by Daniel Adams
Mr Guthrie writes...
"He challenged me to refute atheism and prove theism, but he has in reality only been proving agnosticism. "
The word agnostic comes from the Greek a-gnostos, meaning without knowledge. An agnostic is simply somebody who maintains that it is not possible ever to know for sure whether God exists. This is not what I am maintaining. I am saying that it is not reasonable to believe in God until reasonable evidence is shown for his existence. I believe that it is inherently possible for God's existence to be proven. He has simply to write "I exist" in million-mile high letters in the cosmos. That he does not do so is puzzling and suggests one of two alternatives; (i) He is not able to. Since a God would be all-powerful, an inability to write his name in the sky is equivalent to "God does not exist" (ii) He does not wish to. Since we are told that God is all-loving, this suggests that there is some bad consequence of believing that he exists. And that is exactly true, as is borne out by a series of 43 independent studies conducted in North America over the last decade into a correlation between religious belief and intelligence. To cut a long story short, 39 of these studies show that there is a positive correlation between intelligence and religious belief. It appears that either you have to be stupid to believe in God, or else a belief in God subsequently makes you stupid. Whichever is the case, it is hardly compelling evidence for the existence of God.
Mr Guthrie continues;
"So, what about the gnome analogy? Do the qualifications of the gnome, as given by Adams, now give it a background? Not in the least. He says, "Ok, I now state that my infinitely powerful, invisible gnome created the universe one morning by sneezing." Here, Adams has clearly made the gnome thesis ad hoc by supplying new information that accounts for its existence."
There is no difference between my statement "A giant invisible gnome created the Universe by sneezing" and Mr Guthrie's "God created the Universe from nothing". Both are completely lacking in any evidence whatsoever. Mr Guthrie continues to scramble desperately to make artificial distinctions between the two. Mr Guthrie claims that I am "supplying new information" about my hypothetical gnome. And he is quite correct, I made it up on the spot. But this is no different from the situation where, throughout history, theists have changed "ad hoc" the status of their God by "supplying new information", interpreting bible quotes increasingly loosely, or just ignoring them in line with the prevailing social climate of the time. "As long as Adams continues to modify his gnome hypothesis, there is nothing the evidence can touch." Bingo. And this is exactly why it is equally hard to disprove the existence of God - because whatever evidence we come up with, theists change God's attributes arbitrarily to fit in with the new evidence. The only constant is that which has no evidence at all - "God exists". We are left with Occam's razor, which Mr Guthrie himself brought up in his last email. Occam's razor, for those not familiar with it, states that where you have two theories each with similar levels of evidence, you must choose the simpler of the two as the most probable. We therefore take the two statements...
(i) An infinitely powerful being came into existence and then caused the Universe to come into existence.
(ii) The Universe came into existence.
Since number (i) contains all the complexity of (ii) plus the additional hypothesis that a God exists, number (i) is removed and we are left with (ii) The Universe exists, which does not imply the existence of a God. Using the logical tool which Mr Guthrie himself introduced into the debate, we have just rejected the existence of God. I wrote in my last email; "Ahhh, now we get to the quick of it. Mr Guthrie's proposed 'literary frame of reference' here is the bible. He is basically saying here 'the bible says God exists'. I'm glad he brought this up, because it is an often-used argument which is severely flawed. The bible cannot be proof that God exists, because that proof would be based on a circular argument." Mr Guthrie noticeably did not respond to my argument that the bible could not be used to prove the existence of God, but instead replied;
"But where in the world did he come up with the idea that one of my arguments for theism is that the Bible says "God exists"?" When you said that God had a "literary and historical frame of reference". If Mr Guthrie's not talking about the bible, I'd love to hear exactly what it is that he is talking about. He continues... "I simply pointed to the Bible in order to draw a historical frame of reference. But the gnome has no literary background information and has no frame of reference historically by which one could go by." There are several "historical frames of reference" for the belief in several different Gods, all of which contradict each other. Each religion has its own "historical and literary frame of reference", none of which are supported outside of the texts themselves. A book saying "God exists" is not proof that God exists, any more than my written statement "gnomes exist" is proof that gnomes exist. I wrote...
"Christians must take either one of two positions on the bible. Either...
