Phil Fernandes/Michael Martin Debate
Second Statement: Phil Fernandes
A Response to Michael Martin
Before I respond to Dr. Michael Martin’s opening statement, I would like to express my appreciation to Dr. Martin for his approach to this debate. I found his opening statement to be both fair and insightful. I respect Dr. Martin for his decision to attack my arguments without attacking me. I hope that I will be as much of a gentlemen as my prestigious opponent throughout this debate.
In my opening statement I argued that it is more reasonable to be a theist than it is to be an atheist. I presented a cumulative case for the existence of a personal, infinite God by examining nine different aspects of human experience that are more adequately explained by theism than by atheism. First, the beginning of the universe shows that the universe needs an eternal Cause. Second, the continuing existence of the universe needs an independent sustaining Cause. Third, the design and order found in the universe reveal that the Cause of the universe must be an intelligent Designer. Fourth, the possibility of human knowledge strongly implies a rational Cause for the universe. Fifth, universal, eternal, and unchanging truths point to the existence of an eternal and unchanging Mind as their source. Sixth, absolute, unchanging, eternal moral laws provide evidence for the existence of an unchanging, eternal moral Lawgiver. Seventh, if God does not exist, then life would be without ultimate meaning. Eighth, the sanctity of human life makes no sense if man was not created by God and in God’s image. Ninth, the existence of evil and the hope that it will someday be defeated indicate the existence of an all-good God who alone guarantees evil’s ultimate defeat.
In my opening statement I wrote that the atheist either denies the reality of these nine aspects of human experience or he admits to their existence but concludes that they are “just there.” Therefore, atheism fails as an explanation of human experience, for it either attempts to explain away the relevant data of human experience or it admits to the data but offers no adequate explanation whatsoever.
After providing the cumulative case for God, I encouraged the readers of this debate to choose God, for their eternal destinies are at stake if God does exist. If He does not exist there is nothing to lose by choosing God.
Dr. Martin responded to my cumulative case for God in several ways. First, he charged that I had misunderstood and/or misrepresented atheism in several areas. He accused me of wrongly equating atheism with materialism, epistemological relativism, epistemological skepticism, ethical relativism, and meaningless existence. Second, Dr. Martin attempted to refute three of my arguments: the argument from the beginning of the universe, the thomistic argument, and the design argument. Third, Dr. Martin presented three arguments for atheism: an argument from the incoherence of the concept of God, an argument from evil, and an argument from non-belief. Dr. Martin concluded that my case for theism is extremely weak. Obviously, I disagree. Hence, the debate continues.
MY SUPPOSED MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT ATHEISM
I apologize if I did not make my views concerning atheism clear enough in my opening statement. I recognize that many atheists are not materialists, epistemological relativists, epistemological skeptics, or ethical relativists. However, if the atheist does admit to an immaterial reality, universal truths, the possibility of human knowledge, and the existence of universal moral values, then I think he has given the theist enough rope to hang the atheistic world view.
If an immaterial realm exists, how does the atheist account for it? Was it caused by the material realm, or is it “just there?” If an atheist rejects epistemological relativism and accepts universal, eternal, unchanging truths, then from what source did they come? It seems to me that Augustine was correct in concluding that only an eternal, unchanging Mind would be an adequate source for eternal, unchanging truths. Does the atheist who rejects epistemological relativism have a more plausible explanation for these truths? I think not.
