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Great (and not-so-great) Arguments for God’s Existence

Trent Horn

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What are the most effective arguments for the existence of God? What are the least effective arguments? In this episode, Trent sits down with Josh Smith of the Practical Theism podcast to discuss how to make a more compelling case for God and refute atheism.


Welcome to The Counsel of Trent Podcast, a production of Catholic Answers.

Trent Horn:
Who doesn’t love making lists? I make lists all the time. Usually it’s to remember what I’m supposed to get from the store, because even though I can remember esoteric things in physics or an ancient Greek lexicons, I can still never remember to get the milk when I’m supposed to be at the store. But today is about lists. Lists with the arguments for the existence of God. Welcome to The Counsel of Trent Podcast, I’m your host Catholic Answers apologist and speaker Trent Horn. And today I’m actually a guest on The Practical Theism Podcast with Josh Smith. So Josh is interviewing me for his podcast and asked me to rank the arguments for the existence of God. I’m not ranking all of them. I wanted to just give Josh and example in this podcast, arguments that I consider to be lower tier when it comes to effectiveness, mid tier when it comes to effectiveness, and high tier when it comes to effectiveness at communicating the existence of God to others. We only barely scratched the surface.

We just covered a few of the arguments so much more we could have discussed. If you would like to hear me discuss arguments, the existence of God at length strap yourselves in because in a few months Catholic Answers we’ll be releasing one of my newest courses for the Catholic Answers School of Apologetics. It’s going to be a whole course on evidence for the existence of God, probably about a six hour course on the arguments for and against God, the ways to understand the divine attributes, the reasonableness of religion, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, lots of great stuff. I’m really excited for that full length course and you should check out the other courses there too. The courses that Jimmy Akin does are stupendous by the way, he does Introduction to Apologetics. It’s really good, you need to go check it out at schoolofapologetics.com. If you’re interested, I have two courses.

I have one on evidence for Catholic moral teaching and another on the doctrine of creation from nothing, but I have two more courses that are going to join soon. The one on atheism or the existence of God that I just shared with you. And then another that is on pro-life, specifically it’s on arguing against abortion. A whole course dedicated to teaching you how to dismantle pro-choice arguments in a gracious way. I’ll let you guys know on the podcast when that will be out, though, I will let you know that our patrons will get a sneak peek of some aspect of the courses at trenthornpodcast.com. If you want access to that and other bonus content like my weekly catechism study series that airs Monday at 8:00 a.m. every week, you can check that out, become a subscriber at trenthornpodcast.com.

And now without further ado, here’s my interview with Josh Smith for The Practical Theism Podcast, go and check it out. Practical Theism Podcast, where we talk about ranking the arguments for the existence of God.

Josh Smith:
First off in looking at arguments for God’s existence. I found many people if they potentially hear argument for God’s existence and they find it lacking in some way, like it doesn’t get them all the way there to believing that God exists. So I’m curious from your perspective and the conversations you’ve had over the years, are arguments for God’s existence intended to get to some objectives like deductive certainty that God exists? Why would you say so or why not?

Trent Horn:
Right. So it depends on the kind of argument that you’re putting forward. In philosophy, there’s really two kinds of arguments. There are deductive arguments and inductive arguments. So a deductive argument is one where you argue from universal truths to particular truths. So, all men are mortal. Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal. With deductive arguments, you get a 100% certainty. That’s what’s great about them. The only downside with the deductive argument is that you only get that certainty if you’re just as certain about the trues of the premises. And now at the Socrates example, excuse me, with the Socrates example, we’re really sure about those two premises. So the conclusion follows with logical certainty.

But many other arguments for the existence of God, many of them, in fact, the majority of the ones that I use in my book are deductive in nature. Many atheists have problems, they say, “Well, it doesn’t get me all the way there because I’m not a 100% sold on this premise or that premise, or I’m not sure that the argument actually follows in the way you’re putting forward.” So that’s one argument for God. Another argument for God, it’s not as common in my books or work, but it’s very common among philosophers of religion are called inductive arguments for the existence of God. So an inductive argument starts from a particular and it reasons to a universal. All the cats we have seen are black. All the cats we’ve observed… Or let’s say all the swans we have observed are white. Therefore, all swans are white. Most reasoning we do with scientific reasoning is inductive.

