The Instigator
Con (against)
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The Contender
Pro (for)
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God exists.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/18/2017 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 725 times Debate No: 105938
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (1)
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The resolution is that God exists. Pro will be arguing that God exists, while Con will be arguing that Pro has not established that God exists.

By accepting this debate, Pro agrees that they have the burden of proof to establish that it is objectively more likely than not that God exists. The rules for assessing this are the standard rules of logic, including the rules of deductive and inductive inference. For example, a deductive argument must be deductively valid and have premises that we have sufficient reason to believe are true, and an inductive argument must establish that the conclusion is the best or only explanation for the evidence cited in the premises.

God for the purposes of this debate shall be defined, by default, as an omnipotent, omniscient, all good person. I take this definition from the first paragraph of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on "Concepts of God." [1]

If Pro wants to use a definition other than this default definition, they should ask for me to approve it in the comments section before accepting the debate. The following types of definition are unacceptable: (a) Definitions that attempt to win the debate by defining God as something that obviously exists, like "God is love" or "God is the universe." (b) Definitions that attempt to define God as something radically different from the traditional Judeo-Christian God as conceived of by Anselm, Aquinas, Richard Swinburne, or other traditional authors.

Please note that the character maximum for this debate is 5,000 characters per round.



All too often, debates about the existence of God further the idea that science and religion are in conflict. I am going to argue in favor of a form of theism consistent with Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), which describes religion and science as inhabiting different domains of teaching authority that need not and should not overlap.[1] That said, acceptance of NOMA is not necessary for my arguments.

Occam’s Razor and Realism
Occam’s razor states that if all other things are equal among competing theories, the one with the fewest assumptions ought to be favored. What people sometimes forget is that explanatory power—a theory’s ability to make natural sense of as many facts as possible—is also important, and can even make up for additional assumptions.

A good example in philosophy is the debate between realism, which says that reality exists, and solipsism, the idea that it’s impossible to know if it exists. Both theories are unfalsifiable; by definition, no evidence could ever exist to support or refute them because they can accomodate any evidence.

It may seem like solipsism is a better theory because it has fewer assumptions, but realism has one huge benefit over solipsism that makes it greatly preferable: explanatory power. Unlike solipsism, it can make sense of the distinction most people experience between dreams and real life, it can explain why the scientific method is so useful, and it can provide a framework from which non-selfish moral theories can be developed.

Theism and Morality
Just like realism, I will show that theism’s enormous explanatory power in the realm of ethics makes it highly preferable to other theories. My argument takes this form:

1. Moral theories that are more pragmatic are more likely to be true.
2. The existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God and the afterlife enables moral universalism.
3. Moral universalism is highly pragmatic.
4. God and the afterlife are very likely to exist.

I believe the first premise must be considered a moral axiom because it seems to offer the only way to resolve the is-ought problem—connecting factual statements about reality to prescriptive statements about what ought to be. Using pragmatic reasoning (which is necessarily consequentialist), agent-relative theories looking from the moral agent’s point of view are able to find a solution to the problem by focusing entirely on what is pragmatic for them (increasing pleasure, decreasing pain, fulfilling desires; it depends on the theory).[2] However, this always results in highly unintuitive implications if what is pragmatic for some people goes against what is pragmatic for others. For instance, agent-relative hedonism would prescribe a sadistic serial killer to murder as many people as he could if he found pleasure in that.

Unfortunately, more intuitive agent-neutral moral theories (where it doesn’t matter whose perspective is taken) cannot pragmatically explain—without begging the question—why an individual should do something for the greater good if it will negatively impact them.

In contrast, theism can form the basis for universal moral theories that don’t change depending on human feelings. A theistic system of ethics that takes into consideration the afterlife would prescribe for the serial killer to avoid murdering people (note that I am only talking about heaven, which is the only necessary component to make this argument work; I agree that eternal hell would be evil). Since he will personally gain by avoiding murder, refraining from killing others is something he ought to do out of self-interest.

Only by possessing complete omniscience is God able to act as an ideal observer and have perfect moral understanding, and only by being omnipotent can humanity be assured that he will uphold justice in the afterlife. Regardless of which specific system of ethics is followed, theism enables it to be universal instead of dependent on flawed human feelings.

Of course, the question of why suffering exists if God has the power to stop it comes up when you consider these three attributes of God, but there’s a very intuitive answer regarding the nature of God’s omnipotence that I’ll look forward to discussing next time.

