Horner-Triplett Debate, 1993: Does God Exist?
Tonight’s debate will follow this format: Professor Triplett will speak first with his opening remarks. Mr. Horner will follow with his opening remarks. Professor Triplett will give his first rebuttal, and Mr. Horner will give his first rebuttal. Then two second rebuttals which last eight minutes each, Dr. Triplett first, Mr. Horner second. Then we’ll have the closing remarks, Dr. Triplett first, Mr. Horner second.
Dr. Triplett’s Opening Remarks
So I’m the local neighborhood atheist. And I think that the theists here tonight shouldn’t worry too much about the fact that they have a local atheist but they had to fly Mr. Horner in from British Columbia last night. I think that in spite of the appearance of that we atheists are still quite out-numbered, but I’m glad to be given some time tonight.
Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. And I’m going to be defending that view and arguing to that effect. The atheist as such is not necessarily the same thing as an agnostic. An agnostic is somebody who will believe that “We just don’t know one way or the other whether there is a God.” And I’m going to be defending the stronger view that God does not exist. Although I will say this: I am not sure that I know that there is no God. What it seems to me is the case is something like this: the evidence looks like it weighs in favor of the nonexistence of God. Whether– You can often have something that is strong evidence or some evidence in favor of a proposition that is not yet knowledge or certainty. And I’m going to be going for, not necessarily a proof that God does not exist, but strong evidence, or so it seems to me.
I want to– Before I present this argument, and before I discuss the logical issues, I want to say something about the psychology of belief. The concept of God is a very grand and noble one. And I think it was something that was a great achievement of the human intellect to come upon. Obviously as an atheist I don’t believe it was discovered so much as invented. But I believe it is a great and noble idea. And the power of that idea is something that I think we need to take into account, before we look at the pure logic of the arguments pro and con.
The Psychology of Belief
Look at– I mean just consider the power of the argument for a minute. I think that it’s deeply psychologically compelling to believe that there is a God. It feels so good and so reassuring to be told that there is this wonderful, loving, supremely powerful personal being who cares about you, who can answer your prayers and grant you eternal life, who can guarantee that the outcome of the human story will be a happy one. It feels so comforting to feel one is placed under the protection of this magnificent being, especially when you think about how moved you can be in the setting of, say, a great cathedral or listening to a great musical sacred work, say, the St. Matthew Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach. There is great power and awe and passion to move in this idea.
The danger in that is that it will– that one will believe in God just because– either because it feels so good and so reassuring, or because it’s so wrenching and frightening to face the possibility that there might not be anything to the story. It’s so reassuring to believe in God that I’m not at all surprised that humanity has come to conceive this idea, and having conceived it, to embrace it so fervently. But it’s not rational to believe in something just because it would be so wonderful if it were true, or because so much of how you conceive of yourself and your life rides on it. It’d be wonderful if you could plant seeds in the ground and have them sprout one thousand dollar bills. But you would be sorely deceived if you based your life on that belief.
The Importance of Objectivity
So what I want to ask you all to do when you look at these arguments tonight is to weigh them without letting your desire for one outcome or the other influence your ability to objectively reason about these matters. And this applies as well to those who might be psychologically inclined to reject belief in God, perhaps because of some need to rebel against authority, or out of anger at parents or society. What I urge you all to do is to try to honestly assess how you’re psychologically disposed, one way or the other, and to try to take account of that. If this is an important issue, perhaps the most important issue of all, then we all owe it to ourselves to give it the most thorough and rational reflection we possibly can. And that means not just coming here tonight and thinking this will settle the matter, but perhaps using this as the starting point for your own searching examination of the question. If you’ve not seriously considered up to now the reasoning pro and con for God’s existence, then just consider this an introduction to the topic, not a resolution of it. For example, in my Intro to Philosophy classes, I will spend sometimes two and a half or three weeks on one single argument for God’s existence, so obviously (and I’m sure Mr. Horner would agree with me here), we’re not going to cover all the bases tonight. There’s no easy way to settle this question. You can’t come in here and say, “Well, I’m going to solve, for all the rest of my life, the question of whether God exists or not, and then I’ll go listen to the ballgame or have a good time after that.” That’s– Life just isn’t that easy. It requires your thoughtful reflection, not just here tonight, but afterwards. I do have– The argument that I’m going to put up on the overhead here– I have a hand-out that most of you should have gotten; if you didn’t get it, you can receive it from an usher at some point. It’s called the problem of evil. And I just leave that for you because we can’t cover all this in one brief evening, so you have something to reflect on from the atheist point of view.
Before I say anything about the argument itself in its detail, I do want to say this about who’s really got the hardest job here. I really do feel that Mr. Horner has the hardest job in the following sense: He believes in something that I don’t. He’s got to give us all some powerful reason for thinking that thing does exist. Because it’s easy to say, “Well, there’s just no such thing,” when we don’t seem to see one; there’s no obvious evidence of one; it’s not a visible thing like a table or a chair, and in spite of all that, Mr. Horner I presume will want to say there is this extra important thing in the universe, and here’s the reason why. And what I want you to do is to look very carefully at his reasons. Now I don’t know what reasons he’s going to put up here tonight, but my past experience with the ones I’ve encountered so far is often, not complete rejection of the arguments, but kind of baffled puzzlement. Some of them are so complicated that I really can’t understand them one way or the other. And if that’s the result, then that’s no reason for belief, if you can’t understand it. Another thing that often happens with me is, when I see some of these arguments, I say, “Well, you know, I can kind of see why that might be the case, but I can also see why it might not be the case, either,” and my mind just starts boggling at some of these issues. And my intuitions are not always very clear. If you don’t have clear intuitions about the positive force of his arguments, then I don’t think he’s made his case. And that, really, is what is at issue.
I would also suggest that it’s very important for the theist to feel and truly believe, not just that this is a pleasant belief, or a good belief to have, but that there’s really strong evidence for it. Consider this example: If I’m out to buy a Bic pen, it doesn’t much matter in the cosmic scheme of things what the character of the person who designed that pen was, or who sold it, and I’m not going to go into deep inquiries about that sort of issue. If I’m buying an automobile, mmmm… I think about that a little more. You want to know the quality of the manufacturer and their reputation, and do a little bit of research. Now, suppose you are about to be operated on for brain surgery. You would really want to know if that was a good doctor, especially if some people believed or some people gave you some evidence to think that she wasn’t all that good a doctor. Then you’d really– you’d want a second opinion; you’d want to talk to people; you might check credentials… All right? My suggestion is, the issue of God and whether God exists is far more important to you than the brain surgeon, as important as that is. And that, if you’re going to base your life on that belief, it is imperative, if you’re to be realistic about the sorts of things you believe, to give that deep and thoughtful examination. Because look what turns on it: your conception of life, your conception of your place in the universe, the prospects for an afterlife for you, and so on. With those sorts of issues, it seems to me, the burden is why should we believe this. Obviously, it would be a wonderful thing if it’s true, but is there compelling evidence? That’s what my challenge to Mr. Horner is tonight, not so much arguments pro and con, but I’d like to see him prove it.
The Problem of Evil
I do, however, have my own proof. I call it a proof because it’s in argument form. I will again say that I do not know this conclusion to be true, but it looks to me like a fairly strong argument against God’s existence.
I prefer to refer to the Supreme Being as “she.” If this seems a little strange or perhaps even unsettling to some of you, I’d like to simply say this: it’s my personal preference. I do not mean by this any dimunition in the concept of God. I’m referring to exactly the God Mr. Horner is talking about: the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God who sent Jesus to redeem our sins. My feeling is just that, since we’ve used “he” for so long, and since I as a feminist believe women are completely and utterly the equal of men, that it’s time for the next, oh, I don’t know, thirty centuries or so, to use “she”. Because a lot of Christians understand that God is not a gendered being. God does not have one sex or the other. And again, if that upsets you, just read “he” if that’s your preference. It’s simply my preference to use “she”. This argument is called the problem of evil, and I’m giving it in the formulation that my teacher in graduate school, Herbert Heidelberger, gave me. And I have a kind of affinity for this [view? proof?]. It has personal meaning to me because when I encountered this particular formulation, it sort of shifted me from a kind of agnosticism into atheism. This argument is what convinced me. It has five premises and a conclusion, and the logic of it is a little bit complex, but I’m sure Mr. Horner will agree that if all five premises are true, the conclusion must be true. So let’s look at the reasons:
- If God exists, then she is benevolent and omnipotent.
- If there is evil, then God is unable or unwilling to prevent evil.
- If she is unable, then she is not omnipotent.
- If she is unwilling, then she is not benevolent.
- There is evil.
- Therefore, God does not exist.
Notice this is a fairly simple, straightforward argument; there aren’t lots of complicated concepts here. What I want to do now is go over those premises one at a time, and defend them each in turn.
First, if God exists, then she is benevolent and omnipotent. The criticism that might be made of that first premise is that there are lots of conceptions of God, and this is only one of them, and it’s really unfair to rest your case just on this particular idea of God, being benevolent and being omnipotent or all-powerful. My response to that is: it may very well be that some religions can allow some other concept of God, but the Christian religion as it is traditionally understood and practiced very much needs this conception of God. If God is not benevolent, she’s hardly worth worshipping. If the Supreme Being is not a good being, then are you just going to put your chips in with the strongest force around? No, you want to worship God because she’s good. If God is not omnipotent, then the story is very difficult for the Christian. If– Some religions say that there are equal and warring forces of good and evil, but if that were the case (that’s what the Christians call the heresy of Manicheanism, or Manicheism), then who knows which side is going to encompass you? Suppose that God is even really almost totally completely omnipotent but not quite, like 99% omnipotent, but there’s something she can’t do, no matter how much she’d like to. That’s not a very satisfying God, because it does not assure the Christian story of good news and assurance of salvation if you’re a believer. Maybe you’re one of the 99 sheep, you know, you deserve it, and lots of other Christians that got saved that should’ve– and you should have been right up there with them, and she’s really sorry, but she’s not totally powerful, so you spend eternity in Hell. Well, it’s too bad. Or suppose– you know, this is a very, very big universe; there are billions of galaxies. Maybe she’s basically got charge of most of it, but there’s one galaxy called the Milky Way that, you know, she just had to leave go. And that everybody in the human race is not under her protection, but is under, say, the spell of Satan or the Devil.
