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.  His argument goes like this:
- Physical things cannot think.
- I can think.
- 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” , 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. 
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. 
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" .
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.  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.  Or again, physicist Roger Penrose has written that if the entropy of the early universe differed by one part in 10123, no life. 
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.
 Plantinga, Alvin. "Against Materialism." Faith and Philosophy 23.1 (2006): 3-32. Philpapers. Web. 06 May 2016.
 McGrew, Timothy. See Is Faith in God Reasonable?: Debates in Philosophy, Science, and Rhetoric. ed. Corey Miller and Paul Gould. 104.
 A. Borde, A. Guth, A. Vilenkin, “Inflationary Spacetimes Are Incomplete in Past Directions,”http://arxiv.org...; (accessed July 27, 2017).
Vilenkin, Alexander, "Did the Universe Have a Beginning?",http://arxiv.org...
 Aron Wall, "Did the Universe Begin? I. Big Bang Cosmology",http://www.wall.org..., accessed Auguest 10, 2017.
 Collins, Robin. See The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. ed. William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. 202-281.
 Ibid, 216.
 Penrose, Roger. The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics.343. As cited by Collins above (220).
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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.
- 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).
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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 ones…because 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 what‘nothing’ 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.
- 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.
- If the Creator is eternal, can’t the universe also be eternal?– No, because we have strong scientific evidence that the universe, and time itself, began to exist.
- If the Creator came about naturally, couldn’t 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.
- Why is the Creator personal rather than an a“universe-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.
- 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 x 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.
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