Richard Carrier and Wallace Marshall Debate: God or Atheism—Where does the Evidence Point?

Beginning today and for the next three months I will be engaging a formal serial debate here with Dr. Wallace Marshall over whether the evidence points to there being a God—or the absence of one. Marshall has a Ph.D. in history from Boston College and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, is the author of Puritanism and Natural Theology, and currently heads the Charleston, SC chapter of William Lane Craig’s organization Reasonable Faith. He has engaged in many previous debates.

The procedure we will follow is that Dr. Marshall will begin with an opening statement. Which is now provided below. I will then reply in a following blog post. And he in turn. And so on until the debate closes after July 15th of 2019. Each entry will be limited to 1100 words (not counting citations or bibliography). There will be no assigned pace—so we can each research our next entry before submitting it, and ensure as careful a wording as possible.

Comments on each of the entries in this debate series are open to anyone who submits polite and relevant remarks. Patreon patrons retain the privilege of their comments publishing immediately. Everyone else’s will wait in a moderation queue that I will have to check and clear every few days. Do feel free to comment. But please make your remarks polite, relevant, and informed. And do not expect too much of our time. Dr. Marshall is no doubt an even busier fellow than I am.

If you want to explore the whole debate there is now a complete index.


That the Evidence Points to God

by Wallace Marshall, Ph.D.

The question before us is, “God or Atheism: Where Does the Evidence Point?” I will use my first 1,100-word (max) entry to define the key terms of the question and outline the case I will be making. My objective will be to show that the evidence points firmly to the existence of God. I happen to think that the evidence for God vastly outweighs the evidence for atheism, but for the purpose of this debate it is only necessary for me to show that on balance, the existence of God is more probable than his non-existence.

By “God,” I mean an eternal Mind that created the world. By “atheism,” I mean the claim that such a being does not, or probably does not, exist. An agnostic, by contrast, says that such a being may or may not exist, either because the evidence is equal on both sides, or because the person has not yet evaluated the evidence or believes the human mind is philosophically barred in some way from answering such a question.

By “evidence,” I mean a fact or phenomenon that makes a hypothesis more or less probable than it would have been in the absence of that fact or phenomenon. On this definition, which is standard in legal jurisprudence, to say that there is evidence for a belief obviously does not mean that the belief is true. For example, if a potential suspect in a crime lacks an alibi, it obviously does not mean he is guilty; but it does count as a piece of evidence against him. His innocence is at least slightly less likely than it would have been if he did have an alibi.

Given this definition of “evidence,” I think it should immediately be clear that there is evidence on both sides of the question. The fact that God does not miraculously or obviously intervene in everyone’s life on a weekly basis renders atheism more probable than it would be if he did; just as the fact that this planet we live on is beautiful and abounds with an astoundingly rich diversity of life makes theism more probable than it would be if the surface of the Earth resembled the surface of the Moon.

I will present three standard arguments for God’s existence: the cosmological argument (specifically the Kalam version), the argument from design, and the argument from the existence of objective moral values and duties. In later entries I will outline various features of the world and human existence—beauty, art, music, falling in love, our longing for ultimate meaning, and the mysteries of the mathematical realm—that fit much better with a theistic view of the world than with an atheistic one. Each of these might qualify as a separate argument, but I will combine them together and roughly call it the “Argument from Fitness.”

In the space that remains I will outline the steps, or logical structure, of these four arguments.

1

The Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) runs as follows:

  1. If the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
  4. The cause of the universe is most plausibly God.

Steps 1-3 constitute a deductive argument: if premises 1 and 2 are more plausibly true than not, the conclusion in step 3 follows logically. Step 4 will then involve showing that in the nature of the case there are surprisingly limited options for what the cause of the universe could be, and that God is by far the most plausible of these.

2

The Argument from Design will revolve around the well-known scientific phenomenon called fine-tuning: cosmological constants that must fall within an infinitesimally narrow range in order for life of any kind to exist in the universe. It runs as follows:

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.

Again, this is a deductive argument. If premises 1 and 2 are more plausibly true than not, the conclusion follows necessarily.

3

The Argument from Objective Moral Values and Duties is also a deductive argument, and it runs as follows:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

While each of the above three arguments independently provides evidence for the existence of God, when combined they also present a powerful cumulative case for the full-orbed conception of a Creator that is common to the classical monotheism of Jews, Muslims, Christians and Deists. The KCA shows that the Creator is transcendent, the Argument from Design that he is intelligent (or a Mind), and the Moral Argument that he is the ground and foundation of moral values and duties, and as such is obviously a moral being himself.

4

Finally, the Argument from Fitness:

  1. The world has strikingly beautiful, deep and exquisite features and experiences.
  2. The existence of such things fits much better with theism than atheism.

I may develop this into a longer and more formal structure, but given the varied nature of the things I will be discussing, I am inclined to leave it in this simple form. The argument is in a sense the flip side of the problem of evil (“The world contains strikingly ugly, shallow and horrific features and experiences”).