God, under the Christian story, has to be omnipotent. So the first premise is true.
The second and third premises I’m not going to go over in detail; they’re fairly straightforward. The third one is true by definition: to be unable to do something is just to not be omnipotent. If– and I’m sure if there were any problem with premise two, Mr. Horner would address it; I don’t think that there is.
I think that all of the action in this argument rests on premise four. And I don’t know if I’ll have time to get to premise five tonight; if not just read it on your own, and I think you’ll see that the Christian cannot deny premise five. So, it looks like already Christianity is hanging by a thread here. They have to show that premise four is false. What does premise four say? “If God is unwilling, then she is not benevolent.”
Now Christians do tell stories about why God might be unwilling to prevent evil, even though she is basically and purely good. One of the stories is the so-called “free will defense” of God’s existence. The free will defense goes as follows: God knew that it was a better thing to create free human beings than little slaves or automatons and so she did. And in doing so, she gave them free will; in giving them free will, she allows them the right to be morally bad. That’s part of the whole point in having free will is you have the right to follow God or not, and you have the ability to. And evil and sin is then explained as one human doing unto another what the first human didn’t want done unto him or her. Right? So the free will defense says evil is due to bad things that humans do to one another.
Now that defense is not adequate because there are many kinds of evils and harms and sufferings that occur to people through no human agency. If somebody dies in an earthquake, if somebody is killed by a tornado, there is no way that that could be caused by human beings. Many illnesses and accidents are similarly not caused by human beings. And if that’s the case, the free will defense does not work. What does the Christian have left? It seems to me the only thing the Christian has left is the so-called “necessary evil” defense of God’s existence.
The necessary evil defense of God’s existence says, “All evils, at least all natural evils such as those caused by earthquakes and illnesses and so on, are necessary to the greater good; they accomplish some greater, positive benefit.” For example, if courage is to exist in the world, and God wants to create courage (courage is a good; God wants to maximize all goods), God in fact being omnipotent and completely benevolent has created the best possible world that there could be. This, according to this defense, is the best of all possible worlds. But that best of all possible worlds includes a good like courage. Courage requires danger. The best of all possible worlds includes a good like charity. Charity requires want and poverty. God also requires for our own character development that we suffer certain hardships and difficulties. This is the necessary evil defense of God’s existence. Okay?
The problem with this defense is, all I ask you to do is look around you. And outside of any context where you might feel forced into this straight-jacket because it looks like if you won’t agree to this, you’re going to have to deny God’s existence, outside of any context like that, this is not the best of all possible worlds. How could the suffering that we know exists and occurs possibly be explained by some greater good? What about all those people, 26,000 or so whom died in an earthquake in India? Or the people who suffered so much in the Midwest from the floods? Were they all sinners? Equally? Did they all deserve to die? Was there in every case a greater good that was accomplished? What greater good was accomplished by 26,000 people dying, rather than 24,000? It’s hard to see how that could possibly be explained. And that’s why it’s hard for me to believe that God exists.
One possible option there is to say that there is an afterlife, and there will be a reward for those who’ve been punished or harmed in the afterlife. But that seems to me not sufficient. For one thing, now you have to show there exists an eternal afterlife (presumably this is an eternal state). And secondly– oh, I think I need to show you my second slide here. I’m now actually way down at the bottom of the premise– no, sorry– the defense– in the middle of the page, the defense of God in response to the point just made.
What this defense is, is the view that again, God justifies all this suffering by granting eternal life in heaven. The problem I have with that is that, besides the fact that you now have to prove the existence of a heaven, before you can prove the existence of a God (and that, it seems to me, is very hard to do), it still doesn’t satisfy our worry about all the suffering that goes on in the world. Because– suppose somebody tortured somebody, just tortured somebody the way a person might suffer from intense physical pain. And then suppose that after that, the torturer treated the person very, very kindly forever after. Does that compensate for the torture that was placed on the experience of this one person who was tortured? I don’t see how it could. If we would still think that that person was not totally good for having tortured in the first place, then why would we excuse God for having allowed people the torments of this sort of extremely painful life, this extremely painful experience, when we would not allow a human being to get off the hook in that easy a way? God is supposed to be even better than that. And think, when you’re considering this, think about the sort of pain that a child might suffer who is experiencing bone marrow cancer, which I understand is an extremely painful kind of cancer. Think about the suffering that child undergoes, not knowing why this is happening to her, not knowing how long it’s going to last, not being able to get any solace from parents. Even though the parents are sitting there, they don’t experience the pain; the child does. And then what happens? Then the child dies. Isn’t it at least intellectually difficult to understand how a God could allow that? Because it’s very difficult for me, I believe that the Christian idea of a God, omnipotent and all-benevolent, just won’t work.
Mr. Horner’s Opening Remarks
Good evening. I hope you all listened to Mozart before you came tonight. Those of you that have read the reports know that’s supposed to make you smarter, by the way, listening to Mozart, you see. I want to thank Christian PAC for inviting me to participate in this debate. I consider it a real privlege to be debating Professor Triplett this evening on this topic. And I agree it’s an important topic.
There are five preliminary issues I’d like to touch on, actually four, I guess, before I present my case for theism. The first point is that it’s a common assumption in many university classes that no intelligent person believes this sort of stuff anymore about God. Recent changes, however, show that this just isn’t the case. As early in 1980, Time magazine noticed the changes taking place in a major story entitled, “Modernizing the Case for God.” It made the following statement: “In a quiet revolution of thought and argument that hardly anyone could have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback in the crisp intellectual circles of academic philosophers.” The article goes on to describe how all the traditional arguments for God’s existence have found sophisticated new components. According to the philosopher Robert Chism, the reason atheism was so influential a generation ago was because the brightest philosophers at that time were atheists. But now, many of the brightest philosophers are theists, who are using a tough-minded intellectualism in defense of that theism. Another philosopher, W.L. Craig, recently wrote:
“Today philosophical theism is a vigorous and increasingly sophisticated discipline, in which some of the brightest minds on the philosophical scene are engaged. Different directions in religious epistemology are being rediscovered, and traditional arguments for God’s existence are being redefended. Easy, shock-worn refutations are no longer acceptable. Atheistic critiques, he says, seem to continue self-confidently, but one cannot help but wonder whether the self-confidence is not a vestige of the past, for which there now seems to be little basis.”
The last fifteen years have seen the birth of two professional philosophical societies: the Society of Christian Philosophers, whose journal, Faith and Philosophy, you can probably find in your library on campus, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and there are now at least eight philosophical journals promoting the rationality of Christian theism. Now these facts do not prove that God exists, but they do dispel that myth that belief in God is merely a matter of blind faith, and that no thinking people believe in God anymore.
Second, just as Professor Triplett said about his faith, I too am not claiming to be able to prove that God exists based on mathematical certainty. It’s interesting that he said he wasn’t going to do that, but he felt that somehow I needed to go that length, to actually prove it. The fact is that we know very little, if anything, with mathematical certainity. Virtually all of our knowledge, including science, is based on probability. Certainity is neither a reasonable nor a necessary standard for knowledge claims. So I believe we can show it’s highly probable that God exists.
Third, merely raising other possible explanations for the arguments that I give will not defeat the arguments for God’s existence. In order to win a debate like this, an atheist must do more than say, “It’s possible it could have happened some other way.” He must show that this possibility he’s suggesting is more probable than theism.
Fourth, many people reject God’s existence not because of intellectual objections, but because they don’t want God to exist. It’s just the reverse side to the point of what Dr. Triplett is talking about, the need for God. For some people, the need for autonomy is much more powerful than the need for God. They want to be autonomous, masters of their own destiny, lord of their own universe. Blaise Pascal, French philosopher and mathematician, once wrote, “God has given us evidence sufficiently clear to convince those with an open heart and mind, yet evidence sufficiently vague so as not to compel those whose hearts and minds are closed.” Now for this exercise tonight to be useful, it’s critical that we at least are open to the possibility that a God may exist and that a personal relationship with Him may be possible. Otherwise, we’d be like the person who says, “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”
And lastly, as far as my preliminary remarks are concerned, many have come here tonight, ready to cheer for their side. Their minds are already made up. And in a sense, that’s okay to come and cheer for your side, to enjoy the sporting aspect of a debate, I guess. But let’s face it: we’re all in this together. I mean life, we’re all in life together. We’re trying to figure out what our existence is all about on this planet, trying to put together a world view that makes sense and works in everyday life, and we should be able to allow ourselves just to be challenged. If I understood Dr. Triplett correctly, he agrees with that. We should sincerely be looking for what is in fact true. I’m not here to shove anything down anybody’s throat. I just invite you as fellow human beings to sincerely reflect on the arguments that I’m going to present for theism and against atheism. You owe it to yourself and to your intellectual integrity. And I hope and I suspect that if you approach this with an open mind, you’ll find some of these arguments suprisingly stronger than you may previously have thought.
So we are looking at two alternative views of the universe: theism and atheism, and asking which one is more probably true? Now in tonight’s debate, I would like to defend two basic main points: One, there are good reasons to think theism is true. Two, there are no good reasons to think atheism is true.
First of all, there are good reasons to think theism is true. Now, there’s no shortage of good arguments for God’s existence. In fact, recently the philosopher Alvin Plantinga who is arguably one of the more brilliant thinkers in our world today, presented a paper entitled, “Two Dozen or So Theistic Arguments.” Now time will limit me to far less, far less than I even want to present, so let’s just jump right in here with the first one.
The first argument is that God is the best explanation for objective moral principles. Now it’s quite fashionable these days to suggest that ethics are just relative. What’s right for one person or culture is not necessarily right for another. But I suggest however that our judgments about other people’s behaviors betray us and reveal our deep-seeded belief that there is real right and wrong, that there are moral principles that are objectively true (that is, whether someone thinks so or not), and thus morally binding and obligatory on all. For example, we believe it was morally wrong for Nazis to perform medical experiments on Jewish people in the death camps in the second world war. But not only do we think it was morally wrong, we think everyone else should agree that it’s morally wrong.
Notice we don’t say that it was acceptable for the Nazis to do that in their culture. If ethics were just culturally relative, it would be impossible for us to evaluate cultures morally. We could not condemn as immoral what some other culture approves, even if it’s racism or rape or infanticide or wholesale genocide. Our response to the way others treat us reveals what we really believe about morals, regardless of what we say we believe.
