Victor Stenger Physicist and PhD wrote an article published in the Huff post blog Feb 28th 2014 called How to debate a Christian apologist. Please read the article here.
After reading the article I decided to answer his atheist debate primer by responding to the polemic myself. In his articles he offered the Christian answer to various atheist assertions. Under these Christian statements he adds his own retort to help the atheist appear smooth and keep the audience from taking sides against the atheist debater. My reasons for responding are simple. First, I will attempt to show Dr. Stenger’s coaching the atheist debater ends up coaching him into a substantial defeat. Second, I wanted to use this article of ‘defending atheism’ against the Christian apologist as a means of training myself and other Christian apologists. Thirdly, this Christian author enjoys subjecting the New-Atheist light regime to critical examination, so once examined, the arguments of the New Atheist do not frighten younger Christians. I will attempt to expose the darkness of atheist-thinking to the light of Christian-thinking and a biblical worldview. With all educational heavy-weights, they use what they believe is sound reasoning and critical analysis upon the Christian claims. These atheist apologists usually pull no punches when it comes to reproaching the Christian as a novice-thinker and logic-lightweight. It does the Christian good to see these men such as Dr. Stenger, are not heavy-weight philosophers nor do they share some DNA that makes their logic irrefutable. In short, like the hot-air filled Dr. Dawkins they are deflated easily once the source of their lofty words are exposed.
I believe Dr. Stenger’s article is plain ole damage control. The good Dr. is recognizing the atheist debater is losing his shirt when debating the Christian apologist and to help stem the tide of continual debate failures Dr. Stenger wrote up a few ‘primer’ pieces so the atheist will not appear utterly foolish in debating someone who knows more about atheism and what it asserts than the atheist does.
Over the years I have debated many atheists in person and online in informal one-on-one scenarios. What the Christian will find as I have is each atheist attempts to nuance his personal atheism in such a way that when the Christian apologist attacks the assertions of the atheism, this specific atheist claims “that’s not what I believe”. Because there is no formal external dogmas within atheism this act of ‘dodging’ the Christian apologists assertion is part of what it means to debate or discuss atheism with an atheist. The Christian apologist learns debating atheism one-on-one with another atheist cannot proceed like it would with a cultist so pseudo-christian cult where various dogmas differentiate between it and orthodox Christianity. As can be seen by Dr. Stenger’s comments, the appeal to ‘differences’ in atheist views is supposed to dislodge the Christian Apologist argument by insinuating the Christian apologist is referring to beliefs held by other atheists not present to defend themselves.
The nuanced atheist has a self-manufactured belief structure; the spongy-ness of atheist thought soaks up whatever appeals to the self-described atheist. Normally our nuanced atheist gathers from various sciences and other atheist thinkers. The atheist blog, even You Tube are good places for the atheist to go learn new arguments to support their own personal ideology. Facebook has also become the bully pulpit for internet atheists to confront Christian doctrines and philosophy.
The New Atheists are of a stripe that attacks Christianity and attempts to turn others away from belief in Christianity. The use of various arguments against Christianity is only one tool; if that doesn’t work its followed by shaming them by ad hominem attacks or bandwaggoning their own favorite PhD. New attacks to Christianity arrive by the media. In some article, essay or book the latest Dr. So-and-so has provided some kind of science admixed with atheist philosophy to serve their purposes and season the meal they serve the public. Because it is labeled ‘science’ the impression they want to give is their information is ‘fact’ and not ‘blind faith’. This tactic works well on a public that wants only sound-bites, not a discourse in technical terms. I shall attempt to show several of Dr. Stenger’s statements originate from blind-faith. What the atheist condemns in Christians is used openly by atheists writers trying to prove their arguments.
Let us begin with an analysis of Dr. Stenger’s article, putting his ideas and answers alongside the Christian Apologist rebuttal.
