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God exists.

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Miles_DonahueMiles_Donahue (PRO)

Thank you, Mharman, for agreeing to debate with me. In the present context, I define “God” as the personal, morally perfect Creator of the universe, consistent with the broad strokes of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This definition is rooted both in common sense and modesty. I do not accept a burden of proving God with all his superlative attributes (omnipotence, omniscience, etc.). The "God hypothesis" explains at least three features of the universe that would otherwise be inexplicable. All things being equal, then, we ought to believe in God.

1. The evidence of consciousness – The astounding fact about us is not what we are; it is that we are aware of what we are. My claim is that consciousness ultimately stems from an immaterial mind or soul. People are not identical to bodies – we are souls with bodies. The connection to theism is straightforward.

  1. If God does not exist, we do not have souls.
  2. We have souls.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Premise (1) is clear enough. On the one hand, if a Mind exists who stands behind the universe, it is not at all improbable that he would choose to create other, finite minds. God, after all, may have all sorts of reasons for creating conscious people: so that they might come to know and relate to him, to allow the splendor of his created universe to be enjoyed by others, and so on. So, I think that the existence of minds is very probable on theism.

On the other hand, if God does not exist, minds become drastically improbable. The atheist faces the emergence problem, namely, there is no clear way for an immaterial mind to emerge from the physical universe. Imagine a completely material arena: atoms, molecules, waves, and energy combining, dissolving, and recombining. Then, somewhere along the timeline, an immaterial soul springs into being, out of nothing and for presumably no reason. Theism is a powerful explanation principally because it postulates that mind arises from an explanatorily ultimate mind – God. In philosopher Timothy McGrew’s words, on theism “conciousness…[is] built into reality at the ground floor” [1], while atheism has no similar explanatory resources. Souls are like ghosts that haunt an atheistic universe; nothing within a naturalistic framework leads us to expect their existence. For this reason, most atheists are materialists (the view that there is no immaterial aspect to the human person).

Premise (2), however, entails substance dualism, the view that humans are body-soul composites. I recognize that materialism is the dominant view in philosophy today, but I also recognize that philosopher Alvin Plantinga has formulated a powerful argument for dualism based upon our capacity to think. [2] Plantinga asks us to imagine a quark floating around in space. Can this quark think? No. Now imagine two quarks. Can they reflect on the world? No. How about three? Still no. We can continually add to our collection, even to the point of a fully functioning brain, and we will never arrive at an ensemble of quarks that can think. Thought is not the kind of thing that can derive from more basic structures and functions. It is in some sense a fundamental and basic capacity. When we come to physical things, however, they do things by way of the interaction of their parts - their capacities are derivative - and so physical things could never generate thought and reflection.

The upshot is that we clearly can think and reflect on the universe, and therefore we cannot be physical things. Premise (2) is vindicated, and along with it, theism receives strong confirmation.

2. The evidence of cosmic beginnings – Perhaps the most convincing, or at least dramatic, evidence for God stems from contemporary cosmology. Many readers will recognize the influence of philosopher William Lane Craig here, but while he presents a deductive formulation of the argument, I prefer to run it inductively. There are two steps: (i) demonstrating that the universe began to exist, and (ii) demonstrating that God’s existence is the best explanation of that fact.

With respect to (i), Big Bang cosmology has, for almost one-hundred years, implied the beginning of the universe, but even new models of the universe imply a beginning. For example, the Hartle-Hawking model, the brain-child of Stephen Hawking, implies a beginning to the universe out of a prior, imaginary time. Hawking's achievement was not an eternal universe but rather a model where physics extends all the way back to t = 0, in contrast to the Big Bang theory where physics breaks down at the first instant of time. Or again, eternal inflation scenarios do not avoid a cosmic beginning thanks to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, a theorem that proves that any model that features that universe as expanding throughout its history must feature a beginning. [3] The Carroll-Chen model, when interpreted in a philosophically consistent way, implies that two universes begin to exist and branch off at t = 0. So, it is both the positive evidence on behalf of the Big Bang theory, and the failure of alternative models, that points to a beginning of space and time.