When it comes to what is “beyond” the universe, uncertainty reigns. Maybe we live in a simulation, a multiverse, or even a hologram on the surface of a black hole. These theories may sound outlandish, but they’re taken pretty seriously by various academics because, like theism, they try to explain aspects of existence. When we realize that religion and science are not in conflict, but are beneficial for different domains of life, we can start to appreciate the usefulness of theism in the “realm of human purposes, meanings, and values,” as Stephen Jay Gould wrote in his famous essay.[1]

Debate Round No. 1


Pro's core argument goes as follows:

1. Moral theories that are more pragmatic are more likely to be true.
2. The existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God and the afterlife enables moral universalism.
3. Moral universalism is highly pragmatic.
4. God and the afterlife are very likely to exist.

This is deductively invalid, an instance of affirming the consequent, although this is concealed by the presentation. What Pro needs to say for the argument to be deductively valid is that moral universalism is ONLY true if God exists, not just that moral universalism is true if God exists. So one way of refuting this argument is just to point out that there are lots of other ways to account for moral universalism, like deontology, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, and rational self interest.

In fact, Pro's own account of morality doesn't depend on God. He writes: "refraining from killing others is something he ought to do out of self-interest." So the moral standard he's using is self interest. My opponent isn't really a divine command theorist, he's an ethical egoist who happens to think that God exists. If self interest is a valid criterion then I can construct a universal secular morality on that basis rather than positing the existence of a God that we have no independent evidence for.

I mean, if we're just making stuff up to confirm our moral preconceptions, why not make up something other than God? Plato thought that bad people were resurrected as donkeys, and philosophers ascended to the realm of Forms after death - he thought that this was just how the universe worked, not divine judgment. That sounds just as good as God, and I personally find it more aesthetically appealing, although this is a matter of taste.

Finally, even if I grant everything up to this point, Pro isn't really arguing that God exists, he's really saying it would be awful if God didn't exist. Premise 1 is completely unjustified. You can't legitimately infer the existence of God from the alleged fact that it would be nice for God to exist.

So there are a host of problems with this argument. But let's just look at the conclusion for a second.

"4. God and the afterlife are very likely to exist."

God and the afterlife are both made vastly less plausible by the overwhelming body of evidence that consciousness is dependent on the brain. You cannot have a mind without a physical substrate, because every faculty of the mind in intricately dependent on the operations of the brain to sustain it. Mental states correlate with brain states and stop or are damaged when the relevant areas of the brain are damaged. So it just not true that there are likely to be any minds without brains, whether God or the soul.

Lastly, there is the problem of evil. If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, then we would not expect there to be any gratuitous evil. But there is, and that's evidence against the existence of such a God.


In his response, Con asserts that there are many other ways to account for universal morality, and says that I have committed a logical fallacy in my argument. That would be true if it was a deductive argument, but I’m actually using inductive reasoning to point out that if moral universalism is true, it is more likely that any theory that accounts for it is true. As I will show, the alternatives Con suggest fail to account for moral universalism in practice, so the argument holds true.

What Con is effectively saying is that he can construct a moral theory based on self-interest that would instruct a serial killer to go against his self-interest. I challenge Con to do so, but it is not possible. As I showed previously, pragmatism must be considered a moral axiom. The fact is that deontology, virtue ethics, and agent-neutral utilitarianism are not pragmatic.

Making Stuff Up
Can we simply make up any ideas we want? Of course not. Adding additional assumptions to a theory just to make it “aesthetically pleasing,” like Plato’s idea that we must become donkeys, is irrational and goes against Occam’s razor. In contrast, every assumption made by theism is necessary for moral universalism to work, as I showed previously. That said, anything assumed about the nature of God beyond his basic attributes can be rightfully challenged, like the idea that he is an old man with a beard, or even that “he” is male or has any gender to speak of.

Am I saying it would be awful if God didn’t exist? Yes, that’s essentially my argument, but it’s a valid one to make based on pragmatic reasoning, and it applies just as much to the debate between realism and solipsism as it does to the existence of God and the nature of consciousness.

The Problem of Evil
If God is omnipotent (having the ability to do anything within his nature), omniscient (knowing everything about the universe’s past, present, and future), and omnibenevolent (possessing moral perfection), then why is there suffering in the world? I’m going to be presenting Alfred North Whitehead process theology, with some modification, as a potential response. Essentially, if he were to intervene in the world and prevent evil from occurring, he would undermine morality and free will, as shown below:

1. God’s omnibenevolence means that he would make the right decision in any situation.
2. Not all situations are represented in reality.
3. God must have perfect knowledge of the consequences of not just every real decision, but also every possible decision, including those he is capable of doing.
4. If God is capable of preventing negative consequences, there would be no pragmatic reason for anyone (except God) to call anything wrong at all.

5. Free will exists.
6. Free will is the power to choose between options and bring about effects on reality without being constrained by fate.
7. Having the consequences of an intended action removed violates free will.
8. God is not capable of preventing negative consequences without contradiction.

