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Richard Carrier Carrier Wanchick Assessment

Final Assessment by Independent Judges (2006)


Welcome to Naturalism vs. Theism: The Carrier-Wanchick Debate. Richard and Tom agreed to have four independent judges read and assess their debate upon its completion according to The Rules We Followed, especially rules (7) and (8). Those judges present their assessments below.

Total Assessment

     Glenn Miller [assessment]

     Victor Reppert [assessment]

     Jeffrey Jay Lowder [assessment]

     Richard Schoenig [assessment]


Total Assessment

Winner: Richard Carrier

Average Score: ⌈1.5⌉ = 2


Meet the Judges

Glenn Miller:

Glenn M. Miller is currently VP, Strategic Advisory Services for CIT Systems Leasing. He tracks technology trends and usage (gmmx.com), and advises customers on IT decisions, management, and futures. He travels about 70% of the time. He is a former CIO and CFO, with a graduate degree in computer science and 30+ years of IT experience. He has taught computer science at the undergraduate level (for a year), and has spoken worldwide on technology and management strategies. He also has a graduate degree in Theology, and did a year of doctoral studies in Philosophy. He taught philosophy and senior Biblical Greek classes at the undergraduate level (also for a year). He currently writes and maintains the Christian Thinktank, an apologetics and research website. He recently moved from Silicon Valley back to his parent’s hometown, and lives with his library and his nine computers.

Victor Reppert:

Victor Reppert is a native of Phoenix, Arizona, and teaches philosophy at Glendale Community College. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1989. He is the author of C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, and has a blog at www.dangerousidea.blogspot.com.

Jeffrey Jay Lowder:

Jeffery Jay Lowder is the cofounder and President Emeritus of Internet Infidels. He currently serves as the editor of the Secular Web’s Call for Papers. He is a former moderator of two usenet newsgroups (alt.atheism.moderated and soc.atheism) and several related e-mail discussion lists. A former championship interscholastic debater, he has participated in several oral debates regarding God’s existence and evolution vs. creationism. He is the coeditor of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Prometheus Books, 2005), a reader of 15 essays on the alleged historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.

Richard Schoenig:

Dr. Schoenig (pronounced like “Sher”-nig) was born and raised in Bergenfield, New Jersey–a suburb of New York City. He received a B.S. in Chemistry from Fordham University in the Bronx. He later received a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Notre Dame. After a two year stint as an officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers, he earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Indiana University, Bloomington. He has published in a variety of chemistry and philosophy journals, and has written popular articles for magazines such as The Humanist and The American Rationalist. He is currently professor of Philosophy at San Antonio College. When not trying to figure out the meaning of life, he can be found grousing about politics, doing crossword puzzles, working on physical fitness, especially playing basketball, and enjoying the mountains of west Texas (Ft. Davis) and southwestern Colorado (Silverton) with his wife, Myrna.


Individual Assessments

Glenn Miller:

Winner: No one

Average Score: 0

“I am not a debater, nor the son of a debater.” I have never heard or seen a debate (live or recorded), never read one, nor participated in one (other than internal moral debates), and I have not studied the rules thereof. My only exposure to debate proper is through research in the historical forms of debate as a genre in the ancient world (along with dialog, rhetoric, etc.), so I am a bit intimidated by this task of judging.

My overall judgment is that the debate was a tie.

In my opinion, Carrier won 6, Wanchick won 6, and one argument was a tie itself (nobody won).

Carrier won his own BANBE, AMBD, and APM; and won Wanchick’s LCA, Kalam cosmological argument, and argument from the resurrection of Jesus.

Wanchick won Carrier’s BAN, ADI, ACA, and ANL; and his own design and ontological arguments.

Observations on the Debate:

One: Early on, it became clear to me that there was a terminology gap between Richard and Tom. Richard would use terms pragmatically (like I do on my website), whereas Tom would interpret these under more traditional and technical philosophical semantics. This caused a great deal of confusion, equivocation, and clarification (which wasted precious word count). Some of the more problematic terms were ‘expects,’ ‘predicts,’ ‘logically possible,’ ‘conceivable,’ and even ‘necessary’ and ‘possible worlds.’

Two: It was sometimes difficult to focus the evaluation upon the principle of ‘was it rebutted?’ instead of ‘was it true?’ The rules of the debate said that the judges should allow fallacious but undefeated arguments to be declared winners, and I did that the best I could. According to my analysis, both Tom and Richard each had one argument that I considered fallacious, but which was not rebutted adequately and therefore took the point. (I indicate only these major ones in my write-up, even though there were several minor points on both sides. Of course, every judge would say the same thing.)

Three: Given word count limitations, I do not think that the debaters really had enough space to interact deeply enough (surprise, surprisewith such a topic). Nowhere was this as obvious (or frustrating) as in the moral argument. The closing statements are probably good explications of the starting positions of each side, with more clarification of positions than exhibition of superiority being manifested in the argument development. In my analysis, I noted several places where data or assumptions should have been made explicit, but make no pretense that I could have said as much (or said it as concisely) as the two debaters. I found myself wishing that they had picked one specific crucial pivot-point within each argument to focus on, instead of delving into almost standard philosophy of religion textbook positions and replies. Under the moral argument, for example, there could have been debate over something like “Why is human rape considered absolutely wrong?” Or the exchange on BAN or BANBE could’ve considered something along the lines of “How does the range of certainty and frontier unknowns in science impact its use as an ultimate warrant?”

