Earlier this year, Sonny Hernandez debated Dan Barker on the question, “Does God Exist?” I recently watched this debate and found it to be somewhat unsatisfying as far as debates are concerned. The part of the debate that I think it would be most useful to review is the Q&A section. There were a lot of good questions accompanied with a lot of unsatisfying answers in my opinion. The goal of this particular post is to restate the question and then provide the answer I would have given and why. I hope you find my interaction useful.
Before I get to the first question, I want to take a few lines to address Barker’s cross of Sonny on a couple of points. Dan asked Sonny if genocide was wrong. Admittedly, Sonny struggled with that question. I would have said that genocide is the result of the fall. It is the result of sin. It is the product of divine judgment upon sinful man. Why God has not killed us all can only be attributed to his mercy and grace and longsuffering. End answer! Now, keep thinking about this question, Christian. Dan used the word “peaceful” when he described the village that Israel killed. Dan assumes that the people in the village are “innocent” victims. They are not. We begin with original sin and the fact that we are living under divine judgment, divine wrath. But for grace, we are all doomed to genocide and deservingly so. Dan tries to sneak his ethic into the question and then indict God. Dan will have to defend his morality. This is something he cannot do. Second, Dan asked Sonny a direct question: would you kill me if God, beyond any question, came to you and told you to kill me. Again, Sonny struggled in his reply. I would have said yes. It is a hypothetical question and if I assume the conditional “God spoke to me and told me to kill Dan” and that in fact actually is the case, then I would answer yes.
Question: “How can you say that I am not an atheist and that you are a Christian?”
Answer: The Bible tells us that all men know that God exists but that they pervert and suppress that knowledge according to Romans 1. So, an atheist is nothing more than a person who knowingly and willingly suppresses the knowledge of the truth of God’s existence. The Bible says that a true Christian is one who endures to the end and that those who leave the Christian community were never really Christians to begin with and this is according to the apostle John in 1 John 2:19. End Answer.
Question: why did God wipe out the people from Noah’s generation instead of coming down like Jesus did to save the world?
Answer: Noah’s generation morally impure or totally corrupt and living a state of continual depravity? They, like all sinners, were undeserving of God’s mercy. Noah’s generation deserved to be purged from the earth and God’s decision to destroy them was righteous. God’s action served a greater good, namely, his plan. It is like a parent who turns in his son when he finds out he is a serial killer, knowing he will get the death penalty. Justice does not detract from the parent’s love but the greater good moves the parent to act. The parent’s heart breaks but they act out of a desire for what they know is a state of affairs that represents a greater good. End Answer.
Dan Barker’s objection: the previous answer means that God is unjust. But this is simply not the case. It actually means just the opposite. God is just, and he moves to punish evildoers. Noah’s sins were punished in Christ the same as ours allowing God to display mercy to Noah while pouring out his wrath on the rest. This makes God infinitely just as well as infinitely merciful. Philosophically, one has to ask if it is possible to display justice, righteousness, and goodness in a state of affairs where there is no evil.
Dan’s certainty: Dan says that he can be certain of any statement that corresponds with reality. This is the claim that all knowledge is empirical in nature, based on observation or sense perception. And Dan is actually wrong. The method Dan is using is induction and induction can never produce certainty. However, Dan has no way of showing how his statement, that he can be certain of statements that correspond with reality because that statement itself is not empirical. There is nothing in reality that corresponds to this statement. There is no way to observe it. All knowledge comes through the senses is a claim to knowledge that did not itself come through the senses. Dan’s statement is self-defeating. The second problem for Dan is located in the follow-up question, “how do you know what is real?” Dan is not appealing to reality, he is not observing reality, what Dan is doing is appealing to his interpretation of reality which is nothing more than begging the question. He is presupposing his own interpretation of reality in order to show that its true. It is the textbook example of viciously circular reasoning. He is appealing to induction to prove induction. It was David Hume who destroyed the validity of the principle of induction and Dan Barker has done nothing but engage in the sort of circularity that led Hume to see the fallacy of the method itself.
