Friday, March 16, 2007

Dialogue With an Atheist Philosophy Professor on the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's Existence and its Possible Alternatives (Part Two)

Part Two
Go to: Part One

Dave Armstrong vs. Dr. Ted Drange

V. Reiteration of the Opposing Claims and Arguments

. . . after much effort, I cannot think a single reason why the God hypothesis is better.

Fine, but I have given you mine. The normal course of a dialogue would be
for you to critique those or defend your alternatives. But we seem to be
spinning our wheels now.

I do not have an "alternative" to KA. What I have are alternatives to
the explanation which is claimed within KA to be the very best
explanation there is for the existence of the universe. I want to know
why that explanation is better than each of my alternatives. I have
tried to think of a reason in each case, but have not managed to come
up with anything.

Case in point . . . old ground . . .

What do you mean by "my present view"? Do you mean the God hypothesis
or do you mean your view that KA presents good objective evidence for
the existence of God?

Philosophically: the cosmological and teleological arguments,
scientifically: Big Bang cosmology; theologically: classical (Catholic)
biblical theism.

I am not asking you to ditch the former, only the
latter. And the reason you should ditch the latter is that KA contains
a premise which is exceedingly doubtful, if not outright false. That
is its premise that the God hypothesis explains the existence of the
universe better than all rival explanations. If that premise can't be
adequately defended, then KA is a failure.

I think it has been, and I don't think you have demonstrated otherwise.
Please do so if you think you can; otherwise, where else can we go with

I am quite willing to defend against all attacks my claim that (at
least some of) my alternate explanations are at least as good as the
God hypothesis.

Feel free.

Do you have any attack against it?

I have already given my reasons. I find needless repetition quite
wearisome, especially since I don't have an infinite amount of time.

Any support whatever requires showing it to be the best explanation for
something, and that is a task you have yet to perform.

According to you . . . but you're entitled to your opinion. I am waiting
for you to defend yours by offering me something besides bald statements
of your opinions, which are of little interest to me (if that is all you
can offer). They are just the beginning of discussion . . .

The burden of proof is on you (the advocate of KA), not on me.

I gave my reasoning. I'm not a professional philosopher, and have done my
best, given the time I have. Now it's your turn. And this is the
frustration I have often had in these sorts of discussions in the past. It
seems that the opponent never gets to their apologia; they just want to
run down my view and offer nothing more plausible or rational.

As for the cosmological argument, that is what KA itself is a version
of. Neither KA nor the cosmological argument is an explanation for

It is an attempted explanation for the existence of the universe and its
First Cause.

You mention cumulative evidences, but I deny that the God hypothesis
has any good objective evidence for it whatever.

Of course you would. I wouldn't expect anything less from you! I feel much
the same about atheism. But I want to understand your reasoning as to why
you believe these things, if not in this discussion, then in future ones.

I know of no phenomenon for which it is the best explanation available.


No, the burden of proof is not on me to show why your explanation is
not the best. You are the one who claims to have a proof of God's
existence (namely, KA.)

But by "proof" I would not (in agreement with Hume and Kant) say it is
airtight and unquestionable. My theism is based upon an accumulation of
many different evidences all pointing in that direction. Taken together, I
think they show that theism is compelling, or at least far more so than
atheism. If one wants to remain a skeptic, fine, but in my opinion we all should
adopt some position, and that boils down to the best one out of the

I have presented alternate explanations and challenged you to show, for
each of them, why it is inferior to the God hypothesis. I do not see
that you have succeeded in doing that for any of them.

I wouldn't have expected you to. This is no surprise. But I gave answers,
and I will again, briefly, because the ones I gave don't seem to have
registered, for some odd reason. I hope you will read my
writing more carefully and closely in the future.

But we need to take up each individually, and try to avoid getting

AMEN!!!!!!!! HALLELUJAH!!!! Sorry, got carried away in my enthusiasm there
. . .

I have presented five alternate explanations. They are as follows:

Alright. I will reply briefly to each, as requested, and out of courtesy.
But this is the last time. And if it is again maintained after this that I
did not respond, the thread will be over. I don't appreciate having to
repeat myself when my time is so valuable to me (as I'm sure all of ours

(a) The universe was created out of nothing by a personal immaterial
being who subsequently ceased to exist.

I stated that this is implausible to me because it makes little sense for
such a Being to possess all the power to create the present universe, but
to not possess eternality (perhaps that intersects with the ontological
argument; I'm not sure). Chances are this Being was eternally existent
"prior" to the Big Bang (after all, atheists wish to hypothesize that
matter was eternal in some fashion, so why not God?); therefore, it seems
sensible that this Being would also continue to exist eternally subsequent
to it.

(b) The universe was created out of nothing by a group of several
personal immaterial beings.

I appealed to Occam's Razor here because positing several would simply add
quantity but no further explanatory value, since the multiple beings would
have accomplished the same thing: the creation of one universe. But then
there are three Persons in the Trinity . . . :-)

(c) The universe had an impersonal material cause. It may have emerged
out of a hyper-universe the basic stuff of which (matter, energy,
space, & time) is infinitely old.

I argued that the present data of physics makes this impossible, i.e.,
according to the present laws of nature. I rather respect science, so I
take its word on this and don't speculate further as to "pre-conditions" as
you do. It makes far more sense to me to go back to an eternal spirit at
that point. You think atoms and quarks and so forth can "create" all that
we see, with inherent remarkable properties which were always that way,
eternally. I think (like Einstein, Hume, and many others I have cited) that
the universe is so marvelous and ultimately unexplainable as to require an
Intelligent Designer or Architect.

(d) The universe had an impersonal immaterial cause of some sort.

That would be Hume's Designer, or Einstein's. This is a darn sight better
than pure atheism or materialism, where one is forced to posit universes
prior to the present one, with no empirical data, in order to salvage a
view increasingly at odds with what we do know of the universe and its
laws. Is this "No God of the Gaps"? I also argued (see, I did answer
previously!) that to me it is implausible that a universe which possesses
persons would originate from a Designer which itself was sub-personal or
impersonal. That would be the stream rising above the source, which makes
no sense to me in the grand teleological scheme of the universe and its
biological inhabitants.

(e) The universe originated a finite time ago, uncaused.

