Traditionally a formal debate will open with some kind of thanks and introduction. This debate, given a shorter word limit, will have to suffice with 'Thanks', and 'Welcome'.
Additionally, I would like to formally acknowledge an immediate advantage to my opponent, for accepting a debate challenge from the one theist on this forum who will knowingly waste words on quips, anecdotes and flippant asides. Hopefully it will make the debate more enjoyable for others to read. Enjoy your advantage, sucka!
The Christian God exists. This is a two-fold claim, firstly that theism is true, and that of all the claims on the identity of beings entailed by theism, only Christianity is correct, and claims made by other religions and worldviews are false.
With one thirtieth of my word limit already used up, let's go balls to the wall, and dive right in with a little something I like to call the 'Theality Causational Argument' (because let's face it, I'm not going to call it the 'Composer Causational Argument', now am I?).
The TCA is based, like any good argument, on the laws of logic. For brevity, I'm not going to state them here, but Google can probably help you if you need it. But even more interestingly, it also begins with an observation by our contemplative eastern neighbours, the Buddhists.
"When nothing happens, nothing happens".
It's simple, it's self proving, it's a tautology, it's yours now for twenty nine ninety five if you call in the next ten minutes.
Simply put, if there's been no action, there's been no cause. And, if we spin that on its head, if there's no cause, there's no action. Thus, we can say that if something changes, begins, or ends, there's been a cause for that change because, if nothing happens, nothing happens.
Next, we go back a few thousand years (and a whole other continent) to talk to our old pal Aristotle, who tells us that "one cannot traverse an infinite series". What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Well, actually, not a damn thing. But with regards to the origin of the universe, if it in fact has one, it's highly relevant.
When we consider the nature of time and the universe, we have two options. Numero Uno, is that the universe began at some point. Part Deux is that the universe did not begin at some point. This is what we good folks speaking the Queens English like to call a dichotomy. It's one or the other, and there ain't any compromising.
So, if the universe did not begin at some point, we should imagine that it stretches infinitely back into the past.
So, if the universe did not begin at some point, we should imagine that it stretches infinitely back into the past. Now, every time I suggest an infinite number of minutes before this current minute, some goon gets all misty eyed and politely informs me that 'minutes' is just a label used by humans to make sense of the passing of time from one part of time to the next. Fine, ya hippy, let's pick an arbitrary amount of time (no seriously, think of a ten decimal place number between five and thirty seven, and don't tell me what it is), and call it 't'. If there's no beginning to the universe, then we take the current 't', and we can imagine an infinite number of 't's before it.
But hang on, time is going forwards, and so we must pass all the previous 't's before this one. So before we can hit up time 't', we must hit up time 't' -1. And before that 't' -2. Start counting folks, cause for every number you can think of, I can think of one higher.
And the wisdom of old mate Aristotle begins to make sense. If the universe stretches back into infinity, then the passage of time could not have traversed all those 't's before this current 't', and we wouldn't be having this conversation now, now would we?
So, the universe began, at some point. On that, most scientists agree, and call it the 'Big bang'. Because, apparently, 'Rapidly expanding singularity or spacetime' just wasn't catchy enough. Woo.
So if we take the wisdom of Aristotle, and stir in a healthy measure of Buddhism, then we understand that the universe, which began to exist, had a cause. We also know that time and space, which exist in the universe, need not apply to whatever caused the universe. It's independent of both.
Now we know there's a cause, but we need to ask what that cause is. We need to start considering the nature of that cause. Was it God? A giant place of noodley Italian appendages? Or some Quantum foam (because 'Quantum' is the catch phrase of the day, kiddies!).
First step, let's ask ourselves if that cause is conscious, or unconscious.
Stop. Collaborate and listen. Take a breath. Clear you mind, and place a mental note at this point, because at some point, some muppet is going to confuse what comes before this point, and what comes after this point. Bear with me, you'll see what I mean shortly.
Now then, we have two possibilities. A conscious cause, existing outside of time and space, which I shall refer to as a 'mind', and an unconscious cause, existing outside of time and space, which I shall refer to as a 'mechanism'. Ten points for guessing what that is.... Bingo, another dichotomy!
Yeah, it's been suggested that there are different levels of consciousness. Perhaps your loyal Doberman named 'Duke', or your old cat 'Smokey' don't sit down and ponder the nature of the ir own existence the way we do. But they're still conscious, so the dichotomy still stands.
So, conscious or unconscious, mind or mechanism, that is the question. At this point, we have to play a game of probability, or perhaps try applying our understanding of logic to something outside our universe. Well, I don't know any other system, so let's forge ahead regardless.
Let's look at the options now: Behind door number one, we have a universe creating machine. For every time you press the big red button on top, a universe pops out with a set of constants that may or may not allow for life. The odds against a life permitting universe is about sixty billion to one, but hey, this machine doesn't really have to worry about time, so it just keeps pumping out universes until it gets one with the right constants. And, of course, being an unconscious mechanism, when it does get that lucky universe.... it just keeps pumping out universes all the same.
Behind door number two, you have a conscious mind, that also can create universes. At will, it can bring about a universe, with just the right constants for a desired goal, say, life. The odds of getting a life permitting universe is pretty high, say, one (because, let's face it, the mind selects the constants). It will create a universe, and keep an eye on things.
So, just for kicks and giggles, let's say the two decide to have a competition to create a universe. It doesn't matter how many they make, or how long they spend (because time, outside of time? Forgeddaboutit!) making universes. The winner is simply the one who creates the biggest, the grandest, the most 'perfect' universe.
The studio audience goes quiet, a hush settles over the stage. The mind is imagining the constants it needs, the machine holds the possibilities for every constant possible, just waiting for that button to be pushed. Three... two... one... BEGIN!
The mind wills a universe into being. In the blink of an eye, a singularity explodes, birthing time and space. Outside of time, the studio audience gasps in awe and wonder as galaxies are formed, stars are born and die, and on a tiny blue speck, the most amazing things begin to happen.
With baited anticipation, they turn their attention to the mechanism, waiting to behold the wonders of this number crunching behemoth, and they find.... that button, still waiting to be pressed.
