Final Response to Frame

Michael Martin

 

I would like to thank John Frame for the courtesy and care with which he has carried on the discussion. Our discussion has been stimulating and has raised many important issues in the philosophy of religion which believers, atheists, and agnostics must take seriously. Although it would be too much to hope that anything has been finally settled, the differences between us have been clarified and relevant questions have been more clearly posed. I am grateful to Jeff Lowder for suggesting that my article on TANG should be published on the Internet and for his assistance in publishing my replies. I am also grateful to the readers of this discussion who took the time to digest our dialogue.

Science

On my account science is incompatible with the view of a miracle as God's intervention in the natural course of events. As I have argued in my previous replies, this view would block scientific inquiry since it would mean that there are some events that cannot be explained by scientific laws. Thus, if a cure of cancer is a miracle in this sense, it would be beyond the pale of scientific investigation. I claim that this view of miracle is the standard Christian view. In his final reply Frame interprets me to mean that this is the Scriptural view. But this was not my intention. Presumably the Scriptural view of miracle (whatever that may be) is closely related to the view of science that was held in Biblical times. That view of science has changed and with it the view of miracle found in Christian thought. By the standard view of miracle, I meant the view of miracle embraced by most Christians since the coming of modern science. To use Frame's terms, this view of science maintains that there is a "basic causal order of nature" that is discovered by scientific investigation and is used to explain natural events. Many Christians have believed that God sometimes bypasses this structure in order to perform miracles. Frame admits that some theologians have held such a view. I think he underestimates the extent of this view in modern theological circles. But even ordinary Christians who believe, for example, that a TV evangelist has brought about a "faith" cure, typically seem to tacitly assume such a view. They believe that God has acted directly in curing the cancer or blindness or paralysis and that science has not and will not be able to explain the cure. Such ordinary believers also hold the same view about the miracles alleged in the Scriptures-- for instance, the Resurrection, and Jesus' feeding of the 5000.

To his credit Frame seem to reject this view of miracles. But what does he put in its place? I am afraid I am still not completely clear about what his own view entails. On one obvious reading, it has the same unfortunate consequences for science as the view he rejects. He says that on his view natural laws are simply God's usual ways of governing the world and are generally accepted human judgments of how things work. In working a miracle God goes against his usual ways of governing the world and accepted human judgments and reminds us vividly that God rules the world. The crucial question is what implications this has for science.[ 1] Do God's unusual ways of governing the world allow for scientific knowledge? Does his definition entail, for example, that in the case of a miraculous event it is possible that science could investigate it and discover its cause? This seems unlikely since if a scientific cause were found, this would hardly remind us that God rules the world. For example, if people thought science could some day find the cause of the Resurrection, they would not believe that God is needed to explain what happened. If Frame's definition does rule out the discovery of a scientific cause, this prevents scientific inquiry and has the same unfortunate practical implications for science as the view Frame rejects.

In sum, on the standard view of miracles that is connected with modern science, miracles are beyond the reach of science and, consequently, block scientific inquiry. On one obvious reading of Frame's Scriptural interpretation of miracles the same problem would occur.

Logic

I have argued that on the view of God assumed by TAG, logic is dependent on God. Consequently logic would be contingent, not necessary. In reply Frame has maintained that logic is an aspect of God's nature. According to him logic is both dependent on God and necessary since God is necessary. In response to this I maintained that logic is not dependent on God since one can deny the existence of God without inconsistency but one cannot deny logical principles such as the law of contradiction without inconsistency. In his third reply I took Frame to be saying that I was mistaken since God's existence was logically necessary and therefore His existence could not be denied without inconsistency. Frame now says that he never claimed that God's existence is logically necessary but only that God is a necessarily existing being.

But what does this mean? According to Frame, a necessarily existing being exists in all logically possible worlds. However, in possible world semantics if a proposition is true in every possible world, it is logically necessary. So if God exists in every logically possible world, then the proposition that God exists is true in every logically possible world and thus the proposition that God exists is logically necessary. Apparently, I did not misinterpret Frame after all.

So the question is, why should one suppose that God's existence is logically necessary or (what amounts to the same thing) that one is logically inconsistent in denying the existence of God? Frame gives no reason except to say that the Bible says that it is. However, few Christians have accepted this interpretation of the Bible. If Christians accepted this interpretation, they would believe they could refute atheists easily. They could simply show that atheists contradict themselves and there would be no need for the traditional arguments for the existence of God-- for instance, the Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument, Argument from Miracles, etc. However, most Christians have realized that refuting atheism is not so easy. Indeed, the only Christians I know who maintain that atheists contradict themselves are those few who uphold the Ontological Argument, an argument with deep flaws.

