This is why I particularly enjoyed the event. No one seemed to be overly zealous or dogmatic in their approach to the discussion, I believe this was facilitated by the decision to omit the ‘rebuttals’ section after the initial presentations.
I approached the debate with a few objectives in mind, firstly I wanted to show that Muslims can have an intellectual and nuanced discussion on big questions such as the existence of God, secondly I wanted to use this debate as a milestone in attempting to change the current narrative on Muslim and non-Muslim discourse. What I mean by this is that I wanted to engage with Rick in a Quranic way, not a “I have the truth and I will win this debate!” kind of way. Many of the discussions between Muslims and non-Muslims, whether they are academics or apologists, tend to be couched in emotional language that usually creates a form of frustration and misunderstanding. In other words participating in a debate just to win the debate is not conducive to better understanding, rather if the Quranic injunction of “And debate with them in ways that are best” is to be taken seriously then I would argue that the focus should be on delivering the message clearly by trying to positively engage the opponent’s intellectual and emotional capacities. Otherwise ego’s will lead the discussion instead. Thirdly I wanted to show that Muslims can positively challenge the neo-Atheist narrative emanating from the likes of pseudo-intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
According to philosophical tradition the affirmative has to present first, so I started the debate by delivering a fifteen minute presentation on why I believe there are good reasons to be convinced that God exists. Due to time constraints I used two arguments, the cosmological argument, which was my main argument, and the teleological argument. I started to present the cosmological argument by saying that one of the greatest questions in Philosophy is, in the words of the British Philosopher Derek Parfit,“why there is anything rather than nothing?”
The summary of the cosmological argument can be described as follows,
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore the universe has a cause
Explaining Premise 1
Premise 1 seems obviously true in contrast to its negation, as Philosopher William Craig nicely explains “it is rooted in the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come into being from nothing.” To start claiming that things come into existence out of nothing is an irrational claim that contradicts our intuition and our human experience.
Explaining Premise 2
Some atheists such as Bertrand Russell argued that the universe had no beginning and will have no end. However if we think about this we will conclude that it is irrational. If the universe never had a beginning that means there must be an infinite history of past events. However does an actual infinite exist in the real world?
I argued that the concept of the infinite cannot be exported into the real world, because it leads to contradictions and it just doesn’t make sense, take the following examples as illustrations of this point:
1. Say you have an infinite number of bananas, if I take 2 away, how many do you have left? Infinity. Does that make sense?
2. Imagine you are a soldier ready to fire a gun, but before you shoot you have to ask permission for the soldier behind you, but he has to do the same, and it goes on for infinity. Will you ever shoot?
3. Take distance between two points, one may argue that you can subdivide the distance into infinite parts, but you will always be subdividing and never actually reach the “infinitieth” part! So in reality the infinite is potential and can never be actualised.
In light of this the ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle said “the infinite is potential, never actual: the number of parts that can be taken always surpasses any assigned number.” Significantly the famous German mathematician David Hilbert said “The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought…the role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea.”
So if we refer back to an infinite history of past events we can conclude, since events are not just ideas they are real, the number of past events cannot be infinite. Therefore the universe must be finite, in other words the cosmos had a beginning.
I continued to substantiate the claim the universe began to exist by expressing that this conclusion is confirmed by physics in what is popularly known as the ‘Big Bang’ theory. According to this theory physical time and space were created and matter and energy were also created. The four prominent scientists, J Richard, James E. Gunn, David N. Schramm and Beatrice M. Tinsley describe the event of the big bang as follows, “the universe began from a state of infinite density...Space and time were created in that event and so was all the matter in the universe.”
However what does “infinite density” mean? Well, infinite density is precisely equivalent to ‘nothing’. This is why the Cambridge Astronomer Fred Hoyle states that the universe at a point in the past was “shrunk down to nothing at all”. So the ‘Big Bang’ model requires us to believe that something was created out of nothing, as Anthony Kenny, a Professor at Oxford University, states “A proponent of the big bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the…universe came out of nothing and by nothing”
If we consult our metaphysical intuitions we will conclude “out of nothing, comes nothing!” Even atheists have recognised this, the Philosopher David Hume states “I never asserted to absurd proposition as that anything might arise without a cause”.