Dr. Stenger has said he has participated in a number of events (Christian vs Atheist debate) and watched others that include arguments that have all been refuted by the atheist many times. If this were true, those refutations would have been headliners for every atheist blog and repeated ad nauseum on You Tube or played on the media. But in reality we find a far different story. Debates with Dr.William Lane Craig have been crushing defeats for every atheist so far. When Dr. William Lane Craig and the panel debated Dr. Dawkins and his panel it was obvious the atheist never mounted a real attack on Christianity nor did they really prove their own point. In fact the atheist panel under-whelmed everyone with side stepping. No serious attempt was even made to undermine the argument of Dr. Craig by any of the atheist panel. See it for yourself here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__m6LzS5EbY . I need not elaborate on the failure of Sam Harris in his debate with Dr. Craig and the Disaster of Dr. Dawkins had with John Lennox. When it comes to debating the issues the Christian Apologist clearly can prove his points and leave without them being overcome by any atheist argument presented thus far.
Dr. Stenger says “Atheists…with one or two exceptions don’t make a living promoting atheism” he evidently realizes this lack of expertise in presenting their own case makes it a “tougher job preparing for these debates”.
I think it might be important to understand that if the original argument from the atheist was as sound, rational and empirically provable as the atheist wants us to believe, there would be little necessity to answer minor issues dragged up by Christians attempting to derail valid atheist argument. But as Dr. Stenger wisely notes, these statements or questions from the Christian take a lot of steam from the atheist argument. In short, they must be addressed. This is nothing short of a confession of inadequate argument arising from the atheist.
During the debate rebuttals Stenger is concerned the atheist is not well versed in points the Christian Apologist will make and because of that, ignore or be unable to defend himself against them. The failure to give a cogent reply supplies the impetus for Dr. Stenger’s primer.
I believe this is a very important point to consider. Instead of Dr. Stenger working on polishing the original atheist argument so that it makes the best impression, carries the most weight and delivers the knock out punch, he moves over into the very arena that he earlier warned the atheist layperson not to go “It is unwise for a layperson to debate a theologian”. He is moving from his expertise in physics to theology and philosophy. This is important for every apologist to consider, the empiricist cannot conquer ideas with observations, bare data, experiments or theories, they must be inserted into a philosophy that addresses the intangibles of life where we all live. What intangibles? I think it is these; is it true?, is it real? is it logical? is it important to me? What is the value of arguing for atheism if the atheist believes it to be irrelevant to a persons well being or understanding the world he lives in? He does not argue as though it is unprofitable, the whole atheist-engine is based upon the intangible basic belief ‘truth is better than falsehood’. So with that ethic driving the debate between Christian and Atheist the very platform for establishing materialism or naturalism from the atheist perspective rests upon the intangible explained only by the philosophical.
What comes next is in my opinion appalling. Dr. Stenger says “In a debate, impressions are more important than the substance of an argument and not answering the point makes a bad impression”. When the most important things of life are being debated; things like God, religion, faith, scientific knowledge, truth, reality; these are no trifles and true substance in ones answers to these topics means everything. By merely creating the impression that you have a substantive argument verses actually having true substance contained in your argument is a tremendous distinction to make. Anyone wanting truth over falsehood considers creating the appearance of substantive argument deceptive; especially when it is come to light substance and evidence were missing. Its one thing to fail to defend your position, its another to know your position is indefensible but cloak it with pretended facts.
It is in the next section that Dr. Stenger forms his primer for the atheist debater. He suggests memorizing these as canned responses so the atheist will appear as smooth as the Christian apologist. Again its important to note that Dr. Stenger is placing high value on appearances, these “canned responses” as he calls them are essentially anecdotal. The atheist debater has no in-depth knowledge of what he is responding with so when called out by the Christian apologist the atheist may likely rebut with only his own observations and biased commentary. A valuable point for the Christian Apologist to understand, if this sort of anecdotal response is given by the logic-claiming atheist he/she is contriving an informal fallacy. Accordingly there may follow hasty generalizations or inductive reasoning giving the Christian apologist answers in the form of post hoc fallacies. What is important to understand is this is a cat-bag for the atheist debater. Once he has opened this bag and let one cat out ( a piece of anecdotal evidence) he will forever be unable to re-bag that cat in front of the Christian Apologist. This is an important warning to the Christian apologist as well and a savvy atheist debater will eat his lunch over a trivial point and minimize the much greater and important points the Christian apologist is attempting to show. In at debate similar to a wrestling match, these are ‘point makers’ and the audience remembers these point makers later.
