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The Contender
Pro (for)
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Does a Theistic God exist?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/26/2014 Category: Religion
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 720 times Debate No: 67550
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
Votes (1)




First round: Acceptance ONLY!
Second round: Opening statements
Third round: First rebuttals
Fourth round: Second rebuttals and concluding remarks

Pro will argue that a theistic God does exist. God will be defined as an all-powerful, all knowing, perfectly good and perfectly loving creator and sustainer of the Universe as classically described by the three monotheisms: Christianity, Judism, and Islam.


I accept your debate!

I will be arguing for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent deity who created and sustains the universe, as Con has already laid out.
In theological context, an omnipotent God has the capacity to perform any action that is logically possible to do and an omniscient God has the capacity to know anything that is logically possible to know.

Please post your opening argument.
Debate Round No. 1


I want to first thank my opponent for accepting this debate. I enjoy discussing this question, and I'm looking forward to some great interactions. I will present 4 arguments in support of the belief that God does not exist. The first 2 arguments will start with the idea of God and explicitly draw out a logical contradiction based on a fact about the actual world. Both arguments will be derived from J.L. Schellenberg's influential book "The Wisdom to Doubt [1][3]." My last 2 arguments will be a evidential arguments that claim, based on the available evidence, that it is highly unlikely that God exists.

The Problem of Divine Hiddenness

When we define God we are talking about a being that is unsurpassably great- there is nothing greater than God. Unsurpassable greatness entails that God is perfectly loving- he loves each of his creations perfectly. God would have the highest desire to have a rich, meaningful, and ever growing relationship with his creations. We as finite persons could all agree that such a relationship would be our deepest good should God exist. But a necessary component of a meaningful relationship is that both parties believe each other exists so long as one party is not resisting the other. Since belief in a God is a necessary component for a relationship, a perfectly loving God would always give each of his creations a causally sufficient reason to think that he exists assuming they are non resistant. This brings us to the first part of my argument;

1) If a perfectly loving God exists, anyone who is not resisting God and is capable of a relationship with God is also in a position to participate in a relationship with God.

2) At any specific time, a person is only in a position to participate in a relationship with God if they believe God exists.

3) If a perfectly loving God exists, anyone who is not resisting God and is capable of a relationship with God also believes that God exists. (From 1&2)

Schellenberg gives a wonderful imagery of the expected state of affairs for non-resistant finite persons;

"The presence of God will be for them like a light that- however much the degree of its brightness may fluctuate- remains on unless they close their eyes." -Schellenberg [1]

But now we can start to see the contradiction:

4) There are people who are not resisting God and are capable of a relationship with God WITHOUT also believing that he exists.


C) A perfectly loving God does not exist. (From 3&4)

Premise 4 is referencing people who are honestly seeking God even if they are of another theology. Someone such as a Hindu is honestly seeking a relationship with God, but does not believe a monotheistic God exists. Through no fault of their own, they don't believe. They were simply born in the wrong location and given the wrong theology. This premise allows us to logically conclude that a perfectly loving God does not exist.

The Problem of Horrendous Suffering

My second argument is a variation of the problem of suffering but draws a contradiction from a specific type of suffering known as horrific suffering. Marilyn McCord Adams defines horrendous suffering as follows:

"The most awful form of suffering that gives the victim and/or the perpetrator a prima facie reason to the think their life is no longer worth living." -Adams [2]

1) Children who are raped, tortured, starved, or suffer from preventable disease
2) Victims of natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, and diseases
3) Holocaust victims and perpetrators

If God is all knowing then he has all experiential knowledge of all horrendous sufferings possible. He knows exactly what it's like to suffer from a first person point of view just like we have knowledge of what it's like to experience color, taste, smell, etc from a first person point of view. Now a second claim is that God is unsurpassably compassionate. That follows from the idea that God is unsurpassably great, perfectly loving and perfectly good. Schellenberg calls the combination of these two ideas- unsurpassable empathy[1][3]. An unsurpassably empathic God would only allow horrendous suffering if it was NECESSARY for us to realize our greatest good. Drawing on ideas from the Divine Hiddenness argument, we already know that a finite persons greatest good would be an experience of God- the most perfectly good being. But horrendous suffering is not necessary for us to realize our greatest good. Plenty of people experience God who have never suffered horrendously- my opponent is probably one of them. But if horrendous suffering wasn't necessary to realize our greatest good, then why would an unsurpassably empathic god permit it? We can then formulate the following:

1) If God exists, then people who experience God realize their greatest good.

2) If God exists, then preventing horrific sufferings do not prevent people from experiencing God.

3) Therefore, if God exists, then preventing horrific sufferings do not prevent people from realizing their greatest good. (from 1&2)

4) If God exists, then horrific sufferings would only exist if preventing them would prevent people from realizing their greatest good.

5) Therefore, if God exists, then horrific sufferings do not exist. (From 3&4)

6) Horrific sufferings do exist. (contradiction)


C) God does not exist. (from 5&6)

So we can see from this argument that if an unsurpassably empathetic God exists, then the existence of horrendous suffering is not logically possible. This gives us another reason to believe that God does not exist.

The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds

My last 2 arguments move away from logical deductive arguments and seeks to establish a fact about the word that makes the existence of God improbable. The argument from physical minds was originally formulated by Micheal Tooley and Paul Draper though I'm using a great deal of Jeffrey Jay Lowders defense[4].

