Major Errors in the Debate
I have to say, that the recent debate that Kelly and Sapient participated in has confirmed my thoughts that the so called Rational Response Squad are amateur, at best. I won’t comment much on Ray and Kirk other than to say that they are excellent speakers for giving testimony, but not so great at the philosophy either. I do not think they addressed the question adequately. It appears that you all went in with different expectations of what was to be argued, and how.
Sapient and Kelly, your arguments reflected a lack of understanding of the issues at hand. You appeal to the masses, to popular sentiments, but very little in the way of content or persuasive value. The reason is that most or all of the arguments you presented have already been answered by professional theistic philosophers.
You seem to be under the false impression that there is no debate here – that theists are blind to the most obvious of facts, the fact that God does not exist. Rather what is in fact clear is that you have little understanding of the arguments that have been made for and against the existence of God. Instead, you promote arguments that have long ago been demolished and do not represent the cutting edge of either theistic or atheistic thought. Though you cannot be completely to blame, as Dawkins’ recent book ‘The God Delusion’ is a step backwards in educating atheists.
There were so many thoughts that each deserved a debate on their own, that I’m only going to briefly touch on various items:
· Sapient in his opening speech argued that designers of buildings are different, because we can call them up and check permit records. I wonder, then, what Sapient would conclude with this: a thousand years in the future, humans travel to a planet circling Proxima Centauri. Landing on the planet, to their surprise they see a strange spherical object hovering above the ground. It has etched on it what appears to us to be symbols, but if they are, they are a foreign language. When the visitors approach it, above it lights play, giving an image of what seems to be the surrounding area, but at a different time. When they move away, it stops. Would Sapient be able to call this object designed? Or would he, knowing nothing at all about aliens (their phone numbers, the location of their building permits or blueprints, etc), be unable to detect design? Or is it possible to tell something is designed solely by considering the item before us?
· Sapient and Kelly both argued that you can be the worst of the worst, and still go to heaven. As though a Christian is free to murder, rape, and pillage, so long as at the end of the day he remembers to pray for forgiveness. This is just an absurd misunderstanding of Christian doctrine, and I wonder at their claims that they once went to church. Perhaps they were fresh out of Sunday School when they became atheists, or didn’t pay attention? Christians teach _repentance_ as going hand in hand with forgiveness. Repentance is not an outward speaking of words, but an inward decision to turn away from the things that we do wrong. If someone were to ask for forgiveness, but in their heart they did not mean it and keep sinning, then they have not repented. It’s that simple. People who do not repent are not forgiven, and those that Kelly and Sapient said would go to heaven would in fact not.
· Sapient said, “If all creations need a creator, then what created God?”. Perhaps Sapient can be forgiven for making this elementary mistake, but he should really investigate this issue in more depth. If you’re going to argue and draw such a large crowd, you should take the time to understand what you’re arguing. William Craig is the most common proponent of the Cosmological Argument, and he explains very clearly why this is not a problem. His argument runs as follows:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore the universe has a cause
As a complement to this, the best current scientific thought demonstrates time as beginning at the big bang. This means that whatever caused the big bang was itself timeless. A timeless cause needs no beginning – only temporal entities have a beginning, and therefore a need for a creator. God, being timeless, needs no such thing. The theist has a much better answer for the cause of the universe. It explains that cause as an atemporal entity. The atheist just says the universe came from nothing - which is more absurd, that something began from nothing, or that something began from something? This also answers the later criticism that was raised, asking why the universe can’t be the always existing thing. There are two supplements to this:
1. The reason why the universe can’t be the infinitely existing thing is because the best current scientific thought shows the universe, and time, as having a definite beginning, “before” which it did not begin. Kelly and Sapient consider themselves heroes of the scientific cause – so they are not free to pick and choose which science they wish to disregard. The universe did not exist eternally into the past.