In case you missed the moral of this little fable, let me break it down for you, street style. A machine is incapable of self initiating a process, where as a mind isn't.
"Ah! But there's so much we still don't know yet! Why not just admit we don't know the answer yet, and leave it at that? Why invent an arbitrary magic man in the sky to solve our problems?"
Ah yes, I did mention that some muppet would object, even if it's an imaginary muppet that I've cobbled together from prior objections to my arguments. It's simple, you muppet!
Remember that mental bookmark I had you place earlier? (It's okay, scroll up if you need to)
You'll recall that there wasn't a lot to object to when I simply stated that it's likely the universe had a beginning, and therefore a cause. There's been many secular proposals to fill this gap, a multiverse, quantum foam, and even a cart full of universes driving along a bumpy road! (Though that last one was tongue in cheek by a very gracious atheist podcast host. Hi, Ben and Michael!).
But do you notice that none of these causes are accused by atheists of being 'arbitrary'? They're all causes of the universe, they simply contain an aspect from the other side of the dichotomy that the God hypothesis draws its consciousness aspect from. Sorry to rain on the parade there, dude (actually, no I'm not, that's rather the point), but if you aren't calling an 'arbitrary' foul before we assign the un/conscious attribute, then it's a bit late to call it after, simply because you don't which side the coin lands on, after all that logic business is applied.
So what are we left with?
A conscious being, that exists outside of time and space, that created a universe consisting of both. Well, that sounds like the 'God' of theism to me. Atheism? Click, click, boom.
But which God is it? Yahweh? Allah? Vishnu, or one of the Polynesian microgods? I've got thirteen hundred words left, so let's break it down as quick as we can.
Let's do away with all the pantheons and tribal gods straight away, with a quick flick of a razor by a little monk by the name of William of Ockham. When I start proposing a new God for each field, crop, season and aspect of the weather, then you can start slapping me about the face with a big stick engraved with the word 'arbitrary'. Hell, I'll even help you engrave it beforehand.
Yeesh, words are a'wastin'.
So let's, for simplicity sake, say we're left with the three big monotheistic religions, interestingly, all sharing the same point of origin, old mate Abraham.
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the usual suspects, but without Keyser Soze.
Let's start with Islam. Word comes to a dude named Mohammad about God, and this new movement in the middle east. He shuts himself in a cave for six weeks, eating.... roots, dirt, mushrooms? When he comes out, he says and angel spoke to him! And gave him the word of God!
Nice, but I'd like to see some kind of second or third witness please. Oh yeah, one dude, and mushrooms.
Okay, let's call Islam 'Plan B' for now.
Judaism and Christianity. What's the difference? Jesus, was he a prophet, or the messiah?
Well then, if we want to make a decision between those two, let's look at the big man himself. Firstly, did Jesus claim to be the messiah, or God in the flesh?
The easiest way to determine this is to look at what the man said. If you look in the scriptures, you'll find something called the 'Tetragrammaton'. This is a written form of the words used by God to describe himself to Moses on mount Sinai, roughly translated as "I AM" (Apparently, it's always better in full caps, helps carry the authority).
While the Tetragrammaton appears a few thousand times in the bible, it is only narrated as being spoken about three times. Once, is at the original meet and greet, the burning bush. When Moses passed on the deets of /that/ little convo, those words became too holy to be spoken by anyone less than God himself. But 'ang on a mo', there's two more places in the bible where someone speaks it. Who were the other two?
Well, it was one actually, and no prizes for guessing who. Jesus said it firstly in the temple, and people began to pick up rocks to stone him for blasphemy. The second time was after his arrest, when he was speaking to the Sanhedrin. He said "I AM", they said "I see what you did there, kthnxbai, now you die" (I mentioned that to some Jehovah Witnesses, by the by, they agreed with what I said without realising the implications, they ran out the door about forty seconds later).
So the dude obviously thought he was, so let's do away with any 'just a great teacher' nonsense before it begins. But what if he was just a liar, or a lunatic?
Well, we have the slight problem of a publically known tomb, guarded by roman soldiers. And a disappearing body. Then a number of sightings (from a culture that didn't believe in bodily resurrection), and then a culture explosion in the middle of religion central. The disciples clearly believed they saw him, and many went to their deaths (and when it came to inflicting pain on a prisoner, the Romans? Forget about it! Torture of the highest order) for refusing to recant their experiences.
Now there's a number of potential problems immediately here. Say we can accept theism, why accept the bible as an accurate record of history at that time? Isn't it a badly translated copy?
Well, if we tally the number of manuscripts found, and then factor in the year difference between when the manuscripts were dated, and when the originals would have been written, we have a fairly high standard of verification here.
Or, if we want to decide that it's simply not good enough, we must on principle throw out the writings of Caesar and Plato, plus a few others less well known, but equally accepted by historians (details available on request!).
So we can at the very least accept that the writings are legit, and that what was written at the time is what we've got a hold of today (updates in language and grammar not withstanding).
So what have we got so far?
We've got a case for theism based on the laws of logic, and a basic (very basic) case for Christianity over the other monotheistic religions.
So if Mr Sparkling wishes to have readers of this debate entertain the notion that the case for the Christian God is simply not there, then he will have to do any number of the following:
Firstly, he must undermine the case for theism in general. If he can do this, then he can relegate the problem of the historical resurrection to future sciences, by claiming no reason to accept the supernatural as an explanation in a purely naturalistic universe.
Because the case for theism is based on a dichotomy, he will need to demonstrate not only why the case for a conscious mind as a creator fails, but then demonstrate why it is more likely that an unconscious mechanism, unassisted or activated, self initiated the process that begun the universe and time and space as we know it.
Sparkling might protest that he simply needs to show why my argument fails, but because my argument is based upon the reasoning that an unconscious mechanism is incapable of self initiating (essentially a claim towards a negative), in order to show how my argument fails, then he must show how that claim towards a negative is illogical, by building a positive case.
Should he do that, he will be well placed to win the debate immediately, with the added bonus of immediately improving my sex life as an unmarried Christian male. And more power to both of us if that happens.