Now this is forcefully illustrated, I believe, in the true story about a young philosophy student that wrote a research paper arguing that there are no objective, absolute moral principles. Now if you judge this paper by its research and scholarship and its documentation and so on, it easily would have deserved an A– the mark of an A. However, when the professor got the paper, he took one look at it, pulled out his red felt pen, and wrote “F — I do not like blue covers.”
Well, when the student got his paper back, he was just incensed. He went running back to the professor’s office. He said, “This is not fair. This is not just. I should not be graded on the basis of the color of my cover, but the content of my paper.”
The prof said, “Now, was this the paper that argued there are no objective, absolute moral principles like fairness and justice? [laughter] That it’s all just a matter of one’s subjective likes or dislikes?”
The student still hadn’t caught on. He said, “Yeah, that’s the one; that’s the paper.”
The prof said, “Well, I do not like blue covers. The grade will remain an F.”
All of a sudden the student realized he did believe in some objective moral principles like fairness, justice, and he was expecting them to be applied to him right then and there in that situation. You see, it’s very easy to say there are no objective moral principles and absolutes, but it’s much more difficult to live as if there are not any.
Now if these actions in these examples are not objectively wrong, then the sense that we have, for example that they are wrong, that it’s morally wrong to rape and kill 4-year-old girls, our sense about that is somehow an illusion, and that we’re mistaken about it, or it’s not really wrong. There’s nothing that would make this principle morally binding on someone who would disagree. Now I think deep down we all know it’s wrong, objectively wrong, whether anyone else thinks so or agrees with us or not.
That’s why John Healy, the executive director of Amnesty International, a secular organization, could write with confidence in a recent newsletter, “I’m writing you today, because I think you share my profound belief that there are indeed some moral absolutes. When it comes to torture, government-sanctioned murders and disappearances, there are no lesser evils. These are outrages against all of us.”
Thus there are some objective moral principles that apply in obligatory fashion to all of us. What makes these moral principles, like fairness or justice, true and morally binding? What would be the basis for them, objectively? Now if God does not exist, there is no objective basis, no absolute standard for right and wrong. Because in a world without God, who’s to say whose values are right and whose are wrong? Moral judgements would just be relative and subjective, merely expressions of personal tastes. Or it might just be social conventions, that society has agreed upon so that people can live together. But in neither case would they be objectively binding moral obligations.
If God does not exist, human beings are just complete accidents of chance, who evolved relatively recently on this infinitesimal speck of dust, lost somewhere in this mindless, impersonal universe. And we are doomed to extinction, both individually and collectively, in a relatively short time. And this idea of self-worth that we have about ourselves and moral value in the end are just– is just delusions of grandeur, if in fact God does not exist. You see, a purely naturalistic universe would be morally indifferent. A chance universe of only space, time, matter, and energy cannot be the basis for these moral principles which we all hold to as morally binding on all people. Reason cannot get us to objective moral principles. We can reason according to basic moral principles once we have them. But as Kai Neilsen, one of my former professors, an outspoken atheist, says, “We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view. The picture I have painted is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.”
The atheist philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein candidly admitted that if there are ethical absolutes, they would have to come to man from outside the human situation. He wrote, “Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural.” J.L. Mackie, one of the most outspoken atheists of our century, agrees. He says, “Moral properties are most unlikely to have arisen without an all-powerful God to create them.” Therefore, since we do believe in objectively binding moral principles, and since such principles cannot exist without God, it logically follows that we should believe that God exists.
Secondly– well, it’s numbered number three; I’m just changing the order of my arguments here– God is the best explanation for the beginning of the universe. Either the universe had a beginning or it didn’t. We all begin with that data, the universe. We have both scientific confirmation and logical argument that it did have a beginning. Many people think that our universe is infinite in space and time, but that’s an outdated view. Modern cosmology tells us that our universe is expanding. If you run the film backwards of this expansion, you come back to the beginning of the universe. All space, time, matter, and energy came into existence simultaneously about 15 billion years ago, with the big bang. And the discoveries of the Cosmic Background Explorer just last year has given further confirmation to this theory. Thus, the universe had a beginning.
Furthermore, the second law of thermodynamics, according to it, given enough time the universe will eventually run down and reach a state of equilibrium: become a cold, dark, dead universe, with all the matter and energy evenly distributed throughout space. Dr. Paul Davies points out– dropping down about halfway down there– he says, “But secondly, the universe cannot have existed forever. Otherwise it would have reached equilibrium end-state an infinite time ago.” Conclusion: the universe did not always exist. There must be a finite past.
I just noticed my time is going heavy faster than I thought one of my other supporting arguments for the universe having a beginning. Let me move right to the implications of that.
The obvious question arises: If the universe had a beginning, was it caused or uncaused? Which is more reasonable? Which is more probable? Which is more likely? It’s always been a fundamental first principle of science and philosophy that from nothing, nothing comes. We assume– we live by the truth of that principle in every aspect of our lives. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause. And surely it’s more reasonable to hold to this premise than to believe that things just pop into existence out of nothing and by nothing with no cause. Can we reasonably disagree with Kai Neilsen who says, “Suppose you suddenly hear a loud bang and you ask me, `What made that bang?’ And I reply, `Nothing. It just happened.'” He says you would find my reply quite unintelligible. I would suggest that applies to big bangs, as well as little bangs. There has to be a cause.
So the argument can be summed up this way:
- Whatever begins to exist must have a cause.
- The universe began to exist; we’ve seen two supporting arguments, from the Big Bang model and the Second Law of Thermodynamics that the universe had a beginning.
- Thus it follows logically that the universe had a cause.
Now the obvious question that arises in many people’s minds is, “Well, what caused God?” They tend to think that this defeats the argument. Well first of all, this is a question like, “What color is the note `C’?” It’s a category mistake. Asking what caused an uncaused being is like asking, “How many inches long is the sound of eleven?” The question doesn’t apply. But let’s be more gracious and let’s say the person– all they really mean by the question is, “But what caused the cause? What caused the cause of the universe?” Well the proper response is that there is no indication that the cause of the universe had a beginning. And it’s only things that begin to exist (premise #1) that need causes. Furthermore, space, time, matter, and energy came into existence simultaneously with the Big Bang. So whatever caused the Big Bang– whatever the cause of the Big Bang is must have existed in a timless state beyond the creation; thus it could not have had a beginning, and hence no cause. You may want to say this about the universe, but you can’t because the evidence is that the universe did have a beginning.
The third argument, #2 on this overhead, is that God is the best explanation for a universe that supports life. Astrophysicists have been discovering that the Big Bang appears to be incredibly fine-tuned. The numerical values of the different natural forces like gravity, electromagnetism, sub-atomic forces, just happened to fall into a very narrow range that is conducive for life to exist in this universe. Minute changes in any one of these forces would destroy the possibility of life, and in most cases would destroy the universe. For example, if the strong force — that’s the force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus — if it was just 2% less, it would destroy all the nuclei essential to life. If it was just 2% greater, it would prevent the formation of protons and the formation of matter. If the expansion rate of the universe was less by one part in a million million, the universe would have collapsed very early. If it was greater by one part in a million, galaxies, stars, and planets could not have been formed. A tiny change in the charge of an electron would block any kind of chemistry. And there are dozens of examples like this of these delicately balanced conditions. John Leslie, philosopher of science, who’s probably the world’s expert on this argument, and not a Christian, summarizes the point this way: he says, “Life-prohibitng universes are much more probable than life-permitting universes.” Atheists would like us to believe that all of this just happened by chance. Now let’s look at some numbers to see how unlikely that is. The number of seconds that have transpired since the beginning of our universe is about ten to the eighteenth power. Ten to the 18th power. Total number of seconds. The number of subatomic particles in our entire universe is about ten to the 80th power. Now with those numbers as a frame of reference, Dr. Donald Page, one of the world’s most eminent cosmologists, calculates the odds of this kind of universe coming into existence by just chance as 1 out of 10 trillion to the 124th power, a number virtually equal to zero. It’s rather hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe has been rather carefully thought out. That’s why you have people like Dr. Paul Davies, British professor of theoretical physics and applied math, say this is the most compelling evidence for […?] design. And Dr. Robert Jastrow, founder and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, […?] most [theistic?] result ever to come out of science.
In summary, so far we’ve seen that there are at least three good reasons to think that theism is true. God is the best explanation for objective moral principles, for the beginning of the universe, and for a universe that supports life. Just like three cords wound together make a strong rope, so too the cumulative effect of these three arguments provide us with a powerful case for the existence of God. Taken together, they tell us that the cause and designer of the universe is an intelligent, immaterial, powerful, personal being that exists in a timeless eternal state beyond the beginning of the universe. Thus, my first contention, there are good reasons to think that theism is true.
My second contention: there are no good reasons to think that atheism is true. Now notice that the atheist must give us a case for his position. He must give us arguments and evidence to support his answer to the question, “Does God exist?”. Now Dr. Triplett agreed atheism is the claim to know something: that God does not exist. Now, he claims he’s not entirely sure of it, knowledge in a slightly lesser sense; but any knowledge claim must be supported. Now I’ve held up my end of the bargain by giving arguments for the truth of theism. Professor Triplett has attempted to hold up his end of the bargain by providing us with his argument against God’s existence, or his argument for atheism, based on the problem of evil. Dr. Triplett’s argument must outweigh the cumulative effect of the arguments I’ve given tonight in order for him to be successful. We’re both giving a probabilistic case. So the probabilistic weight of these arguments must be weighed against one another. And which weighs the strongest?
