Friday, June 29, 2007

Interlude: "Why Bertrand Russell should have been a Christian"

Apologetics in Practice (Part 1)
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen

Looking for a Fire to Fight


An excellent opportunity to practice our defense of the Christian faith is provided by one of the most noteworthy British philosophers of the twentieth century: Bertrand Russell. Russell has offered us a clear and pointed example of an intellectual challenge to the truthfulness of the Christian faith by writing an article which specifically aimed to show that Christianity should not be believed. The title of his famous essay was "Why I Am Not a Christian."[1] Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) studied mathematics and philosophy at Cambridge University and began his teaching career there. He wrote respected works as a philosopher (about Leibniz, about the philosophy of mathematics and set theory, about the metaphysics of mind and matter, about epistemological problems) and was influential on twentieth-century developments in the philosophy of language. He also wrote extensively in a more popular vein on literature, education and politics. Controversy surrounded him. He was dismissed by Trinity College for pacifist activities in 1916; he was jailed in 1961 in connection with a campaign for nuclear disarmament. His views on sexual morality contributed to the annulment of his appointment to teach at the City University of New York in 1940. Yet Russell was highly regarded as a scholar. In 1944 he returned to teach at Cambridge, and in 1950 he became a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

For all his stature as a philosopher, Russell cannot be said to have been sure of himself and consistent in his views regarding reality or knowledge. In his early years he adopted the Hegelian idealism taught by F. H. Bradley. Influenced by G. E. Moore, he changed to a Platonic theory of ideas. Challenged by Ludwig Wittgenstein that mathematics consists merely of tautologies, he turned to metaphysical and linguistic atomism. He adopted the extreme realism of Alexius Meinong, only later to turn toward logical constructionism instead. Then following the lead of William James, Russell abandoned mind-matter dualism for the theory of neutral monism. Eventually Russell propounded materialism with fervor, even though his dissatisfaction with his earlier logical atomism left him without an alternative metaphysical account of the object of our empirical experiences. Struggling with philosophical problems not unlike those which stymied David Hume, Russell conceded in his later years that the quest for certainty is a failure.

This brief history of Russell's philosophical evolution is rehearsed so that the reader may correctly appraise the strength and authority of the intellectual platform from which Russell would presume to criticize the Christian faith. Russell's brilliance is not in doubt; he was a talented and intelligent man. But to what avail? In criticizing Christians for their views of ultimate reality, of how we know what we know, and of how we should live our lives, did Bertrand Russell have a defensible alternative from which to launch his attacks? Not at all. He could not give an account of reality and knowing which -- on the grounds of, and according to the criteria of, his own autonomous reasoning -- was cogent, reasonable and sure. He could not say with certainty what was true about reality and knowledge, but nevertheless he was firmly convinced that Christianity was false! Russell was firing an unloaded gun.

Bertrand Russell made no secret of the fact that he intellectually and personally disdained religion in general, and Christianity in particular. In the preface to the book of his critical essays on the subject of religion he wrote: "I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue."[2] He repeatedly charges in one way or another that a free man who exercises his reasoning ability cannot submit to religious dogma. He argued that religion was a hindrance to the advance of civilization, that it cannot cure our troubles, and that we do not survive death.

We are treated to a defiant expression of metaphysical materialism -- perhaps Russell's most notorious essay for a popular reading audience -- in the article (first published in 1903) entitled "A Free Man's Worship." He there concluded: "Brief and powerless is man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way." In the face of this nihilism and ethical subjectivism, Russell nevertheless called men to the invigoration of the free man's worship: "to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance...."[3]

Hopefully the brazen contradiction in Russell's philosophy of life is already apparent to the reader. He asserts that our ideals and values are not objective and supported by the nature of reality, indeed that they are fleeting and doomed to destruction. On the other hand, quite contrary to this, Russell encourages us to assert our autonomous values in the face of a valueless universe -- to act as though they really amounted to something worthwhile, were rational, and not merely the result of chance. But after all, what sense could Russell hope to make of an immaterial value (an ideal) in the face of an "omnipotent matter" which is blind to values? Russell only succeeded in shooting himself in the foot.