But I did learn several things from the interchange, and found some additional resources to investigate.


Victor Reppert:

Winner: No one

Average Score: 0

General considerations:

Debates are very useful tools in getting a set of arguments on to the table, but they have serious weaknesses as indications of where the truth may lie. This is especially true when sides in the debate try to present too many arguments, and this was the case with both sides here. Because of the large number of arguments presented by both sides, none of the real issues in the debate were treated with enough depth to provide much in the way of illuminating the question of God’s existence. That is not to say that some good points were not made along the way on both sides, but I view real debate as an attempt to get to the heart of the issues that divide the parties, and I didn’t see a whole lot of that in this debate.

My approach to burden of proof issues is simple: The burden of proof lies on the side of whatever your audience doesn’t believe.

I can’t really give this debate to either side. I wish I could. Like Wanchick, I am a Christian theist, but it is the strength of argument that is at issue. Neither side, in my opinion, presented arguments that were developed well enough to merit a verdict of victory. Both sides simply had too many arguments to provide much of anything enhancing our understanding of the relevant complex issues posed by each argument. I know both cases were meant to be cumulative, but a realistic debate would have three arguments per side, no more.

Wanchick’s strongest points were made in his discussion of the Leibnizian cosmological argument. I’m not sure that the argument is precisely Leibniz’s, since Leibniz uses a much stronger principle of sufficient reason (PSR)one that requires that every contingent feature of the universe be explained in terms of a necessary being (which would make it impossible, for example, for God’s creation of the universe to be free). The claim that “It seems reasonable to believe that every substance has an explanation for its existence: it was either caused by something else, or exists necessarily (it cannot not exist)” is not exactly Leibniz’s PSR.

I was not persuaded by Carrier’s broadly Humean response that the relevant causal principle should only be applied to effects within the universe. We very often apply principles beyond the range within which we are immediately familiar, and I fear that Carrier’s use of the term “universe” as a limiting condition is simply arbitrary. However, I have never been impressed by the argument that if we establish an external cause of the universe, it has to be a person.

I wish the point about the knowability of the universe had been developed more, and in particular I wish I had seen some discussion of our development of mathematical skill far beyond our immediate practical needs. The resurrection debate simply covered old issues and quoted old sources, doing nothing to enhance our understanding.

Carrier’s strongest points were in showing the difficulty in reading evidence for religious claims off of science. C.S. Lewis warned long ago about the need for apologetic caution in the use of science, since science has a way of retracting its former certainties. This warning, though, should be given both to atheists and theists. And I am grateful to Carrier for calling the “Myth of the Beginning of Time” essay to my attention. (Though I can’t help thinking that there has to be some reason why opponents of the Kalam cosmological argument have spent most of their efforts in the past 30 years trying to challenge the causal principle rather than the claim that the universe began to exist.)

However, Carrier’s attempt to come up with several arguments against theism did little good. The argument from nonlocality struck me as blatant question-begging: he just asserted that whatever exists must exist at a time and a place, and demanded that Wanchick prove otherwise. People making an impossibility claim normally have the burden of proof, I would have thought. Carrier relied on an argument from displacement, but it is the nature of science not to look for supernatural causes, or if so, to accept them as a last resort. It is like saying that the $100 bill you lost at the beach must have been stolen because after scouring the area with a metal detector, you didn’t find it. Science is extremely good at telling us some things we need to know; there are other things it is not so good at, and it is far from proven that we ought to make science the measure of all things.

As far as the argument from divine inaction is concerned, I saw nothing that moved the discussion forward with respect to the problem of evil. On mind-brain dysteleology I have no idea why Carrier thinks we would all be better off with brainless minds, since even on the strongest forms of dualism the brain is needed to interact with the world around us. (I’m not persuaded, though, by Wanchick’s use of the modal argument for dualism in response.) And saying that all this life-killing space represents some sort of inefficiency on God’s part would make sense if God were wasting his limited resources. But God does not have limited resources.

So I am calling this debate even, and I hope that future debates will be more focused.


Jeffrey Jay Lowder:

Winner: Richard Carrier

Average Score: 3

In their debate, Richard Carrier argues for a version of metaphysical naturalism he calls Carrier naturalism (CN), while Tom Wanchick argues for a version of theism he calls basic theism (BT). Because of the sheer quantity of arguments, as well as the 600-word limit, I won’t even attempt to discuss each of the arguments. Instead, I will merely list them by name, my scoring of the debate over each individual argument using a scale of 0-4, followed by my overall scoring of the debate. Finally, I will offer my own observations regarding the debate as a whole.

