God: Supreme Being Or Imaginary Friend?

A few thoughts on this 2 hour debate.

I just finished watching the debate on DVD and thought it was very interesting but became very frustrated at how Dan Barker focused so much on the definitions and meaning of words and ignored the tough issues, such as the beginning of all matter and objective moral truths. He became obsessed with defining what God is. He wanted a definition that could explain him in our terms, such as, size, weight, color, etc. All I’m saying is, there could have been more intellectual thoughts presented rather than argue trivialities such as what God looks like. Despite this, the debate brought about many interesting arguments for both sides. If you did not know the most powerful arguments both sides use, you should watch this DVD. Be warned though, both sides fail at providing adequate defense in many cases. This is said in hindsight of course, as any argument that is watched can be carefully analyzed.

Dan brought up very good points on morality using current examples and common sense intuition but could not coherently disprove how moral truths, that are outside our decision making and intuition, could exist. He simply stated that we can arrive at these “truths” which he defined as instinct, naturally. However I think a point Trent missed here was giving examples of how certain actions that natural selection would allow we do not consider correct, such as the killing of babies who are born with defects to make the gene pool improve or simply to make society better because we will have one less mouth to feed who will not produce/work, or the killing of old people who become handicap because they are of no use, and this includes inaction, not only literal killing, that is, not helping the weak continue because of their state, which we see in the animal world, where animals who are injured fall behind and remain.

While Dan did state that all humans should strive to reduce suffering overall, he did not want to admit that this truth comes from some moral objectivity, but rather, our culture simply values this thought process. I did not think this was an adequate answer, since across cultures, certain views could be seen as correct, and yet we believe them to be wrong at all times. Such as causing suffering for the sake of increased suffering. If morals were truly relative, we could never say whether one person was right or wrong, they are simply of a different opinion. And even this is contradictory, since being tolerant across the board is a form of objectivity (if all relativists did this), which causes you to not be relative anymore since you are stating a universal truth (tolerance).

Trent Horn also stumbled many times, one example is when Dan asked him if lying was always wrong or right. I believe that answer, directed towards lying alone, is not absolute, and that the correct answer would have been that moral truths tell us to treat others as we would want to be treated, with care, love, patience, etc. Therefore, in Dan’s example where you were asked if you would lie to the husband to protect the wife, you yourself would desire to be lied to if you were in the position of the crazed man. Being in a rational state and not in a frenzy, we would know what the objective truth is, that is, that we would want others to lie to us in order to protect loved ones until we calmed down and could think correctly. It seems like common sense in hindsight but a lot of opportunities were missed for both sides.

On the argument of the multi-verse, Dan provided no compelling arguments we haven’t heard before, such as, given enough multi-verses, we came about by luck. He avoided the question that despite having many multi verses, what created those? His main argument is: since we don’t know, we cannot assume. But the very definition of God, in a scientific sense, leads to him being impossible to discover using scientific tools and procedures. Because if God truly created all matter and space and time, then he himself cannot be made of these things. Dan then proceeded to try and define God again by asking, if God is immaterial, then how can God exist? Nothing can’t be something. But this very logic is then abandoned when he tries to defend the universe coming from nothing. He states that it may be possible, but we do not fully understand it. So on one hand God cannot be nothing, but on the other, the universe and the cosmos could appear out of nothing.

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I think Dan’s best argument was about how God, who allows “pointless” evil to happen, ultimately makes our prayers in life invalid. That is, no matter how good you are and how much you pray, bad things will still occur to you and others you love because it will lead to greater goods, according to God’s plan. You can simply pray to acknowledge God and praise him, but asking for assistance or cures is ultimately futile because any suffering that comes about, even to the very best people, occurs for a reason (again, according to God’s plan). Asking otherwise, such as to save a child who is suffering, would go against God’s plan. I think this is a powerful argument because the bible does indeed say that if you pray and ask and believe, you will receive. And it is true that in the world, despite people praying, a lot of evil occurs to the very best people. One statistic presented was how over 75% of children who are abducted were killed within 2 days or some number close to that, despite all families and communities praying for their return. The theist argument would say that we are not in a good position to know what greater good God might bring about with this suffering. But this statement then leads us to conclude that we are not in any position to ask for favorable outcomes, because any outcome, whether favorable or not, are ultimately up to God. When I heard this I was impressed and thought it was the best argument Dan presented, it was coherent and could be proven to a point. The defense was also weak, implying that God allows cruelty to happen to improve others signifies that God takes life away (even if he grants them eternal life) to assist others, but why would he even choose to begin with? I agree that evil that occurs as a result of human behavior has its place, it gives us free will and allows us to choose. But pointless suffering, such as sick children who cannot be cured in third world countries, provides a powerful argument that I am not sure how to counter strongly. The weak argument that we cannot know what God’s plan is does not work well for me in this case because he is not allowing some life to continue living and experience the world and God. Perhaps it is in their favor? Going straight to heaven and avoiding the horrors of this world could be seen as a favorable outcome. But as humans, we believe our experience on earth is valuable. Again, I am not sure of the answer, but the argument is strong. Even Trent Horn acknowledges that this is a difficult argument to counter, because pointless suffering is difficult to explain, unlike human evils, which are easy to explain.

There is more I could talk about but then this would become a book itself.

I would like to hear other’s thoughts on this debate.

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.

  -  St. Thomas Aquinas

Is it a firm teaching of the Church that every evil, every atrocity will always lead to a greater good? Let’s say I have a minor surgery, things go very bad, and i end up paralysed or worse. Is the amount of good contained in the world any more because i am now paralysed? If you yourself became paralysed or blind, you would right away trust God that it’s for your greater good, you would manage to silence your inner voices that would like to scream in protest? So if God allows anything to happen to your wife, children, grandchildren, abduction or something as sinister, you’d be sitting comfortably in your recliner saying to God, “Whatever you decide i am okay with that.” Does a strong faith in God inevitably lead to stoicism?