Having established a cosmic beginning, we turn to (ii). Sometimes people muse that the universe is self-caused, but that option won’t work because self-causation is incoherent. One might claim that the universe has no cause whatsoever, but this option is implausible because something cannot come from nothing. If the universe came from nothing, then there wasn’t a cause in place that had the potential to create a universe. The universe would therefore come into being without even the prior potential of its existence, an achievement nearing contradiction. Another option is that the universe had a prior, natural cause (albeit immaterial): perhaps abstract objects (numbers, concepts, etc.) or mathematical points helped spawn the Big Bang? The issue is that the definition of abstract is a lack of causal powers, so clearly, abstract objects create a universe. When it comes to the hypothesis of an immaterial, personal Mind, we have a powerful explanation for the origin of the universe, and I can’t think of any overriding difficulties that would make it less plausible than its competitors.

3. The evidence of the laws of physics - Robin Collins presents the most persuasive version of the fine-tuning argument. [4] Throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries, physicists have continued to discover that the laws of physics contain certain constants whose values must fall into a mind-bendingly narrow range in order for the universe to permit the evolution of life. For example, if the cosmological constant (that feature of physics that determines that way the universe expands) differed by one part in 1053, life would not be possible. [5] Or again, physicist Roger Penrose has written that if the entropy of the early universe differed by one part in 10123, no life. [6]

Much like the previous argument, we must now assess why life does manage to exist when probably, it should not. The first proposal is chance: we got lucky. This alternative should persuade no one because the odds of a life-permitting universe are just too low for chance to be viable. If we accept chance as sufficient in the case of fine-tuning, then a defense lawyer could, with full justification, stand up and defend his accused client by arguing that the firing of the gun, the resultant DNA, and the video evidence that recorded the murder were all extraordinary chance events, fluctuations in the quantum vacuum, because the odds of that are better than the odds of a life-permitting universe.

The second option is that a life-prohibiting universe is physically impossible, so that the range of life-permitting values just is the whole range of possible values. However, the values of the constants aren't determined by the laws of nature, and there is no deeper theory on the table that would predict their values. On current physics, life-prohibiting values are possible. The die-hard atheist can have faith in an unborn theory, but the rest of us may not be so inclined. So it seems that we are left with the only other conceivable option: design.

Bringing it all together

We have the existence of souls, the beginning of the universe, and the fine-tuning of the laws of physics. Considered cumulatively, the hypothesis of a personal Creator is the best explanation: the evidence of consciousness gives us a Supreme Mind that has at least some investment in humanity, and the evidence of cosmology adds that this Mind is unimaginably powerful, having created all of space and time, and extremely intelligent, creating a universe where life is possible. Even if an atheistic hypothesis could explain one line of evidence, it cannot explain all of them. It is the scope, power, and simplicity of the God hypothesis that commends it to us. 

God, I submit, exists.


[1] McGrew, Timothy. See Is Faith in God Reasonable?. ed. Corey Miller and Paul Gould. 104.

[2] Plantinga, Alvin. "Against Materialism." Faith and Philosophy 23.1 (2006): 3-32. 

[3]A. Borde, A. Guth, A. Vilenkin, “Inflationary Spacetimes Are Incomplete in Past Directions,”http://arxiv.org...

[4] Collins, Robin. See The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. ed. William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. 202-281.

[5] Ibid, 216.

[6] Penrose, Roger.The Emperor's New Mind: 


Return To Top | Posted:
2017-07-28 13:57:11
| Speak Round
MharmanMharman (CON)
I misclicked on this debate. I guess that means I will be forced to play Devil's advocate. However, I do not have the time, and must waive this round.
Return To Top | Posted:
2017-07-31 02:16:41
| Speak Round

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