Debate between Matt Slick and Dan Barker on "Does God Exist?"

by Matt Slick

On April 12, 2014, I debated Dan Barker on "Does God exist?"  The debate was held on the Campus of the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, Wisconsin.  Below is the text I read as my 20 minute opening statement.  Unfortunately, about a minute into my reading, my voice started to fail me.  I've never had that happen before in a debate, or in preaching, or in teaching.  But, I found myself having a great deal of difficulty speaking since my throat was suddenly quite dry and scratchy.  I was literally choking out some words.  This had a definite negative effect on my presentation, and because of the extra delay due to my difficulty speaking, I had to skip some parts of the presentation in order to finish in time.  Marc Urban, a Christian who went with me to do some filming (which never happened as you'll see why below), went on Facebook and put in a prayer request with his church's prayer team.  A half hour later, I was able to communicate with no problem and the debate went fine from there.

So, this is what happened before getting to the debate.

A week and a half prior I injured my back, and for several days I had to use a cane to walk.  It was rather debilitating for the week prior to the debate.  Nevertheless, the debate was on Saturday at 7 PM, and I was sufficiently recovered enough (though not totally) to make the trek to Madison, Wisconsin.  I decided it would be best to arrive there on Friday afternoon (to do some filming, interviewing, etc.), but it didn't work out that way.  This is what happened at the Boise Airport when I began my journey.

  • Friday
    • First flight out of Boise was canceled.
    • Second flight from Boise was delayed.
    • I made it to Minneapolis, very late.  Stayed in a hotel.  Got 6 hours sleep.  I was scheduled to fly out early in the morning on Saturday and arrive in Madison, Wisconsin around noon, plenty of time to rest and prepare for the debate.
  • Saturday
    • Got up after six hours of sleep.  I hustled to the airport and the flight was canceled.
    • The airlines rescheduled me for another flight which ended up being delayed. 
    • Because the flight was delayed I missed my flight to Madison by four minutes.
    • They rescheduled my flight and I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin at 4:02 PM, three hours before the debate was scheduled to occur.

Now, I discovered that airports are designed to maximize your walking distance.  You arrive at one end and you must hustle to the other.  I suspect it's a plot to keep us all in shape.  Nevertheless, given that I had a bad back and had to carry my laptop bag, which contained a laptop and a tablet along with notes, my back started to hurt pretty badly.  At one point I was having a very difficult time walking.  I still made it in time for the debate with only three hours to spare.  After some over-the-counter painkillers, which I retrieved from my checked-in bag, I arrived at the venue.  I sat around a lot and with the painkillers I was able to move around pretty freely.

  • Sunday
    • The next morning returning home my flight was canceled.
    • The rescheduled flight was not delayed, surprisingly, and I arrived in Salt Lake City.
    • That flight to Boise was delayed due to mechanical problems.
    • I made it home -  finally.

 

---------- text of the opening statement from Matt Slick --------- 

Tonight’s debate topic is “Does God exist?”  I believe he does. But, let me make it clear that I’m not arguing for the generic existence of any God, but only the God of the Bible.  I am a Trinitarian who believes in salvation that can be found only through the person and work of Jesus who, according to the Scriptures, is God in flesh, who died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead three days later.  Since I believe this and take the affirmative position in our debate, then the burden is upon me to at least try and demonstrate that God exists. 

But in order to do this, I won’t go about it the wrong way. I won’t put on a lab coat, produce a microscope, and get an x-ray machine in order to detect God’s existence. This is the wrong approach because scientific methodology is designed to detect, repeat, and explain phenomena in the material world, not the world outside of it.  It is not designed to detect existence of a Divine Person who transcends it.  Think about it.  Do you know of any person who behaves in a mechanistic, naturalist, predictable fashion?  Or are there aspects of irregularity, unpredictability, and variableness in their behavior due to them being persons that don’t fit in the scientific method?

