God Questions - a dialogue

The Argument from Desire holds that there is a void in the human heart that can only be filled by God. Since the cosmos seems so constructed that humans do not have needs that cannot be filled – we need nourishment, and there is food – Peter contends this very desire for God is evidence that God exists.

The Argument from Religious Experience holds that the experience of God is as real as any other experience; since this experience has been so widely reported, and has been so compelling in Peter’s personal experience, he contends it provides strong evidence for believer and skeptic alike that God does exist. Carl argues that other explanations for the desire for God are equally plausible, and that while a spiritual experience may seem compelling to whoever has it, there are many reasons to discount this argument.


[Peter S. Williams] According to Norman L. Geisler and Winfried Corduan: “That people generally, if not universally, manifest a need for the Transcendent seems incontestable.”[1] More specifically, the existence of a deep need for God within the human heart was recognized by the songwriter who wrote that: “As a deer longs for streams of cool water, so I long for you, O God.” (Psalm 42:1) Christians through the ages have echoed this theme. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.” Pascal noted how: “There is a god-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man”, and argued: “Man tries unsuccessfully to fill this void with everything that surrounds him, seeking in absent things the help he cannot find in those that are present, but all are incapable of it. This infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite ... object ... God himself.”[2] G.K. Chesterton expressed this argument in short order, saying that: “Christian optimism is based on the fact that we do not fit in to the world.” We do not “fit in to the world” because nothing finite answers this need for the Transcendent. That this restless desire for God exists, and that those who believe they have experienced God find this desire satisfied, is strong evidence that God does exist.

C.S. Lewis observed that: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food...”, and inferred that: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[3] A man’s hunger does not prove that he will get food (he might die of starvation); but surely hunger proves that a man comes from a race which needs to eat and inhabits a world where edible substances exist. In the same way, says Lewis, “though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.”[4]

[Carl Stecher] Let’s begin with Geisler and Corduan, “That people generally, if not universally, manifest a need for the transcendent seems incontestable.” It’s hard to respond to this, because it’s put in such vague terms. How do people manifest a need? What is the transcendent? When I, knowing the immensity of the universe, look up at a star-filled sky and feel wonder and awe, am I manifesting a need for the transcendent? If this sentence means something more specific, I am an exception to the generalization.

This argument from desire is appealing on an emotional level, but is otherwise pretty flimsy. As Anthony Flew notes, what you are identifying is a motive to believe something, not evidence that the thing believed is true. Putting this in a folksy idiom, wishing for something don’t always make it so. How many wish for good health but are sick. Wish (and pray) for peace but there is war?

There is certainly at least one other reason (besides God giving us a desire for Himself) why we may wish for God. Humans, like wolves and chimpanzees, are clearly social animals. We survive and prosper in groups, not in isolation. In both wolf and chimpanzee society there is an alpha-male, essential to enforce cooperation and order in the community. The lower-ranked members all make the required submission gestures and postures to the alpha-male. Human societies, however, need superior intelligence to survive, since we are poorly equipped otherwise – how ill-adapted our bodies are for us to be predators. However evolved, we still look to an alpha-male (or, occasionally, an alpha-female) to provide order, stability, and security. Now that role is achieved not through physical dominance, but through intellect and will. But our evolved intelligence also burdens us with the fact of mortality, something that wolves and chimpanzees are unable to grasp. Our alpha-male is unable to protect us from this final threat, so we conceptualize a super-alpha–male (“Our Father, which art in Heaven ... deliver us from evil”) who will be able to protect us even in the valley of the shadow of death:

In our distant pasts we lived in tribal and familial hunter-gatherer bands. Our past was bloody and violent with clashes between groups... Subordination and effective groveling to a dominant male would have been a useful survival skill. Just as dogs in a pack must grovel as part of their social survival, so may humans. The success of a hunting party demands leadership, dominance, and subordination... [the Christian sects] I observed spent the vast majority of time in worship of God, surrendering to God, flattering God, and seeking empowerment by God. God appears to be the alpha male stimulus taken to an extreme and accordingly the submission response is also taken to an extreme. (Laurie Johansen, “Gods, Graves and Graham”, Skeptic, Vol 5, no.2, 1997, p.80)

To address C.S. Lewis’ argument. Of course humans inhabit a world which has food. Our existence is contingent upon having nourishment. But our existence is not contingent upon heaven existing.

Robins desire worms. And there are worms. C.S. Lewis desires Paradise. Therefore Paradise exists. The argument is patently absurd.

[PW] I think the very fact that you find the argument from desire “appealing on an emotional level” reveals a hunger for God within your heart. Other hungers have corresponding satisfactions, so why not this one? The argument is not absurd, it is a straightforward inference. Of course “wishing for something don’t always make it so”, but it would be daft to argue that something doesn’t exist because we want it to exist. In fact, just as it would be very odd if I were thirsty in a universe without liquid, wouldn’t it be strange if I felt a need that only God could satisfy (e.g. for life after death) if God did not exist? Many people desire health and are sick, but there is such a thing as health. People want peace but find themselves at war, but peace does exist. It would be odd for humans to have a desire for health and peace if such things were unobtainable. Likewise, it would be odd for humans to have a desire for God if God doesn’t exist. Perhaps your alpha-male theory explains how God ensures that we desire Him.

[CS] A physical necessity can’t be equated to a metaphysical longing.

[PW] What about our desire for love? Doesn’t this desire relate to a real fulfillment? Yet our existence is not contingent upon love, only sex. Likewise, our existence may not be contingent upon relationship with God (although I see our existence as contingent upon God’s existence), but humans have an innate desire for God nonetheless.

[CS] Love is necessary for the cohesion and survival of the tribe.

[PW] Do ‘tribes’ of animals really love one another as humans understand the concept? If not, how have they survived?! To put the argument from desire another way, if God exists and has made humanity for relationship with Himself, then we would expect to find a restless desire in mankind that finds no earthly satisfaction. We do find such a desire, and this verifies the assumption that predicts this state of affairs, just as a scientific theory is verified by observing what the theory predicts.

[CS] But it is equally true that if we have evolved in such a way that we fear death and seek the protection of a super-alpha male, the fact that we do seek such protection confirms the assumption that we have evolved this way.

[PW] The hypothesis that God created humans naturally leads us to predict the existence of a desire with no earthly object of fulfillment, whereas the hypothesis of Darwinian evolution does not naturally lead to the prediction that creatures are likely to evolve who will fear death and who will invent an imaginary ‘alpha-male’ to alleviate this fear. The alpha male theory is proposed after-the-fact as an explanation for known data, rather than being a verified prediction of a hypothesis.