On the occasion that Sparkling fails to undermine the causational argument, and therefore concedes theism as a probably explanation for life as we know it, he will then need to demonstrate that my argument for Christianity, based on a process of elimination of the other monotheistic religions, fails.
He could do that by presenting a case for polytheism that circumnavigates the problem of Ockham's razor, or by perhaps showing where my arguments against Islam fail, or my arguments against the probable divinity of Jesus fail, and thus support Judaism.
Again, because my cases are built on negatives (It isn't polytheism, it isn't Islam, it isn't Judaism), Sparkling will have to demonstrate that my reasoning on eliminating one of those alternatives simply isn't enough, by demonstrating where I have failed to show their internal and external consistency.
Of course, he may do something entirely different, and amaze us all.
But with a little over a hundred words left, I'll sign off here.
E4 to E5.
Thanks for your opening.
Michael, It may come as no surprise to you, and it ought not come as a surprise to any person familiar with Sagan’s apt quote “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, that while your opening post in essence may have been a mildly entertaining read, as far as substance is concerned it represented two tiresomely routine and appallingly weak defenses of the extravagant claims you assert.
Given your certainty, you are in the unenviable position in this debate of being burdened with proving that the universe was caused by a conscious mind. Not only that, but that this conscious mind is in fact the god of Christianity. A god capable of surveilling our thoughts, answering our prayers and getting ticked off when Homo Sapiens labor on the sabbath, or when we sacrifice an ox in the wrong manner. In doing this you are attempting to make a significant contribution to the science of cosmology.
If I am to accept your argument then the doubt and open mindedness of people like Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, Brian Greene, Michio Kaku, Ed Witten, Alan Guth, Richard Feynmen, Roger Penrose and Martin Rees to name but a few, is misplaced. The answer it seems, was staring these men in the face the entire time. One wonders how they all could have missed it?
According to you, their certainty would have instead been best placed in a selection of palestinian fables and, considering this is the creator of the universe we are talking about here, curiously unimpressive, domestic sounding miracle stories written by anonymous authors, edited over at least two centuries, and attested to by copies of copies of copies of ancient greek manuscripts, in a time when very often, the village scribes tasked with making these early renditions were not themselves literate. How could anyone fail to be compelled?
I am not as you may like to imagine, in the position of demonstrating that “the christian god is simply not there”, because the truth is that I cannot prove this claim anymore than you can prove that Zeus is simply not there, or that Mithras or Amon or Thor are simply not there. You could be right after all, there may in fact be a deity somewhere out there who prefers to be called Yahweh instead of Vishnu. Neither am I burdened with proving that an unconscious process definitely led to the occurrence of our universe, or that a conscious cause is an impossibility; a conscious cause may indeed be logically valid, but without evidence to prove it Michael, it’s mere speculation. If I am to be considered intellectually honest in this debate, I must say that I simply stand on the side of doubt regarding these issues, and so all that is required for me to win here is to show that the arguments you provide as “proof” of your certainties do not make for a case persuasive enough that it warrants removal of the current uncertainty within the scientific community. If I can do this, then to borrow your phrase, it’s not necessarily “click click, boom” to theism so much as it’s “Meh, nothing interesting here, back to work...”.
Before we continue, please allow me to inject a fact into this debate. Here is one which no serious person doubts, physicist or otherwise. We simply do not know what the origins of our universe are. This is not just my opinion, it’s as uncontroversial an observation as the fact that we do not yet know how to cure all cancers. However it’s even more profound than that since we do at least have some understanding as to what triggers cancer to occur at a genetic level. As far as cosmology is concerned, no one is in the position of saying that it is probably a conscious mind which caused the universe, because in truth there is zero hard evidence to support this claim, and when real cosmologists come back from their next conference saying things like “space-time may be a closed manifold, and therefore, may have no beginning and no end” or point out that beginnings are entities that have to do with time and that because time did not exist before the big bang, the concept of a “beginning” of the universe is meaningless, or theorize that our universe inflated due to the collisions of branes - they are essentially shutting the door on your faith based certainties about a creation event and your fallacious and unsubstantiated assertion that only a conscious process could have been responsible for the big bang. And so given all of this, I could in effect leave it here. As I expected, you have failed at the starting point to even demonstrate that deism is true, let alone theism. I’ll even grant you that the universe had a cause if you wish; it would however, change nothing. It wouldn’t prove that this cause was conscious or that it was a deity, nor would it prove that this cause cared about us or about who we had sex with.
Back to square one, try again.
You then went on to conclude to yourself that christianity is the one true faith by a process of elimination against two, count em’ two other religions! I almost choked on my mince pie at this point. Presumably you were unaware of the 10,000 other gods which have been worshipped throughout history. Just where do you get the authority to so carelessly carve all of these religions away leaving only the three religions of Abraham? Have you studied all of them? The argument you then go onto use in favor of the claim that a bronze age jewish carpenter had something to do with the big bang is Lewis’ trilemma. An argument so bad that even Dr Craig admits it is an unsound and unconvincing defense of christianity. A fourth option to consider, perhaps too obvious to mention, is that Jesus was simply mistaken and that the stories you read about him in the New Testament represent the attempts of his early followers to deify him. This is not unreasonable, we see myths and elaboration's evolve out of fairly routine events all the time. This alone warrants doubt and mentions nothing about the inconsistencies and mistranslations that gave rise to the modern text.
And so, with just 1,183 words left to spare, I'll sign off.
Thank you again for inviting me to this debate, I look forward to your reply, there is no rush as it is the holiday season. I hope you have a merry christmas.
Thanks for a timely reply, Sparkling. As I am ever working against that word limit, I shall attempt to respond and, where necessary, rebut Sparklings opening argument in a quick paragraph by paragraph response, and point out what I found to be logical fallacies, or misunderstandings in Sparklings interpretation of evidence.
It's curious to note that Sparklings opening argument comes less as an opening argument, and more of a first rebuttal, but then he graciously evened the score by offering up at least a thousand of his words from the word count, not to mention not directly engaging with my arguments until the final two paragraphs. A bold move, but gracious nonetheless.