1) If all mental activity has a physical basis in embodied brains, then disembodied minds do not exist.

2) All mental activity probably has a physical basis in embodied brains.

3) Therefore there are probably no disembodied minds. (From 1&2)

4) God is conceived as a disembodied mind.

C) Therefore God probably does not exist. (From 3&4)

The premise that needs evidential support is premise 2. Based on findings in neuroscience, all known mental activity has a physical basis in embodied minds. The mind is either equivalent with a physical brain or at least causally dependent on a physical brain. Consider the following evidences:

1. When a person's brain is directly stimulated into a specific physical state, this causes the person to have a corresponding experience.
2. Certain brain injuries make it impossible for a person to have any mental states.
3. Other injuries to the brain destroy various mental capacities. The mental capacity that is destroyed is directly correlated with the particular part of the brain that was damaged.
4. When we examine the mental capacities of animals, they become more complex as their brains become more complex.
5. Within any given species, the development of mental capacities is correlated with the development of neurons in the brain.[4]

The argument seeks to extrapolate our current knowledge onto future mental activity that we encounter. It's worth mentioning that this argument is NOT establishing that all minds necessarily have a physical basis, but that that's all that's consistent with our experience. By analogy, we can reasonably infer that the sun will rise in the east because it has always done so, but saves room for the possibility for it to rise in the west. This gives us a powerful evidential case to think that God probably does not exist based on our experience of minds having a physical basis in embodied brains.

The Evidential Argument From Evil

I will be formulating a contemporary evidential argument from evil originating with William Rowe[6]. The argument seeks to establish that there is too much seemingly gratuitous evil in the world to reasonably conclude that God exists. The version I will be using was formulated by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong[5]:

1) If there were an all powerful and all good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for an adequately compensating good.

2) There is a lot of evil in the world.

3) Much of that evil is not logically necessary for any adequately compensating good.

C) Therefore there is no God who is all powerful and all good.

Rowe defends the critical premise 3 with a thought experiment[6]. Imagine a fawn who is horribly burnt in a forest fire. The fawn languishes for days in excruciating pain, alone, and terrified before finally dying. This type of intense animal suffering falls into the category of Natural Evil. The characteristics of this thought experiment aren't arbitrary, because appeals to free will obviously aren't relevant. The fawn is alone, so no greater good is achieved, and it would have been a better state of affairs had the fawn not languished for days in excruciating pain and terror. Rowe argues that this problem only becomes worse when you consider the preventable suffering over the course of sentient history. In order to deny premise 3 a theist would have to assume that there has never been a single instance of preventable suffering over the entire course of sentient history which he believes to be a prima facie absurd proposition. Therefore it follows that God probably does not exist.

Thanks you and Cheers!

Works Cited

[1] "The Wisdom to Doubt" J.L. Schellenberg
[2] "Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God" Marilyn McCord Adams
[5] "Does God Exist? A Debate Between A Christian and an Atheist" -William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong


My opponent has done a very good opening statement, I will now make my own arguments for God's existence in this round.

Cosmological argument from contingency

This argument is formed of a few initial premisses:

1. All physical things have contingent existence - this is to say that everything that exists does so because of some reason, be it an event or the existence of something else. For example, human life is contingent on the position of the earth from the sun, the position of the earth from the sun is contingent on the correct mass of the earth and the gravitational pull of the sun etc..

2. The universe is defined as 'All space-time, matter, and energy, including the solar system, all stars and galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space, regarded as a whole.' (1) This is to say that the universe is not a separate entity in itself, it is just the consideration of all space-time and its contents as a whole.

3. If all the individual objects in a collective whole have attribute X, then the collective whole has attribute X. For example, if all the bricks in a house are pink, then it is reasonable to ascribe the house the attribute of being pink.

Taking these three premisses, we can conclude that, as everything in the universe has contingent existence (p1), the universe as a whole has contingent existence (following the logic of p3). This is to say that the universe's existence is dependent on something external to itself. This external cause must be non-contingent (and therefore immaterial) to prevent reductio ad infinitum.
This non-contingent, transcendental being must be omnipotent because a lack of omnipotence must be instilled by a limiting physical factor (e.g I cannot jump over a skyscraper due to the limiting physical factor of my weight being stronger than the propulsion of my legs). A transcendental being is outside the physical realm (by definition) and so cannot have its power subject to a limiting power, therefore a this is an omnipotent, transcendental, non-contingent being.
This is an omniscient being by virtue of the fact that it created the universe; just as a painter knows everything about his painting due to the fact that he painted it.
So now we have proved the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, transcendental, non-contingent being. It is then reasonable to ascribe the title of 'God' to this being.
To reaffirm the existence of God, as well as assert the benevolence of him, I will now voice my second argument.

Teleological Argument from Fine-Tuning

This is an inductive argument from probability, basing around the degree of fine-tuning the universe appears to have been subject to in order to achieve the extremely precise conditions for complex life. This suggests that there is a being, a designer of the universe, who has designed it in such a way as to allow complex life to flourish. Note that I say 'complex life' instead of 'human life', as the latter runs the risk of anthropocentrism. By complex life I take to mean species of life that are capable of high intelligence, socio-emotional sensitivity and advanced physical capabilities. Examples of these would be elephants, dolphins, apes and even possibly extra-terrestrial intelligent life.

