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Drange-Wilson Debate: Wilson’s Second Rebuttal


Dr. Drange commented that I had not provided “any clear statement of the argument.” By this I suppose he means that I did not number my premises and end with a “therefore.” Nevertheless, despite the obstacles I placed in his way, Dr. Drange did quite a good job placing my argument in a form more to his liking. I do have a few comments on the content, however, which was to be expected.

But before turning to the content of his arguments, and the content of his summaries of my arguments, please allow a brief excursus on the momentous issues behind such apparently small issues of argument formulation — premises one, two, three, four, stark and severe outlines, and nifty acronyms for arguments. The historic Christian position cannot pushed into modernity’s categories, which is to say, our discussion of the great questions ought always to be pursued with reason, joy, humor, poetry, and gladness. We must take care to think like men, and not rattle and hum like a badly-oiled machine. So in the approach I take to argumentation here, I am not trying to be annoying, but I am presenting my arguments the way I do on purpose.

Oh well. When Dr. Drange summarizes my “inner core” argument (ART), his #2 is not exactly right, and it reveals how the nuances of a transcendental form of argumentation can be difficult to grasp at first. He says that, “There are just two possible explanatory frameworks for that fact (the fact that rational thought exists): atheism and Christian theism.” Actually, the point of the transcendent argument is that there is only one possibility — Christianity. We do not want to set up two, or four, or seven possibilities, and then try to show how Christianity wins the beauty contest. The point of this form of argumentation is that there is no contest.

Rather, Christianity is affirmed as the only possible ground of rational thought. But because Christian theists cannot debate all forms of non-Christian thought at once, it is necessary to take them on one at a time. Now a downstream consequence of this transcendental argumentation is the impossibility of the contrary. But which contrary? All of them, of course, but the one you talk about is determined by which form of unbelief is engaged in debate at the time. Thus, in a debate between a Christian and a Buddhist, the Christian should show the inescapability of Christian theism, and seek to demonstrate an application of that inescapability by showing the particular impossibility of Buddhism. This would create the optical illusion of the “two possibilities of Christianity and Buddhism,” but this is only an illusion created by the time and place of the debate. It is the same in a debate between a Christian and an atheist. I do not believe atheism to be a “possibility,” but rather believe it to be philosophically incoherent. It falls in the category of a reflexive paradox, and, as we should know, no true position can entail its own falsity. If it does, it collapses under its own weight.

Another problem can be seen in Dr. Drange’s formulation of the TAG. As he states it, “As shown by ART, the fact that rational thought exists entails the conclusion that the Christian God must exist.” Again, he has assembled the key elements, but he is not holding the thing right side up. The fact that rational thought exists does not entail the conclusion that God exists. It presupposes God’s existence. The argument is not “rational thought, and therefore God.” The argument is “God, and therefore rational thought.” God is never the conclusion; He is the only necessary premise of any argument. This is why many people accuse those who present the transcendental argument of committing the fallacy of petitio principii, that of begging the question. How can one debate the existence of God by assuming or presupposing that God exists? Are you not assuming you are supposed to prove? Exactly so.

But this is not a problem because all ultimate questions involve circularity, and we might as well get used to it. The virtue of the Christian transcendental argument is that this feature which is necessary to all creaturely thought is simply embraced and understood, and the right ultimate question is properly identified. But the process of necessary circularity can be still seen when anything is falsely elevated to the level of ultimacy. To the fellow who says, “You can’t tell me that God exists just because He does. By contrast, I base all my thoughts on reason.” I would reply, “Oh? What is your reason for doing so?” He may not like transcendental circularity, but he is stuck with it too. How can an embrace of reason be justified through an appeal to reason? That is no different (at least as far as circularity is concerned) than the fellow who says that God must exist because otherwise He could not have written John 3:16.

With these initial comments, allow me to turn to Dr. Drange’s serial objections. He says, first, that we have the other God objection, and asks me to show how rational thought can only be accounted for by the Christian God, but not by Allah, for example. I would be happy to do this if I were in a debate with a Muslim, but I am not. I have sketched the outlines of how this works above, but don’t want to waste precious kilobytes attacking something Dr. Drange is not about to defend. It is enough to say here that the ground of rationality cannot be simply a rational construct, an idea of “God.” The ground of rationality must be the living and triune God.

Secondly, he points to the agnosticism objection. This is the same kind of deal, but because agnosticism is atheism’s first cousin, I am willing to have at it briefly. There are three kinds of agnostics. The first says “I don’t know and I don’t care.” This kind need not be engaged in debate because he is not really interested in theological discussion. It would be better to use the Latin form of agnostic here — ignoramus. The second says “I don’t know but I wish I did.” This is a seeker who will not be agnostic long; he is on his way out, so all we need do is wait patiently. The last one is our fellow; he is a dogmatic agnostic. He doesn’t know because he doesn’t think God is knowable. He says, “I don’t know, you don’t know, nobody can know.” But, I would like to know, how does he know this? This principled agnostic wants to say that he does not know whether God exists. Thus, on this ultimate question he wants to claim knowledge of the necessity of theological ignorance. “I do not know if God exists,” he says. Well, okay so far. But then he continues, “and furthermore, if He does exist He is the kind of being who cannot be known.” Really? How did he learn this attribute of the inscrutable God? He knows something concerning the God about whom nothing whatever can be known. Like atheism, this position contradicts itself.

