Theism vs. Atheism
Phil Fernandes/Michael Martin Debate
Third Statement: Phil Fernandes
A Response to Michael Martin’s Second Statement
Once again Dr. Martin should be commended for the graciousness and brilliance he has displayed in this debate. It is truly an honor to debate a man of his stature.
In his second statement, Dr. Martin accuses me of “begging the question” against atheism. However, he fails to understand that I am presenting theism as a hypothesis. I have argued that theism is superior to atheism as an explanation for nine different aspects of human experience. I have challenged Dr. Martin to prove me wrong by pitting his world view against theism in these nine areas. But, Dr. Martin has ignored my challenge. He has refused to defend atheism in these nine areas. Rather, he merely attempts to tear down the theistic world view. Apparently, he does not have enough confidence in his atheism to show the readers how it fares in comparison to theism in the nine areas I have noted.
In this section of the debate, I will show that Dr. Martin’s attack on theism, at best, merely shows that finite, fallible minds run into difficulties when confronted with the complexities of an infinite Mind.1 He does not prove that theism is contradictory. But, first, I will show that my thesis remains intact: theism is more reasonable than atheism.
MY THESIS: THEISM IS MORE REASONABLE THAN ATHEISM
1. The Beginning of the Universe
Michael Martin agrees with me that the universe had a beginning, but argues that it does not need a cause. He bases this view on the fact that many leading cosmologists believe that the universe came into existence uncaused. In response to Dr. Martin, several things should be noted. First, Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty is not in question here. Rather, faulty applications of this principle are what I reject. Second, Heisenberg’s principle is space and time dependent.2 If absolutely nothing existed, there would be no space and no time. In fact, there would be no matter, no energy, no God, and no rules of quantum physics. J. P. Moreland has stated:
Nothingness is not an entity which has an equal amount of positive and negative properties which comprise the stuff for the production of a specific state of affairs. Nothingness has no properties whatever, and it is not identical to an existent state of affairs where the positive and negative charge, or the positive and negative energy, is equal. The latter contains some sort of stuff (protons and electrons or energy); the former contains nothing.3
If nothing existed, even quantum events would be impossible. I challenge Dr. Martin to define what he and his cosmologist friends define as “nothing.”4 Third, William Lane Craig points out that, even if we assume that quantum events are uncaused (it may be that these events have causes though we have not been able to find these causes), this tells us nothing about the cause of the beginning of the universe. Quantum events pertain to the change of condition of particles, not the bringing of these particles into existence from absolutely nothing.5 Fourth, in reference to the beginning of the universe, cosmologists have proposed many different competing interpretations and applications of quantum theory.6 If Martin is implying universal agreement among contemporary cosmologists, he is simply mistaken. Fifth, even if cosmologists did agree, I do not accept the ex cathedra pronouncements of a supposedly infallible scientific community. This community of experts has been wrong before; they can be wrong again.
In short, if the universe had a beginning (Dr. Martin has conceded this point), it needs a Cause. Martin has said that this Cause might not be the theistic God. However, my argument for the God of theism is a cumulative case. In my opening statement I argued that this Cause is infinite, one, moral, intelligent, etc. However, Martin ignores my cumulative case and mistakenly handles each argument individually and independently from the rest.
Also, I see no logical problem with stating that in eternity God created the space-time universe. In this case, the decision to create would not be made in time, but in eternity. I am surprised that Martin argues that a cause must precede its effect in time. Many of his cosmologist friends now accept other dimensions of time, and many theists are open to the possibility that eternity is one of these dimensions.7
2. The Continuing Existence of the Universe
Dr. Martin accuses me of misinterpreting Aquinas’ five ways to prove God’s existence. However, I never intended to repeat Aquinas’ five ways verbatim. Rather, I utilized certain aspects of his arguments and combine them into one argument. The argument is mine; the concepts came from Aquinas.
I argued that if all the parts of the universe are dependent then the entire universe must be dependent. Dr. Martin accuses me of committing the fallacy of composition. I disagree. Just as a floor made up of only green tiles is a green floor, so too a universe made up of only dependent parts is a dependent universe. Adding dependent beings will never produce an independent Being. Just because logically necessary propositions can be made up of contingent propositions does not prove that adding dependent beings can produce an independent Being. Martin is here using logical propositions with metaphysical realities in his analogy, thus making it a weak analogy at best. My example deals with metaphysical realities throughout.
