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God exists.

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Miles_DonahueMiles_Donahue (PRO)

Thank you, Rationality-Rules, for debating with me.

My contention is that there is enough evidence to conclude that a personal Creator of the universe exists. I take this to represent the core concept of God in the world’s theistic religions. Of course, proving a Creator leaves out many divine attributes like omniscience, omnipotence, love for humanity, and so on, and I accept that limitation. But I think commonsense needs to prevail here. Any being that brought the universe into being, designed it for life, created conscious people, etc., can rightly be called God, despite our ignorance of this being’s other qualities.

The best way to approach evidence for the divine is, I think, by inference to the best explanation, a form of reasoning that has two steps: establishing a collection of related data in need of explanation, and then discerning which hypothesis provides the best explanation of that data. Accordingly, the structure of my argument is two-fold: (i) exploring various pieces of data, from contemporary cosmology to our experience of consciousness, that demand an explanation, and (ii) establishing that God is the best explanation of the evidence surveyed in (i). We can infer inductively that God exists. So, then, what is the evidence for theism?

I. The Data

1. The evidence of consciousness – The interesting 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. From there, the connection to theism is straightforward.

Consider first the existence of the soul. The dominant view in philosophy today is that we are identical to our bodies and that consciousness is reducible to brain states, a view known as materialism. I contend, however, that materialism is false. We are not identical to bodies – we are souls with bodies. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has formulated a powerful argument for the soul based upon our capacity to think. [1] His argument goes like this:

    1. Physical things cannot think.
    2. I can think.
    3. Therefore, I am not a physical thing.

On behalf of premise (1), 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 arriving at 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 or 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. Moreover, Plantinga points out that thoughts are intrinsically about other things. If I’m mulling over the consequences of not doing my math homework, my thought is about mathematics. Now, it is very difficult to see how a material thing could be about another material thing. It is almost unintelligible to say that a junk of my brain, for example, is about mathematics (or whatever I might be thinking of).

The upshot is premise (2): we clearly can think and reflect on the universe, and therefore we cannot be physical things. We must therefore be immaterial things.

The question then becomes how best to explain how immaterial consciousness came to exist. On the one hand, the God hypothesis makes good sense of souls: if a Mind exists who created 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. He might create people so that they can come to know and relate to him, or perhaps to allow the splendor of his created universe to be enjoyed by others. If we begin with mind, as per theism, mind later down the road is not improbable.

On the other hand, if God does not exist, minds become drastically improbable. The atheist faces the emergence problem: there is no clear way for an immaterial mind to emerge from the physical universe. Imagine a completely material arena of 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 “consciousness…[is] built into reality at the ground floor” [2], while atheism has no similar explanatory resources. Souls are like ghosts that haunt an atheistic universe, and nothing within a naturalistic framework leads us to expect their existence.

The first pillar in our case, then, is the probable existence of a human soul, and on this point alone, atheism cannot account for the evidence.

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 form of the argument, I prefer to run it inductively. Much like the general thread throughout, there are two steps here: (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, the Carroll-Chen model, championed by Physicist Sean Carroll, when interpreted in a philosophically consistent way, implies that two universes begin to exist and branch off at t = 0. Finally, 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 BGV theorem by itself is significant evidence for a cosmic beginning because it applies to the clear majority of viable models of the universe. Those models that do not meet the one condition of average expansion fail on other grounds. For example, take the emergent universe model. Here, the universe is like a cosmic egg lying dormant for infinite past time, only to "emerge" 13.7 billion years ago. Further, the universe's average expansion is zero, so the BGV theorem does not apply. However, Alexander Vilenkin has pointed out a devastating objection to the emergent universe: the universe in its dormant state is subject to quantum fluctuations, and is therefore radically unstable. Given any finite amount of time, the universe in stasis will collapse. A static universe therefore cannot endure for infinite past time. [4] 

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. Indeed, when asked the question, "Did the universe begin to exist?", Aron Wall, postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, writes, "I think that Modern Cosmology gives a fairly clear answer: probably" [5].

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. If a thing x causes itself, then x must exist prior to x. 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 an impersonal cause: perhaps abstract objects (numbers, concepts, etc.) or mathematical points helped spawn the Big Bang? Nope. The category abstract denotes objects with a complete lack of causal powers, so obviously, abstract objects cannot create a universe. When it comes to the hypothesis of a personal Creator, 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 what come to be known as the fine-tuning argument. [6] 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 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. [7] Or again, physicist Roger Penrose has written that if the entropy of the early universe differed by one part in 10123, no life. [8]

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. The problem is that the odds of a life-permitting universe are just too low for chance to be viable. If we accept chance as legitimate in the case of fine-tuning, then we must accept all sorts of absurd conclusions. For example, imagine that a fellow – we’ll call him Michael – has recently murdered a colleague of his after an intense altercation in the office parking lot. His defense lawyer stands up before the jury and argues with total seriousness 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, and therefore Michael is innocent. Now, this is the point: if you accept chance as sufficient to explain fine-tuning, you cannot argue with the defense lawyer, because the odds of that scenario are better than the odds of getting a life-permitting universe by chance.