If the atheist rejects epistemological skepticism, then how does he explain how man knows what he knows? Even Dr. Martin in his massive, well-researched book Atheism, A Philosophical Justification admits that he gives his readers “no extended theory of rationality or justification.”1 He also confesses that even though he uses inductive arguments he offers his readers no defense of induction.2 Christianity can easily justify the possibility of human knowledge, for it teaches that a rational God created man in His image (i.e., a rational being). Christianity also teaches that God created the universe in an orderly, rational way, so that man, through reason and sense perception, could attain true knowledge of the universe in which he lives. Atheism throws out the rational Cause of both man and the universe and assumes that the universe is not a product of intelligent design. Rather, it came about through random evolutionary processes. My point is this: if man and the universe have no rational Cause and the universe is a product of chance, then what gives the atheist who rejects epistemological skepticism the rational right to justify his claim to knowledge? If Christianity is true, then God created the categories of the human mind (the preconditions for thought) so that they enable us to genuinely know reality. I do not think that atheism offers an adequate explanation as to why we should have any confidence that we can interpret reality as it is, for atheism teaches that both man and the universe are not products of a rational Cause. I acknowledge the fact that many atheists are not ethical relativists. (Personally, I think the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was more consistent than these atheists. Nietzsche recognized that if God is dead, then universal moral values are dead as well.) However, if an atheist will admit to universal, unchanging, and eternal moral laws, then I think he has conceded too much. Theism offers the most plausible source for these moral laws by positing the existence of an eternal moral Lawgiver. Moral laws are, by definition, prescriptive; they prescribe what ought to be done or the way things ought to be. Prescriptive laws need a prescriber. My point is that if the atheist denies absolute moral values, he cannot call the actions of Hitler “wrong.” However, if he admits to the existence of absolute moral values, then he must explain their source. Theism, I believe, is the most reasonable explanation.
I never stated that all atheists believe that life is without meaning. Rather, I believe that any atheist who believes that life has meaning is being inconsistent with his world view. Consistent atheists like Albert Camus and Nietzsche recognized the absurdity of life without God. A more optimistic atheist like Jean-Paul Sartre encouraged his followers to create meaning for their lives to fill the void left by a universe without God. But atheists who believe that life has ultimate meaning are not being consistent with their world view. What difference does it make how a person lives their life if they and all the people they have influenced will someday cease to exist for all eternity? I acknowledge that there are atheists who believe that life has meaning, but they believe this despite their atheism. They refuse to accept the consequences of a world without God. Dr. Martin misunderstood portions of my opening statement. In my conclusion, I did clearly indicate that the atheist could either deny or affirm absolute moral values, design in the universe, universal truths, the possibility of human knowledge, and meaning in life. But, as I pointed out in my opening statement, either way atheism is in turmoil. The atheist who chooses to deny that these aspects of human experience are real still lives as if they are real. The atheist who chooses to affirm these aspects of human experience cannot account for their existence within his world view. Theism offers a more reasonable source for these aspects than atheism does.
Now that I have removed any misunderstanding about my thesis, I challenge Dr. Martin to divulge his views on these topics. Does he acknowledge an immaterial realm? If so, how does he explain its existence? Obviously, he believes that man can know truth, but how does he account for this? Does Dr. Martin believe in universal moral values? If no, then how can he call the actions of Hitler morally wrong? If yes, then where did these moral values come from? Dr. Martin apparently believes that life has meaning. I challenge him to state how this is consistent with his atheistic world view. I look forward to further dialogue on these matters.
DR. MARTIN’S ATTEMPTED REFUTATION OF THREE OF MY ARGUMENTS
1. The Kalaam Cosmological Argument
Dr. Martin states that he is willing to grant the premise that the universe began in time. Though I agree with him that this premise is rejected by many thinkers today, there is no sense in arguing for a premise we both accept. However, Dr. Martin rejects that the beginning of the universe was caused. He states that “the universe could arise spontaneously, that is, ‘out of nothing.'” Dr. Martin backs this bold statement by writing that “several well known cosmologists have embraced this view and it is not to be dismissed as impossible.” Personally, I do not care if leading scientists believe in the possibility of the universe popping into existence out of nothing. Nothing is nothing. Therefore, nothing can do nothing. Hence, nothing can cause nothing. If the universe had a beginning (both Dr. Martin and I have agreed to this premise), it needs a cause. It seems that Dr. Martin is willing to accept absurdities rather than accept the existence of God. There are many things that are logically possible, but actually absurd. I would classify the universe popping into existence out of nothing as one of those actually absurd things. A clear minded philosopher like Dr. Martin should offer logical guidance to those cosmologists, rather than accept the results of their poor reasoning.