Why Russell Said He Could Not Be a Christian

The essay "Why I Am Not a Christian" is the text of a lecture which Russell delivered to the National Secular Society in London on March 6, 1927. It is only fair to recognize, as Russell commented, that constraints of time prevented him from going into great detail or saying as much as he might like about the matters which he raises in the lecture. Nevertheless, he says quite enough with which to find fault.

In broad terms, Russell argued that he could not be a Christian because:

(1) the Roman Catholic church is mistaken to say that the existence of God can be proved by unaided reason;

(2) serious defects in the character and teaching of Jesus show that he was not the best and wisest of men, but actually morally inferior to Buddha and Socrates;

(3) people accept religion on emotional grounds, particularly on the foundation of fear, which is "not worthy of self-respecting human beings"; and

(4) the Christian religion "has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world."

Internal Tensions

What is outstanding about this litany of complaints against Christianity is Russell's arbitrariness and inconsistency. The second reason offered above presupposes some absolute standard of moral wisdom by which somebody could grade Jesus as either inferior or superior to others. Likewise, the third reason presupposes a fixed criterion for what is, and what is not, "worthy" of self-respecting human beings. Then again, the complaint expressed in the fourth reason would not make any sense unless it is objectively wrong to be an enemy of "moral progress"; indeed, the very notion of moral "progress" itself assumes an established benchmark for morality by which to assess progress.

Now, if Russell had been reasoning and speaking in terms of the Christian worldview, his attempt to assess moral wisdom, human worthiness, and moral progress -- as well as to adversely judge shortcomings in these matters -- would be understandable and expected. Christians have a universal, objective and absolute standard of morality in the revealed word of God. But obviously Russell did not mean to be speaking as though he adopted Christian premises and perspectives! On what basis, then, could Russell issue his moral evaluations and judgments? In terms of what view of reality and knowledge did he assume that there was anything like an objective criterion of morality by which to find Christ, Christians, and the church lacking?

Russell was embarrassingly arbitrary in this regard. He just took it for granted, as an unargued philosophical bias, that there was a moral standard to apply, and that he could presume to be the spokesman and judge who applies it. One could easily counter Russell by simply saying that he had arbitrarily chosen the wrong standard of morality. To be fair, Russell's opponents must be granted just as much arbitrariness in choosing a moral standard, and they may then select one different from his own. And there goes his argument down in defeat.

[1] The article is found in Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Simon and Schuster, Clarion, 1957), pp. 3-23.

[2] Ibid., p. vi.

[3] Ibid., pp. 115-16.

Apologetics in Practice (Part 2)
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen

By assuming the prerogative to pass moral judgment, Russell evidenced that his own presuppositions fail to comport with each other. In offering a condemning value-judgment against Christianity, Russell engaged in behavior which betrayed his professed beliefs elsewhere. In his lecture Russell professed that this was a chance world which shows no evidence of design, and where "laws" are nothing more than statistical averages describing what has happened. He professed that the physical world may have always existed, and that human life and intelligence came about in the way explained by Darwin (evolutionary natural selection). Our values and hopes are what "our intelligence can create." The fact remains that, according to "the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life... on this planet will die out in due course."

This is simply to say that human values are subjective, fleeting, and self-created. In short, they are relative. Holding to this kind of view of moral values, Russell was utterly inconsistent in acting as though he could assume an altogether different kind of view of values, declaring an absolute moral evaluation of Christ or Christians. One aspect of Russell's network of beliefs rendered another aspect of his set of beliefs unintelligible.

The same kind of inner tension within Russell's beliefs is evident above in what he had to say about the "laws" of science. On the one hand such laws are merely descriptions of what has happened in the past, says Russell. On the other hand, Russell spoke of the laws of science as providing a basis for projecting what will happen in the future, namely the decay of the solar system. This kind of dialectical dance between conflicting views of scientific law (to speak epistemologically) or between conflicting views of the nature of the physical cosmos (to speak metaphysically) is characteristic of unbelieving thought. Such thinking is not in harmony with itself and is thus irrational.

