James Brown: Opening Statement


Opening Statement

First of all I would like to thank my opponent for accepting this debate also. And indeed I myself have already learnt some new things, I hope I can in turn teach my opponent a thing or two. Unfortunately I do not hold the same optimism about coming closer to truth, as I appreciate that Christianity is a matter of faith, and therefore by definition is unappreciative of the notion of truth, except the truth that lies in true and unquestioning faith. Unquestioning faith by its very nature is unaltered by reason and debate.

However, despite the inherent contradiction in the premise of this debate, I do not feel I am being contradictory in supporting my own views which are based very much in the realms of reason and physical reality.

On the First Contention and "The Problem of Atheism"

Another concern before I begin is the interesting twist of roles that my opponent has contrived in his First Contention. It is not my position to prove atheism. To begin with I am not an Atheist (or anti-religion as the label connotes) and believe there is a place for Religions of all types in society, even a necessity for it in the interests of maintaining a healthy balance, I just believe that the actual concept is false. In addition, as the Affirmative party, my opponent's task in this debate is to prove the moot, that god exists, and as he has defined this god as the christian god he has now to prove the exclusive existence of this particular god. My task in this debate is only to disprove this. Therefore if I, through the course of my argument, prove even the probability of Hinduism, the Greek Deities, in fact if I prove that "The Force" exists then I have achieved the task of disproving the probability of the existence of a sole, omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent "Christian" God.

On the Affirmative Party's Arguments

It grieves me that I must point out fault in my opposition's approach to this debate as it lengthens a reply that already requires a heavy girth. I would like to remind my opponent that this is a debate based on the arguments we both feel have merit for our respective cases. A collection of every christian argument known to man categorized into an opening statement shows little or no evaluation and therefore understanding of the arguments set forth by my opponent. This is made especially obvious when the same arguments are referred to as different by replacing variables for example the Thomistic Cosmological Argument and the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and arguments that blatantly contradict basic fundamentals of Christianity like the Argument from Abstract Entities. Both of which I will address in due course.

Despite the academic nature of many of the main points put forward by my opposition I suppose I have no choice but to follow the list, and rebut individually to each point. I would however beg of my opposition in the remainder of the debate to stick to arguments he understands and feels he can substantiate, aside from providing a more interesting and concise argument, this would also help my opposition to avoid undermining himself.

Metaphysical Arguments

On the Thomistic and Kalam Cosmological Arguments

Commonly referred to as the Argument from Cause.

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist needs a cause
Premise 2: The universe began to exist
Conclusion: The universe needs a cause.

When pointed out it becomes obvious that these arguments are identical, one referring to the "need for a cause" as just that and the other referring to the "need for a cause" as dependency. And the solution to this argument is also obvious. If everything that exists needs a cause then if god exists, what caused God? You may argue that god didn't "begin" existing -- referring more accurately to your own premises -- believing that "he" always existed. But by omitting the assumption that nothing has existed forever, then you are offering up the possibility that the Universe didn't need to begin to exist and therefore never needed a creator/designer.

Another variation is your reference to Alvin Plantinga, Asking "why are there any contingent beings at all?" Well there is a simple answer to this, and that is Contingent beings exist because they exist. As Contingency is a concept created by contingent beings, and is only a relevant grouping when pertaining to those contingent beings. Without the presence of contingent beings this grouping becomes academic, as do other human constructs, such as god, made in the hope of explaining the unexplainable (and by unexplainable I mean what was unexplainable many thousands of years ago).

Then you give a lovely image of infinity, much like: Infinity + 1 does not equal 1 + infinity, which only acts to prove that god could not have existed forever and also required a cause.

For the Divine/Intelligent Mind

On the Principle of Finality/Unity

The Principle of Finality is one of the academic arguments I referred to earlier. The argument from design. We see examples all around us of how evolution -- that is the complex process of trial and error that shapes the world and the "create"-tures within it, moves towards more complex and useful entities; this may be misinterpreted as design, intended to fulfill an end. This is where I find it most difficult to argue as the answer seems so readily available.

