ApologeticsA Reasoned Defense of the Christian Faith
A Second Response to Martin
by John Frame
As a reply to Martin’s reply to my reply to him, let me try to clarify matters by arranging his latest points and my responses as a dialogue. I have eliminated a few of his sentences that I thought unnecessary to the present exchange.
MARTIN: In my paper I argued that science is incompatible with Christianity because, on the one hand, science assumes the uniformity of nature and, on the other hand, if anything has an explanation, it has a scientific one. However, these assumptions are incompatible with the belief in miracles that is part of the Christian worldview. Frame has argued correctly that science does not presuppose the absolute uniformity of nature, but I do not suppose that it does.
FRAME: If Martin didn’t believe in the "absolute" uniformity of nature, why did he bring the matter up? The uniformity of nature works as an argument against miracles only if it is absolute and universal.
MARTIN: In my paper I said that science assumes that insofar as an event has an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation — one that does not presuppose God. As I said in footnote 2, "This is compatible with the view that certain microevents are undetermined and, thus, have no explanation scientific or otherwise." My point was that what science does rule out are supernatural explanations.
FRAME: I don’t know of any scientific consensus to the effect that "insofar as an event has an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation" or that science rules out "supernatural explanations." Many scientists have written otherwise.
MARTIN: Any scientist who claimed that some event could only be explained by God’s intervention would have stopped doing science.
FRAME: Of course, it is difficult at best for any scientist to identify any conclusion as the "only" possible explanation for something. I believe that we can reach such conclusions only with the help of divine revelation. So in one sense Martin is right. Therefore in this situation we may describe the relation of theology and science in two ways: (1) Martin is right: science as such may not make such claims. Only theology may make them. OR (2) Science, understood broadly as including its theological presuppositions, has a perfect right to make such claims. On the definition of miracle assumed here, see the next point.
MARTIN: By a miracle I mean an event that can only be explained in terms of divine intervention. By definition such events do not have natural explanations. This I take to be the standard sense of miracle. Frame says that sometimes miracles have natural explanations. Yes, in another sense they do. But this is not the sense I was using. In any case, this other sense of miracle — what I call an indirect miracle — is criticized in my book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, pp. 207-8.
FRAME: You can, of course, define the terms as you like. Your definition does agree with some, but not all, theological definitions of miracle. I think it is not the best way to describe the events which the Bible presents as miracles. But granting your definition, I would say that all events are miracles, since divine causality (I prefer not to call it "intervention") is the ultimate causality of everything that happens (Eph. 1:11). No explanation is complete unless it includes God. Or, as I said above, science presupposes theology.
MARTIN: Frame has said that "divine providence is not itself a scientific explanation." Indeed, it is not. However, he insists that science can still presuppose divine providence. But if divine providence allows for miracles in the sense I was employing, scientific explanations cannot presuppose divine providence. Explanations in terms of miraculous intervention of divine providence exclude scientific ones.
FRAME: I believe my previous responses indicate my answer to this.
MARTIN: However, Frame’s less clear alternative construction of what it means for logic to presuppose God is problematic. He says that logic is not "above" God and that the "ultimate basis" of logic is God’s "eternal nature." In one obvious sense logic is above God: God presupposes logic and not the reverse.
FRAME: Not if God’s nature is the ultimate basis of logic. On this basis, God presupposes logic and logic presupposes God.
MARTIN:. … there is no inconsistency in both denying that God exists and affirming the law of contradiction.
FRAME: True in regard to these two statements taken in themselves. But if logic cannot exist without God, then to deny that God exists while affirming the law of contradiction is like denying the existence of the sun while affirming the existence of its rays. Of course, you will deny my view that logic cannot exist without God. But that is what we are debating, and you should not therefore beg that question.
MARTIN: Moreover, basing logic on God’s nature does not overcome the problem. If God’s character were different, logical principles would be different, and the law of contradiction would not hold. But this is absurd.
FRAME: Exactly. God is necessarily the kind of being he is. It would be absurd to imagine him otherwise.
MARTIN: Could Frame reply that God’s nature could not be such the law of contradiction would fail? The only reason for making such an assumption about God’s nature is that it must exemplify some independent standard of logic. This is just to say that logic does not presuppose God.
FRAME: Why is this "the only reason for making such an assumption?" It is sufficient for me to believe that God himself testifies to his wisdom and constancy by word and deed. What more reason do I need?