Martin rejects my view that the property of dependency is additive. However, if the universe has emergent properties over and above the properties of its parts, then the atheist is no better off. Geisler and Feinberg state:
The atheist has a choice. He may assert that all the contingent parts of the universe are equal to the whole and therefore the whole is also contingent (since adding up contingents only yields a contingent). Or, he may claim that the whole is not caused – it is simply there (as Bertrand Russell said). But once the atheist admits there is an eternal, uncaused something which is more than all the finite parts of the universe and is the cause upon which they are dependent, then he has acknowledged what the theist has argued for all along, namely, God. Once the atheist has acknowledged this much, all that remains is to see whether this Necessary Being is personal, good, and so on.8
The only universe that science knows is the entire collection of dependent beings. To speak of an independent universe is to use the word “universe” in an entirely different manner. It is to speak of an unseen reality that is not limited by time, matter, or space. In short, the “independent universe” of the atheist is virtually synonymous with what the theist calls “God.”
3. The Design and Order Found in the Universe
Dr. Martin claims that my design argument uses illegitimate probability estimates and that the design found in the universe can be explained by the world ensembles theory. To the contrary, it is the world ensembles theory that should be called into question. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross states:
Gott’s possibility for an infinite number of universes gave some non-theists an opportunity, so they thought, to replace God with chance or, more specifically, with random fluctuations of a primeval radiation field. In other words, they suggested that a random fluctuation out of an infinite number of possible fluctuations in a primeval radiation field could generate a universe with all the conditions necessary for our existence. This suggestion is a flagrant abuse of probability theory. It assumes the benefits of an infinite sample size without any evidence that the sample size exceeds one…. What we see here is another case of the “no-God of the gaps.” It seems that many non-theistic scientists (and others) are relying on gaps, and in this case a very minute one, to provide a way around the theistic implications of scientifically established facts. Surely the burden of proof lies with those who suggest that more than one universe exists or that physical conditions or physical laws were totally different in the period before 10-43 second. Actually, evidence for more than one universe will never be forthcoming…. The universes can never overlap.9
By definition, there cannot be any observable evidence for the existence of these supposed universes. It seems that the cosmologists who hold to the world ensembles theory are willing to go to any extreme to explain away the obvious evidence for intelligent design in the universe-the real universe, the only one we can observe. Again, theism is more reasonable than atheism.
Dr. Martin claims that the argument from design could prove the god of deism just as easily as the God of theism. But, as I pointed out earlier, if deism is true, this would crush atheism as quickly as it would destroy theism. Also, historical arguments for God’s intervention (miracles, fulfilled prophecies, Christ’s resurrection) can be used to refute deism, but that goes beyond the scope of this debate. It should also be noted that my cumulative case for God provides evidence for theism, thus disproving deism.
4. The Possibility of Human Knowledge
I argued that if a rational God created the universe and man, then it makes sense that man is able to know about the universe in which he lives. Martin states that human knowledge is possible within the atheistic world view. However, he offers absolutely no argumentation for this assertion. Though most atheists are probably not epistemological skeptics, this does not automatically mean they are consistent with their atheism.10 I stated that theism is more reasonable than atheism in this area. Martin has not even attempted to refute my assertion.11
5. The Reality of Universal, Unchanging Truths
I stated that the existence of universal, unchanging truths are more consistent with theism than with atheism. Dr. Martin’s response is inadequate. He states that many atheists who believe in universal, unchanging truths are consistent with their world view. Once again, he does not argue for his position – he merely asserts it. If an infinite Mind exists and is the Creator of the universe, then the existence of these eternal truths is to be expected. Martin has given us no reason as to why atheism is more plausible than theism on this point.
6. The Existence of Absolute Moral Values
Eternal, unchanging moral values exist. Murdering innocent children and slavery were always wrong. If the atheist denies eternal, unchanging moral values, then murdering innocent children and the practice of slavery could be morally right 100 years from now. But if the atheist accepts the existence of eternal, unchanging moral values, then he is hard-pressed to explain how his world view could produce such values. Dr. Martin has stated that many atheists have provided a defense of absolute moral values. However, Martin fails to is introduce any argumentation of his own for absolute moral values. Martin does admit to “objective” moral values, but it is less than obvious what he means by this.12 It seems that he is not willing to openly express his views for fear of refutation. Clearly, in the area of eternal, unchanging moral laws, theism a more reasonable explanation than atheism, for theism posits a personal God as the moral lawgiver.
