Saturday, September 20, 2014

Does the God of Christian Theism Exist? Justin Schieber v. Ignacio Reyes

A lot can be said of this debate but I will keep my comments brief. 


Ignacio Reyes starts the debate with an admission, he doesn't know everything. I take it Reyes's point is that the intelligence of a given debater does not validate his/her position. There is a difference between knowing and showing the Christian worldview is true. Christians can have the former and yet lack the ability to do the latter, for various reasons. Christians can know God exists (independent of arguments or evidences), but face unbelief, without knowing precisely how to show God exists. (Note this is one reason why Christians ought to value biblical apologetics). So, if Reyes doesn't have an answer to a particular argument in the debate, it does not disprove the Christian worldview.

Reyes presents three traditional arguments for God's existence, viz, (1) the cosmological argument, (2) the teleological argument and (3) the argument from the resurrection of Christ. By (1) and (2) he seeks to prove God's existence. With the historical reliability of the New Testament, he argues for (3).  

Justin Schieber frames the debate in terms of two different hypotheses, theism and naturalism, with probability and parsimony as the tools to help support and select between the two rival hypotheses. Schieber argues religious disagreement ( religious diversity?), and gratuitous suffering are probable evidence against theism generally and Christian theism particularly.        

 Reyes takes Schieber's arguments to be predicated upon faulty premises. Reyes argues, contrary to Schieber, religious disagreement (and religious diversity) help support Christian theism. Since Christian theism explains that religious disagreement (and religious diversity) stems from self-deception, rebellion and willful ignorance (e.g. Romans 1:16-24; Acts 17:16-34). Reyes presses Schieber to tackle the cosmological argument, to defend either the universe is divine creation, illusory, or self-sufficient. It strikes me that Reyes argues that gratuitous suffering is question-begging until it's shown there cannot be, in any possible world, a sufficient reason for why God permits suffering. If God, indeed, has a sufficient reason for why He permits suffering, then suffering, qua suffering, cannot be gratuitous. Reyes further elaborates that God uses suffering for a greater good (e.g. Genesis 50:20) which has a butterfly effect.        

Schieber claims the self-existence of the universe is a brute fact. And asserts the body of Jesus was stolen by unknown tomb robbers.  


It is always easier to criticize a debate when you are not the participant in the debate. I applaud Reyes, as a brother in Christ, for his commitment to defend the faith! May my comments and criticisms be taken as constructive and not destructive.

Schieber's reliance on probability is self-destructive. First, probability is predicated on limited, background-relative, data. Such that new data can always skew the results of old data. Thus limited data can be contradicted by new data to show a conclusion true, when it was thought false. Second, probability assumes the regularity of nature. But naturalism cannot account for the regularity of nature (e.g. David Hume's discussion of induction). Since one cannot observe all atoms, at all times, in all places.      

Schieber's rejoinder to the cosmological argument was to opt that the universe is god (i.e. self-existent). Schieber takes the necessity of the universe to be a brute fact as Christian's take God's necessity to be a brute fact. Reyes as a passing remark appeals to the ontological argument. But I wonder what Schieber means by brute fact? Does he think it synonymous with inexplicable?  If so, the Scriptures teach there are no brute facts, only created facts that are all conserved, and connected (e.g. Genesis 1:1; Col 1:16-17 ), by divine decree. Reyes's cosmological argument hinted at this. Something is either contingent or necessary. Something has an explanation for its existence either in an external cause or the necessity of itself. Scripture tells us God is eternally perfect and lacks nothing (which would include necessary existence, e.g. Acts 17:25). His existence is explained by His nature; and He created the universe (Gen 1:1). So God's existence should not be thought of as an inexplicable fact. But can the same thing be said of the universe? Must the universe exist in all possible worlds? There is nothing in the nature of the universe to affirm it (e.g. Reyes makes this same point). It is coherent to imagine a possible world which there is no time, space or matter. So there is no reason to think the universe must exist like God must exist.

Schieber merely gave a naked assertion that Jesus' body was snatched by tomb robbers. There is no reason to think this. It is an example of a philosophical prejudice against miracles generally and the resurrection of Jesus particularly. 