Of course, that leads to the problem of induction because you can’t get a 100% certainty with induction. I’ve been to Australia for example, and I’ve seen black swans face-to-face. So Europeans might’ve been really sure that all swans are white, they didn’t know about the black swans in Australia. It’s the black swan problem. And so there are arguments that put forward they don’t say, “Well, this argument proves God exists, but this evidence, this feature of the natural world is more likely or more expected if God did exist.” These are inductive arguments. To compare them, deductive arguments are like the kind that maybe Thomas Aquinas would use, or even William Lane Craig uses more deductive arguments like the Kalam argument. Inductive arguments are more like what the philosopher Richard Swinburne uses. He takes more of an inductive approach saying that, “When you look at the world around us, all of the evidence makes God’s existence more likely than less likely.” Two different kinds of arguments.

I prefer the deductive ones because they tend to be simpler to articulate and for people to wrap their heads around. But you’re right some people… It’s also hard when you share these arguments, especially if they’re shared as proofs for the existence of God. Some people might say, “Oh, I don’t think God exists, after listening to this. I’m not moved in that way.” Now the Catholic church teaches, we can know God exists through reason, but people don’t always reason correctly. I think another problem that happens here is what I might call Napoleon Dynamite syndrome. Did you ever see Napoleon Dynamite?

Josh Smith:
Oh yeah.

Trent Horn:
Now, when that movie first came out, people told me, “Trent, this is the funniest movie you’ll ever see in your life. This is the funniest movie you will ever see in life.” I’m like, “Oh wow, I’m ready.” And then I go and see it and I’m like, “Oh, it was funny, I guess.” It’s not the funniest. So, if you hype it up too much, like this proves without, beyond a doubt, God exists. And then someone sees it, it’s like, maybe. So I like to think of the proofs and arguments as signposts or things that make God more credible. Thomas Aquinas even referred to his five ways, he called them Ways. These are ways to God and I don’t think they will intellectually overpower people, but when people give them a fair shake, they have a serious prospect of leading someone through reason to the existence of God.

Josh Smith:
Yeah. I was going to point that out too, with Thomas Aquinas, he comes to mind, obviously I think a lot of theistic philosophers are just theists general, when they start diving into arguments for God’s existence. A lot go to Aquinas, right. They go to the contingency argument, and they’re put forward as deductive, but he himself refers to them as paths. And they get to the really interesting thought about God, well, it’s not… They are paths to God. They are an opportunity to encounter, but they’re not exclusive as if God’s a genie in a bottle that there’s only one way to rub the lamp and you get to encounter the genie, right? God’s a bit more broad than what our mind would have us understand.

Trent Horn:
Actually, there is a newer book by a really good philosopher of religion named C. Stephen Evans that takes this kind of approach. It’s called Natural Signs and Knowledge of God: A New Look at Theistic Arguments. And he talks about them as signs to God, rather than these kinds of overwhelming proof. So that’s another more recent look at that issue.

Josh Smith:
Awesome. Well, you know what? Let’s dive into three arguments. I thought it’d be really good to dive into three arguments. Some that you feel are maybe more effective and some that are probably a little bit less effective and obviously some of your apologetic work in communicating with atheists and agnostics or people that are struggling with this question of does God exist? So let’s start from the bottom, from your perspective, just in terms of what you feel it’s got some weight, but it doesn’t get somebody really their brain turning in the way that you would think. The least effective argument for God’s existence, what would you say that argument would be from your perspective?

Trent Horn:
Right. And I would say that this is my perspective. I think people are allowed to have many different perspectives on these arguments. I would say for anyone the most effective argument is the argument that moves you to believe that God exists. And for different people, those are going to be different kinds of arguments. Now, with that said, in my experience of engaging atheists or from speaking to people who have left atheism and come to believe in God and believe in the Christian faith, there tends to be similar kinds of arguments that move them and other kinds of arguments that I’ve rarely heard affect anyone. So that I think allows me to have a credible opinion on which arguments are less effective and which arguments are more effective. Now, where are the arguments? There’s actually a lot of different arguments that are out there.

A nice survey can be found in Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli’s essay Twenty Proofs for the Existence of God. That’s a part of their handbook of Christian apologetics. You can find it at peterkreeft.com. So they list 20 proofs on there. And I have noticed with Kreeft and Tacelli’s list of proofs, when you get more towards the back end of the list, like 15 and on those arguments do seem to be less persuasive. So I feel like they subconsciously list the arguments from strongest. I don’t know if they intentionally did that, but it feels that way when I read it through their lists. For example, I believe argument 19… Well, an argument 20 is not even an argument, it’s just Pascal’s wager. Which I can think is a very effective reason to believe in God, but I don’t consider it a classical proof for God’s existence.