Dr. Stenger quotes Dan Barker an apostate and atheist who says the audience will not remember 10% of what was said but will remember an “impression” made by one or the other debaters and go home with that impression being influential on future learning. There is some truth behind the nature of debates, the idea of one side prevailing over the other makes for the ‘draw’ so curiosity and plain ole partisanship meet together.
Now Dr. Stenger sets forth the philosophical statements of the Christian and coaches the atheist debater on how to reply.
The Christian statement will be bold and Dr. Stengers commentary will be analyzed and contained in my response under each statement. For the sake of brevity I will not quote all of Dr. Stengers comments on each Christian statement; please read the article by Dr. Stenger or place it alongside for comparison. I gave the link at the front of this article.
God can be proved to exist by logic alone. For example, we have the ontological argument, which appears in many forms. It was first proposed by St. Anselm in the 11th century. He defines God as “a being than which no greater can be conceived.” If such a being only exists in the mind, then we could conceive of a greater being. But we cannot imagine a greater being than God, so God must exist in reality.
Here Dr. Stenger states that this logic is offered in many forms but all of them have logic flaws; namely it attempts to prove too much. He then says it can prove non-existent things or even a perfect pizza. I think maybe Dr. Stenger was writing some humor about the perfect pizza, the pizza I’ve had has been eaten by others and they conceive a greater pizza…so that example doesn’t fit. The logic offered here is sound reasoning, its not unreasonable to think the greatest being to be conceived is actually in existence and that being is God. But that being said, the scripture presents a clearer answer. 1Co 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
Putting it precisely God cannot be known by human logic. God’s existence is understood intuitively by the human mind as it understands human morality, truth and judgment. But knowing God beyond the intuitive human mind is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is why the unbelieving mind may give assent to God’s existence or something transcendent but it also uses the same logic to point them to extraterrestrials or even perfect pizzas. These arguments are meant to point to the reasonableness of a ‘belief in God’ not to knowing the God of scripture through logic. The scripture assigns this to the work of the scripture itself and the revelation of truth by the Holy Spirit of God.
Pizzas, flying spaghetti monsters etc are not what’s in the scope of St. Anselm definition and these are normally used to poke fun at the Christian.
This next paragraph is a nightmare for Dr. Stenger. In his attempt discredit the use of logic in the Ontological argument for God, and probably the other arguments too, he begins by effectively nullifying the use of syllogism. He starts off saying ” no logical deduction can tell you anything that is not already embedded in its premises.” That is the point good Dr.; in order to make a logical argument major and minor premises are made so that conclusions to the argument can be understood as valid or invalid. What comes next is amazing. Dr. Stenger says “Only by observation can we demonstrate whether the premises accurately describe or reflect the real world.” I would ask Dr. Stenger, have you not heard that logical positivism has been debunked?
Let me help you; how do you know what is right or wrong from observation? Can you observe the logic of your scientific philosophy? Can you observe the scientific method in its propositional form? If you cannot observe it, then you have disqualified your own reasoning to use “only by observation can we demonstrate…”. The philosophy behind the scientific method is taken for granted, it is not of itself falsifiable because it is a preference, a philosophical approach to scientific investigation. Yet, offering such a narrow view of what is true and real by means of the scientific method disqualifies the scientific method itself. Remember this is a battle in the arena of the intangibles; the atheist no matter how much he wants to confine himself to the observable world cannot interpret it from the observed data alone.
Defeaters like that one which are built into Dr. Stengers primer will lead the atheist debater into instant defeat. Using logic to undermine the use of logic and unwittingly nullify the use of the scientific method lets all the cats out of the cat-bag never to be gathered again. Placing this argument at the head of the debate only to be ‘pinned’ by the Christian apologist later shows clearly that logic used illogically powerfully impresses the audience that you are unable to defend your views. The potential conclusion may be…the atheist is wrong.
Science and religion are compatible as evidenced by the fact that many scientists are believers.
