Tag Archives: evidence of God’s existence

A Summary of the Craig vs. Tooley Debate at UNCC – #8 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

On March 24, 2010, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig debated agnostic philosopher Michael Tooley about whether God exists.  I attended the debate and thought I would share a summary with you.

Craig opened with 5 well-known arguments for the existence of God (some of which we’ve presented on TQA in the past – follow the hyperlinks):

  1. cosmological
  2. teleological
  3. moral
  4. resurrection of Jesus
  5. religious experience

Tooley opened with one argument for the improbability of God’s existence: the argument from evil.

Let’s look at this argument more closely.  Tooley defined God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect being.  What he wanted to show is that the existence of this kind of God is improbable because of the existence of evil.

He first catalogued all sorts of evils – the list was quite thorough and even poignant.  Following this shop of horrors, he argued that there are certain kinds of evil where the unknown good properties of that evil (granting that God can bring good out of evil) are outweighed by the bad properties that we know come from evil.  Put another way, he admitted that an all-powerful and all-knowing God could have good reasons for evil, but that we can inductively show that these good reasons cannot outweigh the “bad” from these evils.

His conclusion: since it is improbable that an all-good God could have sufficient good reasons for evil that outweigh the bad associated with evil, then it is is improbable that this all-good God exists.

How did Craig respond?  Craig responded by pointing out that you cannot assign probabilities to the existence of unknown good reasons for evil.  It’s like someone holding a giant bag of marbles and asking you: “What is the probability that, if you reached in, you would pull out a red marble?”  You could not assign a probability because you don’t know if there are any red marbles in there at all!  Tooley, likewise, is somehow claiming to assign probabilities to whether God could have unknown (his word) good reasons for evil.  This is clearly impossible to do with an all-knowing and all-powerful being.

How did Tooley respond to Craig’s arguments for God’s existence?  Well, he didn’t really address the cosmological and teleological arguments, content to let them stand.  He did address the moral argument by claiming that you can have objective moral values without the existence of God – he pointed to several philosophers who have tried to argue this way.

He addressed the argument from the resurrection by saying that all this proves is that the God of the Old Testament exists, and that this God is demonstrably not perfectly moral – he quoted many passages from the OT that seem to indicate an immoral God.

He addressed the argument from religious experience by saying that people from all sorts of religions have religious experiences, so this cannot establish the God of Christianity.

There were, of course, rebuttals given by Craig to Tooley’s critiques, but I won’t go into all of that today.  In the end, here is how they closed.

Tooley claimed that his argument from evil demonstrated that an all-good God is unlikely to exist.

Craig claimed that since Tooley had not addressed the cosmological or teleological arguments, that Tooley was, in effect, admitting that an intelligent, powerful, personal, non-spatial, timeless, creator of the universe exists; he just disputed that this creator was perfectly good.  The fact that Tooley conceded so much in the debate was not lost on the audience.  It was strange that he focused solely on the morality of God.

One final point to mention is the debating style of Michael Tooley.  Tooley is obviously an accomplished and brilliant scholar, but his presentation was extremely difficult to follow.  He presented a host of PowerPoint slides that he read from in rapid-fire fashion.  Since his argument from inductive logic was quite complex (he said as much), I would wager that a very small percentage of the audience could follow it.  That was unfortunate because none of us are served well by failing to understand all sides of a debate.  I have studied these kinds of arguments for many years, and I was barely able to follow his argument; he was just moving way too fast.

In addition, Tooley prepared slides for his rebuttals ahead of the debate and so found himself prepared to refute Craig on points that Craig never introduced.  He relied almost 100% on these prepared slides, again reading from them, line by line.  It was as if he did not want to respond real-time to Craig, and this came across poorly, since Craig did respond real-time to Tooley’s arguments.

Much more could be said about the debate.  If anyone else attended, tell us about what you thought.  We’d love to hear from you.

Can Science Test for the Supernatural?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Christians believe that a supernatural being can be reasoned to by working backward from effect to cause.  We observe ourselves and we observe the world around us (those are the effects) and we reason that a supernatural cause is the best explanation for the things we observe.  This is how almost all arguments for God’s existence work.

Science can shed additional light on what we observe in the world around us, so in that sense science can be employed in arguments for God’s existence.  For example, science seems to have shown that the universe had a beginning and that the physical laws and constants that govern the universe are fine tuned for advanced life.  Both of these scientific finds are often used in arguments for God’s existence.

