Phil Fernandes/Michael Martin Debate
Fourth Statement: Michael Martin
Dr. Martin’s Closing Statement
As Dr. Fernandes and I conclude our debate I would like to thank him again for his stimulating challenge to my position.
CRITICISMS OF ATHEISM
As I have shown again and again Dr. Fernandes’ objections to atheism are based on either misunderstandings or question begging assumptions. Even though I have pointed out his misunderstandings and directed his attention to more accurate interpretations of atheism he has persisted in them. When I pointed out that he begged the question his defense was that he was merely putting forth hypotheses. But when I insisted that he had given no reasons to believe his hypotheses he was silent. When I countered with objections against theism–recall I brought up epistemological and ethical arguments–Dr. Fernandes managed to avoid them. They are beyond the scope of the debate, he said. When I showed that what he was saying was mistaken or unjustified he claimed he was not really saying it.
Many of these same problems are manifest in his Closing Remarks. Dr. Fernandes now claims never to have maintained that human knowledge was impossible in a Godless universe. But he did. Read his past statements. Now he says that he was just saying knowledge is to be expected if God exists and I did not show that knowledge is to be expected if God does not. But I gave an argument as to why theism does not avoid skepticism (which he never bothered to answer) while he has given no reason why one should expect skepticism in a Godless universe.
Another example: I suggested in my Third Statement that secular ethics can be based on an ideal observer theory. Dr. Fernandes now objects that this confuses “ought” with “is.” However, this is again simply begs the question. The ideal observer theory presents an analysis of “ought” statements in terms of ‘is” statements about an ideal observer and Dr. Fernandes simply assumes without argument that this cannot be done. Moreover, if there is a confusion between is and ought here, surely theists who advocate the Divine Command theory are just as guilty. That theory tries to analyze what ought to be done in terms of factual statements about what God commands. In addition, Dr. Fernandes continues to avoid the problem of how one knows what God commands. Appeal to the Bible must be problematic for Dr. Fernandes since he thinks torturing babies is eternally wrong and yet the Bible says that for rebelling against God “They shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up (HO 13:16).” 1
ARGUMENTS FOR THEISM
I showed in previous statements that all of Dr. Fernandes’ arguments of theism are unsound. However, Dr. Fernandes still persists in calling the idea that the universe arose from nothing “absurd” despite the fact that leading cosmologists take the idea seriously. No argument is used to rebut the theory that the Universe could have been generated from nothing. He tries to answer my argument that it makes no sense that a cause such as God could be outside time but uses an irrelevant example: immaterial sorrow causes tears. But someone’s sorrow is a temporal event and indeed occurs temporally prior to the tears it causes and thus is beside the point. He continues to avoid my criticism of probability arguments for God’s existence: probability statements are meaningful only in certain contexts that do not hold in the case of cosmology. In fact, if we allow probability statements in this context, Dr. Fernandes’ design argument is subject to all of the problems raised by David Hume. For example, it would tend to prove a type of polytheism: finite gods with bodies created the Universe from preexisting material. 2 Dr. Fernandes again appeals to the argument from dependency: An independent Universe as a whole cannot arise from dependent parts. Although I have shown that Dr. Fernandes committed the fallacy of composition in so arguing, he has consistently denied he has committed this fallacy without showing any difference between his argument and obvious examples of fallacious reasoning. One might just as well argue that an army cannot arise from a non-army or that a rational conclusion cannot arise from a non-conclusion. In his Concluding Remarks he again fails to show any difference between his argument and obvious example of fallacious reasoning. 3
ARGUMENTS AGAINST GOD
Dr. Fernandes’ criticisms of my arguments against God in his previous statements have all failed and they continue to do so in his Concluding Remarks. In the Argument from Incoherence I maintained that God cannot know certain things, for example, how to swim, since he has no body and that He cannot have certain knowledge by acquaintance, for example, knowledge by acquaintance of torturing babies since He is all good. But since God is supposed to be all knowing, the concept of God is inconsistent. What is Dr. Fernandes’ reply? He simply asserts without argument that there is no inconsistency “in believing God innately knows all things . . .” With respect to The Argument From Evil, Dr. Fernandes maintains that suffering leads people to God. Perhaps. But it leads many people away from God. Furthermore, it seems reasonable to conclude in the light of the evidence that the amount of suffering that leads some people to God could be much less than it is now. If there is an unknown reason why there is this apparently needless suffering, then why has not God revealed this reason or at least revealed why He cannot reveal it? His failure to do so conflicts with His desire to be loved. How can God reasonably expect His creatures to love Him if it is a mystery why they seem to be suffering needlessly?
With respect to The Argument From Nonbelief I cannot see how Dr. Fernandes’ comments in his Concluding Remarks are even relevant. Recall that the argument was that God desires people to believe in Him. However, God has the ability to bring about more belief without interfering with human free will. So why is there so much nonbelief? After I refuted all of Dr. Fernandes’ rebuttals to this argument, in his Third Statement he produced a new counter argument: God knew from all eternity that some people, for example, 12th Century American Indians, would not have accepted Christ even if Christianity had been attractively presented to them. Consequently they did not deserve to be saved and thus God made no effort to get them to believe. I pointed out this reply fails to explain why a high proportion of American Indians in later centuries did accept Christianity when given the opportunity. What is Dr. Fernandes’ reply? “If a person in a distant land would be willing to accept the theistic God, then the theistic God would have no problem giving a missionary the desire to preach the gospel in that land. Also, counting noses can backfire on atheists, for there are many more theists than there are atheists.” His remark on counting noses is irrelevant since the question is not why there are more believers than nonbelievers but why are there hundreds of millions of nonbelievers. His remarks on “distant lands” is irrelevant since the question is distant times, not lands.
In his conclusion Dr. Fernandes boasts of the explanatory power of theism over atheism. However, theistic explanations of the problem of evil and of the existence of hundreds of millions of nonbelievers are problematic. Atheism has no such problems. Moreover, a theory such that is inconsistent and lacks rational support, such as theism, can hardly have great explanatory power. As I have shown, atheism is a consistent and a rationally supported position.
3 In a footnote, Dr. Fernandes tries to show that an Independent Being has all the attributes of a theistic God. But his argument begs the question at many points. For example, he assumes without argument that an Independent Being would have all perfections. However, it is unclear why a independent being would have to be morally perfect (or indeed have any moral properties) and to have the property of being all knowing. An Independent Being only means what it says: its existence is not dependent on anything else. No more should be inferred or smuggled in.