Dr. Stengers commentary here is essentially low-brow. It confines itself to ad hominem attacks on Christianity without producing one shred of evidence for his claims. The ad populum fallacy shows it head here proving nothing. 7% of scientists that are members of National Academy of Sciences are theists with no citation made. Afterwards the following ad hominem compartmentalization tripe. None of this adds anything to atheism, nor does it subtract anything from Christianity. Science and Religion are incompatible because of epistemic sources? There is no Christian looking for an aspirin recipe in the bible, nor is any Christian asking the scientific community to produce faith in a test tube. God is the creator, He has both faith and chemistry available in this world and the Christian can avail himself of both. This dichotomy is insisted upon because the New Atheist regime wants to perpetuate Christianity as rejecting logic and science because it is incompatible with the claim they make that Christianity is blind faith. But, again this is where the atheist debater will encounter much difficulty. The Christian faith is built upon the empirical evidence of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. The miracles of God, healings and the prophetic coming to pass are all part of verifiable historical event. Unfortunately the atheist is resistant to look into these things unless of course it is only to cast endless skepticism upon those events.
Science was the result of Christianity, which introduced the use of rational thinking. Galileo, Newton, and other early scientists were Christians.
The Dark ages, denoting that time from about the end of the 4 century to the 13th century had a great deal of troubles. The Visigoths pulling down the old establishments, the scriptures being tucked away from humanity in monasteries and the increasing power of the Roman Catholic church and its superstitions all tended towards dampening the human spirit. Instead of progress, lawlessness, instead of freedom, feudalism, instead of Christianity taking humanity forward, biblical Christianity was persecuted by the religious intolerance of popes and killed by Muslim raiders. The Islamic effect upon Europe cannot be mistaken as adding light to humanity, instead it made for more religious bondage. The departure from scripture added the spiritual darkness to a world embroiled in wars and power struggles. The superstition and ritual of the times darkened men’s hearts. Biblical Christianity did nothing to aid in darkening those days, men departing from the truth did that himself. The Dark Ages or the Medieval times were called so by those who thought their own century was more enlightened than previous. To others it was simply the lack of historical documents revealing this period in human history.
Science and religion were never at odds with each other. The Christian views science as a way of learning about the world that God had made. There was not a conflict of scientific investigation and religious devotion. What was discovered did shock the superstitious and called into question the ritualistic devotion. The Roman Catholics in power didn’t want its power base shaken with new ‘ideas’ that drew into question their authority on matters that were purely contrived for the sake of enslaving people to the priests. It was good that God brought in the janitors to sweep away such enslavement. The Humanism of the pre-enlightenment period were not atheists, Voltaire would have been more of a deist and Petrarch one of the first humanists sought for God that resembled more of a return to biblical Christianity. The atheist mindset had not invaded science to the ejection of God, it wasn’t until the later French and German philosophers in decrying the errors of the Roman Catholic Church demanded and pushed for separation from religious enslavement.
It was precisely because Christianity is not antithetical to science that Christianity birthed scientific endeavor. Galileo broke away from the old Greek Aristotelian-ism that still held the Scholastics. Dr. Stenger wants to put science into Aristotle’s lap, but Galileo moved it out and placed it in his own as time would prove. It is an important note for every Christian Apologist, atheism is entrenched itself in a stationary tower. It does not recognize that Christianity is a moving target. Christianity moves along, it receives scientific knowledge, it gains by cultural understandings, it flows under various governments without demanding the government to be toppled. The atheist even now attempts to lock Christianity in the dungeon of ancient political-religious governments or ancient mindsets that belong to centuries past. What the atheist shoots at can only be said to be ‘where the Church was’. It gains favor from the angry atheists by continuing to decry religious oppression, yet cannot find a modern Christian oppressing anyone. This same thinking flows over into the division between science and religion, whereby the atheist harps upon religion stifling scientific endeavor when in fact no such hindrance occurs from Christianity. Abundant cases can be made for secular powers oppressing the Christian and stifling his rights and privileges.
