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Theism is true

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MichaelDMichaelD (PRO)

Change occurs, there are examples of this all around us. The coffee in your cup grows cooler. A leaf on the tree outside your window fells to the ground. A puddle grows larger as the rain continues. You swat a fly and it dies.

Go back to the coffee. It is true that while the coffee is hot, the coldness is not actually present. Still, it is there potentially in a way other qualities are not. The coffee does not, after all, have the potential to fuel a gasoline engine, or to turn itself into chicken soup, or for that matter to morph into a five chicken and begin squawking. But it does have the potential to grow cold, and it has various other potentials too— to make you more alert if you drink it, to stain the floor if you spill it, and so forth. That it has the potential to become cold while lacking certain other potentials shows that the coldness is not exactly nothing, even if it is not yet actual either. What change involves, then, is for Aristotle the actualization of a potential. The coffee has the potential to become cold, and after sitting out for a while that potential is made actual.

But how does change occur? That depends on the change, of course. The coffee’s getting cold is not the same kind of process as the falling of the leaf, the puddle’s growing large, or the fly’s being swatted. Still, whatever sort of change is in question, there will be something or other that brings it about. Change requires a changer. We find examples all around us in everyday experience. The cool air in the room brings the temperature of the coffee down. A flick of your wrist brings the flyswatter down on the fly. But the thesis that change requires a changer is not merely a generalization from instances like these. It follows from what change is: the actualization of a potential. We saw that while the coffee is still hot, the coldness of the coffee is not exactly nothing, since it is there potentially in the coffee in a way other qualities are not. But it is still there merely potentially and not actually, otherwise the coffee would be cold already, even while it is hot, which of course it isn’t. Now potential coldness can hardly do anything, precisely because it is merely potential. Only what is actual can do anything. In particular, the potential coldness of the coffee cannot make itself actual. Only something already actual can do that—the coolness in the surrounding air, or perhaps some ice cubes you might drop into the coffee. In general, any mere potential can only be actualized by something that is already actual. In that sense, any change requires a changer of some sort or other.


So, change occurs, and any change requires a cause; or to put it less colloquially but more precisely, some potentials are actualized, and when they are, there must be something already actual which actualizes them.

Notice that often what is true of the thing being changed is also true of the thing changing it. The coolness of the air in the room makes the coffee cold. But the coolness of the air was itself merely potential until the air conditioner actualized it. The flick of your wrist causes the flyswatter to come down hard, and its impact in turn kills the fly. But the flick of your wrist was itself merely potential until the firing of certain motor neurons actualized it. So, when something causes a change, that is sometimes because it is undergoing a change itself; and when that is the case, that change too requires a changer. Or, once again to put things less colloquially but more precisely, sometimes when a potential is being actualized, what actualizes it [the potential] is itself something which has gone from potential to actual; and when that is the case, there must have been some further thing which made that happen.

So, we sometimes have a series of changers and things changed. The coldness of the coffee was caused by the coolness in the surrounding air, which was caused by the air conditioner, which was caused to switch on when you pressed the appropriate button. The fly was killed by the impact of the flyswatter, which was caused by the flick of your wrist, which was caused by the firing of certain motor neurons, which was caused by your annoyance at the fly’s buzzing around the room. One potential was actualized by another, which was in turn actualized by another, which was actualized by yet another.

Consider next that series of changes of the sort we’ve described typically extend backward in time, in what we might think of as a linear fashion. The coffee is cold because the air in the room cooled it, the air was cold because of the air conditioner, the air conditioner went on because you pressed a certain button, and so forth. Now let’s suppose for the sake of argument that this series extends backward into the past to infinity, without a beginning. This linear type of series, in theory, could go back in time ad infinitum, but what about a different kind of series?

Even if such linear series of changes and changers might in theory extend backward to infinity, with no first member, there is another kind of series—let us call it the hierarchical kind—which must have a first member. Remember that we were thinking of a linear series as extending backward in time— the coffee got cold because the room was cool, the room was cool because the air conditioner had made it so, you had switched on the air conditioner because you didn’t like the heat, the heat had been generated by the sun, and so forth. To understand what a hierarchical series is, it will be useful, by contrast, to think instead of what might exist at a single moment of time. This is not in fact essential to a hierarchical series, but it is a useful way to introduce the idea. So, consider, once again, the coffee cup as it sits on your desk. It is, we may suppose, three feet above the floor. Why? Because the desk is holding it up, naturally. But what holds the desk up? The floor, of course. The floor, in turn, is held up by the foundation of the house, and the foundation of the house by the earth. Now, unlike the coffee being cooled by the surrounding air, which is in turn cooled by the air conditioner, and so forth, this is not a series which need be thought of as extending backward in time. O f course, the cup may in fact have been sitting there on the desk for hours. But the point is that even if we consider the cup as it sits there at some particular moment, it is sitting there at that moment only because the desk is holding it up at that moment, and the desk is holding it up at that moment only because it is in turn being held up, at that same moment, by the floor. Or consider the lamp above your head, which is held up by a chain, which is in turn held up by the fixture screwed into the ceiling, all at the same moment. In both cases we have what I have called a hierarchical series of causes, in the first case tracing downward to the ground and in the other case upward to the ceiling.

