(Text: “Debating an Atheist — Round Three“, Soli Deo Gloria, July 8, 2012)
In his debate with Russell Glasser, Pastor Stephen Feinstein has so many answers, he could write a book. No wait, he already has! It’s a book that explains everything that’s wrong with atheism, and a whole lot more. It might even explain too much, because it also explains everything that’s wrong with the Bible.
Pastor Feinstein wants to explain the fact that the universe is not just real, but is also orderly and “uniform.” Such uniformity could never arise in a random universe, he reasons, and therefore God must exist in order to give meaning and uniformity.
The following is an excerpt from a book that I have written on this subject. I hope to publish it soon:
The Christian can justifiably go to the science lab since he/she knows there is a sovereign personal God who governs this universe, controls it, and has made it regular so that we could learn about it through projecting past experience into the future, and therefore have dominion over the world. The Christian can understand why we can govern certain chemical reactions, build automobiles and airplanes, and launch rockets into space because the Christian worldview can make sense out of projecting from the past what will work in the future. But why would the atheist go to the science lab? In a random universe of chance, why expect regularity or uniformity? In an uncertain material cosmos, why anticipate predication is possible since ultimately the dice can roll the other way at any time? This is a destructive criticism against atheism. The science they claim to believe in would not even be possible if their worldview were true. They have no right to rely on inductive inference or to expect causality, and therefore they have no basis for doing science. Biology, Physics, Astronomy, Psychology, Mathematics, and even Grammar are all destroyed without inductive inference. The Christian worldview makes complete sense out of inductive inference.
How far we’ve come in the past few years. Christians used to believe that there were effectively two distinct realms, natural and supernatural, each with its own rules. Yes, the natural world was orderly and understandable to a certain point, but when it came to phenomena that were too complex and unpredictable to understand, like the weather, or disease, then the supernatural realm could be seen intruding into the natural. Not only gods, but demons and angels as well, could interfere with fleshly, material, mundane laws and cause things that controverted natural order. The material and the spiritual were separate, self-contained, and incompatible, and therefore conflict between them was understandable if not downright inevitable.
This conflict between the material and the immaterial, however, is lost when you adopt the view that reality is essentially chaotic and meaningless, and that all order and meaning are bestowed upon the universe by God. Suddenly the natural order is no longer the antithesis of deeper, more spiritual truth, but is in fact one and the same order as created and upheld by God Himself. Supernatural phenomena are no longer the manifestation of God’s glory, but are instead the violation of His perfect will, the sinful rejection and destruction of the perfect order and uniformity that are His real glory.
Taken to its logical conclusion, Pastor Feinstein’s new argument informs us that the Christian can justifiably go into the science lab because he alone has a valid basis for knowing that no supernatural manifestation is going to introduce chaos into his experiments and observations. What’s more, the Christian also has a valid basis for knowing that no supernatural interventions have ever opposed God’s created order in the past, either. Books claiming to record miraculous interventions and manifestations are denying that order and meaning come from God, insisting instead that “anything can happen,” that God is a God of chaos, and that He is the author of confusion and disorder. Blasphemy!
Some might argue that God created natural laws and is therefore entitled to break them, but that’s the same as saying that God, as the creator of Truth, can also lie. Pastor Feinstein’s whole argument is that meaning and intelligibility themselves are caused by God, which means that He creates the order that distinguishes truth from lying. To violate His own perfect order is to sin, whether by the lesser offense of lying or the greater violation of breaking His own laws. And the counter-argument—that God would never want to violate His own rules—is precisely why He would never behave in a way that violated His own perfect order, or why, in other words, He would never work any miracles. The Bible must therefore be a lie, since it blasphemously accuses God of sinning against His own perfect order, meaning, and purpose.
Worse yet, by making God Himself the true source of all meaning and purpose in life, at the level he proposes, Pastor Feinstein is making God the sole true source of evil and sin. Sin wouldn’t be sinful if God weren’t continuously creating and upholding the sinfulness of sin and the evilness of evil. In the old days, before God was the sole exclusive source of all meaning and order, evil was able to exist in a domain apart, and still be a meaningful entity. Pastor Feinstein does away with that distinction, and makes God, and God alone, the creator and upholder of the existence of sin and evil. Sin and evil are not self-existent deities in their own right, and Pastor Feinstein denies that their meaning and nature can be derived from the nature of reality itself apart from God. That leaves God alone as the source of all real sin and evil.
Needless to say, I wish him the best of luck in getting his book published. I would love to see that approach gain some traction among believers.
The problem with Pastor Feinstein’s view is that it boils down to militant superstition. He sees meaning and order in the universe, and arbitrarily picks his own personally-preferred deity to take the credit for it all. Muslims could just as easily give credit to Allah, Jews to the non-Trinitarian Yahweh, Mormons to one of their many polygamous supernatural patriarchs, Hindus to any of the zillions of deities in their pantheon. You could even just make something up, like a magical tiara, and say, “This magical tiara is magically causing the universe to have order and meaning,” and it would be the same thing. Not that Pastor Feinstein will admit this.
