Brief report on the ‘Does God Exist?’ debate in Oswestry, 9 March

It’s expected the video will later be available on DVD and possibly YouTube.

Chris Smith writes:

Starting the debate Richard Lucas gave his five reasons for the existence of god, which he described as being from science and philosophy. Andrew Copson (Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association) gave reasons to support his understanding that god (gods, goddesses etc.) was a human construct before addressing the five points. Andrew entertained as he explained, dung beetles and rainbows, lots of quotes from ancient and modern times. Richard quoted too, some scientists who had found that their researches lead them to the inevitable conclusion “that god must exist”.

Questions from the floor followed. The first question was from someone carrying a copy of New Scientist, who challenged what Richard had said. More questions were addressed to Richard than Andrew.

There was not to be a vote and with the usual thanks all round people were free to continue their conversations, look at the book table and so on.

The debate was recorded and we can have a copy of the DVD in time. It will be interesting to hear what others who were there thought.

6 thoughts on “Brief report on the ‘Does God Exist?’ debate in Oswestry, 9 March

  1. In a weak sense, the anthropic principle (that we wouldn’t be here if the universe were otherwise so that life couldn’t exist) is trivially true. But the form of it that so many religious people use (that this must be so improbable that a god must have created it) is like someone who wins the lottery insisting that their win was so improbable that someone must have fixed the balls for them. We know perfectly well that in such a case the numbers were actually ‘chosen’ by the random actions of a mechanism.

    It doesn’t matter that the chance of any particular combination is very small. There are very many different combinations of balls and the sum of the chances of all the individual combinations is probability 1: one of the combinations must happen. The same thing applies in the case of the shuffles from two packs of cards: the probabilities of all the outcomes, however small, add up to P=1, and one of the outcomes must happen.

    In the case of the existence of our universe, however, we have at present (as far as I know) no way of knowing what the probability of its existence is, or whether there are in reality other possibilities at all. Given our ignorance, we can simply take the scientific route and admit that we don’t know. Maybe we will know one day, or maybe the explanation may turn out to be beyond our capacity to understand. There is nothing wrong with admitting ignorance in science. And it’s a good thing to suggest hypotheses, as long as you understand that until you have observational data that favours one hypothesis over another, none of the hypotheses is better than any other or can be considered true.

    The religious, though, insist that if we don’t understand why the universe is the way it is, then it must be that ‘god did it’ – the god of the gaps. Now, I have no problem with including the hypothesis, that some intelligence created the universe, among the possible hypotheses that ought to be considered for the origin of the universe. But that hypothesis must like all the others be subject to the proviso that, when we actually find experimental evidence, it must be tested against the evidence and rejected if it doesn’t shape up. A scientific hypothesis, in fact.

    We are currently far off having such evidence. But, even if all others were rejected and only the ‘intelligence’ hypothesis survived the test, we would still be a long leap from this generalised intelligence to Yahweh or Allah or any of the other specific gods that people believe in.


  2. Lucas’s performance was comfortingly feeble. We got his hypothesis, but no predictions, no tests and no test data. There were plenty of silly asides: “Unfortunately for atheists, science has …” Except that his science was wrong, whether by accident or design (sorry, couldn’t resist that). His view of consciousness was politely dismantled by a neurologist, and my limited physics told me that he had airbrushed out much of the progress made in the last century. And biochemistry has moved on a bit from Darwin’s tentative thoughts about what happens in warm puddles. As for his maths … if we followed his proposition the odds of any one outcome from shuffling two packs of cards would have to depend on divine intervention because it is too improbable to arise by chance. Cribbed from Dembski, perhaps, but surely it’s a bit tattered by now?

    The obligatory snipe at Dawkins was in there somewhere, but we didn’t get the ‘objective morality’ distraction, or the ‘Peter Singer promotes infanticide’ attack. Truly, the gaps in which imaginary friends still lurk are shrinking steadily. That said, there is more to be done. Roman cardinals still attack rationalists who explain crying idols, and as for the fraternal relations between the various branches of Islam ….


  3. That person challenging Richard Lucus’ dismissal of Sir Roger Penrose’s Cyclical Universe Hypothesis was me. I chatted with the theist fraternity after the debate & even accepted an invitation to their church service on Sunday morning. Afterward the service I met with Richard & some of the congregation but I can’t say I was too impressed with their rebuttals of my skepticism. After this I went with another member of the congregation to see a talk by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo at the local school. Now that WAS inspirational!

    Please let me know if I can get a copy of the debate on DVD or see it online anywhere. It would like to write a deconstruction of the arguments posited that evening.


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