In my article on CARM.org “What kind of evidence should we expect from a transcendent God?” I say, “Since a Transcendent God who created the universe would not be limited to it, but would transcend it, then we can expect that evidence for God's existence would share transcendent characteristics.”  Therefore, if we encounter transcendent characteristics in the world, then we have encountered evidence for God’s existence.  I’ll propose just such evidence in a bit.  But, before I do that, I need to make a comment.

Generally, we find what we are looking for, and our presuppositions determine what we look for, how we look, and how we interpret what we find.  Our presuppositions can blind us or help us see.  Therefore, when assessing God’s existence, a person’s presuppositions need to be examined for consistency, rationality, and accuracy.  But that is a topic for another time.

Presuppositions form a worldview and in our debate tonight we have two worldviews: the worldview that contains God and the worldview that does not contain God.  We could also say there is a worldview that contains transcendence and one that does not.  If you are an atheist, then your worldview necessarily excludes God as well as any transcendent qualities he might possess such as his independence of the universe and his being beyond space and time.  As an atheist, you must exclude the transcendent characteristics because they are, by definition, independent of the natural realm.  But, if we can discover transcendent characteristics in the universe, then it would seem we have discovered evidence for God’s existence.  Then interpreting that evidence would depend on your presuppositions.

Now, I believe that we have encountered transcendent characteristics in our world and that the Christian worldview, not the atheistic perspective best accounts for them.

Okay, so let me introduce to you a pair of opposites: God and not God.  There is no third option in this set because there is either the thing or the negation of the thing: God or not God. Furthermore, if there are multiple gods, then there is at least “a God”.  In this antonymic pair (antonyms are opposites) we only have two options that can have explanatory power.  For example, we can say that God created the universe or God did not create the universe. Both cannot be true, but at least one of them must be.

We can now apply the same principle in our debate here. 

God either exists or God does not exist and if we can demonstrate that the “no God position” is incapable of explaining transcendent characteristics that relate to human experience, then the only other option must be validated; namely, that God exists.

Furthermore, just to clarify, to have a “lack of belief in God” falls in the category of the no-God position since it is identical with it in explanatory power.

LAWS OF LOGIC

Mr. Barker, you said in your debate with Doug Wilson in 1997 on the topic “Does the triune God exists?”, that “Logic is not some capital L thing existing up in the universe we need to find. It is just a function of the mind, a function of the human brain.” Okay, Mr. Barker I agree that logic is a function of the brain, but not ‘just’ the brain. Now, we both know that people can reason correctly.  But how would you recognize correct reasoning it if not by appealing to something outside the brain, such as the Laws of Logic which guide proper reasoning?  But these Laws cannot be the product of the human brain, otherwise there is no way to determine if a person’s reasoning is right or wrong.

When the brain functions logically, it must be in harmony with the Laws of Logic. When the brain functions illogically, then it is not in harmony with those laws. But those Laws are external to and independent of the brain since they govern it in regard to proper reasoning. Furthermore, the Laws of Logic are special kinds of propositions since they are “about” truth.  And that's one reason we know they require a mind, because no material thing can be "about" another thing.  Truth statements require minds.

The first four laws of classical logic are, 1) the Law of Identity which states that something is what it is and is not what it is not. 2) The Law of Non-contradiction which says that a statement cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense.  3) The Law of Excluded Middle which says that a statement is either true or false.  And, 4) the Law of Proper Inference which states if A=B and B=C, then A=C.  There are other laws, but these are four of the Laws with which our logical discourse must operate when we are trying to be rational.  Since we only have two options to work with, God and no God, how does the atheistic perspective account for these Laws of Logic?

