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  1. Hi, I thought I’d give my thoughts on the one thing on this list that I strongly disagree on, that being that only god can explain the universe.

    You ask “how could the universe have just appeared out of nothing, or caused itself to appear before it was even there to do anything?”. Suppose my answer was: ‘it couldnt have done either of those things’.
    And to the question, “how could (a) random physical process have set the universe up “just right” to allow life?” I answer “I dont know”.

    My answers don’t bring us closer to the truth of course, but it also does not demonstrate that your assertion (god explains the universe) is true either. You must provide evidence for your claim or I cannot reasonably believe it.

    I acknowledge that this probably isn’t your only argument for the existence of god, but I thought I’d point out what I believe to be a flaw in this one.

  2. Hi Dean, thanks for reading and offering your view. It is gratifying that there is only one thing on the list that you strongly disagree with! And even there, we at least partly agree, as we both apparently agree that the universe could not have just appeared out of nothing, or caused itself to appear.

    I think the key to this matter is your statement that you don’t know how random physical processes set up the universe. Surely that means that whatever worldview you hold, you cannot explain those facts? “Don’t know” surely equals “Can’t explain”.

    But “God created” does explain, logically, how the universe appeared out of nothing. It doesn’t explain the process scientifically, but it does explain the cause. And if a hypothesis explains an event better than another hypothesis, that is evidence that the first hypothesis is more likely to be true.

    So I think my assertion that “only God can explain the universe” is true (I can’t think of any other explanation), and I think that is evidence for the claim. Obviously it isn’t proof, and it is only one of many evidences that we might consider for and against the existence of God, but I think it helps us come closer to an answer.

    I’d be interested to hear how you think we might answer the question of “Does God exist?”.

  3. Hi again, thanks for the reply!

    Yes I agree that I cannot explain how the universe exists (cosmologists have their theories). But, again, this does not automatically mean your hypothesis (only god can explain the universe) is true. Before we had a theory of gravity, say Person 1 proposed a hypothesis that invisible beings held everything down to earth, if Person 2 questions this hypothesis, asking for evidence, Person 1 could not dismiss them saying ‘you can’t explain it, so i’m correct”
    Person 2 would be reasonable in asking for evidence.

    I don’t agree that it’s possible for there to have been ‘nothing’ and there also be an entity that existed within that ‘nothing’.
    That is one reason I don’t agree that a god is a logical explanation for the universe.

    I’m uncertain as to what you are pointing to as evidence to your claim that only god explains the universe. Is it the fact that you can’t think of any other explanation?
    If it is, then I have an objection. Simply because you can’t come up with another explanation doesn’t show your explanation is correct.
    When the prevailing view was that the earth was flat, if someone thought “it seems like the earth is flat and I can’t think of any other way it could be” it wouldn’t make them correct (and we know they aren’t correct)
    Similarly, you say “Only a god can explain the universe, and I can’t think of any other way it could be explained”. This doesn’t automatically make you correct. It doesn’t make you wrong, but this argument is not evidence that you are correct.

    I could be misrepresenting your arguments/positions so please correct me if I am mistaken.

    To the question “Does God exist?” my answer is I don’t know. You would have to define God. To the question “Does the God of the Bible exist?” I am fairly confident that he does not exist, but it depends on how one defines the God of the Bible and what attributes he is said to have.

    Not sure if you were asking for how I would answer but I thought I’d answer anyway.

    I await your reply, thanks.

  4. Hi Dean, I appreciate you continuing the conversation.

    “Yes I agree that I cannot explain how the universe exists (cosmologists have their theories). But, again, this does not automatically mean your hypothesis (only god can explain the universe) is true.”

    Since you agree that you cannot explain how the universe exists, then I think the following statements follow.

    1. In this discussion so far, there is only one explanation on offer – that God created.
    2. I have read many cosmologists discuss this question, and I cannot recall any of them having an explanation. Some say it was a result of a quantum field, but don’t explain how the quantum field got there. Some talk about how there was no time before time began (obviously) so causality doesn’t make sense, but that still isn’t an explanation. Some deny any need for an explanation. But it remains true that I cannot recall ever seeing an explanation.
    3. So if we want an explanation, the only one we have at present is God. I wonder if you’d be more in agreement if we added “at present”?
    4. Then we can say “At present, only God can explain the universe”.
    5. That was as far as I went in this page, but I agree with you that “Simply because you can’t come up with another explanation doesn’t show your explanation is correct.” But surely it is some sort of evidence, or a decent argument? And that is all I would claim. It would then remain to argue how compelling or otherwise this evidence is.