The Problem of Evil

My defensive case will of course depend on the arguments for atheism Dr. Carrier advances. One of these, no doubt, will be the problem of evil. That argument typically takes one of two forms. The first is that the existence of God and the existence of evil are logically incompatible; i.e., that the statements “God exists” and “evil exists” are contradictory. This “logical” version is rarely maintained by philosophers anymore, for reasons I will point out if Dr. Carrier presents it.

The probabilistic version of the problem of evil, by contrast, remains the most common argument against the existence of God. It says that while the existence of God and the existence of evil are not logically incompatible, the existence of evil, and particularly the great amount of evil in the world, renders the existence of God improbable.

Briefly, my reply will be that:

  1. Given the prevalence of moral evil among human beings, the world as we experience it is very much the kind of place we should expect to find if a God who is both just and merciful reigns over it.
  2. We are not in a position to conclude that God lacks morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil to exist.

-:-

Such is Marshall’s opening statement. My response follows here. The debate has begun.


84 comments

  1. John L. Oliverio April 17, 2019, 7:48 pm

    I’m sorry, but right off the bat he gets the Kalam wrong. Unless he wants to give Craig a formal nod. And I’d reject his definitions of “atheist” and “agnostic” as being incomplete. Because it does not include the simple possibility that a person may just not be convinced.

    Reply
    1. To be fair, Dr. Marshall did include the state of not being convinced (he just described it in different words; it’s included in being either balanced or barred), and his definitions need not be universal or exclusive of all other definitions in use, they just need be uncontentious, consistently used, and explicit—and they are; more than suitable for this debate (people exist who really do use those words that way, etc.).

      I’m not sure what you mean by getting the Kalam “wrong.” He does not use the identical version developed by Craig; but Craig did not develop the Kalam (that’s why it’s called the Kalam: it’s a Medieval Islamic argument). Moreover, revisiting the exact wording of premises is a valid way to improve on arguments perceived as inadequate on past word choices. We should be charitable, so I’m assuming that’s Marshall’s intent. There is nothing wrong as to his wording vis-a-vis validity. One therefore must challenge its soundness. Just as with any other version of the Kalam.

      Reply
      1. The reason why he thinks he got Kalam wrong was that Kalam never has “and therefore God” added at the end. You cannot just chose a conclusion that suits your theology without proof to be rationally justified.

        Reply
        1. Dr. Marshall doesn’t have just “and therefore God” at the end. He has a statement that of the options left over only God is probable. That’s exactly the Kalam. Which also lacks a deductive route to that conclusion.

          Note the Kalam is a modern invention; but this illogical leap to God is also how the medieval kalam was employed, in various different ways, never formally valid. Even Craig has failed to get it there.

    2. To me the root of theistic audacity, they take this as a given and not something to be proved.

      “just as the fact that this planet we live on is beautiful and abounds with an astoundingly rich diversity of life makes theism more probable than it would be if the surface of the Earth resembled the surface of the Moon.“

      Reply
  2. Picking the abundance of life on Earth as an example of evidence is cherry picking. The universe as a whole is almost completely devoid of life.

    Reply
    1. To be fair, Dr. Marshall never deploys that as his actual argument, so he avoided the cherry picking fallacy.

      His only design argument pertains to fine tuning, which is not as easy to dismiss: the analog condition, a multiverse, is not a confirmed fact the way the vast inhospitability of the universe is.

      Nevertheless, I will raise these issues constructively in my reply.

      Reply
      1. I am struck by the resemblance by your argument and the Douglas Adams analogy of the puddle, = “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

        Reply
    2. Very true, Dahveed, and I’ll have something to say about that as the debate proceeds, as it’s a common objection to the design argument. For now I am simply bringing it up as an illustration (I gave one on both sides of the question) of something that would qualify as “evidence.”

      Reply
  3. An eternal mind can make infinite universes or even other eternal minds. If all universes are possible how can you assume it’s designed? It’s more like a machine pumping out a product only to slightly change the formula the next time for eternity.

    Reply
    1. I’m not sure what you mean. If we are positing an eternal mind to get to that conclusion, we are still positing atheism is false. How do you get from this an argument that atheism is probably true?

      Reply
    2. It’s a rebuttal to an argument for a intentionally/consciously designed universe. The universe could be the result of a dream of an eternal mind (aka subconscious). I just think it’s unlikely an eternal mind would stop at one universe. If that’s the case why would this one be special to such a mind?

      Reply
  4. I appreciate Dr, Marshall providing us with his definitions for God, atheism, and evidence. However, after poring through his various syllogisms I am baffled by his use of the term logic.

    While rife with fallacies, I do not see logical thinking employed here, but only egregious errors in reasoning.

    (Selective arrangement, Special pleadings, Appeal to Personal belief, circulus in probando, etc. See Dr. Bo Bennett’s Logically Fallacious.)

    Perhaps Dr. Marshall would be so kind as to give us his definition and approach to logic?

    Reply
    1. To be fair, Dr. Marshall only identifies as deductively valid those few conclusions that actually are; he does not specify by what logical mechanism his other conclusions are reached, but charitably one should assume they are inductive and not deductive.

      So there is no instance here, yet, where he has used logic badly or incorrectly. At worst, he only hasn’t yet explained but has only hinted at the logical steps by which he reaches certain conclusions; but this is largely due to restrictions of word count. Please give him time to explicate before concluding there’s nothing there.