It’s an argument for belief in God. It’s not an argument for the existence of God. Now, so number 19 on their list was the argument from common consent. And that’s the idea that, well, God exists because the vast majority of human beings have come to believe there is a God. And when the vast majority of human beings believe in something it’s usually true, therefore God exists. And of course the problem with that argument, it’s basically 40 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong, they could. There’s true there are a lot of things that human beings of majority believe in that we would all agree are true. Like that the external world exists and things like that, other minds exist, but there’s been other cases where the majority of human beings have been mistaken about something.

An example might be belief in geo centrism. The majority of human beings at one point believed that the sun moved around the earth and the earth was stationary. And so they were wrong about that. To Kreeft’s and Tacelli’s credit they do attempt to answer this objection. They say, “Well, the majority of human beings were wrong about heliocentrism, but they experienced the sun, the earth and motion. They just misattributed the motion.” Though, I think an atheist could fire back and say, “You’re right. A majority of people experienced something they call God, they just misattributed source from being an actual God to some kind of internal element of their being.” So kudos to them for giving it a try to defend it. I don’t think it’s that great. And there are others of course, I would consider in this lower tier of less effective. I don’t know if you wanted to discuss those.

Josh Smith:
Yeah. I’m curious. So from your perspective, obviously you have that group think idea, right. More people are starting to think, they talk, they persuade each other to believing in something. And the more you tell yourself, you’re right. You’ve started to believe it. Right. And so I think you see a little bit of that coming on board with that. What from your perspective is most compelling about this that somebody who sees that and is like God exists, I believe, what would compel somebody to draw that conclusion? I guess, what’s the strong points of this argument? Yeah.

Trent Horn:
I would say that the strong point to the argument from common consent is that not that it proves that God exists, but I think the argument from common consent is a good argument against the atheistic idea that belief in God is delusional. That belief in God is as silly as belief in Santa Claus or belief in unicorns or belief that Harry Potter really exists. We don’t have comparable experience of a universal acceptance of the divine among different populations. If every culture on earth came up with a story like Batman, I would be highly motivated to believe that Batman was some real thing they’re tapping into. It’s also the reason why I believe that mathematical objects have a real existence because every culture on earth comes up with mathematics in a uniform way and they’re all the same. So that leads me to believe math is not something human beings merely invented as a kind of useful fiction.

So when it comes to religion, of course, now the atheist may say, yeah, everybody comes up with a belief in religion to the transcendent, but they’re all very different. So how could you say there is a corresponding object when you’ve got Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, they all view God or the divine very differently. And my reply to that would be, well, imagine you’re at a party with a 100 people and 95 of them say they heard a loud noise outside, but they disagree about the noise. Some say it was a voice, some say it was an explosion. 95 say there was a sound, but they disagree on what the sound was. And five of them say there was no sound at all.

I would say in that case, it would be more likely there was a sound and the 95 some have incorrectly understood what it was, but there still was something out there. I’m not inclined to believe the five people who didn’t hear it just because the 95 disagree. So I would say the argument from common consent, it’s not a great argument for the existence of God, but it’s a good argument to take the question of the existence of God seriously.

Josh Smith:
Yeah. That’s good insight. And it obviously directs you down a path of, okay, maybe this deserves some further investigation at a minimum. You look at everybody, all the different religions who believe in some form of a deity, while they disagree on what that deity may or may not be. It at least prompts and investigation further, which would potentially take you into maybe a mid-level argument. So let’s move into that area in that arena, Trent. What would you say is a good next level argument that is often levied to show God’s existence?

Trent Horn:
Well, I think it’s… I am so sorry about this. I think that for me, it would be a tie between the moral argument for the existence of God and the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God. Is what I would call mid tier. So the lower tier arguments, I would say, tied up with them would be the common consent argument and the ontological argument, God exists by definition because of what God is. It’s a fascinating argument, but I’ve never really heard of anyone converting to believe in God because of it. Now, the mid tier arguments, I have heard of many people converting and coming to believe in God, through these arguments, through the belief that there is a universal moral law that can only be explained by a universal moral law giver and the belief that the universe began to exist at a finite point in the past.

And therefore the universe had a cause for its existence. That would be the Kalam cosmological argument. Now I would say these two arguments, I give them the rank of mid-level because on their positive side or the pros, they’re easy to articulate. They have a lot of persuasive power and they’re easy for a lot of people to wrap their heads around. I think that’s why C. S. Lewis, who was a wonderful communicator chose in his book, Mere Christianity. He [inaudible 00:16:48] cosmological arguments for the existence of God and focused on a moral argument for a universal moral law because people can wrap their heads around that when other high-level philosophy can be difficult to grasp. Same with the Kalam argument, I think many people when they think, Oh, if there was a Big Bang or a beginning of the universe, they naturally intuit, if there is a beginning to something, there is a cause for that thing, what could the cause of physical reality be if not some infinite being or non-physical causal reality beyond? They naturally intuit God as an ultimate cause of the universe coming to be from nothing.