Now I'm not sure what my opponent's view on archeological findings is but I assume he is not sitting a world wide conspiracy involving the construction of giant Skeletons complete with intricately accurate cell structures. So I will go on with my argument under the assumption we agree that dinosaurs, wooly mammoths and earlier hominids existed in their respective time periods throughout prehistory. The reason I'm stating this assumption is that the time involved; approximately 4,000,000,000 years helps us understand the wonder inherent in a world so complex and unified. It is hard to comprehend how just through trial and error a world so rich in life could be achieved without a designer, with this I agree, but it is also hard to comprehend the events over 4,000,000,000 years and in this I believe our wonder lies.

The reason the world has evolved in a unified way need not be handed over to the almighty. It is a plain fact that all of the world's systems entities that do not work in harmony with the world do not thrive. Through billions of years of evolution only the unified forces in this world have had a fighting chance at survival. This encompasses all systems: Animals, Plants, Geography (the world is round is it not?), physical traits, behavioral traits and to a lesser extent groups and social systems (though I am not a social Darwinist).

So order in the Universe is inevitable because when elements fall outside this order they perish. So the end in this case is survival, which is also the means as we are only here because we have survived in harmony with the environment (so far) and with traits that are suited to survival, those that have been unsuitable or unadaptable have perished.

On Abstract Entities

Where to begin with Abstract entities? Well, initially I'd like to point out that if Plantinga's theory is correct, and that god has thought of every idea before we have in order for us to be able to think of it, then this proves that we are unable to have original thoughts, and therefore are incapable of free will, and therefore god is responsible for every decision we make. So it appears that if there are such things as evil thoughts then god must have been responsible for them, and indeed must have had them first therefore undermining his Omnibenevolence and therefore his existence in the terms stated by the christian church. This is a subject that could be debated at length, but as I believe that Plantinga is not correct, then I will pursue this line no longer unless prompted.

Plantinga only says that it "seems" wrong that to think that properties do not exist before humans conceive them. As Plantinga has provided no reason or evidence for what makes it "seem" wrong, then my belief that it does not "seem" wrong should be enough to at least require my opposition to provide some support for his quoted assumption before we follow this line any further.

On Scientific Evidence

Scientific evidence has always been a slippery slope for Christian arguments and I am surprised this subject has not been avoided by my opponent, as the discoveries of science are heavily weighed in evolution's favor (for an explanation of evolution and God's impossible co-existence refer to the end of this argument, if this is indeed necessary, as I assume this is something upon which we already agree?).

The Affirmative's first Scientific Evidence:

"Scientists have found out that there are conditions to be met in order for intelligent life to exist. A life permitting universe is very improbable, so improbable that Donald Page said that the odds of our universe existing is 1 out of 10,000,000,000123. Therefore it is more probable that there must have been an Intelligent Designer behind it."

First of all I doubt that the scientists who discovered the "facts" my opponent has presented which I am assuming are correct, would appreciate the way they have been misrepresented. I doubt that these mathematicians would have drawn the same conclusions as my philosopher opponent has. For the first point I would return the question how many 10,000,000,000123's go into infinity? Not many? Wrong. In fact an infinite number of 10,000,000,000123's go into infinity. If there are infinite possibilities for this probability then the outcome of intelligent life is not only a strong possibility but it is an inevitability.

So are there infinite possibilities? Yes. First of all, I may not in a few words be able to prove that there is an infinite amount of time, but I can safely say that there has been a lot of it, I can also add to that that there are infinite divisions of time. Within each of these divisions of time there is a possibility to be entered into the probability stated. Also I may not be able to prove that there is infinite space however once again there are many divisions of space. Within each of these divisions is another possibility. Now here's a maths problem for our budding mathematician: Amount of time X infinite divisions of time X Amount of Space X the amount of divisions of Space.

That's right, there are infinite possibilities.

Argument from Morality

Within this argument my opposition has posed a plethora of questions and through failing to find answers to these questions has resigned himself to the standard response "because I don't understand it, God must have created it." My opponent's questions are as follows:

If God does not exist, can objective moral values exist? Why should I be moral? / Why not be Immoral? What if I don't care about what Society thinks / people feel? What if I wanted to rape someone just because it gives me pleasure? And if so people would find my actions evil / wrong -- Why?

My opponent has also posed a few questions from my "atheist" side from which I would like to disassociate myself. Evidence supporting the answers to the questions posed by my opposition are all around us, and need not be generalized into the all encompassing answer "God" (or is it "Good"?). Before answering the questions posed by my opponent I feel that this statement "We all know that objective moral values exist" sums up the two major assumptions that plunge this argument into fallacy.

