Third Response to Frame

Michael Martin

 

Science

In my previous replies I suggested that on the standard sense of "miracle, " a miracle is an event brought about by divine intervention in the natural course of events. Frame seems to understand this to mean simply that God caused the event in question to occur. Since on his view all events are caused by God, all events would be miracles. But to say that God caused all events to occur could mean two quite different things. First, it could mean that God made and sustains all natural laws. All events are brought about by the working of natural laws which in turn are brought about by God. On this view God never bypasses natural laws. All events can be explained by natural laws which in turn are explained by God. Second, it could mean that although God caused and sustains natural laws, sometimes God bypasses natural laws and directly causes events in the natural world. On this view some events are not completely explained by natural laws which are in turn caused and sustained by God, but are caused in part without the mediation of natural law. It is such cases that I have in mind when I speak of God's intervening in the natural course of events. One might also say in such cases that God suspends certain natural laws and acts without their mediation. This second interpretation is, I believe, the traditional Christian view.

With respect to the miracle of the feeding of 5000 the difference between these two views is obvious. On the first view, natural laws completely explain the feeding although God is posited to explain these laws. On the second, natural laws do not completely explain the feeding and God acts partially without the mediation of natural law. It is the second view that I claim is incompatible with science for the reasons given in my earlier replies. (Of course, I object to the first view as well since it seems to assume the validity of some version of the Cosmological or Teleological Arguments. But this is not the basis of TANG.)

It is not clear to me exactly what Frame's position is. His own definition of a miracle as a sign is neutral with respect to these two interpretations of divine causality. Does he reject the second interpretation? He seems to. I would claim that this interpretation is not only the traditional one but the one that is still standardly assumed by Christians. If he does reject this second view, this would indirectly grant my point that the standard Christian view of miracles is incompatible with science.

Logic

In my last reply I pointed out that on Frame's interpretation of logic, logic is necessary and one aspect of God's being. I argued that an implication of such a view is that if God does not exist, the law of contradiction does not hold. However, I argued that this implication is dubious since it makes perfectly good sense to deny the existence of God but no sense to deny the law of contradiction.

In Frame's reply he rejects my argument on the grounds that God is a necessary being and it makes no sense to deny His existence. Indeed, he claims that it is inconsistent to so. But he gives no argument for this claim and it seems to be just an assertion. Consider the difference between:

(1) It not the case that it is not that P and not P.
(2) It is not the case that God exists.

From (1) it is easy to derive a contradiction. But Frame provides no demonstration that a contradiction follows from (2). Of course, such a demonstration could be achieved in a trivial and question begging way if we arbitrarily assume that

(3) It is logically necessary that God exists.

Then such a contradiction easily follows. However, it is possible to derive a contradiction from anything if arbitrary assumptions are made. For example, from

(4) My dog is brown

one can derive a contradiction by assuming

(5) If my dog is brown, then P and not P.

However, we have no reason to assume (5). In a similar way Frame gives us no reason to assume (3). Perhaps Frame thinks that there is such a reason in terms of the larger context of Christian thought. As far as I can determine, however, most Christian philosophers do not accept (3). For despite Frame's reservations about getting involved in the Ontological Argument commitment to (3) is commitment to a subconclusion of modal versions of Ontological Argument--without any of the supporting premises. [1] However, this argument has been rejected even by many Christians theologians and has serious logical difficulties.

Frame seems to think that the acceptance of (3) is necessary for Christian belief. One suspects that he is confusing the logical necessity of God's existence with the logical necessity of God's not beginning to exist and not ceasing to exist. In other words, Christian do seem to be committed to the following:

(6) It is logically necessary that if at any time God existed, then at every time He existed.

But (3) does not follow from (6) since (6) is compatible with God's nonexistence. Moreover, (6) is compatible with logic existing without God.

Frame was good enough to summarize the debate on logic and science from his point of view up to this point and I can do so as well. With respect to science Frame escapes TANG only by assuming an account of miracles that is not the traditional Christian one. With respect to logic he avoids TANG by assuming without argument that it is logically inconsistent to deny the existence of God. Such an assumption would only follow from the presumption that God's existence is logically necessary--the unargued subconclusion of modal versions of the Ontological Argument. It would not follow from other conceptions of God's necessity. His position on science thus implicitly seems to grant my point and his position on logic rests on an unargued assumption that even many Christians philosophers reject.

Morality

In my previous replies I argued that Christianity is incompatible with moral objectivity since morality would be based on the arbitrary will of God. In Frame's replies he maintained that morality is necessarily based on God's unchanging intrinsic character. If Frame's idea is true, I argued, it would be incoherent to deny the existence of God and affirm objective morality. But I maintained that it is not incoherent. Frame maintains that it is incoherent and from the above discussion concerning his views on logic one can see why he thinks so: One cannot deny the existence of God and affirm objective morality because it is inconsistent to deny the existence of God. In other words, his views on morality are based on (3): the logical necessity of the existence of God. This defense of his position has the same problems as his defense of the dependency of logic on God: it presupposes an unargued assumption that even many Christians philosophers would reject. In particular, it assumes the unargued subconclusion of modal versions of the Ontological Argument.