So in response to the problem of evil that Dr. Triplett has raised, there is no explicit contradiction between the premise #1, I believe, in his article there, that God exists and is benevolent and omnipotent, and #5. There’s no explicit contradiction if you just have premises 1 and 5. Logicians admit this. You have to add some further premises, as Dr. Triplett has added. But these further premises must be necessarily true in order to draw the conclusion that therefore God does not exist. For this to be a conclusive argument to show that it’s an inconsistency here, between the existence of evil and God’s omnipotence or omnibenevolence, points number 2, 3, and 4 must be necessarily true. He said that I have to show that they are false. No, I only have to show that they are not necessarily true. As long as they are not necessarily true, then his argument failed. And Dr. Alvin Plantinga, who’s been writing on this subject for the last twenty years, has shown that the case is that there’s no explicit contradiction, and no one has come up with premises that are necessarily true, that is, true in all circumstances, to produce an implicit contradiction. It’s just not the case that an all-loving being would necessarily prevent every evil, because if an evil– if by preventing an evil it causes a worse evil, even a loving being would not do that. If you’re out mountain-climbing with your friend, he falls and has a nasty gash on his knee, and it’s causing him a great deal of pain, you could get rid of that pain by amputating the leg above the knee; the pain would no longer be coming from the knee. But if you were a good person, you wouldn’t do that, because you would be producing a greater evil. And it’s very possible therefore that even an all-good being would not eliminate every evil, becuase it may produce greater evils. It’s not necessarily the case.
It’s also not necessarily the case that an all-powerful being can do everything. I’m afraid Professor Triplett is just mistaken when he says that premise #3 is true by definition. He needs to be aware of the work Dr. Plantinga has done in this area, that an omnipotent being cannot create all logically possible worlds. He cannot do the logically absurd; He cannot create square circles; there is nothing there to be done. And He cannot create every logically possible world, because once He agrees that creating free creatures is a good thing, then what free creatures would actually do determines in part what God can actually create. If I would choose to eat an apple at 3 PM today, God cannot create the universe […?] where I would not eat the apple. It’s a logically possible world; we can imagine it. But God cannot actualize, or bring into existence, that world once you allow the existence of free will. So it’s not necessarily true that an all-powerful being can create every logically possible world. And yes, this is not the best of all logically possible worlds, but that is not an argument against an omnipotent God, because we admit that He cannot create all logically possible worlds; He can create only those worlds which are actually possible. And that depends on what, in fact, free creatures would in fact do. In my rebuttal time, I’ll be able to spend some more time on that particular argument.
So in summary, we’ve seen that there are three arguments for God’s existence, which make it reasonable to conclude that theism is true. We’ve seen that there’s no explicit or implicit contradiction based on the problem of evil; as a matter of fact, as long as it’s possible that God has a good reason for allowing evil, then God’s existence and evil’s existence is consistent. As long as it’s possible God has a good reason. Even if we don’t know what it is, then there is consistency between evil and God’s existence, and the argument fails. So we’ve also seen that there are no good reasons to think atheism is true so far, therefore we can reasonably and justifiably conclude that therefore God does exist.
Dr. Triplett’s Rebuttals
[A few seconds were lost here while the tape was flipped.]
…and there’s no way I can respond to all of these statements that Mr. Horner has made. I’ll pick a few of them, and again, as far as the other issues go, there’s only so much we can do tonight. We could talk about this thing in the discussion session and so on.
First of all, Mr. Horner said that scientific confirmation has shown that the universe did have a beginning. Now I’m surprised that you would make a statement like this, because it’s false, and anybody who knows enough about science to have examined this sort of evidence that he gives, should be able to understand that it is false. When he said something about, “Well, in terms of what’s possible, and both sides really have to show the case…” If I show you that something that he said, while it has some initial plausibility when you read about that scientist, if I show you another scientist that denies what he just said, as something that scientists concur, that should leave these things as a wash, right? I mean, there’s no evidence either way.
Mr. Horner said, again (I think I almost got this quote right): “Scientific confirmation has occurred that the universe did have a beginning.” This is a controversy in science; it is not known whether the universe has a beginning.
As you see from the underline here, here’s an article in a recent Scientific American about the possibility of an eternally self-reproducing cosmos. As it says on the underline, “The entire cosmos might have sprung from a miniscule fleck of space. Most probably we are studying a universe that has been created by earlier universes.”
Notice also a little bit down further, “Early versions of inflation which relied heavily on particle physics, called for highly specialized fine-tuning conditions. But Linde showed that inflation might have stemmed from more generic processes.” That is, the fine-tuning point that he was trying to make is not something that’s been scientifically established. Now understand me: I don’t mean to say scientists have established this; only that some scientists think one thing, some the other; it’s not been concurred; and again, I’m very surprised he would say that, because that’s just not a correct statement. Scientists– the scientific community as a whole would say, you know, “Well, there’s theories one way; there’s theories the other. Who knows?”
The principle that he mentioned about fine-tuning is sometimes called the Anthropic Principle. This is a physicist on the Anthropic Principle: (Now I don’t have time to go over all of this; in the first paragraph though, he does explain what the Anthropic Principle is. And if you read it, you’ll see that it’s very much like what Mr. Horner was talking about.) They argue that in a number of alternative universes we can imagine, you know, only this one situation, with protons having such-and-such a force, is the one that would have allowed for life, so it’s — and this also has to do with his probability point — the chances of this happening are one in a billion trillion million zillion, you know, so it has to be that there was some reason behind it. Again, I can’t go into the details, but this sort of anthropic reasoning has been challenged by many scientists, for example the physicist Heinz Pagels here, as very unscientific. “The Anthropic Principle,” he says at the bottom here, “is immune to experimental falsification — a sure sign that it is not a scientific principle.”
He also referred to the Cosmic Explorer, the Cosmic Background Explorer that NASA sent out. He said, “This shows evidence of the idea that the universe had a beginning.” And they started — and as you can see, physicists sometimes spoke a little too strongly about what they thought they had accomplished. And some theists took up this idea, and suggested that there was a God, and that this had been shown by science. Well look at what, when this is all processed through the scientific community, the scientist who made such a statement actually says. He basically apologizes and says, “Sorry, I didn’t really mean that.” This is a physicist by the name of Smoot. You see on the underlined part there, Smoot in his defense, says he never meant to connect his data to God, but only to illustrate the importance of his work. Well, that’s very nice, you know; you want to say your work’s really important, but he’s admitting that he didn’t even mean God in the theistic sense. When pressed, you should see below, he admits that there are limits to what the event, this Cosmic Background Explorer, can deliver. Smoot agrees that you can never answer religious questions. In other words, there’s no evidence here for the existence of a beginning to the universe. Scientists just don’t know.
The second premise of his argument, up to cosmology, stated that the universe must have had a cause. That also is something that some physicists believe, but others are not so sure. Consider this statement from the physicist Edward Trial: “If you’re familiar with quantum mechanics, you know that physicists are pretty convinced now that at a fundamental level of reality, way below the atomic level, there seems to be a fundamental, non-causal matrix; the events appear to happen without a cause. Now some people say, “Well that’s just quantum mechanics; that has to do with very small particles; that couldn’t be true of the universe as a whole.” Scientists are now seriously speculating that this universe might not have a causal explanation. As Trion says here, again I can’t go over all the details, “The existence of our universe may be simply a fluctuation of the vacuum. In answer to the question of why it happened, why the universe happened, I offer the modest proposal that our universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.” An extaordinary thing to say, no doubt, but this is the sort of discovery physicists are making. And again, I don’t want to say this is a confirmation or anything like that; he’s speculating. But he’s speculating with some experimental evidence, as I’ll point out in a minute. But as to the objection that this only applies to the micro reality, notice his last paragraph: “One might wonder how a vacuum fluctuation could occur on such a grand scale.” One of his points is that the laws of physics place no limit on the scale of vacuum fluctuations. And if you remember from that other quote I gave you, there’s speculation by that scientist as well, that the vacuum fluctuations might have been enough to cause the universe to come into existence.
Granted, these things to some extent challenge our intuitions, but that’s part of what scientific inquiry and discovery is. We can’t just insist on our own intuitions and say, “Well, I can’t do that because it’s hard to figure out.” Well, these scientists are saying there’s a possibility here, again not a proof, not a confirmation, but a possibility that this is how things got started. This just points out some experimental evidence, so you see that, you know, Trion is not totally whistling in the wind here. He says (I’ll have to read from this), “The effect seems to be real. This effect of — a zero point of [energy vacuum?] arises in quantum physics because of quantum uncertainty of– quantum uncertainty virtually– allows virtual photons to pop in and out of existence all the time, contributing energy to the background. This effect seems to be real, not just some quirk of the equations, because it produces measurable effects.” And then it goes into the experiments. The point here is there’s experimental evidence of this, not that the universe popped into existence; this is a reasonable scientific speculation, but it’s not anything that’s been concurred.
But notice what Mr. Horner did: he said, “It has been confirmed that the universe has a beginning. It has been confirmed that if it has a beginning it has a cause.” That is not accurate in terms of contemporary scientific knowledge. There are no such confirmations.
On a different matter, he pointed out that God must make the moral laws; that if there’s objective morality, then God must have been responsible for that morality. He says he’s against ethical relativism; and there’s one thing, I’m happy to say, we completely agree about. I don’t know whether he’s had the kind of experience that I have had, trying and trying and trying to convince students not to believe in ethical relativism. I believe that there are objective moral values. And the question is, “Well, how could they exist if God does not exist?” And I wondered about that a long time. When I was an undergraduate, I read Dostoyevsky; in Dostoyevsky Ivan says, “If God does not exist, then all things are permitted.” And for some reason I just believed that: that if God does not exist then there could be no objective morality. And it didn’t occur to me right away to wonder why that must be true, until I read a dialog of Plato’s called The Euthatro, which makes clear that it can’t be that God creates morality. Now, look at the Bible for example: in the Bible, God creates the world; it doesn’t say he creates the moral realm. God creates the world, and she saw that it was good. Right? She saw that it was good. In other words, its goodness was independent of her creation.
Consider the hypothesis that Mr. Horner wants us to accept: the hypothesis that God makes morality; God is the inventor of morality. If that were true, then the idea that God is good would mean nothing. It would only mean, since to make morality is by approval, you know, God is just going to say, “I approve of this; that’s what makes it good.” Well, if God makes morality, if God invents morality, then that’s just to say God approves of herself. Right? Now, I know of lots of people that completely approve of themselves that aren’t particularly moral. God, I mean, Mike Tyson? You know? Simply the act of approving of yourself does not allow something to be moral. Something– We want to– Christians I would think want to worship God because she is — independent of anything she’s done to fix herself up nice — a morally perfect being. That moral perfection must reside elsewhere than in God’s making it all up. So morality is independent of the existence of God, and there are theists like– atheists like myself who can be very positive and powerful in our criticisms of ethical relativism.
