Does God Exist? - Debate on Another Forum

I’m currently about to finish up a debate on God’s existence on the Talk Rational forum: talkrational.org/showthread.php?t=16730

This debate has surprised me in many ways. I didn’t expect my opponent to take such a strong non-cognitivist approach via religious language. For example, I was asked to produce a single attribute for God’s existence, and so I pointed out that God is an intelligent first cause of the universe, and that God is the judge of moral behavior. My counterpart responded by stating that these terms could easily be used of any arbitrary referent. I think this is just a semantic game, but it’s taken up the bulk of the debate.

Any thoughts, constructive criticisms, et al?

I skimmed the debate you are having. Kudos to you for even bothering on that site.

Arguments about intelligent first causes go nowhere because there’s no way to prove it evidentially. And for guys like this, morality is just what society agrees to at the moment. so God as the ultimate judge is equally meaningless. It is also impossible to come up with attributes that can be scientifically tested.

I would say an answer to whether belief in God is rational depends on an individual. For someone like the dude you’re debating, belief in any god is irrational because he clearly will only accept hard scientific evidence as valid. He hasn’t found any personal reasons for faith, and doesn’t seem to be looking, so for him it would be very irrational to believe in God. His worldview would have to crack first.

For someone who has had actual experiences that point to the divine, and who has no reason to doubt his own sanity, it would be irrational not to believe in God, or at least the possibility of one. As with anything else, personal experience counts for much. It’s irrational to disregard your own experience because someone else doesn’t believe you. It’s not irrational to believe that the universe could have a purpose, and that’s basically enough to justify a belief in at least some higher power. After all, he does concede that science can’t tell us anything about why the universe is what it is, or what, if anything, is beyond it.

There’s no real way to win an argument with people like this. I would just concede that for him and others like him,perhaps there’s no way to rationally justify a belief in God. But for those who have had their lives altered for the better by experiencing something that could be God there’s no rational reason why they should abandon belief just to satisfy some scientific standard which, after all, is not what governs the rest of our lives.

Thanks for the comments, Helena.

I actually critiqued the view that science is our only arbiter of knowledge. The point is that “everything must be observable” is itself an unobservable claim, making it self-defeating. Hopefully this got through to someone following the exchange, even if it didn’t affect my counterpart’s position. :slight_smile:

Helena is right in observing that we **generally **accept the testimonial of our senses as reliable. Now that does not mean that we always, unconditionally accept them. If there is a doubt, we appeal to more sensory evidence (a mirage comes into mind).

What can we say about personal experiences? They seem to point in a certain direction, no question about that - but only for those who a-prori accept that direction. But they are unrepeatable and untransferable to others. To accept them as evidence is impossible to those who do not experience them themselves. They are indistinguishable from the dreams and assertions of someone who is delusional. (No offense intended.)

The old saying: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs” has a lot of truth in it. There is no observable, repeatable, transferable evidence, which would substantiate the existence of anything supernatural.

Punkforchrist, your remark about “everything must be observable” is incorrect. No one says that. Concepts are not observable, and they exist. They exist as a mental image of something physical (the color: red, or the number of apples on a table, etc…), or may exist as pure mental constructs (fairies, angels, Hamlet, etc…).

The problem is that the supernatural “existence” is **fundamentally **different from physical and conceptual existence. It is not physical, and yet it is assumed to be able to interact with the physical world (while the physical world is unable even to observe, much less interact with it). How? There is no answer, not even in principle. We cannot say that maybe some day we shall be able to observe and verify the supernatural existence. It must be accepted on faith, and this faith is not based on prior observations, it is pure, unadulterated “blind faith”.

For some it is rational to believe it. But they cannot point to anything that would convince a skeptic. The cosmological, ontological, etc. arguments are all fallacious. If one asks for hard evidence, something testable, it is asserted that God cannot be tested, it is sinful even to attempt to test God. If someone says that they never had any experience, it is frequently asserted, that they did not try “long” enough, or never tried “hard” enough - essentially putting the blame onto the skeptic, and this tactics is quite irritating. Where does that leave the skeptic? Writes off the whole concept as unnecessary.

Anyhow… I am off for a short vacation, so have a good time. :slight_smile:

As a believer, I find this tactic irritating too. We can only take the word of unbelievers that they are sincerely open to the truth, and we must not presume to assert that they are insincere.

There is something to the idea that we need not know that God exists, at least not at any given moment. He will reveal Himself when He chooses, and no one who has sincerely and humbly sought the truth will ultimately be denied it. They may very well be denied the knowledge of God for a time, for a purpose. But we need not act as if they must agree with the believer immediately.

