Unlike Richard Dawkins, Hitchens was willing to defend his views publicly. And when it came to Christians, he was not only willing to be outnumbered, but he was willing to go up against one of our best. Not only was he fearless enough to be outnumbered and to meet our best in public debate, he was willing to do it away from his home turf. This was a man willing to debate anyone and anywhere, He did not require home field advantage.
More so than his courage, he was honest. He, unlike most on his team, was willing to make the positive claim against God, rather than retreat to the agnosticism most have.
Hitchens was a writer by trade, thus, he was also witty, clever, creative, and good with words. All of this made him an Atheist worthy of the Christian’s respect.
He was however more blasphemous than most. Although he was certainly brilliant, more so than your average internet warriors like myself and those I engage with, I still do not find him at the top of the Atheist/Agnostic game. I think he excelled more at hurling red-meat to his hungry followers than in seriously challenging the Christian worldview. He was very good at creatively making the Bible sound bizarre and immoral, but once challenged, I think it was exposed for what it was.
One Atheist who I do believe to be at the top of his game is Matt Dillahunty. Dillahunty is certainly not unknown, but he is not in the same realm as Dawkins is or Hitchens was, although he shames both of them.
Dillahunty is very wise and is a talented debater. Obviously, as a Christian, I am not intimidated by his arguments, but I think if anyone were worthy of being intimidated by it would be him. He has primarily been the champion in seeking to dismantle presuppositional apologetics, which I find to be the strongest, most persuasive method, and that is why I do admire him. So far he has debated two presuppositionalists, although their styles of PA very greatly. He debated Sye Ten Bruggencate and most recently, Matt Slick.
Matt Slick did a good job. Slick was especially fond of the argument Doug Wilson conveniently identified as the “pop-bottle” argument. When we see chemical reactions, like a pop bottle fizzing, we never assume those random, uncontrolled, chemical reactions are producing things like truth or logic. Yet, according to
|Look at all that logic!|
Dillahunty’s worldview, that is exactly what our brains are doing. Fizzing. There is no reason to trust our brains in his worldview, let alone believe they produce logic or arrive at truth claims. Slick hit that hard, and never got a good reason to force him to let up.
The purpose of this blog is not because I think Slick dropped the ball. However, debates, as a long as they are, are still not long enough for each opponent to sufficiently refute every possible thing that is brought up. I just want to make additional points.
The Alleged Mexican Standoff
As expected, Dillahunty does not like Presuppositional Apologetics. In both of his debates with men who hold to the method, he has tried to push the issue that because things exist that we all agree on (laws of logic, reality, etc) then we do not need to debate justifying these things. The PA method will not let him get away with that though.
This is why, as the fruit of Sye’s labors especially, Dillahunty went into this debate ready to make the admissions he knew he had to, specifically saying “I cannot justify the laws of logic.” His new method was to simply presuppose them.
This was clever, because he seemed to silence our requests that he justify them because, as he said, “you can’t justify a presupposition otherwise it wouldn’t be a presupposition.”
Although I only agree in part with that, even granting it, there is still a problem with him simply presupposing the laws of logic rather than justifying them.
Dillahunty has created, in his mind, a bit of a Mexican stand-off between him and the Christian. One presupposes God while the other presupposes logic. It seems we are all just presupposing things here.
But there really is no Mexican stand-off here. When the Christian asks the Secular Humanist to “justify the laws of logic” there are two dimensions to that process that need to be met. One is by grounding them in something. This is the common meaning, and the one Matt is getting out of by arbitrarily presupposing them.
However, there is another aspect I think Dillahunty is missing, and that is, giving an account for how they are consistent given the rest of the claims. In other words, even if the Secular Humanism presupposes them, they still do not make sense within his worldview.
One cannot presuppose the color blue, but then believe in a worldview which claims all things are red. One cannot presuppose something their worldview militates against. One cannot build on a foundation with materials that the foundation cannot support.
As a result of having no answer to the Christian,what Dillahunty has done is, a presuppose immaterial, unchanging, universal laws. However, the problem is Secular Humanism cannot draw from the supernatural realm.
Secular Humanism and its principles mandate against immaterial, unchanging realities. Therefore, to presuppose logical laws does not solve the problem. A square block will not fit into a round hole no matter where the block came from.
Another important issue that was brought up was Dillahunty’s emphasis on “human flourishing.”
The specific question being asked in a debate, or the specific claim being made is crucial to the debate. The debate topic for the Matts was, “Is Secular Humanism Superior to Christianity?” Therefore, Dillahunty crafted his opening statement accordingly.
He mentioned that the term superior cannot be discussed unless two sides are examining the same thing; there must be an area both sides agree with in order to have a fixed standard to judge by. He used the example of trying to answer the question, “What’s superior, the Kansas City Royals or canned peaches?” Those concepts are not related enough to make sense of that question.
The place that Dillahunty feels his Secular Humanism and Christianity share common ground is the desire to see humans flourish. Both sides care about that, so the standard is set for comparing the two.
However, Christianity is already superior in regards to that question before any evidence is even examined. The reason being that Christianity does not need to arbitrarily decide human flourishing is a good thing.