7. The Absurdity of Life Without God
Dr. Martin admits that there is no “cosmic meaning” if atheism is true. Still, he states that there are other senses is which life can have meaning within the atheistic world view. But this ignores the point. If the entire universe will someday cease to exist, can life have any lasting meaning? If there is no meaning with a capital “M,” then any meaning with a small “m” will not suffice. It is irrelevant how a person lived his life if everything will eventually cease to exist.13
8. Respect for Human Life
If theism is true, then we have good reason to believe that human life is sacred and worth protecting. If atheism is true, it is hard to imagine an adequate explanation as to why human life has intrinsic value.
9. The Existence of Evil (it’s cause & ultimate defeat)
Dr. Martin will not tell us if he acknowledges the real existence of evil. If he claims that evil has no objective reality, then he cannot call the horrible actions of Hitler “wrong.” But, if Martin accepts the reality of evil, then how does he explain its source? Does atheism offer any hope that evil will be defeated? Theism offers both an explanation of what evil is and a solution to the problem. Again, theism is superior to atheism.
MARTIN’S THREE ARGUMENTS FOR ATHEISM
Dr. Martin’s “three arguments for atheism” are actually nothing more than three arguments against theism. This is an important distinction, for he does not show the strength of the atheistic hypothesis. Instead, he discusses what he believes to be inconsistencies or weaknesses in the theistic world view.
1. The Argument from Incoherence
Dr. Martin’s claim that the Bible contains contradictions is irrelevant to this debate. This debate is between theism and atheism; Christianity is not on trial. If the readers are interested in further investigating this issue, I recommend Gleason Archer Jr.’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties and Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe’s When Critics Ask.
Martin’s philosophical argumentation on this issue is relevant to this debate. He claims that knowing how to swim necessitates having a body. I disagree. I see no problem with the idea of an omniscient Being foreknowing from all eternity whatever man would learn from his bodily experiences. I draw a sharp distinction between knowledge and how it was attained. God knows everything innately in one eternal thought; man learns much of what he knows through his experiences.
Martin tries to prove that theism has contradictions. However, there can be no such thing as contradictions unless universal, unchanging truths exist. These truths fit well in a theistic worldview, but appear rather out of place in an atheistic world view. Dr. Martin has failed to show that atheism offers an adequate explanation for these universal truths.
Dr. Martin misunderstood my argument concerning actual infinite sets. I did not state that they cannot exist; I stated that they cannot exist outside of a mind. Therefore, God (the infinite Mind) has knowledge of an infinite number of things, but He knows them in one eternal glance. This set could not be learned one member at a time, for an infinite set cannot be traversed.
2. The Argument from Evil
This existence or amount of evil in the world does not disprove the existence of the God of theism. A theist can argue that an all-good, all-powerful God can co-exist with evil so long as this God has a “morally sufficient reason” for allowing the evil which exists. The theist can further argue that God may have chosen not to reveal His reasons for allowing evil in general or in specific situations.14 It only makes sense that finite minds would not be able to fully comprehend the workings of an infinite Mind.
I never stated that if human decisions are caused by brain events, then punishment is impossible. I said that punishment would be absurd, for if human decisions are caused by brain events then human decisions would be biologically determined. People would not be free to choose and therefore not accountable for their actions. We don’t punish someone if their heart fails to function properly. Why should we punish a person when their brain does not function properly? It seems that our criminal justice system presupposes that people are accountable for their decisions. Thus, it assumes that we are not controlled by are bodies; rather, we control our bodies.
Two or more people can share the same idea or knowledge, yet they do not share the same brain or brain events. One cannot weigh a thought or a moral value. These immaterial entities are found in the realm of the mind. Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that mind is also immaterial. If the mind is not immaterial, then our beliefs and our behavior is physically determined. If that is the case, then one wonders why Dr. Martin bothers to debate.
Martin states that I am wrong to assume the creation of man in God’s image and the Fall with providing evidence for these events. Again, he is forgetting that I am presenting theism as a hypothesis and showing that it explains certain aspects of human experience in a more plausible fashion than does atheism. Martin has refused to accept my challenge. This may be due to the lack of explanatory power of atheism. I am willing to put theism to the test, but Martin refuses to discuss the atheistic explanation in these areas.