Here’s a thought experiment to clarify. Imagine a world where people are free to do whatever they wanted without any harm because God constantly intervenes to prevent bad consequences. Let’s say a bully gets angry and shouts at a small child who would prefer not to be shouted at. In order to prevent harm, God changes the sound waves in the child’s ear into something kind and friendly instead, while the child’s perception of the bully’s face is changed into a friendly smile rather than a scowl.

In this scenario, the bully doesn’t really have free will because he hopes to communicate a message to the child, but his efforts are thwarted. It also seems highly counterintuitive to assign blame for his action because it does not cause any harm, nor could it have. Thus, God needs to allow evil to occur to uphold free will and morality, and in the long run, humanity will hopefully learn the lessons they need to bring about a utopian society naturally (after all, a world full of unhappy “free” agents without suffering could hardly be considered good). The same can be said of natural evil: it was and is necessary to give evolving life forms, including humanity, the challenges they need to achieve higher levels of wellbeing in the future.

According to Björn Brembs, the author of a 2010 study on free will in invertebrates, “Even the simple animals are not the predictable automatons that they are often portrayed to be.”[1] God could not have simply given free will to biological organisms at some arbitrary point in history. Instead, he had to give even early lifeforms the freedom to develop according to their (admittedly incredibly limited) freedom.

Is this essentially deism? No, because God can still nudge humanity onto his preferred path. And unlike deism, this understanding of God as someone who works for humanity’s long-term improvement is personally meaningful and can offer great solace during times of hardship.


Debate Round No. 2


I'll discuss Pro's moral argument, then my argument based on the nature of consciousness, then the problem of evil.

The Moral Argument

Pro claims that he has not committed a logical fallacy because he is "using inductive reasoning." But inductive reasoning is not a license to throw out any old set of premises and call it an argument. There are specific rules, like Mill's methods or inference to the best explanation, that an inductive argument has to obey. My opponent's argument overlooks so many alternative explanations for morality that it is very poor as an inductive argument.

Pro challenges me to explain why it is contrary to a serial killer's self interest not to kill people. There are a couple of obvious practical reasons for this. First, he might get caught. (He could never know that he would not be caught, only that he does not see how he could get caught.) Second, he will feel guilty afterwards even if he does not get caught. On a deeper level, however, the serial killer should value human life because people can potentially become virtuous, and virtuous people can be valuable to him as friends or work associates, or simply by living productive lives in the same society as him.

Pragmatism is not a moral axiom, and Pro has not shown this. All he has said is that pragmatism "seems to offer the only way to resolve the is-ought problem." That is about as far from a demonstration of a moral axiom as it is possible to get. If any old way of getting across the is-ought gap is acceptable, why use pragmatism? Why not just start with deontology, or virtue ethics, or utilitarianism, or rational self interest? By the nature of his argument, Pro cannot answer these questions.

Pro writes that "adding additional assumptions to a theory just to make it 'aesthetically pleasing,' like Plato’s idea that we must become donkeys, is irrational and goes against Occam’s razor." Exactly, that was my point. All Pro is really doing is adding assumptions to his worldview (God and the afterlife) in order to arrive at a predetermined conclusion (moral universalism). This is a backwards way of reasoning.

He even admits that he is engaging in backwards reasoning: "Am I saying it would be awful if God didn’t exist? Yes, that’s essentially my argument." In response to this, I refer the reader to the first round, where I specified that Pro must "establish that it is objectively more likely than not that God exists." A pragmatic argument does not establish objective likelihood, only subjective necessity.


In the second round, I wrote:

"God and the afterlife are both made vastly less plausible by the overwhelming body of evidence that consciousness is dependent on the brain. You cannot have a mind without a physical substrate, because every faculty of the mind in intricately dependent on the operations of the brain to sustain it. Mental states correlate with brain states and stop or are damaged when the relevant areas of the brain are damaged. So it just not true that there are likely to be any minds without brains, whether God or the soul."

Pro has not responded to this critical point, which is widely considered a major problem for substance dualism and therefore for the claim that God and the afterlife exist. [1] Sam Harris has a great quote on this subject: "What we’re being asked to consider is that you damage one part of the brain, and something about the mind and subjectivity is lost, you damage another and yet more is lost, [but] you damage the whole thing at death, we can rise off the brain with all our faculties in tact, recognizing grandma and speaking English!" [2]

The Problem of Evil

Pro uses the free will defense to rebut the problem of evil. There are three problems with the free will defense:

(a) It assumes that free will is valuable enough to counterbalance all of the evil in the world. Our ability to make free choices has to outweigh all of the atrocities committed in human history, including by Hitler and Stalin. This is not at all clear.