"Unaided Reason"

In the first reason given by Russell for why he was not a Christian, he alluded to the dogma of the Roman Catholic church that "the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason."[1] He then turns to some of the more popular arguments advanced for the existence of God which are (supposedly) based upon this "unaided reason" and easily finds them wanting. It goes without saying, of course, that Russell thought that he was defeating these arguments of unaided reason by means of his own (superior) unaided reason. Russell did not disagree with Rome that man can prove things with his "natural reason" (apart from the supernatural work of grace). Indeed at the end of his lecture he called his hearers to "a fearless outlook and a free intelligence." Russell simply disagreed that unaided reason takes one to God. In different ways, and with different final conclusions, both the Roman church and Russell encouraged men to exercise their reasoning ability autonomously -- apart from the foundation and restraints of divine revelation.

The Christian apologist should not fail to expose this commitment to "unaided reason" for the unargued philosophical bias that it is. Throughout his lecture Russell simply takes it for granted that autonomous reason enables man to know things. He speaks freely of his "knowledge of what atoms actually do," of what "science can teach us," and of "certain quite definite fallacies" committed in Christian arguments, etc. But this simply will not do. As the philosopher, Russell here gave himself a free ride; he hypocritically failed to be as self-critical in his reasoning as he beseeched others to be with themselves.

The nagging problem which Russell simply did not face is that, on the basis of autonomous reasoning, man cannot give an adequate and rational account of the knowledge we gain through science and logic. Scientific procedure assumes that the natural world operates in a uniform fashion, in which case our observational knowledge of past cases provides a basis for predicting what will happen in future cases. However, autonomous reason has no basis whatsoever for believing that the natural world will operate in a uniform fashion. Russell himself (at times) asserted that this is a chance universe. He could never reconcile this view of nature being random with his view that nature is uniform (so that "science" can teach us).

So it is with a knowledge and use of the laws of logic (in terms of which Russell definitely insisted that fallacies be avoided). The laws of logic are not physical objects in the natural world; they are not observed by man's senses. Moreover, the laws of logic are universal and unchanging -- or else they reduce to relativistic preferences for thinking, rather than prescriptive requirements. However, Russell's autonomous reasoning could not explain or justify these characteristics of logical laws. An individual's unaided reason is limited in the scope of its use and experiences, in which case it cannot pronounce on what is universally true (descriptively). On the other hand, an individual's unaided reason is in no position to dictate (prescriptively) universal laws of thought or to assure us that these stipulations for the mind will somehow prove applicable to the world of thought or matter outside the individual's mind.[2]

Russell's worldview, even apart from its internal tensions, could not provide a foundation for the intelligibility of science or logic. His "unaided" reason could not account for the knowledge which men readily gain in God's universe, a universe sovereignly controlled (so that it is uniform) and interpreted in light of the Creator's revealed mind (so that there are immaterial laws of thought which are universal).

Prejudicial Conjecture and Logical Fallacies

We must note, finally, that Russell's case against being a Christian is subject to criticism for its reliance upon prejudicial conjecture and logical fallacies. That being the case, he cannot be thought to have established his conclusions or given good reason for his rejection of Christianity.

One stands in amazement, for instance, that the same Russell who could lavish ridicule upon past Christians for their ignorance and lack of scholarship, could come out and say something as uneducated and inaccurate as this: "Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him." Even forgetting secular references to Christ in the ancient world, Russell's remark simply ignores the documents of the New Testament as early and authentic witnesses to the historical person of Jesus. Given the relatively early dates of these documents and the relatively large number of them, if Russell "doubted" the existence of Jesus Christ, he must have either applied a conspicuous double standard in his historical reasoning, or been an agnostic about virtually the whole of ancient history. Either way, we are given an insight into the prejudicial nature of Russell's thinking when it came to consideration of the Christian religion.

