Framework statements for debate on the proposition ‘God Does Not Exist’

First the bad news about the upcoming debate with Joe Puckett where I will be affirming the proposition ‘God Does Not Exist’: Plans for livestreaming the event fell through. So if you want to see it live, you will have to come to Northwest Church of Christ, 3904 38th Street NW, Canton, OH on Saturday, June 21, 2104 at 6:00 pm. The good news is that the entire debate will be posted later on YouTube.

As part of the extremely cordial discussions we have had in preparing for this event, Joe and I agreed to ask each other questions about our beliefs and hand them and the answers out to everyone who attends so that they would understand our respective frameworks. The only requirements were that each set of questions and answers had to fit on one side of a sheet of paper. Only answers to the questions were required, not supporting arguments or evidence.

Below are the two statements. I will be sending this link to Joe and have invited him to come and check out this blog’s readers’ reactions.

Here are my questions to Joe and his answers

  1. Are Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Krishna, Zeus, Ra, Mithras, and all the other gods of history the same god?
    No. Though these gods are very different, belief in them seems to stem from a very similar yearning for the divine that is quite natural to humans.

  2. Where is god?
    Strictly speaking, from an orthodox theological perspective this question might be seen as committing a category mistake. If God transcends space (and, perhaps, time), and if asking ‘Where is God?’ amounts to asking for his current coordinates, then the question is a little like asking, “What color is a argument?” But the tradition also has it that God is ‘everywhere’–omnipresent. Thus, from a metaphysical perspective, God is non-spatial. But from a moral perspective, God is present to every part of the creation in that, minimally, he is conscious of whatever occurs at every region of space-time.

  3. Is god made of the same kind of stuff as all the rest of the things in the universe that we know about, like quarks, electrons, and other elementary particles?
    Not on a traditional account. But neither would I readily assent, without substantial argument, to the suggestion that “all the rest of the things in the universe we know about” are composed of such elementary particles. There just is no good account of how one may begin with non-conscious particles and derive a conscious mind. Perhaps mind and consciousness are of a different order altogether.

  4. Does god have thoughts and feelings?
    The simple answer is “yes” though there are some relevant differences between God having these experiences and humans having them.

  5. Which of these three properties do you assign to god: Omnipotence (can violate the laws of science at will), omnibenevolence (all good), and omniscience (knows the past, present, future and what is in all people’s minds)?
    All of the above. I would only add that an omnipotent being would not have to “violate” laws of science in order to intervene within them.

  6. Do you believe the Earth is thousands of years old or billions of years old?
    I am content to assume, for the purposes of this debate, whatever age you assign to it.

  7. Is the Bible inerrant and literally true, so that Adam, Eve, Abraham, and the rest are historical persons and the stories of Noah and Jonah and all the rest are historical events?
    There is no necessary connection between The Bible is inerrant and The Bible must be read literally. If an author intends to convey information through poetry, metaphor, or analogy, one does not derive the intended meaning by an over-literal reading. If an author intends for it to be read historically, then it should be read as such. Though I hold the persons you mention in the Bible to be historical persons, the question of the inerrancy of the Bible is not directly relevant to the current debate.

  8. Which of these do you believe exist: ghosts, fairies, devils, angels, heaven, hell, unicorns, dragons, vampires, werewolves?
    Ghosts (i.e., spirits), demons, angels, heaven, and hell are real; Fairies, unicorns, dragons, vampires, and werewolves may not be. The difference between them is not a matter of what could logically be real, but rather admittedly based upon my prior (and more foundational) theistic belief.

  9. What, can you imagine, might convince you to stop believing in God?
    In the words of the distinguish atheist scholar, Richard Dawkins, I believe I would first need to “rebel against my instincts.” I would also need to be persuaded that the cumulative case for God is implausible and that alternative theories carry greater explanatory power. However, in order to stop believing in God I would also have to stop loving God.

Here are Joe’s questions to me and my answers

  1. We likely agree that science is a reliable source of knowledge about reality. Is it the only source, or would you allow for other ways of knowing? If so, what are some of those other ways?
    It is not the only source. Other sources of knowledge are direct experiences via the five senses.

  2. What, can you imagine, might convince you to become a theist?
    There are an infinite number of things that would convince me. Here’s just one: a god appears in the sky and on TV and the internet visible to many people around the world at the same time and says that the next day at a specified time she would stop the rotation of the Earth for 24 hours, and that indeed subsequently happens.

  3. Does science know how life first originated on earth?
    Not yet. It is a question being researched, with scientists exploring several possibilities.

  4. Is there such a thing as objective morality? If so, upon what is it based?
    If by ‘objective’ you mean existing independently of us, the answer is no. If by ‘objective’ you mean something that is not entirely culturally acquired, then there is evidence that evolution has created some primal moral impulses.

