Phil Fernandes / Michael Martin Debate
Opening Statement: Phil Fernandes
The Cumulative Case for God
Before I begin my case for the existence of a personal, infinite God, I would like to express my gratitude to Jeff Lowder for arranging this internet debate, and Dr. Michael Martin for agreeing to debate me. I consider it an honor to dialogue with a thinker of the stature of Dr. Martin. It is my hope that I prove to be a worthy opponent.
I have decided not to rest my case for the existence of a personal, infinite God on the validity of one sole argument. Instead, I have chosen to utilize a cumulative case for God. This cumulative case will examine 9 different aspects of human experience that are more adequately explained by theism (the belief in a personal God) than by atheism (the rejection of the belief in a personal God). The thesis I seek to defend is as follows: it is more reasonable to be a theist than it is to be an atheist.
For purposes of this debate, I will define God as the eternal uncaused Cause of all else that exists. This Being is personal (i.e., a moral and intelligent being) and unlimited in all His attributes. This Being is separate from His creation (transcendent), but He is also involved with it (immanent). In short, I will argue that the God of Theism exists.
1) THE BEGINNING OF THE UNIVERSE:
This argument is called the kalaam cosmological argument for God’s existence. Saint Bonaventure utilized this argument.1 William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland are two modern proponents of it.2 This argument is as follows: 1) whatever began to exist must have a cause, 2) the universe began to exist, 3) therefore, the universe had a cause.
Premise #1 uses the law of causality-non-being cannot cause being In other words, from nothing, nothing comes. Since nothing is nothing, it can do nothing. Therefore, it can cause nothing Hence, whatever began to exist needs a cause for its existence.
Premise #2 contends that the universe had a beginning. Scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe includes the second law of thermodynamics (energy deterioration) and the Big Bang Model. The second law of thermodynamics is one of the most firmly established laws of modern science. It states that the amount of usable energy in a closed system is running down. This means that someday in the finite future all the energy in the universe will be useless (unless there is intervention from “outside” the universe). In other words, if left to itself, the universe will have an end. But if the universe is going to have an end, it had to have a beginning. At one time, in the finite past, all the energy in the universe was usable. Since the universe is winding down, it must have been wound up. The universe is not eternal; it had a beginning. Since it had a beginning, it needs a cause, for from nothing, nothing comes.
It should also be noted that, due to energy deterioration, if the universe is eternal it would have reached a state of equilibrium in which no change is possible an infinite amount of time ago. All of the universe’s energy would already have been used up. Obviously, this is not the case. Therefore, the universe had a beginning.
The Big Bang Model also indicates that the universe had a beginning. In 1929, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding at the same rate in all directions. As time moves forward the universe is growing apart. But this means that if we go back in time the physical universe would get smaller and smaller. Eventually, if we go back far enough in the past, the entire universe would be what scientists call “a point of infinite density” or “a point of dimensionless space.” However, if something is infinitely dense, it is non-existent, for existent things can only be finitely small. The same can be said for points of dimensionless space. If a point has no dimensions, it is non-existent for it takes up no space. Therefore, if the Big Bang Model is correct, it shows that universe began out of nothing a finite time ago.
There have been two main attempts to refute the beginning of the universe. The first is called the steady-state model. This view holds that the universe never had a beginning. Instead, it always existed in the same state. Because of the mounting evidence for the Big Bang Model, this view has been abandoned my most of its adherents.
The second attempt to evade the beginning of the universe is called the oscillating model. This model teaches that, at some point during the universe’s expansion, gravity will halt the expansion and pull everything back together again. From that point there will be another big bang. This process will be repeated over and over again throughout all eternity. However, the oscillating model fails. First, there is no known principle of physics that would reverse the collapse of the universe and cause another big bang. Second, current scientific research has shown that the universe is not dense enough for gravity to pull it back together again. And third, even if it could be proven that several big bangs have occurred, the second law of thermodynamics would still require that there was a first big bang.
Many scientists accept the beginning of the universe, but believe that it does not need a cause. The evidence proposed by these scientists consists of speculation dealing with quantum physics (the study of subatomic particles). Appeal is made to Heisenberg’s Principle of Indeterminacy in order to claim that quantum particles pop into existence out of nothing, entirely without a cause. However, Heisenberg’s Principle does not necessitate such an absurd interpretation. Simply because scientists cannot presently find the causes does not mean that the causes do not exist. All that Heisenberg’s Principle states is that scientists are presently unable to accurately predict where a specific subatomic particle will be at a given time. If this principle proved that events can occur without causes then this would destroy one of the pillars of modern science-the principle of causality (every event must have an adequate cause). It seems obvious to me that the principle of causality is on firmer epistemological ground than the belief that things can pop into existence without a cause. Non-being cannot cause being. If the universe had a beginning, then it needs a cause.