Frame says that the Scriptural ground for saying that God is a necessarily existing being--that is, that He exists in all possible worlds--is that Scripture says that God has no cause, and is not dependent on anything other than Himself. However, as I pointed out in my last reply, there is another possible metaphysical interpretation compatible with these Scriptural claims: God is a necessarily existing being in the sense that it is logically necessary that if at any time God existed, then at every time He existed. This analysis does not entail that God exists in all possible worlds but it does capture one sense of a necessarily existing being. Briefly stated, this would mean that for any possible world in which God exists, He will always exist and has always existed. He is not caused in the possible worlds He exists in and in those worlds He is not dependent on anything. Such a view of a necessarily existing being is compatible with both atheism and one plausible reading of Scripture and I recommend this reading for Frame's consideration. Obviously such a concept of a necessarily existing being would not capture the sense of necessarily existing being appropriate for logical and mathematical entities such as numbers. But this seems to me to be all to the good since there are two concepts of a necessarily existing being and nothing but confusion results from conflating them.

Frame also throws out the tantalizing claim that he attributes to the late Greg Bahnsen that only theism can account for the universality and necessity of logic. But, as far as I can determine, although Bahnsen often made such a claim he gave no argument for it. Certainly Frame gives no argument for it.

Frame brings up the interesting question of who has the burden of proof in a discussion such as ours and what the burden of proof is. It is well to remember that in a free wheeling discussion the burden of proof shifts and changes in the course of the dialogue. Frame has tried to meet the challenge of TANG by using TAG. I would have thought that since he has chosen to proceed in this way the burden is now on him to give some reasons for accepting the major premises of TAG. As I have tried to show, with respect to logic one of the major premises of TAG is that God is a necessarily existing being in the strong sense that the proposition that God exists is logically necessary. Frame gives no argument for this claim. Surely I don't have the burden of showing him mistaken. He must give some reasons to suppose that God is a logically necessary being in the strong sense he assumes. But for what it is worth, in Chapter 12 of my book Atheism, I give many arguments to support the view that, far from God being a logically necessary being, God is a logically impossible being. I show there that the concept of a theistic God is logically incoherent. Furthermore, I pointed out in my previous replies that Frame's claim that God is a logically necessary being in the sense that He exists in every logically possible world assumes the conclusion of the Ontological Argument. However, in Atheism, Chapter 3, I refute various versions of this argument. Given all of this I am surprised that Frame thinks the burden of proof is on me.

In sum, Frame defends the logical part of TAG by making the unargued claim that God is a necessarily existing being in the sense that He exists in all logically possible worlds. Surely he must give some reason for this claim. But in any case, in my published writings I have shown that this claim is dubious and that various arguments for it are unsound.

Morality

In TANG I argued that objective morality is impossible on the Christian view since, if morality is dependent on God as this view upholds, morality would be arbitrary and capacious. Frame's response was that morality is part of God's nature and thus is necessary and eternal. I maintained that such a view is dubious since one could affirm objective morality and deny the existence of God with perfect consistency. In his third reply Frame argued that I was mistaken since one could not deny the existence of God without contradiction for God is necessarily an existing being, a being that exists in all logically possible worlds. I need not repeat my objections to this view for they are fully expressed in the above reply to Frame's position on logic.

In his final reply Frame brings up a new point that an impersonal morality can never obligate and moral obligation can only be personal. I am not sure what he means and he gives no argument for this view. Thus, I will not pursue this point except to mention that in the Introduction to Atheism I give arguments for basing objective ethics on nontheistic foundations.

Again Frame brings up the burden of proof and my reply is similar to the one I have already made. Since he has chosen to use TAG to defeat TANG and TAG assumes that God is a necessarily existing being in the strong sense considered above, Frame must give some arguments to support this assumption. However, he does not. But independent of this, as I have just pointed out, in my published writings I have given arguments that such an assumption is dubious and that the extant arguments for it are unsound.

I also maintained that Christianity has no rational way of deciding between conflicting claims of divine revelation. Frame maintains that the truth of Christian revelation concerning morality is shown by historical investigation. However, it becomes clear in his final reply that, although on his view historical investigation can come to a decision between different interpretations of Scriptures (between, for example, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Mormonism), TAG is needed to rule out other claims to divine revelation. Frame writes: "If TAG establishes the existence of a single personal absolute, then that conclusion rules out most all religious claims except those based on the Old and New Testaments since this is the only revelation consistent with the conclusion of TAG." But, by Frame's own admission, TAG assumes that God exists in all logically possible worlds, However, no argument has been produced for this assumption. By his own admission, without this assumption alleged nonscriptural revelations remain unrefuted. Moreover, even with this assumption it is difficult to see how alleged nonscriptural revelations are undermined. Suppose that God does exist in all logically possible worlds. How does this by itself refute nonscriptural revelation? Obviously other assumptions must be made to carry off the refutation. What are the grounds for these assumptions?