My first premise holds that complex life must be carbon based. Its valence of 4 and its relative isotopic stability allows it to form a huge variety of different compounds with the likes of oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen. No other element comes close to the flexibility of carbon, indeed, the branch of organic chemistry is wholly dedicated to the study of carbon-based molecules. Considering that complex life requires such a large amount of different molecules, it can only realistically be carbon-based.

Richard Swinburne develops this premise, highlighting that:

"Given the four fundamental forces and the basic array of fundamental particles, the strengths of the forces and the masses of particles have to have ratios to each other within certain narrow bands if the larger chemical elements, including carbon and oxygen (needed for carbon-based life), are to occur at all." (2)

Now, the probability of carbon actually existing sets the benchmark for the initial precise nature that the universe would have to have.

The maximum deviations that each of the ratios and constants could have is as follows, note that there are a lot more than these so my end calculation will be at the most generous to the atheist:

Ratio of Electrons to Protons:1 : 1037
Ratio of Electromagnetic Force to Gravity1 : 1040
Expansion Rate of Universe1 : 1055
Mass Density of Universe 1 : 1059
Cosmological Constant1 : 10120

Collating all this data, the universe would have to be precise to a degree of 1 in 10311 in order to allow significant amounts of carbon to form.
Conversely, a God, if he intended to, could create the universe at whim, meaning the probability of significant amounts of carbon forming would be 1 in 1 (given that God would desire complex life to occur). Given that God could create any number of possible universes, the fact that he created a complex-life-permitting one highly implies that he loves complex life. Thus God is omnibenevolent as well as the attributes proven in the cosmological argument above.
As 1 to 1 is a far greater probability than 1 to 10311, in the spirit of inductive logic, God can be said to be the creator of the universe.

I will not rebut my opponent's opening statement as this round is for opening statements and not rebutals. In round 3 I will critique my opponent's opening statement as well as defend my own.

(2) Richard Swinburne -'The Existence of God' 2004
Debate Round No. 2


I want to first thank my opponent for his opening arguments. Since I am an atheist, it probably comes as no surprise that I did not find them convincing in my journey to atheism. The criticisms against my opponent"s arguments will be threefold:

1) Neither of my opponent"s arguments entails what he claims they entail. He has not adequately defended the attributes necessary for God i.e. omnipotence, omniscience, & omnibenevolence.

2) The Cosmological argument is inadequate:
-The assumption that the principle of sufficient reason is true a priori is dubious.
-The cogency of the argument depends on a successful ontological argument- which my opponent has not provided.
-Premise 3 commits the fallacy of composition.

3) The Teleological Argument is inadequate:
-His definition of "life" is dubious
-The claim that the probability of life permitting universes is low is dubious
-We have background evidence to suggest the universe probably wasn"t designed for life to flourish.

General Criticism

My opponent set out to prove the existence of a tri-omni being, but I do not think my opponent has accomplished this. Beginning with omnipotence;

"[This] being must be omnipotent because a lack of omnipotence must be instilled by a limiting physical factor."

I object to this definition of omnipotence, because omnipotence is traditionally defined as being able to do all that is logically possible [1][2]. Logical possibility entails all physical possibilities, AND all metaphysical possibilities. My opponent hasn't argued anything that suggests his being doesn't have metaphysical limitations. For example, this being may not be able to bring about the existence of metaphysical zombies i.e. humans who behave like other humans, but lack consciousness. Any metaphysical limitation of God would challenge his omnipotence. Moving to omniscience;

"This is an omniscient being by virtue of the fact that it created the universe."

Again, I object to this definition. Omniscience is traditionally defined as the ability to know all that is logically possible to know[2][3]. This entails all propositional knowledge both physical & metaphysical. To use my opponent"s analogy, an omniscient painter would not only have to contain all knowledge of all his paintings, but ALL possible paintings including ones that had never been painted. My opponent has fallen significantly short in demonstrating that the being he argues for contains all propositional knowledge. Lastly, my opponent argues for omnibenevolence;

"The fact that [God] created a complex-life-permitting [universe] highly implies that he loves complex life."

This is a non-sequitur. The proposition that a being created a complex-life-permitting universe does not entail any moral properties. This being could be indifferent or malevolent. We have no way of knowing a priori that any design argument would favor omnibenevolence over indifference or malevolence. In fact, if we grant the design argument, we must also grant that it entails the problems of evil, horrific sufferings, & divine hiddenness that I mentioned in my opening statements. So we have no reason to prefer omnibenevolence a priori, but do have a posteriori reason to think that if the design argument is successful that this being is indifferent or possibly malevolent.

The only way my opponent could override these objections were if he presented a successful ontological argument, which would entail my opponent"s metaphysical shortcomings & the moral properties he needs. No such argument has been forthcoming (which will also be a shortcoming of the Cosmological Argument). At best my opponent has argued for a being that contains all physical power, all knowledge necessary to create a universe, & no moral properties.

Cosmological Criticisms

My first objection will challenge the assumption of premise 1;

"All physical things have contingent existence- this is to say that everything that exists does so because of some reason."

This premise assumes the truth of the principle of sufficient reason a priori. But how do we know that everything must have a sufficient reason for its existence? There is no implicit contradiction in the idea of a set of infinite physical causes (granted this idea may not be intuitive). We are extrapolating from what is most familiar and useful to us & applying it to the universe as a whole i.e. we only know its truth a posteriori. This principle is certainly useful for us to discern causes at a local level, but why should we assume that nature would conform to principles we find useful? While this assumption may be intuitive to us, science has taught us that notions which seem intuitive to us e.g. causation & Newtonian mechanics break down on cosmic & quantum levels. We should be equally skeptical of the principle of sufficient reason unless it can be shown true a priori.