    “I don’t agree that it’s possible for there to have been ‘nothing’ and there also be an entity that existed within that ‘nothing’.”

    No, strictly speaking you are correct. But when I used the word “nothing”, I meant “nothing physical”. A naturalist or atheist would generally believe the physical world is all there is so there is nothing outside the physical universe to cause it. A theist of course generally believes that there was something non-physical outside the physical universe that caused it.

    “To the question “Does God exist?” my answer is I don’t know. You would have to define God. To the question “Does the God of the Bible exist?” I am fairly confident that he does not exist, but it depends on how one defines the God of the Bible and what attributes he is said to have.”

    I agree with you that we need to clarify definitions to discuss this question, as there are many different understandings of God, and several even within the Bible. Is it important to you to know the answer to this question? And do you have any way to gain more certainty?

    Thanks.

  5. First I’ll go through each of your 5 points:

    “1. In this discussion so far, there is only one explanation on offer – that God created.”

    Yes, that’s right.

    “2. I have read many cosmologists discuss this question, and I cannot recall any of them having an explanation. Some say it was a result of a quantum field, but don’t explain how the quantum field got there. Some talk about how there was no time before time began (obviously) so causality doesn’t make sense, but that still isn’t an explanation. Some deny any need for an explanation. But it remains true that I cannot recall ever seeing an explanation.”

    Yes, there is no explanation or understanding beyond what we know about the universe expanding from a hot, dense state.

    “3. So if we want an explanation, the only one we have at present is God. I wonder if you’d be more in agreement if we added “at present”?”

    To make it slightly clearer I would say “if we want an explanation, the only one that has been proposed at present is god”.

    “4. Then we can say “At present only God can explain the universe”.

    This wording could suggest that we have refuted every possible explanation of the universe, therefore god (the only explanation left) must be the explanation. To avoid confusion, I would change it to be clearer: We can say “God is the only proposed explanation we presently have”. This may be what you mean anyway.

    “5. That was as far as I went in this page”

    That is fair enough.

    “I agree with you that “Simply because you can’t come up with another explanation doesn’t show your explanation is correct.” But surely it is some sort of evidence, or a decent argument?”

    You can put it forward as evidence but it’s not convincing. In and of itself, claiming that god explains universe, because it is the only explanation we presently have, is not a good argument because you essentially appeal to ignorance. Better arguments are needed if you want to convince someone.

    On to the next part:

    “A theist of course generally believes that there was something non-physical outside the physical universe that caused it.”

    How do you know that something nonphysical can exist? I believe that the natural world exists, I can’t say with certainty that there isn’t some realm outside the physical world, but this realm has not been demonstrated to exists, this is why I don’t believe it exists. (again, to clarify, this doesn’t mean I believe it doesn’t exist).

    “I agree with you that we need to clarify definitions to discuss this question, as there are many different understandings of God, and several even within the Bible. Is it important to you to know the answer to this question? And do you have any way to gain more certainty?”

    Currently I am not convinced that a God exists (making me an atheist). Until I have reason to believe there is a God I will remain unconvinced. It would be nice to know for certain whether or not some powerful being exists but at this point in my life knowing for sure is not important to me. If a being like that exists and wants me to know about it then it needs to do a better job at demonstrating its existence. If it exists and doesn’t want me to know (or doesn’t care) then that’s irrelevant to me. It is, however, important to me to discuss this subject because in my experience people have bad reasons for believing in a god, and so hopefully during these discussions I can either convince someone that they are mistaken or I can be convinced of my mistake.

  6. Hi Dean,

    “To avoid confusion, I would change it to be clearer: We can say “God is the only proposed explanation we presently have”. This may be what you mean anyway.”

    I agree that what you suggest is true. But I used the slightly more definite statement because it’s not just that we don’t happen to have any other explanations, but that other explanations are logical a contradiction. If the universe is everything that is physical, then it is illogical that before it existed it could cause itself to exist. Therefore either it has no explanation or the explanation lies outside itself, i.e the explanation is non-physical. A non-physical cause of the physical universe sounds to me like a partial definition of God. So while I don’t think we can prove all that, it seems quite probable at least, and in my opinion overwhelmingly probable.