An atheist (like Camus) could agree that we have desires only God could fulfill, but conclude that since God does not exist life is ‘absurd’. For example, you admit that humans have a desire for immortality, a desire God could answer if only He were real, but you nevertheless deny that God exists. Hence you think that nature has given humanity an innate desire that cannot be fulfilled. This hypothesis is clearly ad hoc: to escape the conclusion that God exists you denythe premise that all innate desires have corresponding real fulfillments. To make this move you have to join Camus in seeing the world as ‘absurd’, as containing an inescapable variance between the desires nature implants in the human heart and nature’s inability to answer those desires. This variance is inherent in the atheistic worldview. If the universe is not absurd, God must exist.

[CS] As I have already explained, I don’t see it at all odd that humans should desire a super alpha-male to protect them from death. There is a plausible explanation that doesn’t need the hypothesis of God. Camus saw the universe to be absurd, but he does not speak for the majority of non-theists. He certainly does not speak for me. I think the traditional Christian explanation of God’s purpose and plan to be absurd.

[PW] Your alpha-male theory is inadequate for a number of reasons. First of all, any explanation of a belief which says that the believed in thing doesn’t exist is going to be simpler than an explanation that says the believed in thing does exist! Second, offering such a reductive explanation without sufficient justification contravenes the principle of credulity. The burden of proof here is on the skeptic. Third, it doesn’t take into account the strength of the desire for God or its fulfillment in religious experience. In other words, the burden of proof here is quite large. Fourth, it fails to give due weight to the fact that theistic religious experience, in the way it satiates the desire for the Transcendent, is analogous to the experimental verification of a scientific hypothesis. Fifth, it rides roughshod over the inductive conclusion that innate desires relate to real fulfillments. Sixth, it ignores the problem that a universe which implants a desire in a creature that cannot possibly be fulfilled is ‘absurd’.

Like Camus, you admit humans have a desire that God could answer if only He existed (for life after death), and like Camus you nevertheless deny that God exists. Your worldview contains an unbridgeable dichotomy between the desires nature implants in the human heart and nature’s ability to answer those desires. This just is Camus’ definition of ‘absurdity’: “The absurd is essentially a divorce. It lies in neither of the elements compared; it is born of their confrontation”[5] Either our innate desire for a God who can rescue us from death can be fulfilled, or life is ‘absurd’. Every other instance of an innate desire corresponds to a real object of fulfillment, so it seems likely that this instance does as well. If nature has given us at least one innate desire for a non-existent object of fulfillment, how are we to know that it hasn’t given us other illusory desires? You might say that we know the desire for food isn’t an illusion because we have found nourishment in eating, but theists would say that we know our desire for God isn’t an illusion because we have found satisfaction in the experience of knowing God.

[CS] Again, Camus doesn’t speak for me. Just because we share some beliefs, doesn’t mean we share all beliefs. I differ from Camus, for example, on whether life is absurd, and even on the definition of that term. I would not dream of insisting that any theist speaks for you, especially in the face of your specific disclaimer. Hank Hannegraff, for example, whom you quote approvingly in the Heaven chapter, believes that the world was created 8,000 years ago in six calendar days. I do not attribute those beliefs to you.

All reptiles have an instinct to avoid death, even though they don’t understand it. Unless at least some reptiles are immortal, there is “an unbridgeable dichotomy between the desires nature implants in the reptile heart and nature’s ability to answer those desires.”

[PW] Your last rebuff slurs over the distinction between desires and instincts. Reptiles may have an instinct to avoid death, but do they have an innate desire for life after death? Somehow, I don’t think so. We do. Unless God exists, reality has played a pretty sick joke on us; and we can’t be sure this is the only one it plays at our expense.

Religious Experience

[PW] The desire for God is the desire to experience relationship with the Transcendent, and theistic religious experience is the fulfillment of this desire.

I was answering questions in a humanities lesson at a local school recently, when one pupil asked me if I had considered the possibility that I might be mad. I told him that this was a very good question. If none of my experiences of God are genuine, then I must be suffering from feeble-mindedness, or some psychological abnormality, because these experiences are so real and powerful. And this point applies to all the hundreds of Christians that I know.

Indeed, some of these private religious experiences can be publicly verified. For example, a friend of a friend, whom everyone calls Andy, used to be a Christian youth worker but became disenchanted with the church and drifted away from Christianity. Nevertheless he kept up several friendships with Christians and even came to church occasionally. At our church we often have healing services, and before such services a prayer group meets to listen to God for ‘words of knowledge’ that are given out in the service to encourage people to come for prayer (about seventy percent of the ‘words’ are responded to by people who feel that the ‘word’ was for them). A few months ago someone in this prayer group received as a ‘word’ a symbolic picture of someone in a tug of war but feeling they were on the wrong team. The prayer group leader (known personally to me) felt that this word was vague and so asked the group to pray that God would give them a name to attach to it. No one in the prayer group knew about Andy, and yet someone hesitantly offered ‘Andrew,’ Andy’s real name. The picture and the name were given out during the service, and Andy responded. He said that several times he had heard ‘words’ given that he could have applied to himself, but he didn’t respond, reasoning that if God was really interested in him, God could put his name on an appropriate ‘word’. It seems to me that God rose to Andy’s challenge. Within a week of responding to this ‘word’ Andy had re-dedicated his life to God. In a congregation of about 240 people, a non-Christian named Andrew who felt in a ‘tug-of-war’ between accepting God and not, challenged God to put his name on an appropriate ‘word’, and God responded. This ‘word’ was composed of ‘private’ religious experiences, but these experiences were publicly verified.

[CS] You argue that religious experience provides strong evidence for the existence of God, using, by way of illustration, the story of a friend of a friend, Andy. My friend, Tom, has been reporting such inexplicable events to me for years, and I fully trust his veracity. He relates the following story:

At the end of my sophomore year I stayed on for a few days to work at graduation and to help renovate the [fraternity] House Library. On the day before graduation I was dutifully applying a fragrant mixture of turpentine and linseed oil to the woodwork. I came to a shelf with bound volumes, put them on the table, and casually cracked one open and read for a minute or two the House doings of 1901 and 1902. Two members, Frank and Tim, dominated the pages with academic, social, and athletic successes. I closed the book and went back to the woodwork.

