The Debate of the Century: Part 2
The Warren/Flew Debate on the Existence of God
Part #2 – An Interview with Dr. Warren
Radio Script #259
Hello, I’m Ray Mooney, and this is program number two in our special three part series on what was called the debate of the century, The Warren-Flew Debate on the existence of God that was held at the coliseum on the campus of North Texas State University in Denton, TX.
Last week, our interview was with the internationally known philosopher, Dr. Antony Flew who debated that he knows God does not exist. This week our guest, Dr. Thomas Warren of the Harding Graduate School of Religion, Memphis, TN. How did the debate come about Dr. Warren?
TW: It came about as a result of the interest and activities of the students of the two Bible Chairs sponsored by the University Church of Christ here in Denton. They extended the invitations to Dr. Flew and to me on that basis, on what they thought was probably the most crucial issue really facing mankind today Of course, as a matter of fact, even atheistic philosophers recognize that the question of God is what might be called “the question.” So I think the students and the University church really did well in choosing the topic for anything that might be regarded as the “debate of the century” because the question of God is basic. If there is no God, there are certain implications that follow, that nothing else really matters. If God does exist, then knowing that and knowing His will is truly THE crucial problem.
RM: I was talking with a student in one of the major universities here in the south not too long ago, and I asked him if he really believed that God does exist.
STUDENT: No, I really don’t. There could be and again there could not be. I really don’t think it makes that much difference.
RM: This young man couldn’t be more in error. IT DOES make a difference. In fact nothing makes more of a difference. I’ll be back in a moment.
ANNOUNCER: This is “Insight,” a program examining current issues that affect our lives and offering practical solutions for your consideration. And now your host, Ray Mooney.
RM: Last week in Part I, Dr. Antony Flew, philosopher from Reading University near London, England, was our guest. This week, Part II. The person who won the debate according to the general consensus of everyone in the audience including believer and non-believer alike, Dr. Thomas Warren. Dr. Warren is a nationally known Christian philosopher. His credentials are impressive. His published works, numerous books and articles are widely read and respected. His academic achievements, including his doctorate from Vanderbilt University, qualify him to speak with authority. But his obvious sincerity and love for what’s true qualify hi to speak with humility seasoned with deep commitment to Christ and His word. He is a believer who knows why he believes and some of his reasons involve areas that most of us don’t get too deeply into. This interview was previously recorded and has been edited for time. Dr. Warren.
TW: I want to say in behalf of Dr. Flew that I certainly regard him as able as any atheistic philosopher in the world. In fact, it seemed to me however that during the course of the debate he made perhaps something of a change from what he called the positive atheist in which he comes out strongly and says, “I know that God does not exist,” to what he most often argued as a negative atheist which really amounts to agnosticism. Even though the proposition which he signed clearly the positive atheist, “I know that God does not exist!” And that was the proposition which he had the obligation to defend.
RM: Dr. Flew was on our program last week. I don’t think I’ve met very many people, if any, who are more polite, more generous; just an extraordinary person from a personable standpoint. I’m very impressed with the man from that standpoint.
TW: Yes. There’s no doubt about that. Of course, it’s often the case that an atheist will live above his moral code. When you have the true implications of atheism in sight you have to recognize that morality amounts simply to human taste. As he admitted during the debate that before the first human being, there was simply no value anywhere in the whole universe. So therefore moral code could be nothing but a function of the human mind. And if an atheist lives simply according to his moral code, he would be going around doing almost anything, but of course Dr. Flew isn’t that kind of person. He lives very much above the code that would be implied by his basic position. And I’m sorry to say on the other hand many of us who are Christians live below the moral code we have espoused. It ought not to be that way; of course, none of us could live perfectly but we should live a life of walking the light as 1 John 1:7 teaches and as Philippians 1:27 teaches that we should so let our lives be worthy of the Gospel, that is of the principles which it sets forth. In a way it’s not too surprising to see a man who is an atheist or an agnostic to live above the implications of his moral code. Many times that’s due to the fact that perhaps childhood training, as you know Dr. Flew had a father who was a Methodist minister so he had a great deal of religious training, and many factors can enter into that kind of person. But you’re certainly right. I thought too, the debate was conducted so far as references to one another, even though we both pressed our points as strongly as we could, I suppose, there was certainly no effort to try to say anything disparaging against the other person. I’m so thankful for that, because I believe that one of the things that was most often done in the New Testament church was this kind of thing. In other words you read through the Book of Acts and you study the Greek words that are used to describe how the early disciples tried to communicate the message, you will find more instances of record where they were doing this kind of thing than where they were standing behind a pulpit in a formal situation as we are on Sunday morning.
