Opening Statement from my debate with Michael Long

My debate with Michael Long may be found here – http://www.choosinghats.org/2011/08/is-there-good-reason-to-believe-that-the-christian-god-exists

See some of my debate preparation here – http://www.choosinghats.org/2012/03/behind-the-scenes-notes-from-my-debate-with-michael-long

Debate Opening Statement

I. Introduction

Thank you Mr. Knapp, Mr. Long, my wife Kerri. Most of all I thank the Triune God of Scripture who chose, redeemed, and sealed me concerning the Gospel through which I am being saved by grace through faith; that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-5) I have personally experienced the reality of forgiveness of my sins and God’s presence in my life. While this does not, strictly speaking, constitute an argument for the existence of God, I have never found a reason to doubt this experience. My prayer is that those listening will come to know Jesus Christ and have greater confidence in the beautiful truth of the Christian faith.

Tonight I will be arguing that there is good reason to believe that the Christian God exists. My case will cover three areas: the atheist’s burden of proof, positive reason for the existence of God, and finally the transcendental argument for God’s existence.

One cannot approach these topics from a neutral position, but rather as one who is on God’s side or against Him. In rejecting the Word of God as the ultimate authority one accepts the authority of one’s own mind such that even what is considered “good reason” is determined by that natural mind. There is a distinction to be made between proof and persuasion. Objective proof is not persuasion. Just because my opponent may not be persuaded by my arguments tonight does not mean that no successful objective proof has been offered.

II. Opening Case for the Existence of God

A. Burden of Proof

In a podcast discussing philosopher Alvin Plantinga Mr. Long claims that one has,absolutely no reason to posit God, anymore than elves on Pluto or Santa Claus or any arbitrary thing you might come up with.” (22:46, 7) In order to defend the position that there is no good reason to believe that the Christian God exists, Mr. Long will need to refute every possible reason to believe in God, but this is difficult, if not impossible, to do.  Listen carefully to ensure that Mr. Long satisfies this burden of proof.

B. Positive Arguments

1. Systematic Theology

Systematic Theology provides good reasons for believing in God from Scripture. The ultimate good reason to believe the Christian God exists is that God says He exists.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and created man in his own image; male and female. (Genesis 1.1, 1.27) In him we live and move and have our being and even the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Acts 17.28, Psalms 19:1-4) Even the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. They knew God. (Romans 1.18-25) Finally, Jesus Christ our Lord was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:3-4)

2. Natural Theology

Natural Theology provides good reasons for believing in God independently of Scripture but not apart from the Christian worldview.

i. Argument from Desire

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)

  1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
  2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
  3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
  4. This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”  (Kreeft and Tacelli, 78)

ii. Common Consent Argument

  1. Belief in God – that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due – is common to almost all people of every era.
  2. Either the vast majority of people have been wrong about this most profound element of their lives or they have not.
  3. It is most plausible to believe that they have not.
  4. Therefore it is most plausible to believe that God exists. (Kreeft and Tacelli, 83)

iii. Kalam Cosmological Argument

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

C. Transcendental Argument

Finally, the transcendental argument for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to have good reasons to believe anything. Mr. Long’s atheist position is irrational. It fails to provide the preconditions of intelligible experience in terms of, for example, morality and induction. The atheist position does not allow for moral absolutes or the uniformity of nature. Rather, Mr. Long will be borrowing from my view tonight in order to try and make up for the deficiencies in his own. Therefore in coming to the debate tonight, Mr. Long has already lost the debate.

i. Ethics

Mr. Long takes ethics to begin with one’s own suffering and happiness, stating that “a great portion of what makes us self-concerned is just that capacity to suffer and enjoy our lives.” (4:32, 2) Mr. Long then takes an irrational leap from the alleged universal truth that others are “just as real” as us to make the bold assertion that, “to go and discount that, to take their interests less seriously than my own, well, I can only do that by pretending, by rationalizing, by thinking that I care about myself for reasons that I actually don’t.” (4:32, 2) But this does not follow at all. There is absolutely no need for someone to abandon his or her love of pleasure and hatred of suffering in order to take the interests of others less seriously than his or her own interest. One’s own pleasure or suffering is not necessarily involved in the pleasure or suffering of anyone else. Further, it is not difficult to imagine scenarios where the suffering or pleasure of others results in one’s own pleasure or suffering which might motivate someone to act in such a way as to increase pleasure and eliminate suffering at the expense of others. One can easily take the interests of others less seriously than one’s own interests.

