The Secular Attack on Christianity/Program 1

By: Dr. Paul Kurtz, Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1986
Is there any rational justification for being a Humanist? Is it more or less “ra­tional” for a person to hold to Biblical Christian beliefs?



Dr. John Ankerberg: Tonight we’re talking about Secular Humanism. My guests are: Dr. Paul Kurtz, the man who drafted the Humanist Manifesto II, and A Secular Humanist Declaration. He is also the editor of the main secular humanist magazine in America called, Free Inquiry. He’s also Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Also, Dr. Norman Geisler from Dallas Theological Seminary, an Orthodox Christian, who has authored many books on philosophy and theology. Gentlemen, we’re glad that you’re here tonight. “Is there any rational justification for being a Humanist?” is one of the questions we want to ask Paul. And, Dr. Geisler, is it more or less “rational” for a person to hold to biblical Christian beliefs?
Paul, I’d like to start in a different area tonight and that would be of looking at a quick definition of a secular humanist. Okay, now, instead of giving the Humanist Manifesto I and II here, let me just give you a brief one because we’re going to go through different points of the Manifestos here. Sir Julian Huxley gave us a brief definition. He says, “I use the word ‘humanist’ to mean someone who believes that man is just as much a natural phenomenon as an animal or a plant; that his body, mind and soul were not supernaturally created but are products of evolution, and that he is not under the control or guidance of any supernatural being or beings but has to rely on himself and his own power.” Is that a pretty good summary?
Dr. Paul Kurtz: I think that’s a very good definition. I would add other things as well to that definition….
Ankerberg: And I’m going to let you as we go along, so don’t worry about that. You know, as I’ve been reading Sartre and Nietzsche and so on, each one of them, in their atheism, okay, there was a point in their life…and I’m going to ask that you be kind of open and personal with us. And by the way, I want you both to speak from the bottom of your heart. We’re going to disagree; I know that ahead of time. But we can be friends, and I really enjoy the friendship of both of you on stage and I think you’ll get along terrific together as well. But, sometimes we can be such good friends that we do not really tell the people out in television-land what our constituents back home really want us to say, okay? So, we’re going to be friendly, but I don’t want you to pull any punches, okay? Paul, in terms of these men, like Nietzsche and Sartre and so on, in their life there was a time when they crossed over the line and they left God out of their life and they became an atheist. Let me ask you point blank, “Are you an atheist?”
Kurtz: I prefer to call myself a “skeptic.” I’m an unbeliever. I’ve examined the arguments all during my life as a philosophy professor for the existence of God, all the evidence. I can find insufficient support. That’s why I’m a skeptic. I don’t know whether or not God exists. I cannot find sufficient reasons to believe in God.
Ankerberg: So you’d be an agnostic.
Kurtz: Yes. I like the term “skeptic.” I’m not unwilling to say that I’m an atheist. That may shock some of the people here, but I’m not unwilling to say that. But a more sophisticated position is as a skeptic; namely, I’m open-minded. I’m seeking and looking for the truth….
Ankerberg: Great!
Kurtz: …and I don’t find sufficient support for the claim that God exists.
Ankerberg: Right. You know, there are two kinds of agnostics: there’s the “ornery” agnostic and the “ordinary” agnostic. You know what the difference is on that one, don’t you, Paul?
Kurtz: No, what is the difference?
Ankerberg: An “ornery” agnostic says, “I don’t know, but I know you don’t know either!” and you’re not one of those, are you?
Kurtz: No, I consider myself an “extraordinary” agnostic.
Ankerberg: Okay. But the “ordinary” agnostic simply says, “I don’t know, but if you’ve got some evidence I want to look for it and I want to see and test it.” And I think that’s where you’re coming from.
Kurtz: Yes.
Ankerberg: And that’s why I enjoy the friendship here. As a philosophy professor, though, you also know that when you’re talking about unbelief, it’s philosophically impossible to prove a universal negative; namely that there is no God. I mean, that’s a crummy position when you try to prove it. Another way of saying that would be, for our people that are listening in, is that if you’ve got “Product A” and “Product B” over here, and you’ve got two salesmen that are going at it. Salesman A can knock down Product B and all that it’s for. He can do a terrific job, knock the ball over the fence, and nobody will buy his product because he’s not said a word about why you ought to buy his product, all he’s done is torn down the other case. Before we start talking about Christianity and Orthodox Christian belief, tell me what is it that you do believe and the proof for it.
