the last couple of days, I have been corresponding with another preacher about
some philosophical questions that come up when trying to preach to atheist. I
am including the conversation in the hope that it may help someone else.
Most scientists and students these days seem take a view of
radical empiricism which teaches that if a thing doesn't exist in the physical
universe it, doesn't exist. This would rule out the soul or the "person", concepts,
propositions..... This is why these neo-Nazis find it so easy to destroy an unborn
child or kill an elderly person.
What would be a simple way to show a student
the metaphysical baggage that comes with this view? I would ask them: What about
mathematical truths which are the most certain truths? What about light? What
about color? None of these concepts have any physical existence, yet we cannot
deny mathematical truths or explain the reality of light...
Does light physically
exist or is the concept of a "photon" a term used to describe a theory that attempts
to describe what we know very little about?
BTW I take a semi-platonic view
with regards to concepts and propositions and believe that there is more to the
universe than mere brick and mortar and an empiricist view fails to take into
account the most basic concept viz. existence...
I have tried
to use the argument that points out that the rules of logic have no material existence,
therefore are supernatural. Same goes for the laws of physics, the rules of geometry,
quantum mechanics. Further, all of material existence, everything that exists,
is governed by rules or laws which themselves do not have material existence.
Light is one. It is energy but it is also a particle which itself has no mass.
When studied, it will behave as a wave. But when a camera is set up to record
the behavior, the act of observing it causes it to behave as a particle.
In Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, coupled with quantum physics, it can be
shown that particles do not actually exist continually. They appear instantaneously
at one point, only to disappear and reappear in another location. Think about
it. If you had the ability to do that, and you had a broom, you could as a single
person take on the appearance of a wall sweeping the ocean back. Superman did
it all the time. Move fast enough and you appear solid. Such is the nature of
Matter is just a collection of microscopic energy balls that effectively
preclude any other energy balls from occupying the same space. Energy in and of
itself has no substance, but when the balls of energy known as protons, neutrons,
and electrons force other balls of energy away (bounce off), at the same frequency
as the rotation of an electron around a nucleus (I'm talking about the entire
universe is in a state of constant vibration), then these balls of energy appear
to have substance. The speed of an electron is 10**8 cm/sec. The diameter of a
hydrogen atom is 10**-8 cm. Therefore, an electron orbits around the nucleus of
the atom about 10**16 times per second. At that speed, the atom assumes the appearance
of a solid, even though the atom is just a tiny ball of energy.
But all of
these various balls of energy all behave toward each other in the infinite combinations
between them in very fixed specific ways. The relationships between every elementary
and higher particle obey the laws of physics (either classical or quantum) and
chemistry. Those laws have no existence in a material sense, they exist apart
and distinct from the particles they control. It is axiomatic in science that
that which is created can not be it's own creator.
The laws that control all
matter can not have been created at the same time as those things that those laws
control. The laws that control had to exist before the things that are controlled
came into existence. The existence of huge volumes of laws controlling all of
material existence and being separate and distinct from those things that are
controlled, proves there must be existence separate and distinct from the material
world we observe.
All of the material world is controlled by laws that have
no material existence, yet we know they exist because we can see the material
world controlled by them. The conclusion is that there must be a supernatural
realm containing the rules, or the material realm, being uncontrolled, could not
exist. If not, then the rules themselves would have to manifest a material existence,
because we know for a fact those laws exist. The question is where.
letter thanks Bro,
What if someone were to argue that these laws are not
prescriptive but descriptive and are not laws per se but labels that we assign
to the behavior of matter; could they dodge the issue of these laws preceding
creation and subsisting in the realm of "conceptual space"? I have had the empiricist
argue that logic and math are true on pain of definition instead of conceptual
analysis; so they deny that concepts, forms, propositions, and universals exist
all together. Sounds to me as though they are stubbornly ignorant to limit this
universe to brick and mortar; especially since matter isn't even what most people
think it is... I would argue that logic and math are too descriptive of the behavior
of the universe to merely write off as the conventions of man; what say you?
One thing to add that I think might be paramount: The question
I asked you about are the laws of the universe being prescriptive vs. descriptive;
the answer to this question will ultimately be derived from someone's ontological
commitments. Therefore, the most basic premises of our science is grounded in
our "dogma" or ontology and NOT empirical science... Does this make sense and
would this be a good way of showing the know-it-all student who puts so much faith
in "empiricism" that what he trusts in is no more objective than our beliefs about
You are probably asking: why all the questions? My wife and I have bee
preaching at ASU for a few years now and the atheist club has been out there taunting
us (helping us draw a crowd) and I usually use philosophy as by platform to debate,
my wife who is an MD uses science. My goal is to show the students that ultimately,
all knowledge and science is grounded in our basic beliefs which are dogmatic,
require faith and represent our world view. If we don't ground our knowledge in
a basic belief, self-evident truth, or coherent system - we will fall prey to
circular reasoning, infinite regress, and of course the problem of the criterion.