Mr. Horner’s Second Rebuttal
I began my first speech by saying that there are good reasons to think that theism is true. I argued that God is the best explanation for objective moral principles. Professor Triplett agrees, but disagrees with my second point that if God does not exist, then there are no objective moral principles. I have to ask, “What is his basis?” Notice that he did not give us a basis; he did not give us his foundation. He’s acknowledged that there are some objective moral principles; relativism is false. But he did not give us a basis. He attempted to show why he doesn’t think God is a reasonable basis. And the Euthrapo– the so-called Euthrapo argument is easily solved, because it is not that God chooses something– laws that– It’s not that God says something is good because it is good already, thus implying an independent standard of himself. Nor is God just arbitrarily saying something is good; it’s that goodness is part of God’s very nature itself. And he acts and says– speaks only consistently with his good nature. Therefore it’s not arbitrary; therefore it does not imply an independent standard apart from himself. So that does provide a foundation for morality. His laws are consistent with his nature, which is goodness itself. And as of yet, Professor Tripplet has not given us a foundation.
In a recent review of a book on ethics, a man named Steven Wallen wrote, “The malady visited on philosophy is its inability to provide a convincing foundation for ethics. Thus both popular and academic accounts of morality slip into relativism and subjectivism. These two options render morality itself innocuous. Dr. Triplett may want to believe in objective morality, but he cannot provide a basis for it on the basis of his atheism. And we’ve yet to see any such basis.
Secondly, I argued that God is the best explanation for the beginning of the universe. He said that my statement that the universe had a beginning is not confirmed as I said it was. I will accept that point technically. That was an overstatement of the case. Yes, you’re going to have scientists on both sides. But, the vast majority of scientists were definitely brought over to the Big Bang model, as of last year’s discoveries of the Cosmic Background Explorer. And that is definitely true. Now, that doesn’t prove it’s correct either, and you have– you can’t just– you know, which one of us quotes the most scientists isn’t going to prove it’s true. You’ve got to think about it yourself. But the Big Bang model shows that our universe has been expanding. And so if you run the film backwards on this model, you come back to a beginning point, where our universe was shrunk down to a mathematical point, a point of infinite density, scientists call it. Now a point of infinite density is synonymous with nothing. The mathematics tell us that the amount of matter, of energy, was nothing. And Penrose and Hawking have shown that space, time, matter, and energy are tied together; they came into existence simultaneously. Thus, the view that the universe had a beginning is strongly supported by science right now.
Now the oscillating model that was up on that very first overhead that Dr. Triplett put up there has some serious problems. It was pretty popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but most scientists have rejected it, because it looks like there’s not enough mass in this universe to ever cause enough gravitation to collapse; we won’t have enough mass, and even if there is more dark matter, which is the invisible mass that seems to be implied by some mathematics right now, the very mathematics that implies there is invisible mass out there, also predicts that the universe is expanding at exactly escape velocity. So the evidence supports the universe will continue to expand, not collapse. Also, even if it could collapse, the idea of a rebound is physically impossible. Alan [Goude?] of MIT said, “It’s pure speculation, the idea of the universe crunching down and rebounding out again.” And even if it does collapse and rebounds out again, because of the increase in entropy upon each successive oscillation, and the amount of radiation that we can measure in our current universe, there’s only been a finite number of past oscillations.” So any way you look at it, this oscillating model still can’t get around the idea that the universe had a beginning. At the very worst, you’ve got a finite number of oscillations; this may be one of them, but not a beginningless universe. The point still stands, that the universe had a beginning.
He put up the point about Smoot, who was the key guy involved in the Cosmic Background Explorer. And Smoot is supposedly denying that he implied that God existed. Well sure, maybe he’s denying that, but many other scientists find the evidence quite, quite telling. Quite telling. So just because you’ve got, you know, one guy say, “That isn’t what I meant; maybe some journalist got carried away,” doesn’t mean that there aren’t other scientists that think that it does have something going for it.
The second part of my argument was, given the universe had a beginning, and given that that’s highly probable, then it must have had a cause. And Dr. Triplett points out– points to quantum mechanics. And I’m not sure if he understands the whole literature that he put up on there; I kind of doubt it. He’s talking about vacuum fluctuations, which is the idea that in a vacuum, particles popping into existence in an apparent vacuum. But what he doesn’t understand is, and the criticism of this very argument that he put up there, is that a vacuum is not nothing. We tend to think it is, in layman terms, but in a vacuum, we have pre-existing energy. What is taking place, as Dr. Paul Davies has pointed out, is the transition from pre-existing energy into a particle. So you get a particle popping into existence in the vacuum tube. But it’s not out of nothing; it’s from the pre-existing energy that was in the vacuum tube. Therefore it is not analogous to a beginning of the universe scenario, where there was no energy, no space, no time, no matter, and the universe, if there was no God causing it, had to just pop into existence completely out of nothing, from nothing, and by nothing. Now which do you think is more reasonable? Remember, you’ve got to choose which is more– which is more likely to be true. Which is more probable or reasonable: The universe just [snaps fingers] popped into existence out of nothing, and by nothing? Or that there was a cause? I’m confident that I can leave that to your rational mind. You can get out of the argument if you want, by saying it’s more probable the universe just popped into existence completely out of nothing and from nothing, and that’s fine. You’re welcome to take that route, but I don’t think it’s as rational.
And quantum mechanics has not shown, by the way, that there is no cause; only that we have– it’s spectator influence, when we try to determine the velocity and position of an electron; we can’t determine both at the same time. In no way is it proven that there are no causes here; the indeterminancy principle can’t determine what the causes are. So this does not refute the argument that whatever– the point, that whatever begins to exist must have a cause. That is still much more likely to be the case, and therefore the conclusion, the universe had a cause, still follows.
Regarding the third argument that I gave: the universe– God is the best explanation for a universe that supports life, Dr. Tippler does not understand the different types of Anthropic Principles that are being discussed. He put up the material discussed by Barrow, and Tippler, and Pagel, and these people are discussing what’s called the Strong Anthropic Principle. And this is weird stuff, folks, OK? And that’s why you get people saying it’s not scientific. The Strong Anthropic Principle says that with our minds, we are actually creating reality, affecting reality. And yeah, I will make the exact same criticism of that principle than the person who was on the overhead there. But that is not the principle I’m talking about. I’m talking about the principle that there are dozens of these values of our early universe that just happen to be the right ones. Now that is astonishing! The probablility of that happening by chance is one in ten trillion to the 124th power. You have got to take that seriously. Again, which is more likely, that that just happened by chance, and this is the kind of universe that can support life? With those– with that kind of low probability? Or that there’s intelligent design behind it? Again, it seems much more reasonable to think that there is an intelligent mind behind that.
The second major contention I gave is that there are no good reasons to think that atheism is true. Evan Fales, Professor Evan Fales, at University of Iowa, a preofessor I debated last year, wrote the following: “Alvin Plantiga,” (and this is– he’s an atheist, by the way), “has convinced most of us (if indeed we were not already convinced) that the Free Will Defense exonerates God from the imputation of a certain kind of incapacity. Not even an omnipotent being can guarantee the best of all possible worlds. For such a world must contain creative free beings, who partly it will be up to them what transpires.” From what I’ve seen so far, I’m not sure that Professor Triplett is familiar with the work of Plantiga, and he has totally transformed the discussion on the problem of evil. What Professor Triplett has here, is based on materials twenty years old. He’s got to come to grips with what Plantiga has done in logically possible worlds, and I look forward to hearing that.
But we can go a step further. We can actually give an argument for God’s existence, based on the existence of evil. If God does not exist, then objective moral principles do not exist. One of the points I’ve already given in my first argument, on morality. And certainly Professor Triplett has not given us an alternative foundation. Secondly if evil exists, then objective moral principles do exist. That is, if we are really calling something evil, then it’s transgressing something that is really good. Three: evil exists. We both agree upon that; it’s one of his premises in his argument that he’s given. Four: if you combine two and three, four follows logically. Objective moral principles therefore exist, and we agree on that anyway. And therefore, number five, if you combine one and four together, follows logically. Therefore God exists. If there is an objective morality that you are saying God is somehow transgressing, you have to acknowledge that we need to have a God in the first place to have that objective morality. And until you can provide for us an alternative foundation that works — which I’ve yet to hear an alternative foundation for objective morality, now, that works — this argument stands. I look forward to hearing an alternative foundation.
Furthermore, I’ve given an additional argument for the beginning of the universe. It’s based upon the impossibility of an infinite past. David Hilbert, one of the century’s greatest mathematicians, has written, “The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature, nor provides a legitimate basis for ratonal thought. The role that remains to the infinite is solely that of an idea.” If the universe did not have a beginning, there must have been an infinite number of past events. But the idea of an infinite number of past– an infinite number of anything in the real world, leads to logical contradictions. And my time won’t allow me to give some examples of those contradictions, but if my point is correct, that an infinite number of anything leads to logical contradictions, then the past must be finite, and therefore the universe did have a beginning.
Therefore there are good reasons to think theism is true; the three that I’ve given still have not been refuted, and there are no good reasons to think atheism is true. Dr. Triplett’s case against theism has shown that there’s no explicit contradiction, no implicit contradiction; in fact I’ve argued for God’s existence based on his very premises. Thank you.
Triplett’s Second Rebuttal
Your heads must– must be swimming by now, right?. Who are you going to believe, you know, one side or the other?
I have even less time now, but– and again I can’t possibly address all his points. A couple points about the science: He calls the Strong Anthropic Principle the idea that the universe is created out of our minds. That’s not the Strong Anthropic Principle; that’s some sort of philosophical idealism. The idea that Weak Anthropic Principle as it’s generally defined can explain God’s existence is not the case. He was defending a version of the Strong Anthropic Principle.
He said, “Most scientists approve of the Big Bang.” That’s the case. But the Big Bang itself doesn’t give us any answer to the question, “What came before the Big Bang? Could there have been something prior to that?” And again, I have a transparency up here, but I won’t show it for lack of time, the very hypothesis of the Big Bang is questioned.
He says that Professor Smoot might be one of those who doesn’t believe in the God talk, but a lot of other scientists do. Well that’s an extraordinarily weak point. I would like to hear him assert that physicists all — or at least as a vast majority, as a physicist community — are convinced that the universe did have a beginning. I think that that’s very much in the air still today.