RM: Do you know of many philosophers who would sign such a proposition as Dr. Flew did? “ I know there is no God.” And wouldn’t most of them take the agnostic view?
TW: Well, there are of course, a number of atheistic philosophers in the world. I think this has just been the first instance of where we can be thankful, I think, to the University church here and the two campus ministries both at North Texas State University and at Texas Women’s University, both of which are located here in Denton, and to the two young men who serve in that capacity, Gary Ealy and Rex Dean, who do such a fine work in that. They have simply said, “Will you defend this proposition? You are an atheist and we’re asking you to defend the really forthright atheistic position.” I really wouldn’t know what to say about how many men would be willing to do that. I know there are a number of men whom I regard as very great scholars, by that I mean learned men. I think they’re wrong, quite obviously in holding to the atheistic position, but really I would be quite anxious to know if they would be willing to do that. And there’s been quite a bit of talk this week about perhaps extending invitations to other such learned men.
RM: You signed the proposition stating, “I know God does exist” Dr. Warren, how do you know this and in what sense are you using the word “know?”
TW: You can know something in the sense of simply a direct observation. For instance, I know that you and I are sitting here. Some philosophers would call in question that I could know you are over there or even that I’m here. For instance, David Hume a philosopher to whom Professor Flew referred to a couple of times would say that we really couldn’t know that but that as a matter we all believe it which was an admission that he had a philosophy that he couldn’t live by. Now I would say that that’s really absurd and in effect Hume as admitting that it was absurd when he said, “That nature forces us” You see on the one hand he said, “That you can’t really believe in causality.” And then on the other hand he says, “While we can’t know it, nature forces us to believe it.” This involves actual causality. I can also know for instance that the law of excluded middle is true. That every precisely stated proposition is true or false. I can know the law of contradiction is true. That no proposition can be both true and false.
RM: Go over that a little more slowly because you may be getting over our heads, in fact I think you are mine!
TW: What I’m trying to show you is there are things you can know simply by exercising your intellectual power to recognize the self-evident. It isn’t something that you can prove but you come to understand, as Bertrand Russell well explained, even though he was an agnostic, he was an extremely capable logician, mathematician and philosopher. I’m not in agreement with an agnostic position. But he indicated that you can’t even get off in the enterprise of human thought without recognizing what we call the laws of thought. Now pre-requisite to that is the law of rationality and name that we ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence. Now to the law of identity, the law of excluded middle and the law of contradiction. The law of excluded middle says that for things that is, that every object either has a certain property or it doesn’t. For instance now, I hold my watch here in front of you. I say, here is an object, it’s an object that you can experience, you can see it, you will have a visual perception, or if I banged on it like that, you could have an auditory perception. Now I would say this object is either a watch or it is not a watch. Or I could as well say, this object is either a dog or it isn’t a dog. And both of those statements are true. While in the first case when I said it is either a watch or it isn’t a watch, it’s true to say it is a watch because that’s actually what it is But when I say this object is either a dog or it isn’t a dog, then it’s the latter part of that disjunctive that’s true. It is not a dog but you see the compound is true! Now when you come to the law of contradiction that no proposition can be both true and false in respect to the same reference, I can’t learn that law by any empirical observation or by deduction as it were. I know it by a recognition of the self-evident. Now you see I’ve shown you two ways of coming to knowledge but I can also come to knowledge by deduction. For instance, let us suppose, as a young man came up to me the other night in the coliseum and asked me if I was really saying that I know God exists without being able to observe Him. You see what he was doing was equating knowledge with empirical experience. I either have to see Him or smell Him or taste Him or hear Him or touch Him. But I used this illustration with him. I said, now suppose we had a line going from under the seats over there under the coliseum back out here to a certain. And then going from a right angle at that point we back over to another