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Third Rebuttal

Douglas Wilson

 

In his second rebuttal Dr. Drange devotes himself to defending his two initial arguments against the existence of God, these being the Argument from Non-Belief (ANB) and Argument from Confusion (AC). Consequently, this seems as good a place as any to return once again to these arguments.

What the ANB amounts to is the claim that if the world is other than what God expressly desires for it, and if God claims of Himself that He is the one who "worketh all things after the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11), then it follows that this God does not exist. If the God of the Bible works everything out His way, and we see that in the world not everything goes His way, then it does follow that He is not there. This principle can be applied in various ways, salvation being one of them. But I would offer the same answer to all the various applications of this argument -- which is to say that God does not really want what is being claimed on His behalf.

Thus, if the Bible said that God wanted the sky to be green every day, and the Bible also taught that God always accomplishes everything He wants, and we came to notice that the sky was in fact not green, we could fairly conclude that our underachiever god did not exist. But wait. Perhaps we might notice one other option, which is the possibility of questioning whether the Bible in fact really does teach that God wants green skies. All this to say, I do not object to the structure of ANB, but I do question the truth of its basic premise. God does not want what Dr. Drange seems to be confident He does want. I maintain that everyone whom God wants to save, God in fact does save. Everyone that God wants to have hear the message will in fact hear the message, and down the road it goes.

So in principle, Dr. Drange is quite right. If the Bible expressed God's desire for certain things to happen, and really taught us that He desired nothing more, and those things which He desires do not come about, this would be a formidable argument against the existence of the God of the Bible. If we could show that His arm was so short that He could not save, even when He wanted to, this would be an argument that He had no arm at all. The God of the Bible accomplishes what He declares He will do. If the Bible declared something in His name which did not come to fruition, then we Christians of all men are most to be pitied. This is not an atheistic proof against God's existence; it is God's declaration against the false prophets. "When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him" (Dt. 18:22). With regard to some things, Dr. Drange and Moses line right up.

Where Dr. Drange and I differ is that he has clearly been influenced by the doctrinal assumptions of contemporary evangelicalism -- "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." But these assumptions are completely at variance with the position of the historic Protestant church. However understandable, this really does constitute "ignorance of the refutation." The exegetical territory is well-traveled. When we consider the history of the Reformed faith, the position which Dr. Drange says is the one held by "most" Christians is very much the minority report. He may get an amen from contemporary evangelical apologists (who would then have to weary themselves in a struggle with his sturdy argument), but he will not receive any nods from the classical Protestant world. Now to present an argument against God's existence which depends upon an interpretation of the Bible and Christianity which would be repudiated by Paul, Augustine, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Beza, Owen, Whitefield, Edwards, Warfield, Machen, et al. is surely an interesting way of proceeding. This mode of argumentation depends upon a sectarian understanding of the Christian faith. To repeat what I said earlier, it is as though Dr. Drange weighed in on the side of the baptists over against the paedobaptists, and then developed an argument against the truth of Christianity because of the exclusion of infants from the covenant.

Dr. Drange's ignorance of the refutation is revealed by some of his elemental confusions -- like his identification of the difference between Christian and non-Christian on one hand and elect and non-elect on the other. Of course God wants His elect to be saved, and the elect are called out of every tribe, nation, language, and people. But before they were called, His elect were generally non-Christians, but always elect. A man who will be called tomorrow is a non-Christian today, but was elect from before the foundation of the world.

Errors of this type undergird the ANB throughout and provide the foundation for it. For example, speaking of how God wants all kinds of men to come to know the truth, he asks, "What are those `kinds'"? But to reduce the question, as he does, to short, oriental, or left-handed men is to miss one of the central themes of the New Testament. This theme is that God has not limited salvation to the Jews. We are told in various ways throughout the New Testament that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free. To read the passage in Timothy as referring to "all kinds of men," as I have, is consistent with the teaching of Paul as a whole, consistent with the immediate context, and is consistent with a proper translation (not interpretation) of the Greek word pas.

In this section of his argument, Dr. Drange asks me to clarify many questions, delivered in scattershot fashion, but there is no real need to chase all these answers down. The fact that he asks them only illustrates further that he is unaware of the basic issues involved in this particular debate -- "a rather mean deity!" One wonders, really, who God thinks He is. We are talking about the Creator of heaven and earth, and not the facilitator of a group encounter session. And Christianity is not false because we have trouble understanding the relationship between predestination and personal responsibility. Chesterton once remarked on the difference between the poet and the materialist. The poet seeks to get his head in the heavens. The materialist seeks to get the heavens into his head -- and it is his head that splits.