I find that to be sheer nonsense. But perhaps that is due to my ignorance
of the argument. Please enlighten me. It seems to me that this makes
mincemeat of science, where one of the fundamental principles is physical

For each of these, I have thought hard about why the God hypothesis
might be superior, but have been unable to come up with anything. Thus
it is that I am asking you to supply the reason in each case.

There you go. Now I hope you will counter-respond, as I have been asking,
either in this discussion or a future one (if we must be tied to rigid
methodological restrictions).

Do you accept the following version of KA?

(1) The existence of the universe is best explained by the God
hypothesis (i.e., the hypothesis that it was created out of nothing by a personal
immaterial being who presently exists). [In other words, the God
hypothesis is a better explanation for the universe than a-e, above,
and all other alternatives.]


(2) Therefore, there exists good objective evidence that such a being

Yes, but not absolute proof. And teleological evidence is a closely-related
additional "proof" as well.

I myself regard this argument to be valid but not sound. I think that
its premise is false. And the reason why I think that is that I can't
come up with any support for the notion that the God hypothesis is a
superior explanation to my (a)-(e). What I would like from you is your
reason to regard it as superior in each of the five cases.

I've done that now, for the second time. I eagerly await your response.

I have no idea what you could possibly mean by "Before the Big Bang,
there was no time." It seems to imply that there was a time when there
was no time, which is incoherent.

Time as we now know it did not exist before the Big Bang. This is not
asserting the nonsensical "there was a time when there was no time," but
rather, "time did not always exist, and is itself a creation or finite
entity." It is hard to imagine "space" being something, too, or to
comprehend there being nothing whatever, not even space. But we manage to
dimly comprehend that with the Big Bang scenario. We must do the same with
time. I thought that Einstein laid all this "absolute reliance on time as a
constant" to rest, but apparently not. We Christians have thought like this
at least as far back as Augustine, so it is no radical new concept to us.
We have long distinguished between time and eternity as qualitatively

I do not know what a "spirit" is supposed to be.

What can I say? We have to limit this discussion somehow. We can't delve
into everything you can't conceive in your mind. It seems that your
imagination is very limited (and I don't mean that as an insult at all). I
don't seem to have the difficulty imagining things like you do. Maybe it is
my Celtic mysticism or something. Who knows?

Nor do I understand the idea of a timeless personal being.

God is a Being such that He includes in His attributes Pure Being: the
characteristic of always having existed and never being able to cease to
exist: the Uncaused Cause.

And simultaneous creation strikes me as
an inconsistent notion. I guess you and John do not mean by "create"
the same thing that I mean by it.

In such a Being, to will is to do, because it has all power.

By "beginning," I mean the start of the universe. [We have lost the
context for this, since you snipped your statement on which I was

I think I knew that, but I don't recall the context now, either, so . . .
LOL I'm not gonna endlessly re-post everything for context's sake. This
always becomes a dilemma in meaty dialogues.

When you speak of "the non-theistic position," are you referring to my
alternate explanations (a)-(e)?

Any position which is not theist: basically I mean agnostic or atheist,
which become more or less reduced to materialism or naturalism when
referring to the material universe.

I do not understand what it means to say of any of them that it
"requires faith."

These views require speculation, faith, induction, axiomatic assumptions;
things which are not demonstrable empirically. That is the way I usually
use the word "faith" in that context. I would say that atheist theories of
the origin of the universe are "religious" insofar as they involve the same
sort of "faith" which is required of Christians. There is such a thing as
"religious humanism," and US law has recognized that humanism is a
religion, on the same grounds.

Well, if he is right about our inability to acquire empirical
information about what happened at the beginning, then it follows from
just that alone that there could be no empirical evidence that favors
the God hypothesis over any of my five alternatives.

We can't prove what caused the Big Bang - not in any definitive scientific,
falsifiable fashion. We are contending that theism is not only not contrary
to the present cosmology, but also the most plausible assumption to
explain the universe, of all those views which are speculative and unable
to be proven, including our own.

If you have any reason whatever to claim that the God hypothesis is the
"best of the bunch," then it would have to be a reason that appeals to
something other than empirical data.

The problem here is the perennial one of how to arrive at a proper premise:
what is required to get to that first point of a proposition or worldview.
Atheists may have a premise that there is no spirit, and nothing other than
matter in the universe. That certainly can't be proven, but atheists
strongly believe it nonetheless, perhaps on the basis that they can't (like
you) "imagine" anything other than matter, etc.

Theists start with the premise that both matter and spirit exist (e.g.,
Alvin Plantinga holds that belief in God is "properly basic"). We can play
the game all day of being skeptical and questioning the existence of
anything (I'll play along with you, for fun, for a while, if you like), but
when all's said and done, we have to accept some axiom in order to
construct theories at all. Atheists are not relieved of this huge
difficulty any more than we theists are.

OK, I'll make a deal with you. I won't press (f) as an alternate
explanation if you will refrain from appealing to "the creator's
omnipotence" in all future attempts to show the inferiority of my
explanations (a)-(e).

Sure; I'll consider omnipotence a tenet of faith, rather than philosophy.
It is not technically required of a creator, anyway.

VI. "Sumo Philosophy": Trying to Get the Best Position

We need the modus operandi. How exactly did he do it? Without that,
the explanation is incomplete.

I don't have the slightest idea how He did it; nor does that bother me. We
all have a number of things we don't fully understand the mechanics of, yet
we accept them. Examples aren't even necessary. But atheists have no
problem whatever accepting many sub-hypotheses within the framework of
evolutionary theory, for which scientists don't have the slightest clue.
The evolution of DNA has not been demonstrated in terms of "modus
operandi," nor that of the eye or the brain, or of life itself (yet to be
demonstrated in a laboratory, or even discovered elsewhere in the

But materialist evolutionists don't seem to have any trouble or
intellectual agony accepting those sorts of things, because they accept
evolutionary theory as a whole, and their atheism obviously rules out even
the possibility of any other explanation from the get-go (even "theistic
evolution"). Christians, on the other hand, don't have to cling to
evolution of everything in the universe from material and/or "random"
processes alone at all costs, as atheists must, because to let it go would
be fatal or nearly-so to their view that there is no God. We have much more
intellectual freedom than that. :-)

So if it is permissible for many intelligent people, both atheists and
theists, to accept evolution as the be-all, end-all "explanation" for the
origin of everything in the universe, no matter how paltry or nonexistent
the empirical evidence may be for various particulars of mechanism and
process, then theists may be permitted to believe in an initial cosmic
Creation without knowing all the mechanics of that. You give up your
unsupported "explanations" and we will give up ours. Deal?