point that goes under the seats. Now I’m able to measure, saying it goes only a foot under the seat, I’m able to measure from there to that point out in the coliseum, where the right angle is, and I can measure over to the other line. Now by the Pythagoras Theorem in trigonometry, I know that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the square of the two legs. In other words, if I could measure one of the legs as being let’s say two feet long or four feet long and the other three feet long; when I square the four I get sixteen and when I square the tree I get nine, and I add the two together and I get twenty-five. Then that lets me know the distance under the seats that I could not actually measure, there’s the square roof of twenty-five which is five now I can know that that hypotenuse is five which I did not measure, just as surely as I knew the two legs were three and four which I did measure. So now I’m saying I know that I am an individual. I’m an empirical fact. And as I argued in the discussion, there are certain things about me, and you could say the same thing about yourself, any other person could. I’m not unique in that, I didn’t intend to say that at all. But for instance there are certain things about me, there are certain things about you that I can know that simply make clear that it’s impossible that I evolved by chance from some non-human form of life. And as a matter of fact, Dr. Flew, plainly admitted that in two questions. So since we have the only two alternatives for the ultimate origin of human beings that being either by creation that is by a miraculous creative act by a supreme being, or by evolution. If I then show that evolution is false it logically follows that the only alternative is true. It’s what we call strong disjunction in logic. So if creation is established; if it’s established that evolution is false, it’s then established that creation is true. And if creation is true, then God must exist. Now you see I reasoned in the same fashion about that as I have about the hypotenuse of this triangle which was under the stands which I couldn’t measure. So I have just as strong knowledge, just as sure, just as certain of the existence of God as I do of the fact that I have a contingent situation within me, namely my respiratory system without which I cannot live. And since evolutionists admit that such a complexity would require by mutation of changes, not only thousands but perhaps millions of years to produce it’s just obvious to anybody that will think, that man is not here by evolution. That why we find in the Bible for instance in Romans 1, Paul said, “The everlasting power and divinity of God are made known”—notice that word, the very word you’re asking about made known—“by the things that are seen.” And we find in Psalms 139, the psalmist said, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And that led him to an exclamation of the wonders and glory of God! See, just by examining himself. So I say, yes we know that God exists!
Even though I’ve used somewhat technical terms and saying such as the law of excluded middle, or law of contradiction, those are really things that everybody recognizes. You can stand on the street corner and talk to man who is a street sweeper and he knows that if you say, “John is in the house and John is out of the house, and both of these statements are true,” he knows that’s not so. He may never have heard of the law of contradiction but he knows that’s the case, and he knows you can’t reason correctly without using it. And if you found a fellow who insisted that both of those statements were true and went around doing that all of the tie he’d say that the man needed to be in an asylum or somewhere. So you see that I’m saying isn’t something that’s required for you to have a high academic degree. It’s just something that everyone of us has to recognize even if we don’t articulate it in technical terms.
RM: Just good common sense!
TW: Yes That’s right and that’s why when you stop to think about it Ray, you know that God had to reveal Himself so not only the scholars could find evidence but so everybody could. In fact Paul reasons in Romans chapter 1 that that evidence is so available to everybody that not a single person has an excuse for not knowing that God exists. In fact he uses that very expression, “That they may be without excuse.”
RM: You know time is so much a factor, I wish it weren’t. But I’d like briefly to mention a point and it’s one of the strongest arguments that can be made by the disbeliever, is his saying that there are many contradictions between the goodness of God, His love and His mercy, and also permitting evil to exist. I don’t recall who said it but the person said, “If I believe in God and I don’t think I do, but if I do and I get to the day of judgment, one thing I’m going to do is shove a cancerous bone in His face and ask Him to explain it.” It’s rather irreverent but many people believe like that. How do we explain it?
