Friday, March 7, 2014


I have engaged in some prominent debates with Sydney Anglican (read Episcopalian, if you're American or Scottish) bishops and the like at various universities over the years on such important topics as the existence of God and whether Jesus physically rose from the dead. One of the bishops I debated in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney was Dr Glenn Davies [pictured below] who is now the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney. At least I found him to be a real gentleman. He was also no dill, although I didn’t find him to be much of a debater, nor apparently did a number of his Christian supporters---including some prominent members of the Sydney University Evangelical Union who organized the debate---who wrote to me after the debate saying that even they thought I had ‘won’ the debate. Of course, that neither proves nor disproves anything at all. Important issues of the kind in question are not truly resolved one way or the other by formal debates governed by the rules of debate.

I was the ‘atheist’ in these debates. Well, I wasn’t just play-acting for I reject all forms of traditional theism. If there is a ‘God’ that God is certainly not the crude anthropomorphic ‘being’ in whom my opponents believed. Atheists do not necessarily reject or deny the existence of God, rather they simply lack theistic belief (Greek áthe (os) god-less + -ist). Most, if not all, agnostics, are really ‘soft’ atheists, for they too lack theistic belief and, like atheists, live their lives as if there were no God, which may well be the case in any event. In other words, agnostics, by virtue of their lack or absence of theistic belief, are for all intents and purposes what are known as 'practical atheists,' as opposed to those who are metaphysical or philosophical ('hard') atheists. Forgive me, I digress (as usual).

Now, in the debates in which I participated I would seek to demolish the traditional, classical so-called ‘proofs’ for the existence of God. My opponents, knowing full well that those ‘proofs’ are all fundamentally flawed and have been found wanting by those 'evil, atheistic philosophers,' would invariably seek to rely upon what is known as presuppositional apologetics. A presupposition is an assumption that is taken for granted. That is, they would take for granted God’s existence---yes, Christian presuppositionalism presupposes the existence of an absolute God and temporal creation---because their a priori Christian beliefs would not allow them to proceed otherwise. 

You see the Christian presuppositionalist's 'reasoning' is derived from their basic presuppositions from which they refuse to budge no matter what counter-reasoning is presented by their opponent. They take for granted the truth and reliability of the Christian Scriptures and assume from the beginning the supernatural revelation of the Bible as the ultimate arbiter of truth and error. They then try to show how belief in the Christian God, Jesus, the Bible, the 'miracles', etc, is supposedly more reasonable than non-belief in those things. Amazing, really. You see, in light of their presuppositions about things metaphysic they see all thinking on such matters---well, at least their thinking---as being wholly receptively reconstructive of their (note this---narrow, emphatic evangelical) interpretation of what is set forth in the Bible as supposedly being God's Word (that is, God's thinking).

My Christian opponents’ arguments rested almost entirely on an absolutist belief in the Bible as the source of truth because the Bible is supposedly inspired by God, in whom, so we are told, we can believe because the Bible affirms it, and the Bible is the source of truth. ('Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.' Well, the Bible must be right, mustn't it? Because the Bible is the Word of God. It says so. So it must be right. Etc, etc.) This sort of reasoning is entirely circular and tautological, and is little more than fideism, which asserts---in its strongest form---that belief in the existence of God cannot be established by reason at all, but must be accepted or rejected wholly upon faith. 

In at least one of the debates in which I participated my opponent told the audience that, given my rationalistic worldview, I was simply incapable of entertaining any worldview of a 'supernaturalistic' kind. In other words, he was accusing me of presuppositionalism---of a naturalistic, rationalistic kind. Not so. I do not start with any such presupposition. My present position is simply that the physical world in which we live yields no credible or reliable evidence of 'supernaturalism.' This is not a naturalistic bias on my part at all. Not at all. I repeat, I do not start from any naturalistic or rationalistic presuppositions. For example, believing that there are no good reasons for believing that God exists does not necessitate that God does not and cannot exist since mere belief is not proof that God either exists or doesn’t exist. Although I lack theistic belief my mind is not closed to the possibility of God existing, although I think that’s most unlikely. My mind is not foreclosed to reason, counter-argument or evidence to the contrary. I fear, however, that my Christian opponents' minds were foreclosed. Their theistic presuppositions could not under any circumstances allow them to rightly determine God’s non-existence from evidence. Their basic presuppositions compelled them to always interpret all evidence in a manner consistent with those absolutist presuppositions.

