Society for Secular Humanists in Calgary


Report from Missoula, Montana
"Does God Exist?" Debate

On Sunday, November 16th, I drove almost 800 km from Calgary to Missoula to hear Edward Tabash debate with Richard Swinburne PhD, Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, Oxford University. Eddie seems to be on a never ending quest to find out the answer to "Does God Exist?"!!

The debate was held at the University of Montana campus and was sponsored by the Philosophy Department and Campus Crusade for Christ. The large hall was filled to overflowing, I estimate over 500 people were there.

The following are my notes of some of the things said by Swinburne. I submit them to illustrate the type of thinking Eddie Tabash tries to bring clarity to. For the most part, Eddie Tabash gave a good presentation of arguments you may well have used yourself. I have not recorded those.



Swinburne said that God is the simplest explanation for the universe and is therefore probably true and a full justification of God's existence. God is a personal being and he sustains us as persons with necessary beliefs and limited powers. God, too, has beliefs and he makes choices -- unlike us he has no limits and so, logically, everything and anything is possible. God is not bound by the laws of nature. He could quite easily change the law of gravity if it suited his needs. Not only is God omnipotent but he is also omniscient.

It is from this omniscience that we gain our purpose and meaning. God, too, has purpose but where our purposes are necessarily limited due to irrational impulses which are part and parcel of how we exist (and derive from our genetic make up, etc..,) his are perfect. God cannot be irrational.

God is good which is necessary for humans who need some guidance in being good. God is eternal.

Why believe this? Consider John, who burgled a house. He left his fingerprints on the safe, his car was seen outside the house and hidden in John's garage was a large amount of cash. But just a moment, George may have had it in for John and set up an elaborate scheme to put the cash in the garage. Or Robinson conspired with George to frame him. No matter how convoluted the explanations become it is clear that the first scenario is the most probable. John did it! The simplest hypothesis is the most satisfactory given the evidence. All evidence points to the existence of God. This method of thinking is fundamental to science: the simplest is the best.

Which brings us to the question of whether one should expect data? You must understand that God did not make the best world but rather the best KIND of world. Because it is a best kind of world, it requires us to have limited powers. This leads to us having also the ability to choose and, just as parents try to lead their children into making good choices, so God does the same for us by having created a world which requires choice.

Free rational beings were created by God to exist in and react to his creation -- good or bad. For this to be possible the universe has to be orderly, not chaotic. We must be able to predict the outcomes of our choices. In a world of chaos, nothing would ever be certain or predictable. A chaotic, un-designed world would not allow free choice of either good or bad. We would, for example, not able to hurt each other. Not only must the universe be orderly but it must be designed to support our physical beings, our bodies. Human bodies, however, are useless in themselves and so it is necessary for them to have a conscience. Indeed, without humans with a conscience there would be no need for the universe!

Regarding laws of nature, it is clear that without God having made the laws, there would be many which would be incompatible with each other. He fine tuned the universe: the Big Bang was orchestrated to be absolutely perfect for the ultimate creation of a world which could develop into a life sustaining planet. There is no “reason” why we are sentient, rational beings. It is just the way it is. It is clear that all human attributes must come from God. Those very attributes have made it possible for people to experience God in their lives. This really is an explanation, a scientific one, for the existence of God.

Evil is a way that God presents us with choice.. If there was only pleasure available to humans then the need for choice would not be there. The existence of evil provides us with the ability to choose to help others. This is a very good thing. Parents allow their children to make choices, perhaps with guidance, but certainly with the aim of teaching them to make good choices.

It is an enormous blessing to be given the choice to do evil or to do good. And, strangely, to have evil done to you is good in that your victimization allowed someone else to make a choice.

It is an enormous blessing from God to fight and die in a war being fought to protect others. Many complain about suffering but God always limits it. He never lets it last longer than about 80 years. Suffering is a responsibility God gives us to assist others in being able to choose to do good. Helping you, commiserating with you….

Suffering is never in vain. Suffering gives us (and others) choice. The Auschwitz experience (referring to Tabash’s comments about the camp which killed many of his relatives and from which his mother is a survivor) is an example of God allowing choices. Jews were able to make choices. The guards had choices. If good choices are made, God will be pleased.

The claim that God is too hidden is not accepted by those who know God in their lives.

It is like a child in a nursery: it will behave as long as it thinks that mother might reappear at any time. If the child believes that the mother will not reappear soon then its behaviour will change. God has to stand back otherwise we would have no real choice in making the decisions and choices which lead to character development. God has made us inter-dependent. Without that feature of humanity we could not be of help to others.

Regarding mind and body, Tabash says there is no soul and there is no supernatural being. I say there is and that just as scientists explain certain phenomena with data that is unseen and undetectable, so can God be explained. As to the mind, it is more than just brain activity. I choose to move my arm. My brain accepts that choice and sends the impulses which will move the arm. The essence of my being which coordinates these activities is the soul.

If, through extraordinary medical capabilities, my brain is removed, divided into two hemispheres, each of which is successfully installed into two other bodies, which is me?

Is the inserted left half me? Or the right? Or both, but I am now in two bodies? In fact, the “who-ness” of me is lost: it is the soul which is missing. “Me” is not a continuity of the brain but of the soul. The soul has purpose and thoughts.

Tabash says that it took God a very long time to make man on Earth. But that is because God needed all the creatures in place to create a support system for people.

On miracles: there are no miracles today because people are scared to reveal them as they would be ridiculed.

On the Bible: Christian theologians decided many centuries ago that the Bible is not a literal document, especially if it is in conflict with current moralities. This is not understood by fundamentalists. Indeed, if the Bible had not been interpreted it might never have been accepted by the church! And no! continual reinterpretation does not create a problem to Christianity.


So ................... does God Exist?

The brief answer is yes, surely a god exists because otherwise the whole life's work of Swinburne would be for naught!