So that would be the pros I would have for the moral argument and for the Kalam cosmological argument. The cons I would have for those arguments would be that they’ve almost become so popular that atheists have this familiarity with them, that breeds contempt like, ah, yeah, I heard that one, but it’s been refuted and you’ve got, Oh my goodness. You’ve got probably thousands of hours of content on YouTube for both of those arguments. And professional philosophers have very cogent objections to those arguments, even religious philosophers because St. Thomas Aquinas did not accept the Kalam cosmological argument while St. Bonaventure during that same time period did. So you can have they’re mid-level and that they’ve got a lot of strengths, but people also levy a lot of weaknesses and objections to the arguments so much so that to move them from the mid-level tier to something higher, sometimes you have to tweak the arguments a bit.

So you take the Kalam argument and tweak how you show the past is finite, or you tweak the moral argument instead of morality in general, you say, well, there’s this particular feature of morality that is difficult to explain, like the fact that we have moral knowledge as being [inaudible 00:18:39] evolved or that there are moral obligations we have to each other. So that’s one reason I put them as a mid tier arguments.

Josh Smith:
Yeah. The moral arguments it’s an interesting one. I think we’re in just an era of the time right now, where morality is something that’s obviously hotly debated, hotly questions. We see that even with the events of 2020. To somebody, because I’ve gotten into discussions with people about this particular aspect and the relativist moral compass comes out where the morality it’s something that has been born out of a necessity as culture has advanced, right? It’s utilitarian ethics ultimately, ethical codes and conduct for the thriving of humanity that is somehow been perceived to be good. And so that’s just an evolution, a natural progression of how humans have just evolved into this greatest good for the greatest number. Have you heard that in objection to this and how would you respond to something like that?

Trent Horn:
Right. So, there’s this idea that, well, we can explain morality, we can show, Oh, well, it just has a natural element to it. And that’s where I think it was one of the problems with the moral argument is that one, some people will just deny the premise there is a universal moral law. Though, I don’t think that people can really hold onto that very long, because when you really press them, they do end up saying that some things are always wrong, especially if they are concerned about the plights of marginalized peoples. I might say to them, is it… Well, it’s interesting. Sometime I turn the table on these individuals when I’m speaking to them, so sometimes these same people, they disagree with me on an issue like abortion, and they think abortion is fine.

And so I might say to them, okay, is it always wrong to try to outlaw abortion? And what’s funny is they’ll say, well, yeah, a woman has a right to do what she wants with their body. Okay. Well, now you’re leaving relativism and you’re espousing a universal pre script here that it’s always wrong to take away someone’s legal ability to have an abortion or something. So I just don’t think people can hang onto that as well. And I do think the moral argument in order to make it a strong argument, you have to show that morality simply cannot be derived from these natural explanations. So you gave the idea here, well, what about utilitarianism? Morality is just about maximizing well-being for people. And some people might gravitate towards an ethical theory like utilitarianism is saying, well, we don’t need God. We just know that pleasure is good and pain is bad. And we don’t need God to tell us not to rape.

That’s one objection to the moral argument, at least when it’s presented at a basic level is some atheists are offended. Well, I don’t need God to know rape is wrong and murder is wrong and [inaudible 00:21:44]. We just know we shouldn’t hurt each other. And I would say, you’re right. You don’t need to know God to have your personal knowledge that these things are wrong. Just like an indigenous person does not have to have knowledge of the respiratory system in order to breathe. He just naturally is able to breathe. He doesn’t have to know how the respiratory system works to act on the instinct to breathe, just like you and I don’t have to know the ultimate foundation of morality to act on moral instincts we have that certain actions are wrong. The question is, how do we know some instincts are good and other instincts are bad?

What determines which ones are moral and which ones aren’t. So when you go to utilitarianism, there’s lots of ways to show that the principle, well, just do whatever maximizes utility or wellbeing is not a great principle. A good short story, well, it’s a short philosophical fiction. It was written in 1973, it’s called The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, O-M-E-L-A-S, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. And it’s about this paradise called Omelas, where everyone’s happy. Everything’s perfect. Everything’s great. It’s a paradise, a utopia. And then at the end of it, the kicker is they reveal the reason everything is happy is because one child is kept in filth and poverty and suffering. And one child is basically tortured in this way and kept in this way in the dark and it’s an awful horrible thing. This one child suffers that everybody else in Omelas can be perfectly happy.