Martin states that God could have permitted less evil and still produce the exercise of compassion. This is true. However, it is possible that there would be less than the right amount of compassion if there were less evil in the world. Also, the exercise of compassion is not the only reason why God allowed evil (as I have shown). How does Martin know that God could have accomplished all of His good purposes with less evil? If an all-good, all-powerful God exists, then He will allow only the amount of evil necessary to accomplish the greatest good. But, since God alone is all-knowing, only He knows the perfect amount of evil. Theism is a consistent hypothesis.
My response to the Euthyphro dilemma is as follows. Moral values flow from God’s good nature. Therefore, the standard is not arbitrary, for God wills only what is actually good. Still, the standard is not something above God, for God is the standard – God is good.
The issues that Martin raises about conflicting sources claiming to represent God’s revelation and various punishments for crimes have absolutely nothing to do with this debate. Therefore, I will not address them here. This debate concerns theism verses atheism. Whether or not God wrote a book is an entirely different issue.
Does Dr. Martin believe in the existence of evil? If no, then that is unfortunate. (How can a person look at the holocaust and not consider it evil?) If yes, then how does he define evil, where did it come from, and what remedy for it does atheism offer?
3. The Argument from Non-Belief
Martin argues that the large number of nonbelievers in the world is evidence against theism. This is simply not the case, for God gave man the freedom to reject His grace. God will not force anyone into heaven. Martin appears to be unaware of Molinism (also known as middle knowledge), which is the basic way I reconcile divine sovereignty and human free will. Basically, God foreknew what free beings would freely choose to do in all possible worlds. God chose to actualize the possible world in which everyone who would freely accept Christ (given certain circumstances) actually do come to Christ. The fact that God foreknew their free choices does not make these choices any less free. Still, God’s choice to predestine the right circumstances (the possible world) essential to persuade these people to freely choose to believe in Christ should not be overlooked. Man is free, but God is still in control since He uses the free choices of men to accomplish His good goals.15
Martin either misunderstands my thesis or he chooses to ignore it. He never states why atheism is more reasonable than theism in any of the nine aspects of human experience that I mention. He shows only that there are some difficulties with the theistic world view. However, due to our limited knowledge, we will always have difficulty understanding the workings of an infinite Mind. What I have shown is that theism is more reasonable than atheism. On the other hand, Martin has offered absolutely no argumentation for the explanatory power of the atheistic hypothesis. He merely throws rocks at theism, all the while refusing to give us the address of his glass house – a glass house called atheism.
2 I acquired this information through dialogues with a personal friend, Richard Boyd, Ph.D. Quantum events are space and time dependent, for the probability of the occurrence of a quantum event increases with more time and decreases with less time. Also, quantum events involve the location and movement of sub-atomic particles in space. However, the big bang model declares that all space, time, matter, and energy came into existence. Therefore, before space and time began, there could have been no quantum events. It is therefore highly suspect to appeal to quantum physics in an attempt to explain how the universe could have popped into existence out of nothing. If absolutely nothing existed there would be no space, no time, and no quantum events.
4 Martin cannot bring himself to believe that an all-powerful God created the universe out of nothing. Yet, he has no reservations entertaining the idea that nothing created the universe. Apparently my concept of nothing differs from Martin’s concept of nothing. My nothing is nothing and has no power to do or cause anything. Martin’s “nothing” is so powerful that it is able to bring the entire universe into existence.
6 Hugh Ross, “Astronomical Evidences for a Personal, Transcendent God,” in The Creation Hypothesis, ed. J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove: lntervarsity Press, 1994), 154 -160. Ross lists some of the more popular views promoted by modern cosmologists to explain away the theistic implications of the big bang. 1) Quantum tunneling is the view that the universe popped into existence out of nothing without a cause. 2) Some cosmologists propose the existence of infinite, parallel universes which can never overlap. Therefore, the existence of these supposed universes can never be confirmed. 3) Some cosmologists have attempted to escape the big bang singularity by speculating that there was no singularity. Instead, a vacuum totally void of space created the universe. 4) Other cosmologists argue that the universe produced man, but once mankind is on the scene he brought the universe into reality through his observations. In this view, observers are necessary to bring the universe into existence. 5) Another popular proposal among non-theistic scientists is called the final anthropic principle. This view teaches that the universe created man, man created the universe, and in the final state both the universe and man will reach the Omega Point (a point in which all of reality becomes omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent). Ross points out that the reason given for these types of fanciful speculation is often the lack of absolute proof for God’s existence. Ross further states that since man is limited and fallible he cannot be absolutely certain of anything. Man cannot even offer absolute proof that the earth is a sphere. Still, asserts Ross, man acknowledges that the earth is a sphere since the evidence enables us to know this beyond a reasonable doubt. Just because we cannot prove God’s existence beyond reasonable doubt does not give modern cosmologists a license to invent fanciful explanations that cannot be verified. I leave it to the readers to decide whether theism or modern cosmological speculation is more reasonable. The words of the apostle Paul are relevant to the current state of scientific speculation: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools . . .” (Romans 1:21-22, New American Standard Bible, 1977).
