A friend recently invited me to debate him in an online blog, loosely on the topic of ‘atheism vs. theism.’ The entire process was very short, yet very interesting. Below I’m going to repost the exchange.

I was going to post a more lengthy summary of this, but I feel that simply reading the content above speaks for itself. There was some provoking backstory behind the above content, but I don’t know how to share it in a way that does anything but take away from the whole picture.

I leave my words as plain text and indent his posts to help differentiate. I’m also going to replace his name with [a friend] because the blog was pulled by [a firned] shortly after this exchange and I don’t think revealing who he is is helpful. (Double lines indicate the start and end of the discussion, singles separate our posts.)

_______________
_______________

An Introduction – [Robert Kunda]

“They” say to never begin with a disclaimer. I’ve never been a very good listener, so…

I’m thrilled that [a friend] asked me to participate in this forum. I’m not entirely sure what we’re going to be discussing (1st disclaimer), but if I can infer anything from the title of the blog, we’ll be talking about theism (specifically Christian theism) and atheism—and the differences of and defenses of each respective worldview. I will take the side of Christian theism, though I don’t claim any sort of qualification to do it justice (2nd disclaimer), but I shall do my best. I’ll also try to fairly critique opposing worldviews, however unequipped I may be at that task (3rd disclaimer!).

A brief into.

My name is Robert. I am 28 years old, married with a 2-1/2 month old daughter. I spent the better part of my life (or worst part, as it were) as an atheist. It was about six years ago that I began really questioning not only what others believed, but also what I believed. (I began dating the woman who would become my wife which introduced me to a broader group of minds than my world permitted, and interacting with them opened some very interesting dialogues.)

Over the course of about two years I shifted from an atheist to a Christian theist for the following reasons (as well as others):

1. I believe that the Christian worldview, properly understood, provides the best explanation of the world in which we live, to include scientific understanding of cosmological and biological origins, the existence or morality, a sense of purpose and the human condition.

2. I believe there are good reasons to believe that the claims made in the Bible are reliable.

3. I believe there are good reasons for believing that Jesus was who he said he was (God) as well as good historical evidence for his bodily resurrection from the dead.

That’s enough for now. Note that I’m not arguing for the reasons above (in this post), merely presenting them.

You can see more of my thoughts (some may prefer less!) at my blog, Metaphysically Challenged, or more about me and my family (however poorly kept up—the site, not my family) at my personal website www.robertkunda.com. If that’s not enough punishment, you can find me on Facebook.

Thanks!
______________

And So It Begins – [a friend]

Unlike Robert, I was born into a christian family. I had no choice or ability to decipher the difference in truths regarding a talking snake or boy named Jack and a REALLY big beanstalk. Critical thinking develops later in life, often too late to save the person from a lifetime of guilt and allegiance to religious thought control.

As a young child I was raised within the christian belief system. So of course, I bought off on it hook, line and sinker. I have given major portions of my life to the church. I have contributed to the venomous propaganda to youth across southern California, in the name of jesus’ love.

Beyond believing (or not believing), I have also been in PAID ministry as a pastor. There are things Robert will not be able to comprehend without that experience.

Enough for now.

This should be an open discussion between Robert and myself. We should not argue or even engage in the comments. All responses/arguments should be made in a post.

Disclaimer:
I LOVE free speech and rational thought. If this becomes an irrational thinking “forum”, or either person can’t respect the others argument, we will have to end this. Also, each post should never go over 500 words.



_______________

Where Shall We Begin? – [Robert Kunda]

I want to briefly respond to your post, [a friend], and then to perhaps start with some opening thoughts to get this going. You’ll forgive me if the post that follows isn’t formatted like a college paper or thesis, as I’m writing this pretty much on the fly with no real editing, other than my browser’s spellcheck.