I haven't a clue what a "soul" or a "spirit" is supposed to be.

I don't think it is that hard to conceptualize. Maybe if you try a little
harder . . .

If you were to ask me whether I could imagine a trodelipse, I would
say, "Maybe; it depends on what it is supposed to be." (If it's a pink
unicorn, then, yes, I can imagine it; if it's a pink proposition, then,
no, I can't.)

Neither can I, but a spirit I don't have the slightest problem
conceptualizing, because I have not defined it out of existence by my
axiomatic categories beforehand.

I would prefer not to stray from our topic here, which is the issue of
the soundness of KA.

Can I quote you on that? :-)

No, I have no idea what a spirit is supposed to be. (To me, it's like
the term "trodelipse.")

I do not understand what it could be for an immaterial being to perform
actions. To love, one must at least be disposed to perform actions,
so, as I see it, that excludes immaterial beings doing any loving (or
creating. for that matter).

I think you are a prisoner of your categories.

I fail to see the relevance of my views on other topics.

Then you obviously also fail to see how your views on other topics are
inevitably connected to and interrelated to (and an influence upon) your
views on this topic. That is epistemologically dangerous and foolish, I
think. But it is very common, as a function of the silly
hyper-compartmentalization of knowledge which has been occurring arguably
since the break-up of the Scholastic synthesis, or from the Renaissance, or
"Enlightenment," depending on how one approaches history of ideas (one of
my favorite areas of inquiry).

Secondly, as I said before, I argue quite differently, depending on what my
opponent believes, which is only common sense. If someone accepts different
premises and conclusions, then opponents argue in a different manner,
taking those into account. E.g., I wouldn't quote the New Testament in
order to convince a Jew of Christianity. I think it is a matter of
courtesy, openness, and intellectual honesty, with regard to one's
dialectical opponent, to be up-front about one's ultimate philosophical
allegiances, so that a lot of time is not wasted on dead-ends and rabbit
trails. Especially this is the case when one of the participants has fully
revealed his leanings (mine being Catholic and an affinity for the
Teleological and Cosmological arguments and supporting evidences from
astronomy and physics).

I have fully expressed my views on our current topic. If you are
asking me which of my five alternate explanations I think is the best,
I would say that I am undecided on the matter, but (c) and (e) both
appeal to me more than the others. Between (c) and (e), I am
undecided. (c) and (e) both strike me as BETTER than the God
hypothesis, whereas the others may merely be equal to it.

I think those are the weakest of the five, as argued above. Perhaps you
would now like to present your reasons for why these are better than "the
God hypothesis"? I hope so.

My beliefs about what? I have millions of beliefs about millions of things.

1. Are you an atheist or not?

2. You denied being a materialist or positivist, as I recall. What
corresponding category are you, then? If you deny the existence of spirit,
what is that if not materialism? Or are you one who despises all labels
(which tendency and mindset drives me nuts)?

3. Why do you think (c) and (e) are better hypotheses than mine?

Do you think I may answer things a little differently at times, now that I
know you are a philosophy professor? Maybe a wee little bit, huh? LOL I
don't pretend to know more about my car than my mechanic does, or more
about basketball than Pat Riley or Phil Jackson . . . but if one doesn't know
the position their opponent comes from, academically or experientially or
theoretically, then they are clearly at a certain disadvantage, which point
I tried to make earlier. In my own opinion, it is a matter of courtesy,
intellectual honesty, and fairness to one's opponent.

If you thought I would "run" upon finding this out, you were mistaken,
yet I still show proper deference for someone far more educated in a field than
I am. Nevertheless, if something is false it's false, and if a premise is
flimsy, unsubstantiated, and axiomatic, it is that, too. As my best friend
is fond of saying: "you can be the most brilliant, educated person in the
world, but if you don't have a case . . . "

I am not defending atheism in this thread. I am defending a view held
by many theists (as well as atheists). That is the view that the Kalam
Argument (KA) is unsound [or at least not adequately supported].

I don't believe any theistic proof totally succeeds as an airtight,
undeniable proof, as I have stated previously. So if that is what you mean,
we are already in agreement. My long-held view is that belief in God is
warranted due to the convergence of a great number of cumulative
evidences in many areas, all of which, taken together, suggest that the
God-hypothesis (though requiring also faith, of course) is the most
plausible and reasonable interpretation and explanation of the universe and
human life in all its aspects (especially given the striking relative
weakness of all alternatives).

KA is not an explanation at all. It is an argument leading to the
conclusion that God (or some specified sort of creator) exists. (See
the formulation of it below.) KA makes reference to an explanation (the
God hypothesis) within it, but it is not itself an explanation. The "A" in
"KA" stands for "argument," not "theory" or "hypothesis."
It should also be noted that there cannot possibly be an
explanation for a "First Cause" (if there were any such thing), for if
there were an explanation for it, then it wouldn't be "first."

Okay; I can accept this, put in this fashion.

The claim that there is no good objective evidence for the God
hypothesis is not one that is peculiar to atheists. Agnostics also make it, as
well as many (fideistic) theists. Many of my former students (I'm retired
now) said that they believe in God, but such belief must be based solely on

How would such a "faith" (of the fideists) be superior to believing that
the moon is made of green cheese, or in the Easter Bunny? Why should one have
such faith? Reason must be included somewhere, lest these outlooks descend
to the epistemological equivalent of the lunatic who thinks he is Jesus

On the other hand, if one says that no single "proof" for God is conclusive, I readily agree. I go on to immediately contend, however, that the presuppositional
and evidential "proofs" for atheism are equally inconclusive, and that
atheism has a far less number of corroborating evidences. I do think faith
is absolutely necessary, but I deny that it can be divorced from reason
(which is also clearly the biblical view). If it is, it is literally
nonsense. It has to be grounded in both reason and the reality of the
material universe.

Let us take up your alleged "accumulation of many different evidences"
in separate threads. Let us here focus just on KA.