The second option is that a life-prohibiting universe is physically impossible. The range of life-permitting values are the only values consistent with the laws of nature. However, the laws of nature do not determine the values of the constants, 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.

II. The Best Explanation: God

Standing back, then, we have three pieces of data in need of explanation: 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. It has superior scope, power, and simplicity to any of its rivals. Consider first explanatory scope. The God hypothesis explains all lines of evidence, while an atheistic hypothesis could at most explain one of them. For example, even if we grant that abstract objects created the universe, that does nothing to explain fine-tuning. To explain all of them atheistically, you’d have to conjoin independent hypotheses together. This fact counts in favor of theism. With respect to explanatory power, we have seen how a Supreme Mind makes consciousness expected and probable, 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. In each case, the most powerful explanation is the one with theistic implications. Finally, the God hypothesis is remarkably simple: one Creator mind behind the inner consciousness life and the large-scale structure of the cosmos. To undermine my case, Con must either (i) show that God is not the best explanation of the evidence outlined above, or (ii) add other evidence that tips the scales, so to speak, in favor of some atheistic alternative. In the meantime, I submit that God exists.


[1] Plantinga, Alvin. "Against Materialism." Faith and Philosophy 23.1 (2006): 3-32. Philpapers. Web. 06 May 2016.

[2] McGrew, Timothy. See Is Faith in God Reasonable?: Debates in Philosophy, Science, and Rhetoric. ed. Corey Miller and Paul Gould. 104.

[3] A. Borde, A. Guth, A. Vilenkin, “Inflationary Spacetimes Are Incomplete in Past Directions,”http://arxiv.org...; (accessed July 27, 2017).

[4]Vilenkin, Alexander, "Did the Universe Have a Beginning?",http://arxiv.org...

[5] Aron Wall, "Did the Universe Begin? I. Big Bang Cosmology",http://www.wall.org..., accessed Auguest 10, 2017.

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

[7] Ibid, 216.

[8] Penrose, Roger. The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics.343. As cited by Collins above (220).

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-08-10 17:19:13
| Speak Round
Rationality-RulesRationality-Rules (CON)
Thank you, Miles_Donahue, and any viewers and judges present, for this debate. This is actually my first debate on this website, and I hope we can have some good fun.

First and foremost, I would like to make it perfectly clear that I do not, in any way, claim that it is impossible for any god or gods to exist. I simply reject the positive claim that they do, based on a lack of evidence. Evidence, in this case, being attainable, empirical, reliable, testable, detectable, and certain piece of evidence for the existence of any gods, whatever that may be. Thus, "common sense", personal experience testimonies, baseless assertions and assumptions are not, to me, evidence. Pro makes the personal argument that "The best way to approach evidence for the divine is, I think, by inference to the best explanation, a form of reasoning that has two steps: establishing a collection of related data in need of explanation, and then discerning which hypothesis provides the best explanation of that data." However, this is not the kind of evidence that can prove hypothesis; Much less supernatural ones. The so-called "best explanation" is not the best way to explain something as complex as the origin of our universe and ourselves, because it stops you from investigating further and trying to acquire actual scientific data on those matters.
Now, let's break down Pro's arguments for the existence of a creator.

I - The Data
1- The evidence of consciousness

Before I even begin to delve into the actual arguments of this section, I'd like to show Pro that we do have explanations for our consciousness.[1][2] Pro actually does acknowledge that, when he says "The dominant view in philosophy today is that we are identical to our bodies and that consciousness is reducible to brain states, a view known as materialism. I contend, however, that materialism is false." However, at no point does Pro actually demonstrate why materialism is false, instead, using Plantinga's argument to explain our consciousness through souls. This argument, though, is incredibly flawed.
The problem with this argument stands on its first premise.

"1. Physical things cannot think." 

The explanation given for this first premise is that "Thought is not the kind of thing that can derive from more basic structures and functions. It is in some sense a fundamental or 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." This, however, is simply wrong. Life is absolutely not like other physical objects such as rocks or water molecules. 

