Saturday, July 1, 2017

Three key points to make when debating the existence of God

Three key points to make when debating the existence of God.

1. Defining God

First, in asking: Does God exist? It would be good to get some clarity about which God we are talking about.

I shall assume we are talking about a God that is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good:

Prof William Lane Craig defines God as a 'maximally great being' - which he says requires that God be morally perfect.

Prof Richard Swinburne similarly characterises God as 'a person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good'.

It suffices to establish atheism, then (given these guys' characterisations/definitions of theism), that I show beyond reasonable doubt that there's no being that is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good.

If God is not good, then there is, obviously, no problem of evil. Yet almost all monotheists treat the problem of evil as a significant problem. So it's clear most monotheists require that God be good.

They are not positing a morally neutral god, say. Indeed they would be very much opposed to characterising their God in such terms.

Suppose at the end of the debate it's suggested that I have not shown God does not exist because I have not refuted every variety of god hypothesis - I haven't ruled out Zeus, or Odin, or the Manachean gods. Nor have I ruled out an all-powerful but morally indifferent God, or a morally perfect but less than omnipotent God.

In response to that, I'll point out: for pretty much everyone in the room, the existence of these other gods is simply not issue. Those in this room who who say they believe in God and indeed worship God do not believe in the existence of an omnipotent but morally indifferent being. They, like me, are atheists when it comes to a God like that.

So let's keep the focus on their God. If I can succeed in establishing beyond reasonable doubt that their God - an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good god; a god actually worthy of our worship - does not exist, I'll rightly consider that a win.

2. Beware the dodgy 'cumulative case'

Secondly, I want to make a simple logical point sometimes overlooked in these debates. Often, those arguing for the existence of God offer a number of arguments. For example, they may offer first a cosmological argument for there being a first cause and necessary being, second a teleological argument for there being a designing intelligence, third an argument for this being being a person, fourth an argument for this being being morally perfect, and so on.

But now notice that all but one of these arguments could be sound and yet still the case for their God might more or less entirely collapse. Let's suppose they do have a sound cosmological argument for a first cause, a necessary being. Let's suppose they do have a good argument for there being a designing intelligence.

Still, it will suffice to refute their case for their God if I can show that they have no good case for supposing that this necessary being, designing intelligence, and so on, is also perfectly good. For if I can show that, then there still remain all sorts of gods on the table of which theirs is just one candidate. They've given us no reason yet to prefer their candidate over any of these various other candidate gods, such as morally indifferent God, say, or an evil God. But then their case fails.

3. 'But still, we are now pretty close to showing God exists'

Finally, if I can establish beyond reasonable doubt that whether or not there's an omnipotent, omniscient being, a designing intelligence, and so on, there's ample evidence to establish this being is not perfectly good - and thus ample evidence this being is not your God - the God you worship - it won't do to say,

'But look - at least we have established there is a necessary being, a first cause, a cosmic person, and a designing intelligence. So you have to admit we are nearly there when it comes to establishing the existence of our God. Indeed, our cosmological and fine-tuning and other arguments for God can be set against your argument against the existence of our God, leaving us, as it were, all square. While you have, we admit, a good argument against the existence of our God, we have several good arguments for! So you see, the arguments cancel out. This debate has ended in a draw!'

The truth is you will have got nowhere near establishing the existence of your God. 

The situation is akin to claiming that because the police have shown that the murderer lives in this village, so they're close to showing that Bert, who lives in the village, is guilty. Actually, they're clearly nowhere near showing that.

And if there's good evidence Bert didn't do it (he's got a good alibi, let's suppose) - well then the police case against him is utterly demolished!

The theist's claim that they're at least near to showing God exists above is equally ludicrous, and only fails to seem so in their eyes because they mentally airbrush out all the other candidates (like a policeman mentally airbrushing out everyone else in the village but Bert in order to convince himself the case for/against Bert's guilt is balanced).


Ron Cram said...

As a theist, when I define God to a skeptic, I prefer to use concepts from "Minimal Theism" rather than "Classical Theism." I don't need to prove that God is good or maximally great. Rather, God is the personal agent responsible for the Big Bang or ultimate beginning of the universe. If the universe/multiverse has an ultimate beginning (and cosmology - including BGV theorem - clearly indicates this is highly likely), then it must have a Beginner - a immaterial, personal agent who is responsible for the creation event. Then the next question is: Which God is responsible for Creation? And that's where the spiritual journey truly begins.

Benn Grant said...

If the universe requires something to create it, so does a god. If a god does not require something to have created *it*, neither does the universe. You cannot have a requirement for the universe that you don't also have to levy against any god conjecture - *if* you are being intellectually honest.

Bruce Martin said...

Arrant nonsense. God as personal agent simply leads to infinite regress; who created this personal agent responsible for the Big Bang? Also, several modern physics theories postulate creation ex nihilo.

Tim said...

Ron, how do you know this? How can you actually verify or test your assertion?

Eugthehuge said...

Your god then is just a label, a random name, void of meaning, you chose for the unknown forces respnsible for the origin of our universe.

Nathan Carroll said...

I wouldn't agree with that assertion. This is highlighting the difference between a naturalistic view, where one says that everything in the universe just is, and a theists view, where something exists outside what is observed. God would, bu his very existence and dare I say greatness, is not subject to natural laws any more than I am subjected to the laws of something I create.