Should we concede anything to our opponents?

Series on Does God Exist? Dr. Greg Bahnsen versus Dr. Gordon Stein

Debate Transcript

Should we argue for “general theism”?

Should our case be “subjective or personal”?

Should we concede anything to our opponents?

Bahnsen’s last introductory remark prior to his main argument for the existence of God involves a concession to Stein’s “area of expertise.” As insignificant as this concession seemingly is it serves as a refutation of the oft-repeated-but-never-cited claim that presuppositional apologists contend that unbelievers cannot know anything. The truth is that if unbelievers were epistemologically consistent they could not know anything, but unbelievers are never epistemologically consistent (I suspect I may now need to be checking my email more often this week). Pointing out this inconsistency in the non-Christian’s worldview is a substantial part of the presuppositional method of apologetics.

Since unbelievers are creatures of God living in His world they are by the grace of God (in this instance) able to compose doctoral dissertations pertaining to “The Control of Ovarian Maturation in Japaense Whales.” Those of us who engage in debate should be encouraged by Bahnsen’s having researched his opponent’s work so much that he knew at least the topic of his opponent’s doctoral dissertation, the year (1974) it was finished, and the school (Ohio State) from which it originated. It is not unlikely that Bahnsen actually read said dissertation if it was available for him to read. The laughter from the audience can be heard after Bahnsen makes this announcement, but it only serves to further establish Bahnsen’s point that Stein is indeed an expert in a “narrow domain of specialized natural science.” Unbelievers can be extremely intelligent people. Bahnsen states, “Dr. Stein is a man of intelligence, and that’s not a question in this debate.” They utilize science, morality, logic, etc. and often do so better than do Christians. The apologist should not deny this but affirm it and provide the theological and philosophical reasons as to why this is the case as a part of his or her apologetic.

It is noteworthy that Bahnsen qualifies his statement so that he would not pretend to hold his own against Stein in a discussion pertaining to the empirical details of the “narrow domain of specialized natural science” that Stein obviously knows quite well. The empirical details of such a subject are different from other more general principles of science which Bahnsen could and in fact does bring into the debate with Stein. No matter the detail one is able to achieve in his or her field one must ultimately come to answer the very same questions that everyone else must answer and these must in the nature of the case always be answered Christian theistically if they are to be answered at all. Bahnsen uses induction and the uniformity of nature to illustrate this point during the course of the debate. As will be seen later on in the debate; Stein exhibits little if any familiarity with or critical thought regarding these significant assumptions that are of fundamental importance to any and all of his work in his area of expertise.

Unfortunately for him Stein later retorts that he, “will grant Dr. Bahnsen his expertise on A Conditional Resolution of the Apparent Paradox of Self-Deception, which was his dissertation.” He continues, “I don’t know how much more relevant that is to our discussion tonight than mine is, probably not any more.” The implication of Stein’s words is that he does not believe his own dissertation to be relevant – or at any rate not very relevant – to the debate. Of course, Bahnsen never stated or implied that the dissertation is not relevant to the debate, but rather established that it actually is relevant to the debate (at least in Bahnsen’s judgment) insofar as he brought it up. Stein states that he is unaware of how relevant Bahnsen’s dissertation is to the debate in comparison to his own, but before doing so grants “Dr. Bahnsen his expertise on [it].” Thus if Bahnsen’s dissertation actually is relevant to the debate Stein does not know that it is and nevertheless grants Bahnsen his expertise on the subject with the result that Stein has conceded to Bahnsen and precluded his responding to Bahnsen on the topic in the future. This is an unwise move on Stein’s part, and Bahnsen will later capitalize on the mistake.