Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blog Wars! Round 2: The Rebuttal

The following is a response to Cody Cook's opening statement in this debate, which can be found here:


In his opening argument, Mr. Cook explains the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” by postulating a dichotomy between things that exist necessarily and things that exist contingently, or as a result of a cause.  I will grant that this is a true dichotomy.  However, my objection to his conclusion is two-fold:

  1. Mr. Cook claims that a god exists necessarily, but this is not true or consistent with the description of that god. 
  2. Mr. Cook claims that the cause of the universe must be a conscious decision by a being capable of decision-making, which is not consistent with what we know about Big Bang cosmology. 

Why god does not exist necessarily

That a god exists necessarily is a major assertion, but Mr. Cook provides absolutely no evidence to support it.  Why is the existence of god a necessity, like numbers, logical absolutes or the laws of physics?   There is no reason to suppose this is so.  That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, and I am tempted to do this.  However, while there are no good reasons to believe Mr. Cook’s assertion, there are at least two good reasons to dismiss it:

  1. God has traits that do not exist necessarily
  2. Something that is omnipotent cannot exist necessarily

God Has Traits That Do Not Exist Necessarily

Mr. Cook and I agree that certain things, such as numbers and logical absolutes, exist necessarily.  So how can I assert that a god could not be also counted amongst those things?  Simply because no other thing that exists necessarily has a mind.  The number seven, lucky though it may be, possesses no thoughts, emotions or instincts.  Anything that does possess such attributes also possesses a causal explanation for them.  Human and animal thoughts, emotions and instincts are explained by neurology and evolution.  Because thoughts, emotions and instincts are contingent rather than necessary in every instance that is available for us to examine, Mr. Cook takes on the burden of proof to demonstrate how this rule could be violated.  So far, we have heard just an assertion with no evidence. 

The Logical Paradox Necessity and Omnipotence

Furthermore, in the conclusion to his opening statement, Mr. Cook asserts that “god exists because He must. He can’t do otherwise.”  Of course, this statement presents a stark contradiction with the omnipotent nature of a god.  Allow me to present it like this:

  1. Anything omnipotent would have the power to cease its own existence.
  2. Anything necessary cannot cease to exist.
  3. Nothing omnipotent can exist necessarily. 

This paradox is something that Mr. Cook must own up to if he continues to assert that a god exists necessarily. 

Why the cause of the universe does not have to be personal

Mr. Cook demonstrated that the universe must exist as a result of a cause.  I agree.  However, Mr. Cook also invokes the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument to explain that god is the only possible cause.  This is where he is mistaken.

Mr. Cook justifies Premise 2 of the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (“If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God”) in the following way:

“Big bang cosmology has shown us that the universe began to exist at a finite point in time, which suggests that it could have not come into existence at all. In other words, it does not have to exist.”

Mr. Cook goes on to explain that, since the universe began to exist at a certain point in time, and therefore had not existed at some point in time, it requires a decision-making agent in order to bring it into existence.  If the premise that the universe did, in fact, begin to exist at a certain point in time, and time passed during which the universe did not exist, then Mr. Cook may have been justified in asserting the necessity of a decision-making agent in order to bring the universe into existence at some point in time.  

However, a simple understanding of the nature of time itself completely destroys this line of thinking.  The Big Bang most definitely was not an event that took place at a certain point in time.  It was the explosion of both space and time into existence.  Einstein demonstrated this—it is one of the things he is best known for.  Time is not an absolute that exists before the universe; it is something that exists only as a feature of a universe that has space.  The equation that we all learned in high school physics demonstrates this:

Therefore, Time=Distance/Speed 

Time requires distance to exist.  Distance requires space.  Space did not exist before the Big Bang.  Time, therefore, did not exist prior to the Big Bang.  Since this basic piece of science completely destroys the notion that the universe began to exist at a certain point in time, a decision making agent is no longer necessary in order to cause the universe.  A choice is not necessary, because no time passed before the universe began to exist.  A god, then, cannot be considered as the only potential cause for the universe. 

We can now see that Mr. Cook’s assertion that god is the best answer to the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” completely falls apart.  Since I have some extra space, though, I will go on to discuss the less relevant claims Mr. Cook made in his opening remarks. 


As I said in my opening statement, the position most atheists will take is that the universe was not designed for life—life emerged as the result of the universe being the way it is.  If traits of the universe had been different, the features of it would have been different, too.  Perhaps there would not have been planets on which life as we know it could have formed, perhaps something similar to life would have formed in some other way, or perhaps something far more interesting and beautiful would have emerged.  We will never know.  But for Mr. Cook to assert, in light of this position, that the universe has the “hallmarks of design” with one species of primate on our pale blue dot in the mind of the designer, seems as ludicrous as someone taking a pair of sunglasses, noticing how well they fit on the human face, and then calling this evidence for the idea that the human face was designed by Sunglass Hut!  It is completely backwards.