What makes a hierarchical series of causes hierarchical is this instrumental or derivative character of the later members of the series. The desk will hold the cup aloft only so long as it is itself being held up by the floor. If the floor collapses, the desk will go with it and the cup will fall as a result. The members of a linear series are not like that. The air conditioner is on because you turned it on. Still, once you’ve done so, the air conditioner will keep cooling the room even if you left the house or dropped dead.

The idea is rather this. Since the desk, the floor, and the foundation have no power of their own to hold the cup aloft, the series could not exist in the first place unless there were something that did have the power to hold up these intermediaries, and the cup through them, without having to be held up itself. 

To take an example sometimes used to illustrate the point, a paintbrush has no power to move itself, and it would remain powerless to move itself even if its handle were infinitely long. Hence, even if there could be an infinitely long brush handle, if it is actually going to move, there will still have to be something outside it which does have the “built-in” power to cause it to move. Or to return to our own example, a desk has no power all on its own to hold up the cup, and thus an infinite series of desks, if there could be such a thing, would be as powerless to hold it up as a single desk would be. Hence, even if such a series existed, there would have to be something outside it which could impart to it the power to hold up the cup. When we say that a hierarchical series of causes has to have a first member, then, we don’t mean “first” in the sense of being the one that comes before the second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on. We mean it is the first cause in the sense that it has inherent or built-in causal power while the others have only derived causal power. It is their having only derivative causal power that makes the other members secondary rather than first or primary.

Now since what is being explained in this case is the actualization of a thing’s potential for existence, the sort of “first” cause we are talking about is one which can actualize the potential for other things to exist without having to have its own existence actualized by anything.

What this entails is that this cause doesn’t have any potential for existence that needs to be actualized in the first place.  It just is pure actuality itself. It doesn’t merely happen not to have a cause of its own, but could not in principle have had or needed one.

Now whilst I am running out of a character count, I will introduce it in the next post but this gets us to the following. An immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, fully good, omnipotent, intelligent, and omniscient being. But for there to be such a cause of things is just what it is for God to exist. So, God exists.

Thanks for your time! 

Return To Top | Posted:
2020-03-22 23:03:02
| Speak Round
MaxChristie32MaxChristie32 (CON)
Before I explain my reasoning, I first want to refute what was said in the first speech.

Through a series of examples, the first speaker's point rests on one fundamental argument: "any mere potential can only be actualized by something that is already actual." Put simply, this asserts that God must be real because all change in the universe must have started from a single beginning, and that beginning was divine in nature. Now, from a science perspective, there is one solution to this question of what began all movement and change in the universe: the Big Bang. I am sure that the Affirmative speaker will try to co-opt the Big Bang as divine, that was in fact what Georges Lemaître, the originator of the Big Bang theory (and a Catholic priest) argued. However, there is no substantive reason to believe this other than the circular logic of "that's what [INSERT HOLY BOOK HERE] says." Based on the tireless work of physicists and scientists across generations coupled with near-irrefutable empirical evidence, we have a strong theory on the origins of the universe, and other than the coincidental phrasing of "let there be light," there is no connection between Genesis (or any religion's creation story) and the Big Bang. While of course, I can't prove conclusively that God does not exist because of this, it is far more likely that the origins of the universe can be attributed to natural forces rather than to magic or the power of one's chosen deity. 

Now, onto my primary argument: the contradiction of Theism.
I'm going to make an assumption here that we are talking about Christain Theism, but since the first speaker pretty much explicitly stated what I'm about to refute, I believe it is a good assumption to make. Most Abrahamic Theism rests on the following assertions about God:
- God is All-Knowing
- God is All-Powerful
- God is All-Good
These all relate to what we think of when we think of God; however, in a world where all of these are true, most human suffering CANNOT exist, and the three are a logical contradiction of each other. If God has knowledge of all evil that ever has and will exist in the world, and if God has the power to defeat all of this evil, and God has the motivation to stop all evil and help all humans, then why doesn't he? Now, I know what you're thinking, it's because humans have free will, right? While that may make sense for human-related actions, it does not apply to acts that fall outside of human control: famines, floods, pandemics, or natural disasters (otherwise known as acts of God). In a world where all three assertions are true, that means that God created the concept of sin, God created the concept of needless suffering, and all suffering is the result of him. A world where Christian Theology is true is a world where the prayers of rich white people to get a new car are heard above the countless cries for help of starving children. It is a world where people with mental illness or physical disability suffer their entire lives and are sometimes driven to suicide because of something they have no control over, all while God stays silent. It is a world where floods destroy churches while the mansions of dictators go unscathed. Theists try to brush off these criticisms with calls of "God works in mysterious ways" and "everything happens for a reason," but all they do is give false hope to suffering people and perpetuate systems of power that repress the people that religion should help the most. This is the primary argument that turned me from a Catholic to a Secular Humanist, and it is an argument that I have never seen an adequate refutation of. I doubt that will change with the Affirmative speaker.