The next point I would like to address is Dr. Drange’s comment that he is not seeking to defend atheistic materialism. He indicates later that materialism is not perhaps as indefensible as I asserted, but, whether it is or not, he neatly sidestepped the whole thing by disclaiming materialism. Thus my line of argument appears to have gone whistling by his head. Or did it?

He says, “I myself am an atheist but not a materialist. I would say there exist things that are not reducible to matter and energy. Consider, for example, propositions.” I am very interested in pursuing this line of argument in our future installments. What is Dr. Drange’s argument for the existence of propositions?

He is right in saying I believe that atheism entails materialism. I know that some atheists want to dispute this, but do not believe this keeps their position from reducing to materialism anyway. I do not believe it is an accident that materialism is so common among atheists; the logic of a position works its way out over time.

An immaterialist atheist who affirms the existence of a non-material entity like propositions must answer the question whether any such propositions are universal and authoritative. If they are, then the atheist is really a theist who affirms the existence of an impersonal Deity. If they are not, then he is hard put to explain why we should pay any attention to some of these propositions when other equally non-authoritative immaterial entities are demanding our attention — Farley’s ghost, the fairy queen, and the Contract with America.

In his science objection, he rallies to a quasi-defense of the atheistic materialism he does not hold. He concludes by saying that science “has come a long way towards explaining rational thought in materialist terms.” But here, Dr. Drange has actually confused an explanation of rational thought with a description of rational thought. Materialist scientists observe and describe various phenomena, and then give it a scientific name to conceal their helplessness. When it comes to explaining immaterial phenomena, such as reason, scientists as scientists have absolutely nothing to say.

In response to my question as to why we should trust reason, Dr. Drange answered that organisms “trust it because it works.” But this produces a host of questions, equally interesting in their turn. Why is it good that things “work”? And does this not validate irrationalism to the extent that it works? When he says that organisms trust reason because it works, is this not the same reason lots of organisms trust irrational responses? Works for them. Is that good?

In his burden of proof objection, he states that I must show that materialism necessarily cannot account for rationality. If I do not do this, he argues that a materialistic basis for rationality could be discovered just around the corner. Now I accept this burden of proof cheerfully and without grumbling. I have sought to show that rational thought arising from inchoate matter is an incoherent concept, like squaring the circle. If I say that scientists in five hundred years will not be able to square the circle, my willingness to predict this is not hindered by my ignorance of how many research dollars they might spend on it.

He says here that “the existence of the Christian God is a matter of controversy, but the existence of rational thought is an observed fact.” The existence of the Christian God would not be a matter of controversy if we excluded all those who would dispute the point. And the existence of rational thought is an observed fact, noncontroverted only if we exclude from the debate those who would dispute it. This is a handy way to establish something as undisputed; you rule all the disputants out of order. I can’t believe Dr. Drange really wants to say this. What about Zen monasteries? What about the House of Representatives?

His last objection was the inadequacy objection. Here he asks six questions which I hope he does not mind if I answer in a somewhat summary fashion. This is not because they are not worthy of more discussion, it is just that my space runneth out.

Does God transcend logic? No, ultimate logic or reason is an attribute of God, just as His holiness or justice is.

What does it mean to be created in the image of the transcendent God? St. Paul says that it involves our created capacity to reflect righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24).

How can a being outside time do any thinking at all? Beats me.

Did God create time? Yes, the Bible says that God did many things before time, and before the foundation of the world. Therefore, time is a creation of God’s, for there was a time (I know, I know) when time was not. How is it possible for God to do things before (a temporal preposition) time (the basis of all temporal prepositions). Gosh, you got me. And we can’t get out of the jam by using other prepositions. “Above time” makes us think that time has an attic. And all this drives us to the necessary starting point of all true worship, which is the acknowledgment that all our knowledge of God (including that which is revealed) is analogical and poetic. If I could answer any of these questions the way Dr. Drange would like, I would be defending the existence of a Zeus or Thor.

And this obviously relates to the next question. How exactly does God create things? If I knew that, I would be richer than I am.

And lastly, with regard to question six, I suspect that Dr. Drange is trying to maneuver me into saying that God didn’t create the universe 10 billion years ago, but rather six thousand years ago. He will then be able to call upon all the gods of respectable science to smite me on my heretical noggin. But this is something I am quite happy to do anyway, and follow it up for good measure by saying that I believe the story about Noah’s ark too, along with the giraffe’s head sticking out the window. So God did not wait a long time after the creation before acting.

And as for the rest of the universe, I would rather not comment, not having been there.

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