Furthermore, as I explained in the first point of my opening argument, while the Earth may seem moderately hospitable to us, the universe as a whole definitely is not.  Most of it is constructed of empty space, which is deadly to us.  The vast majority of planets in the universe, even if any of them are hospitable to us, are simply too far away to reach in a human lifetime.  Any planets within our reach are also deadly to us.  If Mr. Cook and I were having this debate on either of our two closest planetary neighbors, Venus or Mars, I imagine the first (and only) thing Mr. Cook would say would be something to the effect of, “well, this place is not very well designed for me at all” before we were both promptly melted into puddles by sulfuric acid rain or frozen in place, respectively. 

The fact of the matter is the universe is decidedly poorly designed for life.  Life is rather well-equipped to survive only on our tiny planet, and that can be attributed to evolution by natural selection. 


In his opening statement, I was surprised to see Mr. Cook quote Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins out of context in a way that misrepresents them as puzzled about the supposed “fine-tuning” of the universe.  In fact, anyone who reads either of their works will know this is far from true.  While this point is largely irrelevant to the debate, I would like to make sure it is acknowledged because this technique is used frequently by Christians seeking to discredit science. 

Anyone who has read a popular book on science will know the typical structure of a chapter:  The author lays out a common question or misunderstanding (called a Problem Statement) and proceeds to explain the solution to the problem in the rest of the chapter.  Mr. Cook takes the problem statements given by both Hawking and Dawkins in their respective works and presents them as if they were genuine problems that neither scientist understands.  This is called quote-mining and it is widely regarded as an intellectually dishonest rhetorical device, but (or, dare I say, so) it is characteristic of religious writers.  I was disappointed to see Mr. Cook implement it in this debate.  I encourage everyone reading to look up the context of these quotes for themselves.   


As I have explained here, Mr. Cook fails to establish his basic premise in two major areas:

  1. A god cannot exist necessarily, because aspects associated with a god, like a mind and omnipotence, are in contradiction with necessary existence. 
  2. A decision-making agent is not necessary as a cause for the universe because the Big Bang did not occur at a specific point in time—it was the explosion of space and time into existence. 

These two main points, along with the other, dubious claims made by Mr. Cook in his opening statement, demonstrate that his case is too weak for him to be considered the winner of this debate.  Thank you for reading.

My opponent's rebuttal to my opening argument can be found here:


  1. Bravo and touche!

    Cook's argument wasn't very convincing to begin with. Many leaps in logic to get to where he was coming from.

  2. I agree. Cook offered no evidence to support his claims. Just a lot of blah-blah-blah.

    His rebuttal makes just as little sense as his opening statement. Circular reasoning and claims with no evidence.

    Ben, you are good. I declare you the winner of this debate.

  3. At the end of the day, if I want you to believe in vampires, i need to demonstrate a vampire. I can show you all the empty coffins and bats and people with teeth marks in them, as these items could also be explained by other means. To speak of a god without demonstrating one is as useless as saying jhjususesyat45's exist, and behave in this way, and are responsible for "x" and "y".

    Until one can provide a demonstration of a God, there is no reason we can be expected to believe in one...
    Cody, or any theist, I present the challenge to you to demonstrate your God, if it is so obvious that he exists, you would have done it by now....
    Name a place and time, and demonstrate him...He is everywhere right? He is always there for us right? Until a God is demonstrated, you cannot expect us to say "I believe in God" without lying...
    If such a demonstration is performed, I would very likely believe in a God. This does not mean I would necessarily find him/her/it to be a pleasant character though. If the Bible is in fact a representation of God's character, then he/she/it has some explaining to do, if they want me in their camp.

    As for the "fine tuning" argument, this is a "self-defeated" argument.
    Theists want to believe that their God is capable of anything, and that our universe was fine-tuned for us. However , if God is omnipotent, he could make corn grow on Venus, or make life that can only exist in the Sun as well. The point is, Cody is selectively observing our life and as Ben said "looking at it backwards"... If there were life in the Sun that could not exist outside of it, would this be a "fine tuned" environment for that particular life form too?

    What would it take to make me believe in a god?
    A God, until then I will not lie to myself or anyone else and claim to believe in one...
    I will post this on Cody's blog as well....