Perhaps the most obvious logical fallacy evident in Russell's lecture comes out in the way he readily shifts from an evaluation of Christian beliefs to a criticism of Christian believers. And he should have known better. At the very beginning of his lecture, Russell said, "I do not mean by a Christian any person who tries to live decently and according to his lights. I think that you must have a certain amount of definite belief before you have a right to call yourself a Christian." That is, the object of Russell's criticism should be, by his own testimony, not the lifestyle of individuals but the doctrinal claims which are essential to Christianity as a system of thought. The opening of his lecture focuses upon his dissatisfaction with those beliefs (God's existence, immortality, Christ as the best of men).

Nevertheless, toward the end of his lecture, Russell's discussion turns in the direction of fallaciously arguing against the personal defects of Christians (enforcing narrow rules contrary to human happiness) and the supposed psychological genesis of their beliefs (in emotion and fear). That is, he indulges in the fallacy of arguing ad hominem. Even if what Russell had to say in these matters was fair-minded and accurate (it is not), the fact would remain that Russell has descended to the level of arguing against a truth-claim on the basis of his personal dislike and psychologizing of those who personally profess that claim. In other settings, Russell the philosopher would have been the first to criticize a student for pulling such a thing. It is nothing less than a shameful logical fallacy.

Notice briefly other defects in Russell's line of thinking here. He presumed to know the motivation of a person in becoming a Christian -- even though Russell's epistemology gave him no warrant for thinking he could discern such things (especially easily and at a distance). Moreover, he presumed to know the motivation of a whole class of people (including those who lived long ago), based on a very, very small sampling from his own present experience. These are little more than hasty and unfounded generalizations, telling us (if anything) only about the state of Russell's mind and feelings in his obvious, emotional antipathy to Christians.

But then this leaves us face to face with a final, devastating fallacy in Russell's case against Christianity -- the use of double standards (and implicit special pleading) in his reasoning. Russell wished to fault Christians for the emotional factor in their faith-commitment, and yet Russell himself evidenced a similarly emotional factor in his own personal anti-Christian commitment. Indeed, Russell openly appealed to emotional feelings of courage, pride, freedom and self-worth as a basis for his audience to refrain from being Christians!

Similarly, Russell tried to take Christians to task for their "wickedness" (as though there could be any such thing within Russell's worldview) -- for their cruelty, wars, inquisitions, etc. Russell did not pause for even a moment, however, to reflect on the far-surpassing cruelty and violence of non-Christians throughout history. Genghis Khan, Vlad the Impaler, Marquis de Sade and a whole cast of other butchers were not known in history for their Christian professions, after all! This is all conveniently swept under the carpet in Russell's hypocritical disdain for the moral errors of the Christian church.

Russell's essay "Why I Am Not a Christian" reveals to us that even the intellectually elite of this world are refuted by their own errors in opposing the truth of the Christian faith. There is no credibility to a challenge to Christianity which evidences prejudicial conjecture, logical fallacies, unargued philosophical bias, behavior which betrays professed beliefs, and presuppositions which do not comport with each other. Why wasn't Russell a Christian? Given his weak effort at criticism, one would have to conclude that it was not for intellectual reasons.

[1] In his lecture Russell displays a curious and capricious shifting around for the standard which defines the content of "Christian" beliefs. Here he arbitrarily assumes that what the Roman magisterium says is the standard of Christian faith. Yet in the paragraph immediately preceding, Russell claimed that the doctrine of hell was not essential to Christian belief because the Privy Council of the English Parliament had so decreed (over the dissent of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York). Elsewhere Russell departs from this criterion of Christianity and excoriates the teaching of Jesus, based upon the Bible, that the unrepentant face everlasting damnation. Russell had no interest in being consistent or fair in dealing with Christianity as his opponent. When convenient he defined the faith according to the Bible, but when it was more convenient for his polemical purposes he shifted to defining the faith according to the English Parliament or the Roman Catholic church.