Let's roll up our sleeves, and see if we can't sort out fact from fallacy in all this jumble. On to the first paragraph!
Sparkling opens in the first paragraph with an appeal from Sagan, asserting that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence', before dismissing my opening arguments as 'two tiresomely routine and appallingly weak defenses (sic) of the extravagant claims (I) assert'.
At this point, I would ask Sparkling to offer some reasons as to why he supports Sagans axiom in this matter, and then seek clarification as to which of my premises he found to be particularly extravagant. Was it my premise that effect necessitates cause, a la our old friend Buddha? Or perhaps it's good old Aristotle that he feels is extravagant. He could, perhaps, wish to state that he feels that a mechanism can self initiate a sequence of events, unguided, but I will leave off on this point pending further clarification.
The second paragraph lists a few of the characteristics of the God of the bible, in an attempt to... discredit a logic based argument with the personal preferences of the being inferred by the argument? In academia, this if often referred to as an 'Appeal to Ridicule', and listed among many common logical fallacies.
And speaking of logical fallacies, Sparkling then goes on in the next paragraph to commit an appeal to authority, suggesting that a number of well known minds from history are doubters, and to suggest that someone can believe they are wrong is arrogant. I won't bother fighting fire with fire (as exciting as more fire is, in almost all occasions except a bushfire and a housefire), but a simple Google search will reveal the names of many minds just as influential who identify as Christians.
But in order to complete a trifecta, Sparkling then returns to his original fallacy, and sneaks in a few historical errors under the cover of another Appeal to Ridicule, begging the question by referring to the stories of the Bible as 'Palestinian fables' before even attempting to demonstrate, by use of logic and the historical method, that the Bible might not be a sound historical document.
Let's ignore the ridicule a moment, and examine the historical claims. First, that the authors are anonymous. While we could waste a few thousand words discussing the authorship of each of the books of the bible, let us for now look at the Pauline Epistles. There are thirteen books of the new testament that are claimed to have been written by Paul, at least seven of these are considered 'undisputed' by almost all biblical scholars, sympathetic of sceptic alike. This claim can be verified in a later rebuttal if challenged, or in question and answer time, if needed.
Sparkling then moves on to commit the fallacy of Hasty Generalisation, in which he likens the case for (and against) Yahweh to the case for Zeus, Mithras, Amon or Thor. He asserts that because I cannot make a case against these gods, I cannot reasonably expect him to make a case against Yahweh.
The most obvious problem with this is that I can make a logical case against these gods, and in point of reference (remember that 'up' button, kiddos and cadets?), I did make a logical case against those gods, citing Ockhams Razor as a means of doing away with pantheistic gods in favour of a simple hypothesis, being a singular monotheistic entity. So in making this assertion, Sparkling has failed to respond to my earlier argument, and then committed another fallacy to boot. Well played?
He then requests an allowance to 'inject a fact into this debate. Here is one which no serious person doubts, physicist or otherwise' (Emphasis mine) and then states bluntly that we don't know what the origins of the universe are. I'd ask Sparkling to define 'serious' as, in a debate about the existence of, not only a god or gods, but the Christian God, with his every own account of the origin of the universe, Sparkling is attempting to pass of as uncontroversial fact, that his position is a default and unargued position! I think this one is called 'Begging the question'. I'd be interested in keeping count of the fallacies here, but the word count is currently of more relevance to me.
Sparkling finishes off this bout with the offer to grant that the universe has a cause (which means, if you check the beginning of my rebuttal, he is obviously not disputing Buddha or Aristotle, so there's one appeal to authority I need not commit), but then injects one last appeal to ridicule by mentioning the ever present problem of sex. Hrmm.... perhaps a 'logical fallacy' drinking game. Perhaps not, come to think of it, my liver is not up to that. Ah well, onwards and upwards!
With his final two paragraphs, Sparkling begins to engage directly with my arguments, albeit briefly. He begins my making an unsupported assertion that my opening arguments are 'so ridiculously question begging that (he) stru ggled to know quite where to begin' (Protip: The beginning usually works, it helps people keep up with the flow, yo).
He does correctly point out that I made an assumption that the conscious cause of my 'little' thought experiment (hooray for condescension!) would only be interested in creating a universe that supported life. Mea culpa, and perhaps this entity also created other universes that would help him win the competition. Regardless, as the anthropic principle states, we only really need consider the implications of him making this on, because here we are in it. On top of that, Sparkling has successfully managed to miss the point of the argument, in that the argument is designed to show that a mechanism is an unlikely candidate for the universe, not that a specifically theistic mind is the likely candidate, over a possible deistic mind.
So while the shift hadn't gone unnoticed, it appears that the point of the argument had. Ah well, that's why we have rebuttals, to clarify missed opportunities.
Sparkling then begins choking on his mince pie (which he obviously, thankfully recovered from, and props to him for demonstrating Christmas spirit of choosing a mince pie to choke on rather than, say, a meatloaf sandwich) over my assessment of the three big historical monotheistic worldviews in history. Apparently, he was too busy enjoying his mince pie (and honestly, who could blame him? Mine pies are yummy!) to properly read the statements I made before assessing Islam and Judaism against Christianity, when I discarded many of the polytheistic and pantheistic religions of the world (which, let's face it, is about ninety nine percent of 'em), using Ockhams Razor.
So when he asks me about my authority to 'carve away all those religions', I point him to William of Ockham, and ask why we need a million gods when one will do. For the many monotheistic Gods of the world that aren't included on the Abrahamic roster, who is not to say that a singular God cannot speak only to a certain culture in the middle east? (Google Shang Di, no really, do it. Human evolution of religion all up in this business.)
I particularly enjoyed reading this next passage from Sparkling. Quoted for truth below:
"The argument you then go on to use in favor of the claim that a bronze age jewish carpenter (ridicule) had something to do with the big bang is Lewis' trilemma. An argument so bad that even Dr Craig admits (appeal to authority, from the other side!) is unsound and unconvincing defense of Christianity. A fourth option to consider, perhaps too obvious to mention, is that Jesus was simply mistaken (an almost directly verbatim plagiarism of Richard Dawkins 'The God Delusion', P117, 2007 Black Swan edition (Protip: If you're going to quote someone, attribute the quote, otherwise, dick move)), and that the stories you read about him in the New Testament represent the attempts of his early followers to deify him."