I mentioned those things only because you misunderstood my view as:
"You are the one who claims to have a proof of God's existence (namely,
KA.)." So I clarified. I don't state things for no reason. If you read
closely enough and try to relate to my view (surely as a philosopher you
are able to do that), I don't think my meaning is that hard to comprehend, in

I have demonstrated, for each of your alleged reasons for preferring
the God hypothesis to my given alternative, that it is no good at all.

And I have counter-replied, and maintained that your replies leave much to
be desired, too (I won't go to the lengths of describing them as "no good
at all" - you being the professor and all LOL).

For each of the five alternatives, you need to come up with something

I will await your counter-replies to my counter-replies. I keep sputtering
along, waiting for your knockout punch, rather than grandiose statements of
confidence with little reason or scientific data behind them. Merely
spurting out "quantum theory" or "hyper-universe" does not constitute a
rational argument.

By the way, if you could formulate each of the reasons as an argument
[preferably with labeled steps], leading to the conclusion that the God
hypothesis is a better explanation than the given alternative, then that would be
most helpful. We could then focus on the exact point of dispute between us.

I did my best. I think I have been clear enough. And I will not repeat it
this time. What I have said is what I have said.

I recommend that you simply forsake all use of the phrase "before the
Big Bang," except to say "There was no such situation."

Putting "before" in quotes, as I have done, should be sufficient to convey
the inherent ambiguity and difficulty there.

For my part, your idea of a creator who did not exist temporally prior
to his creation is incoherent.

He doesn't exist temporally after His creation, either. What is
incoherent about it? You believe that everything whatever (even a possible God) must exist in time? You can't conceive of a timeless Being? Or is that yet
another instance of something you consider "mumbo-jumbo" with no meaning?

What you are saying, I gather, is that you see no way to support KA
in isolation.

Not as an airtight, undeniable proof of God's existence (which is what you seem to be demanding), no. I don't think such a thing exists in philosophy proper. "Certainty" in religious matters always involves faith as well (John Henry Newman made a brilliant case for the reasonableness of faith in his An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870). By definition it can't be "proven" by philosophy alone; otherwise, religion would reduce to philosophy. That said, I do think that it is far more plausible than any of the alternates you propose, and quite worthy of belief.

No, "supporting KA in isolation" does not mean "showing KA to be
conclusive." The issue has NEVER been whether or not KA is conclusive. It
has been understood from the outset that it is put forth only as an
inductive or evidential argument. Again, (when you say "it is far more plausible") you seem to be confusing KA, which is an argument rather than an explanation, with the God hypothesis, which is appealed to within KA and which is an explanation
rather than an argument. I have proposed five alternates to the God
hypothesis, as explanations for the universe. [I take the God hypothesis
to be that the universe was created ex nihilo by a single personal
immaterial being who presently exists.] My five alternates are the

[ . . . merely repeats the presentation of a-e]

In order to defend KA against my objection here, you need to show that the
God hypothesis is more plausible than each of my alternate hypotheses. I
say that you have not shown that to be so for ANY of them. So we are
apparently quite far apart on this matter. The question raised above is whether, in your attempt to show the God hypothesis to be more plausible, you need to appeal to other facts than the one to be explained (the existence of the universe). Apparently you do. But in that case you are expanding the God hypothesis itself. It is
not just that God created the universe ex nihilo, but that he did some
other things as well. OK, but if you are permitted to expand the God
hypothesis in that way, then I should be permitted to expand my alternate
hypotheses accordingly. More on that below.

Instead, you need to take a sizable number of theistic arguments and try to support the view that they present a cumulative case for God's existence.

Yes, just as, e.g., an evolutionist accepts that theory based on an abundance of particular scientific verifications of great variety. He doesn't overthrow the theory because there are large and important aspects of it which are either absolutely empirically unproven or of virtually no explanatory value. I would suspect that you do this yourself. But you don't seem to accept the validity of the same epistemological outlook when applied to the issue of theism vs. atheism. Atheists do the same thing as I do, overall, it seems to me. They see any number of things leading to the same conclusion: that there is no God.

That complicates the discussion, but I still maintain that there is no good objective evidence for God whatever, even within a cumulative case.

Well, you would, wouldn't you?

I do not object to expanding the discussion to include facts other than the
one to which KA was originally addressed (namely, the existence of the
universe), just so long as we understand what is going on.

. . . in any case I deny that the God hypothesis is more plausible than alternate naturalistic hypotheses, no matter what the phenomenon (or phenomena) to be explained may be.

Then please explain how one of your scenarios is superior to my proposed one.

I never claimed in this thread that there is some hypothesis that is
supported by empirical evidence or that there is some hypothesis
that people ought to believe. My claim has always been simply that there is no good reason to think that the God hypothesis is a better explanation for anything whatever than the alternate [usually naturalistic] hypothesis (or hypotheses).

I am after explanations of how the universe came to be (and how this intersects - or not - with the God-hypothesis). I think we both agree that the universe exists. It seems to me that the philosopher speculates and builds in some fashion, in addition to simply tearing down every explanation of other philosophers.

None of my scenarios need be superior to the God hypothesis in order for my
claim (above) to be correct. It would suffice that the competing
explanations be equally plausible (or implausible).

I am not "playing the game of being skeptical of everything." I am playing
the game of attacking KA. You should not be after explanations for the
universe except to show, for each of them, that the God hypothesis is
superior to it. I have not here tried to "tear down" the God hypothesis,
only to "tear down" your attempts to demonstrate its superiority over my
alternate explanations.

We need to keep track of what is going on. Do you grant that you
cannot adequately defend KA by itself without bringing in other theistic arguments (such as the teleological argument) to try to bolster it?

Already answered above (and previously in this thread).

Also, is it your aim now to shift this thread over to discussing the adequacy of the theory of evolution (a topic not normally connected with KA)?

No; rather, why you think your alternate of a "hyper-universe" (which seems to be the only one you have rendered any sort of qualitative opinion on) is superior to KA.

If God did not exist after the creation, then there is no way that
the God hypothesis could be better than hypothesis (a), above. [Please review the debate between those two.] I have been all along taking the God hypothesis, which is appealed to within KA, to be the hypothesis that the universe was created out of nothing by a personal immaterial being who presently exists. [That was the formulation that Rex appealed to in his version of KA, which initiated this thread several weeks ago.] Do you now wish to revise the formulation of the God hypothesis as used within KA?

Nope; I wish to move on.