In other words, Christianity can justify why human flourishing is desirable, as well a promote it. Secular Humanism must arbitrarily decide that.
In other words, Secular Humanism has no standard to condemn someone like the Nazi’s who believe human flourishing is the goal, but not all humanity, only a particular set of humanity.
Secular humanism can say it cares about more people, but it cannot condemn the opposing side. It cannot justify the morality of desiring human flourishing, but can only arbitrarily decide that ought to be an individual’s highest pursuit.
Dillahunty seemed to anticipate this objection, but avoided it with a tautology. He did so by responding to hypothetical objectors (which I have now realized) by saying that the question is not a “why” question, it is not a “should” question, and it is not even an “ought” question. But instead, he says, “we do care about human flourishing.” His answer to why should we care about human flourishing is, “because we do.” That answer is more than enough to serve as its own refutation.
Another issue with this, other than the arbitrariness, is the question begging epithet he engages in. If he wanted a standard of common ground, this is not it. This cannot be an area where both the professing secular humanist and Christian agree. The reason is because a person’s spiritual and religious well-being cannot be dislocated from how the Christian defines “flourish.”
Yet, Secular Humanism demands, by Matt’s definition, we leave all religious and spiritual claims out of the conversation. He is trying to paint the lines our religion must play ball between. Let me give one example:
Does homosexuality promote human flourishing?
The Christian answer is an emphatic no. There are “secular” reasons for this. For one, it cannot produce life (a pretty important element in human flourishing is that the species continue).
There are other health concerns that make the lifestyle dangerous and damaging, which Michael Brown very thoroughly documents in his book on the subject. However, the main reason we believe homosexuality is at odds with human flourishing is that it sends people to hell.
Even if there were no material consequences, the Bible would still condemn it because ultimate human flourishing is found by spending eternity in a glorified state with Jesus. Nothing is more contrary to human flourishing than a human spending eternity being tormented by the wrath of God.
Thus, the Christian and the Secular Humanist cannot have that conversation, because what Matt sees as a point of contact is not a point of contact at all. The one and only point of contact the Christian and non-Christian share ever is that God has revealed Himself to both, and neither have an excuse for their denial of Him (Romans 1: 18-32).
Wolves in Wolve’s Clothing
In the Q and A with the audience at the end of the debate, and classic question was asked which is asked often in most debates. Not too long after Dillahunty admitted that his worldview is inescapably, viciously circular (since one must always use their own brain to justify the validity of their own brain) an audience member asked each debater to recognize one good thing about the opposing philosophy.
Matt Slick gave a good answer. He admired Secular Humanism’s quest for truth. As our culture is slowing progressing out of the post-modern movement, we can all certainly breathe a sigh of relief knowing there are still many people in the world who, although are not Christian, believe that there is real objective truth that can be found.
However, I would like to go a different route. Were I in the debate, I would have answered more along the lines of Secular Humanism’s commitment to being wolves is what I admire most. That sounds like a back-handed compliment, but I assure you it is not.
In Matthew 7: 15 Jesus describes false religious leaders with the brilliant metaphor as wolves in sheep’s clothing. And we as His sheep realize it’s point: a disguised wolf is far more dangerous and destructive than a plain one.
Matt Dillahunty is a brilliant man, and is capable of defeating many of Jesus’ sheep on the intellectual battleground.
However, he does so by sharpening his claws, licking his chops, and howling and at the moon first.
What is far more dangerous is so many of the religious leaders in America who claim Christianity, but essentially hold most of Dillahunty’s worldview.
There are so many who claim the faith now who deny incredibly orthodox and foundational principles of the faith.
Foundational issues from the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, to important life and death issues like abortion and homosexuality, all the way up to who Jesus is and the very nature of the Gospel, are all denied or perverted by many “Christian” leaders today.
All over this nation are false, unconverted wolves prancing around the sheep pen unrecognized.
Dillahunty is honest about his opposition, and I appreciate the Secular Humanist for that. I would rather a man deny the faith than pervert and distort it.
Because there is no point of contact in terms of defining human flourishing and justifying the desire to achieve it, Slick got slick with secularism and went just the direction he should: which one is true?
The way the debate question was phrased implied the possibility that both of these positions could be false. The very question assumes the possibility that one could be false, but still win the debate in this particular area.
Both of these ideas are absurd, and that is why Slick was so slick. He did exactly what Sye did when he debated Dillahunty: he turned the conversation into an important one which required no overlapping agreement.
Neither Slick nor Sye did this in a way that was disingenuous to the debate however. For example, in the debate “Is it Reasonable to Believe God Exists?”, Sye’s line of reasoning was the following:
Premise 1: It is reasonable to believe that which is true.
Premise 2: It is true that God exists.
Conclusion: Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that God exists.
Sye is not only perfectly answering the debate question, but he is simultaneously turning the debate into the question of truth.
Likewise, Slick took a similar route. He essentially argued the following:
Premise 1: That which is true is always superior to that which is false.
Premise 2: Christianity is true.
Conclusion: Christianity is superior to Secular Humanism.
Now both Christians are arguing over truth. Truth is not only the most important thing in the world, but is also something Jesus self-identifies as.