10 Martin stated that “almost every contemporary cosmologist has attempted to give an account of knowledge that does not presuppose God and yet is committed neither to relativism nor skepticism.” Still, Martin does not present one of these accounts in this debate. I am not debating volumes of contemporary atheistic thought-I am debating Michael Martin. In fact, I am not even debating Michael Martin’s 500 page defense of atheism. I am only required to discuss the argumentation which Dr. Martin introduces into this debate. Otherwise, Martin could simply say, “In the limited amount of space allotted for this debate (approximately 50 double-spaced pages for each participant), refute every non-theistic epistemological theory presented in the last 20 years.” Obviously, this would not be fair. Therefore, Martin needs to do more than claim the evidence is there-he must argue for his points in the limited space allotted for this debate.
11 Martin claims that I need to prove my assertion that only intelligence can cause intelligence. I disagree, for I find my assertion to be rather obvious. The burden of proof falls upon Martin’s shoulders, for his view that intelligence can evolve from non-intelligence is highly suspect. What examples can he give showing intelligence arising from non-intelligence? I can provide examples of intelligence coming from intelligence (i.e., intelligent human beings coming from other intelligent human beings), but do we see any cases of non-intelligence causing intelligent effects? I think not. Why should I have to prove the obvious, when Martin refuses to prove his extraordinary claim?
12 Martin may have argued for “objective moral values” in his book, but certainly not in this debate. I am debating Martin now, not his 500 page book. I have read his book and I appreciate that he reads current Christian philosophical thought. Still, I find his arguments against theism unimpressive. If he wishes to introduce arguments from his book into this debate, I will gladly deal with them. However, I refuse to respond to 500 pages of argumentation in a debate as limited in scope and space as this debate, especially when that argumentation has not been expounded upon by Martin in this debate. If Martin wants to propose his own argument for “objective moral values,” then he must introduce this line of thought into this debate. It would be foolish for me to attempt to refute volumes of contemporary atheistic thought just because my opponent says they are there. If Dr. Martin throws a baseball in my direction I will try to hit it, but it is not reasonable for someone to expect me to refute arguments that my opponent has yet to expound upon in this debate. Also, Martin assumes prescriptive laws do not need a prescriber. However, if words mean anything, then prescriptive laws must have a prescriber. Otherwise, they were not prescribed. Finally, it should be remembered that my case for God is cumulative. My moral argument is only one aspect of my cumulative case for theism. Martin repeatedly implies that each of my arguments was presented in total isolation from the other arguments. This was not the case. Martin should attempt to refute my cumulative case for God rather than demolishing a straw man. If he wants to attack my thesis, then he must show atheism to be a more reasonable explanation than theism is in reference to the nine aspects of human experience mentioned in my opening statement. Dr. Martin has not done this. He has pointed out difficulties that confront finite minds with respect to the theistic explanation, but has given us no reason to conclude that atheism has more explanatory power.
13 Martin claims that the atheism does not entail the absence of all meaning in life, although he admits that consistent atheists recognize the absence of any “cosmic meaning” in life. This is exactly the point that I am attempting to make. Cosmic or ultimate meaning is absent from the consistent atheistic world view. Martin states that after his death he hopes to be remembered for his “contribution to knowledge,” the happiness he provided for his loved ones, and the contributions he made to his community. Martin fails to realize that all these things lose any meaningfulness if the entire universe will someday die. What contribution to knowledge would there be when knowledge is no more? Can loved ones have happiness when they have ceased to exist long ago? Can a community enjoy Dr. Martin’s contributions when the community (along with Martin and the rest of the universe) is extinct? Without the existence of God and life after death, life becomes ultimately meaningless.