Absolutely not. The Book of Job explains this whole line of thought very well.

Peace and grace be upon you -


So who won?

Thank you for your detailed comment.

I haven’t watched this particular video, but I have seen Dan Barker in other discussions. I recommend you watch his debate with Dinesh D’Souza. You’ll find it on YouTube (I am a fan of Dinesh).

I’ve also read Dan Barker’s book “godless”. All I can say is - that happens if a fundamentalist starts to question his beliefs. If you want to describe God like something physical, you quickly run into problems. Either you become a Catholic or you turn into an atheist.

Yes, the problem of evil is certainly the biggest challenge we have to face. There are lots of arguments on that topic, and again, interesting discussions on YouTube to watch. Dinesh D’Souza’s discussion with the philosopher (and atheist) Peter Singer is on that topic. That’s the only discussion where I think Dinesh’s opponent won the battle.

Catholics don’t believe that Jesus exists in a glorified body and sits on a throne at the right hand of his father?

Yes, the problem of evil is certainly the biggest challenge we have to face. There are lots of arguments on that topic, and again, interesting discussions on YouTube to watch. Dinesh D’Souza’s discussion with the philosopher (and atheist) Peter Singer is on that topic. That’s the only discussion where I think Dinesh’s opponent won the battle.

I think that’s likely because it was a discussion and not in a debate format and, consequently, D’Souza wasn’t able to Gish Gallop all over the place.

Are you saying he sits on a physical throne? If yes, what is it made out of, in your opinion?

I think that’s likely because it was a discussion and not in a debate format and, consequently, D’Souza wasn’t able to Gish Gallop all over the place.

Dinesh doesn’t use the “Gish Gallop”. He has no need for that. Actually, it was held in a debate format. But I let you judge.

If Jesus exists in a glorified body and sits at the right hand of his father, then he’s sitting on something and that something is usually described as a throne. I haven’t the foggiest what that throne might be made of. The larger point though is that he’s said to exist in a glorified human form. If someone wants to claim that God doesn’t exist physically, then I think they’re going to have to explain that apparent discrepancy.

And this why it was good for Barker to attempt to nail down a definition for God before going onto questions of his existence. I’ve seen too many non-believers argue against a concept of god only to have believers claim that it wasn’t the god that they believe in.

Paralysis, or any other human condition is temporary. As to suffering, let’s consider a line painted on a wall. That wall and the line on it extend into infinity. The line represents our existence. The first inch of that line is painted red, with the rest being an indescribable, heavenly color. That first inch is our suffering on this earth, while the remainder, which never ends, is the perfection of heavenly joy that we will encounter once we leave this life. Is that inch of suffering too high a price to pay for eternal joy?

We are too hung up on this short life and trying to erase all pain from it. We are members of the Body of Christ. Living members of a living Body. Thus, we will suffer on this earth, just as our Savior did - but He does no more, and neither do those with Him. He is a God who bears in His Body the scars of human failure and injustice. Do we seriously expect to escape those same scars - scars which we will no longer remember once we are freed from this earth?

We were purchased at a great cost, Saint Paul reminds us. Do we demand the reward without sharing in the price? Are we willing to endure this short period of suffering so as to enjoy endless perfection in His eternal presence?

If you see God as a physical being, made out of those 92 elements we know exist in nature, then I rest my case. I always go from the assumption that God is not part of this physical universe, which He created and which He sustains continuously.

Are you claiming that Jesus wasn’t physically resurrected from the dead? The resurrected Jesus left behind an empty tomb and ate and drank with his followers. Thomas even put his hand into his side.

Was the debate filmed for christians, atheists? Who were the speakers, christians, atheists, some kind of fundamentalists-atheists?

It seems that your analysis on the contents of the debate is basically on the existence of God, the relationship of God with mankind, suffering, resurrection and faith.

It seems that you have limited theology on these subjects and the Catholic theology.

Anyway you can write a book or volumes of books in analyzing the debate and hopefully with the outcome of deepening the faith of your fellow Catholics and with the conclusion that understanding God in His divinity, glory and might, His relationship to mankind and the world is incomprehensible - a mystery no man can ever fully explain.

You can play with your mind in saying ‘the throne’ is physical as Jesus ‘physical body’ was not found in the tomb as he has been raised as your proof. There is so much more to talk about this; physical body v resurrected body. an opposing proof ; how can that ‘physical body’ miraculously walked through locked doors at the upper room and appeared to his disciples?

Regarding suffering, can all sufferings be said to be God’s creation? How can you differentiate suffering which are not natural, natural, intentional, supernatural, diabolical ,relational, spiritual you name it. There is so much more to talk about this; divine plan v human assumption.

What matters the most is that there is God One God - The Trinity. This God is to be worshiped and feared, honored by all creation especially mankind.

God is a mystery, humanity is only a creature and ought to honor love and worship the creator.
Catholic faith I think is also a mystery.

Can you send me a copy of the film.

Indeed to all you have said. It is true that my understanding of the catholic faith and theology is in it’s infancy. My own doubts arise from not being able to comprehend the creator, which is a foolish thought itself; to believe that one could ever fully grasp it all. I simply attempt to understand what I can.

The debate I was referring to is sold on this site. The debator on God’s side was Trent Horn, who has provided this site with much content. Unfortunately I cannot send you the debate as it is in physical format.

The title of the DVD is the same as the title of this thread.

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