Theist David Wood debates atheist Michael Shermer: Does God Exist?

Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!
Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!


On October 10th, 2016, David Wood (Christian) debated Michael Shermer (Atheist) on the topic “Does God Exist?” The debate was sponsored by Ratio Christi. In the course of the debate, Wood and Shermer discussed the Scientific Revolution, design arguments, cosmological arguments, moral arguments, the problem of evil, skepticism, and methodology.

The video:

The debate starts at 6:30, following introductory remarks. I was ordered to summarize this debate by my good friend Eric, who said this: “I’m a little less than halfway through the David Wood vs Michael Shermer debate, but it’s amazing. If you summarize it you will sound super snarky but you will actually be doing honest reporting.”

I’m only going to summarize the opening speeches which went until 47:40.I linked to the rebuttals and cross-examination below. I did love the debate, and thought that both sides had great speakers who kept to their times, and were on topic and effective. As always with my snarky paraphrase of the atheist, you should listen to the recording to see what was actually said. I try to present their argument with the spin removed.

Wood’s opening speech:

The scientific revolution was started by Christian theists:

  • Science requires three assumptions: 1) that the universe can be understood, 2) that human beings can understand it, 3) that it is good for human beings to understand the universe.
  • Christians produced an explosion of scientific discoveries during the 16th and 17th century
  • In their writings, these Christian theists explained that their scientific investigation was grounded in their Christian worldview, and was seen as a form of worship and learning from God
  • It is easy to do science now that the scientific method is widely accepted, but the challenge was to come up with the method and make the first discoveries – Christians did that
  • Atheism does not ground the assumption that the universe is understandable – it’s an accident
  • Atheism does not ground the assumption that humans could understand the universe – we are just random accidents that don’t have free will and our consciousness is an illusion
  • Atheism does not ground the desire to understand the universe, the earliest scientific discoveries had no practical benefit
  • Theism grounds all 3 of the requirements of the scientific enterprise: the universe is made by a rational mind, human beings are made in the image of God – inheriting free will and rationality, knowledge of God (the highest God) can be obtained from the natural world (the Bible says so in Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1)

The testing of the scientific hypotheses confirmed theism:

  • scientific progress confirmed the origin of the universe out of nothing
  • scientific progress confirmed the fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of complex embodied intelligent life

Atheism doesn’t ground the scientific method:

  • the three elements of the scientific hypothesis, which was birthed by theism, have been confirmed by repeated use of the scientific method
  • the three elements of the scientific hypothesis, which are not grounded in atheism, have been confirmed by repeated use of the scientific method

Shermer’s opening speech: (snarky paraphrase with spin removed)

An atheist about one more God than you:

  • There are lots of different religions, just like there there are many answers to math questions, and so that means that none of them can be true.
  • Just like you, I deny lots of wrong answers to math questions, but I just go one answer further and deny the right answer

Response to David Wood:

  • Well, in most of these European countries, you had to be a Christian or they would burn you at the stake, because it was against the law to be an atheist
  • So, since there were only Christians on the face of the planet in every country since the beginning of time (since that was the law everywhere, at all times, and in all places) then OF COURSE Christians invented science since they were the only ones who ever existed
  • The fact that the earliest scientists credit their Christian worldview for starting them on the path of making scientific discoveries “is irrelevant” (direct quote). “You might as well point to the fact that they are all dog owners. It’s irrelevant.” (direct quote)

Atheism is just a lack of belief in God:

  • Atheism, which has the definition a belief in the non-existence of God, actually means a lack of belief in God
  • I like my made-up definition, because then I don’t have to give any reasons or science to show that atheism is true
  • I just describe my psychological state, not objective reality, and that allows me to not have to defend my worldview

The burden of proof:

  • David has to produce evidence for his view of reality
  • I don’t have to produce evidence for my view of reality

The scientists that David quoted never discovered anything:

  • Those early scientists never discovered anything
  • They believed that thunder was God bowling
  • Newton and Copernicus and Galileo and the other famous scientists just said “I can’t figure it out” and “God did it” (direct quote)

The progress of science shows a natural explanation for everything:

  • The progress of science in the last 50 years has overturned the origin of the universe from nothing, and upheld the eternal universe favored by naturalists
  • The progress of science in the last 50 years has reduced the number of constants and quantities that have to be fine-tuned
  • The progress of science in the last 50 years has reduced the complexity of the origin of life from libraries biological information, molecular machines and miniature factories to simple jello that was formed in a warm pond

Who made God?

  • You can’t explain the origin of space and time and matter by appealing to a cause that is spaceless, eternal and non-material
  • Why can’t the universe be the thing that doesn’t need to be created (i.e. – it is eternal, and did not begin to exist 14.5 billion years ago, as every scientist says)

Why is there evil?

  • On atheism, the universe is an accident, and there is no objective standard of morality
  • Therefore, no atheist can call anything good or evil objectively
  • God allows human evil and natural evil
  • I have looked into the repercussions of evil throughout time and space for every act of apparently gratuitous evil and I can confirm God does not have a morally sufficient reason for allowing human evil and natural evil, and I keep the reasons in my garage at home, but you can’t see them because they are invisible, and they are undetectable by any other means

Christians used to believe in witches

  • Look at me quoting the Bible in the one place it mentions witches!
  • I believe the parts that make Christianity look bad, but not the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 which is accepted as eyewitness testimony by the most skeptical atheist historians

You can repent at the last minute and get eternal life, that’s not fair

  • Not sure how an atheist misunderstanding Christian doctrines that can be explained by people who have read C.S. Lewis books is an argument against the existence of God

Christianity celebrates human sacrifice

  • Christians believe in human sacrifice because Jesus had to die for the sins of everyone
  • I’m pro-abortion and think that killing 56 million children is a great thing though

The doctrine of atonement makes no sense

  • How could God the Father accept the death of God the Son as a sacrifice for sin?

The rebuttals

I did not summarize the rebuttals, but I did watch them and link to them at the start of each speech.

My thoughts

First, I was very pleased with David Wood’s performance in this debate. I would have liked more focus on the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning, and fewer quotations from scientists in the opening speech. The rebuttals were good. And his performance in the Q&A was worth listening to.

Shermer’s first rebuttal gave me the impression that he was not interested in grasping truth through science, but just pushing away the science of today with speculations about the science fiction of tomorrow – might, maybe, let’s say, etc. He’s not a skeptic, he’s a speculator. Theists go wherever the evidence leads, we decide based on the evidence we have today. His attempt to underwrite objective morality by appealing to feelings wasn’t convincing. In the Q&A, he takes the standard atheist view that the nothing that preceded the universe is really something.

UPDATE: Triablogue reacts to the debate here.

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