Even if we assume the principle of sufficient reason, how can there be a necessary being- one that contains its own sufficient reason? An ontological argument would be necessary to demonstrate the possibility of a being whose essence contains its own existence, but no such argument has been presented by my opponent. The cosmological argument suggests the existence of a necessary being, but we've been given no reason to think that a necessary being is even logically possible. The big bang, the universe, or consciousness could all be factually necessary and thus no sufficient reason is needed. Unless my opponent can present a successful ontological argument, the conclusion of the cosmological argument is blocked.

Moving to premise 3;

"If all the individual objects in a collective whole have attribute X, then the collective whole has attribute X."

This line of reason is not valid, because it commits the fallacy of composition[4]. By my opponent"s analogy, if all the bricks in a house are small, then it is it is reasonable to ascribe the house the attribute of being small, but we can easily see that this is not necessarily true. In order to validly argue this premise, my opponent would have to infer the contingency of the parts to the contingency of the whole if & only if the whole was contingent on a necessary being. The only way to establish the possibility of a necessary being is, again, with an ontological argument.

Teleological Criticisms

My opponent"s premise 1 argues that "complex life must be carbon based," & argues that cosmic fine tuning suggests that the universe was designed FOR LIFE. I outright reject this premise. I"ve never encountered a unanimous definition of "life," much less any reason to think that life MUST be carbon based. Not only has our concepts of where life can flourish on earth been challenged recently[5], but there is evidence of the possibility of life with a fundamentally different basis on one of Saturn"s moons- Titan[6]. If life were to exist on this moon, it would have a basis in methane rather than carbon. We should not only be skeptical of the existence of other life in our universe, but we should also be skeptical of the assumption that if there is life, it must also be carbon based.

My second criticism is directed at changing the fundamental constants of nature. I grant that if you change one constant, then our local conditions change drastically. But we don"t know the probabilities of life permitting universes if you were to change more than one of the constants or had different laws of physics. Michael Tooley & one of his colleagues have demonstrated an experiment in which more than half of their simulations where more than one constant is changed lead to stars that provided sufficient fuel for life[7]. Therefore the fine tuning argument is inadequate in its assessment that life permitting universes are improbable.

In my final objection, the teleological argument suggests that the universe was designed for life TO FLOURISH, but this is a dubious inference given 5 pieces of background evidence:

-The vast scale of the universe
-The universe"s hostility to life
-The large languishing & small flourishing of life on this planet
-Moral embodied agents arising via evolution
-The existence of a physical reality w/ finite minds being dependent on it.

The observable universe is incomprehensibly large. By analogy, if we were to reduce the size of the observable universe to the size of house, you wouldn't be able to find the life permitting ranges within the house, because they would be of molecular size. Our universe is also very hostile towards life. Much of our cosmos is far too cold or hot to permit "goldilocks" regions where life is habitable, & there are many ways in which the universe can destroy life e.g. asteroids, radiation, & the deaths of stars. Also 99.9% of all species to ever exist on this planet are extinct. Species are for more likely to languish & die then they are to flourish. The fact that moral agency has only arisen through the physical process of evolution could only, at best, infer wasteful, capricious, & lazy design. Theism also doesn't entail the existence of a physical world. God could have made a non-physical world of souls, angels, spirits, etc. In my opening statement I gave an argument for why minds being dependent on the physical was good evidence that God probably doesn't exist, and thus didn't design the universe. When you take this background evidence into consideration, the design argument comes up short. The background evidence to which the fine tuning argument is derived is more probable on the assumption that atheism is true, then on this assumption that theism is true.

Thank you.

Works Cited
[2] "The Coherence of Theism" "Richard Swinburne


My opponent has attempted to refute my arguments, and I will respond to them accordingly.

First, however, I will present an ontological argument on order to assert the omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence of God, because my opponent based many of his objections on my supposed failure to validly prove that the God I prove does not necessarily hold these three qualities. Furthermore, an ontological argument will support my cosmological argument premise that God has necessary existence.

Ontological Argument

P1: God is that which nothing greater can be conceived
P2: God can either exist in the mind, or in both the mind and reality
P3: A God that exists in both mind and reality is greater than a God that only exists in the mind
C: God exists in both mind and reality.

Now I have proven the existence of God, I have proven the existence of a 'being that which nothing greater can be conceived'. This being must have the properties of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence in order to fufill its definition.
This includes metaphysical omnipotence, omnibenevolence (which is wholly metaphysical) and omniscience, so the first three of Con's general criticisms are refuted.

Defence of the Cosmological Argument

My opponent assumes that my first premise is verified a priori. On the contrary, it is wholly a posteriori that every single physical thing that we have experienced has contingent existence, so it is not unreasonable to extrapolate this to all physical things.
Whilst it would be fallacious to deductively assert the veracity of the premise, my opponent must keep in mind that the cosmological argument is inductive and so its premises need not be deductively verified.
For example, in order to inductively argue that all ravens are black, we only need to inductively verify it by appealing to the fact that we have only experienced black ravens.

My ontological argument refutes my opponent's second criticism. But aside from this, all the argument proves is that there must be a being with non-contingent (which is equivalent to necessary) existence otherwise we would be stuck in infinite regress.

