well.

    2.) There were two telling moments in the debate that put Ray and Kirk on the defensive and kept them there. The first is when Cameron starts off by stating that “the existence of God can be proven 100% absolutely, without the use of faith”. Obviously, this is not possible, and this unleashed the attack dogs of the rational response squad. For the rest of the debate, The Christians were trying to defend their worldview while the atheists got a free pass. The second is when Brian defined atheism as a “lack of belief in God”, and went unchallenged. Atheism is not a “lack of belief in God”. This is agnosticism. Atheism is a belief in a “lack of God”. Let’s face it; no one would participate in a “Blasphemy Challenge” based solely on a “lack of belief”. Brian’s successful attempt to redefine atheism enabled the Rational Responders to play a little game of “philosophical dodge ball”. By defining his worldview as a “lack of belief”, Brian never had to defend it. All things being even, the Rational Responders should have answered the equally difficult question, “Can you scientifically prove that God doesn’t exist?”

    3.) It is difficult to gather anything of substance from Kelly’s beginning rant, in which she compared belief in God to belief in Zeus, Thor, and “the flying spaghetti monster”. (An apologist with a good scientific background could have returned the insult by comparing the belief in an eternal universe with the man in the moon and abiogenesis with Frankenstein’s monster, but I’ll digress for now.)

    4.) Kelly defines “science” as “the testing of explanations of the natural world. These explanations”, she says, “are observable.” As a result, she claims that Intelligent Design is not scientific, since it cannot be observed. (Too bad she doesn’t hold abiogenesis to the same standard). She touts the virtues of her definition of science by claiming that “Science is changeable, dogmatic belief isn’t.” Therefore, she concludes that “God replaces science with magic.” We’ll see just how consistent their arguments later.

    5.) Kelly passage a moral judgment on God by explaining that Hitler would be allowed into heaven because he was a Catholic, whereas the Jews he killed would go to Hell because they weren’t Christians. She insists that Hitler was a Christian, adding “I don’t care what anybody says”. The fact was the Adolph Hiter was a socialistic atheist, in his own words. (See Was Hitler a Christian?). Granted, it is understandable that atheists would want to remove such a blight from their camp and put him in ours, but we don’t want him. He can stay right where he is, right along side of other well known atheists like Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, and the like.

    Besides, she never establishes the moral grounds on which she will judge God, which brings us to…

    6.) Kelly’s claim that “Morality and conscience and morality are the result of thousands of generation of parents passing them on to their children.” She than makes the ridiculous claim that the morals that we have been taught (excluding religion, of course), coming from human neurons thousands of generations ago, “are necessary for society to function and for successful gene proliferation.” Say What? Can she back this up with observable evidence? Where is the “observable science” she appeals to? Why is it that humans are the only animals that need morality? Doesn’t this cut against the very grain of evolution? Survival of the fittest? If what Kelly claims is true, then how can gene proliferation be successful in other creatures that have no moral codes? Kelly then makes the assertion that the “real insult” of belief in God is that “Morality is obsolete”. Go figure.

    7.) The Rational Responders have obviously been reading too many pop-atheistic apologetics. Brian claimed that there are “literally thousands” of transitional forms in the fossil record. When asked to provide one, he suggested Australopithecus afarensis. Not so… (See

    8.) Both Brian and Kelly suggested that the universe and matter are eternal. “Components of our universe have always existed.” This had to be as embarrassing for intelligent atheists as Cameron’s opening statement was for Christians. While the idea of a steady state universe is philosophically acceptable to (and I would even say demanded by) atheists in the mold of Immanuel Kant, and the oscillating universe is promoted by Eastern Religions such as Buddhism, but are scientific falsehoods. The universe is not eternal. The 1992 Cosmic Background Explorer settled that issue. (Remember Kelly, science is “the testing of observable explanations of the natural world”. The universe came from nothing, leaving you with lots a splainin’ to do.)

    9.) Brian suggests that there is overwhelming evidence that the universe is not intelligently designed. He points to his own nipples and the unused legs of a snake to show perceived flaws in the design of our universe, but in doing so, he unwittingly acknowledges the very design that he sees as flawed. After all, nipples and legs are designed for a purpose, and Brian must conclude so before he can account for these perceived design flaws.

    In all, this was not one of the better debates. Kirk and Ray definitely came off as more likable people, and the RR Squad (particularly Kelly) were condescending and insulting. However, I would have to give the edge in the debate to the RR Squad, proving that they were better debaters, but not much else. Kirk and Ray were all defense and no offense. The RR Squad never once had to defend their worldview. I’m not sure that anyone’s mind will be changed by either party after watching this debate.

    Puritan Lad said...

    I would also like to add that, if the Christian God were merely the projection of western culture, I wouls expect that all westerners would be Christians, and no easterners. Since this is obviously not true, we need another explanation, like what Jonathan Edwards refers to as A Devine and Supernatural Light

    August said...

    I read somewhere else that an observer complained about the fact that the approach taken by the Christians in this debate was criticized. The basis is the difference between presuppositional and evidential apologetics. In general, I have seen evangelists go the evidential route.

    However, as PL notes here, and as most Christian philosophers state, the difference between the atheist and the Christian is not the evidence. This is easy to demonstrate by asking an atheist what evidence he would consider as valid for the existence of God. The stock answer is that such a person requires a personal appearance from God.

    Of course, this leads to numerous other arguments, such as why the atheist discounts personal experience from others, or the historical record that shows a personal appearance from God. In reality, the appeal for a personal experience is as a result of the inductive way of thinking. Which is useless to determine absolute truth.

    In the debate on ABC, we saw a perfect example of that. Both parties argued inductively, and neither made an overwhelming case. Frankly, it is pretty much impossible to make an overwhelming case by inductive reasoning in the case of God's existence.

    Unless the debate is centered around epistomology to start with, which leads to deductive reasoning, there will only ever be quasi-ad-hominem arguments (my evidence trumps your evidence). Once a deductive framework is established, the epistomology and ontology of the atheist can be dissected.

    Well-meaning evangelists don't want to offend their opponents by attacking their basic principles, but in the process fall into the trap of fallacious reasoning.

    Puritan Lad said...

    I have used both presuppositional and evidential apologetics, but each must be used in the proper setting, and the limits of evidential apologetics must be acknowledged. Yes, in a universe designed by the very God who authored the Scriptures, we should see some evidence of that fact. The problem is twofold...

    1.) Evidence can change.
    2.) Evidence is not proof.

    So when Kirk Cameron started off by suggesting that "the existence of God can be proven 100% absolutely, without the use of faith”, he was easy pickings from there on out.

    The best approach is to acknowledge that belief in God is based on faith alone. Many evangelicals have an issue with this, because they have bought into the secular humanistic notion that faith must be divorced from reality, devoid of any logic or reason, and opposed to science and rational thinking. This is why they need the evidential approach, in order to help "build their faith". This is a false view of faith, and it must be pointed out that atheism is every bit as much of a faith-based worldview as Christianity. From there on out, we can put the atheist on the defensive somewhat. Clearly, this is where Ray and Kirk dropped the ball.