[2] Those familiar with Russell's detailed (and noteworthy, seminal) work in philosophy would point out that, despite his brilliance, Russell's "unaided reason" could never resolve certain semantic and logical paradoxes which arise in his account of logic, mathematics and language. His most reverent followers concede that Russell's theories are subject to criticism.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Christianity vs. atheism and the burden of proof, part 3

In this third post on this issue I want to begin by highlighting the fact that the atheist is not at all neutral in the debate over God's existence even though he has deceived himself into thinking he is. He might even say that he's willing to accept God's existence if you meet the burden of proof. But just consider, as was mentioned in the last post, that according to the Christian position everything in this universe is proof of God (e.g. Psalm 19). Now, the unbeliever might respond that if God doesn't exist then that's not true, then nothing proves God's existence. The unbeliever might say that if God exists, ony then can the Christian position be true that everything proves God's existence, so you first have to prove God's existence. Think about that. The demand of the unbeliever is that he'll accept God's existence if you show him proof, but you can't use anything whatsoever as proof because the claim that everything proves God's existence already assumes His existence! As was said, the atheist is not at all neutral in the debate over God's existence, and that includes, as has been the topic of these posts, the dispute over who has the burden of proof in that debate. If everything is proof of God's existence, and this proof is overwhelming, unavoidable, perspicuous and compelling, just as the Christian position states, then the atheist is reasoning in a circle when he says that the believer bears the burden of proof in the debate over God's existence.

According the Christian worldview, God obligates Himself to make Himself known to everyone which He does on His own terms in a way that is completely clear, unavoidable and compelling. Notice a couple of things about that statement. First, God is under obligation from no one but Himself to reveal Himself. After all, God is God -- there is no law above or outside Him that obligates Him to do so. There is no created person who can obligate God to do anything. Second, no one has an excuse for rejecting God. As Romans 1 says, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." No one can reply to God that He offered no evidence. Why do many reject God? Because they "suppress the truth by their wickedness." And as v. 28 says, "Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind..." According to Christianity, everyone already knows God. Although, of course, not all know God in a saving fashion; not all know God in His redemptive mercy in Jesus Christ.

So how, then, does God make Himself known? Broadly speaking, in two ways: general and special revelation (See here and here.) God is known immediately, by direct apprehension, in the entire created order, including our own selves. This is called general revelation. From the stars of heavens to the trees of the forest to the genetic make-up of creatures, God's power, sovereignty, and goodness are clearly and unavoidably known. But because sin entered the picture, God also, in His mercy, made and makes Himself redemptively known. Through miracles, theophanies, direct word, the prophets, etc. God revealed Himself, His will for our lives, and His plan of redemption for His people. This was most perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ. Though these events are in the past, many of them have been recorded in Scripture (itself a redemptive event) which, by God's grace, is now readily available.

It's also necessary to remind ourselves that mankind is created in God's image. As such, man is created and constituted by God in such a way as to recognize His "signature" and "voice" in all creation and in Scripture. In the Christian worldview, man is no "tabula rasa." When people look around at the universe or at themselves, or when they are reading Scripture, they know they are beholding their Creator.

Thus, in the Christian worldview, God's meets His own self-obligation to make Himself clearly known to everyone. Not everyone knows God unto salvation, yet no one has an excuse for rejecting God. All men know God but many reject Him because they "suppress the truth by their wickedness." According to Christianity, therefore, the burden of proof has been met beyond reproach by God Himself. The demands of the unbeliever for evidence are based upon his supression of the truth in his wickedness. This does not mean we shouldn't discuss and debate these things with unbelievers, but it does mean that we need to remember that God is God, not us. He validates Himself. Man is not the judge of God to see whether He exists.