Not five minutes later there was a knock at the front door. As I walked in that direction the door opened and a wizened old man in a gray suit shuffled in and introduced himself. It was Tim. I was so stunned by the coincidence of it all that I could hardly speak as I guided him into the library, riffled through the volumes, and finally found the passages. I showed them to Tim, and then read them aloud. “Frank,” he said, “was one heck of a guy. I really miss him.” He walked out into the foyer and looked up at me. I will never forget the amazing blue eyes and Yankee accent. He said, “It won’t do you any good, you know.” I was baffled. “I don’t know how you fellers knew I was coming, but it won’t do you any good. You ain’t gonna get a penny out o’me.”

Inexplicable coincidences do happen, and they happen when any hint of supernatural significance is impossible to detect. That they sometimes happen when such an inference might be drawn provides no evidence that it should be drawn.

[PW] It is precisely the context of “supernatural significance”, lacking in your friend’s story but present in Andy’s, that means a design inference should be drawn.

In a recent incident a ‘word’ was given that someone (a specific name was given) needed prayer about a work situation, and that this person was five feet eight inches tall, with dark hair. Just such a person, in church for the first time that day, responded to this message. Making such an assertion constitutes what philosopher of science Karl Popper called a "risky prediction", and is nothing like the vague platitudes of the astrology column, which can be applied to almost anyone. It is a very specific prediction, verified after the fact, which confirms the veracity of religious experience.

[CS] As for your story of Andy and this brown-haired fellow 5’ 8” with a work problem, ‘psychics’ such as Edgar Cayce and others have been wowing credulous audiences for generations with similar demonstrations of their powers. Probably half of any audience will have a work problem; one of them might meet the description. More importantly, though, I wonder about the nature of a God who takes the time to encourage Andy to go to church, and who responds to the prayers offered to help a dark-haired fellow about 5’ 8” tall with a work problem, in a world where countless children and babies are dying painful, protracted deaths, the prayers of their anguished parents going unanswered. This is not a God that I can praise and worship and wish to spend all eternity in His close companionship.

[PW] Whether or not God exists, and whether or not God is a God we can praise and worship, are admittedly related questions; but they are not the same question. Let’s leave the problem of evil to our previous discussion.

I do recognize that religious experience is more convincing first hand than second hand. But as William Lane Craig says: “in the context of an immediate experience of God, its rational to believe in God in a properly basic way... In the absence of overwhelming arguments for atheism, it seems to me perfectly rational to go on believing in the reality of that experience.”[6] Craig draws a useful distinction between knowing that Christianity is true and showing that it is true. I trust my own experiences and those of Christians I know. They are not delusions. The experience of God is, by itself, sufficient ground for knowing the truth of Christianity. Atheists have no comparable experience of God’s non-existence; at the most they simply lack experience of God. But then, why not accept the testimony of those who do experience God?

[CS] One reason it is hard to address the argument from experience is that it is not empirical. I have no way of testing or verifying your subjective report of a subjective experience. I can hardly contradict your experience, since I have only second-hand access to it. I certainly do not doubt your sincerity when you report that you have experienced God. Nor can I doubt that many other intelligent people have reported somewhat similar experiences.

[PW] You actually have several ways of verifying reports of religious experience. Some are publicly verified (such as the ‘word’ given to Andrew). You can cross check the religious experiences of very different people from very different cultures in different historical periods to see if they cohere. Finally, you could fulfill the conditions of having such an experience for yourself! This needn’t even start with belief, but with the ‘skeptic’s prayer’: "If you exist God, please help me to find you." Of course, you may not want to fulfill the conditions of having such an experience, and you may have reasons for thinking such experience to be a delusion rather than genuine and such a prayer to be a waste of time, but the barrier to your having the religious experiences I do, and being able to judge them from the inside, is in you as much as it is in the nature of the experience itself.

[CS] While reports of this experience should certainly be considered by anyone interested in the question of God’s existence, the complete absence of such experience by other people must also be considered. I have had no such experience nor have many of my closest friends and relatives. You can, of course, (as you already have, to a degree) suggest that the lack of such experience, or the denial that one has had such experience, is evidence of psychological maladjustment or a conscious moral choice. Some non-theists have made comparable invidious analyses of theists. In part because people that I know, love and respect are theists, I will not participate in such analyses, which inevitably become ad hominem. I have suggested that the widespread belief in a supernatural God might be a result of our evolution, but to suggest this is not to label such beliefs pathological or even in any way abnormal.

[PW] The absence of religious experience in some people is not comparable with the evidential value of such experience in other people. Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. You have no experience of God’s non-existence to weigh in the balance against my experience of God’s existence. Your conscious experience of the cosmos may not include God, but forming the belief that God does not exist on such grounds is no more reliable than forming the belief that germs don’t exist ‘because you can’t see them with the naked eye.’ Failing to experience God is not good reason to believe that God is non-existent, since you wouldn’t expect to experience God without an openness to doing so, which you haven’t claimed. Thus, while your atheism may be a basic belief, it is not a properly basic or warranted belief. You see, we often come to believe something because of the way our mind works. In certain circumstances we automatically find ourselves with a belief. For example, you believe you ate Cheerios for breakfast because you remember doing so. You could bolster this belief with evidence, but there is no need to do so in order for your belief to be rational. Your memory belief is a basic belief: “which is not believed on the basis of some underlying belief but is rather a foundational belief which we simply form in certain situations.”[7]

In order to be properly basic, or ‘warranted’,a basic belief must arise in an appropriate situation, one with circumstances of belief formation that cohere with the nature of the object of belief. Looking out of my window I believe that I see a tree. I do not reason my way to this belief, and I don’t need to reason my way to this belief in order to be rational in holding it. Upon looking out of the window I just naturally find myself believing that I see a tree, and since there is nothing about my looking out of the window that precludes my seeing a tree, my belief seems perfectly appropriate. However, if I look at my lounge wall and form the belief ‘There is a tree,’ my belief is not warranted, because it is not grounded in appropriate circumstances. Properly basic beliefs should be accepted as true until andunless there is sufficient reason to doubt their truth.

Theists maintain that belief in God based upon personal religious experience is a properly basic belief. This belief may be bolstered by evidence, but evidence is not required to make belief in God rational. As Craig says: “Given the appropriate circumstances – such as moments of guilt, gratitude, or a sense of God’s handiwork in nature – man naturally apprehends God’s existence.”[8]

[CS] But this a theist speaking for other theists; it is a mere subjective assertion. I am a man, and the generalization is completely false in terms of my experience. Last August, after 60 years of unfailingly good health, I had something of a medical adventure. On a Friday afternoon and evening, I thought it quite probable that I would not wake up on Saturday morning. This would presumably be one of those “appropriate circumstances” in which I would “naturally form the belief in [God’s] existence”. The thought never entered my mind.