Those who hold a naturalistic worldview (the natural world is all that exists) seem to be divided on this subject.  Some naturalists deny that science can ever be used to test the existence of God and others affirm that science can test for the supernatural and that those tests have all turned out negative.  Still others, like evolutionary scientist Donald Prothero, appear to hold both views at the same time.  Consider the quotes below from Prothero’s book Evolution.

Prothero first suggests that scientists “cannot consider supernatural events in their hypotheses.”  Why? Because “once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it.”  He adds that scientists are not allowed to consider God or miracles (i.e., the supernatural) because they are “completely untestable and outside the realm of science.”  All right, it seems that Prothero is firmly in the camp of those who say that science cannot say anything about the supernatural.

But in the very next paragraph in his book, he completely reverses course.  Prothero explains, “In fact, there have been many scientific tests of supernatural and paranormal explanations of things, including parapsychology, ESP, divination, prophecy, and astrology.  All of these non-scientific ideas have been falsified when subjected to the scrutiny of scientific investigation. . . . Every time the supernatural has been investigated by scientific methods, it has failed the test.”

Huh??  Is your head spinning like mine?  Prothero first claims that science cannot test the supernatural and then he says that science has tested the supernatural.  Which is it?  It can’t be both.

I am not pointing this out to poke fun at Prothero, but because I see some skeptics making this mistake over and over again.  They want to desperately cling to the claim that science can say nothing about the existence of God (so that they can remove science as a tool in the Christian’s evidential toolbox), but they also desperately want to tell people how science has shown that God doesn’t exist (they retain science as a tool for skeptics to nullify the supernatural).  Unfortunately, holding both of these positions at the same time is flatly contradictory.  The skeptic must choose one or the other. Either science can test for the supernatural or it cannot.

I have seen this same mistake made in the intelligent design/evolution debate.  Evolutionists will claim that Michael Behe’s idea of irreducible complexity is non-scientific or scientifically untestable, but these same evolutionists will then produce scientific research they claim scientifically disproves irreducible complexity!  If it’s not scientifically testable, then how are they producing research which scientifically disproves it?

If you’re a Christian talking to a scientific skeptic, watch out for this skeptical two-step.  If you’re a scientific skeptic or naturalist, make up your mind which it is, because you are really confusing me.

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Can Evil Exist Without God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Many skeptics of Christianity claim that the existence of evil in the world proves that a good God cannot exist.  I believe this viewpoint is exactly backwards.

If you truly believe that there is evil in the world, then you must believe that there is good in the world as well.  We can’t know what is wrong unless we know what is right.  We can’t know a crooked line unless we know a straight line.  We can’t know injustice unless we know justice.

But if there is real good and real evil in the world, then there must be an ultimate standard, a measuring stick by which to judge goodness and badness.  This measuring stick must be perfect, so that all moral activity can be compared to it, just like determining the straightness of any line requires a perfectly straight line by which to compare.

Here is the argument summarized in short from:

  1. evil implies good
  2. good implies a perfect standard by which to define it

Now, if you believe that there exists real, objective evil in the world – evil that any person from any place or time would agree is really evil – then you are stuck with admitting that there must be a perfect standard of goodness also in existence, a moral law.

Where does this perfect standard of goodness come from?  The Christian answer is that this standard originates in the nature of God.  God’s own nature is the perfect standard of good, and God has always existed as the first cause of everything.

If you’re a person who wants to escape this answer, you can claim that this moral law just sort of exists, like a floating “cloud” of goodness that just permeates the universe.  But the Christian can ask: “Where did this floating ‘cloud’ of goodness come from?”

You could say that the objective moral law, the perfect standard of goodness, comes from blind, purposeless, natural processes (the standard atheist account of everything that exists).  The Christian can ask: “Why should anyone feel obliged to follow and obey a perfect moral standard that comes from atoms randomly banging together over billions of years?”

I don’t think there is a good answer to that question.  The person who wants to affirm the existence of evil while denying the existence of God finds himself caught in a deep hole of irrationality.  He asks us to obey moral laws that come from rocks.

Some atheists, like Nietzsche, saw where this hole was leading and bailed out quickly.  They affirmed that there is no such thing as real moral evil in the world.  What we think is evil is really just our personal preferences.  You like to kill people and I don’t.  I like red and you like blue.

The consistent person who wants to affirm the existence of evil really must affirm the existence of a personal moral lawgiver – God.  If you don’t think God exists, then you should stop complaining about all the evil in the world.  You’re not making any sense.

What is the Cause of the Universe?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

See if you can follow this argument, which is one form of the cosmological argument.

