The Dutch Atheist

Rebuttal: Is there evidence for the existence of god

4 October 2016.Wesley.0 Likes.3 Comments

This is part two of our debate with James Bishop. We have started with our debate with a 5000 words opening statement. James posted his on his website. James has already published his rebuttal. We have to apologize, work has been crazy and the one week deadline we had initially agreed on for the first rebuttal proved to be a bit tight.

I’d like to compliment James on his opening statement. Although we far from agree with his arguments, we were once again impressed by the eloquence of his writing. If it where for eloquence only, surely we’ve lost the debate. It’s a clear sign that we have to do this more often.

Let’s dive in to it. James used four main arguments to try and prove the existence for god.

  1. Kalam Cosmological Argument
  2. Argument for Objective Moral Values and Duties
  3. Argument for Miracles
  4. Argument for Jesus’ resurrection

We have kind of anticipated on a couple of these. Especially the Kalam Cosmological argument and the argument for objective moral values and duties. In our rebuttal we will focus on three of the four points specifically. Morality, the resurrection of Jesus and a little bit on the Kalam Cosmological Argument. But for a complete view on these, make sure you also check out our opening statement.


Before I go into James’ argument, I would like to spent some time on what a “moral” actually is. The core of all morality is implicitly defined by choice. But it’s also equally important to realize that choice itself has no practical meaning unless one is trying to actualize some desirable outcome. Morally “good” choices are those which can reliably produce a specified result, while “bad” choices tend to do the opposite.

“So which goals are specifically “moral” in nature and which ones are not?  This is another one of those sticky philosophical issues that sparks all kinds of academic debate to this day.  Yet despite all the contention, most people do tend to agree that any coherent concept of seemingly “moral” behavior must revolve around some kind of ultimate, social interaction.  Morally “good” choices tend to manifest through desirable, pro-social consequences while morally “evil” choices are those which tend to do the opposite.  But no matter what the specifics may be, it’s important to always bear in mind that the whole notion of morality itself is utterly meaningless and irrelevant without some form of consequentialism at its foundation.”  AnticitizenX – Morality Explained

Christian philosophers reject this principle outright by claiming that morality is an objective feature of the universe itself like a molecule or an atom. Even if all the humans on the planet went extinct today, then certain laws of morality would still be absolutely true and universally binding on all sentient beings across the cosmos.

Any time we say a thing has certain value or that a thing is good, we’re not talking about some intrinsic physical quality of the thing itself.  What we’re really saying is that somewhere, somehow, a subjective agent has arbitrarily decided to place value on that thing in the form of a preferential desire with respect to other things. That’s why absolutely nothing in the entire universe can possibly have objective moral value because the very idea itself is an oxymoron!  Value does not exist without some value-er to do the value-ing.

So just as I’ve expected, James refers to the Moral Argument for the existence of God. I am guessing this is one of his favorites. Here’s what James writes about it:

“For instance, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was objectively evil regardless of what one thinks of it. The same would apply to the Holocaust, the Columbine massacre, child sacrifice etc.”

I am very curious about how James is going to prove all of this is objectively evil. What axioms and rules of inference does he exercise to arrive at that conclusion? What truth-assignment functions does he use and why? Don’t just assert that all of the above is objectively wrong, prove it.

Also, see how James’ remark isn’t anything more than saying that anyone ought to do anything because there exists some desirable state of affairs that can be conditionally actualized through specific actions. If we don’t want to see other people get hurt and like so see humans live in peace with one another, then we ought not to commit genocide. However, if we have no interest in other people’s lives or living in harmony, then there is no good reason why we shouldn’t indulge ourselves in genocide.


Before James’ starts arguing that all of the above is objectively wrong, there are certain pitfalls I would like him to take note of.

1. Personal intuition and experiences are subjective.

Just because all of the above feels wrong to you doesn’t make it objectively so. So what can James appeal to beyond our personal subjective preferences in order to settle any dispute. James’ third reason – “There exists a nearly universal human intuition that certain things are objectively right or wrong” – fits perfectly in this first pitfall.

2. Human consensus is subjective.

I do not care if a billion people think all of the above are wrong. A billion subjective evaluations does not prove objectivity. Not so long ago societies all around the world assumed that slavery was okay even though today we all tend to think it’s evil. So for all we know all of the above is perfectly okay and everybody is mistaken that they’re wrong. Who exactly are you to claim otherwise? James’ first reason – “across nearly all human cultures there exists the same basic standards of morality as well as truly altruistic acts which lead to no genetic benefit” – fits perfectly in this category. Also, did you mention that James uses the word “nearly”? Wouldn’t that be “all” if morality was objective?