I won’t continue on with the scientific points, because I want you to notice something about what he’s done: His argument, using the existence of evil as a proof of God; he knows that I accept one of those premises, and so I’m not going to have to have the sort of problem that he thinks I will have with that. I want to also say a few things before I put up this transparency, about the whole approach of what he’s trying to do. That is, he’s trying to show through a bunch of scientific arguments which, you know, you don’t know a lot about, and I don’t know a lot about, he’s trying to show that by these means, we can show that God exists, or is very likely to exist. Now do you really feel convinced by what he’s done? You have to really consult the scientists, and there’s no way that you can simply rely on his authority here tonight.
Furthermore, it just seems to me that this whole way of going about trying to prove God’s existence really misses the boat. Because even if some of these arguments are true, we don’t have God of the Old Testament and the New Testament; we don’t have God, that gave us Jesus Christ. We have some big, grand, cosmic thingamabob out there, who may not be around to care about us. Or maybe it even, in creating the Big Bang, just made the supreme sacrifice. Maybe it was a personal being that said, “Well, it’s either me, or a big universe. I guess I’ll destroy myself and make the universe.” You know? These sorts of suppositions are of course very speculative. But there’s nothing to rule out those sorts of possibilities given the sorts of science he’s shown us. I think that what’s at issue here, is trying to show the existence of the God of the Christian religion, and he hasn’t addressed that at all. He hasn’t addressed that because there is simply an avoidance on his part, as far as I can see, of the real problems from the argument from evil that I was showing. That is, how can God explain why he allows certain kinds of evil to exist?
And this is not all. The Christian has other sorts of evil to explain that others don’t. This is from the New Testament. There’s a certain kind of evil, or at least harm or suffering — maybe– let’s actually not open the question as to whether this is evil, yet. Let’s say there’s certain kinds of harm and suffering that are over and beyond the natural evils or the human-caused evils that I’ve discussed before; that is the suffering that God imposes on those who sin. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:21, “You have learned that our forefathers were told, ‘Do not commit murder. Anyone who commits murder must be brought to judgement.’ But what I tell you is this: anyone who nurses anger against his brother must be brought to judgement. If he abuses his brother he must answer for it in a court. If he sneers at him, he will have to answer for it in the fires of hell.” So the sinner here is faced with the fires of hell; and the fires of hell from Mark include, at the bottom there, the place where “the devouring worm never dies, and the fire is not quenched.” This is eternal suffering. For what? For sneering at your brother. What’s sneering? Sneering is like, “Huh!” It’s a kind of animal reaction, and when an animal is threatened, you know, it sort of makes a gesture with its mouth, or a grimace or something. I can even imagine a person saying, “Geez, you know, I was really mad at my brother, and I kind of sneered at him, and I’m really sorry about it, and we talked about it later, and I hope it’s OK with him that I’m really sorry. But if this is to be taken literally, that’s not enough; that’s no good. He sneered at him — eternal punishment. That is pretty powerful stuff. If that is God, and if God is willing to punish to that extent, that seems so out of proportion to any sort of justice; it seems so out of proportion, it seems downright sadistic. It seems to me that if that’s God, then the person in charge is not God as we thought of it; that’s the devil! You know? Now, is that really God’s attitude? I can’t believe it. Jesus did not say this, or he certainly did not mean it. He couldn’t have. If he did mean this, and take this literally, then why should we worship a being like this? I’m convinced that Jesus was a good, wise, charismatic, powerful human being. Of course, as an atheist, I don’t believe he had any divine powers. Possibly he could have made a mistake here; I can allow that. But we also have lots of biblical evidence that the– there’s a good bit of editing of parts of the Bible. And I can easily believe that something got transposed, something got quoted out of context, because this could not be the Jesus of the historical tradition. So I guess one of my questions to Mr. Horner is, do you take this to be true? If so, how do you explain this kind of evil? How could it possibly be justified?
Mr. Horner’s Second Rebuttal
I began by arguing that there are good reasons to think theism is true — where are we at? — in terms of God being the best explanation for objective moral principles. It looks like Professor Triplett has conceded the point. He’s not even attempted to give us a foundation for morality at this point. And if he is suggesting that he does believe there’s objective morality, and hasn’t even given us an attempt to give us a foundation, I think we can be rightly skeptical. The point that if God does not exist, there is no basis for objective moral– those type– I mean, he’d have– all you’d have would be some sort of social conventions or personal preferences, and you could get us a– you could organize a society on that; I fully admit that. But you’re not going to get the type of principles that deep down we all believe, things that are really true, and really wrong, especially when we make those judgements about other people, like I described before, where Nazis abuse Jewish people, and torture little girls, and that sort of thing. We need to have an objective basis; and God does provide a basis for that.
Secondly, God is the beginning of the universe. He’s asking if you feel convinced; this is not an issue of feelings here tonight, OK? I mean, I could say the same thing: do you feel convinced? I’m asking you to think for yourself. And I think regardless of how many scientists we line up on either side of the question, the evidence to me is quite powerful. That if the universe is expanding, then you run the film backwards in your mind, and you come back to a beginning point of the universe. OK? Secondly, if the Second Law of Thermodynamics is true, our universe should have already reached a state of equilibrium, if it did not have a beginning. Because an infinite amount of time has taken place, it should be a cold, dark, dead universe. If that hasn’t happened yet, and it obviously hasn’t, then the past must be finite. So I don’t care how many scientists we line up here, you’re all smart enough to figure that out for yourselves. There must be a beginning for the universe, just based on those two simple principles. And therefore everything that begins to exist must have a cause. Whatever arguments there are to get rid of that point, it seems to me to be slightly intellectually dishonest to start discarding the causal principle right at the point where it seems to be pointing toward God’s existence; and whereas we live according to that principle every day of our lives.
The third argument, God is the best explanation for a universe that supports life; he said that what I described is not the Strong Anthropic Principle; it is the Strong Anthropic Principle that somehow our minds are involved in interacting with reality, and you can train the past, that is the Strong Anthropic Principle, and Professor Triplett is mistaken on that point. And it’s just that– it’s a weird thing that it’s not the principle that I’m giving. The principle that I’m talking about is that it’s astonishing that this is the kind of universe that supports life, and the probability of that is just wild; it’s much more reasonable to think that there’s intelligent design behind the universe. And he really hasn’t refuted that particular point.
He says we haven’t shown that this is the God of the Bible, the God of the Old Testament and New Testament. No, it’s not what we are able to do in a limited amount of time. The arguments that I’ve given, though, do tell us some things. Whatever the cause of the Big Bang was must be timeless, immaterial, changless, eternal, in the sense of permanently there, powerful enough to create the universe. If it produced the conditions of the universe to be just the right kind– right kinds for this to be the type of universe we have, that can support life, then this must be an intelligent designer to the universe; intelligent– God, excuse me. Intelligence is the sort of thing that is– that comes with personhood, with free choice, the ability to will, rather than a force; a force cannot have intelligence, like electricity can’t be intelligent. So what we’ve got here is that an intelligent, personal, at least very powerful, timeless, changeless, immaterial, an eternal, permanent being. Now that’s very consistent with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic concept of God, and I would say that that’s a very good argument that that type of God very likely exists.
He says I’m avoiding the problems of evil, because I’m not answering the question, “How can God explain evil?” Professor Triplett misunderstands what Dr. Plantigent has done. There’s a difference between the free will defense– and in his paper he makes this mistake: he confuses the free will defense with the free will theodicy, or free will justification. Now that’s what theists were trying to do for 2000 years, prior to Plantigent, is give an actual explanation for why God allows evil. Plantigent did not do that; he just gave a defense against the conclusion that God does not exist. And I’ve done that tonight using Plantigent’s formula. I’ve shown there’s no explicit contradiction, and because his premises 2, 3, and 4 are not necessarily true, then there is no implicit contradiction. Furthermore, as long as it is just possible that God has a good reason for allowing evil, whether or not we know what it is or not, it’s– therefore it’s consistent; God’s existence and evil’s existence are consistent. Any logician will tell you that is the case. The fact that I don’t know all God’s reasons for allowing particular evils, or you don’t, or Dr. Triplett doesn’t, is not relevant here. We confuse we know of no good reason, with God knows of no good reason. For his case to be– to go through, he has to prove that God cannot possibly have a more than sufficient reason for allowing the evil. And there is no way that I can see that you can do that. Many people say, “I don’t have an explanation for it.” That’s very different from saying it’s impossible that God could have a good reason for allowing it.
Regarding the issue of hell, you have to understand the scriptures in the overall context. The idea of hell is not God sending someone to eternal punishment for doing some little thing wrong. When God created us, he created us to have an intimate, loving relationship with him. And we have a choice about whether we want to come into that relationship with him, or just say, “No thanks, I want to be autonomous and independent.” Now if we choose, not God, to be apart from God, we will then be apart from goodness. Goodness is part of God’s very nature, and to be in the absence of goodness is to be in evil; that’s what evil is all about. And the descriptions of hell in the Bible are not pleasant to show that it’s not pleasant to be in the absence of God. God sends no one to hell; we choose whether we want to be with God in a relationship , or say, “No thanks, I want nothing to do with you, God.” And I encourage you, God loves us so much, He wants each of us to have that personal relationship with him. All we have to do is say yes.
Dr. Triplett’s Closing Remarks
Mr. Horner still persists with the scientific claims, and suddenly all these new properties of this cosmic entity, or thingamabob, have appeared. He suddenly asserted that this entity must be eternal, and permanent, and timeless, and changeless. Now I guess I must have missed some premises there, because I didn’t see exactly what that argument was. It seems to me like he’s just importing a bunch of ideas. And again, in fairness, you know, I think we both feel really under the gun here, and maybe he would have more to say about those ideas, but certainly from nothing that he presented here do I have any sense of why we would have to attribute these properties to this being.
And I still don’t see in anything he said the God of love, a God that does have, indeed, a personal relationship with us.