Life is not a mere collection of quarks, atoms and other particles which learned how to think about its own existence out of the blue. Instead, life is a self-replicating form of matter, and if a life form can replicate itself more successfully than its counterparts, it prevails in its natural environment. That's the whole basis of evolution via natural selection. Over billions of years (not a small amount of time at all), it makes absolute and complete sense that beings who possess more self-awareness about themselves and the world are much more likely to thrive. Our consciousness did not come about randomly through chance; It came from millenia of slightly more self-aware ancestors having better survival rates than their not-so-conscious competitors.
But even if we ignore the scientific evidence for the origin of our consciousness, at what point does, say, a robot's thought process start becoming a consciousness itself, instead of mere digital instructions? A robot is most definitely a physical thing - But artificial intelligence is improving every day, and we might have to consider it an actual consciousness at one point.[3]

This rejection of premise one, therefore, renders premise 2 ("2. I can think.") utterly irrelevant, since our thought processes can be explained and the so-called materialistic approach is yet to be debunked - in fact, it's been nothing but supported by neuroscientific evidence.

Lastly, in this first section, Pro states "The first pillar in our case, then, is the probable existence of a human soul, and on this point alone, atheism cannot account for the evidence." No scientific proof for the existence of the human soul has ever been put forward, and when apparent evidence comes up, it's debunked. I'd like to mention the famous "weight of the soul" experiment, commonly used to support the idea of the soul, but it too has been completely trashed.[4]
And, last of all, the claim that "Atheism cannot account for the evidence" Means nothing. Atheism is simply the rejection of a god or gods. Everything else - souls, ghosts, evolution, abiogenesis, aliens, the universe - is completely independent from atheism.

2 - The evidence of cosmic beginnings

While I initially agree with Pro on the fact that most of our scientific theories point to our universe having a beginning - In the sense that it didn't exist at one point - We can't conclude that with absolute certainty. It's also a possibility that it is, in a way, eternal - a never-ending loop of big bangs and big crunches. Or even, a universe without a "big bang".[5][6][7] I had never, in fact, heard about the emergent universe model, but it again, is a hypothesis.
So, I do agree that it is very likely that the universe did have a beginning - But I do not assert it or agree that it is undoubtedly true.

The fault with this section, though, comes with Pro's second premise, when he states that a creator is the best explanation because "One might claim that the universe has no cause whatsoever, this option is implausible because something cannot come from nothing." 
This is what I like to call a Black Swan Fallacy. It goes like this: "We have never seen a black swan, therefore black swans do not exist." Pro commits this same mistake when claiming that something cannot come from nothing. We have no examples at all of something coming from nothing, yes; But this does not mean that it is entirely impossible. In fact, because of our very poor understanding of what "nothing" is, it's entirely probable that something could come from nothing. It might sound unreasonable or irrational - But so would our current understanding of quantum physics to a 1400s human.

And, furthermore, Pro states that "When it comes to the hypothesis of a personal Creator, (...) I can’t think of any overriding difficulties that would make it less plausible than its competitors." But there are plenty of difficulties with this hypothesis. 
1) Where did this creator come from?
2) If he is eternal, can't the universe also be eternal?
3) If he came about naturally, couldn't the universe also have come about naturally?
4) Why is it a creator, a being, and not an unconscious universe-creating property of the cosmos?
5) Why is it only one creator?

The problem of "Where did God come from" Is always complicated, because it can't be explained. If the universe requires a creator, then so does God - Even more so, since it's a being complex enough to create universes and other minds. If God is just eternal and has no creator, well, that's called special pleading.

3- The evidence of the laws of physics

The fine-tuning argument is one of the most presented arguments for the existence of a god. However, the universe, and even our planet Earth, are not designed to host life at all. 

Life, as we know it, only exists here on Earth - And despite finding thousands of exoplanets that could potentially be compatible for life, we still find that 99.999999999(many more 9s)% of the universe is not a sustainable environment for human life. In fact, the Earth is bombarded by meteors and asteroids, encompassed with natural disasters, and has undergone at least 5 mass extinction events that have nearly rendered it sterile. We have tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, an overwhelming variety of bacteria and viruses that want to kill us... Much of our lands are infertile and the great majority of our water is not drinkable... Our primary source of light and energy gives us cancer! This planet is not fine-tuned for life, or intelligently designed. 