Dr. Martin accuses me of “badly” misunderstanding modern science due to the fact that I believe that the law of causality (everything that has a beginning needs a cause) is essential for proper scientific investigation. However, Albert Einstein held the same view. In response to his colleagues who entertained the possibility of uncaused effects on the subatomic level, he stated, “God does not play dice.” Einstein saw that uncaused events would take away the underlying order of the universe necessary for true science to function.3 If I “badly” misunderstand modern science, then so did Einstein. Dr. Martin argues that if there is a cause of the universe, it might not be the theistic God. My response is twofold. First, this would still refute atheism so Dr. Martin should not find refuge in this line of reasoning. Second, I use other premises in my opening statement to provide evidence for this Cause being eternal, personal, one, infinite, and good. These attributes identify the Cause of the universe as the theistic God. Martin scoffs at my statement that intelligence cannot come from non-intelligence. I will allow the readers of this debate to decide whether it is more reasonable to conclude that intelligence came from an intelligent source or from a non-intelligent source. I find it hard to imagine intelligence coming from a tree, a mound of dirt, or even from some sort of invisible non-intelligent energy. Intelligence requires an intelligent Cause.
Dr. Martin is mistaken when he assumes that causes must be temporally prior to their effects. I see no contradiction in affirming that God created time and the universe in eternity, and that time began at the moment of creation.
2. The Thomistic Argument
Dr. Martin accuses me of committing the fallacy of composition, for the whole is often greater than its parts. However, Dr. Martin does not differentiate between additive properties and emergent properties. It is true that the whole elephant is greater than its parts (i.e., eyes, trunk, tail, legs, etc.). This is an example of emergent properties. Here the fallacy of composition would apply, for the whole elephant is an animal, while its separate parts are not. However, if a floor is made up of tiles and every tile is green, then the entire floor will be green. This is an example of additive properties. Additive properties do not entail the fallacy of compositions.4 If the entire universe is made up of dependent beings, then the whole universe is dependent. Therefore, the universe is dependent on some independent Being for its existence. Since Dr. Martin does not elaborate on the other so-called problems of the Thomistic argument, I will not deal with them here.5 It should also be noted that I do not adhere to every aspect of Aquinas’ five ways to prove God’s existence. Therefore, it will only be necessary to defend the premises I utilize.
3. The Design Argument
Dr. Martin entertains the “world ensembles” model of certain cosmologists. Like Martin’s denial of the law of causality, this suggestion shows the lengths that Dr. Martin will go in order to avoid the Creator’s existence. Dr. Martin is a great thinker, but he seems to be grabbing at straws. He is willing to suggest the existence of many alternative worlds existing simultaneously with our universe to downplay the evidence of design in our universe. It appears that Dr. Martin is willing to accept anything that is logically possible, rather than admitting God’s existence. Since I am limited to the guidelines of this debate (a 15 page second statement), I will leave it to the readers to decide whether it is more reasonable to accept the theistic explanation or the “world ensembles” model.
Dr. Martin adds that my design argument, if successful would be compatible with polytheism, deism, and a finite and evil god. As I stated above, my opening statement provided evidence for there being only one God, and that this God is infinite and good. Deism itself is problematic in that if God was able to create the universe, He is also able to intervene in its affairs. Since He cared enough to create the universe, it seems that He would also be willing to intervene in its affairs.