In his attack of my third premise, Con states that it commits the fallacy of composition. I expected this reply as I have had it posed many times. However, the fact is that the fallacy only refutes SOME cases of transferable properties from part to whole, so why does it refute the example of the small bricks and not the example of the coloured bricks?
The only real difference between the examples is the type of property we are attempting to transfer, in the former we are transferring the property of size (which is a continuous property) and in the latter we are transferring the property of colour (which is a discrete property). As the fallacy of composition only refutes the former example, it follows that the fallacy of composition does not refute the parts --> whole transfer of properties if these properties are discrete.
The reason that the fallacy of composition does not refute the transfer of individual contingency of the universe's parts to the contingency of the universe as a whole is that contingency is a discrete property.
This is because the property of contingency is not achieved by addition; adding multiple contingent objects to each other does not increase their contingency as a whole by a single bit. The colour of bricks is also discrete, for adding multiple yellow bricks does not change their colour one bit. In contrast, the size of bricks is continuous, for if we add multiple bricks of X size then it will change the total size of the whole from X to Y, where X > Y.

Defence of the Teleological argument

My opponent states that methane based life could be possible, but the fact is that methane is a carbon compound, so my premise that all life must be carbon based remains unchallenged.

Even if there was non-carbon based life, this could not be complex life because complex life requires a huge amount of different compounds. Carbon is the only element that can produce the large variety required.
Remember, that my teleological argument only argues for the fine-tuning of complex life, not life as a whole.

Con's next point is that Michael Tooley simulated universes that could support life, despite changing more than 1 of the constants. However, this only increases the probability of a chance universe by around 1/2, considering that the total probability of our life-supporting universe is about 1 in 10300, changing a few of the constants would increase the probability to around 1 in 10100, but this is still an impossibly tiny probability.
It is not just me that acknowledges that the probability of a universe able to support complex life is extremely tiny, Professor Stephen Hawking stated that:

"The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers... the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life." (1)

Being an atheist, it is some feat that he acknowledges the extremely precise nature of the universe that appears to have been geared for life.

Response to Con's opening statements

Problem of Divine Hiddenness

My ontological argument has asserted the perfect goodness of God, so we must ask whether the problem of hiddenness disproves the existence of a perfectly good God.
I argue that it is compatible with a perfectly good God, following on the logic that God is morally justified to permit what I call 'honest agnosticism'.
I argue that, whilst having a meaningful relationship with God is a great good, free will is a greater good. There must be an epistemological gap between God and man in order for man to have full free will.
An analogy would be that, if man were to be constantly aware of the certainty of God's existence, then we would be like a child in a nursery who's mother is looking in at the door; our free will would be constrained by our desire to please our mother. We need 'epistemic distance' in order to act without feeling constantly obliged to please God.

Furthermore, having faith in God is a good, because it is a manifestation of the virtue of trust. The existence of epistemic distance is necessary in order to maintain the existence of faith, therefore an epistemic distance would be maintained by God.

My opponent goes on to highlight the case of theists of other religions. However, it is a commonly held theistic belief that all the religions are simply different ways of interpreting the same God. Such a view is backed up by the very few contradictions between the major religions concerning God's innate nature. Here is an excellent Hindu analogy of this omnist approach:

'A number of blind men came to an elephant. Somebody told them that it was an elephant. The blind men asked, "What is the elephant like?" and they began to touch its body. One of them said: 'It is like a pillar.' This blind man had only touched its leg. Another man said, "The elephant is like a husking basket." This person had only touched its ears. Similarly, he who touched its trunk or its belly talked of it differently.' (2)

The meaning of this analogy is that just because there are many different interpretations of God, it does not follow they are referring to different things.

Problem of Horrendous Suffering

As this version of the problem of evil is a type of logical problem of evil, all that the theist needs to prove is that God could conceivably justify the existence of horrendous suffering, as the argument is based on deduction and not induction.
Con states that 'An unsurpassably empathic God would only allow horrendous suffering if it was NECESSARY for us to realize our greatest good', but this is an oversimplification. All that is required for God to allow horrendous suffering is that there is not any incoherency in suggesting that he could justify it whilst retaining his perfectly good nature. This is not limited to personal development as humans, it could be any good reason.
Whilst it is true that God is perfectly compassionate, he has the ability to withhold compassionate action if doing so will be the lesser of the two evils.
The argument fails because it is based on an over-valuing of human cognitive understanding. Stephen Wykstra (3) maintained that we cannot get from the statement:

'We cannot see any reason why X could be justified by God'
'There is no reason why X could be justified by God'.

This is because we are not omniscient.

Therefore, the argument would only be valid if humans were omniscient. As we are not, the argument is not sound.

Physical Minds

The argument from physical minds is valid based on the premise that everything is based on the physical and that there are no non-physical entities. However, such a premise is self-refuting according to the following argument:

P1: True sentences are non-physical entities
P2: If physicalism is true, there are no non-physical entities (4)
P3: If physicalism is true, there are no true sentences
P4: If P3 is a true sentence, then physicalism is false.
C: Physicalism is self-refuting.

As my opponent's argument is based on physicalism, his argument is self-refuting.

Evidential Problem of Evil

As I am running short on character count, I will respond to the analogy of the fawn in the fire only, considering it is the main part of the argument.