But even though it's not fine-tuned for life, the parameters of life aren't nearly as narrow as we once thought. Take, for example, the Tardigrade - which has been proven to survive:
  • temperatures as low as -200 °C (-328 °F) and as high as 151 °C (304 °F);
  • freezing and/or thawing processes;
  • changes in salinity;
  • lack of oxygen;
  • lack of water;
  • levels of X-ray radiation 1000x the lethal human dose;
  • some noxious chemicals;
  • boiling alcohol;
  • low pressure of a vacuum;
  • high pressure (up to 6x the pressure of the deepest part of the ocean).[8]

The fact is: We just don't know what the limits and requirements of life are. We have adapted to this planet, formed by our universe's very specific set of natural laws and rules. That's where Pro is very much mistaken. It's not just chance. Life survives when it can adapt, and that is just what we've done - we've adapted. We have millions of planets and stars around us, with no sign of intelligent life anywhere else. And that's the key to why the universe is not intelligently designed. Life might just be something unique to our planet, and the whole universe, except us, is completely baron of any life. That is like saying that the Sydney Opera House is intelligently designed for the fungal colony growing on a breadcrumb inside it. Pro ignores the billions of lifeless places in our universe, and states that it's been fine-tuned for life. 
The universe wasn't created for life. Life adapted to it.[9][10]

Once again, by the end of this section, Pro commits a false dichotomy - or a black and white fallacy. Pro assumes that there are only two explanations for the possibility of a life-sustaining universe: Random chance or intelligent, benevolent, purposeful design. This is, again, not true. It could have been a silent, purposeless creator, who created the universe but did not interfere anymore after its beginning. It could have been a mindless universe-creating entity, creating universes at random, and it could have been a conscious being It could also be nothing. But as long as there isn't empirical evidence for any of these theories, the only correct answer is: I don't know.

II. The best explanation: God/ Conclusion

Pro has failed to empirically and scientifically prove the existence of any gods.
Pro asserts that the God hypothesis explains all lines of evidence (which it doesn't - see the problem of evil, the origin of god itself, etc.) and that the atheistic approach to the universe doesn't. However, as stated before, atheism is simply the rejection of the God hypothesis, and not a substitute for it - instead, atheism simply says "We don't know for now, so we must not jump to positive claims while there isn't any evidence". Thus, this statement falls flat.
Pro states that nothing explains fine-tuning, but again, the universe is simply not fine-tuned.
Lastly, Pro states "Con must either (i) show that God is not the best explanation of the evidence outlined above, or (ii) add other evidence that tips the scales, so to speak, in favor of some atheistic alternative."
While I have definitely shown that a god or gods is not the only explanation of the "evidence" presented by Pro, I did add other evidence and reasoning to Pro's arguments. Not only that - I don't need to disprove God to make it untrue. In a similar note, I could ask Pro to show empirically that the Pink Universe-Farting Pixie is not the best explanation for the same evidence provided.

Which brings me to my closing statement.

Even if we ignore all the logical fallacies, assumptions, baseless conclusions and misrepresentations of other positions, Pro's argument would only get us to Deism - the belief that a creator exists. Pro would still have to prove that it is a single creator, that it is benevolent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal, timeless, spaceless, or any other features this creator might have in Pro's eyes.
I conclude, therefore, that we do not know if a god exists.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/06/how-consciousness-evolved/485558/
[2] http://www.pnas.org/content/89/16/7320.full.pdf
[3] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0958/617423b09e79b03f050cd807c0c7e5859b66.pdf
[4] http://www.snopes.com/religion/soulweight.asp
[5] https://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html
[6] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0370269314009381
[7] https://arxiv.org/abs/1411.0753v3
[8] https://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/tardigrade/index.html
[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R97IHcuyWI0
[10] https://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/0604027

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-08-10 20:17:09
| Speak Round
Miles_DonahueMiles_Donahue (PRO)

I. General Issues

My method has been to adduce several lines of evidence that are best explained by the existence of God; via inference to the best explanation, we can conclude that God exists. Con makes a few general remarks that are best addressed here.

His first objection is that inference to the best explanation “is not the kind of evidence that can prove [a] hypothesis; [m]uch less supernatural onesbecause it stops you from investigating further and trying to acquire scientific data.” This concern is based on multiple misunderstandings. First, inference to the best explanation just is how we investigate the world, expand our knowledge base, and so on. If my case for God is on the right track, then we have come to know something genuinely new: a Creator of the universe exists, and that fact opens a whole host of unanswered questions and opportunities for further investigation (e.g., Is this Creator benevolent? Do they care about my existence? Have they revealed themselves more fully in some religion?). I mean really, what other method would Con have us use? Deductive reasoning? My arguments can be re-formulated along deductive lines, so that’s fine by me. Second, science itself operates by means of inference to the best explanation. When two theories compete to explain the same set of data, scientists judge them by their explanatory power, scope, simplicity, predictive power, and so forth. It is inconsistent to chastise me for endorsing inductive reasoning while simultaneously upholding science as the standard of evidence. You can’t have it both ways. In short, I’m on solid ground by basing my case on a relevant, scientific, and objective form of reasoning.