      Reply
      1. Gentlemen, thank you for your replies. For time sake, I’ll limit my answer to Dr. Marshall’s first syllogism on the Kalam Cosmological argument.

        I should also say that Dr. Carrier’s suggestion that one should “charitably assume they are inductive and not deductive’ is well taken. Unfortunately it is contradicted by Dr. Marshall himself, when he concludes:

        “Steps 1-3 constitute a deductive argument: if premises 1 and 2 are more plausibly true than not, the conclusion in step 3 follows logically.”

        Logically? I’m not seeing it.

        Off the bat, this is more of an example of inductive reasoning than deductive. For deductive reasoning to be sound, the hypothesis must be correct.

        Dr. Marshall’s opening hypothesis states:

        “If the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause.”
        The universe began to exist.

        This strikes me as a form of begging the question (petitio principii) in that it assumes what needs to be proven.

        At best, it is an unsupported claim, at worst, it is based on questionable data that is being vigorously disputed and scrutinized in various contemporary scientific disciplines. (See V. Stenger and S. Carroll).

        The reality is we simply do not know if the universe began, or, if it is as past eternal as it is observably future eternal.

        As Dr. Bo Bennett points out: “The fact is, outside the dimension of time, “began” is nonsensical, just like saying that something is north of the north pole.”

        Out of respect for your generous, but limited time, I’ll leave it at that and look forward to the debate continuing.

        Thank you both for your time and effort!

        Reply
        1. Logically? I’m not seeing it.

          Note I clarify what he must have meant in my reply.

          This strikes me as a form of begging the question (petitio principii) in that it assumes what needs to be proven.

          He didn’t claim the argument was thus concluded; he claimed the conclusion follows from those premises. Which (when correctly worded) is true. He certainly expects the premises to be challenged. He didn’t have space to build out a defense of them. That will come in his response(s) to my reply.

          But you’re right: these premises cannot be sustained as “probable.” Certainly not enough to make the conclusion probable. But we’ll have to see how it plays out to be sure.

        2. MChaseWalker, when you write, “For deductive reasoning to be sound, the hypothesis must be correct,” you seem to be confusing logical validity with logical soundness.

          An argument is “valid” if the conclusions follow from the premises (whether inductively or deductively). For the argument to be “sound,” however, the premises must be shown to be true or probably true or at least more plausible than not.

          So an argument can be logically valid but still be a bad or unsuccessful argument because the premises are not shown to be true or likely.

          In my second entry (which is on the Kalam Cosmological Argument) I will present the evidence the premises. In entry # 1, I’m simply outlining the logical structure. So your only critique at this point (if you have one) should be that even in the premises were true, the conclusion wouldn’t logically follow.

  5. The cosmological argument, though apparently reasonable, is based on a logical fallacy…

    In simplistic terms, positing the origins of the Universe as the event of The Big Bang, the question naturally arises as to how the materials that made up The Big Bang got there in the first place? (See, for instance, https://www.livescience.com/65254-what-happened-before-big-big.html) Since there is no reason to think a cosmological infinite regress is possible, it is reasonable to posit an uncaused first cause: God.

    One reason this line of thinking is wrongheaded is that it commits The God of the Gaps fallacy. For instance, there was a gap in ancient Greek knowledge as to why the sun traveled across the sky. So, to fill in this gap, the Greeks speculated that the God Helios dragged the sun across the sky. The cosmological argument makes the same misstep, invoking God as an explanation merely due to a gap in scientific knowledge.

    Reply
    1. To be fair, Dr. Marshall’s argument is not explicitly “We don’t know what the cause is, therefore it’s probably God.” His argument is (as will be clear in coming entries, but already hinted at by what he has said in his word-limited opening) that other explanations are improbable (even in sum), therefore the one remaining explanation (God) is probable. That’s at least a valid inductive argument. If he can carry off that crucial premise about relative probability.

      Reply
    2. John,

      A “God of the gaps” offense is inserting God within a chain of physical causes we do not yet fully understand, where there is good reason to suppose that further investigation will yield a sufficient natural explanation.

      In the case of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the questions are (1) whether the evidence points to an absolute beginning of the cosmos; and (2) if so, what if any explanation of that beginning we should propose.

      If the answer to (1) turns out be “yes,” then in the nature of the case we are no longer looking for a physical cause, as we would then need a cause that brought physical reality into existence. So we would be quite out of the realm of “God of the gaps.”

      Moreover, I see nothing wrong with using scientific facts as evidence in support of premises in a philosophical argument having theological implications (either for or against God). A key premise of the KCA is, “The universe began to exist.” It would be a strange epistemology that barred people from asking what science has to say about the likely truth of that premise.

      Scientific verdicts often change, of course; and that’s no problem. There are numerous questions–not just in philosophy and religion, but in law, politics, economics, social psychology, etc.–where scientific evidence may have a bearing on how we answer them. And where it does have a bearing, we should take it into account, recognizing of course that we may have to revise our arguments or change our minds later if the scientific picture changes.

      Reply
  6. Why doesn’t the God side include the God of Spinoza and Einstein (pantheism) or the possibility of more than one God?