Once I have shown them that their knowledge is no better than mine- I have pried
their minds a bit to receive the gospel...
Thanks for answering my questions,
PS my friend Richard in China has been receiving your newsletter
they were only descriptive, then they could be easily modified. But the laws regulating
the behavior of matter are not easily changed. It takes massive amounts of energy
to make two elements that won't normally join to join. In some instances to get
some elements to behave in different ways, you have to put them in an atom smasher.
The fixity of the natural laws can only be understood to indicate prescriptive
If the natural laws were descriptive, then in other places, under
other environmental conditions, or in another galaxy, then they could change to
describe behavior that was different. The natural laws (physics, chemistry, quantum
physics) as far as we have been able to determine are universally the same. The
only way that can be explained is by the laws being prescriptive. If not, then
somewhere in the universe matter would be free to behave differently. We have
found no such place. The natural laws with which we are familiar on earth work
If you can get them to admit they exist, the next step is
to ask them where they exist. Anything that exists must have a presence somewhere.
Supernatural is defined as outside the natural realm. If they can not show the
existence in the material realm, then the only other place the laws can exist
is outside the natural realm. Once they admit that the entirety, the totality
of all material behavior is controlled, you are halfway there. There are rules
that are followed every time two hydrogen atoms meet an oxygen atom. They usually
start to scramble to conflate the laws with the matter itself. That which controls
the matter must exist apart from the matter. If it were a tangible part of matter,
it could be isolated, separated from the matter, modified, and returned to the
matter. All of creation could be restructured in any way we want. We could create
a machine to convert old polyester leisure suits into cranberry yogurt.
them hard. "Show me the laws." They must scramble to try to keep the laws and
the objects of the laws together. As soon as they admit that the laws that regulate
all material behavior are not in the matter itself, you have them. The one thing
that they absolutely have to do is to deny there is anything outside of the material
realm. But it is certain the laws exist. It is certain that the laws can not be
distilled from the matter. Therefore it is impossible for there to NOT be a supernatural
Getting an atheist to admit that the material is not all there is,
is sort of like picking up liquid mercury with your finger tips.
system of thought, every philosophy can be traced back to it's foundation. That
foundation ALWAYS is a set of presuppositions that are not empirically tested,
nor can be. There are some presuppositional arguments that are glorious to listen
to. The greatest presuppositional debate I ever listened to Greg Bahnsen vs Stein.
You can listen to it on Youtube. Do a search on "Greg Bahnsen Vs Stein - The Great
Debate". There are others. Bahnsen is the master of presuppositionalism.
thing I try to do is to show the atheists that in order to even argue that there
is no God, they have to first assume the worldview that God exists in order to
argue against His existence. They must assume that logic exists, and that the
laws of logic are consistent and reasonable. They have to believe that there is
truth and error. If there is no God, truth and falsehood are indistinguishable.
When they try to press for a moral position, in order to assume the position,
they have to first believe there is an objective good and evil, truth or lie.
No atheist can argue from a pure materialistic perspective. If so, they can't
use things like logic and reason that have no material existence.
Here is the
link. I think you will really enjoy it.
One more question Bro;
If someone pulls the old "It is logically possible that the laws evolved
and are still evolving but we just cant observe this slow process" would a good
come back be that often logical possibility is vacuous truth for it is logically
possible that I will grow a pair of wings as I am typing this letter; however,
we have no known occurrences of this happening, therefore the probability is zero.
You remind them that science deals with that which is observable, reproducible,
and falsifiable. What they are doing is supplanting what we DO know with a speculation.
What they are suggesting has no evidence that it even could exist. It may be religion,
or it may be philosophy, but it certainly can't be science.
Are you familiar
with Anselm's ontological proof of God. That says that since we can conceive of
a perfect being therefore he must exist somewhere in the universe. Try this on
them. When they make such speculative statements, ask them if they will accept
Anselm's argument for the existence of God. Of course they won't. Then point out
to them that that is the exact "proof" they are trying to use on you, with one
small twist. They think that if they can imagine some scenario that could discredit
the Bible, then it must exist somewhere in the universe. Then they put forth their
imaginative story as if it is scientific evidence. All of evolution's proof ultimately
is reducible to this: they think that their ability to imagine something happening
in the far distant unknowable past means that it must have happened in just that
way. Then they say we won't listen to science, that we reject the evidence. Such
story tellers those evolutionists and atheists are.