DR. MARTIN’S THREE ARGUMENTS FOR ATHEISM
1. The Argument From Incoherence
Martin argues that “some of the properties attributed to God in the Bible are inconsistent.” Though this debate has nothing to do with biblical inerrancy, I will briefly address this objection. He claims that God is portrayed as being invisible and visible, merciful and lacking mercy, and a Being who changes His mind but does not change His mind. Scripture, according to Martin, depicts God as being deceptive and not deceptive, the cause of evil and not the cause of evil, and one who punishes children for their parents’ sin and one who does not do so. However, Martin is mistaken, for these are not contradictions. A few examples will suffice. First, though God is by nature invisible, He can choose to manifest Himself in visible form.6 Second, God is merciful to all who accept His salvation, but He exercises His wrath on all who oppose Him. Third, God does not change His mind, however He is sometimes portrayed in anthropomorphic language. In other words, when the Bible states that God was sorry that He had created man it is using figurative language to emphasize God’s displeasure with man. The Hebrew language is a very poetic language; therefore, figurative language is often used in the Hebrew Old Testament. Fourth, God is the ultimate Cause of the possibility of evil in that He created mankind and angels with free will, and He allows evil choices and evil consequences for purposes of a greater good. Still, He Himself does no evil, nor does He force any angel or man to do evil. Fifth, God will not eternally condemn any person for the sins of their parents, yet at times He does allow the consequences of a parent’s sin to pass from generation to generation.
It is interesting to note that throughout history many great thinkers (i.e., the apostle Paul, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Pascal, Edwards, Hodge, Warfield, etc.) devoted their lives to the study of Scripture and never found the numerous “contradictions” that Dr. Martin has so easily discovered. Perhaps if Dr. Martin was more diligent in his study of the Bible, he would become more proficient in identifying figurative language or the sense and context of the passages in question.
Dr. Martin asserts that the theistic concept of God is also incoherent. He claims that God cannot be all-knowing because He does not have a body and therefore cannot know how to swim. Again, Martin’s argument is not persuasive. I maintain that all that we know is in our immaterial minds. It is true that God without a body cannot experience the act of swimming.7 Still, throughout all eternity He knew every thought that every person would ever have. Thus, He always had the knowledge of how to swim. Though God would need a body to experience everything a person with a body experiences, He does not need a body to know everything that a person with a body knows. Since God exhaustively knows the mind of each person, He has all the knowledge each person has gained through bodily experiences. It should also be noted that He created both the swimmer and the water, and, as their Creator, He knows them intimately.
Dr. Martin incorrectly assumes that if God is all-knowing He must feel lust and envy, and He must experience fear, frustration, and despair. It appears that Dr. Martin is confusing knowledge with feelings and experiences. it is true that God has never lusted or envied. He has never experienced fear, frustration, or despair. However, this does not mean that He has no knowledge of these feelings or experiences, for He has exhaustive knowledge of the persons who have had these feelings or experiences.
Martin believes that since there are an infinite number of mathematical entities God cannot know them all. Hence, according to Martin, God is not omniscient. My response is as follows. Zeno proved that one cannot arrive at an actual infinite set by traversing it. However, the theist can respond by saying that God did not learn the infinite set of mathematical entities one member at a time; rather, He knew them all in one eternal thought. Hence, Martin’s objection raises no serious problem for theism.
2. The Argument From Evil.
Dr. Martin argues that the large amount of evil in the world is a good reason to reject God’s existence. However , if theism is true, then only the infinitely wise God would be in the position to know precisely how much evil in the world is the right amount for God to accomplish His good purposes.
Dr. Martin attacks my view that moral evil was brought about through human and angelic abuse of free will. First, he implies that all human decisions are caused by either brain events or the nervous system. However, if this is the case then any punishment of crime would be absurd. All moral judgments become meaningless. (Martin seems to play the role of a materialist only when it benefits his case.) Also, there are good scientific reasons for believing that human choices are not caused by physical or chemical events.8
Second, Martin argues that God could have created human beings with a tendency to do good. This is interesting because many theologians believe that this is exactly what God did. Man’s tendency to do evil is a product of the Fall, not the creation.
