Talking with Atheists at Balboa Park
So on Saturday I went with my Australian friend and fellow apologist Matt Fradd (a.k.a. “The Thunder from Down Under”) to have some fun engaging the local San Diego atheists in some friendly dialogue. (Pictured left from meetup.com)
Each Saturday they have a table and canopy at the Park and they’re usually across the way from a fundamentalist preacher shouting Bible verses at passersby or the Hare Krishna’s drumming and chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Rama Rama.” It’s a fun scene and it makes me wish Catholics had more of an evangelical spirit and set up our own tables with tracts to pass out.
(That will definitely be a project I want to spearhead in 2014 — so stay tuned).
Anyways, back to the atheists.
I’ve visited the table a few times before so I reminded them who I was and told them about the Dan Barker debate we will be hosting in February which they seemed genuinely excited about. I spent a while talking to an atheist named Jim who seemed well versed in science and philosophy which made for a fun discussion.
The only downside was that I felt like we spent a lot of time analyzing basic terms when we could have just talked about God and the arguments for his existence. Being skilled in philosophy has a tendency to do that to people. For example, Matt argued that if the universe began to exist then it would require a cause for its existence. Jim responded that the term “began to exist” is vague and undefined. “What does it mean to “begin to exist”? I’m not even sure what you’re talking about.”
So I said, “How about this for a workable definition. X begins to exist at time T if X exists at time T and there is no other moment before T when X existed.”
This seemed to suffice for the discussion until we hit another roadblock about what God even is. Jim criticized Plantinga’s ontological argument and wondered why God should be considered a “maximally great being,” or a being that exists in all possible worlds.
Like Jim, some atheists ask me, “Where your evidence that God is a necessary being? How do you know God is eternal and can never stop existing?” To that I respond, “I don’t need evidence that God is a necessary being that can’t fail to exist. That’s just what he is! Asking that is like asking what the evidence is that a triangle has three sides.”
Now I didn’t merely argue that because God is by definition a being that must exist, therefore, he exists. That’s a weak version of the ontological argument. I instead argued that because the universe exists and does not have to exist, that means there exists a necessary being who sustains the universe’s existence, or God.
Anyways, Jim was smart and it’s always nice to talk to someone who can keep up with a good philosophical debate. We both agreed that it would be nice to have a “mini-debate” in the park between the atheist table and a Catholic table so hopefully we’ll set that up in the near future.