    Reply
    1. Dr. Marshall says his arguments establish that a powerful, transcendent, intelligent, morally good mind exists. It would not matter, for the sake of this argument, that that God ended up being the God of Deism; and Marshall explicitly includes that as a satisfying condition. It would also not matter if there were more gods; there would still be a God who created the universe and is the foundation of all moral values, etc.

      Dr. Marshall no doubt also has arguments for narrowing the prospects down to a lone Christian God. But to be fair, we aren’t debating that, so we shouldn’t hold him to more than that here. He first has to show any god is credible, before we even need bother asking which one. After all, if the existence of any god is improbable, it won’t matter what gods are possible.

      Reply
    2. Ric, some of the arguments I’ll present could be used in support of a pantheistic conception of deity, but the cosmological argument (if successful) is more difficult to reconcile with pantheism.

      Reply
  7. I’ve read enough. 1(1), 2(1), 3(1), and 4(1) are all massive and unfounded assumptions, as Dr. Carrier has pointed out in multiple posts. The link-fest that is to follow on his part will be fun to watch.

    I certainly hope something other than legal jurisprudence will be offered, since legal jurisprudence is a human invention after all. Perhaps some actual science to show that theists have special theist cells in their bodies, or that the experiences filtered through their brains differ in any way from anyone else’s. Longer lifespans, maybe? Freedom from any particular disease?

    We find ourselves in a world and a wordspace of discrimination and difference, yet all this was created by a sublime, transcendent Mind? I don’t think so. Actual transcendent minds wouldn’t be bothered with discrimination and difference, yet the bibles and all the follow on writings are full of who to kill, what fat makes the best sacrifice, and just exactly who can enslave whom, because people write bibles, not transcendent minds.

    I am hoping for some actual spiritual argument here, on both sides, not legal jurisprudence. Atheists need not cede any ground at all on spirituality.

    Reply
    1. Though I concur with the soundness problem (key premises are not well established in fact), and hence I’ll definitely raise that in my response, I confess I don’t understand your “special theist cells” argument (at least as would pertain to anything Dr. Marshall has so far argued). And Dr. Marshall has raised no defense as yet of any Biblically specific God.

      Reply
  8. Dr Marshall says, “By “God,” I mean an eternal Mind that created the world.” Let’s suppose that there was a God, who caused the Big Bang. Who’s to say this Eternal Mind is still alive. What if God was killed in the Big Bang? Then of course when it comes to evil, Epicurus posed the ultimate questions:

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

    Then he is not omnipotent.

    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    Reply
    1. “Who’s to say this Eternal Mind is still alive. What if God was killed in the Big Bang? ”

      Is not the argument that god is in control of every part of the big bang and if he died, he loses control, so how did the big bang not bang itself out and cease to exist?

      This is why I find Christian apologists have double standards. They will employ Islam argument for necessary being, then bash Islam’s concept of god because god cannot die.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Marshall has not yet argued that God must still be alive to keep everything running; though that would be one possible way to try and answer King’s argument (whether such a rebuttal could be proved correct is another matter).

        Likewise, he has not yet argued God “cannot die” (i.e. “cannot change”). Per my other response here in comments. And even if he did, he would only be creating a problem for certain versions of Christianity, not even Christianity as a whole; and Marshall has here said he is defending a God who could be even the Islamic God. So these considerations are not likely to be relevant (to this present debate; they may be relevant outside this debate).

        Reply
    2. “Is he able but not willing? – than he is Malevolent”

      What would you call God if he were able but chose not to quash evil in the timeline preferred by man because giving men free will is a key element of his plan for his creation?

      Reply
  9. It seems he has left the details of God wide open. It could be an evil demon given his arguments so far. It depends on how he develops the moral argument.

    Reply
    1. I’m sure Dr. Marshall imagines the evil god hypothesis ruled out by his third and fourth arguments, and his response to the argument from evil (which notably is not to defend evil as good; at least he hasn’t gone there yet). But you are right to be concerned that when he really thinks all these through, it might not end well.

      Reply
    2. Kornelia Campbell April 18, 2019, 1:33 pm

      Dr. Marshall has a very specific vision of this god. The perfect Superhero-that a man can conjure. It is ideal- we would all love to join him in his delusion- but saying it does not make it so! Maybe a creator- but not Good, -his data needs to be examined- he uses terms like – most likely- but never states based on what???probability- based on what????

      Reply
  10. It is not my intent to be unkind, but every one of these arguments are recounted numerous times on the Internet by people who don’t even have a degree, muchless a PHD. I read with anticipation I would see some fresh angle or insight by Dr.Marshall. Perhaps the human imagination has been exhausted in its quest to justify a belief in an transcendential, all mighty creator.

    Reply
    1. Ron, I don’t take your comment to be unkind at all. I would just point out that one oughtn’t judge an argument by how old it is, how often it is repeated, or whether it’s recited by people who are less educated or even idiots.

      One could lodge your identical criticism against the Problem of Evil: it wouldn’t mean the Problem of Evil is a bad argument.

      If anything, the fact that an argument has been around for a long time and is recited by lots of people might be an indication that the argument has at least some merit.