Animal suffering is necessary on an evolutionary basis; fawns have evolved in such a way that fire causes painful burns. This evolution was necessary as otherwise they would not fear fires. The possibility must exist that some fawns are painfully burned in forest fires, otherwise fawns would not fear forest fires.

Debate Round No. 3


I want to thank my opponent for his comments, and his participation in this debate. In my last response, I mentioned my opponent would have to present a successful ontological argument in order to prove the existence of a tri-omni God. My opponent has presented an ontological argument, but I don"t think it is successful.

The Ontological Argument

Premise 2 suggests that God could exist in the mind, but this is just another way of saying that God can be an abstraction without existence in the real world i.e. nonexistence. St. Anselm developed this argument[1] and argued that a being that existed was greater than one that didn"t exist. This idea was first criticized by Gaunilo[2] who claimed that the argument could be used to prove anything and gave a parallel argument for the existence of the greatest conceivable island. The argument can also be used to drive contradictions. The argument (if sound) could prove the existences of a greatest conceivable force and a perfectly immovable object- which is absurd. The most famous criticism of the argument comes from Immanuel Kant who criticized Descartes formulation of the argument. Kant argued that existence was not a predicate[1] which means that existence is not a property that things have. Things must first exist, and only then can properties be attributed to it. Kant gave an example of a triangle. We can"t separate the property of a triangle having interior angles of 180 degrees without contradiction, but there is no contradiction saying that the triangle doesn"t have angles that add up to 180 degrees if we also say it doesn"t exist. Kant goes further and argues that the devil cannot exist by this argument. If existence was a predicate, then the worst conceivable being i.e. the devil couldn"t exist, because a devil that existed wouldn"t be worse than one that didn"t. Kant rejected the argument, because he didn"t think existence was a real predicate. He also thought that if existence was a predicate, then the argument undermined Christian theology. A final criticism challenges the idea of comparing an existing thing with a nonexistent thing. How can an existing thing be "greater" than something that doesn"t exist? When we compare tables we are assuming that both tables exist. One could be large, the other small. One could be wood, the other plastic. Only when both tables exist can we compare their properties and say that one is greater than the other. If one table doesn"t exist, then we don"t have anything to compare. Richard Swinburne has gone as far to say that the ontological argument is a fallacious argument[3] and fails completely. These 3 objections give us good reason to reject the ontological argument. This means that the original objections I laid out in my last response still stand. My opponent has not sufficiently demonstrated that an omnipotent, omniscient, nor omnibenevolent being exists. All that"s left is to give an adequate defense of my arguments for atheism, so I will cover my opponents other 2 arguments briefly.

The Cosmological Argument

My opponent states he has not assumed the principle of sufficient reason a priori, but rather assumes it inductivily. I grant that. My objection is that we only have reason to believe it true inductively from our local perspective. We have no reason to believe this assumption holds on cosmic or quantum scales. Inductive assumptions such as causation and Newtonian mechanics have both broken down on cosmic and quantum scales, so we have reason to doubt that the assumption that the principle of sufficient reason is valid at cosmic/quantum scales UNLESS we knew it true a priori. There is no contradiction in an infinite series of physical causes, and it"s possible that the Big Bang, the universe, or consciousness could be brute facts needing no sufficient reason. A successful ontological argument was needed to rule these possibilities out.

My opponent also grants that premise 3 is a fallacy of composition, but, strangely, he bites that bullet and claims it doesn"t refute his claim. I grant that it doesn"t refute his claim, otherwise that would be the fallacy fallacy[4] on my part. My point is that his reasoning is invalid, and therefore proves nothing. We must be given a valid reason to think Premise 3 is true, but we"ve been given an invalid reason. Therefore I"m under no rational obligation to accept the premise as true. He then tries to save his reasoning by drawing a distinction between discrete and continuous properties, which doesn"t validate the invalid reasoning. It"s true that every goose in a flock has a mother, but it is not true that the flock has a mother. That is a discrete property of the same category as contingency. Premise 3 remains fallacious, and the argument is unsound.

The Teleological Argument

My opponent still hasn"t provided a unanimous definition of "life." He"s only said that life MUST be carbon based. But this is an extraordinary claim. What evidence could he have that our cosmological constants are fine tuned FOR CARBON BASED LIFE? He quoted Hawking who only said it "seems" that our cosmos was fine tuned for life- he never suggests that it actually is. I"ll provide a quote of my own from Douglas Adams:

"This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in " an interesting hole I find myself in " fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for."

I also presented 5 lines of evidence that suggest the universe wasn"t designed for life TO FLOURISH. My opponent never responded to these, and I will not have another opportunity to defend them.

Divine Hiddenness

My opponent suggests the following:

"having a meaningful relationship with God is a great good, free will is a greater good."

Why believe this? There is a distinction between outweighing goods and our greatest good. How is a meaningful relationship with the most perfectly good being in existence NOT our greatest good? Free will could only be an outweighing good used to acquire some greater good. This suggestion has it backwards. A relationship with God would be our greatest good, and free will could only be an outweighing good, but it couldn"t outweigh a meaningful relationship with the most perfect being. He also says;

"We need epistemic distance in order to act without feeling constantly obliged to please God"

Why believe this? I love my mother and she gives me causally sufficient reason that she still exists to maintain both of us in a position to have meaningful relationship. This in no way impedes my free will. Theists are quick to appeal to things like religious experience or intuitive feelings of the divine as justification for the belief that God exists, so this would be all that is necessary and wouldn"t impede our free will. There are atheists who honestly are seeking God, but don"t have causally sufficient reason to believe he exists. Former believers have lost their faith through no fault of their own other than looking at evidence. Certain regions such as The Amazon contain people who have never even heard of theism. Through no fault of their own, these people are blocked from a meaningful relationship with a specific type of God- the personal God of theism. Hindu"s, pantheists, animists, etc are not compatible systems of belief with theism. We may well all have some sense of divine reality, but theism is making a much more specific claim.