Besides this scientific evidence there is also philosophical evidence for the beginning of the universe. If the universe is eternal, then there would be an actual infinite number of events in time. However, as Zeno’s paradoxes have shown, it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite set of points. If we assume the existence of an infinite amount of actual points between two locations, then we can never get from location A to location B, since no matter how many points we have traversed, there will still be an infinite number of points left. If the universe is eternal, then there must exist an actual infinite set of events in the past, but then it would be impossible to reach the present moment. Since the present moment has been reached, there cannot be an actual infinite set of events in the past. There could only be a finite number. Therefore, there had to be a first event. Hence, the universe had a beginning.
It should also be noted that if it is possible for an actual infinite set to exist outside of a mind, contradictions and absurdities would be generated. To illustrate this point, let us look at two infinite sets. Set A consists of all numbers, both odd and even. Set B contains only all the odd numbers. Set A and Set B are equal since they both have an infinite number of members. Still, Set A has twice the number of members as Set B since Set A contains both odd and even numbers, while Set B contains only odd numbers. It is a clear contradiction to say that Set A and Set B have an equal amount of members, while Set A has twice as many members as Set B. Therefore, actual infinite sets cannot exist outside the mind. Actual sets existing outside the mind can only be potentially infinite, not actually infinite. These sets can be added to indefinitely; still we will never reach an actual infinite by successive addition. Therefore, the universe cannot have an infinite number of events in the past. The universe had a beginning.
Since the universe had to have a beginning, it had to have a cause. For from nothing nothing comes. But if the universe needs a cause, what if the cause of the universe also needs a cause? Could we not have an infinite chain of causes and effects stretching backwards in time throughout all eternity? Obviously, the answer is no, for we have already shown that an actual infinite set existing outside of a mind is impossible. Therefore, an infinite chain of causes and effects is also impossible. There had to be a first uncaused Cause of the universe. This uncaused Cause would be eternal, without beginning or end. Only eternal and uncaused existence can ground the existence of the universe.
It seems to me that there are only four possible explanations as to why the universe exists. First, the universe could be an eternal chain of causes and effects. Second, the universe could have popped into existence out of nothing without a cause. Third, the universe could merely be an illusion. And, fourth, the universe could have been caused to come into existence by an eternal, uncaused Cause (i.e., God). I have provided strong evidence against the first and second options, as well as strong argumentation in favor of the fourth option. It is rather obvious that the third option is not a viable position for either participant in this debate. Just the fact that we are engaging in debate with each other strongly implies that we do not believe the universe is an illusion.
Several attributes of the uncaused Cause of the universe can be discovered through examination of the universe. This debate, hopefully, is evidence that intelligent life exists in the universe. Since intelligence is a perfection found in the universe, the ultimate Cause of the universe must also be an intelligent Being, for intelligence cannot come from non-intelligence. No one has ever shown how intelligence could evolve from mindless nature.
Morality also exists in the universe, for without morality, there would be no such thing as right and wrong. However, the moral judgments we make show that we do believe there are such things as right and wrong. Still, nature is non-moral. No one holds a rock morally responsible for tripping him. There is no way that mere “molecules in motion” could produce moral values. Since nature is non-moral but morality exists in the universe, the Cause of the universe must be a moral Being.
The moral law is not invented by individuals, for one individual judges the actions of another. If morality is relative and subjective, then no one could call the actions of Adolph Hitler wrong. Nor could society be the cause of moral laws, since societies often pass judgment on one another (America and the Allies denounced the actions of Nazi Germany). Even world consensus fails to qualify for the source of moral values since the world consensus once held slavery to be morally defensible. Only an absolute moral Lawgiver who is qualitatively above man can be the Cause of a moral law that stands above man and judges his actions. This moral Lawgiver must be eternal and unchanging since we make moral judgments about the past (slavery, evil treatment of women). Therefore, the uncaused Cause of the universe must be an intelligent, moral Being. This means that God must be a personal Being.