      If you stick with our debate, though, I think you will find some different, maybe even “fresh” angles that you haven’t encountered before. We’re just getting started.

      Reply
  11. One thing about the KCA: Doesn’t causality necessitate something to act upon? Creation ex nihilo would rule out a “cause” thereby nullifying P1 and P2.

    Reply
    1. In my reply I mention something akin to this point. But importantly different. It isn’t strictly true an effect must already exist to be acted on by a cause.

      So, a pre-existing cause (e.g. a God, somehow floating around in a nullverse) can cause a not-yet-existing spacetime manifold to form and fill etc. Except for the pesky problem that a causal entity existing never-nowhere is incoherent. But if you can somehow get around that, a “God did it” hypothesis is logically identical to a “quantum vacuum did it” hypothesis (etc.), but for the fact that the former, unlike the latter, is needlessly complex and contrary to all plausible science to date—also points I make in my reply, so I expect they’ll be addressed in the debate entries to come.

      Reply
    2. Kevin, causality doesn’t necessitate something to act upon, only an actor. Also, causality requires an efficient cause, but not (necessarily) a physical cause. To say that “all causes have to be physical” would simply be to beg, rather than argue for, the whole question Dr. Carrier and I are debating.

      Reply
  12. Christian apologists are employing Al Gazali’s arguments to refute atheists, but then they bash Islam and try to say that the Muslim God is weak because He can’t change and become a man. I see double standards. They believe a triune god who consists of dependent beings and they believe that the one god changes. How is it consistent to use the contingency argument when they worship a god who becomes contingent? I don’t get it.

    Reply
    1. There are many hypocrisies in the ways Christian apologists defend Christianity and denounce Islam—and vice versa (it’s a universal defect of all religions: read John Lofus, The Outsider Test for Faith). But to be honest, that’s not one of them.

      The difference between Christians and Muslims over whether a god can or would become a man (and note, not all Christianity says that: many Christian sects, even still today, are not Trinitarian, nor were any of its original sects) is wholly separate from whether one can prove there is a Creator from observations about the nature of reality (which is what the Kalam is attempting).

      Dr. Marshall has not argued here (at least yet) that God can never change; and his version of the Kalam does not entail a God that can’t. Whether a Trinitarian theology is even capable of being coherent is a separate matter. But by explicitly including (as he did) even Islam and Deism in the possible theisms his arguments prove, Marshall is not here arguing for a Trinitarian doctrine (though of course he may well do later or elsewhere).

      Reply
  13. I’m going to hold off on addressing any of the points the debaters make until more responses are provided, but I am very excited to see another formal written debate. 1100 words is actually very small, so hopefully we will see relatively quick turnaround in responses. And of course, I very much look forward to actual evidence and citation rather than just trying to score points (as is often the case with in-person debates).

    Good luck to both sides!

    Reply
  14. Kornelia Campbell April 18, 2019, 1:16 pm

    KalamCa- the universe was produced by unintelligent forces- No ‘Pre-scribed result’ — that is why (Argument from Design) IS Due to Necessity- following these natural forces- we men named laws of nature! Is he calling these Forces – god???Moral duties are never Objective- everything is subjective- hold him to that!

    Reply
    1. Dr. Marshall’s argument is that nonmental forces (whether fixed or accidental) are unlikely to have done it, therefore only one cause remains probable, which is a mental force, a Mind. The argument is valid. The conclusion does follow from the premises. But he has yet to establish those premises—he just asserts the conclusion at this point, without explaining how it’s arrived at, but that’s owing to the word limit; he’ll fill it out soon I expect. I don’t expect it will hold up (already see my reply). But if we’re wrong, he’ll have ample opportunity to prove it here.

      Reply
  15. I do appreciate that Dr. Marshall started out by defining his terms when he stated:

    By “God,” I mean an eternal Mind that created the world. By “atheism,” I mean the claim that such a being does not, or probably does not, exist. An agnostic, by contrast, says that such a being may or may not exist, either because the evidence is equal on both sides, or because the person has not yet evaluated the evidence or believes the human mind is philosophically barred in some way from answering such a question.

    I’ve pointed out to Dr. Carrier before that in discussions on this topic “The existence of God” (the probability) or the question “Do you believe in God”, all to often Theists and Atheists alike do not clarify what they mean when the bring up the question or topic.

    On a related note many Christians are particularly guilty of trying to make arguments for the existence of God and then try to steal a base by implying or suggesting that their argument (e.g. argument from design) proves the existence of their specific Christian God and that the Bible is the word of God.

    But the fact is that if if there is a Deity that in of itself does not prove the existence of any particular theological God. It would only prove the required prerequisite for such a thing to possibly exist.

    A particular theological God brings with it it’s own separate theological baggage (traits, requirements) and thus greatly increases its improbability of it existing well beyond just a bare bones Deity.

    Reply
    1. Indeed, Dr. Marshall has explicitly acknowledged this:

      “[My arguments] present a powerful cumulative case for the full-orbed conception of a Creator that is common to the classical monotheism of Jews, Muslims, Christians and Deists.”

      He may indeed have a harder time proving only one of those gods exist; but he doesn’t have to tackle that burden here. Though if he can’t establish any god exists, then I think it would already be a waste of time to argue which one did.

