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.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) runs as follows:
- If the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
- 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.
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:
- The fine-tuning of the universe is due to necessity, chance, or design.
- It is not due to necessity or chance.
- 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.
The Argument from Objective Moral Values and Duties is also a deductive argument, and it runs as follows:
- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties exist.
- 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.
Finally, the Argument from Fitness:
- The world has strikingly beautiful, deep and exquisite features and experiences.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.