I first want to correct what I see as a false assertion on your part, perhaps implicitly (and I’m not sure if intentional), that there are two sides. That of reason and rationality and that of the Christian faith. You said you were raised in a Christian home, and based on what follows, I’m assuming you think this put you at a rational disadvantage, because, as you say, often those that grow in the church don’t develop the rational skills needed to evade it (your 1st paragraph). I won’t cede that to you, if nothing more than for this reason alone—that would seem to end the argument, and in my favor no less, because obviously I, being raised outside of a religion, am obviously at a better standing to judge the reasonableness of logical claims than someone that grew up under such shackles. (I mean this obviously in jest. To be sure, would either of us engage the other if we genuinely thought the person devoid of all reason? I for one would not).

One more comment in your third paragraph, I don’t see why my participation or non-participation in paid ministry has any bearing on our discussion, and here is why (which will hopefully lead me into my real substance):

Your experiences in the church don’t seem, to me, to have any importance on the question of the truth or falsehood of Christianity’s claims. That isn’t to diminish your experiences as unimportant, but perhaps as unrelated to what I’m hoping to discuss. It’s perfectly possible that there are wretched people that go to church, that horrendous acts may be done by even the pastors in a given church, but that does not change the historical nature, be it true or false, of Jesus and if he rose from the dead or not. Both can be true or false independent of one another.

So what I’m looking for is some substantive arguments on your behalf that we can dialogue about. I won’t even pretend to know what your life was like in the church, or perhaps out of it. I would hope for a similar respect. In this day and age, sadly, many people we meet are not without their own past nightmares. So I’m looking for some common ground. If not areas of agreement, then at least areas where we at least speak the same language.

I’m really open to wherever you want to start on this. Maybe we can start with what your problems with the claims of Christianity are. (Not claims against Christians, as mentioned above, because I’m sure we might both find common ground there, at least in part.) Or perhaps begin in a fashion similar to the way I opened. What do you believe, not just what you don’t believe.

I’m all ears. And thanks for putting this together.

_______________

NADA – [a friend]

The more I think about this blog, I realize no good can really come from it. Proof requires evidence, yet a relationship with God requires faith (a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof).

Until God doesn’t require faith, he will never be real to me again.

I will end this short-lived blog with this:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one


Just keep loving on people and you are okay in my eyes.



_______________

Final Response – [Robert Kunda]


Maybe we can end on a note of agreement. If I had to accept Christianity from your definition of ‘faith,’ I’d pass as well. I’m not interested in swallowing baseless claims, either.

The point I was beginning to make was just the opposite. I have ‘faith’ in God specifically because I think there are good, reasonable, positive evidences for him. Not because I’m expected to blindly follow an idea.

Take care.
_______________
_______________ (Note, my last comment was written in the comments field of the blog, for following that short exchange, my access was cut off and the blog deleted shortly thereafter.

I’m fortunate to have married a woman amazingly gifted in working with and caring for children. She’s not alone. Her two other sister, like their mom all work with children, two of which have pursued degrees in child care.

Her youngest sister recently returned from a childcare development conference held over the weekend. She was excitingly sharing about some of the things that she had learned over the weekend when I was startled by the worldview being taught to our up and coming generation of teachers. I don’t know why, as I’ve been in enough classes to expect this kind of thing, but I was concerned none the less.

She began to discuss what she had been told about child development, especially regarding the brain, and that as the brain develops that is when we see emotions begin to develop. She motioned toward the back of her head as if to say, “Here is where that happens.”

Unfortunately I jumped in the conversation a little too quickly, perhaps too abrasively, with my concerns and the discussion ended, so I suppose I won’t know where the rest of the discussion was going. I suppose I owe her an apology for that. But back to our topic.

From that small description, can you see the very obvious problems? In short summary, the idea is that emotions (and in turn, thoughts) are in the brain, they are products of the brain. Emotions and thoughts (and all of consciousness) are what the brain does. Aside from being false, the worldview behind this type of teaching is dangerous. It also undermines a great deal about the world that most people accept as self evident.