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

The first premise should be uncontroversial.  If something begins to exist, it needs a cause of its existence.

The second premise draws upon the findings of science in the last century.  We have Einstein’s theory of relativity dictating a beginning to space, time, and matter.  We have enormous evidence for the Big Bang, which is the moment the universe exploded into existence about 13. 7 billion years ago.  We also have the second law of thermodynamics, which says that the amount of energy available for work is decreasing in the universe – a universe that is decaying cannot be infinitely old because it would have run out of usable energy by now.

To sum up the last paragraph, science seems to have shown that the universe did indeed have a beginning.  All of time, space, and matter came into existence 13.7 billion years ago.  If that is the case, then the universe needs a cause, and that cause cannot be a part of the universe, because nothing can cause itself to exist.

So what kind of cause are we talking about?  Based on the cosmological argument, we can deduce that this cause of the universe has the following properties: self-existence, timelessness, nonspatiality, immateriality, unimaginable power, and personhood.

Self-existence because whatever is the cause of the universe must ultimately be uncaused.  If it is not, then the argument just moves back one step.  There has to be a first uncaused cause.

This cause cannot exist in the time/space/material universe because then it would exist within the very universe it created.  That is impossible.

The cause must be incredibly powerful to have created the entire universe and all of its physical laws.

The cause must be personal because an impersonal force would be deterministic and mechanistic, not possessing free will.  A mechanistic being only operates according to the programming it received from something else.  But if the cause of the universe received programming from something else, then we have again not provided the answer to the cause of the universe.  We have just found a middle-man.  The cause had to make a choice to create and only beings who are personal can make choices.

All of these are attributes of the God of Christianity.  That is not to say we have proven the exact God of Christianity exists, but we have certainly made a persuasive argument that a being with some of his qualities exists.

Now that’s something to think about.

Response to YouTube Atheist

In a recent post, I asked our readers to watch the video of an atheist gentleman who addressed his video to “all Christians.”  In the video, he attempts to convince Christians that they are wrong to believe in the Christian God and Bible.

I wanted to make a few comments about what he said.

First, he badly misunderstands religious truth claims.  In his video he argues that since there are multitudes of religions in the world, that the chance that Christianity is the true religion is extremely small.  The problem with this argument is that it assumes that all ideas have an equal chance of being true.  But that is clearly not so.  The way we determine whether an idea is true is we assess the evidence for it. 

Religions make claims about the world that we can test.  If religion A makes a claim about the world that is false, we can safely say that religion A is not true, or at least that part of it isn’t.  For example, some religions make historical claims that are seriously lacking any evidence and, in fact, contradict known historical facts.  Those religions should be judged false.

Besides, his argument boomerangs back on him, because atheism is only one of multitudes of options, so his chance of being right is just as small as the Christian, by his own flawed logic.

He next compares God to unicorns.  He claims that there is no evidence for God or unicorns, and therefore he doesn’t need any faith to not believe in God or unicorns.  A couple things could be said. 

First, nobody argues that unicorns are real, except for a few kooks, whereas north of 95% of all the people that have ever lived believed in a god or gods.  Surely the atheist has to explain why that is.

Second, there are numerous evidences for the existence of God captured in books that fill up libraries.  Anybody heard of C. S. Lewis?  He may not be convinced of these evidences, but to say that there are none offered is false.  I am not aware of huge libraries filled with books offering evidence for unicorns.

Third, if it is so obvious that there is no evidence for God, then why do so many people not see it?  And really smart people?  I have an electrical engineering degree from GA Tech, and I think there is a difference between unicorns and God.  Unicorns are just concepts that do not exist in reality, but God exists in reality.  Why?  What is wrong with me?  How did YouTube guy figure it out?  He needs to consider these questions.

But perhaps the saddest thing about this video is that he doesn’t understand Christianity.  In a period of a few minutes, he mangles the gospel, he misunderstands the use of metaphor in the Bible, and he misinterprets the doctrine of hell (the Bible never teaches that God literally burns people alive for eternity; it is a figure of speech). 

Based on these gross errors, I draw the conclusion that he really hasn’t studied Christianity, as he says at the beginning of the video.

Dinesh D’Souza coined a term for people who believe in a childish form of Christianity.  He calls them crayon Christians.  These are people who never grow in their understanding of the faith, and are stuck in a childish belief system.  That describes our YouTube atheist.  His Christian beliefs never advanced beyond the crayon stage.

I pray that some day he puts the crayons aside.