(i) They must accept that every single word in the bible is infallible
truth. These type of Christians end up looking stupid, because they have to accept major logical fallacies as being the Word of an all-knowing God. For example, they would have to simultaneously accept that all men were descended from just two people (Adman and Eve. This would have entailed Adam and Eve's children having sex with one another in order to provide the next generation). In other parts of the bible, however, there are words written strictly against sex within ones own family. Yet a strict Christian must accept both 'God says it is bad to have sex with your own family' and also 'God planned life in such a way that every single man is descended from a family whose members had sex with one another'.
(ii) The second type of Christian is the one who says that the bible is mainly true but some parts are 'analogies, not fact' or are 'illustrative and not really true'. Since they choose which parts are true arbitrarily, we would be equally justified in saying 'I choose that every section is analogous and none of it happened.' as they are in saying 'There wasn't really Adam and Eve. but the rest is basically true'"
To which Mr Guthrie replied...
"Let me make two points here. First, none of these things preclude the existence of God."
No, they are simply an aside which shows that it is not possible to use the bible (as Mr Guthrie tried to do in his last post) to prove that God exists. By showing that it is not possible to use the bible for such proof, I was nullifying his point about God having a "historical frame of reference" "The hermeneutical structure of the Bible allows for a variety of interpretations on peripheral issues of doctrine." Big words which basically mean "we can interpret the bible any way we please". But I have already made the point that if this is true, I am equally justified in saying "The entire bible is just analogies and none of it is true" as the Christian is in saying arbitrarily "Well, these bits here are true, and these bits aren't. Because I say so."
"Secondly, I think the variety of interpretations give the Christian an advantage here."
Certainly. It allows Christians to cut and paste which bits of the bible they believe to get around the sticky fact that a large part of it has been proven to be untrue. And that is a big thing for a Christian to admit about a book that is meant to be infallible.
"the atheist has no model available to him for the origin of animal and human species except evolution. As Alvin Plantinga once pointed out, evolution is the only game in town for the atheist."
And that is meant to be a problem? Considering the fact that all evidence so far supports evolution, I fail to see the problem. To deny evolution is to deny logic itself. At its core, evolution makes only two statements.
(i) MUTATION - one generation is different from its ancestors genetically.
(ii) SELECTION - whichever of the new generation is best at surviving will survive and produce offspring.
Combine the two and you have a working model of evolution. The first statement is plain and simple fact. If it were not true, you would be identical to your parents. The second statement is simple logic. I challenged Mr Guthrie that if God existed he, being all-loving, would have created humans directly in heaven and "skipped the earth stage". He replied...
"But God cannot reward us for actions that have not been actualized. He simply cannot grant us payment of everlasting life because we would have acted a certain way. Heaven is given to those who have actualized the right decision. After all, would it be right to punish someone who was going to murder someone but did not because he was kept from doing it even though they would have gone through with it? "
Mr Guthrie has just exposed a fundamental flaw in his own reasoning and the supposed attributes of God. If God exists, we must accept that he created everything that exists in the Universe. We must accept that he created murderers and rapists and cot-deaths with the explicit knowledge of what would happen. An all-knowing God would, if he existed, know with absolute certainty that creating Man X would cause 12 people to be shot and killed twenty years later. He could have prevented this very simply by making the man so that he didn't shoot anybody. Once again <sigh> we are left with the alternatives that Mr Guthrie refuses to properly address...
(i) God does not exist
(ii) God exists, but allows plagues, murders and rapes to occur, when he could easily prevent them. We therefore have an "evil" God, who may as well be called "Satan"
(iii) God exists, and wishes to stop pain, but is unable to do so. If he is not able to do so, he is not all-powerful, and therefore not a God.
There simply is no other alternative. Mr Guthrie attempts to dismiss the problem by stating...
"Adams also does not understand why God has 'more rights' than human beings when he states, 'I still fail to see why that means he has more rights than us and it is permissible for him to say "I don't care if you're dying of cancer. I don't want to remove suffering and I'm not going to."' But this is just a caricature of who God is when he suggests that God does not care about His creatures or does not want to remove suffering. Nothing can be further from the truth."