As noted, Frame claims that historical investigation can decide between different claims of revelation within the Scriptural tradition. But, as Frame is well aware, the possibility of this is dependent on other issues considered earlier. In order to decide between Judaism and Christianty, for example, one would have to establish that the Resurrection occurred. But the Resurrection is a miracle. If miracles are ruled out as being incompatible with scientific investigation, as I have argued that they are on the standard modern view and probably also on Frame's Scriptural view, a scientific historical investigation could not decide between these two religious traditions. [2]

With respect to different interpretations of Christian ethics, I argued that the lack of objectivity in Christian ethics is shown by the difficulties of reconciling different interpretations of ethics within the Christian tradition. In his third reply Frame maintained that there is wide consensus on many issues, for example, on the death penalty and abortion, and where there are deep divisions these are the result of the recent influence of secular morality. However, he admitted that in some cases what Christian ethics mandates is unclear. I maintained in contrast to Frame that his belief that there is a wide consensus on moral issues within Christianity is too simple, that there are wide unreconciled divisions among Christians even on the death penalty that cannot be traced to secular influences, and that the area where what Christian ethics entails is unclear is much wider than Frame admits.

In his final reply Frame grants my point that the pacifist tradition has been opposed to the death penalty and that this opposition is not the result of recent secular influences. But he maintains that, notwithstanding this tradition, the death penalty is justified on Scriptural grounds. What he means, I am sure, is that according to his interpretation of Scripture this tradition is wrong. But the key question that is yet to be answered is whether his interpretation is better than that of the pacifists. He also implicitly rejects Bahnsen's extreme interpretation of the death penalty despite Bahnsen's two books defending his views. Again the question remains unanswered whether his rejection of Bahnsen's position has any more validity than Bahnsen's argument for his own position. Frame also grants my point that there are wide areas of uncertainty in deciding what Christian ethics entails but he thinks that without the authoritative norms of Christian ethics to guide us the situation would be hopeless and that Christian ethical principles combined with additional reasoning helps us find solutions. However, given the great diversity of Christian moral opinion and the lack of any detailed account of how Christian ethical principles and additional reason would guide us, one must be skeptical. The only example Frame gives of how such reasoning works is surely questionable. His example of a "Christian moral syllogism" is:

Murder is wrong.
Abortion is murder.
Hence, abortion is wrong.

Let us suppose murder is always wrong. Is abortion always wrong? Even to save the life of the mother? Even to save the mother's health? Even in cases of incest? Many Christians who are opposed to abortion in many instances would allow it in some. Have they really been corrupted by secular morality? How are differences on abortion among Christians to be reconciled? Frame's moral syllogism is of no help in such cases. In other cases where moral problems arise such as privacy, free speech, reproductive technology, psychotherapy, democracy, genetic engineering, and the environment such syllogistic reasoning seems even less appropriate. For in these cases, even the major premise of the syllogism is uncertain. What, for example, would be the unconstroversial Scriptural major premise (analogous to murder is wrong) that would help us decide moral issues connected with free speech or genetic engineering?

Given the problems outlined above, is it really so obvious that Christian morality has any advantages with respect to objectivity over secular ones?

Notes

[1] It has been suggested by Keith Augustine that Frame's definition of miracle has the strange consequence that what is a miracle is relative to human knowledge. For example, on Frame's account radio would not have just seemed a miracle to cave men but would have been a miracle. Although this may be true I am not sure that Frame assumes that in every case human science could in time explain a miracle in his sense. God's unusual ways of governing the universe might in many cases be beyond human ken.

[2] I believe that Frame is mistaken to maintain that on the Christian view the Resurrection is probable-- at least initially -- even for Christians. Indeed, it seems to have an initially low probability. Suppose that Christians believe that God's sacrifice of His Son for the salvation of sinners was likely. It still would not follow that the Resurrection was likely for this particular historical event occurred at a particular time and place. God's Son could have died for sinners in an indefinite number of ways and in an indefinite number of places and times. There does not seem to be any a priori reason to suppose that He would have died at one particular time and place rather than many other times and places. So even if some resurrection or other is likely, there is no a priori reason to suppose that He would have become incarnated and have died as Jesus in First Century Palestine. In fact, given the innumerable alternatives at God's disposal it would seem a priori unlikely that the Resurrection would have taken place where and when it allegedly did. So even Christian historians must overcome an initial improbablity of the Resurrection by producing strong evidence.


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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