Three logical blunders and plagiarism in the one sentence! Well played indeed. Before I'm accused of appeal to ridicule myself (even if it's only from having a grin at actual fallacies), let's have a look at the problems.
Firstly, the calling Jesus a 'bronze age jewish carpenter' is simply ignorant. Capitalise your damn nationalities, and then recognise that Jesus would be better described as being born in the Iron age (wiki this stuff, please!). Secondly, ridiculing the results of a logical deduction without proposing fault in the logic is nothing more than an appeal to fallacy.
Secondly, Dr Craig disapproves of the Lewis Trilemma. Thankfully, I am not Dr Craig, and believe it to be sound. I also (potentiall) disagree with Dr Craig over the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, that is hardly reason to dismiss a logical argument.
Lastly and more importantly, and I direct these comments to Professor Richard Dawkins, whom Sparkling has quoted here, 'simply mistaken' is usually a classification described as 'lunatic'. The trilemma takes its name from the notion that "Lunatic, liar or lord" is in fact, a trichotomy.
To respond to Sparklings quote with one of my own, from the man himself, CS Lewis:
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a boiled egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell."
Now this man might be 'honestly mistaken' about being a boiled egg, but that makes him no less a lunatic.
Sparkling rounds off this argument by asserting that 'we see myths and elaborations evolve out of fairly routine events all the time', but offers no examples of such a phenomena, nor evidence as to why we should believe this assertion. Yes, I'm aware that Johnny Wilkinson's winning kick in the 2003 rugby union world cup probably had divine (or infernal!) intervention involved (although his shoes were specially designed for long range kicks, by an Australian no less!), but I've yet to see a religion forming around the man.
There is, of course, the unresolved possibility that Jesus never existed, though Sparkling appears to have sided with fellow skeptic Bart Ehrman and not challenge this point, in that Sparkling suggests that Jesus had followers who made attempts 'to deify him', and that he was 'simply mistaken' about being God in the flesh.
Therefore, with a hundred and fifty words remaining, I'll sign off and await a response from my opponent.
Ball's in your court, and Merry Christmas!
It should be clear to those who read your rebuttal that you did not attempt to offer any further proof of your position and have therefore still failed to meet the burden required of you in this debate for the first fold of your claim, that being that a conscious entity definitely caused the universe. Nothing you have presented so far justifies any kind of certainty on these issues, nor warrants the removal of doubt and uncertainty from within the scientific community as to what the big bang was and how it occurred.
You instead begin by asking me to address Carl Sagan’s quote and to clarify how it applies to the claims you are making.
Michael, by itself the hypothesis that the universe had a cause is not extravagant beyond reason. Some cosmologists do choose to talk about the singularity in this fashion, others like Stephen Hawking see a problem with words like “cause” and “beginning” because, as far as we know, the very laws of cause and effect only came into existence with the big bang and there is still uncertainty as to whether dimensions of time existed “prior” to this (as you can see it’s difficult to discuss this subject without tripping over your own vocabulary), the point remains that no final conclusions have yet been reached, indeed, there is still no definite certainty that a final conclusion can be reached. There is still much we simply do not know. But let us not mince words here, you are claiming that you do know, you are not merely offering the tentative speculation that the universe had a cause, you are claiming absolute certainty that this is a fact and in the process relegating yourself to a faith position in which you are completely closed to any other possibility. The claim alone should warrant it’s own research paper, but no, you instead choose to skip this and go further with your religious assertions. Not only are you certain that the universe had a cause, you are also certain that this cause has consciousness. Moreover, this conscious cause is also interested in the wheelings and dealings of our species! But it gets better; this conscious cause, according to you, cares about whether men have sex with each other (does it not?), this conscious cause cares about whether people work on a particular day of the week, a day of the week! (does it not?), just ponder for a moment Michael, on the numerous odd questions that these strange assertions entail. But it doesn’t stop there, you are also absolutely certain that the conscious cause of the big bang manifested itself in the form of a Jewish carpenter approximately 2000 years ago, visiting our galaxy, our solar system, our planet, appearing in a remote part of Roman occupied Palestine, (did it not?) - performing suspiciously trite miracles to the illiterate peasants living in the satellite farming communities surrounding Jerusalem and preaching a doctrine of salvation so that the “saved” may enjoy an eternal afterlife (a sub claim you have yet to prove) and the “damned” a fiery, tortuous, never ending ordeal for refusing to accept this offer.
Please understand Michael, that my intention here is not to ridicule you, and if it sounds like I am it is only because, given the current uncertainty within the field of cosmology at this moment, the claims of certainty you profess really do sound ridiculous. In retrospect, the word “extravagant” I feel fail’s to fully capture the kinds of things you have said so far. As far as proving that the universe definitely has a conscious cause, you have offered no data, no research, no experimental evidence, no models, no mathematics, nothing! Instead you invented a cumbersome thought experiment out of which popped the unsubstantiated assertion that only a conscious process could cause the big bang to occur, conveniently ignoring all of the research, mathematics and theoretical models which contradict this. From this shaky ground you feel it appropriate to then go on offering me reasons why you think the New Testament is a compelling conclusion to cosmological questions; Jesus was a deity because that is the only other conclusion to reach besides him being a liar or a lunatic... Right. This could hardly be considered “extraordinary evidence”. Perhaps this Jesus wasn’t a lunatic per se? Perhaps he just thought (as many others have), that he was sent on an errand from god, he curtailed a cult following and was deified by his early enthusiasts after he died. Or is this not possible? Your assertion that one god is more parsimonious than many is more than a little wooly and question begging. Im moved to ask how you can prove that only one god exists, without attempting to ram through some ontological speculation. How can you prove there aren’t an infinite number? Why does one god necessarily have more explanatory power than two?