TW: Well, I regard that as actually a blasphemous statement. I would say that the basic idea comes, where you have to start to try to make an argument, and as I pointed out in the debate, Dr. Flew did not actually formulate an argument on the problem of evil. He only sort of hinted at it. He came up and said, “Well, here’s eternal punishment and there are bad things that happen in the world.” And you will recall that I challenged him to really come forth and make the argument on evil that has been formulated by such philosophers as J. L. Mackie from Australia. Now as you may know, I have written a book in reply to that, the entire book is on the problem of evil, Have Atheists Proved There is No God? and I think it takes care of everything that’s involved in their particular challenge. But the basic point I wanted to get to is, when a person says, “Ah, but there’s suffering in the world, therefore there’s no God.” I recall one man, Professor McTaggert who said, “If there’s even as much suffering as my shoe pinching my toe, this proves to me that God doesn’t exist.” Now this is based upon the premise or the presupposition that the world was intended by God, that if God exists He’s infinite and He created the world, then that world had to be a hedonistic paradise. In other words, it had to be made for man to be perfectly happy all the while. But that isn’t the purpose of the world, and the Bible makes that clear. It’s what might be termed, and I borrowed this phrase from a professor in England with whom I do not agree theologically but I think he coined a good phrase to call the world, “a veil of soul making.” And the world is as good as any world could be for the purpose. The world is perfect for the purpose for which God made it but not if you try and judge the world by a purpose that God did not intend for it, of course, you’re going to get into problems of that kind. But God made the world, He made free men and He put us here, and He gave us evidences of Himself, and He gave us His Word, the Scriptures and we are free to obey. It’s now up to us to examine that evidence and to make our decision about it. And for a man to conclude that because it isn’t a hedonist paradise, it isn’t a paradise where everybody is always happy, nobody is ever sick, nobody ever stubs his toe, nobody every dies, is to try and say that God has created Heaven here in which case there would be no probationary period and everybody would be saved. But this world is a place for men to decide how they will react to God. Whether they will believe in Him, whether they will love Him, whether they will obey Him. Now God is not going to force anyone to go to Heaven to be with Him. He wants everyone to be there but each one of us is free to make up his own mind. And so my explanation is that alleged contradiction involved saying that God is omnipotent and that He is all good and all powerful and that evil exists imply is not contradictory. But Professor Mackie has done about the best job for setting this force, and admits that’s true. He says you have to bring in some quasi-logical rules to help it out. But he also admits that you can explain all of the basic propositions that are involved in Christianity then you’ve overthrown his case. And in my book I take up every item involved in it and show that it can be explained in harmony with the absolute love of God, the infinite power of God, the infinite knowledge of God, the infinite presence of God and so forth. There is NO contradiction between God and anything that happens in the world, and the problem of evil is simply fallen.
RM: A short comment, Dr. Warren, to close on. What do you fell, in assessing the entire debate, was the strongest point made? I’m not talking specifically about argument. What was the greatest thing done, I guess is what I’m asking?
TW: I think that was demonstrated here is that atheism simply cannot stand. It’s not the fault of the man, because I don’t believe they can find a more able man to take on the task of proving the proposition that I know that God does not exist. Now when you starting doing that you in effect are setting out to prove a universal negative. It’s something like when a man says, “Two men are on a ship and are ship-wrecked and land on a shore. And here’s an island that’s two hundred miles long and a hundred miles wide. One says, there’s not a mouse on this island and there never has been.” The other one says, “Yes there has been at least one mouse.” And so what’s the task of the first one? He not only has to see that whole island and suppose it’s covered with a jungle he not only has to see it all at once but he must see under every tree, under every leaf, every limb, in every hole on the island. Now only at that time but he must know all past time. While the other one has only to see one mouse track. If he’s expert enough to see a mouse track when he sees it! Or even one hair of a mouse, then he has proof that a mouse was there. You see there’s a great deal of difference in signing a proposition, I know that God does exist because I have only to find one evidence. And I find that in myself and every other person can. But when a man says, I know that God doesn’t exist, he’s taking on a universal negative. Now the fact that we find Dr. Flew not actually formulating a single, precisely stated proposition or argument in favor of that, to me was as significant as anything could be.
The above interview aired following the Warren-Flew Debate conducted September 20-23, 1976.