2) THE CONTINUING EXISTENCE OF THE UNIVERSE:
This argument for God’s existence derives its substance from Thomas Aquinas’ five ways to prove God’s existence.3 Experience shows us that limited, dependent beings exist. These limited, dependent beings need other beings for their continued existence. For example, I depend on air, water, and food to sustain my existence. However, adding limited, dependent beings will never give us an independent and unlimited whole. Therefore, the sum total of limited, dependent beings is itself limited and dependent. (If each individual part of a floor is wood, then the whole floor will be wood. Likewise, if each part of the universe is dependent, then the entire universe is dependent.) Hence, the ultimate Cause of the continuing existence of all limited, dependent beings must be unlimited and independent.
There cannot be two or more unlimited and independent beings since, if there were, they would limit one another’s existence, but then they would not be unlimited. Therefore, there can only be one unlimited and independent Being. This Being must have all its attributes in an unlimited way. Otherwise, it could not be an unlimited Being. This Being must be all-powerful, for He is the source of all the power in the universe. No other power can limit Him. He is eternal for He is not limited by time. He is everywhere present since He is not limited by space. He is immaterial since He is not limited by matter. This Being must be all-good since He is not limited by evil. He must also be all-knowing since He is not limited by ignorance.
Since mindless nature works towards goals (such as acorns always becoming oak trees and not something else), there must be an intelligent Designer overseeing natural processes. Without intelligent design, nature’s processes would be left to chance. There would be no orderly patterns that could be described as natural laws. Therefore, this infinite and independent Being, whom all finite and dependent beings depend upon for their continued existence, must be an intelligent Being.
3) THE DESIGN & ORDER FOUND IN THE UNIVERSE:
The order, design, and complexity found in the universe strongly implies that the universe is not a random, chaotic throwing together of atoms; rather, it is the product of intelligent design. And, as the product of intelligent design, it necessitates the existence of an intelligent Designer.
Contemporary scientists have found numerous evidences for design in the universe.4 A few examples will suffice. First, the slightest variation in the expansion rate of the universe would render the universe incapable of sustaining life.
Second, British scientists Hoyle and Wickramasinghe estimated that the chances of life evolving from the random shuffling of organic molecules is virtually zero. They calculated that there is only one chance in 1020 to form a single enzyme, and just one chance in 1040,000 to produce the approximately 2,000 enzymes that exist. However, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe point out that the production of enzymes is only one step in the generation of life. Therefore, they concluded there must be some type of Cosmic Intelligence to explain the origin of life.5 Hoyle compared the probability of life spontaneously generating from non-life as equivalent to the chances of a tornado producing a Boeing 747 from a junkyard.6
The cell is the basic unit of life. The DNA molecule of a single-celled animal contains enough complex information to fill one volume of an encyclopedia.7 An explosion in a print shop will never produce one volume of an encyclopedia. That amount of information necessitates an intelligent cause. Also, the human brain contains more genetic information than the world’s largest libraries.8 There is no way that this amount of information could be produced by mere chance. Intelligent intervention is needed.
Third, astrophysicist Hugh Ross listed twenty-five narrowly defined parameters that the universe had to have in order for life to be possible.9 Ross also pointed out thirty-two narrowly defined parameters for life concerning the earth, its moon, its sun, and its galaxy.10 For instance, if the distance between the earth and the sun was to differ by just two percent in either direction, no life on earth would be possible.11 These parameters for life on earth clearly show evidence of design and purpose. The theistic hypothesis of intelligent design is obviously more plausible than the atheistic hypothesis of random chance.
4) THE POSSIBILITY OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE:
The theist claims to know something (i.e., that God exists), and the atheist claims to know something (i.e., that God does not exist). Even the agnostic claims to know something (i.e., that the supposed evidence for God’s existence is insufficient). However, it seems to me that only theism (the belief in a personal God) justifies the possibility of human knowledge. For instance, Immanuel Kant argued that man could only know reality as it appeared to him and not reality as it is. Atheism and agnosticism offer no good reason why we should assume that the gap between reality and appearance can be bridged. However, theism entails the doctrine that a rational God created man in His image (i.e., a rational being) and a coherent universe so that through reason man could find out about the universe in which he lives. Remove the rational God of theism from the equation, and the basis for human knowledge appears to crumble.
5) THE REALITY OF UNIVERSAL, UNCHANGING TRUTHS:
The denial of absolute truth is self-refuting, for if the statement “there is no absolute truth” is true, then it would be an absolute truth. Complete agnosticism is also self-refuting, for to say that man cannot know truth is a claim to know this “truth.” Therefore, there is absolute truth and it is possible for man to know truth.
