This is a very old post that someone commented on just recently, so I thought I would update it.
I have decided to work through the dialogue in the Drange-Wilson debate to see what sense can be made of it. It was my contention that Wilson drops the ball, and I was hoping that some of you supporters of presuppositonalism can pick the ball up for him.
I am following the thread through Wilson's opening statement, going to Drange's first rebuttal and on into Wilson's second rebuttal, Drange's third rebuttal, and the final statement by Wilson.
The opening statement presented a version of the argument from reason, and I have few if any complaints about that. I would, however, not argue that any argument from reason establishes the Christian God as opposed to, say, an Islamic conception of God. So Drange's use of the Other Gods objection would not be a concern for me.
But Drange argues that one can be neutral with respect to world-view and try to explain the existence of reason while remaining agnostic on whether or not there is a God. Of course to do that you'd have to explain reason naturalistically, as if it had emerged from an atheistic universe. And insofar as such universes do not allow reason as basic explanations, this would be something I would find objectionable. On the other hand there are non-theistic world-views which are mentalistic at bottom (Absolute Idealism would be one of those) and I don't think AFR refutes AI, though I might argue against it in other ways.
He then mentions nonmaterialist atheism. I would admit that perhaps absolute idealism would be a version of nonmaterialistic atheism, and again I would admit that AFR does not attack that. But what he seems to be proposing here is a view in which there are propositions in existence as well as material things, and here I would just point out that if one's world-view is basically materialism plus propositions, then how there timeless entities can be relevant to the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event is going to be severely problematic. In other words Drange is going to be hard put to show that the fact that A entails B, which is something that does not occur at a particular place or time, can possibly affect S's being in brain state B, which does occur at a particular place and time.
Drange also claims that there are materialists who attempt to show how reason can emerge from matter. It is not just like the shaking of a Pepsi can, but it involves a long evolutionary process. I of course, will argue once again that such scientific accounts will be hard put to show how an eternally existing logical relation can be causally relevant to a space-and-time bound brain state. You can refer to some of my anti-Carrier responses on this blog from last summer to see how I am likely to go about arguing that.
Drange thinks that since Wilson is trying to prove the existence of God he has to establish each step beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't think this is required, though to get the kind of certainty the TAGger wants, perhaps he must assume that kind of burden of proof.
And then Drange offers the Inadequacy Objection, which I spent an entire chapter dealing with in my book.
Now this was a fair batch of arguments by Drange, and it was time for Wilson to step up to the plate and answer them, perhaps the way that I have sketched out my response here.
Instead, we get complaints from Wilson about the way Drange formulates his argument. He complains that there instead of there being only two frameworks in which to consider the emergence of rational thought there is only one-Christianity. But that is to state the conclusion of the debate. The debate must first begin with two opposing viewpoints. One could just as easily say that in agreeing to the debate Wilson lost it, because he had to allow the legitimacy of the atheist viewpoint in order to get the debate going, when in fact his own position denies the very possiblity of an atheist viewpoint.
And here also the dreaded "Circularity? No problem!" response comes up.
Another problem can be seen in Dr. Drange's formulation of the TAG. As he states it, "As shown by ART, the fact that rational thought exists entails the conclusion that the Christian God must exist." Again, he has assembled the key elements, but he is not holding the thing right side up. The fact that rational thought exists does not entail the conclusion that God exists. It presupposes God's existence. The argument is not "rational thought, and therefore God." The argument is "God, and therefore rational thought." God is never the conclusion; He is the only necessary premise of any argument. This is why many people accuse those who present the transcendental argument of committing the fallacy of petitio principii, that of begging the question. How can one debate the existence of God by assuming or presupposing that God exists? Are you not assuming you are supposed to prove? Exactly so.
But this is not a problem because all ultimate questions involve circularity, and we might as well get used to it. The virtue of the Christian transcendental argument is that this feature which is necessary to all creaturely thought is simply embraced and understood, and the right ultimate question is properly identified. But the process of necessary circularity can be still seen when anything is falsely elevated to the level of ultimacy. To the fellow who says, "You can't tell me that God exists just because He does. By contrast, I base all my thoughts on reason." I would reply, "Oh? What is your reason for doing so?" He may not like transcendental circularity, but he is stuck with it too. How can an embrace of reason be justified through an appeal to reason? That is no different (at least as far as circularity is concerned) than the fellow who says that God must exist because otherwise He could not have written John 3:16.
Now on the face of things I would have to say someone who really believed this should not be agreeing to a debate. What it looks like is that Wilson wants to shape the argument to meet the demands of presuppositionalist theory, but what he actually does is effectively destroy the debate. If Van Til's position is more complex on the question of epistemic circularity, we need some development of that position. It is interesting that the disciple of Bahnsen doesn't employ a more sophisticated conception of epistemic circularity, if indeed the Van Tillian position has one.
Here you get a mere assertion that reason cannot arise from matter, with no explanation as to why. He does say that there is a difference between describing thought in materialist terms and explaining it in materialist terms, and this is a valid point worth developing, but without further development it's just an assertion. For example, he says:
In his science objection, he rallies to a quasi-defense of the atheistic materialism he does not hold. He concludes by saying that science "has come a long way towards explaining rational thought in materialist terms." But here, Dr. Drange has actually confused an explanation of rational thought with a description of rational thought. Materialist scientists observe and describe various phenomena, and then give it a scientific name to conceal their helplessness. When it comes to explaining immaterial phenomena, such as reason, scientists as scientists have absolutely nothing to say.
But surely we should expect a statement like that to be backed up. Neuroscientists are able to explain a lot of things. So I wouldn't make this kind of statement about science, even though I don't, for example, see them on their way to unlocking the key to intentionality.
So the arguments remain underdeveloped. If you are really going to argue against the atheist, then argue against him. If you don't have to argue against him, don't agree to a debate.