Before God revealed Himself to Abram, Abram had every right to doubt God’s existence. Not to reject the possibility of God, but to question His existence.

You just said constructive criticism.:slight_smile:

You can’t just say that God is the first cause. First you must explain why physical reality can’t explain itself. Then explain why they can’t have the benefit of an infinite regress. Then you must show that this requires a first cause that is not in space/time. Then you must show why this cause must be a personal cause, by showing that the elimination of any physical cause proves the necessity of an transcendent intentional will as the only other option available.

That way they cannot excuse you of just being arbitrary because the logical links are necessary inferences. You have to pin them into a logical conner, and you will know when they are in denial, because they will start saying things like, “something can come from nothing”. I have debated allot of people that end up giving up on logic all together to defend their position. But you don’t have to win their consent, you just have to let them know that logic leads necessarily to God. Then let God do the rest.

Have you Got in constructive criticisms for me?

Thanks to everyone so far for the responses.

[quote=Spock] Punkforchrist, your remark about “everything must be observable” is incorrect. No one says that.
[/quote]

Immediately before, you commented:

There is no observable, repeatable, transferable evidence, which would substantiate the existence of anything supernatural.

I may have misunderstood what you meant, but my opponent said the same thing, which is why I pointed to what I perceive to be a contradiction. The implication made by saying that there is “no observable, etc., evidence of God” is that if there is no such evidence, then we are not justified in believing in God. Maybe this isn’t what you’re saying?

Anyhow… I am off for a short vacation, so have a good time. :slight_smile:

You do the same!

[quote=MindOverMatter] You can’t just say that God is the first cause. First you must explain why physical reality can’t explain itself. Then explain why they can’t have the benefit of an infinite regress. Then you must show that this requires a first cause that is not in space/time. Then you must show why this cause must be a personal cause, by showing that the elimination of any physical cause proves the necessity of an transcendent intentional will as the only other option available.
[/quote]

I went through most of these steps in my opening statement. I argued that we experience dependent things, and that they are caused in some sense. The impossibility of an infinite regress, and a brief exposition on what the nature of the first cause is, followed this. In any case, I wholeheartedly agree with you that it isn’t enough to just postulate a first cause and call it God.

That way they cannot excuse you of just being arbitrary because the logical links are necessary inferences. You have to pin them into a logical conner, and you will know when they are in denial, because they will start saying things like, “something can come from nothing”. I have debated allot of people that end up giving up on logic all together to defend their position. But you don’t have to win their consent, you just have to let them know that logic leads necessarily to God. Then let God do the rest.

I’ve noticed the same thing in my debates. The other common response is that every cause must be an efficient cause that precedes its effect in time. I don’t find either objection compelling, likely for obvious reasons.

Have you Got in constructive criticisms for me?

Not at the moment, but thanks for the input.

How do you define “natural”? Do you regard your power to control yourself as “natural”. Does it correspond to anything in “nature”? What precisely is “nature”?

Never, never, never, never let the atheist off the hook. When he demands your proof, you have every right to counter: where’s your proof there is no God?

The certainty that there is no God is absolutely non-existent on a cognitive level.

Which means that the atheist must also not be approachable by way of his emotions or intuition, because he has effectively denied those avenues to God. If he had not denied them, he would be pursuing them with the greatest vigor and his brain could barely keep pace with his heart. But you rarely find an atheist who is going to bother.

Atheism is usually selected as a life philosophy before the age of fifteen, and once selected, becomes a lifelong experience. If any interest is taken at all in religion, it is to debunk it, draw other people away from it, or go to places like Catholic Answers for intellectual calisthenics and regular self assurance that atheism is superior to religion, both intellectually and morally. :rolleyes:

My advice? Just ask these three questions in this order, but not all at the same time:

  1. Are you infallible? (They will usually say, “No, I could be wrong.”)

  2. Are you certain that God does not exist? (They will usually say, “No, but the odds are not in God’s favor.”)

  3. What if you are wrong? (Now it comes: “Hey, I followed my conscience.”)

Then point out to them that conscience isn’t the issue:

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Matthew 10:32-33

You might remind them that many an atheist has converted on his deathbed. Few Christians have converted to atheism there. On the deathbed, all the odds are suddenly in God’s favor.

