Discussion on transcendent properties as evidence for God's existence
by Matt Slick
Following is a conversation I had in a chat room where several atheists were present. One of them wanted me to demonstrate that God existed. Generally, I find their challenges like this to be disingenuous. My opinion is that when atheists ask this, what they're looking for is not an argument that God exists but that they're trying to find a way to justify their atheism when the Christian fails, according to them, to give a sufficient answer. But Rita was nice enough; and when I told her I was using a speech recognition program and that I would be glad to use it to offer an argument that God exists, she said she would like hear it. So, our conversation began.
There were several other atheists present--some of whom were insulting and jumping in with things that were not related to the topic and generally not following the argument. I have removed those non-relevant, insulting comments and formatted the following discussion for readability.
Rita: I am an atheist, but I do not worship science, I use it as a guide.
Matt: Rita, science is a philosophy. Science has to presuppose the regularity of nature but can't prove its regular in all situations. Scientists must presuppose the validity of the laws of logic by which it must operate. They cannot prove those laws to be true without assuming them in the first place. So the atheistic perspective, particularly when it comes to science, must adopt certain philosophical positions. The question is are the assumptions valid and how would you know without begging the question? Also, is the atheistic perspective capable of answering those questions? The Christian one can.
Matt: Nevertheless, even though the Christian perspective can answer the questions and the atheist one cannot, it does not mean that atheists will recognize that their perspective is nonviable. I suspect that this is because atheists do not want accountability with God. I also suspect that they like the idea of being their own "gods." I don't mean that in an insulting way. It's just that atheists, in my experience, like to determine truth, morality, etc., for themselves.
Matt: Nevertheless, I've been thinking about atheism and its lack of ability to be able to give explanation for various phenomena.
Rita: What sort of phenomena.
Matt: Any phenomena.
Matt: Rita, please let me run something by you, okay.
Matt: Okay, so let me just kind of think out loud about something. When atheists work in the material world and require evidence for God based on material phenomena that's a problem. We don't find God under a rock. We don't find him by discovering some repeatable pattern in a chemistry lab. That is called a category mistake. But God, by definition, exists outside of our time and space. This means that he transcends space and time. So I was thinking about that. If God is transcendent, then that means that he exists in a manner that is independent of the physical realm. It would also mean that he is not dependent on space and time for his "validity." Philosophically this makes sense but it's not provable--at least not yet. A rock has properties of hardness, mass, volume, etc.
Matt: Properties exist because they are "emanations" of something that they represent. I'm not saying this the best way . . . but to continue with the analogy of a rock that has the property of hardness. Hardness can only exist, in this context, if the rock exists. Properties are dependent on things. If a property exists, it must be the property of something else that exists. So, if we can find transcendent properties in the universe, then it would make sense to say we have found evidence of a transcendent being.
Rita: But what would you consider transcendent.
Matt: I'm going to get to that. If we understand something is transcendent, if it is not dependent upon space and time for its existence, then we have discovered characteristics of what is transcendent. The laws of logic exhibit just such transcendent attributes. The laws of logic, the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, the law of excluded middle, the law of proper inference, etc., are propositions about things. These laws are necessary for us to have rational discussion.
Matt: If I were to contradict myself and you pointed it out, you would be rightfully citing the law of non-contradiction. But these laws are not dependent upon space and time for their validity. In other words, if we were to get in a spaceship and go some place in the universe 1 billion years earlier or 1 billion years later, the laws of logic are not altered, nor are they dependent upon when or where we are for their truth. These laws are not the property of physical minds, or I should say physical brains, because one brain is different from another brain. I could go on in this vein, but I won't.
Matt: It's just that these logical laws, these propositions have transcendent characteristics. They are true everywhere, all the time, and are not dependent upon the universe, space, or time for their validity, hence, their apparent transcendence.
Matt: I'll just jump to one other illustration. The issue of morality. I know that atheists will often complain about the morality of the Bible; and they will sometimes object and say that what God did in the Old Testament, for example, is morally wrong. And so what I will tell them is that they have no right to make such moral judgments unless they are appealing to a universal moral truth. Atheists certainly have the right to their opinions about what is morally right and wrong. However, they do not have the right to say that someone else is ontologically right or wrong. When I say "ontologically," what I mean is by the very nature--by the very essence of what something is, it is right or wrong. That kind of thing cannot exist in atheistic worldview. There cannot be an inherent morally right or wrong in a materialistic universe. I say 'materialistic universe' because materialism is the view that the universe and its properties, physical realm, space time, etc., are all there is because it denies the existence of the supernatural outside of it. But within the material realm there cannot be any moral absolutes. So if an atheist were to appeal in any way to an absolute moral standard about something that is right or wrong, then he or she is being inconsistent with his own worldview. An atheist has no objective standard by which he can say something is right or is wrong.
