Blog followers will know that I recently appeared on Dogma Debate about a month ago. This is a very popular secular radio show/podcast which gets thousands of listens per episode (23,000+ for our last one). This time, Justin Schieber was specially pulled in to address arguments I had presented during my last appearance. Justin is a host of Reasonable Doubts radio (winner of the 2009 Peoples Choice Award for Best Religious/Inspirational Podcast), and brings to the table a wealth of philosophical sophistication. Our discussion got into some pretty advanced territory pretty quickly.
The discussion started 30 minutes in, and looked like this:
a) I presented the fine-tuning argument for God's existence. Justin raised two objections:• He articulated one of Paul Draper's objections to fine-tuning arguments, namely that they “understate” the evidence insofar as they fail to take into consideration more specific facts which are tucked away in the relevant evidence being proffered for theism, and which then when considered as a whole bring about counter-balancing reasons to think theism is false. • Justin suggested that we would not necessarily expect a universe to be life-permitting (i.e. permitting moral embodied agents) because God could have just as easily created a heavenly world with immaterial creatures--such a world does not need fine-tuning. These are both arguments the fine-tuning proponent will want to be prepared for. Listen to see how you can handle them!
After the show, Justin made a very friendly public post on my Facebook wall (which he has given me permission to share): “I just relistened. Well, damn. I'm pretty embarrassed it took me so long for it to click for me on the fine-tuning issue. I concede that, in isolation, fine-tuning observations are significantly more likely on theism than on Naturalism.”
b) I then presented a particular Leibnizian Cosmological Argument for God's existence. Justin's first objection here is very clever, and he seems to have stumbled upon it independently of other philosophers who have brought up the challenge. He wanted to argue that… • …the “big conjunctive contingent fact” may not include God (who is supposed to exist necessarily), but it does include the act of God's creating. After all, if the act were not contingent, then the Universe that comes out of it would be largely or entirely necessary (depending on your interpretation of quantum mechanics), and it seems absurd to say that the Universe is necessary. This lead to a discussion about the nature of the first necessary state, and what it could possibly be. • Justin also immediately suggested that the mere existence of a necessary being does not help theism, because it could be "some very primitive form of matter-energy." Unfortunately, after I gave my response to his first objection, the conversation trailed off into another direction and I never got to respond to it. I'll devote a future blog post to the issue.
(c) I then presented a very short historical case for Jesus's resurrection. It was based merely on the widely accepted fact among non-Christian historians that the apostles at least believed that Jesus appeared to them post-crucifixion, alive from the dead.
• Justin did not dispute the fact, but rather defended the most popular naturalistic alternative: “the apostles plausibly hallucinated.” We touched on the 1 Corinthians 15 creed, how the appearance to Paul is portrayed, and whether a group hallucination would be required.
• I did not present the argument from Jesus's empty tomb, choosing instead to focus on the evidence from the appearances. Still, Justin volunteered objections to it for us to discuss. He defended as a possibility Jesus's body being stolen by people who believed Jesus was a failed messiah, but nevertheless wanted to give the impression that God vindicated his earthly message. He brought up the so-called Nazareth Inscription as evidence that body-snatching was not rare in Palestine, and we were off to the races. I had a Richard Carrier quote in my notes which would have scored me big points on this show (they love Carrier). I rushed to find it as Justin was speaking, but alas, I was not quick enough and simply noted that the original location of the inscription is unknown. Here is the quote:
Richard Carrier: “[t]he inscription's origin is not clearly known. It was found in the collection of a man named Fröhner when it was donated to the Paris National Library in 1925. His notes on the item state nothing more than "Dalle de marbre envoyée de Nazareth en 1878." That's it. This translates as "Slab of marble sent from Nazareth in 1878." Zulueta observes that this does not say "found" in Nazareth (découverte à), but sent from there,… In the late 19th century there were only two major market centers for all antiquities recovered in Palestine: Jerusalem and Nazareth. Thus, Zulueta makes the plausible conjecture that the slab was recovered either in Samaria or Decapolis and either purchased in or shipped out of the nearest possible place, which would be Nazareth. Indeed, Zulueta also observes that the text uses the plural form "gods" which would have been offensive to Jews, making the most likely origin the Hellenized district of Decapolis.).”
I would have also liked to quote Craig Keener from my notes, who says something similar to Carrier, and agrees that “[m]ost of our evidence for tomb robberies comes from Gentile rather than Jewish areas.” In the end, I raised three objections which I felt were sufficient and which you can listen to on the show, but if I was quicker on my feet, I would have added that the inscription itself better supports the case against robbery. Why? Well, because it shows how dangerous tomb robbery would be considered! The inscription said the heinous crime was subject to capital punishment; it could get you killed. Moreover, the number of Roman soldiers during large festivals like this skyrocketed in preparation for a potential Jewish rebellion, and so the danger of getting caught was all the more obvious to the group of would-be thieves.
That's a summary of what we went over, with a couple extra bonus responses to Justin's Nazareth Inscription argument. I hope you'll listen to at least some of it and leave some feedback in the comments! I really want to thank Dogma Debate for allowing me on their show again, and especially Justin. I couldn't ask for a better dialogue partner. We had such a good discussion that Justin and I are now talking about flying him in and setting up a formal debate at the University of Texas at Dallas. On a recently recorded show of Atheistically Speaking (not released yet), Thomas Smith expressed a desire to help with advertising this, and Justin has a large following in Dallas to help out as well. We'll keep you updated!