And we know why, don’t we? :thumbsup:

Hey, punk;

Your opponent has a complete misunderstanding of St. Thomas’ First Efficient Cause argument, which is typical of most people. The First efficient cause argument has nothing to do with the continuum called “time”. It is the series of causes that are operating simultaneously at each Now that a thing is “in being” or, is “becoming.” I use the word “Now” because it alone represents the beginnings and terminations of the smallest conceivable slices of the continuum called “time”, yet are not per se time.

In another thread, I likened efficient causality to a color-TV-set-in-operation. To be sure, it is a poor analogy, but, it works to describe what is meant by the words, “causal chain”. If you are familiar with the chassis of a modern color TV you will perceive that it consists of several hundred parts. Now, all of these parts stand on their own and cause the operation of the TV-set-being. (Remember, we have not traced the “chain” up to the first cause so it is not a perfect rendering of a complete causal chain.) Each is a secondary efficient cause. As long as all of them are causing the TV set to function as a TV set, you’ll get picture and sound. This “state” is the state of being of a TV set.

In Off condition, what is it? Nothing more than a plastic box that merely has the “potential” for being. If any part/cause does not cause, then the box is simply a box of electronics. But, in the On condition, with all parts/causes operating simultaneously it has being. No part/cause has any sort of priority in terms of time when it comes to the being of the color TV set.

Further, by definition, an “efficient cause” is one that is external to the cause-effect event. It neither exists in the matter (containing the potency), nor in the effect (containing the matter and form unity). It, or other efficient causes, may dispose the matter to receive the form (or, formal cause) but, it remains extrinsic to the effect. An efficient cause can also be thought of as a catalyst of sorts, as it is a cause that “makes” the material cause and the formal cause move, or come to be one in the effect.

Everybody has been so mesmerized by current science that we have all forgotten the real first principles of science, the real objects or subjects of science before we began to cut the objects apart into their smallest pieces. We have forgotten that everyone of us started with mobile being then proceeded on to find the regularities and similarities of mobile or, material, being by dissecting it into its molecules and atoms.

So, until your foe can understand the meaning of efficient cause, everything he suggests is a straw man.

jd

I’m sorry but what you have written here make no sense to me whatsoever. Have you studied any modern physics?

Yes, some, why?

jd

Not exactly. Since I had very little time to make my post, it was unduly short. So, let’s elaborate a bit.

We have first hand knowledge of two types of existence: 1) physical existence and 2) conceptual existence. If and when someone talks about physical existence, we are all justified to ask for actual, physical evidence for the phenomenon in question. I hope we can agree on this. When it comes to conceptual existence, such demand would be futile. Concepts do not exist as ontological entities, they exist

  1. as mental images of the physical reality or some attributes thereof (the concept of an abstract apple, or the number of “2”), or
  2. fully mental concoctions (Hamlet, or fairies or dragons) or
  3. human inventions (justice, beauty) and maybe some other categories.

None of these can be “proven” in a physical sense. That is what I meant when I said that the empiricists do not demand to have physical evidence of “everything”.

Now, theists assert a third kind of existence, which is neither physical, nor purely conceptual (even though the concept of God certainly exists). This is where the contention occurs. Just what does this third kind of existence (usually called “super”-natural existence mean? It is supposed be non-physical, not bound by space and time, etc. Yet, unlike pure conceptual existence, it is not supposed to be “inert”, it is supposed to be able to interact with the physical existence. And this is the problem. If this “super”-natural existence is able to effect the physical existence, then there is an interface between the two. And this interface is partly physical. Therefore, it is totally logical that one may demand physical evidence for something that is at least partly in the physical world.

Strictly speaking there is no such thing as supernatural experience. Anything and everything we percieve with our senses is fully physical. When someone speaks of a supernatural experience, they wish to insinuate that the supernatural is somehow accessible to our senses - which is now a** true contradiction**. So is the assertion that the supernatural can exist within time and within space while being spaceless and timeless (God “manifests” itself). So is the assertion that the supernatural can act on the physical world, while being totally outside of time (creating the world, which is an action, and any action presupposes time). These are all contradictions. Therefore the skeptic can justly say that the theist’s view is self-contradictioty and/or nonsensical. (Sorry, this is not meant to be a put-down.)

As to whether someone is justified to hold a belief, or not, it is a different question. Different people have a different level of “accepting” indirect evidence, it is a wholly subjective endeavor. Physical evidence cannot be denied, though it can be explained away, or at least it can be attempted.

Have you ever read the book Flatland? This book will serve as an adequate rejoinder to your claims above.