Kurtz: Let me say first that if my little daughter asked me, “Does Santa Claus exist?”, maybe I can’t disprove it. We can go to the North Pole and she can say, “Daddy, he’s in the South Pole.” And we go down there, and he may be somewhere else. So it’s difficult to prove a negative, as you point out. On the other hand, I don’t accept the existence of Santa Claus except in a kind of mythological framework. I have no objection to the myth or the fairytale. But the question is that if Santa Claus exists, I want evidence for it, okay. I’m a secular humanist. I believe in the human potentiality. I believe that we ought to develop the good life here and now; that we ought to use our best intelligence to try to solve human problems, to build a good society and to do what we can to alleviate human suffering. For me, the end of the good life is creative enjoyment, creative fulfillment, and shared experience with other people in a good society.
Ankerberg: Okay. I appreciate that thought. But if I were to come back and ask for more proof, if you were to talk to our audience and Dr. Geisler sitting there next to you, if somebody were to say this statement that’s in a book that I read: “Atheism is false for several reasons. Number one, it’s philosophically inadequate, scientifically erroneous, morally bankrupt, socially destructive, aesthetically impotent and humanly degrading.” Start with number one. Give me the philosophical evidence why you would say you hold on to naturalism, because you’ve got to hold onto naturalism if there is no God, right?
Kurtz: Well, I prefer the term “non-theism” because I think the notion of a theistic being, that God is a person, I don’t think that is entirely intelligible. In one sense it’s a confused or meaningless concept to talk about a transcendent being who exists. In any case, when you look for the support, you ask people why they believe, what are the evidences, what is the reason, they seem to be insubstantial. So, yes, I’m a naturalist; namely, I believe there is a universe out there and I want to understand it. And the methods that I will use are the methods of experience and reason, primarily based upon the sciences. So, humanism, I think, is the best expression of modern science. It’s the scientific outlook, using the rigorous methods of the scientific inquiry in order to test hypotheses about nature.
Ankerberg: Okay. Dr. Geisler, you’ve been sitting there for a little bit. Let me get you in here. Do you think that skepticism, atheism, is philosophically inadequate today concerning the scientific evidence and our view of the world?
Dr. Norman Geisler: Well, I agree with Paul that we need to be rational; we need to be scientific. But when I look at the scientific evidence, it leads to belief in God. For example, the Big Bang theory, by three lines of converging evidence: the expanding universe, the radiation echo, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, all lead scientifically to prove that the universe had a beginning. Now, one of the fundamental, rational laws of all thought – and Paul is a rationalist; he wants to be rational and that’s why I enjoy dialoguing with him – is that every event, everything that comes to be, has a cause. Now, if the universe came to be, then it is only rational to conclude that the universe had a cause.
Let me illustrate by the story of two men, an atheist and a theist, who went for a walk in the woods. They came upon a translucent glass ball about 8-feet in diameter. And the theist said to the atheist, “Where did it come from?” He said, “I don’t know, but somebody must have put it here. It just didn’t pop into existence out of nowhere.” They both agreed. And the theist said, “Well, if the ball is 16-feet in diameter, does it still need a cause?” He said, “Yeah. If little balls need causes, big ones need causes too.” And he said, “What if the ball is as big as the whole world?” The atheist paused and said, “Well, yeah. If little ones need causes, then big ones need causes, and really big ones need causes, too.” Then he said, “What if the ball is as big as the whole universe.” The atheist said, “Of course it doesn’t need a cause! It’s just there.” That’s not rational.
Ankerberg: What do you think, Paul?
Kurtz: Well, you said, Norman, that every event has a cause. You maintain that: every event has a cause. Is that what you said?
Geisler: That’s exactly right. Everything that comes to be has a cause.
Kurtz: Okay. Then you say, “The universe has a cause,” and I take it that you would say that God caused the universe. My question then is, “If every event has a cause, what caused God?”
Geisler: You see, you just confused the statement. “Everything that comes to be has a cause.” God didn’t come to be, so He doesn’t need a cause. Just as the atheist believes….
Kurtz: You contradicted your notion that everything has a cause.
Geisler: No, I didn’t. Let me finish. Just as the atheist believes that the universe is eternal (often) and therefore didn’t need a cause, if you can have an uncaused universe, we can have an uncaused God. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Kurtz: No, I wouldn’t say necessarily that the universe is uncaused. I think there….