In his closing remarks on Hume, Bertrand Russell concluded, “What these arguments prove – and I do not think the proof can be controverted – is that induction is an independent logical principle, incapable of being inferred either from experience or from other logical principles, and that without this principle science is impossible.” (Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 674)
Question: do you agree with slavery now or human trafficking because Jesus never spoke against slavery or rape?
Answer: First, Jesus spoke against sexual immorality of all types and this would include rape. Second, the Bible never, ever condones rape. Third, slavery was a fact of life in ANE cultures and it was and is itself the product of the fall. The economic framework of those cultures was such that there is no comparison in modern times to that particular kind of slavery. Additionally, Christian masters were given strict commands regarding the treatment of slaves. Finally, it was Christian principles that led to the decline and abolishment of slavery over time as economies changed. The real problem here is that apart from God, there is no way to condemn slavery of any kind because, if God does not exist, then human beings are not created in his image. And if this state of affairs has actually obtained, then human beings possess no more value or dignity than a roach. Moreover, if our morality is derived from social contract theory, then there was a time when slavery was not wrong because society approved of it. The slavery objection is an unwinnable objection. The Christian has to get past the shock of the objection, stop being so sensitized by our culture which elevates the sins of racism and slavery to the status of the worse possible sins any human could commit and keep their mind focused on the teachings of Scripture.
Dan says that he has disproven the Bible at this point. But all Dan has done is complained about the God revealed in the Bible. He has done nothing to disprove the credibility or reliability of the Bible. It is difficult to understand why he thinks otherwise.
Question to Dan: what is an example of evidence that would cause you to conclude that God exists? Dan says that if Sonny were to make a detailed prophecy that came true, this would qualify as the sort of evidence that would place his position on God in jeopardy. Dan then calls the prophecies in Scripture nothing more than stories.
Answer/Response: Here we see Dan’s dishonesty at its worse. He also says that most Christians accept the “fact” of evolution and that it does not conflict with basic Christian doctrine. Most Christians do not, in fact, accept the theory of evolution. The Christian account says that God created man from the dust of the ground in his image and likeness and breathed into man, the breath of life and he did this in less than one day. Evolution says that man evolved from non-life forms over millions and millions of years. It seems to me that these two accounts are in fact, contradictory to one another.
Question: What is the evidence that God exists?
Answer: The evidence is simply that, apart from the existence of God, you cannot make human experience intelligible. We cannot account for the uniformity of nature without our numerous explanations all reducing in the end, to irrational nonsense. We end up taking a blind leap of faith on the reliability of human cognitive faculties, a position that is viciously circular in nature if evolutionary theory is our basal presupposition. Moreover, we can’t even account for the laws of logic. Human rationality fairs no better than our unfounded belief that science is possible given the debunked principle of induction. We try in every way to claim that the laws of logic are mere conventions of human society, but the more we try to put logic in its place, the more it puts us in ours. Finally, once God is removed from the argument, there is simply no way to explain morality. Indeed, many atheists are beginning to embrace moral nihilism as a result of their coming up empty after innumerable expeditions to find a plausible solution to the question of the good. They know that they have nothing in their worldview that can account for why we know that rape, torture, and murder are really wrong. If humans are accidents of nature, they have no more value than any other accidents of nature because they are just a different form of the same matter as everything else that exists, like tree branches or ants or roaches or kings or heroes or knights. They just are. Talk about a fairy tale.
To put it bluntly, the greatest proof for God’s existence is seen in the fact that the very question of God’s existence is intelligible. In other words, that there are uncontroversial human experiences that are intelligible (nature, rationality, morality) is proof that God exists. You cannot even deny God’s existence without presupposing his existence. The denial of God’s existence presupposes the intelligibility of human experience, something that cannot be accounted for apart from God. As Cornelius Van Til once wrote, “The only ‘proof’ of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of ‘proving’ anything.” (Van Til, Jerusalem and Athens)
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)