Does a god or gods exist?

Friday, May 18, 2012
Imagine No Religion 2 Conference
Kamloops Convention Centre

On Friday, May 19, around 300 people turned up at the Kamloops Convention Centre to witness a debate on the topic “Does a god or gods exist?”. Arguing the affirmative were Dr. Paul Chamberlain, Director of the Institute for Christian Apologetics at ACTS Seminaries and Michael Horner of Power to Change. On the negative side were Dr. Christopher di Carlo and Matt Dillahunty.The debate was capably moderated by Mel Rothenburger, editor of the Kamloops Daily News.

Each side was given 20 minutes for their opening arguments and 12 minutes for rebuttal, followed by a 10 minute cross-examination, then audience questions and a three minute final statement. Each side was allowed to use their allotted time as they saw fit.

Aside from the cringe-worthy grammar of the central question, the debate was an intelligent discussion of relevant issues surrounding the question of God’s existence.

The affirmative side began and outlined their argument in two parts:

  • There are no good reasons to believe that God does not exist.
  • There are good reasons to believe that God does exist.

Chamberlain tackled the first part and began by showing that the trendy ‘presumption of atheism’, or the idea that atheism is the default position which makes no claims and therefore bears no burden of proof, is incorrect. Chamberlain showed that atheism, as defined in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is a view that affirms the non-existence of God. It should be noted that this is different from agnosticism which affirms the idea that we do not, or cannot, know whether or not God exist. Chamberlain challenged the view that it is impossible to prove a universal negative by pointing out that we can indeed prove some universal negatives by showing that the existence of something, like a square circle, is internally contradictory.

Horner then went on the offensive and presented three arguments, each of which point to the reasonableness of the conclusion ‘God exists.’

The existence of God is the best explanation for the existence of the universe.

  • Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence.
  • The universe began to exist.
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence
  • Given ‘a’, ‘b’, and ‘c’, the cause of the universe must be
  • immaterial
  • timeless
  • spaceless
  • immensely powerful
  • personal

The existence of God is the best explanation for the fine tuning of the initial conditions of the Big Bang.

  • The fine tuning of the initial conditions of the big Bang are either due to chance, necessity or design.
  • They are not due to chance or necessity.
  • The initial conditions of the Big Bang are due to design.

The existence of God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values.

  • If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
  • Objective moral values do exist.
  • Therefore God exists.

From there, the side arguing the negative took over, their dual task was to show that all three of the arguments for theism fail and that there are good reasons to believe that atheism is true. To show that the arguments for the existence of God are false, they needed to show that they either rely on false premises or that the premises do not support the conclusion. Dillahunty and diCarlo are certainly capable of presenting clear and cogent reasons to believe that the arguments presented by the theist side were invalid, but quite surprisingly, they did not. They relied almost solely on their assertion (which had been anticipated and addressed by their opponents) that the atheist side bears no burden of proof, that they don’t have to present any arguments at all, because they simply ‘lack belief’ in any God.

This tactic proved to be their undoing because, while they consistently claimed to have evidence showing the three arguments presented by their opponents to be invalid, they never presented anything. But not only that, in separate sequences of conversation, they explicitly conceded the second and third arguments in particular and also the entire debate itself.

Argument #2, the fine tuning argument, was conceded in the Q&A time. An audience member asked di Carlo and Dillahunty for their best explanation for the extremely precisely tuned conditions present in the first few microseconds after the big bang. If any of those constants were even slightly different, the universe would have either collapsed on itself or it would have expanded too quickly and planets, stars, and galaxies would not have been able to form. The chances of these things being just as they are in our present life-permitting universe have been calculated at being 1 in (1010)123. That is 10, followed by 10 zeros, multiplied by itself 123 times. di Carlo claims that we are here simply by luck. The trouble is that most skeptics flat out reject the effectiveness of homeopathy based on odds that are far greater than the odds presented in the fine tuning argument. So if they accept those odds against homeopathy (and they rightly should), then they should also accept those odds against their own view being mathematically possible.

Secondly, the atheist side conceded the moral argument in a different exchange. When confronted with the challenge to confirm or deny the statement ‘It is objectively wrong to torture toddlers for fun.’, di Carlo chose to deny that the statement represented anything wrong, it is merely distasteful. In other words, di Carlo could only admit that torturing toddlers for fun was distasteful, but not wrong in any meaningful way. However, later in the debate, as di Carlo was closing, he claimed that morality could be grounded in the notion that harming other people who are like us is wrong. But notice what he did there, he claimed that something, harming other people, is wrong. Like every atheist who tries to ground morality in something other than God, he ended up relying on God to ground his own version of morality.

Finally, the atheist side conceded the entire debate when they admitted that they had no arguments to present in favour of their view. Chamberlain, after considerable effort, finally got the truth out of Dillahunty who admitted that their side had no arguments to present in favour of their view. In essence, even if Dillahunty and di Carlo were successful in the debate, the most they could have shown was that we don’t know whether or not God exists. They showed that they aren’t atheists after all, they are agnostics.