There are other common human experiences which many might interpret as evidence that God exists. I recall a specific instance when I responded to the beauty of nature and the simple joy of being alive with something close to ecstasy. I was 17 at the time and I resolved to never forget that experience and to keep myself open and awake to the possibility of joy in life. This feeling has often reoccurred, usually in response to simple things. An oriole in my backyard. Clouds. A beautiful face. If I had been a believer at the time, I might have attributed this experience, these feelings, to the presence of God. But I was not, am not, and to this day I think these experiences have nothing to do with a supernatural God.

[PW] Craig’s generalization was not intended to indicate a mechanical cause and effect relationship between certain circumstances, such as your recent health problems, and the formation of theistic belief (I prayed for you, by the way). That such belief formation happens ‘naturally’ doesn’t mean that it happens invariably, only that it often happens and that when it happens it results in a properly basic belief. As you say, such circumstances as you mention: “would presumably be one of those 'appropriate circumstances' in which I would 'naturally form the belief in [God’s] existence'.”[9]

Theists hold that belief in God is properly basic because they can see it as the result of the proper functioning of mental faculties given to humans by God so that they can know Him. Moreover, Christians consider the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s mind to be a source of what Alvin Plantinga calls Warranted Christian Belief.[10] Beliefs produced in this way are properly basic.

Basic beliefs can be refuted, at least in principle. Challenges against beliefs that are supposed to be properly basic can be of two sorts: that the belief is false, or that the belief is not the result of a reliable or appropriate belief-forming processes. On the one hand non-theists can argue that ‘God’ is inherently self-contradictory, or that His existence is contradicted by some fact or other (such as the fact of evil). On the other hand they can argue that belief in God arises from an unreliable belief forming process (e.g. it is the unintended result of Darwinian evolution).

To remain rational in the face of such a challenge to belief, one must either show the inadequacy of the challenge or abandon belief. In some cases, the grounds for belief can be demonstrated to have more power than the challenge to the belief. Consider your alpha-male challenge to belief in God. This presupposes that there is no God who has designed our evolutionary history so that the search for the ‘Alpha-male’ is really the search for God. Wouldn’t fear of death be an appropriate circumstance for naturally forming the belief that God exists? Before you can discredit belief in God with reference to the process of how people come to believe in Him, you must first of all prove that God does not exist, because “if Christian belief is true then it is highly probable that it is warranted.”[11] That is to say, if God exists, then it is likely that the way I find myself believing in God is a reliable way of knowing, designed for that end by God. You can’t disprove that simply with reference to the process of belief formation. Anyone who suggests that belief in God is not properly basic is assuming that theism is false, and all anti-warrant objections to theism are therefore guilty of begging-the-question. Non-theists must stick to arguing that theism is false, rather than arguing that it is the result of an inappropriate or unreliable way of forming beliefs.

[CS] Since you have brought up the possibility of question begging, notice how your own sources do just this. The question is whether religious experience provides a properly basic and warranted belief that God exists. William Lane Craig argues, “God has so constructed us that we naturally form the belief in his existence under appropriate circumstances.” Plantinga trumps Craig by arguing that: “The internal invitation of the Holy Spirit is ... a cognitive process that produces in us belief in the main lines of the Christian story... the beliefs thus produced in us meet the conditions necessary and sufficient for warrant...” Both these statements are based upon the premise that God (or the Holy Spirit) exists; they cannot therefore be used to argue that a spiritual experience proves that God exists. As argument for belief in God, this is no better than "Belief in God exists because ... God exists."

[PW] The account of belief in God as properly basic is not presented as evidence for the existence of God, but an argument for the proper basicality of belief in God (placing belief in God on a par with my properly basic belief that I didn’t murder anyone this morning): “if theistic and Christian beliefs are properly basic with respect to warrant, they do not stand or fall on the strength of evidence...”[12] The fact that theistic belief grounded in appropriate experiences counts as properly basic rebuts objections aimed at the warrant of belief in God, and demonstrates that belief in God is rational even without the support of arguments for God’s existence like the moral or design arguments.

[CS] The burden of proof rests with theists to demonstrate we have reliable ways of knowing God. Theists can use this argument for belief only after proving God’s existence (since we cannot know him if he doesn’t exist) in which case it’s superfluous.

[PW] Assigning theists the burden of proof here breaks the principle of credulity. Personal testimony should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the only way to prove my religious experience false is to prove that God doesn’t exist, not to call into question the trustworthiness of the process by which I came to believe in God.

[CS] But if this principle of credulity is accepted, couldn’t it also be used to defend the rationality of believing in Islam? After all, a Muslim’s belief is just as real to him as a Christian’s, and so might be characterized as "properly basic as regards to warrant." But Islam teaches that Jesus was not God nor the Son of God. On what grounds can your belief be favoured over the Muslim’s? You have said that properly basic beliefs do not depend upon the strength of evidence beyond personal experience. You have also evoked the principle of credulity; that a properly grounded belief must be held as true until shown to be false. Since Christianity and Islam teach conflicting fundamental ‘truths’ this argument must necessarily be defective. And you haven’t answered the charge of question begging in Plantinga’s argument. I doubt that it can be answered.

By contrast, I am not begging any question in challenging your grounds for belief in God. Suppose that you were to argue that you believed that God existed because yesterday you got an Email from him. Without assuming the non-existence of God, I could point out that your belief was not properly grounded because the E-mail might have been a prank sent by one of your friends. I would not beg any question in doing so. In fact, I would not even deny the possibility that God sends Emails.

[PW] The non-theist may attempt to use theories (like those of Freud and Marx) to account for theistic belief if they have already disproved God’s existence, but they cannot use such theories to defeat belief in God’s existence in the first place: “A successful atheological objection will have to be to the truth of theism, not to its rationality, or justification, or intellectual respectability. The atheologian who wishes to attack theistic belief will have to restrict herself to the argument from evil, or the claim that theism is incoherent, or the idea that in some other way there is strong evidence against theistic belief.”[13] Supposing that the Freudian view of the universe is true, would this imply that beliefs concerning the Freudian view are warranted? It would not: “The truth of what the Freudian believes does not imply that such beliefs are properly warranted... Because philosophical naturalism excludes an explanation of human cognitive success in terms of satisfaction of a design plan, there can be no basis for believing that the truth of naturalism implies that naturalistic beliefs (or any other beliefs) are adequately warranted.”[14]

[CS] Peter, as you know, my argument is not from Freud or Marx, but from our evolutionary history, which, in broad outline at least, you accept. It’s not true that I am begging the question of God’s existence, or that my argument is invalid unless I have already proved God’s non-existence. The argument from desire and experience explains some phenomena by asserting that God exists, and his existence accounts for the phenomena. If this were the only possible or plausible explanation, the argument would be very powerful. However, my analysis of our evolutionary heritage provides a plausible alternative explanation for religious desire and experience. If, in a court of law, the prosecution is attempting to prove that John killed Mary, the defense could very properly present an alternative explanation for Mary’s death. If the evidence for this theory were powerful, it would considerably weaken the thesis that John killed Mary.