Bahansen debate is great. I paid to download it and will listen to it several
times (I am one of those guys that reads my books 3 times before I really understand
them); he tears the atheist to shreds, I wonder though if his view of natural
law will allow for a coherent view of free will? I noticed he is an Orthodox Presbyterian
and on a site many of his sermons are Calvin this and Calvin that; I heard D'sauza
do a good job and it went like this: There are natural laws and physical necessity
in the universe and man does encounter these causes; however, with regards to
man, when his mind is presented with these "motive objects" he can suspend volition,
subject the motives to reflection and judgment, and then either not respond, or
choose a response (effect) that he has freely chosen (paraphrases). He then goes
on to say that there are certain laws that man must obey such as gravity... but
when it comes to certain issues such as moral decisions; man is a free moral agent
enjoyed so many parts of the debate but what I found was key is what you and I
have been discussing: the Atheist (A) said that science is impossible without
reliance on laws, however, B pointed out that these laws are necessary truths
and this regularity is essential for science to continue. The atheist then tried
to get out of this by saying that the laws were merely descriptive of how atoms
behave (the descriptive view of law) but B called him on it by using Hume's Problem
with Induction which states that we do not have the right to assume that anything
in the physical universe will be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday, we have
no right to assume regularity because induction does not imply necessity but mere
probability and science needs necessary laws to establish other laws.
atheist who claims that laws are descriptive will have to sacrifice the superstructure
of the scientific method or else acknowledge that science is no knowledge at all
(which is the view of most philosophers - they call scientific knowledge "inferences
to the best explanation")
The strength of Bahnsen was that he understood the role that bed rock assumptions
have on our world view. Every system of thought is traceable ultimately to assumptions
we make and never challenge. We assume them to be true, and that assumption colors
every conclusion after that. So true is the verse that the fear of God is the
beginning of wisdom. He may not be the end all, but his presuppositionalism is
very crucial in confronting the world.
Many years ago, I was preaching with
Jed at Ohio State. It began to rain, so we took shelter in the student union.
Several students recognized us and sat down to talk to us. The one student got
onto the supposed "budget cuts" that were going on in the Reagan administration.
He went on and on about all these people suffering, and suffering, and suffering,
blah, blah, blah. He finally broke from his diatribe and asked me "Well, what
do you think about all this suffering that is going on?"
I said, "Suffering?
I'd have to say that I am an advocate of suffering. I don't think we have enough
of it." You can imagine the high state of dudgeon he entered into.
you say such a thing?" he asked.
I responded by saying that suffering has
a beneficial side to it. I pointed out that the great depression was followed
by 50 years of the greatest economic explosion in the history of man. The reason
for such was the suffering of the depression. People vowed that they would never
be in a soup line again. Savings went up. Investment went up. Prosperity exploded.
I went on to point out that we as a society do not honor those who are born
with a silver spoon in their mouth and a wagon load of money growing up. We look
down on the profligates. We honor those who face great adversity and overcome
- Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, etc.
Suffering brings with it it's own
solution - the pain. When we are subjected to suffering, we take steps to correct
it. It is the suffering that motivates many people to start businesses, invent
things, go to school, get a better job... Mankind is predictable in that we go
for things that are pleasurable, comfortable, and easy. We shy away from anything
that is painful, suffering, or sorrowful.
The problem with government trying
to alleviate everybody's suffering is that they are removing the driving engine
of progress. Take for example welfare. The damage that welfare does is that it
does not bring anyone up out of poverty, instead it makes staying in poverty a
bearable thing. Without welfare, people would be forced to take action to end
their plight. But welfare payments make the poverty easier, make it endurable.
So they stay in poverty. We are now in many cities into the 4th and 5th generations
of welfare families. The children follow in their parents steps onto the welfare
roles. Welfare only perpetuates poverty.