3. Christian moral realism is antithetical to consequentialism.

Therefor James is not allowed to make any appeal to the positive or negative consequences of our actions with respect to the health, happiness, or well being of human cultural groups. That’s my moral philosophy, not James’. James rejected that the minute he became a moral realist.

4. You can not mention God.

You can not use God as proof for your proposition. God is literally a subjective agent by definition and the whole point of the argument is to prove God’s existence in the first place. Referring to God would turn the whole argument into circular reasoning.

But let’s suppose we decide to immediately grant the entire moral realist philosophy without contention. Can someone please now tell me in what logical universe does any of this imply anything that even remotely resembles the singular deity of classical monotheism?  The very first premise of this argument might just as well have said that if apples don’t grow on trees, then the moon is an onion.  There’s no logical connection between these two statements.

Where do our Morals come From?

Firstly, objective values and duties is incompatible with Dutch’s atheism since, on atheistic naturalism, we’re just advanced animals, and animals aren’t moral agents. “

This, of course, is flat out wrong. Yes, humans are animals but if we look to other animals we cannot but help to acknowledge that they have morals. Primatologist Frans de Waal has been studying primates for decades now and he acknowledges the existence of certain morals in primates. His words about how morality formed:

“Morality is a group-oriented phenomenon born from the fact that we rely on a support system for survival.” – Primates and Philosophers, How Morality Formed – Frans de Waal (161-162)

For further reference about animal morality, you can click on this link for a lecture by Frans de Waal about the subject:

So morality can be explained evolutionary. What is “good” for the group, is good for the survival of our species and cooperation leads better chances of survival.

And what should we make out of the next example by Darwin?

“If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters and no one would think of interfering.” The Descent of Man – Charles Darwin (p.122)

It might seem utter immoral for us humans to kill our own children, but for bees it’s not. It helps them survive as a group and as a species. Bees who lacked these morals, have all gone extinct. So morality is species and group dependent.

The following example I took from Dutch philosopher Bas Haring. He used it in his book “Kaas en de Evolutie-theorie” (Cheese and the Theory of Evolution) for describing how we came to get our morals.

Imagine a time where humans had no morals and everybody was stealing from each other. Trying to defend your property and your belongings was a very time consuming and energy wasting business. So one day two people ran into each other and agreed not to steal anymore from each other. The idea got picked up by others around them and with the theory of evolution in the back of our minds, we know what is going to happen. These people prospered. These people now had more time for hunting, phishing and other pleasant activities. Other people will take over the agreement that stealing is bad and the people who don’t will most probably go extinct. This is how our morality formed.

The Resurrection of Jesus

First, let me elaborate about my own position about Jesus. I’m not a mythicist. I know a lot of atheists are, but I am not. I think there was a historical Jesus and that we can learn some things about him. I agree with what James said, we should treat the Gospels and even the other books in the New Testament as any other historical document. To discard the Gospels all together is on purely ideological,  not historical, grounds.

What is it that Historians do?

So this means that we can’t know what happened in the past, we can only have levels of probability about what happened in the past or not.

So how do historians establish what probably happened in the past? Well, they use something called the “historical method” and it goes like this:

  1. Any given source of historical information may be forged or corrupted.
  2. First-hand information is more credible than second-hand information, which is more credible than third hand information, etc.

  3. The more time transpires before recording an event , the less reliable the narrative becomes.

  4. Multiple, independent accounts should all converge onto the same message in order for that information to be credible.

  5. The more implausible the events are with respect to the known laws of physics, the less reliable the narrative becomes.

  6. The more languages the record has been translated through, the less reliable it becomes.

  7. The more biased a source is, either politically or socially, the less reliable that record becomes.

  8. The more relics that can support a narrative, the more reliable it becomes.

When James says the “Resurrection” really did happen, all I have to do is point him to the historical method and tell him that somebody being resurrected after being dead for three days is a violation of the known laws of physics and therefore it’s extremely improbable that it did happen. Even if it did happen, it can’t be proven historically since a miracle is the least probable explanation of an event and the least probable explanation can not be the most probable. So the resurrection is in all cases a theological explanation, not a historical one. There are other highly improbable explanations that are still more probable than a miracle. In the Syriac tradition, Jesus had a twin brother who looked just like him. Perhaps Jesus’ his disciples mistook Jesus’ his twin brother for Jesus. It’s highly improbable, but still more probable than a miracle and this explanation has the virtue of being plausible.

Minimal Facts:

James cites Gary Habermas’ four minimal facts. But I am going to argue there is only one fact concerning the resurrection. Let me comment on them:

  • Jesus’ crucifixion.