[PW] The real question is whether the alpha-male hypothesis or the God hypothesis provides the best explanation of the data.

Yes, a lawyer could advance an alternative explanation serving to exculpate John, an explanation that wouldn’t have to begin from the assumption that John didn’t (or probably didn’t) kill Mary (perhaps Roy killed Mary).Just asJohn’s lawyer needs an alternative explanation for Mary’s death to John’s guilt, you need an alternative explanation for belief in God to ‘a reliable belief forming mechanism designed by God’; but that’s just what you can’t produce without the assumption that God doesn’t exist.

No plausible process that results in theistic belief – even the super-alpha male process – can be used to discredit belief in God’s existence, because if God exists He would probably provide us with a reliable way of knowing Him, and any plausible path you mention (fear of death, etc) could well be that path! You can’t know a mechanism that leads to belief in God is unreliable without first knowing that God doesn’t exist, so you can’t show that God doesn’t exist by mentioning a mechanism and simply asserting that it is unreliable! To show that the mechanism is unreliable you have to show that the mechanism isn’t intended by God. And to do that you have to disprove God’s existence on independent grounds (such as the atheistic argument from evil).

[CS] My super-alpha male argument had no pretension of disproving the existence of God. Its intent was much more modest: to point out that the existence of God is not the only plausible explanation for belief in God, that theistic belief can be accounted for without God actually existing.

[PW] The charge that "People believe in God because they want God to exist" can just as well cut the other way. Perhaps atheists don’t believe in God because they don’t want Him to exist or they don’t want to acknowledge His existence. Aldous Huxley wrote: “I had motives [primarily erotic] for not wanting the world to have meaning, consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption.”[15] Thomas Nagel frankly admits:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time.[16]

Man makes gods out of everything from sex to science. The holy and demanding God of Christian belief, on the other hand, isn’t at all the sort of god you’d expect people to project.

Psychologist Paul C. Vitz has investigated the psychology of atheism,[17] and after listing factors such as peer pressure and personal convenience that may contribute to a rejection of God, argues that: “in the Freudian framework, atheism is an illusion caused by the Oedipal desire to kill the father and replace him with oneself.”[18] Vitz goes on to propose a ‘Theory of Defective Father’ whereby a defective father may contribute to a person’s rejection of God the ‘Heavenly Father.’ Defective fathers may be “weak, cowardly, and unworthy of respect”, “physically, sexually or psychologically abusive”, or “absent through death or by abandoning or leaving the family.”[19] Freud lacked respect for his father who failed to stand up for himself against anti-Semitic abuse. Marx did not respect his father, who converted to Christianity out of a desire to make life easier for himself, and was the first in his family not to become a rabbi. When Feuerbach was thirteen, his father abandoned the family to live with another woman. According to Vitz: “Many children ... interpret the death of their father as a kind of betrayal or an act of desertion. In this respect it is remarkable that the pattern of a dead father is so common in the lives of many prominent atheists.”[20] Bertrand Russell’s father died when Russell was four years old. Nietzche was the same age when his father died. Camus lost his father as a one year old. Sartre lost his father before he was born.

[CS] I had an excellent relationship with my father, who died when I was in my 40s after a long and cruel descent into the abyss of Alzheimer’s disease. To this day I think him one of the best, gentlest, most loving and most loved of men.

[PW] In which case the ‘defective father theory’ doesn’t explain your atheism (but then, I don’t think fear of death explains my theism – since I have always believed in life after death). Vitz’s fundamental point is that when it comes to explaining away beliefs, theists can play the ad hominem game at least as well as atheists. Explaining away a belief is something that should only be done after, and not before, the belief in question is shown to be false on non-psychological grounds. It is little wonder that: “Criticisms of religion based on accounts of psychological origin hold little sway among professional philosophers.”[21]

[CS] You seem to have no such compunction about criticisms of atheism based on accounts of psychological origin.

[PW] I only raise the possibility of such criticism in response to your psychological criticism of theism; and of course, I think that atheism has been shown to be false by non-psychological arguments, just as you think theism has been shown to be false by non-psychological arguments.

Suppose you are tried for a murder you know you didn’t commit, even though all the evidence presented in court points to your guilt. You would surely not be obliged to believe yourself guilty! Your properly basic belief that you are innocent is so compelling that it would override evidence for your guilt. In the same way, religious experience can be so compelling that it overrides arguments, such as the argument from evil, against theism.

However, just as only the accused can be certain he did not commit the crime he is accused of in the face of evidence to the contrary, so only the person (like Job) who has experienced God can be similarly confident of His existence in the face of evidence to the contrary. For the accused, the only way of showing others his innocence (as opposed to knowing it) is to discredit the evidence pointing to his guilt or to provide positive evidence of his innocence. For the theist, the only way to show non-theists that belief in God is not overcome by challenges is to offer compelling counterarguments such as the free will defense or the design argument. In a court of law, a plea of not guilty is based upon the presumption of innocence until the accused is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Likewise, religious experience provides a reason for assuming belief in God to be trustworthy until proven otherwise beyond reasonable doubt. Religious experience constitutes a positive argument for theism, an argument against atheism.

[CS] I concede the truth of this last statement. But I question the sentence before it, that “religious experience provides a reason for assuming belief in God to be trustworthy until proven otherwise beyond reasonable doubt.” Even after considering all your arguments, the theist’s view of life seems to me incredible. Suppose my wife, who is otherwise sane and sensible, tells me that yesterday she saw a zebra in the living room? Would I be required to believe that yesterday there was a zebra in the living room until I could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that such was not the case?

[PW] If your otherwise sane and sensible wife really did tell you that, while you were at work, a zebra walked through the house; and if she showed every sign of sincerity and there were no signs contrary to the reliability of her story (besides its innate unusualness), then I do indeed suspect that you should, indeed would, believe her (after all, it might have escaped from a zoo or circus). Suppose it was you who saw a zebra in the living room and your wife refused to believe you despite your protestations that you were not lying? Wouldn’t you think her unreasonable?! Likewise, if your sane and otherwise sensible sister tells you that she has experienced God, then I think you should believe her until and unless you have sufficient reason to discount her testimony.