I thought Reyes's opening statement sounded a lot like RC Sproul, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek [1]. He, perhaps, was inspired by them. The traditional arguments for God's existence were presented, as though RC Sproul himself was the one presenting them. It was quite refreshing to hear RC Sproul's formulations of the arguments. Often times one hears the same old formulations of arguments, but not in this debate. But I felt the premises of the arguments were not adequately defended. I am sure time constraints is mostly to be blamed. Yet I was mostly disappointed with Reyes's Classical approach. Since the traditional arguments for God's existence, isolated from the inerrant scriptural context, makes human reason and human experience the standard for truth. Man is placed as judge over God. When only the scriptures can rightly be the standard of truth. Only God has the right to be in the place of judge. Since God's Word is the foundation (norm) for human reason and human experience. However, if God's Word is not placed as ultimate, and is substituted for human reason or human experience, one is left with the intractable problems of rationalism and empiricism (e.g. arbitrary first principles). Only by starting from God's Word can these problems be solved. Therefore God's Word should be taken as the standard that justifies and unifies reason and experience. One should reason from the scriptures instead of reason to the scriptures. Reyes continued to do the latter with little of the former. I think this severely undermined his defense. First, it made him argue for theism generally. He argued for a generic god, a creator and designer, that utterly fails in comparison to the trinitarian God of Scripture. Second, it forced Reyes, in principle, to deny the authority, inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Third, it welcomed the unbeliever to judge God and His Word.  Fourth, Reyes assumed the same starting-point as Schieber, in an effort to neutrally defend the faith, leaving them both without a foundation for reason and experience. [2] 

Reyes might reply to my objections as follows: (1a) One cannot presuppose the Trinitarian God of Scripture defending the faith without circular-reasoning, (2a) Christian ontology must be kept distinct from Christian epistemology, and (3a) the principles of reason are undeniable whereas the propositions of Scripture are deniable. In reply to (1a), I'd argue all world views at their basic foundation must argue in a circle. They presuppose an ultimate authority, a self-justifying starting point, that is the final court of appeal. If this is not granted one has an infinite regress. [3] Now (2a) fails to see Christian ontology and Christian epistemology are interdependent. Such that the subject/object distinction or the knower/known distinction can have no (ontic or epistemic) foundation without presupposing the truthfulness of the Christian worldview. I have addressed (3a) already. The laws of logic or reason, is not undeniable, this is why there is irrationality. But if you take the laws as merely undeniable one makes the same mistake as Descartes. One arbitrarily asserts that "logic aims at truth." But this claim cannot be meaningful isolated from the Christian worldview that can account for it.[4]           

Schieber's vain non-christian presuppositions were never directly challenged by Christian presuppositions, thus he continued to reinterpret Reyes's arguments. By not primarily attacking presuppositions, nothing prevented Schieber from arbitrarily asserting his position as superior (i.e. naturalism), selecting evidence in favor of it (theory-ladeness); and renders it immune to contrary evidences (tenacity, confirmation bias). No traditional argument isolated from the Biblical presupposition of Scripture can stop Schieber from making himself (human reason) the final standard/arbiter of truth. Therefore as Christians we should reason from the scriptures to argue without, in principle, putting the Bible aside, or denying the Lord that bought them. We must show existence, truth, goodness, justice, and beauty, can only be made sense of in terms of the Christian worldview. This can take effect in various ways (See me spell it out here). But it always involves comparing worldviews. We show the Christian worldview to be true by demonstrating its logical opposite, the non Christian worldview, is false. Two principles must be followed in this process, (1) no one can be religiously neutral in their beliefs, and (2) no one, except God, can claim the rights of power and authority over all things, especially in intellectual or moral judgements. (3)

 Overall, I am thankful Reyes, defended the Christian faith and, was a witness for Christ to all atheists, especially the San Jose Atheists Society.

[1] Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004) p.75.

[2] Greg Bahnsen. Westminster Lectures.

A Critique of "Classical Apologetics"

John Frame. Van Til and the Ligoner Apologetic 

Gordon Clark. Classical Apologetics 

George J. Zemek, Jr. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense

[3] Scott K. Oliphint. Answering Objections to Presuppositionalism.

James Anderson. Does Presuppositionalism Engage in Question-Begging?

Christian Apologetics Journal V11 

[4] Faith Before Reason 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for evaluating this debate from a Presuppositional standpoint

R.C. Dozier said...

Welcome brother! Amen