  • If these Laws of Logic are just a function of the human brain, as Mr. Barker has stated, then that explanation cannot work because brains are different and people contradict each other. Furthermore, if someone’s physical brain causes him to deny the Law of Non-contradiction, that Law is not invalidated. It is still true. Therefore, this proves that logical thinking occurs in the brain, the laws of logic do not depend on human brains for their validity.
  • If these Laws of Logic are agreed-upon principles that people recognizes as true, then they are recognizing principles that already exist, but how is it possible to have preexistent Logical Propositions in an atheistic worldview? And, if it is people who declare these axioms to be true, then do the Logical Propositions become untrue when people decide they don’t serve their subjective wants anymore? 
  • If these Laws of Logic are descriptions of natural phenomena, then how do you, for example, observe the Law of Proper Inference in nature which says if A=B and B=C, then A=C, without first presupposing the validity of the Laws of Logic which you use to deduce its truth?   To do so it to Beg the Question.
  • If these Laws of Logic are said to be properties of the universe, then they should be measurable since properties of the physical realm are quantifiable, whether they be things such as hardness, mass, polarity, or density. But, we cannot measure the hardness of the Law of Identity, the mass of the Law of Non-contradiction, the polarity of the Law of Excluded Middle, or the density of the Law of Proper Inference.  So, it does not make sense to say that the Laws of Logic are properties of the universe that we simply recognize and describe.  

Furthermore, these Laws of Logic share the characteristics of being universally true for everyone because they are independent of any particular person’s brain function, or location, or time.  This makes them transcendent.   And, again, since they are “about” things, they require a mind.

Now, which worldview best provides the rational justification for these transcendent, universally true propositions? Is it the Christian worldview that proposes a transcendental mind that is the Christian God and who has revealed these universally truth laws to us as reflections of his perfect, transcendent mind? Or, are they the product of the human brain via evolution that assigns universal truth principles in the physical world and asserts them as a function of physical brains?  I assert that it is the former which makes sense, and the atheistic perspective does not.

Let’s move on to the next issue.

EXISTENCE

I agree with the consensus of scientists today who state that the universe had a beginning.  So, there’s no need to argue this. 

If the universe had a beginning, then it brought itself into existence or it did not bring itself into existence. Since nothing comes from nothing (unless you’re into magic and children’s imaginations), then we can conclude that the universe did not cause itself to exist.  Instead, it was caused to exist by something other than itself. 

There are only two options to account for this cause: personal and not personal.  There is no third option.

Let’s look at the impersonal cause first.

An impersonal cause of the universe had to exist prior to the universe.  Since time appears to be a function of the physical realm, the prior cause must have existed in a timeless state.  This cause must also have had the necessary and sufficient conditions to bring the universe into existence. But if it was an impersonal cause that possessed the necessary and sufficient conditions, then the resultant creation would have been automatic. Let me illustrate. 

If I want to move a bolder with a lever, I would need both the necessary and sufficient conditions. The necessary conditions would be the bolder, the ground, a fulcrum, a lever, and a counterweight. But if one of these necessary conditions is not sufficient, say the counterweight is not heavy enough, then the boulder will not move.  But as soon as all the necessary conditions are also sufficient, which includes the counterweight being heavy enough, the result, in this impersonal arrangement, is automatic; the Boulder moves.  But, if we add a personal variable, say a person’s ability to pull on the lever when she decided to, then the result occurs when she decides it to occur.

Now, if there were an impersonal cause that also possessed both the necessary and sufficient conditions to create the universe, then the creation would necessarily have been automatic.  Since this impersonal cause existed, for a lack of a better term, “forever”, then the universe would have been brought into existence automatically, an infinitely long time ago. But since the universe is not infinitely old, then it is not possible that an impersonal cause brought the universe into existence an infinitely long time ago.

It makes more sense to say that there was a personal cause that contained both the necessary and sufficient conditions, and that in a particular moment of his choosing, decided to say “Let there be light,” and the universe came into existence. In the case of the creation of the universe, this would mean that this Personal Being transcends the universe itself, is the cause of it, and decided to create it at a particular point in time in the past.  Hence, another example of transcendence.

Now, Mr. Barker, you said in your book Godless, on page 101, "If something is true, we don't invoke faith. Instead we use reason to prove it. Faith is intellectual bankruptcy.”

