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Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Curtis/Vacula Debate, Does the Christian God Exist?: Opening Statements

This debate came about through a series of emails between me and atheist Justin Vacula. In order to see Mr. Vacula's opening remarks, please visit his website at JustinVacula.com.

In our opening statements we are to limit ourselves to a maximum of five main points. I will attempt to to abide by that rule in order to streamline this discussion as much as possible and avoid plunging into any senseless rabbitholes.

For me personally, the answer to the question 'Does the Christian God exist?' would be a resounding 'yes', I believe that He does. Let me attempt to lay out what I think are five good reasons why I believe this is so. Please note that my beliefs are not limited to these five reasons, but after no small amount of consideration, I decided to use these in my arguments for the purposes of our discussion here.

#1. The fine-tuning of the earth's position in our solar system. There are numerous criteria that must be met in order for this planet to sustain life. Our moon must be positioned precisely where it is in order to slow the earth's rotation. If it were not for the moon then we would have 6 hour days and high, sustained winds[1] of approximately 500 miles an hour and thus life would be much less likely to form and survive. If our planet were to be located a mere 5% closer or further away from the sun, then the three states of water that exist (liquid, frozen and vapor) that are so necessary for life on earth would be much less likely to "prevail"[2]. Additionally, If the earth did not have the large, outer planets in our solar system protecting it, we would be bombarded much more by space debris such as meteors.[3]

These are just a few of the supposed 'coincidences' that led to habitability on this planet. A couple others that could be added are our location within a 'co-rotation radius' that is to say, between the spiraling arms of the Milky Way[4] and the earth's 23.5 degree tilt on it's axis that prevents much greater tempurature extremes in our summers and winters [5]. I believe that if one considers the mathematical odds of all of these factors lining up in an arbitrary manner, the statistical probability as such would appear to be quite remote if not practically impossible. If Mr. Vacula would like to utilize mathematics to demonstrate the likelihood of these factors all coming about randomly through undirected processes, I would invite him to do so.

This brings us to the next point I would like to bring up...

#2. The possibility that life first arose on this planet through completely random, undirected processes is so low that it constitutes an argument against such an occurance.

Or as one well known writer put it..

"There is zero evidence that abiogenesis ever took place, robustly imagined mechanisms for it notwithstanding. To claim that because there was no life before, but there is now, ergo abiogenesis occurred, is the very sort of philosophy that science has largely come to supplant." [6]

In support of the remote possibility of life occurring as such, I would like to quote this professor who offered up his thoughts on the matter...

"..the mathematical odds of assembling a living organism are so astronomical that nobody still believes that random chance accounts for the origin of life. Even if you optimized the conditions, it wouldn't work. If you took all of the carbon in the universe and put it on the face of the earth, allowed it to chemically react at the fastest rate possible and left it for a billion years, the odds of creating just one functional protein molecule would be one chance in a 10 with 60 zeros after it." [7]

So as you can see, it would appear reasonable that one could believe that these two things had an intelligent first cause directing a desired outcome.

However, all I've done so far is raise two arguments in favor of a generic god. What makes me think that Christianity is unique here? Aren't there other religions that also have their own creation account? Out of the other competing claims out there, why is it that I believe the Christian God is responsible and the ultimate source of truth?

For me anyway, the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazereth is evidential enough. After considerable study, the scholar NT Wright has written that the resurrection and post-mortem appearances of Jesus of Nazereth are "in the same category, of historical probability so high as to be virtually certain, as the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70".[8] In fact, according to one author, "The textual case for the historical Jesus is orders of magnitude stronger than the one for the historical Alexander the Great..There are no primary sources for Alexander and the most trustworthy of the five secondary sources was written by Arrian approximately 470 years after Alexander’s death."[9] And practically nobody doubts the historicity and accomplishments of Alexander.

You must admit, if someone suffered a very public and horrific death and then came back to life three days later, that would certainly constitute a miracle. For my other three points, I would like to offer up what I think are the best evidences for the Resurrection.