  5. How did the universe begin? (i.e. What caused the Big Bang?) – or another way to ask the question – Is there an absolute beginning to physical reality?
    The origin of the universe is a question for which several possible answers (of which the existence of an absolute beginning is just one) are being investigated as an open research question.

  6. Is there any ultimate meaning to human existence? If not, how might we find meaning in a world where there is none?
    If by ‘ultimate meaning’ you mean something that exists independently of us, the answer is no. We find meaning by creating it ourselves, individually and collectively.

  7. At what point is someone warranted to believe something to be true?
    When there is a preponderance of evidence in favor of it.

  8. While it may still not be convincing to you, which argument do you find to be the strongest in favor of theism and why?
    The logical possibility that god might exist is the strongest argument because it is the only one that remains since the preponderance of evidence and scientific arguments are so overwhelmingly against her existence.

  9. Is God’s existence even a possibility?
    Yes. Anything that can be conceived to exist has the logical possibility of actually existing.


  1. doublereed says

    Wow, I really like your #5 question and #8 question. I’m absolutely flabbergasted by his response.

    Although I’ve always been shocked that grown adults believe in heaven and hell. It just seems so immature and childish. But ghosts, angels, and demons? Come on! Are you for real???

  2. sqlrob says

    “Yes. Anything that can be conceived to exist has the logical possibility of actually existing.”

    I can conceive of the largest prime. Or Pi ending.

    I don’t know that you can say that anything conceived by a being that has not problem with cognitive dissonance has the logical possibility of existing.

  3. colnago80 says

    I am afraid that Mr. Puckett is engaging in the favorite game of theists which is avoiding the question. I especially like his response to your question #6. I would sharpen up the questions so that you can add, “that’s a yes or a no”. I would add the following question which even theistic physics professor David Heddle is loath to answer. “Mr. Puckett, do you believe that the Sun stood still in the sky for a day as claimed in the book of Joshua? That’s a yes or a no.”

  4. colnago80 says

    Re sqirob @ #2

    It is my information that numbers like pi, e, and sqrt(2) have been shown to be irrational numbers so I can’t conceive of them ending or repeating.

  5. fkloogok says

    The god he says is all good, made a plan(and I guess he even turned the heaven and earth for it to succeed: made sure Jesus didn’t get ill or in an accident before the sacrifice, etc..), to have his own child killed. Yet, killing is supposed to be wrong.

    How can an all-good god do something wrong?

    And why doesn’t he save children from being murdered or raped? And of an all-good being doesn’t step in, then surely it must be evil to do so, orherwise an all-good being would do it. So stopping people from doing bad things must be bad. Otherwise god can’t be all-good.

  6. Goomba says

    A question I would like to see you ask him is, “How do you know your actually worshiping a god, and not a being with far superior technology than our own?” Basically it’s the “Star Trek” problem. There’s an old episode of Next Generation called “Who watches the watchers?,” in it a primitive society is exposed to the Enterprise’s vastly superior technology, and based on that exposure begin to worship Jean-Luc Picard as a god. The advanced technology of the Enterprise can do many of the things that the so called Christian god can do, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and even change lives with it’s holographic illusions, so how can anyone honestly say they worship a “god” and not merely an advanced species? Although this question is not my own, I think it has some pretty good implications for theistic belief.

  7. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Aren’t dragons and unicorns specifically mentioned in the bible? It seems like the only biblical creatures he’s willing to believe in are the non-corporeal (well, according to his mythology) ones.

    I wonder why that would be???……

    Re: Your question #1: I would sharpen that a bit, and ask if he then concedes that all those other gods are also ‘real’ (whatever that might mean). Or does his answer of ‘very different’ mean he thinks they are fake/false and only his god is real. It would be good to know how much of a hypocrite he is. After all, several other gods are also explicitly mentioned in the bible.

    All of his answers seem to be aimed more at avoiding the questions, though, than engaging them in a thoughtful way.

    His questions to you seem so very typical. To be fair, yours are pretty standard as well.

    To quote Pink Floyd: “Running over the same old ground. What have we found? The same old fears.”

    Year after year…..

  8. busterggi says

    I have read Joe’s answers and, as someone who has handled quite a few ferrets, I recognise the smell of weasel when I come across it.

  9. anat says

    I’m wondering how much education in physics Joe Puckett has. His god is not made of matter, but is capable of changing things in the universe, without necessarily violating laws of nature. So objects still have to follow paths of motion determined by forces acting on them, but then this non-physical being can change what they are doing – how? That said, I recall a believer (of a more paganic bent) who believed that what gods do is interfere in probabilities of quantum events (as if changes in those do not require physical intervention?).

    Also, if a god is omnipotent and omnibenevolent then we must be living in the best of possible worlds. But I find it impossible that the universe will not be improved for instance by not having babies born with terrible medical conditions.