Carrier’s Case: Carrier (2)

Wanchick’s Case: Carrier (3)

Overall Debate Assessment: Carrier (3)

I wish to emphasize that the above scoring represents my assessment as a debate judge, not my assessment as a philosopher. In some cases, my own views about the strengths or weaknesses of individual arguments are quite a bit different from the scores I assigned above. For example, regarding the atheistic cosmological argument, I think Carrier overstates his case when he writes, “CN explains this state of affairs better than BT, since this state of affairs is highly probable on CN but not particularly probable on BT.” This wording makes it sound as if the state of affairs in question is significantly more probable on CN than on BT, but I don’t think Carrier’s comments in the debate justify such an assessment of the comparative probability values.

Overall, I thought the best part of the debate was the discussion about the resurrection of Jesus. I found the discussion on both sides regarding Wanchick’s moral argument for BT to be the least satisfactory section of the debate. Concerning Wanchick’s argument, the entire presentation is question-begging. He asserts that human beings have a unique and equal amount of moral worth that no other animal has, but presents absolutely no evidence in support. And while I’m inclined to agree that some moral truths are necessary (so far as I can tell), I see no reason to believe they require a necessary being as their foundation.

Turning to Carrier’s response, his statement, “On naturalism, good and evil are human values, not properties of the universe independent of human needs and desires,” goes too far. Perhaps CN entails that good and evil are human values, but metaphysical naturalism as such does not. A metaphysical naturalist can consistently be an objectivist about moral values. And his objection that Wanchick “hasn’t presented any method by which we can determine which moral opinion is actually ‘true'” is irrelevant to Wanchick’s argument. Wanchick is making an ontological claim that cannot be defeated by raising a concern about epistemology, which is why moral objectivism and moral skepticism are compatible with one another. In other words, it could both be the case that human beings are inherently valuable and that Wanchick has no way of proving his moral opinions.

In conclusion, Wanchick has not argued effectively for BT. In contrast, Carrier has successfully defended several arguments for CN. I conclude that Carrier is the winner of this debate.


Richard Schoenig:

Winner: Richard Carrier

Average Score: 3

General Comments

Judging this debate was not easy. The material presented was diverse and demanding, and it sometimes tested judicial objectivity. I want to thank both debaters for their prodigious efforts. I was challenged, enlightened, and yes, sometimes exasperated by my judging experience.

And Now the Envelope Please

I called the debate for Carrier, assigning him a score of {3}. I felt his presentations were, for the greater part, clear, complete, and sound, as were his defenses and rebuttals. At the same time, I concluded that Wanchick is a formidable debater, well-informed in the many areas through which the debate progressed.

Because of space limitations, the following comments are necessarily selective with respect to topic and detail.

Selective Comments on Wanchick’s Arguments that God Exists in a Meaningful and Nontrivial Sense, and Carrier’s Responses


I didn’t see that Wanchick had presented a sound argument for why it’s reasonable to say that God, but not the universe, exists necessarily or always existed. For example, he didn’t present sufficient evidence of a consensus among cosmologists against the possibility of the multiverse theory.

I wasn’t convinced that the concept of a mind thinking and acting outside of time is coherent, although I worry that my lack of conviction may in part be colored by my own temporal existence.

I thought that Carrier was sustained in his charge that Wanchick committed the fallacy of false analogy or composition in arguing that, because every thing in the universe has a cause, the universe itself must have a cause.


I felt Wanchick’s claim that evil is a departure from some intended design of humans was gratuitous and that he never showed that no version of CN-consistent morality could be reasonable.

Selective Comments on Carrier’s Arguments that Only Nature Exists in a Meaningful and Nontrivial Sense, and Wanchick’s Responses


I thought Wanchick’s denial of the prescription that “worldviews that explain the universe best should necessarily be believed” was at variance with the sense of the debate and what he explicitly strove to establish throughout it.


I judged that Carrier presented a good inductive argument that we have no confirmed instances of material-less minds, and that this counts against basic theism (BT). It seemed to me that Wanchick misinterpreted who has the burden of proof on this issue. As BT makes the positive claim that reality includes the existence of material-less minds, it must establish why any reasonable person should include that belief in her or his worldview. Moreover, I was not convinced that Wanchick’s claims concerning religious experiences provided the requisite proof.


I judged that Carrier made a reasonable case that the size and duration of the universe, and the distribution of life within it, is not very likely (or not what one would expect) given BT. As Carrier mentioned, one example of a more expected BT-alternative with a nearly 6000 year pedigree is that given in the literal reading of Genesis.

On the other hand, it wasn’t entirely clear what Carrier meant by “If CN is true, the nature and scale of the universe, and the history of life that we actually observe, is the only possible way we could exist that we know of, and is therefore what we would expect to observe.” Did this mean that, given the initial conditions of the Big Bang, the natural history of the universe couldn’t have been different from what we have observed; or that, given Carrier naturalism (CN), the initial conditions themselves were exactly what we would expect? The former is a trivial truth, while the latter is unproven.

Least Persuasive or Impressive Arguments

Wanchick: Against Evolution (Let it go already. Tarnishes an otherwise serious debate presentation.)

Carrier: ANL (“God as omnipresent” would seem to disarm it easily enough.)


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