Also he said about my problem of evil, that I’ve been emphasizing in my own positive comments here, that I can’t prove that there’s no explanation why God would allow such evil. Remember, I didn’t say that I was going to prove that God did not exist; I’m just saying really, as unfortunate as it may be, it looks bad for God. I can’t understand, in my admittedly limited finite mind, I can’t understand how a good being could allow the sorts of evil that manifestly do exist in this world. He says, well, I can’t prove it. I grant that. But that is not saying very much at all. Again, I’d like to emphasize that even positing an afterlife does not explain what sort of evil seems to be visited upon many, many human beings very, very unfairly. Consider the following: I’ve witnessed dialog in which I really try my best to imagine a child who has died of leukemia, let’s say, trying to find out from God why she did this to her. Right? And I’m trying to employ our human reason in all it’s limitation, but I would want to leave you with the thought: isn’t this at least troubling, deeply troubling, for the notion, the traditional Christian notion of God? Imagine that this child requests an audience with God. And she says, “Oh Lord, why did I have to suffer and die?” And God says, “I’m sorry, but I must sometimes allow evils, in order to permit greater goods.” That’s the necessary evil defense, that there’s some explanation out there as to why this is better.
And now I’m going to give a specific explanation as to– and I ask you, if you don’t like this particular explanation that God gives, fill one in yourself. See if it’s satisfying to you. The child says, “But in my death what greater good was accomplished? I lay in my bed in deep pain for six months. My parents were there when they could be, but they could not alleviate my pain. I was alone with my thoughts, and with my pain, which I could never escape, and then I died. What greater good required this? I was a good person, and surely I did not deserve such punishment.” And God says, “It was not for your sake that the suffering was required, but your brother was becoming too arrogant and insensitive to others, as you yourself noticed on many occasions. He needed to be reminded of what is important in life, and how limited and fragile that is. By your death he was confronted with these realities and is now mending his ways.” Now is that a good explanation? The child says, “And for that, I had not only to die, but suffer what seemed an endless torment? If my brother was not good, since you gave him free will, he could perhaps have mended his ways on his own. If not, then why did you care so much more for him than for me? He is now alive and with his friends.” God: “But you are here in heaven with me. Think of the joys you will have in this eternal life.” Child: “But my brother, perhaps, and certainly many, many others will eventually appreciate these same eternal joys without having had to experience the long pain and suffering that you allowed me to experience. And they will, most of them, have had the opportunity to live long and full lives on earth, testing themselves and growing and learning and enjoying the many wonderful things that you bestowed for living an earthly life. These opportunities were denied to me. And I must honestly say to you, however good you are said to be, that I will never be able to remove from my mind how you let me be alone and confused and in pain for so long before cutting off my life and my chance to see how I turn out, and severing me from my friends and family, like a dying dog that you were pleased to put out of its misery. If that is not cruelty on your part, oh Lord, please explain this to me.”
I have not proved anything here tonight; I have just tried to show that some very powerful explanation is needed to get God off the hook.
I’ll just leave you with the thought that if God was not– does not already exist, she would have had to have been invented, and I do believe that that is in fact what happened. Thanks very much for your kind attention.
Mr. Horner’s Closing Remarks
His case tonight has amounted to one argument, that– and now to amend it slightly from what was in the paper, that somehow probably God does not exist. What he’s shown through the final illustration that he just gave is only that he doesn’t know what God’s reasons could possibly be, and that we probably don’t know either. And I’m admitting that. I deny that myself, or any other person, has to give the explanation. That’s what he does not understand, and what Plantigent has shown. That is the free will theodicy, that you have to explain why God allows evil. I do not have to do that; I only have to defend against his conclusion that God does not exist, either deductively or probablistically. I’ve done so deductively; what about his probablistic argument? Why should we be expected to know why God allows suffering and evil? That is assumption on his part. He’s assumed that we should be able to figure it out. But why should that assumption be true? As I said before, we confuse we know of no good reason with God knows of no good reason.
Consider the story about a little child who needs a painful operation to– a painful surgery saving her life. And the parents bring the child to the hospital, and the doctors perform painful surgery on the child, and the child is lying there wondering, “Why do not my parents stop this evil? Why are they allowing this suffering to take place?” But you see, the child’s understanding is far too limited to be able to pass judgement on the parents at present; she doesn’t understand why her parents are allowing that. And likewise, as a child’s understanding compared to the parents’ is limited, our understanding compared to an omniscient God is even more limited. We do not have access to the same information that God has, access to past, present, and future; to all cause and effect relationships. And we are in no position to make a judgement about the probabilities of whether God has a good reason or not.
See, in Dr. Triplett’s arguments, we’re talking about the probability of whether God has reasons. But we have no access to that information! We have no access to the information of whether God has reasons or not. So how can his argument really have any strength? On my side of the coin, with the arguments– the theistic arguments, we do have access to the data. And the data tells us certain things: it’s likely the universe had a beginning, and so on. And we do have access to that data, and it does give us a strong probablistic case for God’s existence. You’ve got to weigh the two probabilities. For him to be successful, his single argument has somehow got to outweigh the arguments that I’ve given. But he doesn’t even get off the ground, because we are in no position to judge these probabilities. Also, relative– you have to judge this issue relative to the full scope of evidence. Relative to just evil, someone might argue that God’s existence might be improbable, relative to evil only. But relative to the full scope of evidence, it may very well be very likely that God’s existence is quite probable.
Furthermore, God has given us an answer to evil. And I believe, God has actually visited this planet. And he didn’t give us an intellectual answer. When a child is hurt, he doesn’t need an intellectual explanation; he needs reassurance. And that’s what God gave us. When God came to this planet, and I believe it was in the person of Jesus Christ, that was God Himself in the flesh, what did He do when He was here? He suffered. He suffered! And I think that was His way of telling us, “I know you can’t understand all that I’m allowing, and why I allow it; you are not in a position to understand that yet. But to show you that you can trust me, and that I know what I’m doing, and I have a good reason for allowing all of this, I’m suffering with you. Moreover, His suffering has provided us with forgiveness for the evil that each of us has perpetrated. He also promises joy in the midst of suffering and evil, and there’s a promise to take away the suffering in this life, and he promises us inner resources to cope with difficulties like that, if we invite Him into our lives in a personal way and trust Him. And he does eventually promise that the ultimate evil, death itself, will be overcome, and we will have a time with Him in paradise forever. So He has done something about evil.
So there are no good reasons to think that atheism is true. First, there are good reasons to think theism is true. God is the best explanation for objective moral principles. Professor Triplett has not given us a foundation for morality, and it is telling that he has not even attempted to. If God does not exist, there is no objective basis for morality. We all believe that there are some objective moral principles, therefore we must believe that God exists as well.
The beginning of the universe, he’s right, I did skip a few premises there; let me just quickly recover. If the Big Bang theory is true, space, time, matter, and energy came into existence simultaneously with the Big Bang, therefore whatever existed beyond the Big Bang must be timeless, immaterial, changeless, powerful enough to create– to cause the Big Bang. Because of the second argument, about the initial conditions of the universe, this cause must also be intelligent, a designer being, and personal, because intelligence is part of personhood. So that’s where those attributes came from. That is very consistent with the Judeo-Christian, Christian God. I’m not able to give arguments for a God of love tonight– [The tape cuts off here.]
Questions and Answers
For Dr. Triplett
Well, the comment, really, that I’d like to respond to– The free will response to your premise #4 in the problem of evil argument needs to include also the assertion that one’s choices and actions — the actions of people — have consequent external affects. The teaching of the Bible, if that’s what’s to some degree under debate here, would be clearly that death, as generally experienced in all creation is consequent to man’s — humankind’s — separation, the rupture of their relationship to God. And so to sort of try to shift the natural disasters back onto God is not really consistent with the arguments being made, sir.
Further, if I could just query, too, how– any explanation for why there has been a growing interest in Christianity in intellectual and university circles, and the People’s Republic of China subsequent to Tiennamen Square, as they have struggled to find a world view which will both account for the kind of evil that they have experienced, and at the same time offer hope in that situation.
There were two questions there, and I didn’t understand the first. The second one, about the explanation for the interest in Christianity, I think is implicit in what I said earlier, that is, it’s a very powerful, very compelling idea. And it’s very understandable that many, many people, when they become acquainted with this idea, will believe in it. That, it seems to me, can be explained entirely psychologically.
Mr. Horner’s Answer
I have had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time recently with a number of graduate students who are from mainland China. And it is remarkable the interest that these people have in just seeking out the answers and the truth, whether there is a God or not, and what this God could be like. I also had three summers — portions of summers — in the former Soviet Union, and when the lid was taken off there, just the — people who had been held back for 70 years, not even being able to discuss it above ground, had to go underground, their curiosity was just massive. And there are millions of people in places like that, former communist countries, that are coming into personal relationships with God now. And I don’t think it can all be explained by just psychology. It may be the fact that we have a need for God, but that doesn’t imply that God doesn’t exist; as a matter of fact, I have a need for water; that doesn’t imply that water doesn’t exist. In fact it would be very odd if I had a thirst for water, and yet water did not exist.
For Mr. Horner
Professor Horner, you kept saying that Timm Triplett had not given an account of the objectivity of moral principles, and that that was in stark contrast to yourself, but if I was listening, it sounded like your account went like this: God’s good, period. That’s the account. God’s just good. I missed it; I don’t get the account. It’s not arbitrary; it’s not a matter of his will; it’s not a matter of what he approves of or disapproves of; he’s just good. In what sense, unless good, in an objective sense, according to some objective standard? Otherwise, it looks like it’s just caprice. I missed it; I saw no account whatsoever.
Mr. Horner’s Answer
I see your point. I see your point. [A new?] distinction between the ontological issue here and the epistomological issue. Epistomologically, I believe that I can make the judgement, we can all make the judgement, that certain things are good because I believe that this God has actually written the basic moral principles on our psyche, on our heart. And so that’s why I can make, you know, judgements that things are good. But the ontological issue is what we’re dealing with. That– I’m saying the hypothesis that God exists, and goodness is part of His very nature, that hypothesis would be a sufficient foundation for morality. Now, to prove that God is good would take further argument; I fully admit that. But the hypothesis that God is goodness itself, and His will, His commands, are Him just acting consistently with His nature, which is all He can do, that does provide an adequate foundation for absolute morality, for objective morality, it would seem to me.
[indistinct comment from the audience]
No, it’s an hypothesis, OK? It’s an hypothesis that would provide an objective basis. It’s not a proof that God is good, but if God is good, that would be adequate foundation for morality. One must then go on further to prove that God is good; I fully admit that.