Some truths are universal, unchanging, and eternal. An example of this would be the mathematical truth “I + 1 = 2.” We do not invent mathematical truths-we discover them. This also applies to the laws of logic (the law of noncontradiction, the law of excluded middle, the law of identity, etc.). These truths stand above human minds and judge human minds. For instance, if we add I + I and we conclude with 3, the eternal truth that 1 + I = 2 will declare us wrong. However, Augustine argued that it is not likely that human, fallible minds are the ultimate cause of universal, unchanging, eternal truths. Augustine concluded that an unchanging, eternal Mind must be the ultimate source of these truths.12
Atheism has no basis for eternal, unchanging truths. If atheism is “true,” then there may have been a time when I + I equaled 3. There may also have been a time when torturing innocent babies was good. In fact, if atheism is true, there may have been a time when the statement “God exists” was true.
6) THE EXISTENCE OF ABSOLUTE MORAL VALUES:
We all make moral value judgments when we call the actions of another person wrong. When we do this, we appeal to a moral law. This moral law could not originate with each individual, for then we could not call the actions of another person, such as Adolph Hitler, wrong.
The moral law is not a creation of each society, for then one society cannot call the actions of another society, such as Nazi Germany, wrong. The moral law does not come from a world consensus, for world consensus is often mistaken. The world once thought that the earth was flat, the sun revolved around the earth, and slavery was morally acceptable. Appealing to society or world consensus will never give us an adequate cause for the moral law and the moral judgments we make. Appealing to society or world consensus only quantitatively adds men and women. What we need is a moral law qualitatively above man. This moral law must be eternal and unchanging so that we can condemn the actions of the past (i.e., slavery, the holocaust, etc.).
The moral law qualitatively above man is not descriptive of the way things are (as is the case with natural laws). The moral law must be prescriptive-it describes the way things ought to be.13 Prescriptive laws need a Prescriber. Therefore, a moral Lawgiver must exist, and this Lawgiver must be eternal and unchanging.
We are accountable to this moral Lawgiver that stands above all mankind. Atheist Sigmund Freud failed miserably in his attempt to explain the universal experience of guilt. 14 I believe that the best explanation for the guilt we all experience is the fact that we know we stand guilty before a righteous and holy God. Therefore, when we make moral value judgments, whether it involves self-judgment (a guilty conscience) or judgment of another person, we appeal to a transcendent objective moral law. This is a strong indication that there exists a transcendent moral Lawgiver.
7) THE ABSURDITY OF LIFE WITHOUT GOD:
Each of us thirsts for something more; life on earth never fully satisfies. It is my contention that only the God of the Bible can fully satisfy man’s deepest needs. What hope can an atheist offer mankind? People on their deathbeds don’t usually call an atheist to comfort them-normally a preacher or a priest is summoned. Even if an atheist could guarantee us seventy years of happiness, what good would that be when compared with the eternity of non-existence that follows? If there is no God who sits enthroned, then Hitler will not be punished for his evil deeds, and Mother Theresa will not be rewarded for her generous works of charity. If there is no God, then a million years from now what would it matter if you were a Hitler or a Mother Theresa? What difference would it make?
Would life have any ultimate meaning if there is no God? If nonexistence is what awaits us, can we really make sense of life? You live and then you die. There are no eternal consequences. Hitler and Mother Theresa have the same destiny. We all finish our meaningless journeys in total nothingness. The famous atheist Bertrand Russell wrote:
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins . . . 15
Immediately following that statement, Russell referred to his atheistic philosophy as “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” 16 Without God, life is without meaning.
However, if there is a God, then there is hope. The God of the Bible guarantees the defeat of evil and the triumph of good. He guarantees that Hitler will receive his punishment and Mother Theresa will receive her reward. God gives life meaning, for how we choose to live our lives on earth brings eternal consequences. God is our reason to be optimistic about the future. Only He can overcome our fear of death; only He can defeat evil. Without God, meaningless existence is all we face. Without God, there is no hope.
8) RESPECT FOR HUMAN LIFE:
If atheism is true, then man is mere molecules in motion. He has no greater value than the animals. In fact, human life would be no more sacred than the existence of a rock. Yet, we act as if human life has more value than the life of animals or the existence of rocks. If the material universe is all there is, then man is just a material part of the universe. There seems to be no basis from which to argue for human rights or the sanctity of human life. Even our founding fathers (who were not always consistent with their ideals) grounded their view of unalienable human rights in their belief that “all men are created equal.” I propose that the most reasonable explanation for our common conception of human rights is the biblical teaching that human life has value since we were created in God’s image.
