Paging Dr. Bahnsen

Greg Bahnsen is not afraid of Hare Krishnas. If he’s ever confronted by them in an airport, rather than shying away, he wields his powerful apologetic, until they are backed into a corner, at which point their last defense is “You know what your problem is? You’re trapped within the confines of your Western logic. Our religion follows its own higher logic, a logic that transcends your rigid Western exactitude.” I love Bahnsen’s response: “Well then, step up to the microphone! What, did I win something?

Attention Presuppositionalists

Any and all aspiring presuppositionalists need to read Paul Davies’ NY Times Op-Ed article, “Taking Science on Faith.” (And when you’re done, you might be interested to read at least one atheist’s response). Right up front, Davies sounds like Bahnsen or Van Til getting warmed up on TAG:

…science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. … Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational.

I’m not aware of whether Davies is a Christian, but I’m guessing no.  Towards the end of the article, he parallels the one-way flow of authority from a Sovereign God to his created universe, with the one-way flow of authority from impartial natural laws, to the universe they control (concluding that “both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence”).

As a scientist, dissatisfied with this state of affairs, he attempts to bend things back around to pure naturalism:

It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.  In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency.

I can’t imagine how that would work — it seems that such a scheme would be in principle impossible.  Davies speaks of the laws of physics as “the bedrock of reality”; if science somehow reaches his desired end, then there is no longer any bedrock.  It would have to be a worldview not founded on axioms, but somehow circularly self-supporting.  Whatever such a beast might look like, I don’t see how it could be immune from Davies’ own criticism of the explanatory weakness of multiverse theory: “This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.”

Davies’ closing sentence is also a good closer for me: “until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.”

I wouldn’t wait up.

Shaky Foundations

[NewsFlash! evanescent is not (as I assumed) the author of the article discussed below. If you follow this link to my previous comment thread, you will see that he never actually claimed to be the author, but just recommended the article as what we should read to understand the ethical system he endorses, which is called Universal Utilitarianism. I have made a few edits in the post below, but in case I missed anything, know that the following is a response directed to evanescent, due to his insistence that we all read about Universal Utilitarianism at

After the comment thread on Ethical Question II spiraled out of control, I said I would post separately a consideration of an article at which describes the ethical system that evanescent endorses, which is called “Universal Utilitarianism” (UU for short).

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Cruel Logic

While y’all wait for me to complete a new post on evanescent’s carrot & stick article, here’s a link to whet your appetite. (HT: Gene Cook, TNM #864)

Bahnsen’s TAG VI

[Map: Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI]

I’m trying to wrap up this series and get on to planned subsequent topics. In this post I will consider the Problem of Evil (PoE), and hopefully I’ll wrap up next time. The typical TAG response to PoE can be summarized like this:

Atheist: How can there be evil in a universe created by an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God?

TAG: Evil? Who said you can talk about evil? You don’t believe in a God to establish a standard of good and evil, so it is ridiculous for you to ask such a question!

In long form, “The Great Debate” between atheist Gordon Stein and Christian Greg Bahnsen gives an example of an actual interchange along these lines. In his opening statement, Stein states the problem well enough:

…In addition, we have a number of things, which I wouldn’t call proofs, but I would call evidence which make the existence of god even more improbable; and one of them is the problem of evil. If an all-good god exists, why is there evil in the world? We are told with god that all things are possible. If all things are possible, it would be possible for him to create a world in which the vast mass of suffering that is morally pointless, such as the pain and misery of animals, the cancer and blindness of little children, the humiliations of senility and insanity were avoided. These are apparently inflictions of the creator himself, or else we have a god that isn’t omnipotent. If you admit that, then you deny his goodness. If you say that he would not have done otherwise, you deny “with him all things are possible.”

Bahnsen addresses PoE at the end of his rebuttal:

Well, we have one minute left here. I want to answer very quickly those few things that Dr. Stein brought up in his second presentation so that I might rebut them. He wants to know about the problem of evil. My answer to the problem of evil is this: There is no problem of evil in an atheist universe because there is no evil in an atheist universe. Since there’s no god, there’s no absolute moral standard and nothing is wrong. The torture of little children is not wrong in an atheist universe. It may be painful, but it is not wrong. It is morally wrong in a theistic universe, and therefore there is a problem of evil, of perhaps the psychological or emotional sort, but philosophically the answer to the problem of evil is, you don’t have an absolute standard of good by which to measure evil in an atheist universe. You only have that in a theistic universe, and therefore the very posing of the problem presupposes my world-view, rather than his own. God has a good reason for the evil that he plans or allows.

The effect of this tactic on Stein (and other atheists I have heard this line used on) is to send him into an attempt to defend a utilitarian definition of ‘good vs. evil’ based on maximizing global happiness. It is important to expose the arbitrariness of any moral system which does not derive its authority from an eternal, unchanging God. But at bottom, this answer is merely a redirection — smoke and mirrors to distract the eye from the real Problem of Evil. Whether or not it is true that “there is no evil in an atheist universe”, the question about the Christian universe stands.