Horrendous Sufferings

My opponent thinks that any good reason is sufficient for God to allow horrific sufferings. Recalling the distinction between outweighing goods and our greatest good, what reason could an unsurpassably empathetic God have for permitting horrendous suffering? It wouldn"t be for just any outweighing good, but must be necessary for our GREATEST GOOD. But horrendous suffering isn"t necessary for us to realize our greatest good i.e. an experience of God. My opponent is proof of this. Not everyone who experiences God suffers horrendously. Therefore horrendous suffering is not logically compatible with the existence of a perfectly loving God.

Physical Minds

My opponent has misrepresented this argument. My argument claims that MENTAL ACTIVITY has a physical basis in embodied brains- not that all entities are necessarily physical. Michael Tooley formulated this argument, and he is not a physicalist. He"s a property dualist. Tooley surely isn"t presenting an argument that defeats his own beliefs.

The Evidential Argument from Evil

My opponent suggests that pain from being burnt is necessary for biological evolution, and while I grant that pain is necessary for evolution, the languishing for days in terror and agonizing pain is NOT. We have no good reasons to believe that this suffering is logically necessary for any adequately compensating good. My opponent suggested Wykstra"s response that even though we can"t see a reason, it would be presumptuous of us to infer that there is none. I find this response unconvincing, ad hoc, and a segue right back to the problem of divine hiddenness. If God did have some reason to let deer and children suffering intensely, then he could tell us his reason, and he would have no adequate reason not to tell us if he was perfectly loving.

Thank you.



Right, now for the final round. Thanks to my opponent for setting up such a great debate!

Ontological Argument

In premise 2 I am simply asserting that we can conceive of God; which is a fairly axiomatic view that even most atheists share. However, there is a possibility that he could exist in reality as well, meaning that God could exist in both mind and reality.

Gaunilo's critique is that an ontological argument could be used to prove the existence of any perfect thing, such as a perfect island or a perfect house. However the reason the argument works for God and not these items is because islands have no 'intrinsic maximum'. (1) Due to this, we cannot conceive of a perfect island so we cannot prove that it exists using an ontological argument. The qualities that make up a perfect island are subjective; one person may think that black sand is more perfect than white sand, there is no intrinsic maximum to the perfection of sandy beaches.
My conception of a perfect island will be different to your conception of a perfect island. As perfection is objective, this suggests that we cannot really conceive of a perfect island. In contrast, we can all conceive of a tri-omni being.

Kant's critique is that existence is not a predicate, but it is odd to suggest that it is not a predicate because a predicate is a property, and to suggest that 'X has the property of existence' is not incoherent, so existence appears to be a property.
I agree that it is not the same sort of predicate as those such as having three interior angles, but it is still a predicate at least in a grammatical sense.
My second premise is that a God that exists in both mind and reality is greater than a God that exists in the mind. Surely this premise is correct; for why else would theists be so passionate about asserting the existence of God in reality and not be content with a purely mental construct? Is an existing million dollars not greater than an imaginary million dollars? If this were the case, people would not covet real money.
Ultimately, we clearly hold existence to be a valuable property.
My opponent asks how we can compare an existing thing to a non-existing thing, but this is not happening in my argument. I am simply comparing a being that is a mental construct with a being that is metaphysically real.

Therefore, my ontological argument still stands.

Cosmological argument

My opponent states that the principle of sufficient reason (or the principle of contingency, as is the case with my argument) breaks down at quantum or cosmic scales. However, scientific discoveries say nothing of the sort. All quantum fluctuations and general relativity can still be given reasons for its events, just different reasons than we would postulate for the events of Newtonian mechanics.
As we can see that every single thing in the universe that we have observed is contingent, it is a valid a posteriori to suggest that everything in the universe is contingent. I agree that we have a reason to doubt that everything is contingent, but this doubt is so small in the face of evidence that it can be reasonably discarded.
I dispute my opponent's assertion that there is no contradiction in an infinite series of physical causes; as the very principle of causation is that A causes B to occur; if B then causes A to occur then this is paradoxical.
I find it odd also that people normally so concerned with scientific discovery could simply state that the universe is a 'brute fact' that has no need for explanation; which is a very unscientific thing to say.

I never say that premise 3 is a fallacy of composition, I simply say that it can be misconstrued to be guilty of it.
Although some discrete properties (such as your example of having a mother) cannot be transferred from part to whole, this is clearly seen as soon as one adds two of these parts together. For example, it is seen as soon as we add two geese together that the pairing as a whole does not have a mother even if the individual geese do. This is not the case with contingency; for if we add two contingent things together the whole is still contingent. No matter how many contingent things we add together it is not conceivable that the whole will suddenly become non-contingent. Therefore, it seems odd that simply by adding all the contingent things in the universe together we will have a non-contingent whole.

Teleological Argument

My opponent forgets that I am only talking about COMPLEX life; and I maintain my position that it must be carbon-based because carbon is simply the ONLY element that can form the huge variety of different compounds that are required for complex life.

