Debate: Does God Exist?

Christian apologetics don't do much to support the notion that God exists“Does God Exist?” This was the topic at a public debate I attended on Monday. Here’s a brief summary. See how you would respond to the points that were raised.

The moderator started with Ian Barbour’s four criteria for assessing hypotheses:

1. Agreement with Data. We never have proof (outside of mathematics and logic), but we can provisionally accept the hypothesis that fits best with the data.

2. Coherence. A new hypothesis should be consistent with and support already-accepted theories. If not, it had better be a pretty compelling hypothesis. Simpler is better.

3. Scope. Broader is better.

4. Fertility. What new things can this hypothesis tell us? What predictions can it make? What new questions does it invite?

The two speakers were Lutheran pastor Gary Jensen (also a member of Reasons to Believe, an old-earth Creationist organization) and humanist and lawyer Jim Corbett.

I felt that Corbett won the event. Call me biased, but his arguments were much more concrete. Rev. Jensen was comfortable speaking to the crowd of roughly 200 people, but his arguments were shallow. I’ll do my best to give highlights of each speaker’s points. For Rev. Jensen, I’ll add occasional comments.

Jensen spent much of his opening statement speaking in what (to my mind) were tangential generalities: quoting famous people, asserting that we must follow the evidence wherever it leads (Socrates? Sartre?), showing how the Bible encourages a sensible interaction with nature, giving a summary of the progress of the modern cosmological view, and so on. He said that the Bible is the only religious story with a cosmic beginning. (Huh?)

He got to his first claim with a reference to the fine tuning argument, but he simply pointed to Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees. (Okay, that’s a data point, but it’s hardly an argument.)

In talking about cosmology, he threw in the term “Darwinism.” (Ouch—that may due to too much hanging out with the Reasons to Believe guys.)

He talked about God as a given and made a mistake that I see frequently—confusing statements about his beliefs (which he made) with an apologetic argument (which he didn’t).

He cited Sir William Ramsay’s argument that Paul’s journeys documented in Acts are accurately described and therefore the gospel story is likely also accurate. (No: that the names and places Paul documents are the least we’d expect of a book that claims to be historical. This is no argument that the supernatural claims are accurate. The Harry Potter books accurately refer to London, but that is no evidence that the supernatural elements are accurate.)

He cited Antony Flew’s There is a God as evidence of a smart person who changed his mind. (This was a mistake. I’ve read the book. First, it was ghost-written, and second, the arguments that supposedly turned Flew into a deist are scientific arguments. The critique by a non-scientist of scientific arguments is uninteresting to me.)

Modern science was hatched in a Christian culture. (Okay, and it was a carnivorous culture as well. So what? I see no cause and effect here. To argue that a Christian culture was necessary to birth Science, you must provide evidence.)

Jensen made a vague reference to professors “kicked out” for being Creationists and gave Guillermo Gonzalez as an example. (I wonder if he’s read the other side of the story. That there is another side doesn’t make Jensen’s claim wrong, but it is mandatory that he at least be aware of it.)

He says that he encourages free inquiry but that scientists who reject the supernatural are therefore closed-minded.

He referred to information in DNA (that some protozoa have 200 times the DNA that humans do shows that DNA isn’t “designed” as we use the term) and absolute morality (that we see considerable social evolution from biblical morality to today’s morality overturns this notion).

Corbett had some interesting points (any transcription errors are my fault):

  • We have a moral responsibility to treat supernatural claims with skepticism. Otherwise we open ourselves to every snake oil salesman.
  • Religion is the only impediment to science education in America, and science education is tied to national security.
  • We’ve found clues of python worship in Botswana from 70,000 years ago, our earliest evidence of God of the Gaps thinking—that is, God lives in the gaps where science says, “we don’t know.” In this pre-scientific world, this was understandable and even laudable. But in the 21st century, it’s inexcusable.
  • Lawrence Krauss called God of the Gaps thinking “cowardly.”
  • When Christianity was in charge, we called that the Dark Ages.
  • One imam helped stifle the Islamic Golden Age, and we’re seeing the same thing in America.

Corbett concluded with an interesting parallel. It took about 300 years from Christianity to go from having negligible impact (at the death of Jesus) to being the official religion of the Roman empire (by the Council of Nicaea). If you count Darwin’s Origin of Species as the beginning of modern atheism in the West, we’re halfway through our 300-year transition period. Polls indicate that religion is declining, new knowledge explains away God, and God of the Gaps thinking is no longer necessary.

I’m not sure if that should be seen as optimistic (we’re making good progress) or pessimistic (we have a long way to go) or even unrealistic (Christianity has weathered storms before and we mustn’t count it out), but it’s an interesting parallel.

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16 thoughts on “Debate: Does God Exist?

  1. I am in disagreement with Corbett on this point.

    “Religion is the only impediment to science education in America, and science education is tied to national security.”

    There are much greater issues with education in general then the effects religion is having on the field of science in education. If you have school age school, you are blind if you don’t see it. Especially in the grade school education. Did you see nearly two third of the students in Florida yesterday failed the states standardized tests? I doubt there was much science even on that test. Science education has issues beyond what impedance religion can do to it. He is giving religion way to much credit in my book.