Moving away from the primary argument for a second, there is a secondary argument against Theism that I want to explore as well: Scientific evidence against Divinity.
One of the central tenants of any religion is the importance of prayer. Prayer is used to help the needy, help overcome personal struggles, and is generally used to petition God to do something. While there is the logical contradiction of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God requiring human pleading before he does something, the aspect of prayer that I want to focus on instead is the fact that it empirically does not work. Now, I in no way tend to diminish people's faith. If you believe that prayer will help a situation and it makes you feel better, then that is your right. However, in EVERY valid study undertaken on the subject, prayer was shown to have no effect on the outcome of the situation. I will cite a specific study from Syracuse University at the end of this post about the futility of prayer in regard to healing sick family members, but I challenge the Affirmative speaker to list a SINGLE study that refutes this claim. 

With these arguments, I in no way want to say that Theists are dumb or that an intelligent person can also not be a Theist. It is the right of every person to believe what they want about the universe and our place in it, but belief is no substitute for evidence. People are free to use Christian Theology as a blueprint for how the structure their lives, but in a world with the scientific method and more empirical evidence than we have ever had before, it is impossible to say that "Theism is True," either from a philosophical or practical lens.


Return To Top | Posted:
2020-03-23 08:58:12
| Speak Round
MichaelDMichaelD (PRO)
My friend stated the following

"any mere potential can only be actualized by something that is already actual." Put simply, this asserts that God must be real because all change in the universe must have started from a single beginning, and that beginning was divine in nature.

This premise does not state that at all, what this premise states is that for change to occur, there needs to be a changer. An acorn will not grow into an oak tree without sunlight, water, fertile soil, and time. All of these are constantly acting upon it, in conjunction with it's formal cause (it's nature) to grow into an oak tree. This objection is of an utter straw-man, and furthermore confuses the beginning of a temporal nature, with a beginning or primacy of a derivative nature. It is very clear in my post that we are not talking about the big bang, we are not talking about a causal series that extends in the past, but a causal series that extends downwards, in the here and now. Not 14 billion years ago.

Please see this paragraph from Dr. Edward Feser addressing this common misconception.
Now, it is because of this difference that a hierarchical series of causes has to have a first member while a linear series does not. But it is crucial to understand what “first” means in this context. As has already been indicated, the idea of a hierarchical series is best introduced by thinking in terms of a sequence whose members exist all together at a single moment of time, such as the cup which is held up by the desk which is held up by the floor. So, when it is said that such a series must have a first member, the claim is not that the series has to be traced back to some beginning point in the past (at the Big Bang, say). 
(Five proofs of the existence of God, Feser, Pg., 23)

Thus the argument at the moment still stands in its entirety and at the moment theism is seemingly true unless my friend can provide a valid refutation. My friend also seemingly misunderstands where science is right now, the big bang is not an explanation of why the universe came to be, the big bang is an explanation of how the universe came to be. Modern Cosmology has absolutely no answers for us, nor does it claim to, of why the big bang occurred. Speaking of circular logic, that I was accused of...

it is far more likely that the origins of the universe can be attributed to natural forces rather than to magic or the power of one's chosen deity.

In other words, what created all matter, energy, and space was in fact, matter, energy, and space. Intriguing, and utterly circular.

Now onto the Problem of Evil (PoE) brought up by my friend. First and foremost, he has not met his burden of proof. To demonstrate a contradiction he must prove that the Christian God could have no morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering to exist. Not only is this impossible, we can conceive of reasons as to why both exist.

We have free will. We can choose right and wrong by virtue of free will. Therefore we see moral evil in the world, as well as moral good. My friend has readily admitted this, but then objected that does not account for natural suffering. However, from a Christian perspective, it was capacity for free will that placed us and creation out of communion with God (by virtue of rejecting God) and thus we see natural evil, but I understand that for many of you, you will not want to accept the Biblical narrative of the Fall because of prejudices, even if the Fall is utterly consistent with Evolution.