Consider the concept of intelligent life on a two-dimensional plane. This is physically impossible, but logically possible, no? Now consider that a sphere comes to intersect that two-dimensional place. The inhabitants of the plane would naturally consider the sphere to be a circle. When the sphere insisted, and tried to explain the third dimension, the inhabitants would likely decide that the sphere was insane.

All evidence for the third dimension would be perceived as inadequate, because of the conceptual limitations placed on the two-dimensional beings. This is true of theism, as well. We may have physical evidence for “spiritual” realities (which are really just a different kind of physical reality), but we are not able to identify it as physical evidence.

I’m not sure how one can argue against this hypothesis, because the hypothesis posits a fundamental limitation on one’s own ability to conceptualize the very thing being talked about. But of course, this argument cannot be proven with the evidence at hand. And there are other problems: Why would God set up such epistemological restrictions? Etc. Nevertheless, I think it is a powerful consideration.

If God exists, the world is FULL of evidence of His existence, but only “for him who has eyes to see”. Jesus said something to this effect, if you check His journal.

Yes, I read it.

It is both physically an logically possible. There is nothing “special” about 3 physical dimensions, which would render a 2-dimensional space impossible.

No, this is impossible. The 3 dimensional sphere cannot intersect with a 2 dimensional space. The question does not even arise - except as a thought experiment. Just like a 4-dimensional being cannot interact with a 3-dimensional space.

We, as 3-dimensional beings cannot “imagine” a tesseract (a 4 dimensional cube), but we can readily understand its properties using mathematics.

This is not supported by the conventional interpretation of “spiritual” or “supernatural” realm. It is supposed to be totally spaceless and timeless - not just residing in a different kind of space and time.

No need to get there. Uri Geller says that one must believe the existence of “paranormal”, otherwise one cannot accept the “evidence”. Which is the reason, why he never performs in front of magicians, who can see through his sleight-of-hand “magic”.

Perhaps my lack of precision was confusing here. I do not mean that the 2-dim plane existed as its own universe. I mean that it was contained within a 3-dim universe, but the beings on it had no notion of a third dimension. They were in fact three dimensional shapes, but they had no idea that they were. This is the concept of a soul, in which the mind is simply the two-dimensional shape that intersects the plane. It is similar to Freud’s concept of the unconscious mind.

The 3-d shapes who experience the world on a 2-d plane have not the sensory apparatus, or perhaps they simply lack the linguistic capacity, to comprehend a third dimension. I fail to see why this is impossible.

If you still insist that a sphere cannot interact with a plane, prove to me why that assertion is true.

[FONT=“Verdana”]This is not supported by the conventional interpretation of “spiritual” or “supernatural” realm. It is supposed to be totally spaceless and timeless - not just residing in a different kind of space and time.

I am throwing out the conventional interpretation of “spiritual”, just like thousands of Christian philosophers and theologians before me have thrown it out. To say that something does not exist in nature and yet interacts with nature is incoherent. There is only one nature.

No need to get there. Uri Geller says that one must believe the existence of “paranormal”, otherwise one cannot accept the “evidence”.

But I am asking no such thing. I am saying that there *may be *an *x *such that *x *cannot be verifiably perceived nor inferred by our senses. I use the qualifier “verifiably”, because – although I believe knowledge of God to be relatively common – I believe that knowledge of God is never empirically verifiable.

(Neither, circumstantially, is knowledge of self.)

I am not asking you to believe first, and then you will find the evidence. I am asking you not to discount the possibility. This is quite distinct from Uri Geller’s statement.

God exists as to what can be known by the light of natural reason.

We are talking about a true, 2 dimensional surface, which has no “thickness”. Any 3-dimensional object would simply go “through” it, without leaving any “impint” on it, so the beings could not see any “intersection”.

I have no problem with this. It is quite conceivable that God resides in his own space-time continuum, where he acts, and his actions somehow, “magically” interfere with our existence. Since this interference happens in both realms, it could be trapped as a physical activity. That is all I am saying.

Agreed. I do not discount the possibility.

Shrug. I’m sure that you, as a mathematician, have been told before that your uncompromising nature spoils the fun out of everything. So it goes.

I could go through the great pains of showing that the thought experiment is logically possible, although not in a true 2d surface, but I’ll pass. It’s valid as a metaphor either way.

I do believe we’ve hijacked another thread, Spock. I guess I always knew I would eventually succumb to a life of crime. :cool:

If the universe cannot not come from nothing, then neither can God. Any attribute or property that can get around this problem can be given to God OR A METAVERSE.

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