I challenged his base assumption
- that all suffering is bad - and when he realized what I was saying was true,
he switched so fast my head began to spin. In seconds, he was planning how to
dismantle welfare. "We'll just close it down, no wait, that won't work. There
are too many addicted to it. I know, we'll just start to constrict entry onto
the roles, and do away with it by attrition." He was even energized. His assumption
crumbled, and everything built on that assumption began to crumble.
is on the streets. If we can get them down to their base assumptions and can show
them that their assumptions are wrong, we can start them thinking in constructive
directions. It is hard to do, but understanding presuppositionalism is key to
tearing down every vain thought that exalts itself against God. If the foundation
can be disrupted, the walls of their intellectual fortresses will start to come
to clarify my thinking, Bahsen is stating that the laws of logic are from God
and proven redicio ad absurdum. He outright denies that they simply exist as part
of the constitutional make up of matter (the laws are descriptive) - Is there
a way to deny this with a bit more force? An atheist would say that electrons
spin around a nucleolus just because they do and those are the properties inherent
to them, therefore excluding any law.
I can refute the laws of logic based
on the fact that they are too universal to be mere conventions and are necessarily
true in describing reality. This would exclude them from being merely true on
pain of definition.
So the atheist would view is that matter behaves in
orderly ways that we perceive as laws but there is no law governing them; this
order is just the way matter evolved since the big bang.
I guess one way
of refuting scientific laws is to say that if they are not necessarily true; then
there is no guarantee that what science observes today will be true tomorrow ---BUT
isn't this true of science in that it is always subject to revision?
Whether or not they
are part of the constitutional make up of matter is important. If they are, then
that constitutional makeup existed before the matter came into existence. It is
the constitutional make up rules that controlled the creation (whether by fiat
or big bang) of the matter. So since something can not create itself, the constitutional
make up had to preexist the matter that is so controlled. They could not come
into existence at the same time, that violates the logical constraint that that
which controls can not come after or at the same time as that which is controlled.
The old chicken and egg conundrum. Something that is controlled can not come into
existence with the controlling thing.
On the other hand, if they are not
part of the constitutional make up, you already have them. They have admitted
to the existence of an immaterial thing that preexisted matter, i.e. the rules
that govern the matter itself. Once anything is admitted to that is immaterial
and necessary, materialism as a philosophical constraint must collapse.
far as the electron argument is concerned, it is interesting that the atom even
holds together at all. Like charges repel, so the nucleus should explode. But
it doesn't. Their response is "strong nuclear force holds it together". This is
true, but it is only provable by the fact that atoms do not explode. There is
no physical evidence for it's existence. There is no material existence for the
strong nuclear force. All we have is the unexploded atoms. Challenge them to produce
physical evidence for the strong nuclear force. Ultimately they will be forced
to go back to "we know it exists because we can see it's result". Turn that around
by substituting "God" for "it" in that sentence, and ask them if they will accept
your argument. We know God exists because we can see His results. They will not.
Then try to nail them on the inconsistency of their position. The strong nuclear
force is something we know exists, but has no physical material existence whatsoever.
A little stronger than saying that about logic, because it does have a semblance
of material existence (however inferred). The strong nuclear force - we do not
know what it is. The existence of nuclei is an illogical thing without it. Since
the Bible says that Jesus upholds the existence of all things, or holds everything
together, by the power of His word, the strong nuclear force may just be the only
physical evidence for the existence of God. But they won't buy it.
one way of refuting scientific laws is to say that if they are not necessarily
true; then there is no guarantee that what science observes today will be true
tomorrow ---BUT isn't this true of science in that it is always subject to revision?
No, the laws must always be true, or nothing can be know at all. Science is
founded on the principle that the laws are immutable, therefore the universe is
ordered and able to be understood. If the laws are not necessarily true, science,
and all knowledge, are impossible. Interpretations can change, but the laws themselves
do not. Ice will always float, hydrogen will always burn, evolutionists will always
will leave you alone and stop the pestering questions; two easy questions 1. the
axiom that you told me "That which is created cannot be its creator" will most
hold to this even evolutionist? and secondly I have heard some philosophers say
that the "Grand Laws" of the universe are necessarily true; but the theorems and
other laws of science like Brunelli's principle, Newton's law of gravity, Einstein's
theory of relativity... are contingent in that they cannot be verified by inspecting
every single situation and are arrived at by induction.
Could you live with
this statement? I suppose the problems come in when we try to demarcate between
Grand Laws and Laws of Science. I know that the "Law of Cause and Effect" cannot
be verified because we have not observed every single cause and effect nor can
we ever subject this theory to observation; and all it takes is one counter proof
to blow the whole theory - additionally I would believe that as you and I believe
in free will; we would consider that the human mind is not subject to cause and
effect (even though Jonathan Edwards the Determinist did) and we can actually
be the first cause of our effects and sovereign over certain aspects of our lives
(sovereign with a little s of course).