So, are you now retracting your previous suggestion that the being appealed
to in KA as the creator of the universe is an atemporal being who didn't
exist before the creation and didn't exist after it either? [After we get
straightened out about exactly what KA's God hypothesis is supposed to be,
I'll comment on its defects and how (c) and (e) both lack those defects.]

VII. Conversation on Editing and Website-Posting Approval

Are you willing that I post your arguments in a dialogue on my
site? Hope so, because I think this dialogue would be very helpful to, and educational for, my readers, on many levels.

Sure, go ahead. I have no objection to that. But be forewarned
that if anyone should contact me by e-mail saying that I said such-and-such on Dave Armstrong's website, then there is a chance that I would charge you with having misrepresented my views. So you need to be extra-careful that you formulate my views correctly.

I simply post all your words that I respond to (which is virtually all of 'em). The only real dispute is over the editing, which is very difficult the longer a back-and-forth dialogue gets. I try to solve that by letting readers write to my opponent to receive their edit if they wish. You can even add a summary and have the "last word" if you want to.

You have a tendency to snip earlier sentences in my paragraphs and retain
only the later sentences. The result is that my sentences come to be not
completely intelligible, for they relied on those earlier sentences for
their meaning. If that happens and I am contacted by such a hypothetical
reader, I would point out that that is what you do on your website.

I think we have exhausted the subject, and have ceased to dialogue constructively
(i.e., on this topic). Do I concede? No; apparently not in the sense you think I
should. In my opinion (with all due respect), you are overly-concerned with minutiae
and a desire to keep the discussion in the strictest confines, and not
answering my questions anymore, instead merely re-defining them as outside
the discussion and dismissing them. Reasonable people can differ on those
things. But that's why I do not concede, and why I think we should move on.

I very much want to work up a version of this dialogue for my website. We
will, no doubt, differ on editorial details, but I'll put it up, and you can add some remarks if you like. You already will have the last word, but if you feel context was troublesome in some spots, feel free to send me some clarifying comments to add, so that the dialogue will be to your satisfaction. I would like, if at all possible, to have the final version completely approved by you.

What I definitely don't want to do is have to rummage through all the old
posts and figure out exact context for everything, adding hours to the
editing process. I only keep the posts I send in, anyway, for space's sake.
So I would request that wherever you feel I have "snipped" some remarks of
yours or where contextual information is needed, that you simply add new
clarifying comments. That will actually give you a second advantage,
because you not only have the final words, but also can add in remarks later (I
will add no more; I've said everything I have to say on this).

I think we can come up with a mutually-agreeable solution to this, and get
our two viewpoints out to the readers of my site. Then the Secular Web can
link to it, too, if it is thought that you "won" the "debate" and that all
"fairness" issues have been resolved. :-)

VIII. More Wrangling on the Nature of Proof, Evidence, Methods of Arguing, and Knowledge

You apparently still have not grasped the point that we have been trying
to explain to you regarding the burden of proof. If a theist has an argument
or piece of evidence which he proclaims to the world to be a good,
objective argument for God's existence or a good piece of objective
evidence that supports the proposition that God exists, then the burden of
proof is on HIM to show that. Almost always, the argument or evidence
takes the following form:

(A) There exists a certain fact or phenomenon F.

(B) The God hypothesis (according to which God caused F) is the very best
explanation there is for F.

(C) Therefore, probably God exists (or there is good objective evidence
that God exists).

The opponent of the argument almost always attacks or questions premise
(B). The opponent may suggest alternate explanations for F (i.e.,
alternate to the God hypothesis). It is then up to the advocate of the
theistic argument to show that ALL of those alternate explanations are
inferior to the God hypothesis. Otherwise, his premise (B) goes
UNDEFENDED. It is not up to the opponent of the argument to show that any
of the alternate explanations is superior to the God hypothesis and he
need not claim that any of them are superior. What if one of the alternate
explanations is EQUAL to the God hypothesis as an explanation of F? What
is the result of that? The result is that the theist's argument is a
failure, because its premise (B) would be flat-out false!

At one point, a few weeks ago, you seemed to have grasped this
point about the burden of proof, but now it appears you have suffered a
relapse. It may be kind of like Eric's examples of people who once knew
that the gospel message is true but for some strange reason know it no
longer. :)

On several occasions in the recent past, you have claimed that there is objective evidence for the existence of God. Such a claim places a burden of proof upon you. You have yet to fulfill that burden. From our perspective, all this talk of "evidence" is mere assertion.

How do you define "objective evidence"?

It is a reason to believe the given proposition that would be accepted by
any rational person, no matter what their background beliefs may be.

How many pieces of alleged evidence (especially as part of a grand theory or worldview) are accepted by "any rational person"? Examples, please?

Millions of pieces are accepted. I do not understand what you mean by evidence being part of a
theory. Theories are put forward to explain facts. If a theory were to be the best explanation there is for a given fact, then that fact could be regarded as evidence for the truth of that theory. What is it you want an example of? Evidence? If X's fingerprints are found on a murder weapon, and the theory that X committed the murder is the best explanation there is for that fact, then the prints would be evidence that X did it.

If this is your criterion, it proves my point that what you require is hardly possible to provide. So why should I bother arguing it with you?

To what does the "this" refer?

Your words: ". . . a reason to believe the given proposition that would be accepted by
any rational person."

What would be an example of such evidence which would persuade you that God exists?

The appearance of a clear religious message in the sky, written by means
of stars, that is seen by everyone and which remains permanently.

So no existing proof set forth by Christians is at all persuasive - not in the least?

No. In every case, there is an alternate explanation for the given fact or phenomenon that is at least as good as the Christian explanation.

You require an event of this magnitude?

No, I don't.

The Second Coming would qualify.

What do you mean by "the Second Coming"? Is it a man descending from the clouds (seen by
every eye)? Would it be a televised event?

I hope there is time for you to repent then, if you are still alive (which I highly doubt).

Repent for what? Not believing?

So again, you have closed yourself off from all likely reasonable evidences, as far as I can tell.

I am constantly open to new data.

What if you had witnessed the parting of the Red Sea? Would that have sufficed?

Do you mean as depicted in such films as "The Ten Commandments"? Sufficed for what?

Or if you were Doubting Thomas and put your hand in the wounds of the risen Jesus?

Yuck! Probably I would doubt that he had really died.

