Apologetical encounter/dialog with a friend over email

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crhoades

Puritan Board Graduate
Below is an email discussion between a friend and myself. I emailed one of Paul Manata's blogs to my friend who is an unbeliever, my wife, my pastor, a pastoral intern, and another friend of mine. My friend replied to everyone with the email. My response is at the bottom. Hopefully this will be edifying to the board. Please offer criticisms where needed. Questions definitely welcome!

Chris

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Paul's Blog
http://presstheantithesis.blogspot.com/
Thank You Lord, For Saving Me From This Foolishness
The following is taken from Richard C. Vitzthum's "Materialism: An Affirmative History And Definition," Prometheus Books, 1995, pp. 230-232

"The essential component of the material order is a substance whose nature even in our cosmos is not yet and may never be fully known or understood... Terrestrial life is an accidental realization of one of a large, perhaps infinite number of different kinds of being possible to material substance. The laws of nature at the macrophysical level assert themselves unconsciously, indiscriminately, and invariably... [a]t the microphisical level... they embody laws of probability that are equally implacable and nonhuman in their total effect... Organic life evolved during a period of two to three billion years from accidental circumstances on the surface of the earth, itself a product of the evolution of the cosmos... The key event in organic evolution was the random combination of inorganic matter into units capable of self-reproduction... Biological death, or the breakdown of organisms into their chemical components, is total and irreversible. Nothing of the organism's identity survives.

Human thought and feeling is the most complex, versatile, adaptive, sensitive, perceptive, creative, purposeful, and voluntaristic product of terrestrial evolution and perhaps cosmic evolution as a whole... It creates all the value and meaning that humans find inside or outside of themselves. The material order outside of human self-enclosure and self-definition is empty of human value and meaning, consisting as it does of an aimless interplay of natural process dictated by invariable physical laws. Its amoral indiscriminateness contrasts sharply with the human compulsion to discriminate and judge. This compulsion evolved from the billions of years of biological adaptation to earth's environment that transformed simple cells into multicelled animals.

Human thought and feeling is a material offshoot of this very indiscriminateness. It consists of neural events that individually are insensitive, unthinking, and unfeeling as all other basic chemical reactions but that collectively are capable of processing raw electromagnetic signals into emotional and intellectual information. Although the process is not yet well understood, it may consist of computation that mathematically measure incoming arrays of signals against synaptic weightings in the brain's neural networks....

The wide variety of human response to the material reality humans find themselves a part of is less interesting than reality itself. Powerful but contradictory and often volatile human impulses-- for example, to cooperate, to include others in or to exclude others from social structure, or to love or to hate-- have produced radically different yet more or less workable systems of religious, ethical, political, and social value."


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So, in other words: Everything real is material, but we don't really know what the substance matter is, yet we ask theists to define the substance of God since we're a bunch of arbitrary morons who are not bothered by intellectual hypocrisy. We're here due to one big accident, and we are determined to do what we do and think what we think because of the imposition of accidental, unconscious, and nonhuman laws upon a lump of matter (what's that) inside our head. Random combinations of things ultimately caused by an explosion brought about order, why(?), well we don't know but we're working on it. If we don't find out, no big deal, because we only live once so grab for all the gusto you can get. Human thought is just amazing and awesome, but it's an accident and we don't really understand how it all works, but it must have since we're here! Our thoughts are the product of unthinking electro-chemical reactions that happen inside our lump of custard in our head. Everything is subjective. There is no value, morality, purpose, or meaning. Our emotions are chemical reactions, so loving my wife and son is something like a complicated hiccup. You're bothered by our findings? So what! My findings are uninteresting and, though maybe powerful, they are contradictory. Indeed, when my atheistic, scientifically minded friends include me in their scholarly world that is contradictory, but who cares? Oh, by the way, religion is a product of evolution and religious tenets are determined by the unthinking laws of physics operating upon our lump in our noggin, but we'll contradictorily act as if certain religions are "bad" and man should (I know, there's no moral statements, but let me slide) seek ( but there's no freedom, so let me slide) to be "scientifically" minded. Then we can all not know what the heck we're talking about and take things on blind faith.