Many, perhaps most, people from different eras and widely different cultures have experienced the divine, including atheists! Jean-Paul Sartre’s experience, paradoxically, caused him to abandon belief: “I had been playing with matches and burned a small rug. I was in the process of covering up my crime when suddenly God saw me. I felt His gaze inside my head and on my hands... I flew into a rage against so crude an indiscretion, I blasphemed... He never looked at me again.”[22] Of course, for many, the experience of God is one to be cherished. Since so many people have this profound experience it is likely that God exists. “It is a basic principle of knowledge ... that we ought to believe that things are as they seem to be, until we have evidence that we are mistaken... If you say the contrary – never trust appearances until it is proved that they were reliable – you will never have any beliefs at all. For what would show that appearances were reliable, except more appearances?”[23] Lacking religious experience yourself, it is reasonable to trust the reports of those with such experience. Such testimony carries a prima facie validity. You may have reasons to believe God doesn’t exist, but religious experience should at least ‘soak-up’ some of those reasons, undermining them to a degree.

[CS] You write that Jean-Paul Sartre’s experience of God caused him to abandon belief. But the words you quote make it clear that this was a childhood experience retold as the child perceived it. As a child I sat on Santa Claus’s lap; at the time this was grounds for a warranted belief in Santa. When I was a child, I understood as a child. I agree that "we ought to believe that things are as they seem to be, until we have evidence that we are mistaken." And while I am intrigued by the experiences of those who feel otherwise, I think the case against the existence of the God of theism to be overwhelming.

[PW] Further evidence for God is that spiritual experiences often cause positive personal transformation. Millions have had spiritual experiences, a sense of God’s presence, and they testify to being ‘born again’ to a far better life. Relevant testimony is not hard to come by. William Lane Craig confesses: “God has transformed my life, my attitudes, my relationships, my motivations, my marriage, and my priorities through his very real ongoing presence in my life...”[24] According to Lee Strobel: “It was in 1981 when I originally responded to the evidence by deciding to abandon atheism and cling to Christ... I’ve never been the same. Opening my life wider and wider to God and his ways, I’ve found my values, my character, my priorities, my attitudes, my relationships, my desires have been changed over time – for the better.”[25] God’s actual existence provides the best explanation for these transformations:

Religious transformation has occurred for thousands of years, in primitive cultures and advanced ones, in young and old people, in those well educated and those without education, in cool, calm people and emotional, hysterical people, in those in a religious culture and those in an atheistic culture. Such differences in time, place, upbringing, temperament, and age are good evidence that the common causal factor in such cases is God.[26]

Christian theism especially is confirmed by its transforming power. Jesus predicted the power of his message to bring new life to those who believe, that they would be 'born again'. The experience of millions of Christians validates this promise.

[CS] While it is true that some people become better human beings after a religious experience, it is not clear that God is the cause of their transformation; the cause may be their belief in God. I have said from the beginning of our dialogue that belief can change people, even change the world. This would testify to the utility of belief in God, but not to its truth. But it is also true that religious experience for some results in an undesirable transformation. Some, because of the experience, are crippled by unhealthy guilt, thinking themselves miserable sinners unworthy of God’s mercy. In several traditions of Christianity, this guilt consciousness is absolutely required. Other believers become dangerous fanatics and go on crusades or jihads.

[PW] Is mere belief in God sufficient to account for religious transformation? This seems unlikely to me. A world in which a false belief in God can have such beneficial results seems to me to be odder than a world in which belief in God is true. The details of personal transformations wrought through belief in God convinces me that the cause of transformation goes deeper than ‘the power of positive thought’ can explain. Such transformation constitutes an empirical verification of the Christian theory.[27]

The ‘direct perception argument’ shows that there is a close analogy between perceptual experience, such as seeing something with one’s own eyes, and spiritual experience. Since we can generally trust our visual experiences, we can also generally trust our spiritual experiences. Certain conditions must be met, both in and out of theperceiving subject, if the perception is to be possible. To see, a person must not be blind and must have his eyes open. To apprehend God, a person must usually be at least open to the experience and must develop through practice and discipline the ability to ‘recognize God’s voice.’ Visual experiences are of objects that exist outside the subject; spiritual experiences are also of something outside the subject. Both experiences move from vagueness to clarity. Seeing a table from a distance is a vague perception; moving closer allows a clear perception. Spiritual perception occurs in a similar manner:

The initial stage of awareness of God frequently involves an awakening of the self to a vague sense of God’s presence accompanied by intense feelings of joy and exultation. This is often followed by a clearer apprehension of God’s beauty and holiness with a concomitant awareness of one’s own sin and guilt. Eventually, perception becomes clearer to the point that spiritual work is done on the self in that it becomes more unified, whole, and at peace. Further, God has several attributes. Just as a table could appear circular from one angle and elliptical from another, so numinous perception can fasten onto different aspects of God as he is experienced in different ways in different conditions.[28]

If one sees something then this is prima facie evidence for the existence of that object, Likewise, if one experiences God, this is prima facie evidence for the existence of God.

[CS] I question whether an inward and non-empirical experience can ever provide conclusive evidence that God exists. Certainly, it might convince the person who has such an experience, but someone who has not has every right to be skeptical. You compare religious experience to visual perception, but even visual perception is often unreliable. I have seen things in my dreams with startling clarity. I go to a magic show and literally cannot believe my eyes. Anyone familiar with courtroom evidence knows that eyewitness testimony is very often in obvious contradiction. One witness is certain about what he saw, but strangely, another witness saw something quite different. Memory? My wife and I had dinner with friends lasts week; John was certain that he remembered and remembered vividly, in detail, a recent financial transaction; Sarah had an equally certain and vivid memory of the same transaction, but in complete contradiction to his. The matter could be settled when they got home to check their records, but who can do the same for an experience of God? Often experiences of the ‘transcendent’ are in radical contradiction to each other.