  4. I'd say you are winning Ben. Better written, and better case. Well done!

  5. Thanks Brian, Gary and Anonymous! Much appreciated!!

  6. Well done Ben! A decisive victory IMO.

    This statement says it all:

    "The Big Bang most definitely was not an event that took place at a certain point in time. It was the explosion of both space and time into existence."

  7. I think your arguments are much more convincing. Cody relies too much on the assumption that his concept of "God" exists, and this time unfortunately quoted the Bible as being authoritative.

  8. I have two things to say:

    1) There is no adequate proof for either case - in a way, that's the point:

    A: You cannot "prove" there is a God, nor does God want to be "proven," because that would defeat the whole purpose of salvation. He wants his creation to choose to believe in Him and love him, or choose not to. If he could be "proven," then there'd be no choice - everyone would just believe. However, there are tangible examples to support a case for a God.

    B: In the same way, The Big Bang Theory could never be "proven" either. Though there may be some possible evidences to support such a theory, those who believe in this theory, have FAITH in it, just as one who believes in the LORD has FAITH that He is real.

    2)In both cases (God or Big Bang) the believer has to make an assumption (with no "real" evidence).

    A: In my faith, I must assume God existed before all else (even Time and Space).

    B: In the Big Bang Theory, the one who believes must assume that Time and Space existed before all else.

    My point is, both cases take faith and assumption. Neither the person who believes in God nor the person who believes in Big Bang is more intelligent or logical. Each has chosen to put faith into something, and therefore, make an assumption for that faith to make sense. I have chosen to put faith into something that brings purpose into my life (and I have tasted and seen to be true in my life).

  9. @Anonymous (most recent)

    You just said a few very silly things.

    "1) There is no adequate proof for either case - in a way, that's the point:"

    Well, you're half right. There's no adequate proof for one belief--the one you hold to--but there is actually incredibly strong evidence for the Big Bang. I would suggest you read up on Hubble's law, cosmic microwave background radiation, the abundance of primordial elements, galactic evolution and distribution, and the theoretical evidence, all of which support the fact that our universe came into being 13.7 billion years ago from something the size of an electron.

    "Each has chosen to put faith into something, and therefore, make an assumption for that faith to make sense."

    Faith is not necessary for those of us who are nonreligious.

    Faith is the process of shutting off your critical thinking faculties and ignoring evidence. In order to accept the Christian narrative, one has to shut off critical thinking faculties and ignore all evidence, because reason and evidence demonstrate the Christian creation myth is false.

    However, reason and evidence support the scientific narrative, because it is through reason and evidence that we discovered it. Therefore, it is not necessary to turn off critical thinking and ignore evidence (or as you would put it, "have faith") in order to accept the scientific narrative.

    "I have chosen to put faith into something that brings purpose into my life (and I have tasted and seen to be true in my life). "

    The way that believing something makes you feel has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not that belief is true, and therefore it should have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you hold that belief.

    It may make me feel very good to believe that I am engaged to Megan Fox, but if I actually believed that to be true just because it gave me purpose and happiness, then I would be considered very deluded. The same is true of the existence of a god--you are only justified in the belief if you have good evidence to support it. Saying it gives you purpose or happiness means absolutely nothing.

  10. Dear Ben,

    Well. This is fun! My thoughts again!

    1. About evidence:
    There has been some great evidences and proof throughout the years to convince me (AFTER FAITH) that the Bible is even truer than I thought it was. Yes, it started with faith, but then I have learned over the years about:
    - People who have tried to prove stories in the Bible wrong, and the archeologists who found actual places, events, transcripts, etc. Proving that this is not just a book of fairy tales, but of the history of a people chosen by God.
    - Prophesies in the Old Testament written hundreds of years before actual events, happening exactly as prophesied.

    So, I stand my case: In each case (God or Big Bang) there are theories and evidences to support our claims. In thend, we both had to put our faith into something. You put your faith into Science, and I put my faith into my relationship with the Lord.

    2. About “critical thinking”:
    As a teacher of our youth, I must begin to guide my lovely 7 and 8 year olds through the process of critical thinking so that one day it is something they can do on their own. With that said, I think you are confused at what critical thinking is. Critical thinking is about being able to reflect, evaluate, and make judgment. You can use these skills in science (when I do Science experiments with my 7 and 8 year olds), in literature (even fiction), in history – critical thinking is a necessary skill to be an active participant in our society. Thus, I use my critical thinking skills (thank you teachers) even when I go church on Sunday morning. I hear my pastor give a sermon. I reflect on it, maybe apply it to my life. I evaluate what he said – do I think it is in line with what I’ve read in the Bible? I make judgments, and sometimes even go back into my Bible to either validate what was said or question what was said. So, to say that my faith uses no “critical thinking” skills is completely untrue! Silly rabbit!