      Reply
  16. There are at least two problems I can see in the in both the Kalam and the Moral argument as presented here. Certain premises are merely asserted when it is not apparent that they are true or likely to be true.

    Specifically, I mean premise 1 of the KCA. Presented here as “If the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause.” I notice right away that this is a variant of the KCA presented by William Lane Craig, who instead says that “Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence.” Marshall’s premise 1 seems weaker than that, but that aside, how is it a given that it is true?

    For a very long time the standard model of understanding is that everything is caused, but I believe that’s a notion being challenged through the work of quantum physics. Specifically spontaneously emerging virtual particles seem to satisfy the constraints that things can “just happen” and that matter can “just show up out of nothing” with no apparent cause behind it.

    Of course, as Lawrence Krauss notes, when he discusses this, he is told by theologians that the empty space from which virtual particles emerge is not the right “kind” of nothing, but I digress.

    The second problem I aluded to was from the moral argument. Suppose I granted for the sake of argument that God exists, yet I doubt or deny that objective moral values exist. It seems to me that since there is no inherent logical contradiction that emerges from that, that Marshall’s premise 1 of his Moral Argument does not necessarily follow; since I could at least conceive of a situation in which God existed and yet objective moral values and duties did not.

    The go-to example I like to use to discuss what that kind of thing would look like woudl be to postulate Azathoth from the writings of HP Lovecraft that would not entail that the existence of objective moral values and duties as dependent on God.

    Indeed, Azathoth would satisfy the definitional requirements Marshall gives to God in his opening paragraphs, an eternal mind which created the world. The problem is that Azathoth is kind of an idiot; he’s a blind, stupid thing that exists for the sake of being entertained by the monotonous piping of the idiot dancers that surround him. By no stretch of the imagination would we say that the existence of Azathoth implies the existence of objective moral values and duties.

    Reply
    1. Benjamin,

      For KCA Premise 1, I think the point is not that everything has a cause; rather: that the universe (specifically), if it began to exist, must have been caused by something. Otherwise, we’re left affirming that the universe could come into existence, uncaused, out of nothing (by ‘nothing’, we mean: not anything).

      Seems to me you’re misconstruing the moral argument. The question is not: Is there a logical incompatibility between God’s existence and a world with no objective moral values and duties? Rather the question is: Can objective moral values and duties exist absent God? By ‘objective’ is meant something that is true regardless of what someone may think.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Marshall,

        One minor quibble. We are not left ‘affirming that the universe could have come into existence, uncaused, out of nothing.’ We are left stating that we do not know how the universe came into existence, if it did come into existence, or if its even possible for there to be a cause of universes coming into existence in the first place.

        As to the second point, I quite follow that you’re trying to make the argument that we can’t have objective moral values and duties without God. My response is; can we have objective moral values and duties even if we have a God?

        I didn’t run down the full path of elaborating on that since, as Dr. Carrier and others have said, you are at the introductory stages of the argument, outlining the positions you will elaborate upon later. I fully anticipate that you will make an argument arguing that a) objective moral values exist, and b) the existence of objective moral values requires a God to exist.

        My objection was limited to the fact that your definition of God, an “eternal mind that created the world” does not require that God also created the world complete with objective moral values.

        Reply
        1. Hi Benjamin,

          I’m Calvin Marshall. Wallace Marshall is the “Dr.”.

          If the universe began to exist, then it seems either it 1) had a cause, or 2) did not have a cause. If one denies the former, I don’t see how we can get around affirming the latter.

          I think you’re right that the existence of an eternal mind does not necessarily entail objective moral values and duties. However, it’s not clear to me how this would show, or even suggest, that premise 1 is false. It seems difficult to deny (as many atheists, like Jean-Paul Sartre have conceded), that if God does not exist, there is no moral good and evil (objectively speaking). “If God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted”, says Sartre in ‘Les Mouches’.

        2. “If God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted” was Dostoevsky, not Sartre (and certainly not in The Flies). And it was a line spoken by a fictional character (Ivan Karamazov) whom Dostoevsky is not portraying as the wisest of sages. The statement is of course false (as it doesn’t even comprehend the existence of hypothetical imperatives, which even Kant conceded were a thing).

    2. Certain premises are merely asserted when it is not apparent that they are true or likely to be true.

      Note that this is partly due to the short-form format. To make the debate manageable, we are doing it in small chunks. This requires brevity and delaying deeper argumentation for later entries. Basically, you should expect the proponent will make his case, and will wait to see what premises the opponent will challenge, and then will defend those premises. And so on. So patience is warranted.

      Marshall’s premise 1 seems weaker than that, but that aside, how is it a given that it is true?

      It isn’t necessarily weaker. IMO a broader generalization is weaker; because it’s harder to defend. So Dr. Marshall could be right, IMO, to make a narrower assertion. Now that I have responded and raised issues with his premises, he might perhaps resort to defending his KCA Premise 1 by arguing that it follows from “Everything that begins to exist has a cause,” and then attempt a defense of that generalization; or perhaps he will defend his Premise some other way. We’ll have to wait and see.