Galileo was not a Catholic on pains of burning, he was one voluntarily. One would think that Dr. Stenger has been reading too many atheist blogs that label any ancient scientist with a religious preference a slave to it on pains of death. History tells us Galileo was threatened for his Heliocentric views because they upset the powerful Roman Church. I would love to see the source for Galileo’s idea that observation rules over revelation. A devout Catholic would hardly have made such a short statement like that without explanation. Context means everything.
The obvious presence of design and complexity in the world, especially in life, proves there was a designer.
Dr Stenger obviously adhering to the theory of Evolution believes intelligent design is an ancient belief, Darwinism replacing such thinking. But, the difficulty arises when the scientist is asked to prove the simple has actually created the complex. In short added more DNA information to its simple structure. This is a monumental problem for all evolutionist because no scientist has been able to show anything but loss of DNA information and what mutation does occur does not create new species. The hype behind evolution is macro evolution gave us complex organisms. The only proof behind it is micro-evolution gives us species mutations and nothing more. The idea of a common ancestor is one of blind faith as no scientist can connect the DNA backwards toward a proof of evolving pre-species. A great deal of talk is generated about this issue, but when it comes to hard data, the jury is out and remains out. As such Dr. Stenger mounts no argument that undermines the design theory. T.O.E is tantamount to belief in a flat earth, only those in academic power attempt to hold to this theory while it has no basis in fact.
Snowflake formation hardly validates species mutation into another species. The idea is to extrapolate “we found a plastic laser gun in the back yard” therefore the inductive reasoning follows “there must be a Starship Enterprise out there some where”. This is a classic Darwin-of -the-gaps answer. A great deal of books are written on the subject of Evolution, each one extrapolating from some mutation, some gene potentials, some chemical capabilities; these speculations conclude that our current genetic make-up is the basis for what we have evolved-into. Yet, its not the observations or the experiments that demand T.O.E as the proper interpretation, unfortunately it appears from instances of resistance to Design theory that its the scientist himself that demands to see what it wants.
Many Christians believe in evolution
Dr. Stenger believes that theistic evolution and Intelligent Design are one and the same. They are not the same. It would behoove Dr. Stenger to read up on Intelligent Design. William Dembski has written a book called Intelligent Design The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Published by Intervarsity Press, Downers grove. In the book he makes no claim at pointing people towards a Judeo-Christian God, what he does do is show the reasonableness of the claim that complexity in various animals or man has the ear-marks of an intelligent designer. He also goes on to show that there is genuine scientific methods to be used in verifying designer ear-marks.
I will give Dr. Stenger credit there are very few Christian theistic-evolutionists. Dr.Stenger again demanding science eject God as though science cannot be science if God is believed. I wont read much into this non-sequitor other than its a bias of his own not scientific in the least.
Science still has not shown how life began.
Dr. Stenger rejects the idea that God was necessary to bring life from non-life. He remarks that the basic ingredients of life are copious in space. He then references the Miller-Urey experiment in 1953. If you are an atheist debater and want to die a sudden death in a Christian vs atheist debate follow Dr. Stengers coaching here. Allow me to quote Lance Ponder in an article Creative Science 25 Life from Non-Life.
In his last paragraph he mentions the Miller Urey experiment and it goes as follows.
Odds have not stopped hopeful evolutionists in their daunting task to demonstrate how life might have arose from non-life. The principles of abiogenesis were most famously put to the test in the 1953 experiment was performed by Stanley Miller with the help of Harold Urey. They reproduced an artificial atmosphere to simulate what they thought might be early earth conditions. They then added the necessary soup components into that atmosphere, then applied electricity. The result was the spontaneous organization of organic molecules. The initial results were hailed as a huge step forward in human understanding of origins. Only later did the various problems with the experiment come to light. First, the simulated atmosphere, made up primarily of methane and ammonia, is universally rejected as impossible as an early Earth atmosphere. Very high electric charges had to be used to cause formation of the organic (carbon-based) molecules. The molecules generated were actually cyanide and formaldehyde, both of which are lethal to living cells. Although the Miller-Urey experiments have now been discredited and generally disavowed even by Evolutionists, the basic idea still lingers. Some text books in use today still provide a false impression that these experiments effectively demonstrated how life arose. Thus far every successful attempt to organize atoms, molecules, chemicals of any other level of complexity has involved the careful and purposeful implementation of an intelligent design under tightly controlled conditions not found in nature. It seems, then, that for man to create he must play at God, imitating Him with purpose, design, and very careful hands.
