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Third Rebuttal

by Shandon Guthrie


THE BURDEN OF PROOF

In the last exchange, Adams seems to agree with me that the issue of the "Burden of Proof" is a moot point. Although my reason is because Adams has now given us a defense of atheism, he states that it is because the issue is simply an unresolved one. But in this regard, Adams notes:

"[The burden of proof] is true for the case of "Death exists" for it has already been conclusively proven (which would require that there was evidence that somebody somwhere, sometime had died). Once this has been established, then Mr Guthrie is right in claiming that the burden of proof then switched to the negative claimant - the person claiming 'Death does not exist' . . . However, since it has never been proven that 'God exists', we have thus far received no reason to lift the burden of proof from the positive claimant".

Here, I think, Adams is question-begging and attempting to reduce the burden of proof issue to that of available evidence. But that is precisely what is in question: Is there more evidence for atheism or theism? Adams thinks that because death enjoys empirical evidence, then that is what gives negative claimants the burden in disproving the existence of death. But I do not think that the mere presence of evidence is relevant at all and that is why I gave the example from the movie Contact. It happens to be that death has empirical verification, but the point is that Jodi Foster's character in the movie had no physical evidence but was, nonetheless, not liable to verify her experience in order for her to believe it. I have assumed that neither atheism nor theism carry a higher degree of prior probability prior to this debate.



(1) NO GOOD EVIDENCE TO FAVOR ATHEISM AS TRUE

Adams then states that the criteria necessary for disproving God's existence will be found in how I deal with the existence of the invisible, yet puzzlingly pink, gnome. I answered that prior probability warrants the burden of proof on the positive claimant in this isolated instance. I then added that if he denies the gnome's existence or "lacks the belief" in the gnome, then he must have good grounds for doing so. I submitted this in order to demonstrate that empirical evidence need not be an issue. He adds:

"Mr Guthrie is quite correct in stating that I do not believe in the gnome. He is wrong however in stating that I have evidence to support my assertion. Because, basically, I have no assertion. I am not stating I believe that he does not exist, but rather that I fail to believe that he exists. Since I have been shown no evidence for the gnome's existence, I do not believe in him."

This is so because the assertion to which he is referring (e.g. a gnome with a low degree of prior probability) is incredible. I simply argue that this example is a false analogy and does not apply to the existence of God. It would be question-begging to assume that "God exists" is equally tenable as "a gnome exists." Thus the dilemma he sets up is inapplicable here.

Adams then presents his argument from evil. I had responded by explaining that there is no logical incompatibility between "evil exists" and "God exists" as long as there is any imaginable reason why God would allow it. Adams retorts:

"Mr Guthrie fails completely to see that an all-powerful, all-loving God could have prevented the rape from occuring in the first place. Why would an all-poweful, all-loving God feel it necessary for a man to rape a child before he could believe in God. An all-powerful, all-loving God would have foreseen that the rape were going to occur and have intervened, preventing it from happening. We are left with a few alternatives."

Even if alternatives were possible, it does nothing to show how God and evil are logically incompatible. But maybe Adams is now arguing that there are other possible worlds in which the same good effects occur but with no evil causes. Now, I cannot even begin to test a hypothesis that suggests that another chain of causality is possible in producing the same maximally good events. How does one do this? So Adams suggests that God could at least "intervened, preventing it from happening." But I do not think that it is necessarily true that God would want to create a world with no suffering. After all, if God wanted to have a world with free creatures then if He intervened every time we made a bad decision, there would be no rational behavior. This would mean that we could be as irresponsibly destructive or irrationally self-serving as we want because God would always rescue us from impending harm. But in order for God to create a world with functioning natural laws, certain repercussions would inevitably result from any disobedience. This may even be the preferred case since not only does rational, responsible behavior result, but evil may even be therapeutic to one's personal, moral character.

There is still no refutation of the compatibility of God and evil, which was the initial argument Adams was making. His shift from "Evil is incompatible with God" is now "But God could have done otherwise in a better possible world." But he has unsuccessfully accomplished proving atheism.



(2) TWO GOOD REASONS TO SUGGEST THAT THEISM IS TRUE

What can be said of the two arguments favoring God's existence? First, I stated that the universe needed a beginning and, as such, required a first cause. He then asked "Who or what created God?" I responded that this was a category mistake. I then suggested that the existence of evil actually bespeaks God's existence by supplying the premise "If objective moral values exist, then God exists." Adams even agrees when he says, "Such classification obviously denotes some sort of arbiter of 'good' and 'bad' valued". He then adds:

"There is however, nothing absolutely 'evil' about the rape of a small girl. I do not believe that there is any such thing as evil"

I submit that this is a patently false view of ethics. Anyone who thinks that raping little children is not evil is morally handicapped. Now he suggests that "it is 'bad' in the mind of the girl, it is 'bad' in my mind and 'bad' in the minds of most people" as the proper view of the little girl's rape. But what does "bad" mean if not "evil"? This is just a switch of terms in order to avoid the moral implication evinced in this hypothetical occurrence and represents a classic case of making a distinction without a difference. So the question now becomes: What objective basis does Adams have to support the view that the little girl's rape is "bad"? If there is moral objectivity here, then Adams has demonstrated the existence of God.

"He has no evidence to support this. I would maintain that it was at least as probable that the 'beginning' of the universe was a part of a regular explosion-implosion loop cycle, and that the universe as we know it did not actually 'begin' in the Big Bang, but that it did pass throught the Big Bang as part of its cycle. It therefore did not begin, and thus has no need for a creator."

There are two problems with the oscillating universe model Adams utilizes. (i) This does nothing to explain the philosophical problem of an actual infinite. If the universe always existed in an infinite regress of cyclical explosions, then he still has to contend with the problem with an actual infinite. Incidently, God is said to be "infinite" in a qualitative sense and not a quantitative one. That is, God is not an infinite set of discrete parts. Instead, God is the maximization of power and goodness. (ii) Even atheist Quentin Smith admits that the oscillating universe model is a bad one when he argues:

"The conclusion that the past is finite also follows from facts about entropy; if an infinite number of previous cycles have elapsed, each with increasing entropy, then the present cycle would be in a state of maximum entropy - but in fact it is in a state of relatively low entropy . . . this implies the existence of a singularity in the past" ("The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe", Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995, pp. 113 & 115).

Therefore, the cosmological argument I advanced is unscathed by Adams' attacks. This warrants the conclusion that God exists to the discredit of an oscillating universe.