The idea that the brain is the center of consciousness, is incompatible with free will, an independent mind, and in turn, morality, the soul, heaven, hell or any afterlife and Christianity.

Rather than try to reinvent the wheel (especially when it’s been done better than I could ever do!), let me quote some people that have written some excellent thoughts in this area.

Here Greg Koukl discusses the consequences of this.

What you have going on inside of your head is just chemical reactions that are governed by very physicalistic processes. That which we mistakenly understood to be the mind or the soul is simply the brain, and if it is anything more than the brain, consciousness is a mere property of the brain that kind of rides on top of the physical substance of the brain, much like wetness rides on top of water. It supervenes upon the brain. It is temporarily produced by the brain and dependent upon the brain, but there is nothing akin to what we would call a soul.



Think about it for a minute. If there is no soul, if you are your only your body, then when your body dies, you die. When your body decays, you decay. When your body disappears, you are gone. There is no sense to any discussion about the reality of life after death if you die with your body. Though this would not solve the question of whether God existed, because certainly there could be a God existing even if there were no eternally existing souls in human beings, it certainly does end the discussion about the relevance of Christianity.

Christianity is false, period, end of issue, end of story, if we have no soul. If there is not a substantial human rational soul, a “you” that is not your body, but interacts with your body, controls your body, has a deep unity with your brain, but is not the same thing as your brain, it is not identical to your brain. If those things aren’t true, then it is all over for Christianity because all of Christianity is dependent on the notion that you survive the death of your body and that you, as a substantial soul, have to answer for the deeds done, as the Scriptures say, in the flesh. What it means by in the flesh is in the physical body. That is the point. 1



This isn’t an ivory tower academic issue. The implications that result from this thinking will impact (or are already) everything in our world. Remember, the discussion that started this spawned from a child development class aimed at teachers and not from a higher level philosophy program.

The traditional Christian view is in a mind and a body (brain) that are distinct — mind body dualism. This is the view that the mind and the body both exist, each distinct from the other, though they may interact and affect each other.

However, if we’re merely our brains, if our thoughts are merely consequences of chemicals and electricity in the brain, then this idea of free will is illusory. Material causes then account for everything, even our seemingly free actions. If we follow that rabbit far enough down that hole, ultimately anything we do: caring for children or molesting them is no more our fault that a toothache is. It’s merely a series of dominoes. You’re simply reacting to natural forces. It’s like a car accident where one driver is pushed into a car in front of him by a third car in the rear. Though the middle driver “hit” the car in front of him, he’s not (usually) at fault. His had was forced. And if we’re simply material causes, our hands are too.

Greg adds this.

If consciousness is just a property created by the brain, then when you make a decision who or what does the deciding? If consciousness is a mere effect of chemical reactions in the brain, then your conscious act of deciding is not a free will act of your own, it is a result of some physical process that came before it. Your choices are controlled by physical events outside of your will. To put it more bluntly, you have no will at all. Not really. Why not? According to this view, physical states produce particular mental states, which produce particular physical states all following one after another in a determined pattern just like railroad cars following an engine.



More still, if consciousness goes, so do you, at least as a distinct ‘self.’ In Greg’s essay he was responding to a Time Magazine article titled Glimpses of the Mind, available here.

Here the article talks about just this issue.

However, despite our every instinct to the contrary, there is one thing that consciousness is not: some entity deep inside the brain that corresponds to the “self,” some kernel of awareness that runs the show, as the “man behind the curtain” manipulated the illusion of a powerful magician in The Wizard of Oz. After more than a century of looking for it, brain researchers have long since concluded that there is no conceivable place for such a self to be located in the physical brain, and that it simply doesn’t exist. (emphasis mine)

But there is no shortage of competing theories about how consciousness might arise. One, offered by the Salk Institute’s Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the structure of DNA) and Christof Koch, at the California Institute of Technology, is that consciousness is somehow a by-product of the simultaneous, high-frequency firing of neurons in different parts of the brain. It’s the meshing of these frequencies that generates consciousness, according to Crick and Koch, just as the tones from individual instruments produce the rich, complex and seamless sound of a symphony orchestra



But “Science” cannot view the brain to see it’s thoughts. No Machine or surgeon can open up a brain and find memories because they aren’t there. The soul, the self, thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. exist in the mind, not the brain. A lonely scientist will never find love by digging through brains… he’d be looking for love in all the wrong places! (Hat tip Moreland.)

I wrote these notes in one sitting, without revision, so I hope they are coherent. But I wanted to at least get my thoughts in writing. (Usually I think, “Hey, I should write about that” and never do.) Understanding the distinction between mind and brain is critical, and to be sucked into the materialism trap, especially for the Christian has dark consequences.

1. All Brain, No Mind – Greg Koukl

Really funny look at the perception that Science can explain everything. Hat tip Dale Fincher.

12EC1634-B6D2-4432-B8CE-04AB830308ED.jpg

I wholly enjoyed the debate this last Saturday between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens on the topic: Does God Exist? I’ve been anxiously awaiting this for some time as I’m quite a fan or Dr. Craig and am very familiar with Mr. Hitchens.

Craig is a smart, articulate and careful thinker who is very, very experienced and talented regarding public debates. The combination of content and manner make him, likely, the strongest public debater in the Christian community in regarding the existence of God, the resurrection and other topics.

Hitchens is also a sharp and articulate speaker with a masterful grasp of the use of rhetoric which makes him especially potent and effective in public debates. (While the charge of ‘rhetorician’ can be a negative, I mean it here in the positive — that Hitchens is a very effective speaker.) He’s flashy, engaging, funny, and often abrasive.

I didn’t doubt Craig’s content, but I was very interested to see 1) How he would present his case and 2) How he would deal with Hitchens’ often overwhelming personality. In this area, I wasn’t challenged a whole lot. On the former Craig presented a very full, but familiar (to me) case for Christian theism. On the later, he really didn’t have much to do.

Hitchens, who is (charitably) often very rude in debates (interrupting, oft insulting, and appealing more to audience sentiments and humor than engaging the arguments) was in large measure a gentleman. He didn’t interrupt, and he didn’t carry charades to any large degree, though he did tell a few jokes that I thought were very funny. (He’s a really gifted writer. I’ve enjoyed the writings of his I’ve read that pertain to areas other than religion, where I think he’s so obsessively angry that he loses the magic that makes him great.)

That night, he was calm and reasonable… and not much else. Without rhetorical posturing (I do mean this one in a negative) he was literally left with nothing to stand on. This we saw in his rebuttals, especially in his cross-examinations by Craig and in his ceding of his closing comments.

(Some of this is from memory. Hopefully when I get the audio I can pick up what escapes me now, but as I remember it…)

Craig presented five lines of arguments for theism.

1. The Cosmological Argument: simply “The big bang needs a big banger.”Thanks, Greg Koukl

2. The Teleological Argument: The fine-tuning of the universe argument.

3. The Moral Argument: Simply, for morals to be grounded (and thus be accounted for) there needs to be a giver of that moral law.

4. The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus

5. Argument for Personal Experience of God / Proper Basic Beliefs


Here we saw Hitchens utterly fail in responding to these challenges.

1. The Cosmological Argument. Hitchens’ response to the cosmological argument was three-fold. One: Christian cosmology has been riddled with errors over hundreds of years and Two: we do not know very much about the universe. Three: Who made the designer?

Notice here that neither of these objections challenge Craig’s presentation or lines of reasoning. Even if you grant both of them, Craig’s argument still holds. Look at the basic form of the cosmological argument.

- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- the universe has a cause.
- (further) That cause must be a free-acting, personal agent with limitless power, or God.

Add Hitchens’ challenges and see if they follow what follows:

- Christians have made mistakes in cosmology therefore the universe does not have a cause? Fail.

- We do not know a lot, therefore the universe has no cause? Fail.

(Notice too that in that last objection Hitchens is doing exactly what many Christians either do, or are accused of doing: Appealing to a ‘God of the gaps,’ or in his case, a ‘Science of the gaps.’ “We can’t explain that now, but maybe later!” Also note that Craig cited numerous secular cosmologists in line with modern day cosmological science, not ‘Christians.’)

Third he asks, “Who made God?” This demonstrates that Hitchens does not understand the argument. The first premise clearly stats that what begins to exist has a cause, not that everything has a cause. Christianity teaches that God is the uncaused cause, the first mover. Sure, he can challenge that, but simply asking “Who made God?” is not a refutation, and it demonstrates his lack of comprehension of the argument.

2. The Teleological Argument. Hitchens does not address Craig’s argument. Hitchens attempts to challenge the design argument, not the teleological argument that Craig presented. In any case, let’s look at that.

He cites the rate of extinction over the age of the planet, and that universe is slowly expanding out into a lifeless mass of emptiness as evidence that the universe is not designed. Note here that he doesn’t address Craig’s argument. Again, we can grant his points, in this case facts, yet they fail to prove his point. We no longer see Ford Pintos being produced, and we see older ones being worn down until they cease to function (for Ford’s that might be pretty quick!) yet clearly the Pinto is designed. Fail.

3. The Moral Argument. Here Hitchens again completely misunderstands the argument. This is quite common, Hitchens’ type of mistake, but one would assume a man publicly debating the issue would have done some basic homework. The man force of the moral argument is the ‘grounding issue.’ That is, there must be a giver of a moral law for there to be a moral law. The debate is not whether or not a non-theist can be moral. Christians especially should understand that non-Christians can be moral… often times more moral than Christians. The point is that non-theists cannot account for the existence of morality. Of course they can perceive existing morality, but they cannot give is a foundation to stand on. Hitchens failed to grasp this.

I don’t recall any serious challenged to either point 4 or 5. (Though point 5 was not pushed as were the others, though Craig said Hitchens needs to demonstrate why Craig cannot trust in his personal experience (especially light of solid evidence as seen in 1-4). Either he needs to show why he is either a liar, madman or mistaken; he did none.

Hitchens spent a large part of his time railing against abstract ‘religion’ not the existence of God, the debate’s topic. What Craig was right to point out is that those, like Hitchens’ use of the ‘problem of evil’ are secondary issues. The behavior of religious adherents says nothing about the accuracy of their theology (Hey, it’s logically possible that Allah wants us all to fly planes into buildings. Because some Muslims (radical or not) follow suit doesn’t prove their beliefs are false.) In turn, the existence of evil doesn’t challenge the existence of God. (In fact, I think it counts for it. You must have God to have anything be truly evil and demand moral accountability as such. After all, a falling coconut doesn’t murder when it lands on someone’s head. We obviously have a different standard.)

Without his interruptions or dramatics, Hitchens was largely left to his arguments, and we had a preview of this even before the debate started. The debate handout featured an insert outlining the speakers’ main points. Craig, defending “Does God exist? Yes,” outlined all of his five points. Hitchens’ side, “Does God Exist? No,” was boldly left blank. However, it turned out not to be boldness, but an accurate description.

He, Hitchens, did pull out some of his tricks to distract from the topic: attempting to pit Craig against other denominations of Christianity, or asking him to affirm the ‘shocking’ non-evidential claims of Christianity like the virgin birth (to the shock of some atheists in the crowd, Craig unashamedly owned them) as if they proved any point other than to attempt embarrassment of one’s opponent in front of people that have not thought through the reasoning.

This works only if someone already assumes that miracles are possible, i.e. that God does not exist. However, if God does exist, especially a God that can make the universe from nothing, a virgin birth seems trivial. The claim in not that a virgin naturally became pregnant.

I left the event more certain, not less, that God exists and that Christianity accurately described Him. There certainly are reasonable defenses of atheism, as some of Craig’s past debaters have done. This was not one of them.

Debate info.