The very thing the Evolutionist use to dismiss God’s creative handiwork is an example of Intelligent Design itself. Yet at the heart of the experiment was the creation of chemicals that kill living cells. The big bang proved the universe had a beginning. Everything that begins has a cause. Therefore the universe had a cause, which was God (Kalām cosmological argument).
To Dr. Stenger its important to say “no laws of physics were necessarily broken to produce the universe”. That is to say roughly “I have blind faith that the explanation for the Beginning of the Universe can be explained by natural causes”. Then another use of faith in Quantum Mechanics to fill the gaps of knowledge for the Big Bang. Instead of addressing the Kalam Cosmological argument itself it was easier to skip to the faith he has in future scientific explanation from a naturalistic point of view.
The universe began with a singularity that marked the beginning of time.
Dr. Stenger now pulls back from the ‘singularity’ explanation to more fantastic ones. I said earlier that Dr. Stenger would fall upon Blind faith to resolve his difficulties arising from these statements. Here is one that highlights such a blind faith. He answers that the creator for the Singularity theory Stephen Hawking, abandoned it about 10 years ago. For him Modern Cosmology has turned to the science-fiction namely Multiverse theory. He says our universe is just one of endless universes that are infinite and eternal…therefore no need for a creator. Its does beg the question…”How does Dr. Stenger know this”?
I can’t help but wonder why the good Dr. has abandoned his own philosophy?
Dr Stenger said; “Only by observation can we demonstrate whether the premises accurately describe or reflect the real world.”
Since we have no way of knowing of another universe yet and have not yet found one, it can only be a blind faith, a belief without good evidence to support that belief. But that does not stop him from offering this to the atheist debater as ‘proof’ of an eternal universe, therefore no big bang and no Creator God needed. The multiverse theory is science fiction, abstractions done to create ‘possibilities’ in order to speculate the outcome of our own universe and the particulars of events. If we will permit multiverses as a reasonable cause for our own universe, then God is no stretch of the imagination by any means.
We cannot detect universes beyond our own. Therefore they are not science
Dr Stenger answers that science deals with theory all the time, its a part of how science proceeds to learn. Fair enough, but just what constitutes a “border” of our universe and one of the other multiverses? How does Dr. Stenger know the cosmic microwave has found its way to us from another universe and it does not belong to our own universe? This line of argumentation takes us into more and more speculation without the slightest evidence for any line of reasoning. In short, those with faith in multiverses existing offer far less than the Christian does. For the Christian claims the God he knows enters our universe and our world and directly effects it by his power and will. This is verifiable, the multiverse sets with the mythologies of ancient beings and for all we know has flat earths.
Where did the mass and energy of the universe come from?
These questions only take Dr. Stenger farther down the path of blind faith and speculation. Now Quantum tunneling is funneling in mass and energy by an earlier universe. Again, this ranks right up there with science fiction. Now, there is nothing wrong with speculation, but its anecdotal and offers us only mental abstractions. Again Ocham’s razor should be slicing off more and more of Dr. Stengers elaborate claims. At this juncture the Christian Apologist need do nothing. The atheist debater has no substantive answers unless your a sci-fi fan and these answers appeal to your imagination.
How can something come from nothing?
Dr. Stenger decides here to revert to Aristotle and claim the eternal universe idea. Its not original but its been scientifically faulted and even Dr. Hawking hasn’t nailed it down yet. Remember, when you have no substantive explanation from science, its not an improvement to jump to science fiction. Its desperation. The Christian Apologist need only remind his listeners that science fiction does not qualify as substantive argument; Dr. Stenger has done nothing to undermine the Christians claims at this point. The reality we all live in tells us “nothing” cannot produce “something”. Its a mental impossibility to conceive of it. We may imagine it, but we cannot reason it from anything in our world.
This will end Part one of this Christian response to Victor Stenger.