Matt: But atheists often say that something is right or is wrong and in so doing are appealing to a transcendental quality to morality. But this cannot be from their own perspective. It must be that such transcendent qualities of moral absolutes can only exist if there's a transcendent mind revealing the moral absolutes. So let me illustrate something quickly here. I used this argument in my debate against Dan Barker in Portland, Oregon in 2009. He said he could find an objection to any moral absolute, thereby disproving the idea that there's an absolute moral lawgiver. So I asked him this question. I asked him to give an exception to this moral absolute that I offered to him. He did not succeed. Here is what I asked him.
Matt: Mr. Barker, do you agree that it is always wrong for everyone to torture babies to death merely for their personal pleasure. If he were to argue for the exception, then he's arguing for morally reprehensible position. If he does not falsify the statement, then he concedes my position is correct by admitting a universal moral absolute.
Matt: But we would both hopefully agree that it is a moral absolute. I know of no exception to this. But this implies an absolute moral lawgiver, and this cannot exist in an atheistic worldview. Okay, so let me quickly summarize.
Matt: It seems problematic from the atheistic perspective when transcendent qualities or should I say properties are described. The atheist, in my opinion, is incapable of providing what we call the necessary preconditions that would account for these transcendent characteristics or should I say properties. If we have transcendent properties, then it implies there's a transcendent source. Hence, in the atheistic worldview there can be no transcendent laws of logic or moral absolutes. This would mean that atheism, the view that God does not exist, cannot be true.
Matt: There. What do you think?
Rita: I must say I think it boils down to what one considers transcendent. I do not believe that much of what you classified as transcendent is.
Matt: That is why I offered a definition earlier, a truth, a property, etc., that exists but is not dependent upon the material world for its existence.
Rita: How can logic NOT depend on the material world?
Matt: Logic is not the same thing as the laws of logic. I said that the laws of logic are propositions. The laws of logic provide the necessary basis that allows proper logical thinking to occur so atheists and Christians alike can both be logical and illogical. But only the Christian worldview can provide the intellectual basis that accounts for the universality of these logical laws which are propositions. These propositions are not based on human thinking because if they were, there would be no way to determine whether or not a person was right or wrong because if truth is based on what we think, then whatever we think is true. But that can't work.
Matt: Furthermore, there is no known mechanism in the human brain that can account for one chemical state that produces another chemical state that then produces proper logical inference. Nevertheless, the laws of logic are independent of the physical brain. The laws of logic or propositions, therefore, have existence because they are "of the mind."
Ayden: I'm all for discussion, debate, however there is a level of pretentiousness that I am able to handle. I feel as if instead of having a discussion, we are listening to you explain to us why we are wrong. It's not an equal discussion for either side. I feel as if this is the issue with certain Christians, trying to 'debate' you cannot debate faith, lack of faith, of personal beliefs whether religious or secular.
Matt: I was laying out my case, Ayden, which is what Rita asked earlier. Maybe you weren't here at the beginning.
Ayden: Well your case lasted for over 20 minutes.
Matt: So if you have objections or questions now's the time.
Rita: Personally, I think logic, the laws of science, and the integrity of clear thinking are not transcendental.
Matt: Rita, I agree with you. Again I did not say "logic." I said the laws of logic.
Rita: And the laws of logic are supposed to be somehow separate. I am confused.
Ayden: I am removing myself from the conversation.
Alice: If someone kidnaps someone you really love or like a whole bunch of people, then strings them up to electrodes and says well you must enjoy the torturing to death of this baby or I will kill all these people horrifically, it becomes harder to say that this is a moral absolute. There are conditions. Perhaps you could agree that it would always be wrong, but if it were a great number or a lot of your nearest and dearest, it would become the lesser of two evils.
Matt: Alice, but that's not what I proposed. I said it is always wrong for someone to torture babies to death merely for his personal pleasure. That excludes other justifications or reasons.
Alice: Ah right good distinction.
Matt: So anyway this is what I've been thinking about, and I really do believe it's a problem for the atheistic perspective.
At this point the conversation degenerated into insults. A few the atheists who had been adding snide comments here and there proceeded to attack and insult. They were not able to address the issue. Instead, some of them began to attack me. So, I ended up leaving.
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