Explaining Premise 3
Since premises 1 and 2 are true, it logically follows that premise 3 is true. Everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe must also have a cause. However to believe that this cause is God is a leap of faith rather than a rational conclusion, because this cause could have been a mechanical cause or necessary pre-existing conditions. In light of this how can we justify that this cause is a trancedental personal being?
What is the nature of this cause?
Given that the universe has a cause and it created time and space, it must be,
1. Not subject to time because it created time as Stephen Hawking says “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself had a beginning at the Big Bang”.
2. Uncaused as we have discussed the absurdity of an infinite regress. If the cause of the universe had a cause, and that cause had a cause ad infinitum, then there wouldn't be a universe to talk about in the first place!
3. Immaterial and beyond matter because it created the universe, and the universe is the sum of all matter.
4. A personal agent because this cause is eternal, and it caused a finite effect, in other words the universe, then it must have chosen to do so. And choice indicates will and will indicates a personality. Another way to understand this is to familiarise with the kinds of immaterial realities that we know exist that cause effects in nature, the only type we can think of are minds like our own minds (just lift your leg to see what I mean). Since minds symbolise cognition and personality, then it follows that the immaterial cause is a personal agent.
The form of the cosmological argument I presented provided a positive case for the existence of God by arguing that a transcendental personal cause exists.
Responding to Rick Lewis’ Objections
After my presentation Rick placed his notes on to the lectern and presented an interesting case for why he believes there is no equivocal evidence for the existence of God. Rick agreed with premise 2 of the cosmological argument by stating that he didn’t have much to say about the absurdity of an actual infinite. However he did concentrate a lot on my second argument, the teleological argument. Even though I said that my main argument was the cosmological argument he tried to show that there can be another explanation for the fine tuning of the universe to permit life. Personally I didn’t find his alternative explanations plausible, as a lot of his claims where metaphysical claims that were counter intuitive and had no real basis, hence I responded by saying that they were not defeaters of the argument I presented.
Rick’s main objection was that premise 1 of the cosmological argument (whatever begins to exist has a cause) is not entirely true because causality only makes sense in time. The universe could not have a cause because the beginning of the universe is actually the beginning of time itself, so causality doesn’t apply.
My response to this objection was that premise 1, whatever begins to exist has a cause, is a metaphysical premise not a physical premise like the law of gravity. Also in the summary presentations at the end of the debate I stated that we have more reasons to believe that nothing comes from nothing rather than something from nothing, in other words being cannot come from non being, to claim otherwise is grasping at intellectual straws!
I haven’t mentioned much about the question and answer session, one reason for this is that it was very dynamic and included nearly all of the topics under the philosophy of religion! You can watch the video to find out more.
Please attend my next debate with Philosopher, Lecturer, Author and Chair of the British Humanist Association’s Philosophers Group Peter Cave. See http://www.hamzatzortzis.com/ for the flyer and more information.
 Derek Parfit. Why Anything? Why This? London Review of Books, January 22, 1998.
 J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. IVP Academic, p. 468-469
 Aristotle, Physics 207b8 (available online here http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/physics.html)
 David Hilbert. On the Infinite, in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. with an Intro. by P. Benacerraf and H. Putnam. Prentice-Hall. 1964, p. 151.
 J. Richard Grott II, James E. Gunn, David N. Schramm, and Beatrice M. Tinsley. Will the Universe Expand Forever? Scientific American, March 1976, p. 65.
 Fred Hoyle. Astronomy and Cosmology. W. H. Freeman. 1975, p. 658.
 Anthony Kenny. The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence. Schocken Books. 1969, p. 66.
 David Hume to John Stewart. Feb. 1754, in Letters of David Hume. 2 Vols., ed J. Y. T. Greig. Clarendon Press. 1932, p. 187.
 Stephen Hawkin and Roger Penrose. The Nature of Space and Time. The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures. Princeton University Press. 1996, p. 20.