It really doesn’t matter what a person reading this exchange may feel personally, the fact is that there is no justifiable certainty to be had here, you have not met the burden of proving conclusively that a conscious entity caused the universe, let alone a christian conscious entity; doubt and openness to these question remain. You have positioned yourself (perhaps foolishly) in this debate, with proving all of this to such a degree that there ought be no doubt left to be had. Prior to this debate, the fact that we didn’t know precisely how the big bang occurred was as obvious as it had been in the past, and I think it is safe to say that, in the aftermath of your initial post and subsequent rebuttal, nothing here has changed. The question remains genuinely unanswered and absolute certainty is still not a tenable position to hold. What I found curious about your rebuttal is that you seemed to be skeptical about whether the origins of our universe were in fact unsolved. I must say Michael, I missed the newspaper headline which read “Cosmologists finally discover what caused our universe!” , would you care to provide some sources from within the scientific community from individuals who have made this claim in your next post please.
Twas the morning of Christmas and all through the house,
All the presents were opened, they were really quite grouse!
But for one, his mind and his thoughts were engaged,
In reasonable faith, where debating still raged.
The opening arguments given and traded,
Showing the participants we possibly jaded,
As arguments traded, and analogies quipped,
Showing some brain muscles really quite ripped!
The schedule exciting, the participants crackers,
For a debate that really left no room for slackers.
But some were worried, at how harsh was this litmus,
'Give him a break, after all this is Christmas!'
But the fighters weren't worried, enjoying the flow,
So the people could sit back and look at the show.
They pressed on regardless, never quite being late,
So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a debate!
Sparkling begins his first rebuttal with the curious notion that the burden of proof rests as an absolute all or nothing on the affirmative debater and that, should I fail to establish beyond all reasonable doubt that my position is definitely the correct one, I will fail in this debate and he will win by default.
I say 'curious' because, in all my readings of the various debate societies and organisations available on the internet, such a high burden is never placed upon either side of a debate, instead resting the outcome of the debate on a balance of probability and Prima Facie evidence (at first glance), which my opponent appears to have confused with beyond all reasonable doubt.
To this end, I would summarily dismiss Sparklings charges that I have failed to justify certainty, and press on with some of his other objections instead. Sparkling may, if he chooses, decide to press this point, and I would invite him to submit or present some precedence for this high standard, just as I would be happy to submit my findings during Q&A time, and provide links to discussions by professional debate societies and university societies on this matter.
For now I will simply submit that I see my role in this debate as to demonstrate, on the balance of probability, that not only is the proposition 'The Christian God exists' likely, but that one might be considered rational and intelligent whilst holding this proposition to be true.
The bulk of Sparklings rebuttal comes in three monumental sized paragraphs, so I will attempt to break them down into smaller chunks in order to refute them. I should, at this point, again thank Sparkling for choosing to forgo almost half of his word limit in response. Whether or not this is grace or confidence, I would be curious do discuss post debate.
Sparkling opens his rebuttal proper by clarifying his earlier Sagan quote, to which I am grateful. He essentially concedes that my hypothesis that the universe has a cause is not an extravagant claim, and therefore he is not challenging my earlier calls to our ancient Broda's of philosophy, the Buddha and Aristotle. He does, however, reference Stephen Hawkings caution about using words like 'cause' and 'beginning' with reference to the beginning of the universe, as such words may be non-sequitur (my paraphrase).
To this, I would submit the possibility that Sparkling, or Hawking as the case may be, has confused the notion of causality as inferred by the Aristotelian laws of thought with the notion of temporal causality, where one cause must take place temporally prior to another event. It's not a hard mistake to make, after all we are entirely in the realms of abstract philosophical thinking here. But given that this is the same Stephen Hawking who recently hypothesises that the universe, and all its laws of physics contained within, may have come about as a result of the laws of gravity, one of the aforementioned laws of physics, I think we can offer some precedence of such a mistake in ontological causality having occurred before.
The rest of this first paragraph then essentially transforms into one long (albeit eloquently put) appeal to ridicule. Sparkling takes the outcome of my argument, rather than, say, the premises or the logic that transforms said premises into an outcome, and begins to quote attribute after attribute of the conscious mind suggested by my arguments.
It would appear that he hopes to show that, because a conscious cause of the universe may have particular personal preferences or may choose to manifest in a singular location, such a cause is not only improbable, but less improbable in spite of any logical arguments offered in support of such a cause.
If I might borrow another axiom here, from that ever lovable high functioning sociopath Sherlock Holmes (masterfully brought to life by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), "when you have removed the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth".
To this end, as long as the Theality Causational Argument is left untouched, demonstrating the improbability of a self initiating mechanism (to, I would submit, potentially the point of impossibility), regardless of how absurd the results of such an argument may seem, the results are still valid. Once again, I would invite my opponent to attack the argument, not the results.
Sparkling then opens his next paragraph with an appeal to defend his appeal to ridicule. He wishes to convey that he simply wishes to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of the implications of the claim I am making. I would submit in return that such implications need no illumination, as a simple read through the book should show that, if this conscious cause that I am arguing for exists as I hold he in all probability does, then he has a very warped sense of humour. After all, what other spiritual texts have a God literally talking out of an ass!
Regardless, the invalidity of such a tactic still stands. It is the argument that should be attacked, and not the implications of the argument. If the argument falls, the implications are swept away immediately.
Sparkling then goes on to give a cursory engagement with the causality argument that I presented, but precedes this statement by asserting that I have offered 'no research, no experimental evidence, no models, no mathematics, nothing!'. In response, I would submit that he has notably removed ontological thought experiments from this list, and then concludes that I have offered nothing. He continues: 'Instead you have offered a cumbersome thought experiment out of which popped the unsubstantiated assertion that only a conscious process could cause the big bang to occur...'
Stop the press, and reign them horses, and hold the phone. Firstly, let's qualify the accusation 'cumbersome'. Perhaps I could simply label Sparklings entire rebuttal as 'cumbersome', and be done with it. I'd certainly save on words, not to mention time. But then, in spite of offering a thought experiment to demonstrate why, on balance of probability and logic, an unconscious mechanism is an unlikely candidate for causing a universe, Sparkling simply calls my conclusion an 'unsubstantiated assertion'!