    “You can put it forward as evidence but it’s not convincing. In and of itself, claiming that god explains universe, because it is the only explanation we presently have, is not a good argument because you essentially appeal to ignorance. Better arguments are needed if you want to convince someone.”

    I guess this is a matter of opinion. I think my view is strong because:

    (1) If there are two possibilities (God and no-God), and one offers an explanation and one doesn’t, then even if the evidence for God from these facts is weak (say 1 on a scale of 1-10), the evidence for no-God from these facts i s zero. So weak evidence is still way better than nothing.

    (2) But this isn’t the only evidence for God. I can think of about eight facts about the universe, the earth and life that are similarly difficult or impossible for atheism to explain. That accumulates to strong evidence in my view.

    “How do you know that something nonphysical can exist? “

    There is no logical inconsistency in believing that something non-physical can exist, and the fact that a non-physical cause is the only explanation for the universe (and for a few other facts) is evidence that it exists. Science is full of examples of uncertain entities being postulated because they explain things – string theory, the multiverse, Higgs boson, Pluto, the cosmological constant, etc. There is other evidence from people’s experience and from history.

    “but at this point in my life knowing for sure is not important to me.”

    I think this is where we differ most strongly. I really want to know, and I’m happy to go with what seems probable even if it isn’t certain. It’s how most of us live our lives, for there are very few certainties in life. But we choose partners, take courses, accept jobs, vote for politicians, choose where to live and decide our ethics all without certainty.

    “If a being like that exists and wants me to know about it then it needs to do a better job at demonstrating its existence.”

    And we disagree strongly here too. Your statement is betting that God if he exists is like you imagine he should be. But what if there is a God and he things he has given enough evidence, but you haven’t been trying hard enough? I think a safer bet is to investigate the evidence that is there, not hold out for what you think ought to be there.

    “hopefully during these discussions I can either convince someone that they are mistaken or I can be convinced of my mistake”

    Yeah, that’s a worthy aim. And I must say you are much more likely to be convincing if you remain reasonable and courteous, as you have been here.

  7. Hi again,

    “it’s not just that we don’t happen to have any other explanations, but that other explanations are logical a contradiction.
    If the universe is everything that is physical, then it is illogical that before it existed it could cause itself to exist”

    The Big Bang describes that the universe was once very hot and dense, it doesn’t say that it was the beginning of the universe and it popped out of nothing.

    I don’t think it’s illogical that there was always something that existed. It could be God, but I have no good reason to think that. I honestly can’t rule out that the universe came to exist from a natural cause.

    “Therefore either it has no explanation or the explanation lies outside itself, i.e the explanation is non-physical”

    Do you mean to say that you think its possible the universe does not have an explanation? As in “that’s just the way it happened” ? I personally can’t rule that out, which is why I’m sticking with ‘I don’t know’.

    “(1) If there are two possibilities (God and no-God), and one offers an explanation and one doesn’t, then even if the evidence for God from these facts is weak (say 1 on a scale of 1-10), the evidence for no-God from these facts i s zero. So weak evidence is still way better than nothing.”

    Before, for the sake of argument, I was granting you that the ‘no god’ possibility offers no explanation, but there actually are possible explanations offered by scientists, such as Lawrence Krauss, that don’t appeal to the supernatural. I can’t honestly say I believe it, since I don’t fully understand the ideas, but since natural causes are time and time again shown to explain things we didn’t understand, I’m more willing to go with a natural explanation.

    “(2) But this isn’t the only evidence for God. I can think of about eight facts about the universe, the earth and life that are similarly difficult or impossible for atheism to explain. That accumulates to strong evidence in my view.”

    I’d like you to list these if you don’t mind. I know this is outside the scope of the topic so if you don’t think it’s relevant then we can discuss elsewhere.

    “Science is full of examples of uncertain entities being postulated because they explain things – string theory, the multiverse, Higgs boson, Pluto, the cosmological constant, etc.”

    Yes, things are proposed, then they are tested to see whether they have predictive power. I don’t believe the god hypothesis has any.

    “There is other evidence from people’s experience and from history.”

    Neither of which are reliable enough to draw conclusions from, in my opinion.

