Phil Fernandes/Michael Martin Debate
Fourth Statement: Phil Fernandes
Dr. Fernandes’ Closing Statement
The big bang model and the second law of thermodynamics reveal that space, time, matter, and energy had a beginning. Therefore, the universe had a beginning. Dr. Martin has agreed with me concerning this premise. Still, he entertains the absurd idea that the universe popped into existence without a cause. Cosmologists who accept this idea redefine “nothing” so that it becomes a whole lot of something. But if we acknowledge that the universe had an absolute beginning (as shown by the big bang model), then it is more reasonable to conclude that the beginning of the universe was caused than to assume that it popped into existence out of nothing.1
Contrary to Martin’s criticisms, I see no difficulty with a Being that exists outside of time causing effects in time, just as immaterial causes like sorrow can cause material effects like tears.
I argued for the existence of a totally independent Being to ground the continuing existence of a dependent universe. I have already responded to Dr. Martin’s accusation that I have committed the fallacy of composition. The reader will have to decide for himself who is right on this point. However, even if one agrees with Dr. Martin that part of the universe is totally independent, then the dependent parts of the universe would depend upon the independent part of the universe for their existence. What Martin calls the independent part of the universe would actually be the sustaining Cause of the universe.2
Dr. Martin questions the legitimacy of probability estimates in the design argument. I disagree. The design, order, and conditions for life found in the universe are better explained by the theistic hypothesis (i.e., an intelligent Being designed the universe) than by the atheistic explanation (the universe is the product of random and mindless causes). The universe displays remarkable similarities with what we know to be products of intelligent design. It does not bear a resemblance to what we know to be products of random, mindless causes. The theistic hypothesis makes the design in the universe probable; the atheistic hypothesis makes the design in the universe improbable.3 Therefore, the design argument shows theism to be more probable than atheism.
Dr. Martin misunderstands my argument from human knowledge. I did not state that human knowledge is only possible in a theistic universe. I stated that theism (the belief that a rational God created the universe) better explains the possibility of human knowledge than atheism (the belief that the universe has a non-rational cause or no cause). I explained why human knowledge is to be expected in theistic universe; Dr. Martin never explained why he thinks it should be expected in a universe without God.
Martin’s two arguments for objective moral values completely fail since they both deny the existence of absolute moral laws. First, ethical naturalism reduces moral values to biological or psychological properties (i.e., “whatever is approved by most people” or “whatever is approved by an impartial, ideal observer”). It confuses what ought to be with what is, and reduces moral values to non-moral properties.4 Second, noncognitivist views of ethics reject the notion that moral statements are true or false. Moral statements merely express the speaker’s emotions or issue a command.5 Therefore, the statement “torturing innocent babies is wrong” is neither true nor false. Any worldview that cannot consistently call the action of torturing innocent babies absolutely and always wrong is a worldview that should be rejected. It is self-evidently true that torturing innocent babies is wrong. The dilemma for the atheist is as follows. If he accepts the reality of eternal, unchanging moral values, then they are “just there.” If he denies their reality then he cannot call the torturing of innocent babies wrong in any eternal and absolute sense. In short, atheism is either a non-explanation or it denies eternal, unchanging moral values. A theist can be consistent with his worldview and call rape and incest wrong in an absolute sense. But this option is not open to the consistent atheist, for his world view has no room for eternal, unchanging, prescriptive moral laws that stand in judgment on the actions of all men at all times.
Atheism also fails to adequately explain the existence of eternal, unchanging truths, for it rejects the existence of an eternal unchanging Mind. Atheism cannot offer man any eternal significance. Temporary meaning in life is insufficient, for our accomplishments die with the death of the universe — there is no ultimate purpose in a universe void of God.
Dr. Martin’s three arguments for atheism fail. First, there is no inconsistency in believing that God innately knows all things, whereas finite minds must learn many things through acquaintance and experience. Second, an atheist would have to be omniscient in order to prove that God cannot bring good out of evil and human suffering. In fact, evil and suffering often lead people to God. It may be a greater good for man to learn to trust God despite lacking a full understanding as to why God allows the amount of evil that exists in the world. Dr. Martin assumes that “lessening human suffering is good.” However, this is a prescriptive absolute moral law, implying the existence of an absolute moral Lawgiver. Third, Martin’s argument against God from nonbelief fails. 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.
In conclusion, Dr. Martin has presented no persuasive arguments as to why one should expect absolute moral values, eternal and unchanging truths, the beginning of the universe, the universe’s continuing existence, the design and order in the universe, ultimate meaning in life, the sanctity of human life, the possibility of human knowledge, and the ultimate defeat of evil in a universe without God. I have shown that these aspects of human experience are predicted by the theistic hypothesis. Martin’s alternatives to my arguments are highly speculative, extremely improbable, and very unconvincing. It is apparent that he is willing to entertain absurdities (such as the universe evolving into existence from nothing, an infinite number of unverifiable universes, the rejection of eternal and unchanging prescriptive moral laws, etc.) in order to escape the conclusion that the theistic God does exist. In short, Martin fails to explain why atheism is a superior hypothesis to that of theism. He is willing to attack theism, but does not even attempt to show that atheism offers a better explanation for the nine aspects of human experience I discussed in my opening statement. Martin unsuccessfully attacks the explanatory power of theism while failing to show that atheism has any explanatory power.6 My thesis remains intact. It is more reasonable to be a theist than it is to be an atheist.
2 Further argumentation (like that of my opening statement) can show that this totally independent Being has the attributes of the theistic God. For instance, a totally independent Being, by definition, cannot be limited by any other being. Therefore, there can only be one totally independent Being, for two or more would limit one another. Also, a Being without limits must have all perfections to an unlimited degree. However, for two beings to differ, one must lack a perfection that the other being has or have a perfection that the other being lacks. Therefore, there can only be one Being without limits. The design argument proves that this Being is an intelligent Being, and the moral argument shows that this Being must be a moral Being.
6 Copleston commented on the evasive tactics of atheist thinkers in the following words: “If one does not wish to embark on the path which leads to the affirmation of transcendent being … one has to deny the reality of the problem, assert that things ‘just are’ and that the existential problem in question is a pseudo-problem. And if one refuses even to sit down at the chess-board and make a move, one cannot, of course, be checkmated.” F. C. Copleston, Aquinas (New York: Penguin Books, 1955), 128.