Third, Martin fails to realize that God may have allowed evil and the consequences of evil for the purpose of a greater good (Romans 8:28). If God did not allow people to suffer physical harm, then incentive and opportunity for works of compassion would be extinguished. If God removed the harmful effects of evil acts, then much incentive for refraining from these evil acts would be removed as well.
Fourth, the Bible teaches that the sufferings of this present age pale in comparison to blessings to be revealed at the consummation of the ages (Romans 8:18). Therefore, from the Bible’s standpoint, the greater good that God will bring from His allowance of evil and its consequences will far outweigh the death and suffering of this present age.
Fifth, even though God fore-knew future free acts of evil, He is justified in allowing these acts to be actualized so long as He uses them to bring about a greater good.
Dr. Martin also argues that natural evil (i.e., earthquakes, tidal waves, etc.) makes the existence of God unlikely. Though Martin is right that God did not have to actualize this world, it may be that this world is the best possible way to achieve the best possible world (i.e., heaven). Natural evil is a consequence of man’s fall in the garden. Therefore, natural evil may be one way that God persuades man to desire His kingdom to come to earth to make all things new. How does Dr. Martin know that God could accomplish His long range purposes through other methods with less pain and suffering?
Apparently, Dr. Martin recognizes evil when he sees it. However, if evil exists, how does Dr. Martin define it? It seems to me that evil is a corruption of something good. When Dr. Martin judges things to be more evil, he implies an absolute standard of goodness, for without the knowledge of a straight line one could never recognize another line to be crooked. The atheistic world view has no basis for this absolute standard of goodness. Therefore, theism has more explanatory power, for God’s nature is the absolute standard of goodness. His will flows from His good nature, so His laws are good. His creation was perfect, but then the abuse of free will corrupted God’s perfect creation.
Not only is the definition of evil problematic for atheism, but any hope for evil’s defeat is also difficult to find within the atheistic world view. The Christian can trust in God to defeat evil and its consequences through the death, resurrection, and return of Christ. The atheist can only identify evil and question God’s goodness. The atheistic world view has no basis to call anything evil, nor does it offer any hope that things will get better.
3. The Argument From Non-belief
Dr. Martin believes that the large number of non-believers in the world is another reason for rejecting God’s existence. I respond as follows. First, two thousand years ago, Jesus predicted this would be the case (Matthew 7-.1 3-14). Second, I must remind Dr. Martin that our debate is between theism and atheism. In this debate I am defending theism, not Christianity per se. Issues of the biblical view of salvation are more properly discussed in a debate concerning Christianity. Nevertheless, I will briefly respond to this objection raised by Dr. Martin since It raises a serious concern for Christian theism. He asks why God would require humans to accept His gospel in order to be saved when so many people (in this generation as well as past generations) have never heard the gospel or read the Bible. Can God punish them for not accepting a gospel they never heard? Martin makes six suggestions as to how God could have saved more people. Martin’s fifth suggestion is actually something God has done, for the Bible teaches that all men know that God exists, but many suppress this truth (Romans 1: 18-22; 2:14-15), and the Bible teaches that if a person longs to do God’s will, he will recognize God’s truth when he hears it (John 7:16-17). Martin’s other suggestions miss the point, for some people will never freely accept God’s salvation offer no matter how much evidence they are given.
In response to Dr. Martin’s question about those who never heard God’s salvation message, several things should be noted. First, God is near enough to save any man who seeks Him with all of his heart (Psalm 145:18-19; Jeremiah 29:13; James 4:6-10). Second, God draws all men to Himself through His witness in creation and conscience (Romans 1:18-22; 2:14-15), and through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men (John 12:32-33; 16:7-11; Hebrews 3:15). If a man will act upon the light that God has given him and is willing to accept the gospel message if presented to him, then God will see to it that the gospel message is presented to him (James 4:6-10; Romans I0: 11-15; John 3:19-21). I believe that God fore-knew those who would respond positively to His gospel message given certain circumstances, and that He therefore foreordained those circumstances to come about to bring them to faith. In short, God is under no obligation to have His gospel proclaimed to people whom He fore-knew would reject His message. Also, I believe the evidence for God in creation and conscience is clear enough to draw a person to seek God (Romans 1:18-22). However, many people suppress this truth due to their desire for human autonomy (John 3:19-21).