    Joe Puckett is willing to accept that the universe is billions of years old and that the earth is billions of years old, but somewhere in that history there were people that match the characters of Adam, Eve, Noah and family in a meaningful way (even if their stories are true in the non-literal sense). I remember trying to believe that sort of stuff. Interesting exercises in cherry picking ensued.

  10. says

    Most of his answers to Mano’s questions are very carefully positioned to maximize his wiggle-room. He may think he’s being intellectually honest but I’m not buying it for a second.

  11. doublereed says


    6. Do you believe the Earth is thousands of years old or billions of years old?
    I am content to assume, for the purposes of this debate, whatever age you assign to it.

    WTF is that supposed to mean??? What a wuss.

  12. anat says

    Re: 1: All those gods are different, they reflect people’s yearning for the divine, but somehow Puckett ended up believing in the correct god. I’m wondering what he imagined he would have done had he been taught to worship some other one.

  13. Al Dente says

    Mano describes what would make him believe in gods but Joe won’t stop believing (or “loving” as he puts it) in his god no matter what. And atheists are supposed to be the arrogant, close-minded ones.

  14. Lofty says

    I have a fervent belief that, no matter what arguments are presented, both debaters will claim to have won the debate. Also, some of the goalposts will be seen moving at ix m/s velocity.

  15. Nick Gotts says


    I think your point would be stronger if applied to a case where we don’t know whether the thing conceived of exists or not – and may never know. For example, it’s unknown whether there’s a largest perfect number (a positive integer equal to the sum of all its positive integer divisors other than itself, like 6, 28, 496…). So both the largest perfect number, and an infinite sequence of perfect numbers are epistemically possible – we don’t know they don’t exist – but one of these must be logically impossible (non-existent in all logically possible worlds). The so-called “modal ontological argument” peddled by Plantinga relies on eliding the distinction between epistemic and logical possibility, and Mano ought to watch out for this.

  16. Ed says

    I think a good tactic might be to question.the reasonableness of a god with infinite powers (the kind he and believers in similar religions want).

    It’s generally accepted in polite society that “God” is an intellectually acceptable thing to believe in as long as you aren’t a crude fundamentalist, but that vampires or whatever are just crude superstitions.

    But actually the believer in vampires, werewolves, fairies, or Grandma`s ghost in the attic are making slightly more reasonable claims because their hypothetical entity has something in common with real entities–definable, pretty much non-contradictory traits.

    The claims about monotheistic gods or major Hindu gods are very bold, like the medicine that cures everything from insomnia to cancer, the diet that works for everyone no matter what the circumstances, the one simple self-help technique that will end the need for psychiatry or the James Bond car that is also a helicopter, submarine and surface to air missile launcher.

    We are usually more skeptical of claims that require greater acceptance of the improbable.

  17. wannabe says

    Crimson Clupeidae @ 7:

    Unicorns are mentioned nine times in five books of the bible. They’re a symbol of animal strength and don’t appear to have any connection to horses. The term may have been a name for the Indian rhinoceros, which has one horn.

    Dragons are much more popular, being directly mentioned 34 times, though more than half of those are in Revelation. Dragons figure prominently as a stand-in for Satan and are otherwise associated with water even though they sometimes appear in the sky. They are huge, breathe fire, and will inhabit the ruins of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 9:11). Talented beasts!

  18. DsylexicHippo says

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Everything about religion falls into the extraordinary category. Bullshit category, to be honest, but I am being polite.

    Place an ant in a jar with an open lid and blow over it hard. To the ant (let’s imagine that it has the ability to think for a moment), that would be god causing a hurricane. Substitute that ant for the likes of Joe Puckett and you see the same act playing out in a fully scaled version of the comedy. In other words, you will be debating an ant two days from now.

    @#3 colnago80: His response would be typical of a weasel. It would neither be a “yes” or a “no” and he would attribute that to a metaphor for “——-” (fill in the blank with your favorite flavor of bullshit), not to be taken literally. See, when it comes to contradictions and absurdities, they always fall back on metaphorical interpretation. How very convenient.

  19. Storms says

    To Mano’s #1 answer, I would add that science as a practice is to date our most successful method of discovering reliable knowledge about the objective world, because it forces us to filter out personal, cultural and neurological beliefs, bias, heuristics, and assumptions. All other methods of ‘knowing’ are subject to extreme amounts of noise. I’d also disambiguate between science as an individual practice of thought, and science as a the grand historical consensus of theory.
    In terms of proving “God does not exist”, you’ll have to tack his God-concept to a wall with an empirical test. This god certainly does exist in terms of the psyche the ‘believer’: an inner feeling that they interpret as god’s presence. One of the greatest success factors of the Judeo based faiths was to have the believer create an invisible, insubstantial god in her own cultural image internally and then link this concept to their community as one shared inviolate god. They don’t worship one god, they worship as many as there are believers, literally billions.

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