9) THE EXISTENCE OF EVIL (IT’S CAUSE & ULTIMATE DEFEAT):
Atheists often argue that the existence or amount of evil in the world disproves the existence of the God of the Bible. I see two difficulties with this view. These difficulties cause the argument against God’s existence from evil to backfire into an argument for God’s existence.17
The first difficulty is that the atheist has no explanation for evil within his world view. If the atheist accepts the existence of evil, he must define what it is. If he denies the existence of evil, then he has no basis upon which to call any action evil. Evil can be defined as the perversion or corruption of that which is good. However, for good to be objectively real its existence must be grounded in something ultimately good. In other words, if the atheist acknowledges the existence of evil, his argument dissolves into a moral argument for God’s existence. If he denies the existence of evil, his world view is morally bankrupt. If the atheist chooses to accept the existence of evil, but not seek its ultimate cause, then atheism becomes a non-explanation of evil. Hypotheses that do not attempt to explain the data in question should be abandoned. It is not enough to say that evil is “just there.”
The second difficulty with the atheistic argument from the problem of evil is the fact that, if evil exists, atheism offers absolutely no solution to the problem. After a life of suffering and pain, people die and cease to exist. I believe that the Christian solution to the problem of evil (the death, resurrection, and return of Christ) is the only hope that evil will be defeated. In fact, if Christianity is true, then Christianity guarantees the ultimate defeat of evil. The injustices of this life will be rectified in the hereafter.
In the famous debate on the existence of God between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston, the atheist Bertrand Russell stated concerning the existence of the universe, “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all.”18 It is my contention that atheism fails as an explanation of significant aspects of human experience, and that theism is a more reasonable hypothesis. If the atheist could say that “the universe is just there,” could he not say that moral values, design and order, universal truths, the human experience of guilt, the sanctity of human life, the possibility of human knowledge, and meaning in life are “just there” as well. To avoid looking for an explanation is not the same thing as the search for an explanation. In this sense, the theistic explanation is superior to the atheistic explanation, for the latter reduces to a non-explanation.
However, the atheist may choose to deny the reality of moral values, design and order, universal truths, the human experience of guilt, the sanctity of human life, the possibility of human knowledge, and meaning in life. If the atheist takes this strategy, my response is that he can’t live consistently with the view that these things are not real. Even the atheist lives as if some things are wrong and other things are right. He lives as if human life is sacred, and life has meaning.
Rational statements only make sense within some type of rational context. The atheist, by arguing against God’s existence, has removed the rational context (the universe as an effect of the rational God) for rational discourse. He reasons against God, but if there is no God, there is no reason.
Is it reasonable to believe that the universe popped into existence out of absolute nothingness-entirely without a cause? Or, is it rational to conclude that the universe is eternal despite the strong scientific and philosophical evidences that indicate that the universe had a beginning? Is the atheist justified in holding to the idea that time plus chance plus natural laws worked upon “primordial soup” until it eventually birthed a French philosopher who declared, “I think, therefore I am”? If atheism is true, then, given enough time, it did occur. (Atheistic evolution only appears plausible in slow motion. When we hear about a frog instantly becoming a prince, we call it a fairy tale. But if we are told that a frog became a prince gradually over a period of several million years, we call this science.)
From molecules in motion will never come moral values or the laws of logic. From a mound of dirt, a single thought will never be produced – no matter how much time is given. If no God exists and all we are is molecules in motion, from whence come human rights? If an innocent child is merely a random collection of atoms, can we really say that it is wrong to crush him? If there is no life after death and all we face is everlasting extinction, can this life really have meaning? What counsel can an atheist offer a suffering friend on his deathbed? Can we climb above despair if all we face is extinction? When the universe dies, all will die with it. If atheism is true, then human experience is a cruel joke. And, if life is a cruel joke, then why even bother to debate?
I do not believe that we can prove God’s existence with rational certainty. However, I believe that the theistic explanation is far superior to the atheistic explanation. Therefore, I beseech all who read this debate to examine the evidence that I have presented. The God of theism is an all-good God who eternally rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Either this type of God exists or He does not exist. I beseech you to choose this God, for, as the Christian thinker and scientist, Blaise Pascal, has said, if you choose God and lose, you lose nothing. But, if you choose God and He exists, you win eternity. Pascal also pointed out that if you choose against God and He does not exist, you gain nothing, but if you choose against God and He does exist, you lose everything. Therefore, the wise man will choose God.19