    “I really want to know, and I’m happy to go with what seems probable even if it isn’t certain. It’s how most of us live our lives, for there are very few certainties in life. But we choose partners, take courses, accept jobs, vote for politicians, choose where to live and decide our ethics all without certainty.”

    Yeah that’s true, but I don’t think following a god, the biblical god included, is worth the sacrifice just because it might exist. I actually think it’s improbable that a god exists, at least one that wants us to know it exists.

    “Your statement is betting that God if he exists is like you imagine he should be. But what if there is a God and he things he has given enough evidence, but you haven’t been trying hard enough?”

    Being completely honest, I think, if he exists, the Christian god has provided bad evidence to support his existence. After looking at the evidence with fresh eyes it’s not convincing anymore. According to the bible Saul had a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. Why does he get such a clear sign when what we get today is a collection of books and peoples testimony? If this god wanted to let me know he existed he surely could, as in surely would be capable of it.

    I think we’d have to go through each piece of evidence and I’d have to explain why I don’t find it convincing in order for you to get where I’m coming from.

    “I think a safer bet is to investigate the evidence that is there, not hold out for what you think ought to be there.”

    I have looked at the evidence and I can say that I cannot reasonably believe that a god exists.

    “And I must say you are much more likely to be convincing if you remain reasonable and courteous, as you have been here”

    Thank you, I hope we can continue in this manner.

  8. Hi Dean,

    “The Big Bang describes that the universe was once very hot and dense, it doesn’t say that it was the beginning of the universe and it popped out of nothing.

    I don’t think it’s illogical that there was always something that existed. It could be God, but I have no good reason to think that. I honestly can’t rule out that the universe came to exist from a natural cause.”

    I didn’t assume the big bang was the beginning, I didn’t mention the Big Bang. I talked about the universe, which I defined as “everything that is physical”. So what is the explanation for the universe? It is illogical that it could have created itself because it didn’t exist to be a cause. So there are only two logical possibilities – either there was no cause and no explanation, or something non-physical caused it. That is the dilemma that we need to resolve. And I say a non-physical cause is an explanation and it is better than no explanation.

    “there actually are possible explanations offered by scientists, such as Lawrence Krauss, that don’t appeal to the supernatural. I can’t honestly say I believe it, since I don’t fully understand the ideas, but since natural causes are time and time again shown to explain things we didn’t understand, I’m more willing to go with a natural explanation.”

    Lawrence Krauss claims to offer an explanation of the universe from nothing, but he has been roundly criticised for this. His “explanation” is that it came from a quantum field, but a quantum field isn’t nothing, it is something physical.

    A natural explanation has to be one based on natural or physical/chemical/biological causes, but they are all within the universe we are trying to explain (as is a quantum field). So none of them can be the explanation for the whole physical universe. You and I are left with, ultimately, a non-natural explanation or no explanation.

    “I’d like you to list these if you don’t mind.”

    The origin of the universe as we’ve been discussing.
    The “fine-tuned” design of the universe.
    The explanation for consciousness.
    The explanation for human free will.
    The explanation for ethics.
    The explanation for our ability to reason.
    The information coded into DNA
    People’s experience of God.
    People’s experience of divine healing.
    The life of the historical Jesus.

    “Yes, things are proposed, then they are tested to see whether they have predictive power. I don’t believe the god hypothesis has any.”

    All those items above are examples. If there was a God, we’d predict those phenomena would be different to if there was no God. In every case, the actuality appears to be the outcome I’d expect if there’s a God.

    “Neither of which are reliable enough to draw conclusions from, in my opinion.”

    It depends on the standard of evidence and probability you adopt. But using plausible probabilities (for the sake of illustration) and Bayes Theorem, I think we can show that the cumulative probability of God’s existence is very high.

    “I don’t think following a god, the biblical god included, is worth the sacrifice just because it might exist. I actually think it’s improbable that a god exists, at least one that wants us to know it exists.”

    I think the probabilities show that he probably does exist, with a high enough probability to make it as a good a decision as any I make in life.

    “I have looked at the evidence and I can say that I cannot reasonably believe that a god exists.”

    Then of course you can only go with what you think is reasonable. My website isn’t trying to persuade you to go against your judgment, but to offer new facts for you to consider. I think, judging by our discussion so far, there still might be matters you could well reconsider. But that is up to you.

    “Thank you, I hope we can continue in this manner.”

    Yes, and thank you too.

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