(b) It ignores the fact that we will have free will without ever doing evil in heaven. If it's possible in heaven, it should be possible on earth.

(c) It does not account for natural evil, evil that occurs without being the result of a human free choice. Pro's response to this point is that natural evil provides "the challenges [people] need to achieve higher levels of wellbeing in the future." This is a very weak response. People who die torturous deaths from cancer, or drown in a natural disaster like the Tohoku tsunami in 2011, are not achieving any higher level of well being - they are just dying horrible deaths. [3]


As we draw to the close to the debate, Con has remained unable to address my central argument: the same sort of logic that is necessary to argue in favor of realism as opposed to solipsisim shows that God exists.

Con mentions "inference to the best explanation," a form of abductive reasoning (which itself is a form of inductive reasoning), as an example of logical rules that I'm ignoring. However, that is exactly the type of argument I'm employing. Con claims there are "so many alternative explanations" for universal morality, but that doesn't matter because theism is the best explanation among them all. In making that argument, Con reveals that his arguments rely on circular reasoning, as shown below:
  1. God does not exist.
  2. Universal morality exists.
  3. Universal morality must not depend on God.
As a result, any alternative explanation will be considered more probable than God's existence for universal morality, even if they don't really stack up.

Self-Interest and Universal Morality
Con attempts to show that self-interest can lead a serial killer to do the right thing, but his arguments fall flat:
  • The serial killer might get caught, and can never be sure that he won't. However, this won't matter if he is reasonably sure that he won't be caught and he judges that the pleasure he'll gain from murdering people will outweigh the negligible risk of being caught.
  • He will feel guilty about murdering people. It should be obvious to any reader that there are many criminals who feel no guilt over their actions. Every person's conscience is different because it is shaped by genetics, societal forces, and nurture, so relying on it to account for universal morality is impossible.
  • The serial killer will want to make friends. This makes no sense at all. Psychologists have long understood that extraversion is a quality that varies from person to person, and some people simply have no desire to make friends. If the serial killer judges the benefits of murdering someone to outweigh the negatives, there's no moral argument Con could make to convince him/her.
All these problems stem from the fact that Con is unwilling to accept pragmatism as a moral axiom. Because he rejects pragmatism, the problems outlined above would essentially mandate the acceptance of moral nihilism. However, if pragmatism is correct, it means that more pragmatic moral theories are more likely to be true, so the human experience of universal morality can be accounted for.

Again, the situation is exactly the same with realism. It's true that solipsisim is a simpler explanation of our experiences that does not need to posit the existence of other conscious entities or that reality exists apart from our experience of it, but realism is far more pragmatic.

Con claims that the existence of an afterlife would necessicate the validity of substance dualism. However, that is not the case. In keeping with Occam's razor, any additional assumptions about the afterlife beyond the bare basics required for universal morality to be accounted for should be avoided. Judgment is the only thing that must be accounted for, not the ability to talk to dead relatives or anything else. They can be taken on faith, but cannot be justified logically.

Out of Time
Unfortunately, I'm out of time now, but I really enjoyed this debate. Thank you Ockham for challenging me.

Debate Round No. 3
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by thelogicalumbrella 3 years ago
I thought I might as well post a comment about what I would have said about the problem of evil, though of course I know it can't be factored in for the review.

a) Is free will more valuable than all the evil that has ever occurred? If all the good that may come about from million's of years of utopian existence in the future (not heaven, but as a space-faring species) is factored in, then free will clearly outweighs the evil it brings about. As shown in my thought experiment, a world without free will would prevent people from obtaining the satisfaction of doing things they wanted to do, so the total amount of good (utility under utilitarianism, pleasure under hedonism, etc.) would be less than a utopian society brought about by humanity's free will.

b) Will we freely choose to do not evil in heaven? The only way people could freely choose not to do evil is if they understand that it is in their own interests to do good rather than evil. While on earth, that knowledge cannot be possessed, but in the afterlife, a wider perspective of human affairs can be obtained. God could not simply simulate evil to convince conscious beings because how would they be able to trust that simulation?

c) What about natural evil? My argument was not that natural evil is helpful for each individual person, but that for humanity at large, it will provide the ability to achieve greater well-being in the future. Certainly for many, natural evil results in a great deal of suffering. From God's perspective, however, it is more logical to minimize interference in the natural world to bring about greater wellbeing in the future.


Okay, so now that the debate is over, I can say what I really think. As you know, I am not actually a theist. My move is to simply deny universal morality. While I agree that pragmatism is useful in choosing realism over solipsism, I am comfortable with the idea that morality is fundamentally subjective. For most people it works, but not in all
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