The analogy of the puddle is a poor one I'm afraid to say, as a puddle is simply a certain shape that water can form; there are infinite ways a puddle could form. In contrast, there are such a tiny amount of ways that complex life could come about so it is a valid question to ask why we exist at all.

I apologise for neglecting to answer your point about life flourishing, I must have missed it. I'll answer it now.
The truth is that my argument never asserts that life was designed to FLOURISH, all my argument does is argue that the universe is designed for complex life to EXIST. In this way, your arguments against a life-flourishing universe are straw-man arguments.

Divine Hiddenness

I would argue that a relationship can only be meaningful if it is freely chosen; if God was to make himself obvious then people will feel compelled to have a relationship with him; which is hardly meaningful. There must be epistemic distance between us and God in order for there to be a significant and meaningful journey to God, otherwise theism is simply a matter of cold, brute fact with no existential meaning.

My opponent opines that his knowledge and love of his mother does not impede on his free will; but this is because his mother is not constantly watching him. Let me put it this way, my opponent would surely feel constrained to act in a certain way if he knew that his mother was watching him through CCTV when on a night out. This is what it would be like if everyone was certain that God exists, we would not have as much free-will to act out of our own intuitions and inclinations because we would be constantly obliged to please God. God recognises this and so instigates epistemic distance to allow humans to be more free.

I agree that there are cases of people who have lost their theistic belief or never found it, but it is still open to absolutely anyone if they are willing. Sure, there are cases of people who feel there is too little evidence, but this is only because they are mired in the scientific longing for evidence and could find God if they take a leap of faith, as it were, or simply make more effort in reading the evidence that there is that God exists.
So long as there is potential for anyone to believe in God (and there is) then the problem of divine hiddenness is avoided. Even those who have a different sense of divine reality, I argue that they are still sensing the same God, and gain the same spiritual satisfaction from doing so.

Horrendous Suffering

Whilst it is true on a personal level that horrendous suffering is unneeded to realise our greatest good, I still assert that the EXISTENCE of horrendous suffering in the world is either, in the case of moral evil, the side-effect of free-will or, in the case of natural evil, necessary for allowing the human race as a whole to develop.

With moral evil, God has two options:
a) Remove the free-will of human agents and therefore avoid moral evil
b) Allow human agents to have free-will and accept that moral evil must therefore exist

The latter is a greater good, as free-will is absolutely pivotal in order for human agents to develop as persons. There is no point to our existence if we do not have free-will; we would be simply divine puppets. Therefore, horrendous suffering that results from moral evil is necessary if we are to retain our free-will, which is a greater good than the avoidance of moral evil.

In the case of natural evil, a God who cares about human development would create a world with certain dangers within it (such as volcanoes or earthquakes) for two reasons:
1) We are allowed to make our own choices of where to live; for example the soil near volcanoes is very fertile, so human agents have the responsibility to weigh up the risks of volcanoes with the benefits of fertile soil. If the world was to be a perfectly safe place then there would be little responsibility for human agents.
2) The existence of natural disasters allows the manifestation of empathy and charity, which is a greater good than the non-existence of natural evil. Compassion enables human agents to develop morally and existentially; without suffering there can be no moral development as there would be no need for virtues such as compassion and altruism.

Therefore, horrendous suffering is necessary even when resulting from natural evil, as it allows the greater good of human virtues to be realised.

Physical Minds

Either way, even if we correlate brain-events with mental-events then this it does not necessarily mean that the latter cannot occur without the former. Normally we correlate physical-events (such as stubbing one's toe) with brain-events (pain). However, brain-events can still occur without physical stimuli (such as long-term grief), so we can extrapolate back to postulate that mental-events can occur without corresponding brain-events. This would allow disembodied minds to exist.

Evidential Problem of Evil

The reason that a fawn would languish in pain for days is that it got out of the fire before it could burn to death; it is a necessary by-product from the fact that skin has a given resistance to burns and so the body will try to fix itself for a few days. If the body gave up sooner then even more suffering would result from minor causes.

Thank you.

Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by Dookieman 1 year ago
Great debate! This was a fun read. Anyways, onto the arguments. Despite what Pro thinks, the only argument he gave for God's existence is the ontological argument. As Con pointed out, the cosmological and fine tuning argument does not show that God so defined exists. Indeed, these arguments could be used for the existence of a completely evil or indifferent God, and not for the perfectly good God of monotheism. The problem of horrendous suffering is a new argument that I haven't heard before. I find it interesting because it focuses on a particular kind of evil. As Con stated, these types of sufferings are not needed in order for one to obtain knowledge of God, and most people come to know God without having to suffer horrendously. This argument, combined with an evidential argument from evil, provide a serious blow to monotheism. I saw that Pro responded to the objections raised by Gaunilo and Kant to the ontological argument. However, he didn't respond to the fact that the ontological argument can be used to draw contradictions, which I think shows the argument to be bad. Looking back, and considering all the arguments presented, I believe Con is victorious. Good job to both of you. I'll be happy to clarify my vote if anybody ask.
Posted by Shadowlink26 1 year ago
Shared burden of proof. Pro has to argue that God does exist, while con argues that God does not exist.
Posted by Leo.Messi 1 year ago
Does pro have to prove God exists?
Or does con have to prove that he does not?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Dookieman 1 year ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments.