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Bahnsen-Stein Debate

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Bahnsen

Greg Bahnsen

This debate on the "Does God Exist" was held at University of California, Irvine on February 11, 1985. Gordon Stein (atheist) debated with Dr. Greg Bahnsen (Christian). Bahnsen uses the transcendental argument for God's existence (TAG), for which Stein has no response. In particular, the debate centers around the laws of logic, which they both declare that they believe. While Bahnsen points out that justifies his use of logic based on his Christian worldview - Stein is unable to justify the use of logic his atheist worldview.


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Highlights

Pretended Neutrality Falacy

One of Bahnsen's most telling point is that by committing himself to naturalism, and refusing to even admit any evidence for the supernatural, by his own standards Stein is taking on an unproven, and unjustified presupposition.

In short, there is no shortage of empirical indicators or evidences of God's existence - from the thousand stars of the heavens to the 500 witnesses of Christ's resurrection. But, Dr. Stein precludes the very possibility of any of this empirical evidence counting as proof for God's existence. He writes, " Supernatural explanations are not allowed in science. The theist is hard put to document his claims for the existence of the supernatural if he is in effect forbidden from evoking the supernatural as a part of his explanation. Of course, this is entirely fair; as it would be begging the question to use what has to be proved as a part of the explanation."

In advance, you see, Dr. Stein is committed to disallowing any theistic interpretation of nature, history or experience. What he seems to overlook is that this is just as much begging the question on his own part as it is on the part of the theist. who appeal to such evidence. He has not at all proven by empirical observation and logic his pre commitment to Naturalism. He has assumed it in advance, accepting and rejecting all further factual claims in terms of that controlling and unproved assumption.


Crackers in the Pantry Fallacy

Bahnsen blocks Stein from imposing overly narrow standards of evidence for God by pointing out what he calls the "crackers in the pantry" fallacy.

We might ask , "Is there a box of crackers in the pantry?" And we know how we would go about answering that question. But that is a far, far cry from the way we go about answering questions determining the reality of say, barometric pressure, quasars, gravitational attraction, elasticity, radio activity, natural laws, names, grammar, numbers, the university itself that you're now at, past events, categories, future contingencies, laws of thought, political obligations, individual identity over time, causation, memories, dreams, or even love or beauty. In such cases, one does not do anything like walk to the pantry and look inside for the crackers. There are thousands of existence or factual questions, and they are not at all answered in the same way in each case.


Q & A

The following exchange takes place in the first question and answer session:

Bahnsen: Do you believe there are laws of logic then?
Stein: Absolutely.
Bahnsen: Are they universal?
Stein: They are agreed upon by human beings not realizing it is just out in nature.
Bahnsen: Are they simply conventions then?
Stein: They are conventions that are self-verifying.
Bahnsen: Are they sociological laws or laws of thought?
Stein: They are laws of thought which are interpreted by man.
Bahnsen: Are they material in nature?
Stein: How could a law be material?
Bahnsen: That's the question I'm going to ask you.
Stein: I would say no.

Stein Examines Bahnsen

Stein: Dr. Bahnsen, would you call God material or immaterial?
Bahnsen: Immaterial.
Stein: What is something that's immaterial?
Bahnsen: Something not extended in space.
Stein: Can you give me any other example, other than God, that's immaterial?
Bahnsen: The laws of logic.


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