We should appeal to the unbeliever's suppressed knowledge of God. I plan to do this in the next post when I reduce atheism to absurdity by showing that the atheist cannot make sense of the very idea of proof itself, and that the idea of proof and the burden of proof only make sense when reasoned about according the Christian worldview. I think I'd like to move on to other topics soon, so I'm going to try and do that in one post.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Christianity vs. atheism and the burden of proof, part 2

In the last post the observation was made that the debate over God's existence is not simply about the one mere claim of God's existence, but rather that the atheist and the Christian reason about that claim in accordance with their worldview, a network of presuppositions about epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, etc. In other words, the debate over God's existence is actually a clash of entire worldviews, not merely over one or a few conflicting claims. The following was also noted:
Both the atheist and the Christian theist have assumptions about what is acceptable evidence, how much evidence is needed, what is compelling, what can be known by the evidence, and so on. Thus, when the dispute arises over who has the burden of proof, both the Christian and the unbeliever can be found reasoning about that issue in light of their presuppositions, in accordance with their worldview. Therefore, if the Christian and the atheist reason about the question of the burden of proof in a way that is consistent with their worlview they will necessarily end up disagreeing on this matter...
Why do the believer and unbeliever disagree over who has the burden of proof with respect to the debate over God's existence? Because their understanding of evidence and proof is already determined by their understanding of God. And yet, their understanding of God is itself one of the things in dispute between them! They both find themselves reasoning in a circle about who has the burden of proof.

In the Christian worldview, everything in this universe, both general revelation (all creation) and special revelation (miracles, theophanies, prophetic word, Scripture), all of reality, all of it is unavoidable, perspicuous, entirely compelling proof for God. Therefore, when the unbeliever says that he hasn't yet found any convincing evidence of God's existence he is reasoning in a circle. When the atheist says he hasn't come across any compelling proof for God existence he can only do so if he assumes that God doesn't exist. Yet that's the very thing in dispute! The unbeliever rejects the Christian position because he rejects the Christian position. The atheist is not at all neutral.

However, the Christian can also be found reasoning in a circle. When he hears the unbeliever say that the Christian has the burden of proof, the Christian thinks to himself, "That's ridiculous. Everything in this universe bears the stamp of the Creator" (so to speak). "Everything proves God's existence. If anything, the burden is proof is on the atheist." And if God exists then that's entirely true. But the unbeliever and the believer dispute God's existence.

How, then, can this dispute be resolved? If the Christian and the atheist reason about God and proof for His existence in terms of a worldview that is already conditioned by their beliefs about God, how can the two actually debate?

The answer is that we need to place the unbelieving worldview beside the Christian worldview and reason about each one on its own terms to see which one can provide the preconditions of intellgibility. We need, for the sake of argument, to reason about each worldview on its own terms in order to see which one can rationally makes sense of reality, including the very idea of the burden of proof. What you will discover is not only that the atheist wordlview doesn't correspond to reality, nor is it coherent, you'll also discover that the degree to which the unbeliever has any successes in his reasoning is attributed to his assuming the truth of the Christian worlview. Christianity is proven from the impossiblity of the contrary, and in this particular case as it relates to making sense out of proof and the burden of proof.

In the next post I'll present the Christian position concerning the burden of proof with respect to God's existence, and if time permits me (though I don't think it will) I'll reduce the competing unbelieving position to absurdity -- both of which in order to demonstrate that making sense of the idea of the burden of proof itself proves God's existence and exposes atheism as irrational.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Christianity vs. atheism and the burden of proof, part 1

In the debate over the existence of God the claim is often made by atheists and agnostics that since the burden of proof is on the one making the positive claim that therefore the burden of proof rests upon the Christian. The unbeliever reasons that because he is not the one positing the claim of someone's existence (in this case, God) that he bears no burden to disprove God's existence since the claim isn't true or can't be known unless it is first proven.

But such reasoning by the unbeliever betrays that he is either unaware of or dishonest about the nature of the debate between the Christian and the atheist.

There's alot that can be said regarding the issue of the burden of proof, so maybe I'll have to divide this up into a few posts. But let me start by saying that if an unbeliever and a Christian do engage in debate over the question of God's existence then it's necessary to do just that: to debate. That involves offering evidence, proofs, reasons, arguments. If the unbeliever shows up to the debate and says that he's not going offer any proof that God does not exist then he concedes the debate to the Christian. It's like saying, "I want to debate but I'm not actually going to debate." If the unbeliever does try to offer proofs for his position then he assumes that he does have a burden of proof, otherwise it wouldn't make any sense for him to debate, and yet atheists do debate. In summary, to put it crassly, either put up or shut up. Neither the Christian nor the atheist want to hold to their respective positions arbitrarily, assuming they want to be rational. I think that even an atheist can follow and agree with this reasoning.

