This is a paper that I wrote for an apologetics course at Reformed Theological Seminary. There is a mixture of a real life experience and imagination.
The Christian student seemed to be more capable of presenting an argument than the professor. I assume this was a mock dialogue? (These are the teacher assistant comments).
Discourse with a Pagan
Robert N. Landrum
Reformed Theological Seminary
Professor John Frame
This is a dialogue between a Christian and an atheist. The Christian is a relatively young theology and philosophy student that is faced with a challenge to defend his faith. Troubled with a lack of confidence due to feelings of shortcomings in his Christian walk, he finds himself involved in an apologetic dialogue with a pagan philosophy professor, who is in a sense his superior (but may have met his match with a simple apologetic). Realizing that Christian’s must place their confidence in the Lord, the young Christian philosopher accepts the challenge.
Paul: (while arriving at a philosophy department party and trying to finish the always and relentless recurring cycle of events that paraded through his mind about where he came from in life and where he was going) Well, here I am. I have come a long way. I was only about twenty years old when God altered my course in life by taking me, a sinner that was a complete slave to the devil, the flesh, and the world, and saving me. Boy, he sure has brought me along way! I was utterly controlled by sin with no desire but to sail along with sins currents wherever they took me. Praise God for showing me that the final destination was hell via a comfortable (but yet turbulent) first class flight there. Now, here I am; a high school drop out that God has blessed with a college degree in religion; and an assistantship in a graduate program in philosophy; most importantly, a beautiful wife and four children. Yes things are good for me. There is, however, still that unredeemed flesh that accompanies me everywhere I go. It is a monstrous shadow.
Being so happy to have been pardoned of sin and brought to new life by my Savior, I at a time forgot myself and went into service for the Lord, but not long after, it became clear to me that there was a sense in which I was still a slave. So being crushed under the weight of this yet indwelling sin, I left the Lord’s service. But not able to abandon my faith, I sought for a new direction, perhaps that of a Christian philosopher. Sometimes I feel that my faith is just too weak to continue professing the name of Christ. But I know that regardless of my problems, I cannot deny the One that bought me. What will I say to my philosophy professor superiors if the topic of Christianity comes up? I have not lived up to the standard. Could I possibly tell others that they should? I have been forgiven of my sins (though I am having a serious bout with indwelling sin). If I tell them the story of forgiveness will they understand all of this, if this is real Christianity? Well here I am.
Joe: Welcome to our home. Come on in and have a seat. What’s your poison? We have beer and wine, liquor too if that’s what you like. We have plenty of stuff to snack on as well. We haven’t met; I’m Joe. So what brings you to the department of philosophy and religion?
Paul: Well I went to the bible college across town where I majored in religion and minored in philosophy. Having graduated from there, I went on down to the seminary hoping to study theology, but unfortunately, I didn’t like it there due to a lack of what I was looking for as far as theology goes. So having minored in philosophy, I thought that this would be the route to take.
Joe: Oh, one of those huh? Have you ever read ol Johnny Edwards (Sarcastic)?
Paul: Yes I have read his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
Joe: Yeah, that’s the one. You’re like a spider hanging over the flames of hell. Your foot is about to slip. Yes, I used to assign that as a reading in one of my courses just so we could make fun of it!
Paul: (thinking to himself again, I should have guessed it. One of my first impressions is going to be centered around a discussion about the existence of God. How can I get out of this?) You know that Edwards is esteemed by some to be a very good philosopher due to his attention to ethics.
Joe: He is not very credible if you ask me.
Paul: (wanting to change the subject) So where did you do your Ph.D.?
Joe: Athens, up north.
Paul: O that’s one of those high wattage schools isn’t it?
Joe: Fairly. Say, lets have another beer.
Joe: (the party being over) Thanks for coming. I will see you all in class tomorrow.
Joe: (the next day) I hope you all enjoyed our discussion. For those of you that are interested I usually go down to the local bar and grill to continue philosophizing in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Paul: (arriving at the bar and grill Paul opens the door and after a cloud of smoke exits he enters. The patrons of the establishment are made up of mostly university professors and students. Most of the employees were students at the university. There was no loud music or bar room type dancing.) Is this seat taken?
Joe: No I’m glad to see that you were able to stop by for a few drinks and a little bit of brain stimulation. You were saying at the department party that you went to a bible college, right?
Paul: Yes. I was interested in studying theology, and philosophy. The department of religion is weak in theology, but there is a good philosophy professor there.
Joe: Well, I am a professing pagan!
Paul: A what?
Joe: A professing pagan.
Paul: What do you mean by that?
Joe: You know, not a Christian or anything else along the line of theism. I am a pagan, an unbeliever; I am without religion; a heathen; a hedonist, and proud of it!.
Paul: I see. I have never met a real professing pagan before. Sure I have met plenty of non-believers before, but they are generally not outspoken about their beliefs; some are sort of ashamed of it.
Joe: Well I am not your average atheist. As you know I am a philosopher and as such, I have formed a philosophy about the nonexistence of God that is a little more advanced than your everyday unbeliever that really doesn’t quite know how to express his unbelief in a formal way. There are two kinds of atheist. There are those that are common to our area of the bible belt. These atheists are the victims of aggressive fundamental or rather fanatical evangelism by the locals. I like to call them the “fundies”. They are relentless! They are made up of all denominations. I don’t quite know which type are the worst. They are all equally fanatical. Well anyways, because of them they’ve got a lot of good atheists confused in that they will say something like this: “I know that God exists but I just don’t believe in him. I can’t because I am set in my ways and don’t want to change.” These people have been brainwashed by the fundies into basically thinking that God may really exist and that they are going to hell if they don’t believe. But deep down they feel that God really doesn’t exist and so they won’t commit themselves to such a belief. They have been greatly influenced by the fundies, but will not believe. I guess there are many reasons not to believe for this kind of atheist. The ones that just don’t want to have to change their lifestyles usually say, “Well, if I am going to hell, I want be alone because that is where all my friends will be.” They, however, are impractical in that they entertain the idea of God’s existence at all. The second kind of atheist realizes that there is no God and by the lack of evidence that there is a God, they remain in unbelief. I fall into this category. As a professional philosopher I can express my belief that God doesn’t exist in a more technical language than those that have fallen prey to the fundies. Say, you are a professing Christian aren’t you?
Paul: Yes, I am a theist.
Joe: How can you believe in a God who is obviously not there?
Paul: I believe he is.
Joe: (who has a way of shocking people by vulgarity, commences his regular routine of openly and loudly blaspheming God)
Joe: (looking up and shouting) Are you there? I challenge you! Show yourself and we will all believe! You are a coward! You are a pitiful and sad excuse for a God! Are you so weak that you cannot show yourself? I curse you! (Vile language is not sparingly used in blasphemies that cannot be repeated)
Paul: (Shocked by the blasphemy thinks to himself, I am a weak Christian that has a lack of confidence due to not living up to the highest moral standard. On two separate occasions I have even denied God’s existence and cursed Him myself out of drunken sinful frustration—an act that has always haunted me, but I must believe that I am forgiven. Besides if I really believe in God, I must also believe what He said about being made strong out of our weaknesses. I think as if all were dependent on me, but in fact all rests on God. As it was with David and Goliath, I cannot let this uncircumcised Philistine curse the living God without remorse. All I have is a few stones. If God will slay this giant who bears the armor and weaponry of pagan philosophy, he shall be slain!)
Paul: (speaking up) I hear your cursing (Paul sort of jokingly moves his chair over mentioning something about incoming lightning bolts), but I thought you said that as a philosopher you had some really sophisticated arguments against the existence of God. All that I have heard is a lot of barbaric cursing.
Joe: I sense a challenge. Would you like to have a little debate right here and now Paul?
Paul: Well it would be interesting to bat things around a little more. I noticed that you didn’t get God to show Himself by cursing Him, but what if He didn’t feel as if He were obligated to meet your demands? Perhaps He felt that, He being God and all, He didn’t have to prove Himself to you on your terms. Maybe He does that on His own terms. In fact, I bet if He did show Himself to you, you would come up with some kind of a naturalistic explanation for the phenomena. Am I right?
Joe: Yes, I guess if I asked God to lift the table and it started to lift up into the air, I probably would not fall down on my face in fear and trembling. I would be looking for some sort of transparent strings of some sort or a scientific explanation for the event.
Paul: I bet that nothing “miraculous” would convince you, would it?
Joe: I don’t believe in God, so I don’t believe in miracles either. But you are right. I would seek a scientific explanation for whatever may seem out of the ordinary.
Paul: That kind of reasoning is nothing new really. There were many eyewitnesses to miracles during the time of Christ and before, but that didn’t always persuade people either. God performed many miracles through his prophet Moses and Jesus appeared to many after His resurrection, however, many still doubted. So miracles aren’t for everybody.
Joe: There is always a scientific explanation for everything.
Paul: I guess we have different presuppositions. I am not opposed to scientific investigation and all, but I bring certain presuppositions to the table that you don’t. I start with the presupposition that God exists and then interpret the world through this lens. The world (including scientific laws) then makes sense to me when I do this. Would it be fair to say that you presuppose the natural world and reason as a basis for your knowledge?
Joe: It would be fair to say that. In fact, you did not always presuppose the existence of God in your interpretation of the world did you? I mean before you became a Christian we both presupposed reason and the natural laws of the universe as the sources for our epistemology (the theory of knowledge).
Paul: This is true, but after I became a Christian I saw that it was really impossible to make sense out of the universe apart from presupposing that God exists.
Joe: What do you mean?
Paul: Just take ethics for example. As you know, there are many theories of right and wrong out there. And they all lead to relativism, which is self refuting itself. Apart from a Christian worldview it is impossible to give an account for moral values. What about you, Joe, how do you explain personalistic values in an impersonal universe? Because as a philosopher, you know that we cannot get personality out of impersonality. You know that would be a naturalistic fallacy.
Joe: Well, some would say that evolution is the answer. Paul: How is evolution the answer?
Joe: The evolutionist argues that we have evolved to have a sense of values.
Paul: Surly you don’t really believe this. You know that what I said while ago is true, that personality cannot evolve out of impersonality. Even David Hume proved with his naturalistic fallacy that we cannot get an ought from an is. The law of gravity will bring one to an abrupt end if one throws someone off of a high building, but the law of gravity does not tell us that we ought not to throw someone off a building. Even evolution cannot bridge the gap here. To imply oughtness is to move from that which is impersonal to that which is personal.
Joe: It is true. The evolutionist has a lot of work to do yet. Nevertheless, as I told you before, I am a professing pagan and as such I don’t believe in morality.
Paul: How can you not believe in morality? Don’t you think that it would be wrong for me to steal your wallet, rape your wife, or kill you?
Joe: No I don’t think it would be wrong. If you take my wallet, it will be gone, if you rape my wife, she will be raped, and if you kill me I will be dead. That’s all there is to it. I may do the same to you. And I might if I thought I could get away with it and get something out of it like pleasure or something.
Paul: That sounds pretty wild and radical. What would happen to society if everybody went along with this? You don’t really believe this do you professor Joe?
Joe: I most certainly do! I told you that I am a bonafide pagan. And what would I care if all of society held to this belief? As I told you I am a pagan and don’t really care. Besides the fundies have given me a bad taste for good morals with their hypocritical lifestyles.
Paul: I agree that if you look at some professing Christians’ lives you may not be very impressed, including mine, or I might say especially mine. We Christians don’t always live up to God’s standard of perfection. What separates us from the rest of the world though is that we are forgiven for our sins and anticipate a time when we will be ultimately delivered from the influence of sin. Regardless, even if what you said is true, Joe, there are apparently some things that you do care about.
Joe: Like what?
Paul: You care about being a good philosopher and as you said yourself you believe that there are certain laws in the universe that science works within. How do you account for this? I think that your presuppositions may need a little revision if you are going to give an explanation to this.
Joe: Well, I don’t think so. As for my pride in being a good philosopher, this really doesn’t matter in the whole scheme of things. I could have been a bad one and it wouldn’t have ultimately mattered. As for the laws of the universe, all I see is what I see now. Tomorrow, the universe may be turned upside down. Instead of feeling pain as I do when I stub my toe today, tomorrow it may feel good. Besides you argue from silence in that you want to say that I cannot give an explanation as to why the universe is orderly and uniform. Just because I cannot today doesn’t mean I won’t be able tomorrow.
Paul: True I do in a sense argue from silence, but its not that I don’t think you cannot account for the order of the universe and the uniformity of nature because you have not done so out side of a Christian worldview. I think that you cannot.
Joe: Besides my point is that the universe may not be so orderly. We see a lot of destruction and chaotic things out there, like hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, animals that eat their young etc, etc.
Paul: Well in the Christian worldview we can account for all of this. If you think about it hurricanes and tornadoes are quite intricate in their design, and because of the curse on the earth due to Adam’s sin we can understand why some things in nature are off kilter in a way. Even the evil that comes out of natural disasters as well as moral evil can be accounted for in a Christian worldview. We believe that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil that exists in our world.
Joe: Well, I don’t believe it. Besides you haven’t proven that God exists to me yet. I am waiting. Are you going to?
Paul: Yes, but I cannot make you believe in God if you already have your mind made up not to regardless of how the proof is made. As a philosopher, more skilled than me, will you be willing to be open-minded as I continue?
Joe: I will.
Paul: Here goes then. Let me summarize. You don’t believe in objective morality, but you do believe that the universe has order (at least to the extent of us being able to do science that you accept the conclusions of), though the stability of this may change tomorrow. Do you agree with this summarization of our conversation?
Paul: Well, then since I cannot prove God’s existence on the basis of objective personalistic morality or on the basis of the order found in the universe, because you said that it may be turned upside down tomorrow, I have only one option left.
Joe: Lets hear it!
Paul: I am getting to it. Though there may not be any objective morality, and constant stability in the universe, there is one thing that we cannot deny, and that is that there is the existence of the universe itself. I contend that the existence of universe itself proves the existence of God.
Joe: And how do you suppose this? As a philosopher you know that something cannot come from nothing. Right?
Paul: Well if something cannot come from nothing, where did the universe come from if not God?
Joe: That’s easy the universe didn’t come from anywhere; it is eternal.
Paul: So you wouldn’t deny the existence of something that is eternal?
Joe: I just told you that I don’t.
Paul: Very well. Would you also say that the universe would be characterized by cause and effect in some sense even if turned up on ear?
Joe: I will grant that.
Paul: Let me ask you what it was that started the sequence of cause and effect that we see in our universe (a sequence that would be there even in the case that it was turned upside down)?
Joe: There was never a starting point. This is an infinite process.
Paul: Then how could we have ever made it to this current point in the process if it is infinite? In other words, if there is never a number one, there can never be a number two. But for a God that is a first cause of everything, this would make sense. A God that transcends time, but not to the point of not being able to be immanent in it, would be able to create our universe, would He not?
Joe: I can see your point. I have already admitted that something is eternal. You say it is God, I say it is the universe. You say that an eternal being per se is a better explanation of things than an eternal universe marked by the absurdity of an infinite regress.
Paul: That’s all I am saying. There are only two choices. Which will you side on, order or chaos?
Joe: I guess chaos. Lets have another beer.