Do you accept the existence of other sorts of knowledge besides philosophical knowledge? If not, why?

Yes. Actually less than 1/1000000000 of 1% of our knowledge is
philosophical knowledge. Practically everything we know is something else.

Please do tell me more. What other sorts of knowledge do you accept? I regard science as a sub-species of philosophy, so what do you have left?

I do not regard science as a sub-species of philosophy. Science is based on observation and
experiment. Philosophy is strictly armchair reasoning.

Is revelation even a remote possibility as one such species of knowledge?

Sure, it's possible. The star-writing that I mentioned above would be a form of revelation.

What about things like intuition, wonder, emotions, aesthetics; are these true knowledge, at least some of the time?

Not propositional knowledge, except possibly for intuition. It depends on what is meant. Some
might say that our knowledge that a red object cannot be at the same time all green is based on our intuition about colors.

Besides, Christianity is not philosophy. It can be defended philosophically, but it goes beyond that, because it is a religious faith.

When you say that Christianity can be defended, do you mean either
of the following?

(a) There are arguments against Christianity and all of them can be
refuted or gotten around somehow.


(b) There is objective evidence for the existence of the Christian

True, but one must understand how I am defining terms. See below.

It was (b) that I was talking about, not (a). You have claimed (b),
but have never supported that claim.

I have (to some extent), but you, of course, reject every argument, which is why we need to take a step back and see what you require, and how you define things. But unless you interact with my statements, little is accomplished, for no dialogue is taking place.

I do not see that you have ever put forward an argument. An argument is a
set of propositions, some of which are premises and one of which is the
conclusion, where the conclusion is claimed to follow logically from, or
be inductively supported by, the premises. If you have ever formulated an
argument for God's existence, what was it? (Use copy-and-paste here.)

I argued with you about the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I defended that against your alternatives. This will be one of the longest dialogues or papers ever posted on my site. I think most people would concur that I offered some sort of argument there, whether or not it fits into your rigid definitions of the term or not.

Maybe you did. Some work would need to be done on what you wrote to extract any argument
out of it.

I have also stated repeatedly that no single argument constitutes a proof, yet there are many arguments which add up to a strong cumulative "proof" of Christianity. You look at that fact and say, "See! Therefore Christianity is false because it is unsubstantiated by a single proof!"

Dead wrong. I have never said that or anything like it. I have arguments
for the falsity of Christianity, but they are something else entirely.

Okay; the evidence put forth is insufficient to warrant belief in Christianity, then?

Yes, that I would assent to.

I look at it and say, "we can explain more things by more arguments, in more varied ways, than any other view (the alternatives are quite weak), so I believe our view is much more plausible, and therefore - for all practical purposes - to be regarded as true."

Arguments do not explain. Arguments are used to prove, establish, or
support. On this list we have an interest in arguments for God's
existence. If you have one of those, we sure would like to see it.

I've discussed the Cosmological Argument (with you), (in effect) the Teleological Argument / Intelligent Design (Evolution of the eye thread), the Moral Argument, the Argument from Longing and Purpose, and the "Problem of Good." That's quite ambitious enough for how long I have been here [4-5 weeks], I think. I don't expect to persuade anyone. The best I hope for is to explain and defend the Christian position and clear away misconceptions and false charges about it, and to also look for common ground between us. Of much more interest to me is the sort of presuppositional or evidential criteria you set above, in order to be persuaded. If I required the stars to spell out "There is no God" in order to be persuaded of atheism, I think most people would see that as silly and excessive or both.

Certainly I never expressed any such requirement.

The reasons we give - though indeed they have to be rational
and coherent - do not have to be confined to your neat and tidy
little box that you have all set up for us (so that we will inevitably fail to
persuade you). Besides, your box is the analytic philosophy box,
and it remains to be seen that this is the best philosophical box
available. :-)

I know nothing of any "box" or any unusual or unreasonable
restrictions placed upon you.

The box is your criteria of proof, which I have asked you about. I await with great eagerness your answer.

My criteria of proof are very simple. First, I want the premises to be
clearly true. Second, if it's a deductive argument, I want the conclusion
to follow (by the rules of deductive logic) from the premises. If it's an
inductive argument, I want the conclusion to be supported strongly (in
accord with the rules of inductive logic) by the premises. I know of no
other rational criteria for assessing arguments, do you?

Has any theistic philosopher proposed a theistic and/or Christian argument which you consider "rational" and with an airtight deductive conclusion or strongly supported inductive conclusion?


If so, whom, and what argument? If not, what makes you think I would want to engage you, given such a record of unyielding, more or less total skepticism with regard to theism, and given my relative lack of philosophical education? I might enjoy it as a sort of pastime or for pedagogical purposes, so that others can see a super-skeptical mindset at work, but I would know there is little chance of a true dialogue taking place, as we have experienced already in our one lengthy exchange.

There are many benefits to dialogue.

You claim there is evidence. I say, "Show us."

I haven't gone through every evidence the Christian can bring to bear here. Nor will I necessarily hit every one of them while I am here. I simply follow what interests me at the moment. My website presents tons of information (especially including the hundreds of links) which anyone can pursue if they really want to know how I would argue these things.

I can only repeat. If you have ever formulated an argument for God's
existence, what was it? (Use copy-and-paste here.)

I have touched upon several, as stated above. Whether you "approve" or "agree" or not is of little concern to me. We don't seem to be able to engage in a clear, concise discussion, without getting bogged down on methodology, definitions, and minutiae. And that takes all of the enjoyment of it away for me.

All I ask for is some premises (perhaps along with some intermediate steps) leading to the
conclusion that God exists. If you would get no enjoyment from supplying that, then so be it. For
my part, I thoroughly enjoy supplying arguments for God's nonexistence. And if anyone asks me to repeat an argument, I would gladly oblige. A hundred times, if need be.

With you I went through a huge dialogue on the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It looks like it will be the longest paper on my site after I get it ready for uploading. Of course you think I lost that debate miserably, but what else is new? I think I did a pretty good job, given our comparative levels of philosophical training.