    So, we both have a job to do –

    My job – freshen up on my studies in thermodynamics!

    Your job – read the Bible. How much of it have you actually read?

    Anon (I call myself Robin)

  11. "If he could be "proven," then there'd be no choice - everyone would just believe"

    That is theologically false, you are disagreeing with what the bible teaches. The bible tells us about evil forces (like Satan) that knew about god's existence with a level of certainty I envy.

    Satan, the snake and other "evil" characters in the biblical narrative know about the existence of god with as much certainty as I would hope to get if I am expected to believe in something as unlikely and amazing as god.

    God obviously had no problem granting Satan enough proof and evidence of his existence but he is afraid we might stop believing in him if he does that to us?

    Satan knew him, the snake knew him, god's people saw god manifesting himself with miracles that would convince me of god's existence. They still chose to go against him, and they still chose to worship a golden calf.

    So it seems to me that it is pretty obvious that, at least according to the bible, there is NO connection between knowledge of god and worship of god. We would still have a choice to ignore, go against or even try to destroy god.

    "those who believe in this theory, have FAITH in it, just as one who believes in the LORD has FAITH that He is real"

    Faith is the belief in something without a good justification. Since the claims made by science (Big Bang, Evolution, Gravity, our Helio centric model of our solar system and other theories) can actually be put to the test we do not need "faith" to accept them since we actually have evidence.

    Belief in god is necesarily faith based since there is no evidence and no objective way to put this god thing to the test. But maybe I am wrong and you actually have a working definition of god... Cody sure as hell doesnt.

    "In the Big Bang Theory, the one who believes must assume that Time and Space existed before all else"

    That is a very silly thing to say... That is NOT what the big bang theory says.

    "I hear my pastor give a sermon. I reflect on it, maybe apply it to my life. I evaluate what he said – do I think it is in line with what I’ve read in the Bible?"

    Why did you begin with the bible as your starting point? What critical thinking process led you to pick that book over all the others?

    Faith is INHERENTLY uncritical! It is the very definition of accepting a claim complacently but unjustifiably.

    Also, I have read (and I know Ben has as well) a good portion of the bible. A portion big enough to know it is not much different from other creation myths.

  12. 1. In your first argument, I believe you got "believing" confused with "following". If God proved himself, then everyone would believe he existed. If I show you a red apple, then you would know that the red apple was real and you would believe it existed. However, one could believe God exists, and choose not to "follow" him. Belief is not enough - In the book of James it says so, when James says that even the the demons believe in God... and shudder. The Israelites kept turning their back on God, following idols, but they did not stop believing God existed. I have had times in my life where I believed in God, but I was not a follower of Christ.

    2. In your second argument, the claim does not work because of the word "good." My idea of a "good" justification and your idea of a "good" justification are completely different. Also, Gravity is completelty different then the Big Bang, because gravity is a proven force that exists while the Big Bang is still a theory. It is NOT proven, and so if you believe it, you have FAITH that it is true.

    3. In your third argument.. well, by Ben's definition of the Big Bang, it began with space and time.

    4. Everyone's definition of critical thinking is messed up! You can use critical thinking skills to do ANYTHING. The point is that we are all unique and will have different judgements on things. You say you read the bible, you've even quoted it in this rebuttal, which means you read it, thought about it, processed it, and made a judgement upon it. You used your critical thinking skills to do that!

    And yes, I even used critical thinking skills to come to faith. To name a few -

    Making inferences: My brother Nick has changed, my brother Nick goes to church -- Oh, something about church made my brother change.

    Evaluation: I looked at what the Bible said about who I was and who God was. Also, I looked at how the Bible said God related to me. Then, I had to make an evaluation - does this make sense to me?

    So, yes, I even used critical thinking skills to come to faith in Christ. Now, whether you would have looked at the same evidence and made the same conclusions is irrelevant to my point. Two people could be given the same evidence and evaluate it in completely different ways. For instance, you look at the fact that creation myths are a lot like the story in the Bible and conclude that it is evidence against creation. I look at that and say, how interesting that other cultures hold to a similar story - there must be truth to it!


  13. "Also, Gravity is completelty different then the Big Bang, because gravity is a proven force that exists while the Big Bang is still a theory. It is NOT proven, and so if you believe it, you have FAITH that it is true. "

    Bahahahaha!!! Wow. Someone needs to look up the word "theory." Also, the Theory of Gravitation. lolz