Dr. Triplett’s Answer
My response is in yet another question to Mr. Horner, but I guess it– you know, we can’t proceed in that kind of way, but I’d just like to ask this: I don’t understand how the idea that goodness is part of God’s nature is the same as the thesis that you were earlier arguing, that God is the foundation of morality. Goodness could still be, and I believe is, independent of God’s having created it. And God could have made it a part of his nature, or her nature, in terms of embedding it into her very being, but if goodness is only part of God’s nature, there might still be the possibility that goodness has some kind of independent existence.
For Dr. Triplett
OK, I’m just going to ask a series of short questions, then, one question after another– [Moderator: You’re limited to one question.] All right, it’ll– Darn!
First of all, have you ever hiked with someone in the mountains?
Have you ever stopped your car at the side of the road, or just stopped whatever you’re doing to witness a rainbow?
Have you ever held a newborn child or a very young infant in your arms?
OK, have you ever seen a sunset?
Sunrise, sunset, whatever.
Yeah, I’m more the sunset type than the sunrise type.
Now, I know all these things that I’ve mentioned have complete scientific explanations as to how they occur, and I know that you can tell me how they occur, but if you can tell me why they are so beautiful and so wonderful, and who decided that they should be, why should they be that way, then I’ll be satisfied.
Dr. Triplett’s Answer
To try to give an explanation of beauty in two minutes would be beyond my meager powers. I take it the implication of the question is– [Questioner: That’s my point.] Well, OK, right. And I take it that your implication is if it cannot be explained in two minutes, then God must be the cause or the explanation of it. I’d like you to fill that argument out a little bit, and see how you would have some premises and conclusions there. You would need to do a lot of work before your points about beauty point to God.
Mr. Horner’s Answer
I think there is something good about that argument, because– or that point, because I think one of the most difficult moments for the consistent atheist is when he or she feels truly thankful, then realizes there’s no one to thank. I mean, that’s a problem. [A common?] problem for atheism, there’s no one to thank. Also, the intelligibility of the universe, the fact that this is an intelligible universe, the fact that it is a universe that that seems to somehow coincide with ideas of beauty that we have, again, that’s a quite remarkable coincidence. And that could be turned into an argument for an intelligent designer of the universe as well.
For Mr. Horner
Following what seems to be a popular trend, I’m going to ask a few small questions leading up to a big question.
I like your teacher.
You said that, well, you quote David Hooker, who’s one of my favorite mathematicians, actually, that the infinite is nowhere to be found in reality; you’re in accord with that. And you use that argument to say that there cannot have been an infinite succession of past events. And you further go to the Big Bang hypothesis to support this. At which at the beginning there was a point of very large density, actually infinitely you said.
Could you expand on how there could be infinite density at the beginning of the event. Saying that the infinite is found nowhere in reality, it seems to me like the beginning of reality is pretty much in reality.
Mr. Horner’s Answer
OK, sure, I see your point. The question is clear; he’s thinking that I made a contradiction between saying there could not be an infinite number of past events, and yet I say that there was such a thing as infinite– the universe had infinite density. When I say that there could not be an infinite number of past events, I’m saying there’s no such thing as an actual infinite number of things in the real world; that is, a collection or set that contains — just let me finish, OK? — an actual infinite number of things. Now that’s different than a potential infinite, OK? That means you’ve got a collection where the number of members of that collection are complete, not adding any more members. It’s not like infinity in calculus. And yet the number of members in that set is complete. I think that type of infinity is impossible in the real world. However, in talking about the origin of the universe, the standard Big Bang model, just means that our universe was just tightly packed right down to a point that mathematics tells us has infinite density. Because if you had a ball or a pellet that’s hanging in space, that wouldn’t be infinitely dense. It could still be just a little more tightly packed together. And so for that reason, infinite density in that time is synonomous with nothing. Now that is not the same thing as to say that it’s an infinite number of things. See? That’s the difference; this is not an infinite number of things when it comes to the Big Bang. My argument was against an infinite number of things.
I just want to make sure, your clarification is between infinite cardinals, like the elements of a set, and actual infinite quantities. Is that the distinction you’re trying to make? It’s that the infinity at the beginning of the universe is somehow exempt from your no infinity clause, because it’s not an infinite cardinal.
Mr. Horner’s Answer
No, that’s not the point. You’re getting into the point about cardinals and ordinals, which is a key distinction here, but that isn’t the point right now. The point is that the universe had shrunk down to nothing at all. That’s the Big Bang model. There wasn’t an infinite number of things there; it just was shrunk down continually until it reached a limit called zero. It’s a potential limit, OK?
Dr. Triplett’s Answer
There is still the question of what preceded that Big Bang. And that, it seems to me is still a question that can be asked, and I– you know, there are lots of problems with even contemplating this. But one of the things that Mr. Horner just now said– see, I– maybe I didn’t understand it, but he can’t mean it, because it sounds like the implication would be that God does not exist. That is, he said that there couldn’t be an actual infinite, or an actual infinite number of past events. But surely God has existed from all eternity, if he is the infinite being that you expect him to be.
Horner: He existed timelessly. See, there’s no time beyond the Big Bang.
Triplett: Well, I suppose we could spend a couple weeks on that issue.
For Dr. Triplett
What do you believe is the foundation of morality? I wonder if you’re avoiding this, or just don’t have enough time, or what?
Dr. Triplett’s Answer
One can have a belief in a certain sort of morality without being able to– you know, one can have certain arguments as to why that must exist without being able to explain everything about it. You know, just as scientists can say, “Well, it looks like there might be black holes. But you know, we can’t really explain everything that there could be explained about them.” The foundation for morality is of that nature; by virtue of arguments like the sort of thing that Mr. Horner and I would agree to, that ethical relativism is false, that it’s wrong; and by virtue of arguments that I find quite convincing in The Euthryphro, such that God– it’s not enough of an explanation to say that God creates morality, since that is not– as one of the questioners was saying, that’s really a non-starter; that doesn’t explain why morality should be. It leaves us with this issue (which is all I can do in two minutes, right?), that there is an objective foundation for morality, and God is not the source of it, could not be the source of it, that does still leave us, I grant, with the question of explaining that. The problem is that God cannot explain it. Even if you posit God, you still need to explain the foundation for morality.
Mr. Horner’s Answer
I think it is very important to realize that both of us do agree that relativism is false, because– and you’ll find that within philosophy that is more and more the case; it’s the sociologists and the anthropologists who tend to think ethical relativism is true, and it’s time the rest of society got caught up. And if there is ethical absolutes– are ethical absolutes, objective morality, then what could be the foundation for it? I appreciate Dr. Triplett’s honesty, to admit that he see’s a strong case for its existence, that there are some, but can’t quite give a foundation. I would say, however, that the God hypothesis is an adequate explanation; that if a God does exist, and goodness is– when I say part of His nature, I don’t mean part of, in the sense– I mean that it’s one of His attributes; put it that way, that He is all-good. Then His will, His commands, His laws, are just a consistent flow of that nature. Then that does seem to me to provide an adequate basis for morality, that He has written those basic principles on our psyche, on our hearts in some way, and has given us further details in some other revelation, then that does provide an objective foundation for why the moral principles we think are really true, really are so, and obligatory on all people. OK?
For Mr. Horner
Well, this is more directed at both of you. I am an ethical relativist, and I do think it’s inconsistent with your atheism to be a moral realist, Timm, but I think that humans tend to relate to things that we’re taught– we relate to things– we feel outraged when things we relate to and feel close to are injured or hurt. When we see a mammal, a dog, get kicked and abused, we feel moral outrage. If we see the Jews being tortured and gassed, murdered during World War II, we feel outraged. We don’t have to know that dog; we don’t have to know the Jewish people that are being killed; we have a connection. The only time– (I’m really nervous)– the only time that I’ve seen that humans really feel good about killing is when we’re taught that the thing we’re killing is really separate and different from us. That’s why like in the military, they’ll create names for the people they’re going in to kill; like in Vietnam we called them gooks. We felt kind of a moral elation at going in and killing these people, because we thought we were actually doing something good. The exact same act can have a different moral attitude, a different emotion about it, based on how close we feel to the thing we’re acting upon. Things I love and things I feel related to and care about, I will treat nicely, and feel outrage if they’re hurt. Things that I feel different from, and are a lot separate from me, that I can’t relate to, or even worse than– I feel that they’re worse than me, based purely on subjective emotion. I can feel moral– rejoice when these things are killed; like in the Bible, when God orders them to go destroy those different villages because they were evil, this is moral rejoicing in that, even in the Bible. So I reject both your relativisms. That would get rid of your argument for God based on objective morals, and the scientific arguments, the other two: that’s still up in the air. So I’m not convinced.
Mr. Horner’s Answer
Well, of course just rejecting my argument– just rejecting objective moral principles doesn’t refute the argument; rejection and refutation are two different things. But, I think to make something of what you’re saying, I mean, certainly when we feel close to somebody we feel more outrage, and when we’re not I suppose we feel less. But I don’t see how that in any way proves moral relativism is true. And we still have to deal with the fact that not only do we think certain actions are wrong, we think everyone else should agree that those are wrong. Now that’s really good, but that’s not a decisive philosophical proof for objective morality; it’s an appeal to your gut feelings, to be honest with you. There are further arguments, and maybe Professor Triplett may want to take this chance to prove moral relativism is false here, but I think what you said doesn’t really show moral relativism is true; it’s just something about the degree of our feelings in morality in different situations, that’s all.
Dr. Triplett’s Answer
I’d just like to maybe make a point of clarification here: We’ve been throwing around these terms of relativism and objectivism and so on without really defining them. And let me just say this in terms of helping to understand what this debate is about: Here’s how I understand ethical relativism, and I don’t know whether Eric, who just asked that question, accepts this definition. There might be some sense in which he would not be a relativist in my sense. But I take ethical relativism to be the view that for any action that any person performs, even– if somebody believes that that action is moral, even if it’s some kind of atrocity, like torture, if somebody truly believes and sincerely believes that that action is moral, then it is moral, relative to them, and that’s all that can be said. There is no objective, overarching perspective from which you can say, “But that is a false moral judgement.” In other words, moral relativism equates all moral judgements, and all evaluations of moral goodness and moral badness are on a par. Hitler is bad to me, but good to Goebels, and who can make a judgement? There’s no ultimate truth of the matter as to whether Hitler was really good or really bad. That’s ethical relativism as I understand it.