His second objection is that my “argument would only get us to Deism.” I agree! That’s why I wrote in my opening statement that“proving a Creator leaves out many divine attributes like omniscience, omnipotence, love for humanity, and so on.” But this limitation is no problem, because deism is a form of theism - the view that God exists. So, if I prove deism, I prove the resolution. I leave many questions unanswered, yes, but this just is the opportunity for further investigation that Con wants.

II. The Inductive Database

II.I Consciousness– To avoid confusion, we need to keep the two steps of my argument distinct: (1) the soul exists, and (2) God’s existence best explains the origin of the soul.

On behalf of (1), I presented an argument from Alvin Plantinga that, essentially, our capacity for thought demonstrates that we are not physical things. This point is not obvious, so I gave two arguments to support it: (i) physical capacities are generated from underlying mechanisms, and (ii) physical things cannot be about other things in the way that thoughts are. Notice that Con says almost nothing in direct response to these considerations. Instead, we got an argument from evolution for the origin of consciousness, which even if sound, does not show that (i) and (ii) are false.

We read that “life is self-replicating[o]ur consciousness came from millennia of slightly more self-aware ancestors having better survival rates than their not-so-conscious competitors.” The key failure of an argument from evolution for the origin of consciousness is that evolution can at most explain the development of the physical brain states that are correlated with mental states; it cannot explain the mental state itself. Correlation, after all, is not the same thing as identity. For example, when I stub my toe, a particular area of my brain lights up; that fact, however, does nothing to suggest that my toe is identical to an area of my brain. Indeed, I have given an argument to think that mental states (i.e., thought) cannot be identical to brain states. The only way Con’s argument from evolution can go through is if we already assume that mental states are identical to the brain states that evolution manipulates; one must just assume that my argument is unsound. Therefore, I conclude that Con’s objections are question-begging.

Now, Con does make some comments regarding artificial intelligence, but they do not develop them into an argument. There is no evidence that artificial intelligence is anywhere close to replicating self-consciousness. If Con thinks otherwise, I’m listening. 

With respect to (2), Con gives no response. So, with the soul’s existence in place, we can conclude that the God hypothesis is the best explanation of that fact.

II.II The beginning of the universe– Here I argued (1) that the universe began to exist, and (2) a Creator is the best explanation for (1).

Regarding (1), though Pro waves in the direction of oscillating models of the universe and various corrections to the Big Bang model stemming from quantum mechanics, they conclude that“it is very likely that the universe did have a beginning [b]ut I do not assert it or agree that it is undoubtedly true.” I don’t assert that either, so I’m glad we’re in agreement. Step (1) is on solid ground.

Concerning (2), I showed why the universe cannot be self-caused, caused by abstract objects, or without a cause entirely. The only issue Con has is with the last claim: perhaps the universe did come into being from nothing at all. They claim that I have committed the so-called Black Swan fallacy: Con writes,“[w]e have no examples at all of something coming from nothing, yes; [b]ut this does not mean that it is entirely impossible.” Okay. Great. That’s why I did not give the argument Con ascribes to me. Rather, I gave a philosophical argument based upon potentiality and actuality to think that something cannot come from nothing, which Con did nothing to refute. Now, Con does argue that “because of our very poor understanding of whatnothing is, it's entirely probable that something could come from nothing.” Forgive my intentional pun, but this argument has nothing going for it. Nothing is just a basic word of the English language, not some wacky conjecture of theoretical physics. It means“not anything”, and anyone with further questions can look in a dictionary.

Finally, I put forward the hypothesis of a personal Creator and claimed that it has no overriding deficiencies. Con disagrees, and points to five difficulties. However, their questions are easy to answer.

  1. Where did this creator come from?– Nowhere. As the creator of space and time, this being is timeless and therefore eternal. The question is just inapplicable to an eternal being. Notice, moreover, that this is not special pleading because atheists have usually argued that the universe is eternal. When asked,“Well, where did the universe come from?”, they would reply that the question doesn’t make sense, and they’d be correct.
  2. If the Creator is eternal, cant the universe also be eternal?– No, because we have strong scientific evidence that the universe, and time itself, began to exist.
  3. If the Creator came about naturally, couldnt the universe have come about naturally?– I guess so, but the antecedent is false– the Creator didn’t come about naturally or supernaturally; he just didn’t come into being at all.
  4. Why is the Creator personal rather than an auniverse-creating property of the cosmos?– If this option is taken seriously, it amounts to the position that the universe brought itself into being (if“universe” and“cosmos” refer to the same thing), which I’ve already responded to.
  5. Why is it only one Creator?– The hypothesis of a single Creator has greater simplicity than a polytheistic hypothesis, so all things being equal, a single Creator is more justified.

None of these problems are insurmountable. The general point is that the universe requires a cause because it began to exist. The Creator of the universe, however, is eternal and therefore cannot have a cause. There is no special-pleading here.