By rejecting what I said, Mr Guthrie has now stated by default that in his opinion God (assuming he exists) does care about us and he does "want to remove suffering". Yet from living in this World, we know that there is suffering. Mr Guthrie insists that there exists a God who is all-loving and wants to "remove suffering"and is omnipotent, thus having the power to carry out the removal of suffering. Yet, puzzlingly, there is still suffering. The two are clearly incompatible. If, as Mr Guthrie states, there is a God who wants to remove suffering and has the power to do so, why doesn't he?? Mr Guthrie repeatedly talks of "imaginable reason" for allowing suffering, yet I repeat that this is a misnomer. If God exists, he would not just "allow" suffering, he would have created it, and be fully responsible for it. We are told that God created us, created all the imperfections in us, and then blames us for them. This is a truly absurd idea. If God exists then he is clearly a lunatic. The only logical conclusion is that God does not exist. There is no God, and therefore no ultimate arbiter of justice, or "goodness", but there is room for every individual to experience what they feel as good" and "bad", "pleasure" and "pain". If an all-loving God existed, there would be no pain, for he would spare us from it. God does not exist. Mr Guthrie asserts that "the two statements 'God exists' and 'evil exists' are not logically incompatible and that God could have a morally sufficient reason for allowing certain sufferings. " I reject this absolutely. First of all, if we are to believe that God exists, we must accept that he created the universe, created man, and created "evil". He does not just "allow" evil to exist, he created it. I can think of no morally sufficient reason why a supposedly all-loving being would purposefully create suffering.
Mr Guthrie then writes (on the matter of the Big Bang)... First, the book of Genesis allows for an interpretation of either a young universe or an old one. A rather convenient setup that we find throughout the bible. Something in the bible is infallible, Christians say. Until it is proven wrong, in which case they then state that it is still infallible, only they were interpreting it all wrong. With this sort of arbitrary interpretation (ie whatever agrees the most with current scientific knowledge) my arbitrary interpretation of the bible is surely equally as valid as that of a Christian. When you start picking and choosing which bits of the bible are true and some are "analogies", I am as justified in stating "the whole bible must be a collection of analogies" as the Christian is in stating "only this part of the bible here is an analogy". Mr Guthrie then states...
"I guess Adams is just going to dismiss the Big Bang issue altogether and avoid the two questions completely: (i) Where did the universe come from? (ii) Why does the universe exist instead of nothing?"
In answer to "where did the universe come from?" the evidence at the moment points towards the "Big Bang", a large explosion which generated the universe. Our knowledge of this event is far from complete, but the Doppler effect amongst other things points towards this solution. In answer to "Why does the universe exist instead of nothing", I believe the current reply is "Who knows". Certainly, though, this has nothing whatsoever to do with a debate on the existence of God. If we are to state that God created the Universe, we must in turn ask "What created God?", to which Mr Guthrie has not given a satisfactory reply. To involve God in the creation of the Universe does not simplify matters, rather it adds one more "level" in solving the puzzle. There is the story of The Watchmaker which is often used by theists. It says "if you come across a watch whilst walking, you would assume, since it was so perfectly designed, that it was created by a Watchmaker". The parallel they obviously wish to draw is to the Universe. It is so well designed, they say, it must have been made by a watchmaker. Yet we can show the absurdity of the argument using their own analogy, for the existence of a watch does more than just imply the existence of a watchmaker, it implies the existence of an industrial society, a planet of people, a planet of Gods. Who presumably believe in a meta-God, or rather a planet of meta-Gods, who in turn believe in a planet of meta-meta-Gods......etc ad infinitum. The argument "God designed the Universe" only in turn begs the question "what created God?", which leads to an infinite spiral of cause and effect. If we were equally honest with ourselves, we would accept that we simply do not know all there is to know about the creation of the Universe, about how we came to be. But appealing to our primary instincts of a "protector" will not help us. Instead of faith in an imaginary being, perhaps what we need is faith in ourselves, faith in science to explain our surroundings, and the courage to live up to ourselves. Religion stems to a large degree from our own fear of our mortality. Nobody wants to die, yet we know that everybody does. It must have been an obvious step for those first cavemen to believe that when we died we carried on living "somewhere else", and that we were being watched over by a greater being. To believe the same superstitious nonsense so many thousands of years is to decry all the knowledge that mankind has gained along the way.
I hope that in its own small way, a few of the points raised in this debate will go some way towards correcting that.
Houston, TX 1997