Protip Sparkling: If you're going to call an assertion unsubstantiated, check and see if it's actually the conclusion to a logical argument or thought experiment. You can then assert that the argument is invalid, or unsound, but at least do the other party the courtesy of acknowledging the argument proffered.
Considering the next two words in Sparklings sentence after that quote are 'conveniently ignoring', I find reason to stop a moment and chuckle at the irony.
From here, Sparkling then goes on to offer a number of other possibilities as to how the claims of Jesus' divinity could have come about, but notice the absence of support for his possibilities.
He does not engage with the evidence from my opening argument regarding the use of the Tetragrammaton (unless he is inferring that this was part of the early followers ruse?), and if the claim to divinity supposedly made by Jesus through his use of the Tetragrammaton in the Sanhedrin is in fact a ruse, then we must as historians ask under what grounds the Sanhedrin had the Romans crucify Jesus? On top of that, we have the problem of the martyred disciples, who knowingly went to gruesome deaths for something that at least some of them knew was a lie (Check out Chuck Colson, that dude couldn't keep a secret when threatened even with jail!).
Even references from the Jewish Talmud (Compilation began in 70AD, collecting and collating documents from much earlier) speak of the apostasy that was taught by Jesus, speaking strongly towards his 'blasphemous' claims of being God incarnate. It is important to note that, in the context of Jewish culture, no Christian influence can be said to have invaded this work so early in history.
Sparkling then goes on to question my use of Ockhams razor, without ever actually referencing the axiom itself, or acknowledging my use of it. I would invite Sparkling, then, on his second rebuttal, to either present an argument demonstrating the fault in either Ockhams logic, or my own logic in wielding the axiom.
The second rebuttal is closed off with another appeal to proof beyond all reasonable doubt, rather than the balance of probability prima facie evidence that I have submitted. Once again, I would suggest that precedence must be established before Sparkling can make such a bold claim.
Until then, I would invite him to adequately demonstrate the flaws in my logic against a theistic cause of the universe, and then properly demolish the case for a historical and divine Jesus.
There are just over four hundred words left to this rebuttal, and I will forfeit them as a Christmas present to Sparkling.
I said at the onset of this debate that I sit on the side of doubt and open mindedness in regards to questions on the origins of our universe, openly admitting that no final conclusions have yet been reached and that we are unsure as to whether a final conclusion can be reached given our current lack of understanding. You however are certain you already have the answer and are therefore attempting to make a significant contribution to the science of cosmology. To this end Michael, you are burdened with justifying such certainty by providing proof that demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt that your claims are true.
Your first claim is that the universe had a cause. You ignore the current uncertainty surrounding questions on time and causality pre big bang and instead press on, merely assuming it to be true, on the basis of no physical evidence whatsoever.
You then go on to claim that this cause is conscious, ignoring all the other theoretical models which do not need to invoke a conscious entity to describe how something like the big bang could have occurred. Soldiering on, you present as a probabilistic proof for this claim little more than an “argument” you made up which assumes a pre big bang era in which a conscious entity for some reason prefers life sustaining universes that it can “keep an eye on”, in which buttons can be pressed, and in which things can go from being in states of “uninitiated” to “initiated”. You then complain of my expectation of you to provide some research models, empirical evidence or mathematics to fill out this picture, blissfully ignorant as to how this argument alone does not suffice to provide proof that demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt that the primary claim is true... I would invite the readers of this debate to imagine how Michael would be treated if he took his argument to Brussels next year and presented it to fellows of the Perimeter Institute at their Cosmological Frontiers in Fundamental Physics 2012 conference.
You then feel it necessary for me to address the faith based conclusion you draw from these shoddy, question begging suppositions, those being that the conscious cause for this universe had in fact visited Palestine 2000 years ago in the form of a Jewish carpenter, imploring me to dispute the validity of a religious text which was often mistakenly diluted down over millennia from earlier greek transcripts, and expecting myself and the readers of this debate to believe that Lewis’ trilemma is more than enough to pull this admittedly laughable theistic nonsense up by it’s bootstraps.
I need not go any further, Michael. Nothing you have presented thus far proves beyond all reasonable that the universe had a cause and that this cause was conscious, your certainty on these issues alone remains unjustified, uncertainty remains, and any faith based assertions beyond this point can therefore be ignored.
As is proper for a closing argument, I will not be introducing any new arguments and, given that Sparkling declined almost three quarters of his word limit for his second rebuttal, I will not be engaging his rebuttal at length in this closing argument.
To sum up this debate thus far, I have presented an argument from causation for the probable existence of a monotheistic God, combining a trifecta of wisdom of Aristotle, the Buddha, and William of Ockham.
Throughout his opening arguments and rebuttals, my opponent has referred to this argument as 'tiresome', 'cumbersome', and dismissed the conclusions as 'entirely unwarranted'. But what he has not done, is engaged directly with the premises of the argument, or the logical process which takes us from premises to conclusion. As he has not attempted to undermine the body of the argument, but merely make an appeal to ridicule at the implications of the arguments conclusions, the argument essentially goes unchallenged. Sparkling has essentially opted not to use his rebuttals to rebut my first argument. A curious tactic, but whatever gets that boat floated, I supposed.
I then presented some cursory (I'm more than happy to concede that, in the absence of a word count reflecting a full length debate, my second argument is considerably weaker than the first, and weaker than it should be) evidence and arguments for the divinity of Jesus, after first attempting to refute (again at a cursory level) the validity of the other two great monotheistic world views of history.
Sparkling has engaged with this argument at a basic level, only so far as to have offered an alternative answer. He has given us no reason to accept his 'Jesus was honestly mistaken, and later deified by his followers' theory over the Lewis Trilemma of Lunatic, Liar or Lord, save for his own philosophical agenda.
He has also declined to engage with my evidence for the self made claims of divinity made by Jesus by his use of the Tetragrammaton, and he has neglected to respond to my enquiries as to how these points of evidence might fit in with his theory.