2. The German Philosopher Gottfried Leibniz promoted an argument where he explained why if the universe were infinitely old, it would need a cause. If we ignored current scientific evidence, and believed the universe to have always existed, then we would still not find the atheists argument compelling. Leibniz outlined this argument in “On the Radical Origination of Things”. If you’re wondering why the universe being infinitely old is unacceptable, but why God being atemporal is – then consider what’s being said: The universe is said by some atheists to be infinitely old, but it is still temporal. However, people like William Craig argue that God is atemporal – not infinitely old, but atemporal. Craig also has presented arguments explaining why an infinitely old universe is logically impossible. Please look into his works
· As for the arguments of the imperfection of the human system, I’ll make these brief comments. The eye is not regarded as imperfect. Perhaps if the eye was the only thing in the human body it might be, but engineers must consider optimal design. Various components may not be perfect, but the system as a whole is an excellent design as a result of the compromises made in various subsystems. Many have argued that the eye’s blind spot provides no evidence of imperfection. As an amusing side note on Sapient’s comments about snakes having vestigial legs, in Genesis 3 the curse God places on the serpent seems to indicate that snakes were once meant to walk. I direct you to Genesis 3:14. I don’t think this is proof of anything, just an amusing and perhaps ironic side note.
· Sapient’s arguments regarding science’s contributions vs that of religion are groundless and irrelevant. It’s not religion vs science. Religious people can be scientists, and often are. The arena of empirical evidence is not somehow the sole domain of atheists. If Leibniz, Newton and others made contributions to science, you can’t count that as some atheistic victory. The success of science says *nothing* about religion. Don’t confuse Atheism and Science as synonymous terms, they’re unrelated in the way Sapient thinks they are.
· We are all atheists in respect to Zeus, Thor, etc? Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. Theists believe God exists. Just because I reject the notion of God as being like Zeus, does not make me an atheist like Sapient and Kelly. It just means when someone tells me that God (though they refer to Him as Zeus) came down in the form of a snake and slept with a woman, I say I don’t agree.
· There is one comment made by Kelly that is beautifully absurd. She exclaims that if God existed, “We would live in a world of magic, where you could turn on the light switch, and well maybe it would turn on and maybe it wouldn’t because, hey, it’s magic!” This argument just plain does not work. What is Kelly afraid of? That if God exists, He would have the freedom to override our expectations? So what? We already have intelligent agents in this world – humans. These humans have the freedom to cut off our power if they so decide, and to connect it again. We already live in that uncertain world, where the actions of intelligent agents can override our expectations. God would be an agent no different – He would have the freedom to intervene in our world and prevent the light switch too. Does Kelly believe that it is impossible for aliens to exist, because if they did then our light switches might not work the next day if they decided to cut off our power? It’s just absurd. We can’t disbelieve in an entity merely because it would have the power to override our expectations. Maybe Kelly would like it to be the case that God does not exist, or aliens don’t exist, so that she can’t be afraid of the actions of something more powerful than her – but her likes and dislikes say nothing about reality.
· The reference to the Flying Spaghetti Monster fails. Presumably the argument is something like this: If God exists, then how do we know whether it is Yahweh, Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? But you can’t argue that God doesn’t exist, just because if He did exist we wouldn’t know certain things about Him. If we are successful in demonstrating that it is probable that God exists, then you can raise the question as to whether He’s properly called Zeus, Yahweh or FSM. But then you’ll be a theist, arguing about the nature of God. This point does nothing to build up a case for atheism.
· What is Kelly’s point about the argument of the universe’s perfection being countered by the fact we are here to observe it? I believe she is referring to the Fine Tuning argument, but clumsily so. Hard to address this when the argument hasn’t been clearly made.
· On what grounds does Kelly argue that God is exempt from ordinary logic and rationality? Most Christian analytical philosophers would argue that God is subject to the laws of logic and rationality as we are – if not more.
· Regarding consciousness and morality – no points to be made here. Atheism can explain the existence of morality, but it’s not a point in favour of atheism. What atheists cannot explain is why we must be moral.
I think that’s enough for now.