[PW] Religious experience finds confirmation in that it is both individual and communal. My friend’s dog and my friend’s God can both be experienced by several people at once, although none of these people are sharing the exact same experience in either case. There are public checks for perception. You can ask other people if there is a dog in the room. You can ask someone else to describe what color it is, and so on. Likewise, experiences of God can be cross-referenced with multiple witnesses and several tests can be offered to distinguish true from false perceptions of God (and, of course, there are false perceptions of God just as there are false visual perceptions – but in both cases the fact that we can distinguish false from true perceptions underscores the fact that we can have true perceptions). Such experience should be internally coherent, consistent with those of mystics considered exemplars of religious experience such as Isaiah, Moses, Julian of Norwich. These experiences are likely to be repeatable, shared by others, and morally beneficial both for the self and for others. Such experiences should have a self-evidencing profundity and 'sweetness', and finally, such experience should conform to an objective body of revelation. Spiritual experiences are therefore analogous to visual experiences, and so are likely to be generally reliable. Of course, experiences of God and sense experiences are not alike in all ways, but this is true of any analogy. The analogy between visual and spiritual experiences is strong and provides compelling evidence for the existence of God.

True, unlike visual experiences, spiritual experiences are non-empirical. While God can often be sensed in or through nature, God is not a part of nature like a tree or a mountain. So, as Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, belief in God is like our belief in other minds. No human has ever had inner knowledge of another person’s experience, although we all sometimes know what someone else is feeling or thinking. Someone else’s experience isn’t open to sensory perception; neither is God. We can rationally believe other people have minds without confirming this with our empirical senses, and we can also rationally believe in God without empirical sense confirmation. Besides, Since God is spiritual, not material, it would be a category fallacy to demand knowledge of Him through our sense faculties.

Norman L. Geisler and Winfried Corduan explain that the denial of God: “entails the assertion that not only some people have been deceived about the reality of God but that indeed all religious persons who have ever lived have been completely deceived into believing there is a God when there really is not. This is possible, but very implausible For if even one religious person is right about the reality of the Transcendent, then there really is a Transcendent.”[29] If atheism is right, then a host of brilliant minds (such as Augustine, Aquinas, Kierkegaard and Pascal) were deluded.

[CS] The key word in the above quotation is the Transcendent, a word vague enough to encompass many different things. Spiritual experiences often are in conflict, God seeming to reveal something to one person, something quite different to another. Otherwise there would not be such varying religions as Islam, paganism, the Tao, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism. Religions are often different to the point that believers in one often feel that their transcendent being has called upon them to slaughter believers in another. (Actually, this compulsion seems to be generally limited to monotheistic religions.)

[PW] Only three of the religions you mention actually believe in a transcendent being who could call anyone to do anything. Christianity subsumes Judaism, with Christianity claiming that God has said more than Judaism admits; so one can’t see the two religions as saying straightforwardly contradictory things. Islam agrees with Judaism and Christianity on many issues; the distinction coming over the person of Jesus.

[CS] In this last statement, you have conceded that, however we “long for the transcendent”, belief in the God of theism is far from universal in the family of man. I have already suggested how it might be part of our evolutionary heritage to long for a super alpha-male, one able to protect us from our own mortality. There is also recent evidence that our brains are ‘hard-wired’ to seek the supernatural. Whether this is evidence that the supernatural actually exists, or that we have simply naturally evolved this way, is open to debate. I make no assumption. Consistently, and unlike Plantinga and you, I beg no question. I argue only that the facts can be plausibly explained without recourse to God. As to the rest of Plantinga’s statement, “The atheologian who wishes to attack theistic belief will have to restrict herself [?] to the argument from evil, or the claim that theism is incoherent, or the idea that in some other way there is strong evidence against theistic belief.” Of course I have done all this.

In short, while I find your account of religious experience interesting and perplexing, I do not find in it any reason to believe myself. In fact, for the reasons I have been giving since the beginning of this discussion, and despite the many arguments you have made, it is impossible for me to share your belief in a God who is all-powerful, omniscient, and the embodiment and source of all true virtue and beauty.

[PW] Properly basic belief in God (belief grounded in appropriate experience) is as conclusive a reason to believe in God as my memory that I had croissants for breakfast is good reason to believe that I did indeed have croissants for breakfast.

Belief in God is not universal, but it is the belief of the majority of humanity, even today (when around 60% of humanity believes in God). Theism can quite easily explain why belief in God is widespread (because God designed humans to relate to Himself and has revealed himself to us) but not universal (because we have free will which we often misuse). Can your evolutionary theory explain why belief in God is widespread but not universal? If we have been programmed by our evolution to believe in God, how come you have escaped this programming?

I am afraid that my discussion of properly basic belief in God has confused you. Plantinga’s account of belief in God as warranted is not an argument for the existence of God, but for the rationality of belief in God quite apart from the arguments for God’s existence. Your arguments (excepting the Problem of Evil and questions about the coherence of the concept of God) challenge whether belief in God is appropriately grounded, thereby presupposing the non-existence of God. A ‘warranted’ belief is formed by a reliable belief producing system, and atheists often argue that belief in God is not formed by such a system. Your alpha-male account suggests that a closer look at belief in God reveals that it is (or at least could be) the result of an unreliable belief forming system. But all such anti-warrant arguments beg the question, because if God exists then any belief forming system mentioned by the atheist would be a reliable one designed by God. It is not coherent to suppose that God is real and that my belief in God is formed by a unreliable cognitive process, since “if Christian belief is true, then it is probably warranted.”[30] Therefore, your anti-warrant alpha-male begs the question.

[CS] First, Peter, I’d like to note how qualified this argument is. As you indicate, it has as its source the work of Alvin Plantinga, and I know the qualifications reflect the original. The language is “if God exists”. But then the argument proceeds on the assumption that God does exist. In fact, the argument collapses without this assumption. So here is the real question-begging.

Let me see if I understand this argument correctly. In this chapter you offer as evidence of God’s existence the desire many people have for God and the experiences of God reported by many. According to your position, I cannot validly challenge these arguments, or any other argument for belief in God, because in doing so I would be begging the question of God’s existence. In your words, “The non-theist may attempt to use theories like those of Freud and Marx to account for theistic belief if they have already disproved God’s existence, but they cannot use such theories to defeat belief in God’s existence in the first place.” To question the validity of belief in God’s existence, I am limited to the Problem of Evil and challenges to the coherence of God ideas. So I really had no proper role in this chapter, at least not unless you conceded that I have positively proven God’s non-existence. Your arguments for belief in God’s existence are unchallengeable, because they are built on the foundation that if God exists, He would make Himself knowable, and the experience of God that you and other people have had must be accepted unless there is overwhelming evidence that God doesn’t exist. Furthermore, “Plantinga’s account of belief in God as warranted is not an argument for the existence of God, but for the rationality of belief in God quite apart from the arguments for God’s existence: if theistic and Christian beliefs are properly basic with respect to warrant, they do not stand or fall on the strength of evidence....”[31] Theists believe in God; therefore God must exist and have given them cause to believe in God.