First of all, the absolute statement that objective moral values exist is not only debatable but but is most likely completely false. Therefore the statement that we all know this (that objective moral values exist) is most definitely false. This is a fact. For example "thou shalt not kill" an 'objective' moral rule states that a man who kills a rapist in the defense of his wife has made an immoral choice. This is to my mind incorrect, if you disagree this only stands to prove my next point. There are many situations where people will act in different ways when confronted with a situation, both believing they have made a moral choice and thinking the other has made an immoral one. This clearly shows that there is no such thing as objective moral values, and it certainly shows that we do not all 'know' that they exist.

The second fallacy that this statement outlines is something I find disturbing about some religious groups. This is the tendency to label an action or even a person as good or evil. The above example already shows that we cannot find rules that can be followed blindly in order to make moral decisions. I also believe that any system that has moral rules that negate the need to think about one's actions creates an environment of irresponsibility, as within the rules one cannot be held accountable for their actions. Now I assume that the 'objective' moral rules my opponent talks about are those set forward by the Christian Church. The same Church that for hundreds of years has not allowed female priests, homosexual priests, etc. I won't list every act by the Christian Church that has contradicted it's objectivity, but will go on to say that this concept of good and evil is clearly not an objective way of looking at the world.

So, without God can moral values exist? Yes. My opponent seems baffled that over thousands of years of civilization we have come up with some notion of morality all by ourselves (in fact we even made a word for it -- Morality). I struggle to understand why this so baffles my opponent. As human beings, we have feelings and emotions (I am not debating where these come from) and understand that other human beings do also. It then stands to reason that to get by in life without creating a great deal of conflict and difficultly for yourself it is best to look out for other people's feelings and well being, basically to be nice / "love thy neighbor." Of course this is simple logic and cannot explain the large and complex structure of morality we have in modern day society (laws, codes, social responsibility) as each individual interprets it. However this can be accounted for by the drive humans have had to thrive in the world, and the social structures that have hence evolved. I do not mean to say by this that morality is a completely self serving endeavor, it is a way of relating your feelings to the feelings of others ultimately building a notion of empathy, which is self serving in a societal way.

On the Resurrection of Christ

This self confessed ad hoc argument I feel falls into the category of "extraordinary claims" and hence should require extraordinary proof. There is no such proof. A book written 2000 years ago, a considerable time after the events, in a time where there was low literacy levels and swings of political and religious emotiveness is hardly extraordinary proof. I am sure that my opposition would not place as much faith in the factual accounts of Herodotus' The Histories written only a few hundred years before. This is an extreme example, but illustrates the unreliability of perspectives on historical events during a climate of illiteracy, oppressive government, and religious celebration.

On the Existential Argument

This, I think, is my opponents most convincing argument yet. It is clear and appeals to the human "spirit." We can satisfy all our natural desires: Food, Sex, Sleep here on earth, why not our desire for perfect happiness? To reply I have two points, you may already have guessed the first point. That is that the desires that are fulfilled on earth: Food, Sex, Sleep are not fulfilled perfectly and are only temporarily satisfied and therefore it does not stand to reason that anything else should be satisfied absolutely, like happiness. You may say that our desire is for "perfect happiness" not "happiness" absolute. For this I come to my second point

There is a purpose for our unresolved desire for perfection not just in happiness but in almost all our endeavors. This is a purpose central to the idea of evolution, and this is that it drives us to continue existing. Consider if we were perfectly satisfied with our first meal indefinitely. As the food we had ingested was digested and passed we would feel no hunger. We would continue going about our business and would at some stage keel over and die, never to reproduce or pass on knowledge, with the satisfied feeling of a full tummy there right until the last. This is a very simple example but can be paralleled in all aspects of our lives. The goal of perfection is part of the drive responsible for our existence here and now. Without feeling hungry, feeling unhappy, feeling tired, feeling sexually unsatisfied, we would become extinct. There are examples of this all over the world, from insomniacs to Giant Pandas. To be clear this "drive" I am talking about plays a similar role as the "spirit" does, however drive is caused though evolution, it is a trait not gifted but survived. Along with those with drive the trait itself has also survived and become more clearly defined.