I also argued earlier that the objectivity of Christian morality suffers from two other problems. First, it has no rational way of deciding between conflicting claims of divine revelation and, second, it has no way of deciding between conflicting interpretations of allegedly Christian revelation. Frame maintains that the truth of Christian revelation is shown by historical investigation while I maintain that historical evidence for the truth of Christianity is very weak. Frame wisely hesitates to get involved in a protracted historical debate. I too have no desire to enter such a debate online. Readers of our debate on the Internet should study our respective works and decide for themselves whether historical scholarship has established the truth of the Resurrection, the Incarnation, the Virgin with any acceptable degree of probability.

However, one point should be borne in mind in any examination of the evidence. The Resurrection, the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth are typically understood as miracles in the standard sense considered above: they are brought about by divine intervention in the natural course ofevent s, one that bypasses natural law. As I argue in a forthcoming paper, even for Christian historians such events should have extremely low initial probability and should require extraordinarily strong independent evidence before they are accepted.

Whether such evidence is available is the key question. As I suggested in my previous replies to Frame, however, as far as science and a scientific approach to history are concerned, such events cannot be considered miracles in the standard sense and thus no amount of scientific evidence could establish them in the sense demanded by the Christian faith.[2]

With respect to conflicting interpretations of Christian morality,Frame's position is that on some of the moral issues I raised--for example, the death penalty--there was wide agreement among Christian until recent times--until about 100 years ago. This consensus was undermined by theological liberalism and an invasion of secular thought. The present rift, he says, is not between Christians but between Christian and nonChristian ideas. He say that on other issues--for example, war--Christians disagree because the NT says little, the OT is not clearly relevant to present issues, and the church has been unclear in its position.

With respect to the morality of war Frame seems to admit that referring to Scripture is a problematic way of coming to a correct answer. However, on Frame's view what other ways are there? I thought one received moral guidance only from the revealed word of God which in this case is unavailable. If extra Scriptural ways are available, why are they not also available to nonbelievers? But surely the morality of war is not an isolated case. Many of the moral problems of contemporary life are not discussed explicitly in Scripture and any inferences from Scripture is often problematic. Consider, for example, the moral issues connected with privacy, free speech, reproductive technology, psychotherapy, democracy, genetic engineering, and the environment.

With respect to moral problems such as the death penalty I doubt that things are as clear as Frame has suggested. Even among those Christians who advocate the death penalty there is disagreement concerning the offenses to which the death penalty applies. The OT explicitly requires the death penalty for murder, homosexuality, bestiality, blasphemy, cursing one's parents, witchcraft, working on the Sabbath and nonchastity. As I understand the views of the late Greg Bahnsen, he maintained that since these requirements have not been revoked in the NT, they should be made part of the criminal law of all nations.[3] However, this view would surely be rejected even by the vast majority of those Christian thinkers who uphold the death penalty today. Are the differences between the views of someone like Bahnsen and the Christians who have a more limited view of the death penalty simply a result of the invasion of nonChristian ideas? Or is it a genuine difference of interpretation as to what precisely Christianity ethics involves to which there is no clear answer? Moreover, there are Christians who today reject the death penalty altogether and trace their views back much farther than one hundred years. For example, pacifist sects such as the Mennonites, and Quakers have long been opposed to all taking of human life. These groups do not base their opposition to the death penalty on recent alien, nonbiblical principles. They differ from Christian death penalty advocates because they interpret the Scriptures according to what they take to be the true spirit of Jesus' teaching. Yes, Christians should read scriptures responsibly as Frame suggests. But he seems to think that there is only one responsible way, namely his.

Notes

[1] By a modal version of the Ontological Argument I mean any version of such an argument that uses concepts such as logical necessity, logical possibility and so on. By a subconclusion I mean a conclusion from which the ultimate conclusion (God exists) follows. For example, in the following simple modal version of the argument (c) is the subconclusion.

(a) Either it is logically impossible that God exists or it is logically necessary that God exists.
(b) It is not impossible that God exists


(c) Hence, it is logically necessary that God exists.
(d) Hence, God exists.

[2] Religious believers who wish to cast doubt on the objectivity and rationality of science and thus show that science and religion are in the same boat typically cite the work of the late Thomas Kuhn on the history of science. Predictably Frame cites this work to support his contention that science has problems similar to the ones I pointed out in relation to theology such as a lack of objectivity and the presence of irrationality. However, Kuhn's subjective, irrationalistic, and relativistic interpretation of the history of science has been highly criticized in recent philosophy of science. I think that appealing to Kuhn to establish the lack of objectivity of science is ill-advised unless Frame is prepared to take on Kuhn's many critics. Moreover, even Kuhn seemed to grant in his later writings that science has progressed and that there are objective standards for evaluating this progress. The question is whether anything analogous is present in Christianity.

[3] See Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Phillipsburg, NJ., 1977), Chapter 21. See also Greg Bahnsen, No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991)


Michael Martin's contributions to "The Martin-Frame Debate on the Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God" are copyright © 1996 by Michael Martin. All rights reserved.
The electronic version is copyright © 1997 by Internet Infidels with the written permission of Michael Martin. All rights reserved.

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