However, the atheist may still want to reply that even though he's not 100% certain whether God exists he still knows that Christianity is wrong or false. Thus, the unbeliever may want to show up to the debate in an attempt to disprove the claims and arguments of the Christian theist while at the same time admitting that he himself hasn't necessarily proven that God does not exist (the problem of the universal negative, which by the way is not a problem for the Christian, but I'll save that for another time). But it is still irrational for the unbeliever to conduct himself in this way. Why? Because when the unbeliever denies the existence of God or claims that there is a lack of compelling evidence to believe in Him the unbeliever presupposes a whole host of positive claims for which, by his own admission, there'd be a burden of proof. The atheist is not at all neutral in the debate over the existence of God.

The key to resolving the disagreement between the Christian and the unbeliever over the issue of the burden of proof lies in understanding the nature of the debate between the two over the question of God's existence. The debate is not merely about one isolated claim, i.e., God exists. Rather, both the Christian and the unbeliever bring to that debate a whole host of presuppositions about the nature of reality, possibility, about ethics, about epistemology, truth, teleology, and so on (Bahnsen often spoke of the "big three": metaphysics, ethics, and epistemology). Both have what Reformed Christians often call a "worldview," a philosophy of life/reality by which they reason and interpret their experiences. Both the atheist and the Christian theist have assumptions about what is acceptable evidence, how much evidence is needed, what is compelling, what can be known by the evidence, and so on. Thus, when the dispute arises over who has the burden of proof, both the Christian and the unbeliever can be found reasoning about that issue in light of their presuppositions, in accordance with their worldview. Therefore, if the Christian and the atheist reason about the question of the burden of proof in a way that is consistent with their worlview they will necessarily end up disagreeing on this matter (logically speaking, that is, though not necessarily psychologically, but I won't go down that rabbit trail). Neither one is neutral on this issue. In fact, if both rightly understood their opponent's position then they ought to know even before they debate that they're going to disagree on the question of the burden of proof.

In my next post (or perhaps two or three posts) I'm going to try and clarify the Christian position on the matter of the burden of proof, offer a way to resolve the dispute with the atheist, and finally to actually resolve the matter by demonstrating that the unbeliever's position, if he is consistent with himself, is irrational, and that to the extent the unbeliever does attempt to shift the burden of proof to the Christian that he actually has to rely upon the truth of Christian worldview, thus proving Christianity from the impossibility of the contrary.

In the end I hope that readers will see that the the question of the burden of proof in the debate over God's existence is actually a great way to prove God's existence and the truth of Christianity.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Alright, let's do this

I think I'm ready to get this blog going now. There will be updates and changes as time goes on, more links will be added, and so on, but at least I can post now.

I own quite a few books, but I have only two at my bedside. The one is the Bible, of course, and the other is Van Til's Apologetic by Greg Bahnsen. I've read it three times, and I'm working on number four.

The blog is my small response to the the growing onslaught of sin in western civilization. Attacks on the faith have and continue to increase in number and intensity. These attacks have no foundation, but it is necessary to respond to them in order to slow down (or Lord willing reverse) the attempts to destroy the freedom and mission of the Church. And perhaps the Lord might even use something written on this blog to plant the seeds of faith in someone who does not know Jesus Christ.

I'm still debating whether to allow comments on this blog. Certainly, I have no fear of people commenting on what I write on this blog, but do I want them to do it here? I don't want this to be a forum for anti-theistic ramblings; atheists have their own blogs. I'm sure I will be engaging in debates at some point, but that can be done simply by putting up posts. And comment moderation is just too much work. We'll see.

Anyways, I hope this place will be useful for people.

If you want to trade links feel free to email me.