Geisler: If the thing is caused, then there must have been a cause behind it, right?
Kurtz: I think that there are causes. Now, you have the Big Bang, the hypothesis in contemporary physics and cosmology, that takes us back only to a point. But what caused the matter at that time before it exploded? So that you can’t say….
Geisler: No, the Big Bang hypothesis says that the very matter of the universe came into existence 10 to 20 billion years ago. That if you take it back to a point, you reach a time where you have no space, no time, and no matter. You have literally nothing.
Kurtz: But we cannot say. We cannot say.
Geisler: Even agnostic Robert Jastrow, in his book God and the Astronomers says that, “It came into existence out of nothing some billions of years ago.” Now, if it came to be, and every event that comes to be needs a cause, then the universe needs a cause, too.
Kurtz: Well, I don’t want to talk about “the universe.” You have many divergent lines of causality and many kinds of events happening.
Geisler: What’s wrong with “the” universe?
Kurtz: You’re leaping beyond it.
Geisler: No, no. What’s wrong with it – the universe, and talking about the “whole show,” what Sagan calls “the cosmos” – everything that was, is and will be?
Kurtz: You have the cosmos, and you have many things happening in the cosmos. Physics only takes you up to a point. What happened before that point? Now, if everything has a cause, then God must have a cause.
Geisler: That’s your question. No, see….
Kurtz: You make an exception to point that everything has a cause.
Geisler: It’s not exception. The rule….
Kurtz: You’re only pushing your ignorance one step back.
Geisler: No, no, you’re missing the point. You’re not listening to it.
Kurtz: I’m listening to everything.
Geisler: Everything that comes to be has a cause: that’s the principle. The universe came to be; therefore, the universe has a cause. Now, if God always existed, He didn’t “come to be”….
Kurtz: He did not come to be. I see…
Geisler: …He doesn’t need a cause.
Kurtz: Well, you’re defining the situation. You’re assuming your case by definition…
Geisler: Not at all. The rational person….
Kurtz: …because you’re defining, you’re saying…. How did you know that God did not come to be? How do you know that?
Geisler: We know that the universe came to be…
Kurtz: But how do you know that God did not come to be?
Geisler: …and we know that everything that comes to be had a cause.
Kurtz: But how did you know that God did not come to be?
Geisler: Because everything that comes to be has a cause, and if He caused the universe to come to be, He couldn’t have come to be.
Kurtz: By definition you’re trying to define what you want to prove. How do you know?
Geisler: The law of rationality. The law of rationality says every….
Kurtz: That’s not rational.
Geisler: …everything comes…
Kurtz: That’s an assumption.
Geisler: Oh, you don’t believe that…
Kurtz: Well, how do you know…
Ankerberg: Okay, okay… let me see….
Geisler: It’s a “rational” assumption. You make it….
Kurtz: It’s an “irrational” assumption.
Ankerberg: Let’s start out with a couple of things…
Geisler: Irrational assumptions say things have causes?
Kurtz: But how do you know that God….
Ankerberg: Wait a minute, Paul. Hold it here. I want to ask one question. What is the evidence, scientifically, that the universe has not always been here to start with?
Kurtz: Well, I said I was a skeptic. I don’t know whether the universe was or was not here, you see. I don’t know that it came into being at a certain point. It seems to me you’re leaping beyond the evidence. This is a speculative thesis.
Ankerberg: I can take that, Paul. Let me ask you this. It seems like that you’re always pushing the Christians in your magazine, rationally and on the scientific evidence. Let me do the same to you, and that is, what do you do with the scientific evidence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in relationship to what is here?
Kurtz: Well, it doesn’t say anything about “beyond the range of observation.” And now you’re leaping beyond the range of observation. You’re only pushing your ignorance back one step. You have the universe, you want to explain it; and so you introduce an unintelligible, inexplicable being – a divine being – to explain it. That only wrests your case…
Ankerberg: I didn’t do any of that. You missed my point, too. All I said is that it seems like if we’re scientific, we’re working with what is observational and repeatable. Well, we can’t do that, so we have to work with what we do have here.
Kurtz: Yes.
Ankerberg: Okay. What we do have here are heat laws. We do have energy laws.
Kurtz: Yes.
Ankerberg: Okay. We do have that.
Kurtz: Yes.
Ankerberg: Okay. Using just what I do have – not what you don’t know, but what I do have – let’s be rational on that. What conclusion would you come to?