In short, the ANB only appears to work because of a superficial understanding of many of the relevant passages of Scripture. And the argument is employed because of an ignorance of centuries of biblical scholarship on this question, the literature of which is monumental. So, the ANB fails.

His defenses of the AC are more better, but there are still difficulties.

First, Dr. Drange argues that if there is confusion about a document, this means that the document is confusing. This may be the case, but it is in no way necessarily the case. When a document is misunderstood, the problem could be the document, it could be the readers of it, or it could be both. This is why Dr. Drange has to do more than simply assert that people are confused about the Bible. I grant that they are; indeed, I maintain that many of them are. But this does not mean that the Bible is the problem. One of the clearest teachings of the Bible is on the myopia of sinful men, and all Dr. Drange has done is point to evidence of this.

Second, to place something in perspective is not the same thing as belittling it. In the light of eternity many of the disagreements among Christians will be finally seen in perspective. This does not mean that such disagreements are necessarily unimportant, or that our earthly existence is meaningless.

Third, Dr. Drange objects to my appeal to God's unknown purposes. It says it merely appeals to the idea of mystery and so provides no explanation of anything. It is totally unenlightening." Notice how Dr. Drange is arguing here. I say that God's unknown purposes mean that we cannot explain some things. This is read as saying that we cannot explain anything. Dr. Drange also believes this appeal to God's unknown purposes makes huge portions of the Bible inexplicable. No, my point is that careless and superficial Bible study makes huge portions of the Bible inexplicable, and that careful Bible study will reveal a certain, limited number of places where we must take off our shoes because we are on holy ground. Careful study will reveal the boundary line between the two. "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Dt. 29:29).

In making his fourth point, Dr. Drange says, "To say that X is necessary for salvation but Y is sufficient (where Y does not included X) is clearly a contradiction." I quite agree, and so Y does include X. True believing always includes repentance, and calling upon the Lord is never done apart from faith. One of the things that has amazed me over the years is the type of contradiction in the Bible alleged by atheists. Most of them are not even apparent contractions, and I have never quite understood why they do not produce "contradictions" that at least look like contradictions. If I were asked politely, I could provide a sampling of plausible contradictions. Fundamentally, this problem reveals a modernist inability (hardly limited to Dr. Drange) to comprehend the poetic nature of human language. Human language is not algebra.

Dr. Drange says that I have not adequately explained "why the Christian God permits there to be so much confusion." The answer is that God permits what He does because it is His desire to do so. If it happens, then on a fundamental level, He wants it to happen. If confusions exist among God's people, then it is because He has a good reason for decreeing that this come about. "O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants' sake, the tribes of thine inheritance" (Is. 63:17).

Now, let us turn and use both these arguments presented by Dr. Drange as an occasion to return to the transcendental argument which I have already presented several times. In both of his arguments, Dr. Drange assumes that contradiction and inconsistency are things to avoid. I quite agree with this, but only because I have an absolute starting point -- God is a God of order, not chaos or contradiction. Thus, as a follower of God, I should want my thoughts to reflect His thoughts. But Dr. Drange does not have such a foundation to build on. What is his starting point and why? Before he begins presenting his arguments, what does he have to assume about the nature of arguments, and why does he assume it?

Dr. Drange has not yet provided us with an argument for the existence of logic, rationality, or any other immaterial realities he may want to affirm. And yet, he relies on rationality throughout his argumentation. Affirming is all well and good, but why should reason be obeyed? For utilitarian reasons, because it helps to preserve the survival of our species? If irrationalism worked just as well, would it do just as well?

As long as Dr. Drange insists on presupposing rationality, and does not show us why rationality is necessary given his assumptions about the cosmos, it is fair to say that he concedes the debate in principle. After all, we are debating here like men, created in God's image. But if we were simply bi-pedal carbon units, the end product of a blind process of evolution, we would be hard-pressed to show that this exchange rose to the level of a debate. Did our affection for the law of the undistributed middle arise in the same way that a squirrel's liking for acorns arose? Or is it different? If the same, why not treat it the same? If different, what is the difference, and why?


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