II.III. The laws of physics– In this section more than any other, Con has failed to understand my argument.

The fact of fine-tuning

In the first place, the laws of physics permit the evolution of life, and that fact is wildly improbable. Despite initial appearances, Con says almost nothing in disagreement. Nowhere does Con dispute that the cosmological constant is such that were it to be altered, life could not exist, or that the same goes for the entropy of the early universe. Now, Con does write that“[w]e just don't know what the limits and requirements of life are”, but this is simply irrelevant. I am not presupposing that life must be carbon-based, because if the constants of nature took different values, there would be no basis for life whatsoever. For example, if the gravitational constant G took on a slightly different value, planets would not form. So, I think we can just run around the problem of defining life precisely. For this same reason, Con’s bulleted list of the extreme condition in which life can exist fails to understand how drastic the consequences are when altering the cosmic constants. Therefore, I conclude that the laws of physics are fine-tuned for life.

Design as the best explanation

In the second place, design is the best explanation for the so-called fine-tuning of the universe. Rather than address my criticisms of chance and physical necessity as explanations, Con attacks the design hypothesis directly. Con presents two objections: (i) natural disasters and the rarity of life in the universe as examples of evident design flaws, and (ii) a charge that I have committed a false dichotomy in inferring design.

With respect to (i), two rejoinders. First, imperfection in an object x does nothing to prove that was not designed. There were many imperfections in the earliest forms of technology, for example, but the telegraph still had a designer. Similarly, with respect to life in the universe. I could grant that every example cited by Con is a genuine flaw, but that wouldn’t go one inch in proving that the universe was not designed. Second, inefficiency and imperfection are relative to the goal of a designer. If the Cosmic designer intended for the universe to be filled with life and free from suffering, then yes, we could point to many design flaws. But if this Cosmic designer has other goals in mind (e.g., to enjoy the splendor of his creation, like the artist who paints simply for the joy of painting, and to have life play a minor role in the cosmic drama), then one cannot rightly claim that there is a flaw in the plan. Now, the problem of suffering is a different animal, and if Con wishes to give that argument against God, I’m open to debating it. The key failure on Con’s part is inferring that because the universe is designed for life, therefore the entire purpose of the universe is life’s existence. The latter does not follow from the former.

Regarding (ii), Con writes that I assume“that there are only two explanations for the possibility of a life-sustaining universe: Random chance or intelligent, benevolent, purposeful design.” Most certainly not. First, I proposed three possible explanations for the fine-tuning of the universe: change, physical necessity, and design. Second, the design hypothesis says nothing about whether the designer is benevolent or if he created life on Earth for a purpose. Remember, admitting that the universe is designed does not imply that life on Earth plays some grand role in the cosmic scheme of things. Questions like these fall out of the purview of the modest admission that the universe is designed. Con’s proposal of “a silent, purposeless creator” isn’t immediately understandable. If this being is an agent who designed the universe, but then left it to develop of its own accord, that option is compatible with the design hypothesis. As for a“mindless universe creating entity”, such a hypothesis means nothing without further explanation. What entity, exactly, is one talking about? Left without clarification, the phrase is just an empty series of words. In short, there is no hypothesis that I have excluded or passed over.

In short, Con’s agnosticism about fine-tuning is unjustified. We have enough evidence to conclude that the laws of physics are fine-tuned for life, and that therefore a designer of the universe exists, who may or may not have a benevolent purpose for life on Earth.

III. God as the best explanation

I think it is very clear where the evidence points in this debate. Con has not successfully undermined any line of evidence supporting the inference to God’s existence, and he did not interact with my analysis that the God-hypothesis has great explanatory scope, power, and simplicity. I do not care to argue about the proper definition of atheism, but I do stand by my remark that if Con wishes to carry the weight of debate, he must either (i) show that God is not the best explanation of consciousness, the beginning of the universe, and fine-tuning, or (ii) point to other evidence that outweighs the evidence I have adduced. Con took the route of (i), but he failed to successfully dislodge my arguments. As for (ii), Con writes that he doesn’t “need to disprove God to make it untrue”, much like the Pink Universe-Farting Pixie. I disagree. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and the same goes for Con’s parody hypothesis: we have good evidence against it, namely, all of space and time began to exist, and therefore the cause of the universe cannot be a physical object like a Pink Pixie. With full justification, then, I conclude that God probably exists.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-08-13 19:11:24
| Speak Round
Rationality-RulesRationality-Rules (CON)
"I. General Issues / Evidence

Pro is correct when it comes to inference to the best explanation, in the sense that it is generally how we investigate the world, expand our knowledge base, etc. However, Pro fails to understand that his particular method of inference is absolutely not scientific. When, scientifically, we say that something is the best explanation, it's because there is empirical evidence supporting it. Something we can measure, detect, see, feel, anything empirical - discovered through experimentation and observation.