I feel it necessary at this point to reiterate that a reading of the bulk of Sparklings submissions to this debate show that while he enjoys the use of varying degrading adjectives (Such as 'shoddy', 'question-begging', 'blissfully ignorant', etc) while addressing my arguments, but he stops short of actually engaging with them. At no stage has he objected to a given premise, at no stage has he called me out on a conclusion not following from a given set of premises. If we are to take his lack of engagement more seriously than his prolific use of derogatory descriptions, then we should logically conclude that he has conceded the arguments!
Finally, I would like to compare the debate so far with the expectations upon debates in general. The classic debating model is that the affirmative or positive side takes the burden of proof, and is called upon to demonstrate 'prima facie' evidence (meaning that, all other things being equal, can be accepted at first glance), defend that evidence against rebuttals, and then address any counter claims offered by the opposition. I believe that I have, through my presentation and defence of the Theality Causational Argument, and the Lewis Trilemma, I have successfully fulfilled these obligations.
By contrast, the role of the negative is to engage with, and demonstrate the flaws in, the affirmatives arguments. It is to, if necessary, offer counter evidence for the affirmatives arguments, demonstrating that, on the balance of probability, the proposition of the debate "The Christian God exists" is wrong, or should not be accepted. What we have instead received is a string of appeals to incredulity and ridicule, no actual engagement with the premises and logic of the arguments presented, and then an attempted shifting of the goal posts by suggesting that the role of the opposition is to defend 'beyond all reasonable doubt' the validity of the proposition, and that anything less than this should be a victory in his favour! In this sense, it seems highly reasonable to assert that Sparkling has failed in his obligations as the negative debater in this event.
With only a few hundred words left, I will invite readers and free thinkers following this debate to read more. I am not a formally trained or educated theologian or philosopher, and yet even in this environment, I demonstrated a reasonable and rational case for Christianity. There are many more highly educated and well versed academics whom bear the torch for reasoned faith far better than I.
I invite you to read them, and see where the truth takes you. I am not a Christian because it affords me a sense of well being, or ease, or of security. Since becoming a Christian, my life has actually become harder, not easier. With such obvious attraction to the worldview, why would I be a Christian? Because I believe it is the truth. Not the way, the truth, and the light, persay, but the truth.
I followed the evidence to where it led me, and accepted what I found there. Be it atheist, Christian, or another world view, I invite you to do the same.
And then, as the good book says: "Come, let us reason together".
Thank you and good night.
Question 1 wrote: (1) Choux: In your debate you mentioned "the balance of probabilities". What exactly do you consider to be the strength of those probabilities? The reason I ask is because there is so much disagreement among Christian apologists on this issue. WLC says it is more likely than not. Alvin Plantinga says it is somewhat more likely than not as he explains that some have exagerated the probative force of the arguments. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek claim it is beyond reasonable doubt (highly likely). What do you say?
Question 2 wrote: (2) SueDoeNimm: Your argument includes the proposal of an unembodied mind. Considering that billions of embodied minds are known to exist and no unembodied mind has ever been shown to exist why should your proposition be given serious consideration?
Question 3 wrote: (3) SueDoeNimm: I found your characterization of the hypothetical unconscious cause as 'mechanism' as being pejorative and question begging. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to simply refer to it as the 'unconscious cause' rather than the loaded term 'mechanism'?
Question 4 wrote: (4) SueDoeNimm: You imply the the faith even to fatality of some early disciples confirms the veracity of their belief. ("The disciples clearly believed they saw him, and many went to their deaths...") Does the faith even to fatality of the 9/11 hijackers confirm the veracity of their belief?
Question 5 wrote: (5) Saibomb: You said Jesus had to be either Lord, Liar, or Lunatic. But, couldn't we say the things that were said about him are untrue - or at least exaggerated? In this case, he wouldn't be any of those things you mentioned. In general, there are many possibilities so I'm just wondering why you have limited them to only three.
$10 says Sparkling doesn't know what "epistemology" means without googling it. Any takers?
Michael wrote: Thanks again to Archsage for the time and effort he's put into effectively hosting and moderating the event. He volunteered for the job, and carried it off splendidly.
Question 2 wrote: (2) SueDoeNimm: Your argument includes the proposal of an unembodied mind. Considering that billions of embodied minds are known to exist and no unembodied mind has ever been shown to exist why should your proposition be given serious consideration?I would say that in a debate to consider the possibility that God exists, stating the lack of unembodied minds as evidence against theism is simply begging the question.
Question 2 wrote: (2) SueDoeNimm: Your argument includes the proposal of an unembodied mind. Considering that billions of embodied minds are known to exist and no unembodied mind has ever been shown to exist why should your proposition be given serious consideration?
Effectively, this does not deal with the 'Mind vs Mechanism' problem, and does not show how an unconscious cause can, without prior input, initiate a sequence of events.
For extra context, the origin of the causation argument was actually part of an argument demonstrating the probability that an unembodied mind can exist. It was only after the argument continued that I realised I was looking at (with a bit of minor tweaking) a decent argument for God that preempts the common objections to the Kalam, and deals with them in the core argument.
Question 3 wrote: (3) SueDoeNimm: I found your characterization of the hypothetical unconscious cause as 'mechanism' as being pejorative and question begging. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to simply refer to it as the 'unconscious cause' rather than the loaded term 'mechanism'?I found your characterisation of my thought experiment as 'perjorative' to be pejorative (For those following at home, 'perjorative' is simply a fancy word for 'condescending' or 'belittling'). Food for thought, never use a long word when a sententious one will do.
Question 3 wrote: (3) SueDoeNimm: I found your characterization of the hypothetical unconscious cause as 'mechanism' as being pejorative and question begging. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to simply refer to it as the 'unconscious cause' rather than the loaded term 'mechanism'?
Moving onto the substance of the question, the purpose of an analogy is to use an image provoking comparison to highlight a given point, problem, or idea. In my analogy, I wanted to highlight the problem of an unconsious cause of change self initating the change.
"For extra context, the origin of the causation argument was actually part of an argument demonstrating the probability that an unembodied mind can exist. It was only after the argument continued that I realised I was looking at (with a bit of minor tweaking) a decent argument for God that preempts the common objections to the Kalam, and deals with them in the core argument."