MY RESPONSE TO DR. MARTIN’S CONCLUSION
Dr. Martin claims that my cumulative case for theism is extremely weak. However, I have shown that his supposed refutation of my cumulative case misses the mark. It is more reasonable to accept my thesis that the beginning of the universe was caused than it is to accept Martin’s suggestion that the universe may have come into existence without a cause. It is also more reasonable to acknowledge the evidence for an intelligent Designer of the universe than it is to believe in parallel universes. (Scientists are supposed to observe and study the visible universe, not invent imaginary universes at will.)
Martin accused me of misunderstanding atheism. In reality, he has conceded much to theism by his refusal to defend materialism, epistemological relativism, epistemological skepticism, ethical relativism, and meaningless existence. If there exists an immaterial realm, universal and unchanging truths, a real possibility of knowledge, universal moral values, and meaning in life, then atheism fails miserably as an ultimate explanation. Atheists cannot adequately explain the ultimate source of universal truths and absolute moral values. However, the existence of an immaterial, intelligent, moral Being who rewards His followers with eternal life (thus giving life ultimate meaning) adequately explains all the data in question. I responded to Martin’s three arguments for atheism and showed that he has not proven his case for atheism.
Finally, Dr. Martin is incorrect when he implies that I utilized Pascal’s Wager because my rational arguments had failed. Rather, I use it because I knew my rational arguments were strong, and because I wanted to challenge the readers of this debate to choose God due to the evidence presented. I believe that Pascal’s Wager is much stronger than Dr. Martin would have us believe.9 Pascal showed that the wise man will seek God with all his heart for he has nothing to lose and everything to gain from the choice he has made.
5 for further study, readers are encouraged to read Dr. Martin’s work Atheism, A Philosophical Justification and my recently published book entitled The God Who Sits Enthroned, Evidence for God’s Existence. This latter work can be ordered through IBD Press, P.O. Box 3264, Bremerton, WA. 98310. The cost of the book is $10.00, plus $1.50 for shipping and handling.
6 God temporarily manifested Himself in visible form in 0ld Testament times on several occasions. Theologians refer to these manifestations as Theophanies. Also, God the second Person of the Trinity became a man in the New Testament.
8 Gary R. Habermas and J. P. Moreland, Immortality, the Other Side of Death (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 81-83. Habermas and Moreland discuss the results of brain research done independently by several scientists: Wlider Penfield, Roger Sperry, Hans Kornhuber, and B. Libet. Their research seems to indicate that the human decision making process occurs apart from the brain, though it does affect brain states.
9 Either the theistic God (an all-powerful, all-good Being who rewards those who seek Him with eternal life) exists or He does not. If He does exist His followers receive eternal life, but those who oppose Him receive eternal damnation. If He does not exist, it makes no difference how a person responds. If atheism is true, all will cease to exist. If pantheism is true, man is already saved (man is god). If deism is true, then God isn’t concerned enough for man to offer man salvation. If god is finite, he can’t guarantee anyone eternal life (not even himself). If an evil god exists then he cannot be trusted to save anyone, wicked or good. If universalism is true, then everyone will be saved. Therefore, a person has nothing to lose and eternity to gain by wagering on the God of theism. Pascal’s Wager, rightly understood, is not an attempt to prove God’s existence. Rather, it is an attempt to encourage people to seek the theistic God with all their hearts. Pascal believed that if someone genuinely searched for God, he would find God (Jeremiah 2319). Like Pascal, after presenting rational evidence to my readers, I call upon them to make a decision.