What Pro presents, though, is not empirical evidence. Pro presents cases such as:
-The existence of a god is the best / simplest explanation for X, therefore the existence of a god is proven.
This is not proof. You, as the maker of a positive claim, must empirically demonstrate that your claim is true, and "We don't have a better explanation, therefore X" Is another logical fallacy known as an argument from ignorance. We do not know what other explanations and evidence for the existence of life, for example, may arise in the future. Maybe, simpler and demonstrable ones. And until we have empirical evidence for any of it, it is invalid to claim the answer is the simplest one that exists - even though we can't demonstrate it. For now, we don't know.

Lastly, I'd like to clarify that what Pro refers to as inductive reasoning is not illogical in any way. But:
1. Claims are not created equal. With extreme claims, must come extreme evidence, and so using inductive reasoning to explain trivial matters, with which we have past experience and knowledge of, is more acceptable than using it to justify an immensely powerful being, the creator as described by Pro. And:
2. Without actual empirical evidence, nothing is truly proven to be true. Even if the best explanation, as per inference, explains every single problem, even if most people deem it to be almost certainly correct, it is still not to be considered completely, objectively true until tested, empirical proof emerges to substantiate that explanation. And that is Pro's burden in this debate.

II. The Inductive Database
II.I. Consciousness

Pro now claims that he's given two lines of evidence to support his first assertion: (1) The soul exists.
(i) physical capacities are generated from underlying mechanisms, and (ii) physical things cannot beabout other things in the way that thoughts are.
When it comes to line (i), I will agree with it. Physical capacities, as far as we know, are generated from underlying mechanisms. However, when Pro says "physical things cannot be about other things in the way that thoughts are." , Pro is using about unfairly here. It is correct to say, in English, that we think about things. However, thought, much like consciousness, can be explained by evolution through natural selection. 

When Pro argues that "evolution can at most explain the development of the physical brain states that are correlated with mental states; it cannot explain the mental state itself. Correlation, after all, is not the same thing as identity." , Pro is mistaken. Just like pointed out by Pro himself, we have direct evidence that shows the link between the areas of your brain flaring up, and the thoughts of the person who was being scanned. Thoughts, much like our consciousness, are simply neurons firing quickly in patterns that can be repeated and recreated inside our brain. Now, the reason we can think about images and sounds as a result of these neuron patterns, and even if mental states are completely identical to brain states is still very much a debate. However, again, not knowing absolutely everything about our thoughts, and even our consciousness, does not justify the claim that a god or gods exist.

I also don't think I'll go in too much about the artificial intelligence details, because it does nothing to help this debate; It's just very interesting to wonder at what point does artificial intelligence could actually be considered consciousness.

And, lastly, Pro makes the horrendous claim that I said nothing in respect to (2) God’s existence best explains the origin of the soul. I specifically said, in my argument, "No scientific proof for the existence of the human soul has ever been put forward, and when apparent evidence comes up, it's debunked." And Pro has said nothing to challenge this. Pro therefore must first demonstrate the existence of the human soul, and then we can talk about whether or not a god is the best explanation for it. Again, not having any proof that souls don't exist doesn't prove that souls exist.

II.II The beginning of the universe

Here, Pro makes the point that "I don't assert that (the universe did have a beginning) either", But the first premise of the argument shown is literally "(1) that the universe began to exist", Therefore Pro did assert this. If Pro had said "That the universe is likely to have begun", then it wouldn't be an assertion.

Secondly, we read that "I showed why the universe cannot be self-caused, caused by abstract objects, or without a cause entirely. (...) I gave a philosophical argument based upon potentiality and actuality to think that something cannot come from nothing" The problem is, just as stated, Pro did not show why or how the universe cannot be self-caused, caused by abstract objects, etc. Pro gave a philosophical argument, which does nothing to prove or disprove the possibility of anything, including that the universe might have been self-caused or have come from nothing.

Therefore, again, I have shown that Pro's arguments fail to demonstrate empirically why or how it's impossible for something to come from nothing, leaving that explanation valid. And when Pro says "Nothing is just a basic word of the English language", pro couldn't be more mistaken. It is obviously a word of the English language, but we have little to no information as to what "nothing" means in our physical universe. Even what we consider to be empty space, devoid of atoms, has quantum fluctuations all over, so no, maybe "nothing" isn't just a dictionary definition - "Nothing" could be a lot more.