      Specifically spontaneously emerging virtual particles seem to satisfy the constraints that things can “just happen” and that matter can “just show up out of nothing” with no apparent cause behind it.

      In anticipation of where this will go, let me note: it is not accurate to say quantum indeterminacy (even when resulting in, e.g., virtual particles or quantum tunneling, etc.) disproves a proposition that everything has a cause. Because quantum indeterminacy still obeys very specific constraints (it is not just “anything goes”), and is itself assumed to have a cause (i.e. Quantum Mechanics is what we observe; Quantum Theories are attempts to explain why that is what we observe).

      There is a reason why virtual particles form and vanish, and only those specific kinds of particles and not others, and form and vanish within Planck times rather than macro-time, and so on. That reason will be whatever causes that to happen (rather than something else, or nothing at all). Though there is a way to get to “spontaneous uncaused events are possible” from the example of quantum phemenona, it’s not straightforward, nor as secure as making the more fundamental point that underlying structure is what necessitates causation; so absent any underlying structure requiring it, it is harder to maintain causation is necessary. And “the beginning of everything” is by definition talking about a state (prior to or at the start of “everything”) lacking all structure. So why would such a state obey any law of causation?

      It seems to me that … Marshall’s premise 1 of his Moral Argument does not necessarily follow; since I could at least conceive of a situation in which God existed and yet objective moral values and duties did not.

      This is a good point. Even I overlooked it.

      His syllogism as worded is presently not strictly speaking valid, because it does not explicitly establish that “If God exists, objective moral values will exist.” That it is true “If not P, then not Q” does not entail “Therefore, if P, then Q” because it’s still possible that “If P, then also not Q.” He would need to reword that Premise to say “If a morality-grounding God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.” But as that is actually what he intended to say, I’ll charitably read him as having said that (as indeed I already had). And indeed, the wording he did use can colloquially already be read that way, e.g. if the only way “objective moral values” can exist is by a certain kind of god existing, then it is still true that “If no god exists at all, then objective moral values will not exist,” and it is still true that if objective moral values do exist, it necessarily follows that a god exists (just, a particular kind of god).

      In any event, that Premise even when correctly worded is either false or moot, as I explain in my reply.

      Reply
  17. Thanks for all the responses Dr. Carrier. The form of the debate is clearer now and you seem genuinely concerned that the debate proceed in a fair and orderly fashion.

    Perhaps a slightly longer word count would be advisable, say 1500 words.

    Reply
  18. Although some of the arguments brought forth are worded awkwardly and all have been thoroughly debunked many, many times, I am quite adamant that argument 3 is even logically incorrect.

    This version of the Argument from Objective Moral Values and Duties states that:

    If not A then not B
    B
    Thus A

    But that is incorrect reasoning. Given B, premise 1 stated nothing about A. Not A is still a valid outcome, given B.

    Even though I feel a deja-vu rearing its head in your upcoming arguments back to Marshall, I’ll be reading your replies when they come online, Richard!

    Cheers,
    Eelko

    Reply
    1. Woops – I just noticed you already saw this logical flaw in his argument in one of the last replies. Never mind me. 😉

      Reply
    2. Eelko – Yes, one can state the argument in a slightly longer form, where the additional premise, “If B, then A,” is added. The essence of the first premise is that the existence of God and the existence of objective moral values and duties rise or fall together. That is the case I will make when I argue for Premise 1.

      Reply
  19. “just as the fact that this planet we live on is beautiful and abounds with an astoundingly rich diversity of life makes theism more probable than it would be if the surface of the Earth resembled the surface of the Moon”

    Why would that make theism more probable? We already know that the diversity of life is not the result of any deity. That’s beyond question at this point.

    Reply
    1. KT, that is certainly not beyond question, but you seem to be missing my point, which is simply to give an illustration of what some modicum of “evidence” might be (forget for the moment about how much or how good evidence it is).

      If the earth was a barren and ugly place, atheists would surely (and rightly) use that as evidence against God. And even if theists living on such a planet thought there were still good reasons for believing in God, it would be disingenuous (or at least mistaken) of them to claim that the ugliness of the planet did not constitute any “evidence” at all for atheism. The converse is also true.

      Reply
      1. When I read your statement that the beauty and bountifulness of the Earth makes theism more probable than an existence where the Earth resembled the surface of the moon, I wondered if the existence of the moon makes theism less probable. If we pile on the rest of the planets and moons in our solar system that are just as hostile to human life, can we take this as further evidence against theism?

        Why should we accept the existence of habitable space as evidence for theism without accepting the existence of inhabitable space as evidence against theism, and if we consider both states, should we not also consider the ratio of habitable to inhabitable space?

        Reply
        1. I didn’t really expect a response. I figured what I said was benign enough. It’s not an argument against a deity. Just that using diversity as evidence of a deity is categorically going against the facts of biology as we know them. I would imagine nobody is interested in a debate about evolution (and I’m not interested in having one) but I’m a bit shocked that I’m having to conclude that you reject evolution as the explanation for diversity of life on our planet.