The fact to be explained was the existence of the universe. You put
forward the God hypothesis as the best explanation. I suggested five
alternative explanations. Since KA was your argument, you had the burden
of showing that each of my suggested alternative explanations is inferior
to the God hypothesis. But, instead of focusing on each alternate
explanation individually (and producing a relevant argument pertaining to
it), you just made rambling, irrelevant remarks about atheism. In each
post, you snipped all of my alternate explanations. Not once did you so
much as carry over one of them (that you were supposed to be
discussing/attacking) from one post to the next. You seemed not to
understand what was at stake or what the issues were. Aside from KA
itself (which I supplied and formulated for you), I do not see that you came up
with a single argument for anything.

This is so ridiculous, absurd, revisionist, and flat-out untrue that I am forced to suspect either some sort of amnesia or intellectual hostility and derision to the extent that you actually have convinced yourself that this is what happened. And this is pretty much sufficient to refuse further discussion with you, until such time as you retract this nonsense.

Just take, for example, my last alternate explanation for the existence of the universe [labeled (e)]. It was the following:

(e) The universe originated a finite time ago, uncaused.

I asked for your argument to the effect that the God hypothesis is a better explanation for the
universe than is (e). The following is all that you wrote on the matter:

DA (May 3)

I find that to be sheer nonsense. But perhaps that is due to my ignorance of the argument. Please enlighten me. It seems to me that this makes mincemeat of science, where one of the fundamental principles is physical causation.

DA (May 7)

So then (since this is your possible hypothesis), please relate quantum mechanics to this
"hyper-universe" you posit. This could be your first bit of "empirical evidence"! Don't blow the
golden opportunity. You want to introduce this? Then please incorporate it into your hypothesis.

This is absolutely all that you wrote pertaining to my alternative (e). I do not find here any argument to the effect that the God hypothesis is a better explanation than (e). If there is such an argument here, then what are its premises?

It is most assuredly not all I wrote, and the wonders of hyper-linking (and what might be called "Socratic editing" so as to preserve argumentative flow) will prove that for anyone with a click of the mouse: see my responses for your argument (e).

Soon enough, I will post the exchange and people can judge for themselves whether your claim that I did not come up with "a single argument for anything" is true or not. In fact, I carefully answered in some fashion (no doubt woefully inadequate in your eyes) every one of your five alternatives not once, but twice - since you denied that I had answered the first time as well, and I had to repeat myself. It's one thing to say I didn't play the philosophical game in the way you think it ought to be played in every jot and tittle. I expect that from philosophers (especially analytic ones), and I recognize my own purely amateur status.

Your May 3 passage, above, was your "first posting" of your argument against alternative (e), and
your May 7 passage, above, was your "second posting" of said argument. Is it your claim, now,
that each posting, individually, contained an argument that showed the God hypothesis to be
superior to alternate (e) as an explanation for the universe?

It's quite another thing, however, to go beyond that and offer sheer insults and charges that I was a more or less complete head-in-the-sand ignoramus who refused to interact at all, even deliberately deleting your relevant arguments. This is the sort of thing which kills or renders impossible constructive discussion. It's the exact opposite of enjoyable constructive dialogues. Once the insults and silly denials that the opponent has offered any answer at all come in, then it becomes pointless and futile. This is hugely disappointing, as it was fun dialoguing with you before this incessant charge of my alleged non-responses began to take over.

Sorry for spoiling your fun.

There is no "box" there.

You have many boxes of methodology which are themselves not airtight. That can easily be shown with more scrutiny as to the "necessity" of your particular methods of argumentation and requirements for "proof." The skeptic's game and the "analytic" game may be fun, but they ain't the only games in town.

I haven't a clue what you are talking about here.

And of course that is part and parcel of the problem we are having.

I agree.

I have no special criteria for argumentation, just the regular criteria that would be
employed by any rational person.

If I can argue with you till I am blue in the face about one well-known argument for God, and you claim I offered nothing whatever (not "a single argument for anything"), then can you think of a reason why we should dialogue further? Personally, I don't have the patience for that sort of thing. Obviously, not everyone here is a philosopher as you are. If we amateurs are so "beneath" you, then by all means avoid us, and go chat with your comrades in the philosophy department.

I'm here to have dialogues, and I am fully aware of how much I know or don't know in any given field. But I also know that I have some amount of knowledge (however little), and that the way in which you characterize our discussion above is blatantly false and a ludicrous caricature of what actually occurred.

Maybe Rex will do better with KA than you did.

I will soon put up the dialogue (including this thread) and give you the prerogative of adding whatever clarifying remarks that you deem necessary - especially now since you claim I deleted so much of your material. Whatever it takes for you to consider it "fair" and fit for public consumption . . .

If indeed I offered not "a single argument for anything" then obviously you will appear completely triumphant to one and all, in which case you should be overjoyed - ecstatic - that I would place a huge dialogue on my Catholic site, one in which I was utterly demolished by my opponent, lying prostrate the whole time and offering literally nothing of any substance in reply. :-) And surely the Secular Web would advertise such a stunning, spectacular victory for atheism all over its site. How often do opportunities like that arise, with the philosophical opponent handing you their head on a silver platter?

The Secular Web already had Doug Wilson debate me in 1999 and it wasn't pleased with the
outcome. (Take a look at it if you have the time). I've been promised that there will be no more
"opponents" like that.

IX. Dr. Drange's Disclaimer and Addendum

Editor's note: I could, of course, quibble quite a bit with both Dr. Drange's methodological complaints and his portrayal of my arguments and the entire dialogue, but I promised to let him have the final word in a clarifying section subsequent to the dialogue proper, which is what the following is, and to not add any more arguments of my own.

The KA discussion: Disclaimer and Addendum
Date: Fri, 25 May 2001 12:24:28 -0400

Dave, I do not wish to change anything in what you have. Just tack on the following Disclaimer and Addendum at the end. Thanks,

Ted Drange


The above dialogue between myself and Dave does not represent the actual dialogue that took place in the posts to the Godexist list. For one thing, I never neglected to answer a direct question, nor did I ever write a sentence that was isolated and apparently irrelevant, whereas in what appears above I seem to do those things. Second, the editing process that Dave used (which, he admits, made no use whatever of my actual posts, only his) distorts my meaning in several places. To give just one example, near the beginning of section V ("Reiteration of the Opposing Claims and Arguments"), Dave takes three of my sentences which appeared originally as follows:

What do you mean by "my present view"? Do you mean the God hypothesis or do you mean
your view that KA presents good objective evidence for the existence of God? I am not
asking you to ditch the former, only the latter.

After Dave's editing, the meaning of those sentences is lost. First of all, he deleted his own passage which contained the expression "my present view," so the first of my sentences is left devoid of any reference. And then he inserted some of his own material between the second and third sentence, so the references for my terms "former" and "latter," which are perfectly clear in the original, are no longer clear. This is not an isolated instance. The sort of editing that I am here talking about, with Dave's material deleted (thereby making what I wrote unclear or irrelevant) or else inserted between my own sentences (altering the meaning and force of what I wrote), occurs repeatedly throughout the entire dialogue. I have no problem with that so long as the reader understands what is going on.


There is much in the dialogue, as presented by Dave, that is irrelevant to the issue on which the posts were originally written. The issue was whether or not KA presents good objective evidence for the existence of God. And that turned, largely, on whether or not the God hypothesis appealed to within KA (i.e., the hypothesis that the universe was created out of nothing by a single personal immaterial being who still exists today) is the very best explanation there is for the existence of the universe. KA claims that it is the best explanation and my goal in the dialogue was to cast doubt on that claim. I presented Dave with five alternate explanations and invited him to demonstrate, with regard to each of them, that the God hypothesis is better than it.

The first alternate explanation, labeled "(A)," is that the universe was created out of nothing by a personal immaterial being who subsequently ceased to exist. If Dave presented any argument on that one, it appears to be the following:

(1) Any being powerful enough to create a universe out of nothing is probably eternal.
(2) Explanation A does not take the creator to be eternal.
(3) Therefore, the God hypothesis is a better explanation than is explanation A.

My objection to this argument (if indeed it is Dave's argument at all) is that its first premise is
totally unsupported and therefore mere assertion. I myself can think of no reason whatever to believe premise (1) and Dave did not present any. Thus, the attempt to show that the God hypothesis is superior to explanation A is, thus far, a failure.

The second alternate explanation, labeled "(B)," is that the universe was created out of nothing
by a group of several personal immaterial beings. If Dave presented any argument on that one, it
appears to be the following:

(1) (By Occam's Razor) if two explanations are otherwise equal, then the simpler one is to be preferred.
(2) The God hypothesis is simpler than explanation B.
(3) The two explanations are otherwise equal.
(4) Therefore, the God hypothesis is to be preferred over explanation B.

If this is Dave's argument at all, then I have two objections to it. The first is that its premise (2)
can be called into question. The second is that its premise (3) is false. Explanation B has more
support than does the God hypothesis in that every object clearly known to have been created is an object created by more than one being. Even artists and inventors, for example, rely on others to supply them with their starting materials. This fact about our observations of created objects tends to support explanation B over the God hypothesis, which in turn makes premise (3) of the argument false. So, this is another failure.

The third alternate explanation, labeled "(C)," is that the universe had an impersonal material
cause (possibly an infinitely old "hyper-universe"). If Dave presented any argument on that one, it appears to be the following:

(1) There is no scientific evidence for any "hyper-universe" or any other material cause for our universe.
(2) Therefore, explanation C is probably incorrect.
(3) Hence, the God hypothesis is a better explanation for the universe than is explanation C.

If this is Dave's argument at all, then I have two objections to it. First, its step (2) does not
follow from its premise (1). Mere absence of evidence in support of a proposition does not in itself imply that the proposition is probably false. There are cases where neither a proposition nor its negation has any supporting evidence (e.g., "There is intelligent life in other galaxies" and "There is no intelligent life in other galaxies"), but it would be absurd to infer that therefore BOTH propositions are probably false. My second objection is that the argument's conclusion, (3), does not follow from its step (2). Just because one explanation is probably incorrect, that does not make another explanation automatically better than it. It could be that BOTH explanations are incorrect. Since (2) does not follow from (1), and (3) does not follow from (2), this argument is a total flop.

The fourth alternate explanation, labeled "(D)," is that the universe had an impersonal immaterial
cause. If Dave presented any argument on that one, it appears to be the following:

(1) The God hypothesis can be extended as an explanation, not only for the existence of the universe, but also for the existence of persons on our planet. It would do that if it were taken to be the hypothesis that the universe was created out of nothing by a single personal immaterial being who presently exists and that same being [later] created people on the planet earth.
(2) Explanation D cannot be extended in that way.
(3) Therefore, the God hypothesis is a better explanation than is explanation D.

If this is Dave's argument at all, then my objection to it is that its premise (2) is false.
Explanation D certainly can be extended so as to cover the existence of persons on our planet. One way to do that would be to combine D with the theory of evolution. The combined theory would state that the universe had an impersonal immaterial cause and that humans evolved on our planet in the way proposed by the theory of evolution. Thus, just as one part of the God hypothesis is used to explain one of the given facts (the existence of the universe) while the other part of it is used to explain the other given fact (the existence of persons on our planet), so also my proposed combined explanation can be bifurcated into a part which explains one of the facts while the other part explains the other fact. Thus, since the argument has a false premise, it is a failure against explanation D.

The fifth alternate explanation, labeled "(E)," is that the universe originated a finite time ago,
uncaused. If Dave presented any argument on that one, it appears to be the following:

(1) All of the sciences presuppose the principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause.
(2) Explanation E violates that principle.
(3) Therefore, explanation E is in total opposition to the sciences.
(4) The God hypothesis is not in total opposition to the sciences.
(5) Hence [from 3 & 4], the God hypothesis is a better explanation of the universe than is explanation E.

I don't know if this is Dave's argument. It is the best I could do with his remarks, above, related
to explanation E. Anyway, the argument is grossly defective. One obvious place to attack it would be its premise (4). But the place I indicated (above) where I would attack the argument would be at its premise (1). I cited quantum theory as a counter-example. Quantum theory does NOT presuppose the principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause. Since its first premise is false, the argument is a failure. Thus, Dave has not presented any good reason to prefer the God hypothesis to explanation E (or any of the other alternate explanations, for that matter).

It should be noted that the advocate of KA needs to show how his preferred explanation for the
universe (the God hypothesis) is better than all other explanations that might be proposed as
alternatives. Not only has Dave failed to do that, but he has not even done it for ANY of the
proposed alternates. Clearly, he has his work cut out for him.

Go to: Part One

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 25 May 2001, from public list discussions, with the express permission of Dr. Ted Drange.

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