Kurtz: You’re jumping beyond what you have. You’re jumping beyond the laws of physics, beyond observation…
Ankerberg: But I’ve got to start with what I’ve got, don’t I?
Kurtz: …and you’re postulating an unintelligible, unknown being who, you said “always existed” and did not come into being.
Ankerberg: Well, let’s not postulate anything about an unknown being. Let’s just take the logical conclusion that the Second Law of Thermodynamics brings us to; namely, that the universe had to have a beginning.
Kurtz: I don’t see where that necessarily would have had to have a beginning…
Geisler: Oh, it most certainly does. And even agnostics and atheists…
Kurtz: …or an end.
Ankerberg: Okay, let’s let Norman explain why.
Geisler: Your friend, Anthony Kenny, admits that…
Ankerberg: Norm, let’s slow down.
Geisler: In his book The Five Ways, the British atheist Anthony Kenny says the Big Bang theory holds that the universe came into existence. So, as an atheist, he said, “I’d have to conclude that the universe came into existence from nothing and by nothing.” Now, you talk about ultimate irrationality. They used to criticize us as theists for believing that “Someone” made something out of nothing – ex nihilo creation – and laugh. Now, they believe “no one” made something out of nothing. Ha-ha!
Kurtz: Well, I deny the notion that the universe came into being ex nihilo, out of nothing. You’re leaping beyond the evidence.
Geisler: Then it’s eternal. Then you have something that’s not caused…
Kurtz: It seems to me it’s…
Geisler: …which you just told me a moment ago is “irrational” to believe that something is uncaused, like God.
Kurtz: No. It seems to me that it is rational.
Geisler: Oh, it is rational to believe that something is….?
Kurtz: It’s not any less intelligible to say that the universe was eternal.
Geisler: Well, why is it rational for you to believe that the universe is uncaused, and irrational for me to believe that God is uncaused?
Kurtz: Because you think you are explaining what is happening in the universe. But you’re not explaining it, you’re reading in the item of “faith.”
Geisler: You’re certainly not “explaining” it if you say there’s no cause.
Kurtz: I say, as a skeptic, let’s examine physics. Now, in physics the Big Bang theory makes sense. You’re going far beyond physics. You’re introducing something. You’re introducing an “intelligent being” who has created the universe. This is unobservable. You’ve not tested it.
Ankerberg: Okay, let me slow it down here. So you [Kurtz] are saying that the universe does have a beginning via the Big Bang and Second Law of Thermodynamics, but you don’t know what caused it. And when Geisler says that “God caused it,” now we have to simply say, “We weren’t there.” We can’t say we all can check it out and scientifically repeat it. So, number one is, both theories are not “factual” in the sense that we can go back there and scientifically repeat it.
Kurtz: Exactly.
Ankerberg: So, anybody that says that evolution is a fact, we’ve got to throw that out, right?
Kurtz: No, that’s something else. That doesn’t follow. You sneaked that in. Evolution is quite independent of this point, you see. I don’t know that the universe has a beginning. All that I’m saying – and I think all that we can say – is that in contemporary physics, the Big Bang theory is a useful hypothesis. But you are going far beyond that. You’re bringing in theology and going beyond science.
Ankerberg: I didn’t think I brought anything in except the scientific laws and drew a conclusion.
Kurtz: Well, I question the conclusion that there is a “being…”
Ankerberg: On what basis, scientifically, do you question that conclusion?
Kurtz: I question the notion. When you’re talking about a cause, you talk about certain antecedent conditions that you can observe, and then you test the hypothesis. But when you talk about God as being the cause, you’re transcending….
Ankerberg: I didn’t say anything about God yet. Okay, Norman’s been saying that….
Kurtz: “God: the cause of the universe.” He’s [Geisler] transcending….
Ankerberg: Yeah, but I just want to get to this one point, Paul, and that is that it seems awfully interesting to me that using just science, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that the universe had to have a beginning because if it was eternal, it would have already run down and we’d all be sitting here in an ice box, okay?
Kurtz: Well, it is running down. It’s probably….
Ankerberg: We’re not, obviously, so it had to have a beginning, and apparently recently. There, I haven’t stuck God in at all.
Kurtz: “Recently,” John?
Ankerberg: All we have to do is say, now, what “cause” are we talking about for that? You’re saying you don’t know.
Kurtz: When you say “recently,” John, how recently are you talking about? What are you talking about? How recent?