Mr. Long might reply that, “The things about the world, the things about ultimately my experience and my beliefs about the experiences of others are constituent parts of my happiness.” (9:52, 2) Of course the suffering of others is a constituent part of the happiness of some. What would be wrong with making other people suffer for the sake of one’s own happiness? We are speaking of right and wrong after all, we are speaking of ethics.

Mr. Long continues, “People….don’t want their distaste for torturing children to be like their distaste for eating dirt, or their appreciation of kindness to be like their appreciation of cheesecake” and Mr. Long claims that there is a “big difference” between the two, but what is it? Mr. Long explains, “I have a second order desire, a desire about my desires with respect to torturing children….I not only find the desire to torture children to be distasteful, I’m really glad that I find the torture of children distasteful.” (33:09, 2) But people who find the desire to eat dirt distasteful might likewise be really glad that they find the desire to eat dirt distasteful. So Mr. Long’s position is ultimately reducible to subjectivism or relativism. In fact elsewhere Mr. Long speaks of individuals affixing meanings to moral terms and defining morality for themselves. (29:09, 2)

Ethics are important because Mr. Long bases his concept of “good reason” upon his ethics. The normativity in Mr. Long’s system of rationality, justification, warrant, and the like is analogous to and/or contingent upon his theory of ethics so that he claims, “I have an ethical obligation to go and be epistemically chaste, to not go and believe in things for no good reason.” (22:31, 7)

Mr. Long’s morality and epistemic obligation are problematic on their own terms, but he also believes that they depend upon induction, claiming:

I wouldn’t have ethics in the strong sense that I have ethics now if I didn’t have induction. Once I have induction all of a sudden I have a general strategy for evaluating strategies and it turns out that I can’t just believe whatever I feel in my bones. (49:05, 7)

ii. Induction

Additionally, belief in other minds depends upon induction:

Once I have those other minds which I get to through induction, well then I have obligations to them. Again, assuming induction, I have obligations to them. And among those obligations are epistemic obligations. (21:08, 7)

But that’s not all. Concerning history Mr. Long claims, “It seems to me if you’re going to be a historian you have to begin by assuming the world worked in the past the same way it works now. Otherwise you have no guidance.” (41:27, 9) Even rationality itself depends upon induction. Mr. Long explains, “In fact our notion of rationality itself is tied to induction.”

Right? There is certainly a kind of rationality that is tied to induction and that just kind of comes with that inductive package. (45:36, 5)

Again:

Until I actually have other minds, which I believe I get to through induction, there isn’t any ethics. And furthermore, until I have induction, even if I do have other minds, there is no ethics. I need other minds and I need induction for me to go and have other conscious states to act toward, to affect. Now if I can go and cause harm to others and if I can help others to have better experiences well then I have ethical and immoral ends which I can pursue….So I need other minds to have ethics but I also need induction. It needs to be the case that there are particular things that I can do that will in fact affect those other minds in particular ways. (19:33, 7)

According to Mr. Long, the knowledge of ethics, epistemic obligation, other minds, history, and even rationality itself is contingent upon induction. One would expect Mr. Long to have an extremely strong justification of knowledge arrived at through induction. But this is not the case. Mr. Long claims that he does not, “see what the alternative is to Hume” (34:29, 5) and puts the matter like this:

We have no non-circular inductive justification for supposing that induction will hold, and we have no deductive justification for it. (32.47, 5)

Mr. Long is clear that there is no non-circular inductive or deductive justification for induction, so there is no need to argue this point in the present context. However, Mr. Long proposes a so-called “pragmatic justification” for induction.

We have, I would argue, a kind of pragmatic justification, a certain kind of pragmatic justification for assuming in terms of our plans, in terms of our actions, for assuming that induction will hold which is that, frankly, if we don’t do that, if we don’t assume induction will hold, then we have no way of evaluating our strategies relative to the goals that we have. We can’t be actors in a robust sense in the world if we don’t assume induction. But that’s pretty much all we have as far as I can see. That and just the brute fact that we love induction and we’re going to use it. (32.47, 5)

There are at least four reasons to reject this so-called “justification.”

First, Mr. Long is committing the fallacy of equivocation with respect to the term “justification.” Equivocation is when one word is being used with two different meanings. When philosophers talk about “justification” with respect to induction, they mean epistemic justification like Mr. Long has already conceded does not exist. Hence to assign the word “justification” to “pragmatic” at all is a serious and misleading mistake.