When answering my 5 questions about the existence of the creator, Pro says:

Where did this creator come from?Nowhere. As the creator of space and time, this being is timeless and therefore eternal.
When Pro goes on to say that this is not special pleading, I beg to differ. I haven't argued that the universe is eternal for a fact, rather I've suggested that it might just be the case. But you, Pro, must demonstrate this positive claim. Now either the creator has a creator, which takes the problem back a step, or it's impervious to its own rules. Again, Pro can conceive of a timeless and eternal creator - But rejects the notion of an eternal, non-created universe. It's the same notion, until demonstrated otherwise.

Pro addresses this in question 2, but much like we've seen before, it's not entirely impossible that the universe is eternal - or has had many cycles of beginning and end, its implosion causing the next big bang - And no real creation moment. 

And, in question 5, Pro states "The hypothesis of a single Creator has greater simplicity than a polytheistic hypothesis" But this, again, proves nothing empirically - It's only a simpler hypothesis. And yes, I'm familiar with occam's razor.

Finally, Pro ends this section with "The general point is that the universe requires a cause because it began to exist. The Creator of the universe, however, is eternal and therefore cannot have a cause." Again, we don't know with 100% certainty if it began to exist.

II.III. The laws of physics

Pro states "(...) the laws of physics permit the evolution of life" And I simply disagree, as in, life has had to adapt to those laws; They don't serve the purpose of allowing life to exist. The same gravity problem that Pro has presented could be potentially solved by adjusting the mass and density of atoms and substances. Say, for example, a universe with "too much" gravity for our life to be possible - Maybe this alternate universe also had much lighter elements, therefore making stars and planets possible. Even if not, we have no way of knowing if life could form with other laws of physics. Life as we know it could; But maybe life could take on other properties and survive in different universes, where the laws balance out somehow. And this is all just theorizing, but again, if the laws of physics were fine-tuned for life, the universe would be much more sustainable for it - which, as far as we can see, it isn't.

Design as the best explanation

I will agree with Pro that "inefficiency and imperfection are relative to the goal of a designer."  But this still fails to demonstrate the existence of a creator, because even if we assume that the creator doesn't have human life as a primary goal, it does nothing to demonstrate this creator's existence - rather, it just admits that the universe is flawed for us, but maybe it isn't for the creator - Which is a valid position. But not one that proves the universe has been designed - It just keeps that possibility open.

I would also like to admit that I saw a false dichotomy where there wasn't one. I stand corrected on that point.

However, my agnosticism for the fine-tuning of the universe is very much justified. We have seen how life is adaptable - And we don't know if it could work in universes with different laws of physics. But unless Pro can demonstrate that every single other combination of every single other set of rules for a universe would be incompatible with life, we cannot assert that the universe has been designed - with life as a priority or not.

III. God as the best explanation

Pro, in this last section of the argument, makes a few claims:

"he did not interact with my analysis that the God-hypothesis has great explanatory scope, power, and simplicity." Like I've mentioned before, those features mean nothing unless a hypothesis can be empirically validated - which it has not.

"if Con wishes to carry the weight of debate, he must either (i) show that God is not the best explanation of consciousness, the beginning of the universe, and fine-tuning, or (ii) point to other evidence that outweighs the evidence I have adduced." And although I'm doing that, I don't have to do it. Not proving the hypothesis completely wrong does not make it correct at all, and assuming it is correct for lack of a better explanation is again, an argument from ignorance.

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and the same goes for Con’s parody hypothesis: we have good evidence against it, namely, all of space and time began to exist, and therefore the cause of the universe cannot be a physical object like a Pink Pixie. With full justification, then, I conclude that God probably exists." Pro is correct in saying that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but the very beginning of my debate turn consisted of me stating that I do not wish or try to disprove the existence of a creator. Again, burden of proof is on Pro. And the Pink Pixie is an eternal, timeless being - It has all the features of a creator as described by Pro.

With full justification, then, I conclude once again that we don't know if God exists.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-08-14 01:44:25
| Speak Round

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Damn it, I forgot to quote my sources on my second argument.

http://evolbiol.ru/docs/docs/large_files/evolution_of_thought.pdf (evolution can explain thought)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empirical_evidence (definition of empirical evidence)
Posted 2017-08-14 01:45:32
Just a quick note: When I say that it is possible that our universe came from nothing, I don't mean it's factual, or that it's my opinion. We just can't explain where the universe came from or if it even had a beginning, though it appears it did. Again, I don't claim I can explain it - I'm just pointing out that we can't come to a positive conclusion as of now.

And, also, when I say "I don't have to disprove it to make it untrue", I say untrue as in unproven to be true, not as in completely false and impossible.
Posted 2017-08-11 14:58:55
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Burden on proof is on me to demonstrate that God exists.

"God" is defined in a fairly broad sense: the morally perfect Creator of the universe.