Does God Exist? Pro and Con

In Bridging the God Gap, I suggest that both believers and atheists can make a good case for their positions. To back up this claim, I recently gave a talk in which I debated with myself about the proposition, Resolved: That a personal deity created the universe. I used a modified college debate format in which each side made one initial five minute presentation followed by two shorter rebuttals

 

The title of my talk was Does God Exist? Pastor Chris Debates Dr. Schriner. To help people keep track of the two contestants, I wore an ecclesiastical stole as Pastor Chris, doffing the stole and donning glasses when Dr. Schriner stepped to the mike. Why not have a little fun while discussing such weighty topics?

Pastor Chris had to show that (1) a personal deity exists and (2) this being created the universe, and he had to accomplish this task in about 10 minutes. Chris defined “personal deity” as a God who does things persons do, such as thinking, feeling, making judgments, and communicating with us.

It’s usually harder to prove that something is true than to show that it could well be false, so the negative side has an inherent advantage. To compensate for this imbalance, the affirmative side of a debate is allowed to begin the contest and also to have the last word. Next week I’ll share a few of the Pastor’s remarks, and then I’ll recap Dr. Schriner’s replies.

In the meantime, think about this matter yourself. What do you see as the most substantial arguments for and against the existence of a personal God that created the cosmos? I encourage you to pay special attention to arguments that contradict your own viewpoint.

When I ask people to think of the best arguments against their own position, they often come up with ideas that are emotionally appealing and yet unsound. For example, some people may want to believe in God because they feel lonely and would like to have a companion, but “I feel lonely” is not evidence of God’s existence.

So I’m not looking for the reasons people do or do not want to believe in God. I’m looking for legitimate reasons for believing that the existence of God is likely or unlikely. What do you see as two or three of the strongest points on each side?

Tune in next week for excerpts from Pastor Chris’ opening salvo.

Roger Christan Schriner

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12 thoughts on “Does God Exist? Pro and Con

    • The major Middle Eastern religions typically say out of nothing, but I think organizing what exists would also be an act of creation. BTW, WordPress flagged your comment as spam — no idea why! I’m glad I spotted it.

  1. I’m always struck by the “civil engineer” presumption about the Divine. This, to me, is a very Christian background assumption, that the only God(s)* worth worshiping are Omni-everything. It also seems rather arrogant, that OUR Gods are BEST.

    *Phrased that way because Christians seem to disagree about the number of Gods in charge.

    • Process theology suggests that the force(s) of positive creativity work in more subtle ways than the civil engineer model would suggest. I have not studied this approach in depth, but I can understand its appeal.

  2. Roger,

    I don’t know if you’ve seen Stephen Law’s challenge to the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent deity philosophical arguments. Since this view of deity runs into problems due to the existence of evil, Stephen Law decided to explore the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnimalevolent deity. This view of deity runs into problems due to the existence of good.

    Here’s the abstract for his paper followed by the URL:

    This paper develops a challenge to theism. The challenge is to explain why the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and all-good god should be considered significantly more reasonable than the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and all-evil god. Theists typically dismiss the evil-god hypothesis out of hand because of the problem of good – there is surely too much good in the world for it to be the creation of such a being. But then why doesn’t the problem of evil provide equally good grounds for dismissing belief in a good god? I develop this evil-god challenge in detail, anticipate several replies, and correct errors made in earlier discussions of the problem of good.

    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=6&fid=7849297&jid=RES&volumeId=46&issueId=03&aid=7849296&bodyId=&membershipNumber=&societyETOCSession=&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0034412509990369

    Take care,
    Steve

  3. Probably I’d rank St. Thomas Aquinas’ cosmological argument as one of the strongest in favor of a god:

    1) Some things are caused.
    2) Everything that is caused is caused by something else. (So nothing causes itself.)
    3) An infinite regress is impossible.

    Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause and we call that cause God. This argument doesn’t conflict with established science, as the Big Bang can be argued to be a “caused thing.”

    Probably the next most popular argument for God would be the Argument from design. Such as; If you came across a watch in the woods it would be reasonable conclusion that somebody designed it – our planet is so well designed to support life that it can’t be random.

    A rebuttal for these can be found in Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker.

    • Thanks, James. Those who decide that the cosmological and/or design arguments are sound may then explore the question of what sort of God is suggested by these lines of reasoning. Besides being creative, is God, for example, good?

      Roger Schriner

  4. Here is my ” Now I get equal time” rebuttal.

    This was a letter to a co-worker when I was delivering pizza. I sent an earlier version of this to you back when, but it has been edited since then.

    Not What I Thought God Was All About

    Please remember that I’m not against Christianity or relgion in general, although I must admit sometimes I am, because religious conflicts are the root cause of much evil in our world. Nor am I arguing against the virtuous teachings of Christianity, but against its false premise: the Bible’s divine origin, as well as the absurdities, atrocities, and injustices contained therein. Religion involving any chosen deity on the right side of morality, will have positive emotional impact on our lives. Any positive belief system that parallels our intrinsic sense of right and wrong will, indeed, result in positive emotional and physical impact.