    Sorry i only picked this one point but it hits close to home.

    • “If you have school age school, you are blind if you don’t see it.”, i meant, school age children, sorry about that.

      FYI, this comment was meant as a generalization and not directed at anyone.

    • Let me make clear that I may not have transcribed Jim correctly, so your complaint may be with my interpretation rather than what Jim actually said.

      But to your point: schools do have lots of issues.

  2. To Bob S,

    As far as I can tell from your account, it is inaccurate to say that the humanist won. The two debaters mainly spoke of different issues, that’s all.

    What happens is that you think the theist’s arguments were weak and you agreed with the points that the humanist made. But it does not mean that the theist lost. Did the humanist try to disprove creationism? It seems that his only argument was the god of the gaps. Sure, it has some relevance, but it cannot solve all theistic objections.

    • What happens is that you think the theist’s arguments were weak and you agreed with the points that the humanist made.

      The topic was “Does God exist?” The pastor touched on it only tangentially, so the humanist didn’t have much to rebut or even respond to. In fact, he said that in his rebuttal he had to tap dance to figure out stuff to say, since the pastor gave very little relevant to the topic.

      It would have been nice to have had a Christian comment on the debate. There might have been points or perspectives that I missed.

      Did the humanist try to disprove creationism?

      No. It would’ve been a waste of time, since that wasn’t the topic.

      It seems that his only argument was the god of the gaps.

      I was giving highlights, so I didn’t give you the complete analysis you’d have needed to make an evaluation yourself.

  3. Bob S
    I just converted the 3 part debbate to MP3 . I wll listen tomorrow and get back with you .
    Thanks for downloading them.

  4. Well I struggled through the debate. I think I would enjoy water boarding more. The Christian lost the debate. That is also why a ” Pastor” should not debate. And funny thing is the other opponent was not much better.

    I have heard over 300 hundred formal debates on all avenues of Apologetics, and Philosophy. And this was the worst. I would not even call it a formal debate. Not proper rebuttals from opening statements, and poor cross examinination rules.

    Also when a Christian debates on the Existence of God and uses the evidentialist approach he has already lost. That is where William Lane Craig drops the ball.

    If one wishes to hear the proper way to debate if the Christian God exist listen to these for a few.

    1) Dr Greg Bahnsen against Gorden Kline “The Great debate does God Exist’? One can see the power of Bahnsens argument and see Gorden Kline self destruct.
    2) Greg Bahnsen vs,.Eddie Tabash on does God exist.. Another bad day for the Atheist
    3.) All James White debates with Dan Barker.
    4.) Dan Barker vs. Doug Wilson on the existence of God.. Not a good day for Barker.

    • Also when a Christian debates on the Existence of God and uses the evidentialist approach he has already lost.

      And what should this tell you?

      If your faith is not supportable or verifiable by evidence, then why bother participating in a formal debate at all?

      Once you leave the evidentialist approach behind, you quickly enter into the land of: “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

      Your presuppositional apologetics approach is nothing more than the circular argument: Nothing can be proven unless there is a God, therefore God is proven to exist.

    • Also when a Christian debates on the Existence of God and uses the evidentialist approach he has already lost.

      Isn’t the “evidentialist approach” what Paul used at Mars Hill? Doesn’t the Bible give support for those who want to use evidence to argue for Christianity?

      That is where William Lane Craig drops the ball.

      WLC does indeed drop the ball, but I think we disagree on where/how.

      If one wishes to hear the proper way to debate if the Christian God exist listen to these for a few.

      Why do you like these debates? Because of (dare I say it?) evidence?

      Summarize the main points for us.

  5. Retro,
    Christians are not argued into the Kingdom of God by evidence. They are regenerated by the work of the Holt Spirit. A supernatural act of the Sovereign God and Creator. God by His Grace and by the blood of Jesus Christ is how a sinner is made justified.

  6. Christians are not argued into the Kingdom of God by evidence. They are regenerated by the work of the Holt Spirit. A supernatural act of the Sovereign God and Creator. God by His Grace and by the blood of Jesus Christ is how a sinner is made justified.

    Then why bother participating in a debate? Why bother listening to debates at all?

  7. I do both to present the truth of the gospel. God gets the glory if the Chrsitian represents the Triune God of scripture. If God is pleased to open the heart of that sinner praise God. If God is pleased to leave him in his rebellion praise God. We are called to give the gospel. The salvation part is up to a Sovereign God not me.

    • Wow–this dude can’t lose! Heads God wins. Tails God wins. Talk about your unfalsifiable hypothesis.

      It’s like we’re speaking different languages. If they God hypothesis isn’t falsifiable, it’s not a meaningful hypothesis.

      Your presuppositionalist approach is the most uncompelling approach to Christianity possible. If it allows you to tell youself what a good boy you are and that you’re going to heaven and I’ll be broasting in hell forever, whatever. But don’t imagine that this is convincing.

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