A Few Evolutionary/Naturalistic Arguments

In closing I would like to clarify my own stand point and that is that evolution is the explanation for what was unexplainable when religions were first conceived. It may be redundant to write further on this topic as I am unsure of my opponent's view on this issue, whether he is a steadfast creationist or believes that evolution can co-exist with God.

Either way I would like to put forward a few arguments for evolution as I believe that if proven evolution negates the need for a designer. The model I would set forward is that Design relates to Evolution the same way that Study relates to Experience. Both can result in similar outcomes however study will give a more clear and finite understanding where experience will give a far more deep but perhaps unclear understanding. When you ask either the studier or the experiencer about the topic they can both give you an answer, both with valid information. Evolution can give a product that may be interpreted as designed, but is in fact naturally occurring. If Design is unnecessary and there is no evidence for it then it has no credibility. It is of course possible, as long as we still have questions it will be possible, but probable it is not.

From Dinosaurs to Human Beings we can see clearly the way animals adapt to their surroundings and over generations physically change to suit their environment. From Homo-Habilis to Homo-Sapiens-Sapiens, we see a similar form who's adaptable and superior traits have survived to form a still recognizable but more physically and mentally able form.

Although this is a clear example it requires one to believe the findings of archeologists are not fabricated and that their estimations in dating are accurate. So if that was hard to swallow we can bring evolution to a more tangible level. Man's best friend. No one can deny that any domestic Dog is from the same family as the Wolf, if the physical resemblance is not enough it has been genetically proven. Now if you take a wolf from the wild and employ it as a guard dog to protect your family, you might well be achieving the opposite of your intentions.

This is because the domestic dog has evolved to become placid and co-exist with humans. This is simple habitat equation when two beings are in the same environment they either co-exist or one kills/expels the other. In cases where a useful partnership can be made co-existence is often achieved, this is most evident in those National Geographic pictures you see of seagulls picking food from the teeth of alligators. This co-existence with man and dog comes from the more placid wolves venturing closer to campsites and being rewarded with food. Food aides survival and therefore placidity amongst Canines close to humans becomes a survival trait. And we can now see that the domestic dog is a very different animal from the wolf.

One final proof for the validity of evolution as a means of creating complex and efficient entities is the emerging field of genetic algorithms. These computer simulations of the evolutionary process work with millions of behaviors that are tested in a particular environment or set of parameters that dictate whether they are successful or unsuccessful in a given situation. Through this process of evolution engineers are able to find far more efficient solutions to problems than could not be found through design. For example genetic algorithms have been used to achieve much higher efficiency levels in Jet propeller blades, Radio receivers and have recently been able to determine flight paths in unmanned aircraft through unknown terrain in real time.

The last example is obviously a combination of design and evolution but it provides evidence that the evolutionary process is not only a valid but a far more efficient way to meet an end.

Closing

In the arguments above I have clearly rebutted the Affirmative's preliminary arguments for Christianity. Through providing strong and clear answers to the questions posed by my opponent I have shown that there is no good reason to resort to the resignation "I don't understand it so god must have created it." I have shown that evolution can be solely responsible for our existence and can be clearly seen in process all around us today and throughout history and pre-history. Therefore we have no need to seek a designer for which we have no evidence and no need.

As for the Cosmological arguments I have shown that these are contradictory, as if a causeless being exists then it contradicts the first premise that everything that exists must have a cause. The scientific probably of a life permitting universe has only helped me prove that even without god the existence of intelligent life is not only probable but inevitable.

Evolution holds also explanations for unity in the universe and for our search for perfection as the harmony with which we live and the drive that motivates us are traits that allowed us to survive where others perished. Harmony is also central to the idea of morality as it is the gauge with which we shape our morality, treating others as we would like to be treated as this behavior enables us to thrive.

I feel the problems with religion stem from its inability to evolve, to adapt to new surroundings and situations and although I think Christianity's largely unwaivering rules and stories have some merit and truth I feel they are more and more becoming relevant only as a way of connecting with the past. Evolution is evident all around us and as I have said already, when there is no evidence and need for a Supernatural being such as God then this extraordinary claim requires some extraordinary evidence.

James Brown
JBrown@slingshot.co.nz

Words: 4000 approx

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