-Paul Manata
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Friend's response:

Glad to see Paul showed restraint in his response ( :

Bottom line, neither scientists nor atheists nor theists nor the Pope, Buddha nor any other person can explain with absolute certainty the origins of life itself.

Some are led to conclude that we are merely carbon and hydrogen and oxygen, that through a random 1:1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or so chance, became life on one planet.

Others are led to believe that a being as complex and rational as humans are, we cannot possibly be explained by the randomness of space and time, and so conclude that we must be the creation of a superpower or superbeing.

To me, either is equally as absurd and rational at the same time as the other.

In our search to explain how something comes from nothing, we will always run into the same roadblock. Where did the very first 'something' come from? The so-called chicken-and-egg is not a simple riddle for us to unravel. In fact, I do not think it shall ever be unraveled. But as humans, we are driven to apply order to chaos, to tame the wild, to devise societal norms for fairness....and being spiritual beings (even atheists are spiritual in some facet of their life) we long for more than what we have discovered here on Earth. Perhaps it can all be boiled down to a grass is greener motive, that no matter how many ways an individual attempts to make the most out of her life, she remains unsatisfied with the results. Now none of this is predicated on dismissing the thousands of years of discussion, vetting, teaching, and thinking by the great philosophers and theologians. In fact, just the opposite. It is our nature to unravel every last bit of mystery, to pull apart the onion layer by layer. And from this process we gain infinite wisdom, yet not absolute certainty.

May the Force be with you! LOL

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My response:

I feel a little uneasy hitting reply to all on this response (partly for being chided at its length.... Me? Wordy?). But since you spoke to the group, so shall I "“ if nothing else to follow the imperative:

1Pe 3:15-16 ESV
(15) but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
(16) yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience"¦

Hopefully I paid attention to the last part of gentleness and respect "“ hopefully my sarcasm is being held at bay! Anyone reading this, please correct me where I´m wrong! Not that anyone that is attached to this email would have a problem doing that!!! ;)

Glad to see Paul showed restraint in his response ( :

Bottom line, neither scientists nor atheists nor theists nor the Pope, Buddha nor any other person can explain with absolute certainty the origins of life itself.

You do realize that you just made an absolute statement about the origins of life by saying that no person can explain the origins of life. Are you absolutely certain about that? J So you should stand arm and arm with Christians confessing the finitude of our thoughts and confess that we should seek ultimate knowledge about metaphysics, epistemelogy, and ethics from God. Do you allow for the Person who created all life and the universe to speak on the issue?

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Gen 1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Col 1:15-17 ESV
(15) He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
(16) For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him.
(17) And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Some are led to conclude that we are merely carbon and hydrogen and oxygen, that through a random 1:1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or so chance, became life on one planet.

Others are led to believe that a being as complex and rational as humans are, we cannot possibly be explained by the randomness of space and time, and so conclude that we must be the creation of a superpower or superbeing.

To me, either is equally as absurd and rational at the same time as the other.

So you deny both naturalism and super-naturalism. What else are you left with? You are left with irrationalism. To say that both are equally as absurd and rational at the same time as the other effectually denies the law of non-contradiction unless you want to qualify your statement a tad more. Speaking of absurdity and rationality, that brings up epistemelogy: laws of logic, knowledge, etc. I assert that without God, not only wouldn´t we be here but all reason and knowledge become incomprehensible. Only on a Christian basis can all of that occur. Why? No fear of the Lord, no beginning of knowledge:

(Pro 1:7 ESV) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Pro 2:1-10 ESV
(1) My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,
(2) making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
(3) yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
(4) if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
(5) then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.
(6) For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
(7) he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
(8) guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.
(9) Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;
(10) for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;

(Pro 9:10 ESV) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Col 2:2-4 ESV
(2) that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ,
(3) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
(4) I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.

Joh 14:6-7 ESV
(6) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
(7) If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

In our search to explain how something comes from nothing, we will always run into the same roadblock.
At least you admit that the fact that something comes from nothing is a concept to deal with. Without a belief in a creator, this concept doesn´t even get off the ground. In fact it is the height of irrationalism and denies all known observances to say that something comes from nothing"¦
Where did the very first 'something' come from? The so-called chicken-and-egg is not a simple riddle for us to unravel. In fact, I do not think it shall ever be unraveled.
To even assert this is to answer that a person can *know* anything autonomously without a reference to a transcendent Creator. This is not an agnostic claim "“ it is an anti-theistic claim. There is no such thing as neutrality. I´ll make a bold statement that God exists and is described below. To even say that one cannot know that is to deny my all encompassing claim.

Take a moment to read the excerpt below from the Westminster Confession of Faith "“ the confession that Presbyterians hold to. All of the statements below are derived from the Bible (verses available upon request ;) ) Notice the underlined parts.

I. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

II. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.

III. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Now to answer your question "“ Where did the very first "œsomething" come from? God. God is not a thing but a Person. This also brings up the argumetn for God´s existence because of causation or otherwise known as the cosmological argument. I pesonally disagree with the argument and how it is formulated anyways"¦Even if it proves a "œgod" it is not the Christian GOD. My challenge to you is to give a defense of causation, history, induction without God. Skeptics/athiest philosophers such as David Hume and Bertrand Russell even acknowledged that induction etc. cannot get off the ground on a naturalistic foundation.

"œThat scientific inference requires, for its validity, principles which experience cannot render even probable is, I believe, an inescapable conclusion from the logic of probability. . . . "Knowledge," in my opinion, is a much less precise concept than is generally thought, and has its roots more deeply embedded in unverbalized animal behavior than most philosophers have been willing to admit. . . . To ask, therefore, whether we "know" the postulates of scientific inference is no so definite a question as it seems. . . . In the sense in which "no" is the right answer we know nothing whatsoever, and "knowledge" in this sense is a delusive vision. The perplexities of philosophers are due, in a large measure, to their unwillingness to awaken from this blissful dream. "œ
f Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (New York: Clarion Books, Simon and Schuster, 1948), pp. xv-xvi.

Years ago, David Hume noted that the scientists proceed on a scientifically unfounded, yet critically essential belief in the uniformity of observable nature. Yet, he pointed out, there is no reason (beyond psychological habit) for the naturalistic scientist to expect the sun to come up tomorrow. Science as an autonomous self-contained discipline has no honest answer to Hume. But if science, properly conceived, subordinates itself to God's revelation, then it knows why the sun will come up for it knows that God providentially controls all the operations of his created universe in a regular and dependable fashion. "“ Greg Bahnsen
http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa001.htm
http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa044.htm

We claim that God (actually God has revealed that claim) has no beginning. He is eternal. He caused the first beginning by the power of His Word. God was not created but is the Creator. To put God in the realm of needing a creation is not only a category mistake in logic but it also begs the very question that a materialist wants to uphold.

The chicken/egg delimma actually is addressed to a false god. You and I both agree that we should expose false gods as the idols and fabrications that they are. In fact the 1st commandment says that We should put no other gods before the One True God.

But as humans, we are driven to apply order to chaos
(How can chaos order chaos? Also if all is chaos whence the appeal to physical laws? How can one do science if all of the universe is chaotic and disconnected? That was Hume´s point. But if everything is orderly and law abiding, where does change come in? Without positing a Creator you are left with an irrational dialectic of order and chaos. Man is also at the center of the order/chaos thing and is a part of it so how are you positing that we rise above it? What you have done by placing humans as the great organizer of this endeavor without reference to God is to set us up as God. That is too much burden to bear. Within the Christian framework, God delegated us to care for His creation as viceregents but just like the garden we wanted to be like God instead of understanding our place as creature. Reread Genesis 1-3 sometime.)
, to tame the wild
(I thought we were a random byproduct and are the wild),
to devise societal norms for fairness
(by definition a norm is unchanging and transcends society´s whims. This also brings up the problem of normative ethics and morality in general.

Here´s what the Westminster Confession says about the Law of God:

I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

II. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.

V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

In it as you can see there is a transcendent, unchanging Lawgiver that stands behind and above our ethical norms and as point 5 brings out they cover all people as all are created in the image of God. Paul in Romans even says that people that didn´t receive the ten commandments still have the works of the law written on their heart and know right from wrong and so are without excuse. If you try to start with man and erect an ethical system you will run into arbitrariness and subjectivity. You will always have to give a defense for the foundation of it and why it should be imposed on others. I don´t think this is possible. It also has to coincide with your espoused theory of knowledge and metaphysics. In other words if all we are are matter and it´s about survival of the fitness then there is no reason not to murder "“ in fact the word murder presupposes an ethical norm of killing without due cause. In other words it would be just a matter of killing.)....

and being spiritual beings (even atheists are spiritual in some facet of their life)
(Find an athiest that will give you that point! I thought everything was material "“ if everything is material then there is no spiritual "“ that was what Paul was addressing earlier. If there are immaterial/spiritual things then how do we account for them? For that matter if you allow for spiritual things then why deny God the glory due Him?)
we long for more than what we have discovered here on Earth. Perhaps it can all be boiled down to a grass is greener motive, that no matter how many ways an individual attempts to make the most out of her life, she remains unsatisfied with the results.
(Now we´re getting somewhere! I wouldn´t call it the grass is greener motive but rather the man is the sinner motive. Not only are we spiritual but we were also created in the image of God and meant for personal fellowship with him. We blew it. Actually Adam did but that brings up original sin "“ but I digress.
Now none of this is predicated on dismissing the thousands of years of discussion, vetting, teaching, and thinking by the great philosophers and theologians.
(You just denied your opening that bottom line is that noone can say with abolute certainty the origins of life. Your email contained a lot of assertions "“ I would like to see the reasoning behind all of them. All I´m trying to due is place the great philosophers and theologians in front of you to show that it is abosolutely certain that we can know about the origins as well as the future of life. How is that done? Without having God as the ultimate starting point in your whole worldview then ethics, science, rationality, etc are reduced to absurdity. In fact, just the opposite.
It is our nature to unravel every last bit of mystery, to pull apart the onion layer by layer. And from this process we gain infinite wisdom, yet not absolute certainty.
(again "“ are you absolutely certain that we can gain infinite wisdom from this process? Also how are we to gain infinite anything? Aren´t we denying the infinite´s possibility?)

I´m not saying that you should "œadd" God to your worldview because it is currently lacking it"¦Look back above at the God I´m talking about. If we think that this God is one that can be "œadded" then we are still operating under autonomous authority. I disdain the bumper stickers that say God is my co-pilot. I also disdain the ones that make Jesus the answer to whatever felt need one has. That is too much of a man-centered concept of God. That´s why in the Bible Jesus is not added to a person´s worldview but demands to be placed as Lord of one´s life. The place of honor and authority is due Him.

In one email you´ve acknowledged that people are spiritual and also agreed that we are stuck with the fact that something came from nothing. Now you are saying there is such a thing as infinite wisdom and that in and of ourselves we long for more than we find here on Earth"¦You just summed up 2 parts of an overarching framework in Biblical theology "“ Creation "“ Fall "“ and Redemption. We´ll save the Redemption portion of the framework for another email"¦

I know I have failed you time and time again by not laying out clearly the Christian faith for what it is "“ probably due to fear that I would offend you or shut down communication on these topics between us. But I know you aren´t going to walk away from me when I present things a little more clearly from a biblical/confessional point of view and not just from the philosophical jargon. "˜sides"¦you´re moving to Philly anyway and lunch on Wed. will be one of the few chances you´ll have to let me have it!

May the Force be with you!
LOL Speaking of that"¦when are we going? It´s showing at the IMAX at Oprymills"¦

Hesitantly,

Chris
 
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