Mr. Barker, can you as an atheist, without invoking faith that science will come up with an answer and without simply dismissing the question, provide an explanation for the cause of the universe that is, as you say, reasonable and not based on faith?  If not, Mr. Barker, I assert that your atheism, which necessarily denies a personal cause of the universe, cannot be true.  After all, the impersonal cause of the universe does not appear to be a logically valid option.  Furthermore, the Christian worldview provides a better explanation for the cause of the universe when it proposes a Divine Personal Cause that transcends the universe, possess the necessary and sufficient conditions, decided when to create it, and is its First Cause.

MORALITY

Let me get to my final issue.

In your debate with Peter Payne at the University of Wisconsin, in March of 2005, you said, “There are no actions in and of themselves that are always absolutely right or wrong. It depends on the context.”  But what you said is self-refuting.  You propose an absolute moral law about actions; namely, that the moral right or wrong of any action always depends on context.  So you’ve provided an absolute moral truth about actions.  But, how is that possible in your atheistic viewpoint?

Nevertheless, your sentiment makes sense from your atheistic perspective.  But, it also means that you cannot rationally justify any objection to the moral behavior of God.  Furthermore, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then you cannot say God does is actually right or wrong, because well, God acts in different contexts and for different reasons.  And, what gives you the right to judge the actions of God in any particular context?  In your atheism, you cannot have any objective, non-changing standard by which you consistent, absolute moral judgments. You have only your opinion, and opinions don’t win debates or make things true.

However, if you say that societies have evolved and we have learned what “better” behavior is (which has its own philosophical problems), then that means what the majority wants is right.  It would then mean that you cannot condemn the Nazis for murdering the Jews. But more significantly, by appealing to the principle that society determines what is right and wrong, you are saying that there is a universal moral principle, a moral “ought” that states that what people want, is morally right and “ought” to be followed.  But, from your atheist perspective that is not possible. 

In your debate with Peter Payne, at the University of Wisconsin in March of 2005 you said, “There is no universal ought.”  This must also mean that you cannot assign a universal moral value to the principal “That which enhances humanity is "good." That which threatens it is "evil,” which is what you said in your book, Losing Faith in Faith on page 134.

In addition, you said in your debate with Doug Wilson in 1997 that, “morality is an issue of avoiding pain.” Well, besides assigning an absolute moral value there, how do you know that your statement is true?  Did you use the scientific method to discover this?  I ask because you said in your book, Losing Faith in Faith, page 133, that "The scientific method is the only trustworthy means of obtaining knowledge.”  So how did you arrive at this “fact” that “morality is an issue of avoiding pain” if not with the scientific method?

I have quoted you in order to demonstrate your inconsistency which I believe is due to your atheistic presupposition.  Furthermore, I believe your atheism cannot provide sufficient rational justification for the absolute moral statements that you imply exist, but which you say cannot.

As a Christian my worldview provides sufficient conditions from which to determine right and wrong. For example, it is always wrong to rape a person.  It is always wrong to murder (Exodus 20:13).  That is why it is also always wrong to torture babies to death merely for one’s personal pleasure. Such universal truths have a transcendent quality because they reflect the transcendent mind of God.  Their moral validity is not dependent on the opinions of individuals or the decrees of the collective society.  Absolute moral truths have the quality of transcendence and I can justify them as revelations of the transcendent, absolute mind of the Christian God where as you cannot.

So, in three very important areas (the Laws of Logic, Our Existence, and Objective Morality), the Christian worldview makes sense and the atheist one does not, especially when we note that there are transcendental aspects evident in each category that cannot, in my opinion, be explained from the “no God” perspective, but can be explained when we include God in our presuppositional set.   So, when we only have two worldviews to work from, God and not God, and the no-God position is found to lack the necessary explanatory support for transcendent characteristics, then the God-exists position is validated.  Therefore, Yes, God does exist.

 

 

 

 
 
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