Not to say that Christianity (and TAG) has no answer for PoE (and Bahnsen’s very quick answer is buried in the statement above) — my point is that PoE has the proper logical form to be a true defeater for Christianity, so it is incumbent upon the Christian to demonstrate the invalidity of its premises. The logical form can be abstracted from Stein’s statement above:

IF (God is omnipotent AND God is omnibenevolent) THEN evil can not (does not) exist.

If that properly formed logical assertion is TRUE, then so is its contrapositive, which has the form

IF (evil does (can) exist) THEN (God is not omnipotent OR God is not omnibenevolent)

So it falls on both parties to address this logical assertion. Working within the confines of the logical statement, one way is to prove that evil does not (cannot) exist. Bahnsen’s point is that this is the atheist solution to PoE (as an effect, the questions of God’s omnipotence or omnibenevolence (or even existence) become irrelevant). Alternatively, one could demonstrate that God is not omnipotent, or that God is not omnibenevolent. Obviously, none of those logical techniques are acceptable to the Christian. The final way to address the question is to demonstrate the the assertion is not valid, and this is the right way to go.

First, note that statements of the form “IF (X is able to do Y AND X wants to do Y) THEN Y” are not always true. What if “X” is “a man” and “Y” is “steal” or “murder” or “rape” or “lie” or “cheat” or “eat a dozen donuts” or “be faithful to one’s wife” or “give to charity” or “join the peace corps”? Has it never been the case in all of human history that someone has not done what they really want to do, not because of compulsion, but by self-discipline (or lack thereof)? Or how about if X is “a high school principal”, and Y is “give a signed diploma to every student”? Or if X is “a parent” and Y is “discipline his children”?

We are getting to a point where it is important to clearly understand what is meant by “able” and “willing”, and it is at this level that we can deal with Stein. Stein opens up with, “We are told with god that all things are possible. If all things are possible, it would be possible for him to create a world…” with no evil. This evidences a common misconception of omnipotence. As my children can tell you, the correct answer to the question “Can God do all things?” is “Yes; God can do all his holy will“. So when Stein concludes “If you say that he would not have done otherwise, you deny ‘with him all things are possible,'” then I reply, “you are correct — you were wrong in the sense that you understood ‘with God all things are possible'”. Jesus has a proper perspective on the Father’s omnipotence in Mark 14:36:

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.

So with a proper understanding of omnipotence, the question then becomes “Why would an omnibenevolent God will that evil exist?” And this is indeed a difficult question. In his limited surplus rebuttal time, Bahnsen hints at the answer: “The torture of little children…is morally wrong in a theistic universe, and therefore there is a problem of evil, of perhaps the psychological or emotional sort, but philosophically the answer to the problem of evil is…God has a good reason for the evil that he plans or allows.”

I also have limited time, so I’ll leave it at that.

The Dark Side

If you are at all interested in apologetics, you will be interested in reading this post from an atheist, who describes being witnessed to by a seminarian (apparently a presuppositionalist). If you thought that was a good read, you might also want to read this one.

Bahnsen’s TAG V

[Map: Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI]

It’s been quite a long time since I last posted in this series, so I’d like to ease back in with some noncontroversial thoughts about the nature of laws. Usually the three types of laws are categorized as Logic, Nature, and Morality. For convenience, I’ll be abbreviating these LoL, LoN, and LoM, respectively.

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Bahnsen’s TAG IV

[Map: Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI]

Well, my hiatus from this series has caused unprecedented levels of activity on this blog (with posts on tongues, sufficiency of scripture, and “free” will netting over 300 comments and 800 views (by about half a dozen people)). But the people have spoken (overall, the people did a lot of speaking yesterday…), and it’s time to settle down, and return to less popular topics.

Oh boy, that sounds exciting…

Bahnsen’s TAG III

[Map: Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI]

Last time I closed off a discussion of material vs. immaterial existence with this:

As a final note, let me point out that not all atheists will admit that the laws of logic actually exist, in any real or absolute sense…I have no patience for such ridiculousness. If necessary, I can make another whole post in this series about exactly why it is ridiculous, but it seems to me that it is self-evident that the truth of the laws of logic and math upon which every scientist relies daily (whether Christian or Atheist) are eternally and absolutely true, were true before any minds existed to understand that truth, and would remain true if all minds were destroyed.

Well, it appears that it is necessary, as Forester (playing devil’s advocate) posited a much more coherent way to think of logic as non-absolute than I had ever heard from the materialist camp. (Seriously, go read it, then come back.)

Wow, Forester is really smart and clever…

Bahnsen’s TAG II

[Map: Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI]

One of the primary weapons in the armory of the TAG’er is to accuse his opponent of denying that the laws of logic exist. The argument goes like this:

  • My opponent is a “materialist”
  • By definition, he only believes that material things exist
  • The laws of logic are not material
  • The laws of logic exist
  • (Even my opponent believes the laws of logic exist, as demonstrated by his appearance at a debate)
  • Ha, ha, what a dope…