  20. A Question for Dr. Marshall:

    Dr. Marshall makes use of the Moral Argument in this debate. He suggests that there are objective moral values. Many have made the argument that the details of the Christian ethic, at the point of its origin, and as recorded in both the gospels and the authentic epistles, are Communistic in character. I am assuming that Dr. Marshall is politically conservative, though that may be a false assumption. My question is: If you were convinced that the objectively binding ethic on mankind was identical to Communism, what would you do? Would you follow it still, because you find these arguments that convincing? Or would you abandon your theism on account of your politics?

    Reply
    1. Sarkus,

      For what it’s worth, I’m a Libertarian in my politics (broad tent, but that’s broadly where I fall).

      I don’t think the Gospels and epistles advocate communism, even within the Christian community, and certainly not with respect to society as a whole.

      If the Gospels and Epistles did in fact advocate communism as a political system, it would have little to no effect on my belief in God (which I would have regardless of whether I thought Christianity was true), but given the horrific historical fruits of communism all over the world, it would give me reason to doubt the trustworthiness of the Gospels and Epistles, at least on matters pertaining to politics.

      Reply
  21. Dr. Marshall might consider refining the definition of evidence: “By ‘evidence,’ I mean a fact or phenomenon that makes a hypothesis more or less probable than it would have been in the absence of that fact or phenomenon. On this definition, which is standard in legal jurisprudence . .”

    I believe it would be correct to say that the legal standard described above refers to “relevant evidence.” It is possible to have evidence that is not relevant.

    Reply
    1. That’s one of many alternative definitions one can use, yes. But Dr. Marshall is just doing due diligence by stating which definition he is using. Not declaring it the only one that exists (he’s not a linguistic imperialist so far as I know).

      The parameters for “evidence” in law not only varies by jurisdiction (it differs between the U.S., France, China, and Iran for example) but is also really weird and convoluted in practice. I don’t think Dr. Marshall meant to adopt any exact legal definition. He is just saying what we recognize as evidence in law is usually evidence that increases the probability of a claim. Which is true.

      Reply
    2. Myshkyn,

      Usually, evidence is considered “relevant” if it has some bearing on the probability of a particular hypothesis (say, that Tom is guilty of said crime).

      I’m no lawyer, much less a legal scholar, but my understanding is that in court cases you can have facts that are relevant in the sense above mentioned but irrelevant because they are legally inadmissible in the case in question.

      A common example would be evidence that has been illegally obtained. That evidence obviously might have relevance to the personal opinion of the judge as to whether Tom is guilty, but it has no relevance to the case insofar as it is inadmissible, and the judge will accordingly direct the jury to disregard it.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Marshall, sorry but I just now went back and noticed your reply. I see your point, but relevancy is distinct from illegally obtained evidence. Evidence is excluded if it is not relevant. However, illegally obtained evidence might be relevant, but still excluded because of the manner in which it was obtained.

        All this is probably not relevant to your case, but just to clarify I thought I would throw it in.

        Reply
  22. Dr. Marshall’s definition is fine for his purpose. However, it’s not the “standard in legal jurisprudence” as he proclaims. So tying it to a legal standard can be confusing, despite the possibility that some jurisdictions might use his definition.

    U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence, section 401:
    Evidence is relevant if:

    (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and
    (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.

    Relevancy is not an inherent characteristic of any item of evidence but exists only as a relation between an item of evidence and a matter properly provable in the case. (Advisory Committee statement)

    Reply
    1. …it’s not the “standard in legal jurisprudence” as he proclaims.

      Colloquially it is. He is indeed just calling what you mean by relevant evidence “evidence for” a thing. It’s the same thing.

      Reply
      1. When Dr. Marshal states in his first premise of the KCA that the Universe began to exist, is he referring to our Universe? Has he ruled out the possibility of there being a Multiverse? Some cosmologists, such as Michio Kaku, believe that our Universe could be one of many, residing in an infinite arena or hyperspace, in which Universes are constantly being generated. On this view, the arena has always existed whereas the Universes have a beginning and an end. A rough analogy would that of a bathtub (arena) wherein bubbles (Universes) are constantly being created.

        I understand that this hasn’t been proven yet, but some cosmologists (string theorists) believe that there is evidence in support of this model.

        Would like to hear if Dr. Marshal’s has ruled out this model and on what grounds.

        Reply
        1. I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that he accepts the possibility of a multiverse.

          However, I still don’t see how this is not in conflict with the way he is using the KCA.

          There is the beginning of our Universe (which is what he seems to be focusing on here), which can be possibly explained by the collision of two Universes or the fissioning of one Universe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYAdwS5MFjQ

          Then there’s the infinite arena where all the Universes are sprung from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhIsxAc3C30 (min 2:20).

  23. I just stumbled across this debate, and I am glad I did! I will thoroughly enjoy reviewing it. After reading just this first post, I already appreciate the mutual respect both of the authors have for each other. As an Atheist, I appreciated Dr. Marshall’s explanation of evidence and his statement that “I think it should immediately be clear that there is evidence on both sides of the equation.” We each process thoughts (reasoning and rationalizing) and experiences differently, and it is important to remember that no one person has a monopoly on truth. And so I completely appreciate any point of view that starts off bearing this in mind. Something tells me this is going to be a wonderful discourse, and I look forward to it! Thank you for bringing it to us.

    Reply

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