#3. The apostles were transformed. Following the crucifixion and interment of Jesus of Nazereth we read that the remaining apostles at least believed he was dead and they had little reason to believe otherwise, prior predictions by Jesus not withstanding. The apostles then became aggressive proclaimers of the Resurrection of Christ and despite facing hardships and terrible martyrdom, there is absolutely no record whatsoever of any of them ever changing their story in the least. There was nary an Oliver Cowdery or David Whitmer among them.

#4. Why do the gospel accounts record that it was women who had found the tomb empty? This is especially interesting in light of the fact that the testimony of women was not considered to be admissible in those times in the Ancient Near East. This is hardly suprising given that attitudes haven't changed that much over the millenia in this part of the world.

If the empty tomb account was simply made up, wouldn't if have made much more sense to have the apostles there at the tomb in this case and (additionally) not making them look like such doubters and failures that even Peter refused to stand up for his faith when asked about it by a young servant girl?

As an interesting aside (I really don't expect Justin to address this), this leads to another question stemming from the opposite end of Christ's earthly existance, the account that it was shepherds out in the field who were among the first people recorded to herald the birth of Jesus. Why would the writers of the gospels use them in this narrative if the testimony of shepherds was not admissible either during this period of time in the Ancient Near East?

This hardly seems like a firm foundation for "the Christian church, which is the largest institution or organization that has ever existed on the face of the earth, with membership easily passing two billion people by the end of this decade. Nothing comparable to her or even close has ever existed before. The Grand Canyon wasn't caused by an Indian dragging a stick, and the Christian Church wasn't created by a myth."[10]

In reference to the women discovering the empty tomb (along with shepherds heralding the birth of Christ), maybe there was something at work here in addition to the Son of God becoming flesh here on earth to make our relationship right with God. Perhaps as a byproduct of this happening, God wished to see the existing order of doing things shaken up and irrevocably changed.

The last point I would like to raise in support of the resurrection would be..

#5 The complete lack of any widespread, competing claims from the 1st century A.D. as to what happened to the body of Christ. If it wasn't a bodily resurrection, then what happened? There simply is no sort of 'Solly and Biff from Haifa spirited the body away on the Saturday night following the crucifixion and dumped the body in the Mediterranean. And thus Jesus of Nazereth sleeps with the fishes.' There's nothing remotely like an accepted, competing account from the time and thus applying Occam's Razor in this instance, the earliest, most widely accepted version of events would tend to be the correct one in this case.

I'll give Dr. Jerry Newcombe the last say on the topic of the empty tomb.

"Historians-secular unbelieving historians-tell us that the Christian Church began in Jerusalem in 30 A.D. [It could have been 33], the year Christ was killed and that she began because the apostles began to preach that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. You strip everything else away from their preaching, their main message was that Christ rose from the dead (e.g. Acts 2:23-24)

..many adherents to many religions can travel to the place where the founder of their religion is currently entombed and say, "Here lies the dust of our estimable founder." You cannot say that about Christ. He was not in the grave. He is risen. For 1,700 years there was virtually no contraversy that the tomb was empty. The Jews didn't deny it. The Romans didn't deny it. Nobody denied it until just recently. With our vast "rear view mirror" wisdom, we look back through more than 1900 years and we decide, "Oh, the tomb wasn't empty." Too bad those who were there couldn't have been so smart."[11] (Emphasis mine)

[1] http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=104
[2] http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Water
[3] http://people.hofstra.edu/lois_miceli/modules/SOLARS1.html
[4] http://www.reasons.org/location-location-location-research-reveals-fine-tuning-solar-systems-position
[5] http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast03jul_1/
[6] Day, Vox; http://voxday.blogspot.com/2011/08/lecturing-butterfly-collector.html
[7] Bradley, Walter, PhD. Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University (interview)
[8] Wright, NT; The Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003
[9] Day, Vox; The Irrational Atheist pg. 116, 2007
[10] Newcombe, Jerry, DD. Sunday school notes, 10/30/11, The New Presbyterian Church, Pompano Beach, Florida
[11] Ibid

EDIT: I forgot to mention, our respective 1st rebuttals are going to be posted on Tuesday night.

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