Ankerberg: I’m not talking about anything, I’m simply coming to that conclusion.
Kurtz: Are you talking about 10,000 years?
Ankerberg: No, I’m just taking a conclusion.
Kurtz: Fifteen billion years?
Geisler: Ten to 20 billion years.
Kurtz: Ten to 20 billion years. Okay.
Ankerberg: Okay. So the conclusion is that it had to have a start, right? You’d agree to that?
Kurtz: I don’t agree to the notion of “start” or “a beginning,” because what went before, that I don’t know.
Ankerberg: You don’t know, but the conclusion, with the evidence that you do know, would suggest that “probably” it started.
Kurtz: No. I’m not going to say “probably it started.” The evidence suggests that there was an explosion.
Ankerberg: You don’t say the Second Law of Thermodynamics is good evidence, Paul, for that?
Kurtz: The evidence suggested there was an explosion and that there is a rapid moving away from a center. You can see this through the spectroscopic analysis of a shift towards red as the astronomers look at the heavens. And so 15 to 20 billion years later, we’re talking about a process of evolution which follows from that.
Ankerberg: Alright. I’ve got to wrap this up. Norman, what would you postulate from the scientific evidence? Where are you going with the scientific evidence and what we’re saying here?
Geisler: It’s very simple. I’m just using two principles. One is the fundamental, rational principle that is the basis of all modern science: every event, everything that comes to be, has a cause. The universe “came to be,” therefore the universe had a cause. And the evidence that the universe came to be is the Second Law of Thermodynamics: it’s running out of usable energy. Therefore, it can’t be eternal or it would have run down a long time ago. Therefore, the universe must have had a beginning. That’s a scientific fact. And if secular humanists want to be scientific, they have to face the facts. And the facts are that the universe had a beginning. If it had a beginning, there must have been “a beginner.” We can speculate later as to what kind of “beginner,” what kind of cause it was, but there had to be a cause. Otherwise, they’re left with the absurd position that “nothing produced something.” And that is absurd.
Ankerberg: Now, is that so irrational, Paul, what he just said?
Kurtz: Yes, I think it is. I think, in the first place, he has introduced the notion of, there had to be a “beginner,” you say. I deny that there was necessarily a beginning, but the notion that there had to be a beginner…
Ankerberg: Why would you deny it, Paul?
Kurtz: …is to read in some anthropomorphic or anthropocentric notion of someone who begins the universe, some person.
Ankerberg: Okay, Paul, let me just get the question right. What would you call the fact of a full stop? And the evidence suggests that, what would you call it?
Kurtz: Well, as I said at the earlier point, I was a skeptic about the origins of the universe; that was my first point. I don’t think we have sufficient evidence to say. And this is merely conjecture and merely guesswork, and it’s not scientific. It’s merely a theological hope.
Geisler: Why do all the scientists, even skeptics, atheists and agnostics believe that the universe had a beginning? And even Paul Davies is talking about the universe “coming into existence out of nothing” and without a cause. And Anthony Kenny and Robert Jastrow and all the scientists, they’re not disputing that the universe had a beginning. All the evidence points to it. They may dispute whether there is a God who caused it, but I think you’re not looking at the evidence when you say the universe “didn’t have a beginning,” because there is firm evidence that it did.
Ankerberg: Okay, we’ve going to come back to this topic next week. We’re going to move on to the second and third points of this thing, because in the Manifestos you say, “The theory of evolution is nonetheless supported impressively by the findings of many sciences. And the evolution of the species is supported so strongly by the weight of evidence that it is difficult to reject it. Although, we want to talk about the things that materialists have yet to explain adequately [to some people, anyway, Paul] namely, everything ultimately came from nothing; order came from chaos; harmony came from discord; life came from non-life; reason came from irrationality; personality came from non-personality, and morality came from amorality.” Now, we need to have your comments on that, and we’re going to ask Paul to give them to us in the next program. So please join us.

Ankerberg: We’re constantly referring to the Second Law of Thermodynamics in this program. I thought you would like to hear a short definition. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in a closed system, such as the whole universe, the amount of usable energy is decreasing; that is, energy is being used up or transformed into heat. So the universe is running down. But if the universe is running down, then it had to have a beginning. It is not eternal. If the universe were eternal, then there would have been enough time for it to have already run down by now. But since we are still here, and the usable energy is still being exhausted, then energy is not infinite. The universe must have had a beginning.

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