We also are not omniscient. You need to prove that God could not have morally sufficient reasons for permitting suffering, God, as you said omnipotent, has all the power in the world to bring about much greater goods then either you or I, with our feeble limited outlook, can possibly conceive of.

God also came to Earth to suffer. Christ came to Earth not as a worldly king born in a palace surrounded with servants, which would certainly be fitting for the most powerful entity in existence, but Christ came to Earth as a literal oxymoron. Christ proceeded to then suffer for us, was scourged, taunted, tortured, crucified, and on top of that took upon the sin of the world upon His shoulders. This alone gives suffering infinite meaning.

Furthermore, behaving virtuously is not possible without what you and I might perceive to be evils. Hercules could not have been called courageous, if the Nemean lion was actually just a cute little kitty. We fear things, and hope for things, we are afraid of things, and are brave for things, we are patient for things, and impatient for things. A coin necessarily has two sides.

At the cross a coin was flipped, on one side justice, the other side mercy and it was the only time in history the coin landed on its edge.

So it seems to me we have ample reasons to believe, certainly from a Christian perspective, that the Problem of Evil is nowhere near as much of a knockout argument as my friend believes and has in fact not met the burden of proof at all.

Furthermore, my opponent mistakenly thinks that God created the concept of sin. I find this surprising given that my opponent said he was an ex-catholic, this is completely contrary to any Catholic understanding of God. Sin is a privation of God, and sin is parasitic off of goodness, in the same way darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. This is made plain to see by the fact the existence, in and of itself, is good. Hence why death and murder and suicide are seen in a highly negative light. Therefore what would be pure evil would in fact have the attribute of non-existence, but then evil does not exist, and thus we are forced to conclude that evil is a privation of good. It is logically impossible to create things with a negative ontological status, what God created was free will, and alongside that, the potential for evil. God however did not create actual evil. 

We also see the objection that Christian Theology states that prayers of rich white people get them new cars, and the cries of starving children are not heard. There is nothing more contrary to Christian theology, central to the theme of Christianity is to pick up one's cross, not to put it down and let God do all the work. It seemingly shows an extreme lack of catechisis (which is a fault of the Church) on the part of my opponent who is straw-manning Christian Theology, and indeed the very Catholic Theology he was presumably brought up in. 

This goes into the idea of prayer not being scientifically verifiable. It betrays a complete ignorance of the theology, it would be like a scientist putting a Catholic Eucharistic Host under microscope, seeing that there is no flesh, and declaring transubstantiation wrong and Catholicism refuted. It is an utter strawman. Prayer is in no way shape or form primarily a petitionary action. Prayer is first and foremost communication with God. Prayer is deeply intimate and personal, and certainly from a Christian perspective we do not expect to see any scientific evidence for prayer, again a complete strawman of Christian theology. Prayer is primarily about aligning one's will with God's, "Thy will be done." It is not at all about asking for material things that it expressly states cannot fulfill oneself.

Thus so far we have no solid argument to believe that theism is false as of yet, and a very strong one to believe that theism is true.

Now ironically my opponent also seeks to defend a naturalistic position, namely scientism, the view that the scientific method is the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. 

First, scientism is self-defeating, and can
avoid being self-defeating only at the cost of becoming trivial and
uninteresting. Second, the scientific
method cannot even in principle provide us with a complete description of
reality. Third, the “laws of nature” in
terms of which science explains phenomena cannot in principle provide us with a
complete explanation of reality. Fourth,
what is probably the main argument in favour of scientism – the argument from
the predictive and technological successes of modern physics and the other
sciences – has no force.

As I am running out of space I will deal with the first point...

The claim that “the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything” (Rosenberg 2011, p. 6) is not itself a scientific claim, not something that can be established using scientific methods. Indeed, that science is even a rational form of inquiry (let alone the only rational form of inquiry) is not something that can be established scientifically. For scientific inquiry rests on a number of philosophical assumptions: the assumption that there is an objective world external to the minds of scientists; the assumption that this world is governed by regularities of the sort that might be captured in scientific laws; the assumption that the human intellect and perceptual apparatus can uncover and accurately describe these regularities; and so forth. Since scientific method presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle. To break out of this circle requires “getting outside” of science altogether and discovering from that extra-scientific vantage point that science conveys an accurate picture of reality – and, if scientism is to be justified, that only science does so. But then the very existence of that extra scientific vantage point would falsify the claim that science alone gives us a rational means of investigating objective reality.

So it seems to me that far from it being impossible to say "Theism is true" with the scientific method and empirical evidence, and from a philosophical or practical lens, we must actually be committed to saying "Atheism is false and Theism IS true." 

Ultimately there has been no arguments provided that hold any ground and my first proof still remains in play. 

Return To Top | Posted:
2020-03-23 09:55:06
| Speak Round

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Theism - The belief that a Supreme Being (God) exists