    In the short history of our existence, what makes us so sure that we modern-day earthlings finally “have it right” (Christianity)? Past civilizations were also convinced they had it right. The Greeks worshipped multiple deities – we now know better. Humans were sacrificed in the name of religion – we contemporary humans now know better. Someone of their respective period proclaimed it so (multiple deities, sacrifices, etc.), and everyone else followed. Then, at some future point in time, their paradigm morphed into something more sensible; they (or their descendants) eventually learned better. So, how do we know that one day, millenniums into the future, any given civilization won’t look back at ours (like we currently look back at the Greeks and other ancients) and say, “Look, this is what those ancients believed in”. Why would we think, in the short history of our existence, that our followers will not learn better?

    Fear of social and divine retribution, as well as the self-imposed retribution of guilt (sometimes to a suicidal degree) can be and is, for many people an overwhelming deterrent to thorough investigation and objective evaluation of the Scriptures. Religion is handed down to us throughout the generations. Predisposition to blind acceptance of Christianity and other religions is in our genes. It is instilled in our psyche from an early age.

    This is the same fundamental reason Muslim extremists adhere to an inhumane doctrine of terrorism and torture. It has been handed down to them across the generations since the 7th Century inception of Islam, when Muhammad went to the Mountain, smoked a little loco weed, then decided he was going to be Allah’s right-hand man. It is what has been taught to them, and this is germane to understanding why so many in our society accept Christianity without objective scrutiny – it is what has been handed down to us, and unquestioning acceptance is the right thing to do.

    When I was finally compelled to investigate the existence of God, I began with an online resource ; an electronic version of the Bible. I searched for the word *kill*. The search results for the root form of the word numbered over four hundred, but only one instance used in the context of advocacy would have been too much for me (Thou shalt not kill?). Not what I had been led to believe God was all about.

    A rather telling observation, in my book, is that killing in biblical times was not exactly atypical as the way of their relatively lawless world, and this is exactly the kind of thing that would be found in chronicle-style writings of that period. This is exactly what the Bible is… chronicles of biblical periods, authored by mere mortals of that era.

    God, according to the Bible, is supposed to be perfect in every way, in addition to other concepts presented, like omnipotent, omniscious, omnibenevolent, and not an advocate of war and murder. How could He advocate killing any of his children, whether they are his chosen people or not. Chosen people? A god playing favorites? Not what I thought God was all about.

    Exodus 20:13 Thou shalt not kill.
    Exodus 32:27 And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.
    This is only one example of contradictions found in the Bible, but one of the more significant and telling, me thinks.

    I just always figured this book was the word of an omnibenevolent, supernatural being. Now, after only cursory examination, it’s apparent, to me, that this book was written by someone(s) with all the same personality characteristics (jealousy, rage, revenge, etc.) of earthbound mortals, not an omnibenevolent superpower. Truth is, Jehovah shares personality traits with some of our world’s worst war-mongering, murderous, barbaric dictators, including Muhammad (the evidence is in the Bible… and the Qur’an).

    Ever notice how demanding of worship Jehovah is?
    Ever notice how demanding of worship third world dictators are, with their pictures on billboards all over town, demanding to be glorified?

    As big a worship-demanding, jealous ego as God apparently has, seems pretty clear to me (according to prior examples of his war-mongering against foes), if anyone like Muhammad was attempting trespass into His turf (which Muhammad did in more ways than one), Jehovah would have snuffed out this imposter in a heartbeat.

    Aside from the virtuous teachings, what makes Jehovah any different from a terrorist? Both are apparently egomaniacs who go around killing at will; even their methods are essentially not all that different – the evidence is in the Bible, and the supernatural one of that pair demands, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. This is a respectable god and role model? One set of rules for us, another for Him? What god would direct members of his flock to murder other not-so-favorite members of his flock? Not exactly an equitable and omnibenevolent god, in my book.

    Why the “faith game” with reward and penalty of Heaven and Hell, instead of just presenting the rules and consequences, accompanied by a convincing display of His existence? “Hell” – sure seems, to me, a rather cruel punishment for an omnibenevolent god.

    Me thinks if I were an omnibenevolent superpower capable of engineering such a complex world as ours, I could surely devise a plan guaranteeing myself plenty of worship, without simultaneously condemning any of my children to eternity in Hell. On the other hand, if I were a mere mortal of the biblical era trying to explain the unexplainable, and recognized the need for spiritual law & order in a spiritually lawless and chaotic society, a Heaven & Hell concept would be a convenient and powerful incentive, indeed.

    So, how am I expected to believe in a god who is, apparently, not so perfect as Deuteronomy would have us believe? Anyone’s answer to that question first requires disregard for the contradictions and absurdities found in the Scriptures, but is also dependent upon their own definition of that man-made word “God”, and just as important, how they justify to themselves, that definition. Mitigation is especially needed if you allow Him any imperfection, and if you do, then you are in direct contradiction with the Bible’s own portrayal of God being perfect in every way.