Second, the so-called “pragmatic justification” of induction does not provide for any knowledge through induction, nor does it save anything that is based on induction.

Third, the so-called “pragmatic justification” for induction depends upon conclusions from induction that are not justified. Even if induction has “worked” in the past, it does not follow that it will continue to “work” in situations we have not yet experienced. For example, Mr. Long claims that “if we don’t assume induction will hold then we have no way of evaluating our strategies,” but this claim can only be known through induction, and Mr. Long has already given up that type of knowledge! Similarly he states that we “can’t be actors in a robust sense in the world if we don’t assume induction,” and that “we love induction and we’re going to use it,” neither of which he knows to be true with respect to future experience.

Fourth, pragmatism has its own difficulties. Consider the tribe that sacrifices a virgin every year by ripping her beating heart from her chest in order to please the sun god and have him continue to rise each morning for the following year. To steal Mr. Long’s phrase, is this tribe not pragmatically “justified” in their horrible action? After all, their ritual has always worked; the sun has always risen each morning. Why is Mr. Long’s suggestion that induction be embraced on the grounds of pragmatism any less absurd?

Elsewhere Mr. Long says, “there’s no way I’m going to be able to have a strategy for evaluating my strategies if I don’t go and use induction,” but as epistemic justification for induction this is fallacious. (40:28, 5) It is an argument from consequences that assumes upon the basis of an undesirable conclusion that the premises that support the conclusion are false. Mr. Long also asks:

Why on earth should I frustrate these desires that I have to use induction? Why should I try to resist my inclination to go and use induction? I don’t see how there is any rival to induction. So why is it irrational for me to use it? (40:28, 5)

But nobody is suggesting that Mr. Long should frustrate his desires to use induction or change over to some type of other reasoning, though philosophers better than Mr. Long and I have suggested that. Mr. Long is addressing a distorted conclusion, which is the straw man fallacy. The truth of the conclusion is that he is not rationally justified in his continued use of induction.

Finally, Mr. Long makes the absurd assertion that, “It’s enough of a justification to say that this is what we really, really want to do.” (1:19:55, 5) This is the fallacy of wishful thinking; drawing conclusions merely by means of what is pleasing rather than through rational thought.

iii. Faith

Mr. Long holds that, “Faith is a word that denotes epistemic irresponsibility with a positive connotation…” (46:33, 2) He complains, “The way the word ‘faith’ is used on a functional level by Christians is to, it seems to be a way of going and excusing a willful insistence upon maintaining one’s beliefs in the face of objections to them in spite of serious objections to one’s beliefs.”

The idea of maintaining one’s beliefs even though one doesn’t really have any good reason for believing them at all that’s grounded in a desire to really apprehend the truth….I think people have a moral obligation to try to understand the world as best they can. If you care about others as I expressed earlier, if you’re an empathetic person, then you’re going to want to change the world for the better or at least you’re going to want to avoid doing harm to others, and you just aren’t well equipped to do that if you don’t understand the world. (38:54, 2)

Yet Mr. Long insists upon maintaining his inductive knowledge in spite of serious objections to it. He maintains his beliefs with regard to inductive knowledge even though he doesn’t really have any good reason for believing them at all that’s grounded in a desire to really apprehend the truth.

According to Mr. Long:

If you go and you take the view and you promote the view that it is in fact a virtue and not a vice to believe things without good reason and to willfully ignore objections or not take seriously the objections that are raised against your beliefs you’ve opted for an epistemic strategy for acquiring beliefs, for acquiring purported knowledge that isn’t conducive to you understanding the world as well as you could. And you’re foisting that upon others when you say that this is a good habit. (43:54, 2)

I submit that this is precisely what Mr. Long is doing. By his own admission Mr. Long cannot provide rational, epistemic justification for induction. Not only do Mr. Long’s accounts of morality and induction fail on their own, but his account of morality does not permit his view of induction, and his view of induction does not permit his view of morality. According to Mr. Long’s own presuppositions, Mr. Long cannot account for the concept of “good reason,” and hence he can have nothing to say with respect to tonight’s debate topic.

III. Conclusion

Tonight I began by citing personal experience of God and pointed out Mr. Long’s burden of proof. The ultimate good reason for believing that the Christian God exists is that He has told us so. Three arguments were offered from natural theology within the context of the Christian worldview. Finally, the transcendental argument for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to have good reasons to believe anything. Therefore there is good reason to believe that the Christian God exists.


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