This is quite different than believing in a magical tiara. We have a material universe that is orderly and uniform, and all things ever observed work through the process of non-random causation. This is pretty simple stuff. Do you really think it is rational to believe that from nothing, the material universe began (or from some mysterious compressed dot of matter), and through continued randomness has provided uniformity, even when everything is still supposed to be random? The entire idea is totally inconsistent.
Exactly. When you assume that there’s a magical tiara that magically imposes order and purpose on the universe, you’re providing an “explanation” that rejects the idea that the universe is random. The only difference between Pastor Feinstein’s belief and Russell’s hypothetical example is that they make different choices as to who or what will be arbitrarily given the credit. Meanwhile, such qualities as order, causation, meaning and existence all depend on a certain atheistic precondition: that reality itself is well-ordered, intelligible, and self-consistent with or without any God(s). This specific contingency exposes the flaw in all superstitions like Pastor Feinstein’s, because the gods themselves cannot exist in any meaningful way unless reality already supplies the qualities the gods are being arbitrarily invoked to “explain.”
Everything in the universe has a cause. They are all contingent. They are caused and sustained by other objects that they have no control over. This is true of all physical things that have ever been observed. Yet, you (if I understand your position) believe it is rational to think the universe itself (something that is entirely physical) is uncaused and unsustained.
This is something that’s not just rational, but necessary, or at least the part about the universe being uncaused. Time is an ordered dimension of material reality, an aspect of the material universe. Believers commonly make the mistake of assuming that before the Big Bang, there was an indefinite period of time in which nothing existed (or at least, nothing natural existed). We’re so used to having time around that we forget that things like cause and effect, or creation, or beginnings, are things that only exist within time. When we say a thing begins to exist, we mean that at some point in time, the thing did not exist, and then at some subsequent point in time, it did exist, and the moment in time where it made the transition from non-existent to existent is when it began to exist.
Obviously, time itself is not going to have a beginning, strictly speaking. There is no moment in time when time itself does not exist. Time can have a minimum value, just like when you come to a complete stop, and thus can no longer slow down. Just as there’s no speed slower than immobility, there’s no time earlier than the earliest value of time. Time, therefore, cannot be created, because there has never been any time when time did not already exist. And the same goes for the material universe, of which time is only one ordered dimension. The material universe is uncaused because even though there’s a minimum value for time, there has never been a time when the material universe did not already exist, and therefore no opportunity for anything else to cause it.
Part of Pastor Feinstein’s confusion stems from the fact that he’s trying to draw conclusions about the nature of reality—its order, its meaning, its intelligibility—but he’s limiting himself to considering only a relatively small subset of things as they exist within time, within reality, within the immediate vicinity of our ability to observe and make simple, first-order deductions. He wants to draw deep, philosophical conclusions, using only the primitive tools of superstitious animism. And it just doesn’t work. It’s too arbitrary, and too magical.
So naturally, the next point Pastor Feinstein will raise will be to accuse Russell of being arbitrary.
In philosophical terms, you are guilty of arbitrariness. Arbitrariness is to believe something without any justification whatsoever. Well, you have never observed something come from nothing, so to assume the entire universe happened this way is to be guilty of arbitrariness. Furthermore, you believe that random materialism accounts for your assumption that world is real and that sense experience is reliable, but once again have you ever observed absolute randomness create anything that is orderly and predictable? No. Furthermore, by definition such a thing could not happen, otherwise it would not be truly random (hence the sand dune example). This is why I believe you wanted me to simply start with your assumptions, and not ask you to justify them. I agree with your assumptions, but I am the only one here who can account for them.
And by “account for them” he means “I can arbitrarily ascribe them to a magical deity without any demonstrable or even describable justification for doing so,” just as he arbitrarily and without justification ascribes to Russell the position of believing that the universe is “random” (i.e. chaotic) and that it created itself from nothing. This secular, “random” universe, however, is simply one in which you have no justification for superstitiously attributing natural phenomena to the magical actions and/or intentions of invisible spirits. That’s not a chaotic universe, that’s a reasonable one. Even if we supposed that there were a creator god, why would we assume that He would prefer a world in which superstition was the most valid epistemology? To do so would be to insult the very idea of reason and meaning.
Pastor Feinstein has drifted slowly but steadily away from debating what Russell is actually saying, having mostly substituted a pre-scripted exchange with an imaginary atheist who believes that reality is chaos that created itself from nothing. Fortunately, Pastor Feinstein doesn’t have lung power to keep blowing into his own sails forever, so we’ll stick around a while longer and see if he drifts into anything interesting. Stay tuned.