    To me, it couldn’t be any more obvious that these books (Bible and the Qu’ran) were written by mere mortals without any external divine influence guiding their hands. In the case of Muhammad, his own wife made the rather telling observation about how convenient his revelations were to his non-religious, personal goals. In the case of the Bible, there was apparently a similar motive at work by at least one of the biblical authors, which resulted in a “chosen people.” In other words, what mere mortal-type biblical author would not have selected his own kind as the Chosen People?

    The positive value of Christianity in our lives and society is obvious, but the Bible as being the work of God, just doesn’t hold water. There is at least one publication out there, authored by research partners “Freke & Gandy”, that reveals discovery of credible and verifiable information relating the historicity of a spiritual figure whose story parallels and predates the story of Jesus. The story of Jesus plagiarized? This kind of news the press doesn’t dare touch for obvious reasons. Many Christians won’t entertain only the possibility of such blasphemous tales, but will dogmatically deny pure logic and evidence, rather than risk that kind of upset in their lives, especially those so entrenched in the lifestyle.

    Why does God permit the destruction of life, limb, and landscape (not to mention the resulting suffering of victims’ loved ones) with weather calamities and natural disasters, when according to the Bible, He has the power to stop them?

    Not what I thought God was all about.

    ——————————————————————————–

    More Food For Thought

    There is a guy out there somewhere who signed his opinion-type posting on a blogger’s site as “Randy The Atheist” The following is only part of his posting. I wish I could claim his comments as my own – they directly parallel my observations in the second paragraph of my essay above. In other words, the Christian Faith in our society is predominantly a product of geography and time, but he says it more effectively and more eloquently… with a certain literay style.

    Randy’s Comments

    For those of you who profess a belief in a “one true god”, your belief is accidental – a function of time, geography and circumstance. Had you been born in the first dynasties of Egypt, you would be worshipping the “true gods” and “true dieties” en vogue during those eras. Likewise, if you were born only a few centuries ago in the Pacific islands, you would be in tune with their systems of “true ritual”. There would be no one to tell you otherwise because you would be born much too early in a land much too far away. Basically, you would have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    WHAT WOULD YOU BE if you were born ONE THOUSAND YEARS AGO in the deserts of the American Southwest, into the legendary tribes of T H E A P A C H E I N D I A N S.

    Would you be a Muslim? a Christian? a Terrorist? a Crusader?

    Would you be a Jew? a Hebrew? a Canaanite? or a Semite?

    No. You would be an Apache Indian of the North American continent and you would be practicing the only beliefs known to you – Shamanism.

    Would you somehow feel betrayed or forsaken by the Judaistic gods?

    No. The Apache peoples did not yet know of such dieties or religions because they were not yet introduced and taught. You cannot come to the same beliefs of the above religions by simply looking at the rocks and the trees. It must be taught to you by others who were taught in much the same way.

    Would you live in despair and destitution because you worshipped other dieties?

    No. You would live in one of the most historic cultures of the North American continent. Life would go on as usual as with any other civlization throughout the world. Contact with peoples from the other continent would not occur until some six hundred years into your future. Oddly, you would have a rather beautiful and peaceful lifestyle until the Judaistic beliefs became imposed on your decendants by the hostile Spaniards.

    Would you feel that you would be going to hell for not being baptised?

    No. Baptism would be a very alien ritual to your decendants. Hell would also be a very alien concept since death was believed to mark the end of your existence. To the Apache, the idea of an afterlife would be as silly as the idea of salvation as these were concepts invented by men on an entirely different continent with an entirely different history.

    The Apache Indians came from northwest Canada around 850 AD. They settled in the three desert regions of the American southwest and did a lot of trading with the neighboring Pueblo Indians who were already inhabiting the areas for many centuries prior. The Apache were skilled hunters of buffalo but they sometimes practiced a unique method of limited farming.

    In pre-colonial Apache culture, polygamy was practiced when economic circumstances permitted and marriage could be terminated easily by either party due to their nomadic lifestyle. Religion was a fundamental part of Apache life – a type of Shamanism that was practiced for many thousands of years. Among the best known supernatural beings in the Apache world were the Gaans, protective mountain spirits that could be called upon to do good or evil. Present-day beliefs is a mixture of traditional Apache beliefs, witchcraft, and contemporary United States religions.

    ——————————————————————————–

    As my second paragraph relates, Randy and I agree… It’s all simply a matter of geography and time. Eons into the future, Christianity will disappear or morph into another animal entirely. One day in the future, two brothers will be having a similar discussion (my essay above was recently sent to my brother), and one will be telling the other, ” Look, this is what those ancient Christians believed in…” IT WILL HAPPEN

    Justplumducky!

  5. One thing I appreciated in your comments: “Why would we think, in the short history of our existence, that our followers will not learn better?” That’s the sort of future-focused vision that I try to keep in mind when I think and write. Thanks.

    • I apologize for posting that in a bit of a hurry. It was a letter to my brother, and I forgot to edit out those parts. Thank you for publishing it, and thank you for your response. That was the first time, if I remember correctly, that I posted it on a public site. it was written a long time ago, but revised just a little recently.

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