Indeed considered to be historically probable since multiple independent sources tell us about it and therefore it can be trusted, but ask yourselves, how Jesus’ crucifixion related to the resurrection? It isn’t. Jesus could be stoned to death or drowned to death. The crucifixion is not anything that is related inherently to the question of the resurrection. If the fact is that Jesus died, well that’s not much of a noteworthy fact. We all die.

– Jesus’ Burial

Again, how is Jesus being buried related to a resurrection? Being buried isn’t much of a fact since dead people tend to get buried. Jesus’ body could have been thrown off a cliff into the ocean or cremated.

Also, I would argue that Jesus probably didn’t even get a proper burial for it was common practise for the Romans in those days to leave somebody hanging on the cross for a couple of days and throw the body in some kind of pit afterwards. There were no exceptions for enemies of the state, as Jesus clearly was. (1), (2).

–  The Empty Tomb

That the tomb became empty (if there ever was a tomb) can have a lot more probable and plausible reasons than God raising Jesus from the dead.

James cites 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 as one of the earliest accounts of Jesus’ empty tomb. Let’s have a look at the relevant passage.  

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.”

Where exactly does Paul say there was an empty tomb? Why would he leave out such an important fact? James says Paul implies there was an empty tomb, but as you can read for yourself, Paul implies it nowhere. Yes, if somebody is physically resurrected than they would leave behind an empty grave, but Paul nowhere indicates that an empty tomb was discovered.

– Jesus’ post mortem appearances.

Now this would be considered a fact that is related to Jesus’ resurrection. But here’s an important question that I would like James to give an historical explanation for. When Jesus appeared to Paul, how did Paul knew it was Jesus? Paul wasn’t one of Jesus’ his earliest disciples so he didn’t know what Jesus’ looked like. I don’t want a supernatural explanation, I don’t want to hear that God told him it was Jesus as this would be a theological explanation. I want a historical explanation.

The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John.”

Appearance to the twelve? Did Jesus show himself to Judas Iscariot? If not then who were the twelve? Does James really believe Jesus appeared to the twelve? Remember that in the book of acts, this was all before they elected a twelfth member. If James really thinks  Jesus appeared to the twelve, then please explain that to me.

Thirdly. Does an appearance to somebody mean someone has been raised from the dead physically? If so, what do you do with the Gospel accounts of the transfiguration? Moses and Elijah seem to appear. Where did they come from? Were they both raised from the dead or would you say this was some kind of visionary experience? If it was a visionary experience, how do you know the apostles didn’t have one? Visions happen without physical people being present. Why not visions of Jesus?

James argues that Jesus being resurrected by God is the most probable explanation of the so called facts. But even if it were probable, is it plausible? Plausibility is the big issue because unless you posit the existence of God, you can not claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. Historians can not prove what God has done because God is beyond historical proof. Historians have no access to the divine realm. If you think you do, it’s because you are a theologian, not a historian. If you talk about what God has done, you are talking about theology, not history.


Kalam Cosmological Argument

We have read James’ statement over and over again and for my response I just have to restate what I wrote in advance, in my opening statement. Which of course I won’t do, that seems rather pointless. See the issue with kalam argument is that it is solely based on our scientific ignorance. That’s why it is so beautiful that the argument doesn’t conclude a god, it just concluded the obvious: there must have been something that set of the big bang. James then tries to specify what this ‘thing’ (for lack of a better word) must be like and in doing so essentially makes in god into a nothingness. He defines god out of existence. How is such a god to mingle then in the world? How is his supernatural, trancendent, spaceless, timelesness to intervene in our world that is defined by all these properties.

What frustrates me most about this argument is that it plays with our instinctive need for answers. One the one hand we pose the truth of the matter, and James even agrees in his introduction to his rebuttal: we don’t know. But then there is this vague notion of an intelligent being that is apparently absolutely nothing, but this nothing is super potent. The mind would chose an answer over no answer any day.

But what he fails to explain is: why would it be spaceless? Can there not be space outside of our space? How do you know this? Why should it be timeless? Can there not be time outside of our time? Why would it be transcendent, this seems to me a cop out. You can’t prove god with empirical data because he’s transcendent…  So what are we debating then? Supernatural is defined as being incapable to be explained by science or the laws of nature. So again I ask of you, what are we debating? Philosophical notions are not evidence of god.
Even if James somehow made a point and this being exists, the question then obviously is ‘who made that thing then’. He tries to do away with this but this is a fallacy known as special pleading, which I also stated in my opening remarks. You cannot apply a certain standard by which one must reason and then refuse to apply it to your conclusion, because you want it to be true. If you find yourself in a regressive argument ad infinitum you must reconsider the premises, it is a sign that your conclusion is not valid.

Categories: Debates
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