With Bishop Robert Forsyth, the Anglican Bishop of South Sydney,
whom I debated in 2005 at the University of Technology, Sydney

In these debates---as in my various writings---I tried wherever possible to rely on reason and its principal ‘tool’, logic. (I must be honest. I would from time to time also employ some ridicule and theatrics well.) Now, when I use the word ‘logic’ I am referring to traditional Aristotelian logic. My opponents would then retort, ‘God is above the rules of logic.’ Really? That can’t be right. Now, for the sake of what follows, let’s assume that there is a God of the kind my learned clerical opponents claimed made the world, is watching attentively over it, and so on. How could this God be ‘above’---whatever that word means in this context---the rules of logic?

First, the assertion that God is above logic is not an a priori proposition. Where is the theist’s proof for this assertion? In fact, the theist, although rejecting the applicability of logic, always ends up applying logic, albeit wrongly. Theists tend to do that, and they end up tying themselves into knots of their own making.

Secondly, what is the point of reasoning about God if the principal tool of reason---that is, logic----is inapplicable or unreliable. Never forget that logic is about things, not thought, and about how things are related to other things. It is always a case of … what is.  As the Scottish born-Australian philosopher John Anderson [pictured below left] pointed out, there is only one order or level of reality such that a single logic applies to all things and how they are related to each other. There can be nothing ‘above’ or ‘below’ the proposition---not even God. Anderson was a realist, an empiricist, and in more recent times I have come to see that idealism and realism are not really in conflict with each other. Indeed, they need each other, and they even complement each other. Irrespective of whether or not you accept Anderson’s strict realism, I think what he said about there being only one order or level of reality is true, even if one embraces monistic idealism.

Thirdly, and most importantly, if there were anything above logic we simply could not trust our senses at all. All our attempts at fact-finding, determining what conclusions and inferences can be drawn from any given set of facts before us, and drawing appropriate conclusions and inferences from those facts, would be futile---and we know that is not the case. We can reason---and we must ... if we are to know our true bearings and 'navigate' our way successfully through life. With our eyes open, and wide awake, I mean.

Fourthly, if God were above logic there could be no interpretation (logical extrapolation) of God’s Word or Christian apologetics. For example, the various arguments for the Trinity would collapse. They’re pretty weak in any event, but that’s another story.

Fifthly, the theist does in fact use logic when expedient, that is, when it suits their purposes. Take, for example, the law of non-contradiction (viz that anything with a contradictory nature cannot exist). The theist affirms that God cannot contradict Himself. Thus, God cannot create a rock that God can’t lift. God cannot create a round square. God cannot make the immoral moral. God may be all-powerful but God is still constrained by logic. If that were not so, then there would be nothing to stop God from creating a rock so heavy that God could not lift it and then in the next moment lift it. In short, a God ‘above’ logic doesn’t make sense at all. It is inconsistent with the very attributes that are said go to make up God (reason being one of them). Reason and observation tell us that nothing can be done by anything---including God---that is not otherwise part of its capabilities.

Finally, assuming, for the moment that the God of traditional theism does in fact exist---something which, in my opinion, is highly unlikely indeed---that God would not be above logic nor below it. As with morality or goodness, reason would have to be an integral part of the nature of God. It would not be a question of God ‘submitting’ to logic nor could it be truly said that God arbitrarily created reason. In short, reason, a fundamental human capability, would have to be seen to be part of God’s nature and, once again, as the theist keeps on telling us, God does not and cannot contradict His own nature.

Of course, all that assumes that the God of traditional theism does in fact exist. I have written and spoken elsewhere on that matter.

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