The chain of justification, of course, must end somewhere. Else we justify A by reference to "independent standard" B, B by "independent standard" C, ad infinitum. My chain ends in the personal God of the Bible. Martin’s ends in an abstract law of contradiction or abstract system of logic. Or does that too require an "independent standard?"
MARTIN: 1. I argued that objective ethics presupposes that God does not exist. There are three problems with basing objective ethics on God. First, ethics would be based on God’s arbitrary commands. For example, God could command cruelty was good. Second, there would be no objective basis for picking a reliable source of what God commands. Should we use the Bible or the Koran or the Book of Mormon? Third, once we picked a source there would be objectively no way of choosing between conflicting interpretations.
But basing morality on God’s character does not overcome the problem of arbitrariness. Is something good because it is part of His character or is God’s character the way it is because it is good? Suppose something is good because it is part of God’s character. Then if God’s character is cruel and unjust, these attributes would be good. On the other hand, if God’s character is the way it is, for example, merciful and just, because being mercy and justice are good, then there must be an independent standard of good that God’s character exemplifies. In the first case, a religious foundation of morality is arbitrary; in the second case, morality is not founded on religion but religion on morality. But would not Frame reply that God could not be cruel and unjust and thus the first alternative fails? However, the only reason for supposing that God could not be cruel and unjust is that God’s character must exemplify some independent standard of goodness and this presupposes the second alternative.
FRAME: My reply here is the same as my reply to the last objection. Martin’s last sentence is nothing more than sheer dogmatism. What ground does he have for supposing that his is the "only reason?" My reason is a different one: that God has declared and displayed his character as a person who could never be cruel or unjust.
MARTIN: 3. Frame maintains that "to say that there is ‘no rational way’ to deal with the difference between the Bible, Koran, etc., is an arbitrary assumption. This is an assumption which most Christians and Muslims reject." Is it an arbitrary assumption? What then is a rational way? The only way Frame mentions is revelation. But Christians say that the revelation of the Koran is bogus, and Muslims give similar compliments to the Christian interpretation of Jesus in the NT. If there is a rational way to reconcile this controversy, Frame does not begin to specify what it is.
FRAME: I didn’t specify that way because, of course, to do so would require an elaborate apologetic. I have "begun" to specify a rational way to handle these issues in my book Apologetics to the Glory of God. My problem with Martin is that he thinks that in one fell swoop he can dismiss as irrational the entire history of Christian (and Muslim!) apologetics. That’s a tall order to accomplish in a couple of sentences.
To summarize briefly my approach to Islam: (1) Muslims and Christians agree that the Bible is divinely inspired, but Muslims argue that the Bible has been mistranslated and distorted, and that God has corrected those distortions in the Koran. (2) However, there is no historical basis for the claim that the Bible has been distorted in this way. (3) Therefore, differences between the Bible and the Koran must be resolved in the Bible’s favor. (4) Insofar as Islam compromises the biblical doctrine of God, it loses the only possible transcendental ground of science, logic, and ethics (TAG).
INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE
MARTIN: 4. Interestingly enough, Frame has neglected to mention the third part of my argument. I also pointed out that there are different interpretations of what these sources say. Let us recall that there are differences among Christians over, among other things, the morality of the death penalty, war, abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, private property, social drinking, and gambling. Most of these differences are based on different interpretations of Christian revelation. To suppose that there is a rational way to reconcile these controversies by appealing to revelation stretches credibility to the breaking point.
FRAME: I neglected this, because my answer to this point should be obvious from my last answer. In the previous discussion, Martin arbitrarily dismissed the entire history of apologetics as non-rational. Here he similarly dismisses the entire history of Christian theology.
It is worthy of note that (1) although Christians do differ on many of these matters, they have historically agreed, against Martin, that there are rational ways of resolving these disputes. (2) There are many things on which all Christians are agreed. Many, but not all, of these are summarized in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 A. D. (3) Obviously there are many other issues we are still working on. In this respect theology is no different from science or philosophy. But Martin says about these issues, "To suppose that there is a rational way to reconcile these controversies by appealing to revelation stretches credibility to the breaking point." Why say this about theology and not about science or philosophy? There are at least as many unresolved issues in the other fields. Philosophers have been debating realism and nominalism since Socrates. Are we to conclude that there is no rational way to resolve the issue?