I surrender, completely dazzled by this logic.

[PW] Of course you can challenge arguments for God, by attempting to deconstruct them within the laws of logic (showing that they are logically invalid, or contain false premises). However, Plantinga’s account of warranted Christian belief is not presented as an argument giving evidence for God’s existence, but as an argument for taking belief in God formed in certain appropriate circumstances as properly basic and thus immune to objections based upon the suggestion that belief in God is formed in an unreliable or inappropriate manner: “The conclusion of such an objection will be that there is something wrong with Christian belief – something other than falsehood – or else something wrong with the Christian believer: it or she is in some way unjustified, or irrational, or perhaps immoral ... these ... objections ... all presuppose the falsehood of Christian belief....”[32]

Beliefs don’t have to be justified with evidence to count as rational[33], that’s the whole point of properly basic beliefs. The warrant account provides a theory of rationality under which belief in God counts as rational for individuals with appropriate experiences, a belief that should therefore be accepted as true unless overwhelmed by stronger properly basic beliefs or by sufficient strong counter-evidence. Given the coherence of this theory, if one is to argue that belief in God is not warranted one must do so indirectly, sidestepping the question of warrant per se and offering objections to the existence of God rather than to the appropriateness of belief in God. If God doesn’t exist then my belief in Him obviously cannot be warranted; but knowing that God doesn’t exist is the only way to know that my belief in God isn’t warranted.

You note that: “There is recent evidence that our brains are hard-wired to seek the supernatural. Whether this is evidence that the supernatural actually exists, or that we have simply naturally evolved this way, is open to debate.” Indeed there is.[34] If we “have simply naturally evolved” in such a way that we are hard-wired to seek out and believe in a non-existent God, it would seem that naturalistic evolution is a poor guide to reality. In that case, how can you place much trust at all in the findings of your naturalistically evolved brain, especially when it comes to matters beyond the necessities of biological survival?[35] As Plantinga jokes, “It is only the occasional assistant professor of philosophy in a heavily naturalistic department whose survival and reproductive prospects depend upon accepting naturalism.”[36] If belief in God is a widespread but false product of naturalistic evolution, how do you know that other beliefs are not also only widespread but false products of naturalistic evolution – beliefs such as atheism?!

I suggest that the experience of God must be accepted as being reliable unless proven otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt, because all experience must be so accepted. If we did not accept experience as innocent until proven guilty, but always held experience guilty until proven innocent, we would never accept any experience as genuine.

Go to 6. Heaven and Hell


[1] Norman L. Geisler & Winfried Corduan, Philosophy of Religion, (Baker), p.72.

[2] Pascal, Pensées 181.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (Fount).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, (Penguin, 1975).

[6] Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, p.84.

[7] William Lane Craig, Time and Eternity, (Crossway Books, 2001), p.131.

[8] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, (Crossway, 1994), p.29.

[9] On aesthetic experience and belief in God, cf. Peter S. Williams, ‘Aesthetic Arguments for the Existence of God’ @ www.quodlibet.net/williams-aesthetic.shtml

[10] Cf. Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, (Oxford, 2000).

[11] R. Douglas Geivett and Greg Jesson, ‘Plantinga’s Externalism and the Terminus of Warrant-Based Epistemology’, Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Volume 3, Number 2, p.330.

[12] R. Douglas Geivett and Greg Jesson, op. cit., p.331. Cf. Peter van Inwagen, ‘Is It Wrong, Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone, to Believe?’ @ http://www.faithquest.com/home.cfm?main=docs/philosophers/vaninwagen/clifford.cfm [No longer available at this site. See now http://comp.uark.edu/~senor/wrong.html. Ed.]

[13] Alvin Plantinga, op. cit.

[14] R. Douglas Geivett and Greg Jesson, op. cit., p.331. Indeed, quite the reverse – cf. Alvin Plantinga, ‘An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism’ @ http://hisdefense.org/articles/ap001.html. [Also available as audio talk with text outline at http://www.bethinking.org/science-christianity/advanced/an-evolutionary-argument-against-naturalism.htm. Ed.]

[15] Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, (Chatto and Windus, 1969), p.270.

[16] Thomas Nagel, The Last Word, (Thomas Nelson), pp.130-131.

[17] Cf. Paul C. Vitz, ‘The Psychology of Atheism’ @ http://www.origins.org/truth/1truth12.html [re-located to http://www.origins.org/articles/vitz_psychologyofatheism.html. Ed.] & Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, (Spence, 1999).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] John O’Leary-Hawthorn, ‘Arguments for Atheism’, Reason for the Hope Within, (Eerdmans, 1999), p.134.

[22] Jean-Paul Sartre, Words, (New York, 1964), p.102.

[23] Richard Swinburne, ‘Evidence for God’.

[24] William Lane Craig, in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, p.86.

[25] Lee Strobel, ibid, p.259.

[26] Ibid., pp.233-234.

[27] As does the results of studies on the health benefits of prayer and religious belief, cf. Theodore J. Chamberlain and Christopher A. Hall, Realized Religion: Research on the Relationship between Religion and Health, (Templeton Foundation Press, 2000).

[28] J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, (Baker, 1987), p.238.

[29] Norman L. Geisler & Winfried Corduan, Philosophy of Religion, (Baker), p.76.

[30] R. Douglas Geivett and Greg Jesson, op. cit., p.331.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Alvin Plantinga, ‘Warranted Christian Belief: A Précis by the Author’, Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Volume 3, Number 2.

[33] Cf. Peter van Inwagen, ‘Is It Wrong, Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone, to Believe?’ @ http://www.faithquest.com/home.cfm?main=docs/philosophers/vaninwagen/clifford.cfm [No longer available at this site. See now http://comp.uark.edu/~senor/wrong.html. Ed.]

[34] Cf. New Scientist, 21 April 2001, No 2287, ‘Divine Mystery: Can Your Brain Really Tune into God?’

[35] Cf. Alvin Plantinga, ‘An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism’ @ http://hisdefense.org/articles/ap001.html. [Also available as audio talk with text outline at http://www.bethinking.org/science-christianity/advanced/an-evolutionary-argument-against-naturalism.htm. Ed.]

[36] Alvin Plantinga, ‘Internalism, Externalism, Defeaters and Arguments for Christian Belief’, Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Volume 3, Number 2, p.393.

Go to 6. Heaven and Hell

© 2010 Carl Stecher & Peter S. Williams
This dialogue, edited by the authors in 2002, is now being published for the first time on bethinking.org, by the kind permission of both authors.