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Real Kato Blog: Debate on Whether God Exists
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Debate on Whether God Exists
Sunday, 2008 February 10 - 8:17 pm
I found this fascinating: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (best known for his TV show, "Shalom in the Home") engaged the noted atheist author Christopher Hitchens in a debate on whether God exists.

The answer to that question is, of course, highly debatable... but in this particular debate, Hitchens absolutely mopped the floor with Boteach, reducing the rabbi to a heap of sputtering indignation. Granted, the rabbi had the much harder burden in this debate: proving what essentially cannot be proven, a belief that comes from faith rather than facts. But trying to argue that Stephen Jay Gould does not believe in evolution, well, that's just ridiculous.

Now, those of you who know me probably have a pretty good idea where I stand on this. I've written before criticizing the anthropomorphic idea of God, that of a person-like entity who determines what football team wins a game, or who proscribes certain foods or beverages as "unclean". And Hitchens rightfully blasts this idea too. But Hitchens does not really engage in the debate over creation itself; he criticizes deism as unprovable and therefore undebatable. I think if I were Boteach, trying to argue about the existence of God, this is where I'd start.

Is it possible that there was a supernatural, intelligent creator of all things? Yes. It can't be disproven, so it's possible. Hitchens would argue that even if that were so, that wouldn't be the end of the debate, because you'd have to start thinking about "who created the creator". But you know, that's not really true. One could argue the question about the existence of a God who is responsible for the existence of all of our observable universe, without needing to answer the question of who created Him. From the data available to us, we'd only have a chance at answering the first question anyway.

And so on the question on whether an intelligent Being created the universe or whether some other unknown force did, I'd say there is no compelling evidence in one direction or another... so if I were Boteach, I'd argue that on that point, the debate can only be called a tie.

Where I would try to win the debate is by being careful about what the definition of "God" is. Boteach, being a rabbi and having particular religious beliefs, can't really go this route. He tries to argue about the God of the Old Testament, and that's a losing proposition. But he did hint at a line of argument that has some merit: if you take the sum of all the metaphysical concepts we know (like sentience, compassion, and justice)... what would you call it? Aren't those things, essentially, what people associate with God? It's not something tangible; it's not something provable; and it's arguable that we're simply putting a name to concepts that we've created ourselves.

But to that I'd say: arguing that we humans created God is not the same as arguing that God does not exist.

Now, like I said, Rabbi Boteach can't take this view; he wouldn't be a very good rabbi if he did. No, instead, he tries to take on evolution, using the same unscientific arguments that the "intelligent design" proponents do. And if I were Hitchens in this debate, I would have ridiculed Boteach mercilessly on this point.

One of Boteach's arguments was this: the odds of evolution producing life as we know it today are impossibly small, since mutation is essentially random, and most mutations are harmful to the species. I think he cites a figure about the odds against a single-celled organism evolving into a horse, something like 1 in 10^3000000 (a one with thirty million zeroes after it).

But here's the thing. Suppose I randomly splatter paint on a canvas, with my eyes closed. Someone looking at it might say, "What are the odds of the paint landing precisely in this matter? Infinitesimal! Someone must have planned it this way!" But of course, though the odds are indeed slim against any particular pattern of paint splatters, some pattern was sure to result.

And so it is with life: yes, the odds of life evolving exactly as we know it are infinitesimal. But that just means, if it happened all over again, we might have different species living on the planet, with different characteristics. It certainly doesn't that doesn't mean that evolution didn't occur, or that any intelligent being planned it in a certain manner.

Boteach had one other argument against evolution, and that's the idea that if evolution did occur as theory predicted, then we should have a giant collection of fossil evidence of failed mutations. I have several things to say about that.
  1. Fossils are hard to find. For every species that existed, we're lucky if we find even one fossil.
  2. We do have fossil evidence of failed mutations: that would be every species that has gone extinct to this point.
  3. Many failed mutations wouldn't be evident in fossils: animals that died before birth probably wouldn't have enough solid bone matter to leave fossil evidence.
Anyway... go watch the debate. It's entertaining, even though it breaks down into rambling at the end.
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Posted by Ken in: commentaryinteresting

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