And by utilitarianism, if all the things being considered, if that generates most happiness, that would be the right thing to do. But the short story is an interesting way to… And it talks about at the end about the people who walk away, that some people, when they see the child, they say, “Oh, well, that’s sad, but that’s what we need to make this place a paradise, so it all works out.” But then others are not willing to accept that. And they are the ones who walk away. So it’s short, it could take you about 15 minutes to read it’s by Ursula Le Guin. I would definitely recommend it and trivia the word Omelas. She got the idea, just she was driving and saw a sign post for Salem, Oregon. And she just named the city, it’s just Salem backwards. Philosophers, when you try to come up with names. It’s like, [inaudible 00:24:16].

It’s like when Tolkien, they asked Tolkien, how do you come up with names for all your characters? Like, well, I try to find words that just sound nice. So let’s take a cellar door. Cellar door is so beautiful. A cellar door, open the cellar door, a cellar door. Ah, they’re from the kingdom of Celador, but I digress.

Josh Smith:
I love it. Awesome. Well, I think the point that you’re hitting on to, is something that I’ve thought about is you take it that layer deeper of there’s still these moral instincts, right? There’re these things that are fundamentals, where do those come from? Because even if it’s from a personal perspective, or you going the utilitarian route, there’s something on a deeper level that you’re operating with an instinct of. And I think it gets to this thought too, of like, you don’t stop there. Don’t stop at just the moral argument. Again, that’s one advocation for this thing, let’s take a look deeper, which would get us potentially into this advanced argumentation or things that might be the most compelling from your perspective, Trent. What would be the most compelling argument that you see the most mileage with when it comes to God’s existence?

Trent Horn:
Right. I think two arguments that I think are very compelling. I put them at a top tier, not to disparage, of course the other arguments which I had used because I find they have widespread appeal. Like the moral argument of the Kalam argument would be particular cosmological arguments, arguments from the universe. But unlike the Kalam argument, they’re not based on trying to prove the universe began in the finite past. In fact, I would say when it comes to the Kalam cosmological argument, trying to prove the universe began, therefore it has a cause that cause is God. I would say a lower tiered version of that is the one that tries to use scientific evidence to show the universe began to exist. Because scientific evidence is very tentative and the theoretical physics surrounding the idea of whether the universe began or whether it was a multi-verse or other things like that, it quickly goes above people’s pay grades and to rely on that tentative scientific evidence.

I think it can serve as a signpost for sure to explore the issue, but that scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe, I don’t think it’s as solid as philosophical evidence, especially the kind that Alex Pruss has argued for with something called causal finitism. Alex has tried to show he’s a philosopher at Baylor University here in Texas. He is shown, I believe that causal chains can not be infinite in length. And if that is true, then the causal chains that make up the past of the universe could not be infinite and so the past cannot be infinite. So we’re getting into philosophical arguments, even here, people object to those arguments like St. Thomas Aquinas did by trying to say that, well, no, you can’t philosophically prove that it’s impossible for the past to be infinite. Now the other cosmological arguments like the argument from contingency or motion, they don’t start with that controversial premise the universe began.

It just says, look, it starts with premises that are much less controversial. And that’s good for an argument, when you want to make a deductive argument, you want to have as least controversial premises as possible. So the argument from contingency says, Hey, things exist. Well, that’s pretty obvious. And then the next thing is things could have been different. And we all have very deep intuitions that things could have been different. We get mad when somebody doesn’t invite us to lunch, when someone at the office didn’t ask us what we wanted at lunch. Imagine they said, “Well, it couldn’t have been different anyways.” Everything is necessary. Well, no, we have this sense that, Oh, things could have been different. Why are things the way they could be? Yeah, there is stuff now. There could have been less stuff or could there have been nothing?

That goes to the age old question, why is there something rather than nothing? And so there were just you’re right. That’s a big question. The argument for motion asks the question, not only is there something, but it’s moving and changing. That seems obvious, but how does it change? How is that possible that something could be one thing and then become another thing? How does it change? It can’t change itself because that seems like a contradiction. Just like it’d be a contradiction to create yourself. It must be changed by something else. Then hear that argument from infinity it’s easier to apply that infinite changers or infinite contingent things don’t explain the whole series. So a pro here is that… So a few pros, number one, they at least start out with premises that are not that controversial. Number two, the arguments, I think have more appeal to atheists because atheists have not been exposed to them as much.

And so they’re more open to hearing them. They’re not as familiar and thus there’s not as much contempt or Oh, I’ve been there done that. The next point I would raise is that number three, the arguments for motion and contingency have an easier time getting you to divine attributes that I would say these arguments ultimately show there is an infinite necessary being, or there is a being that is just pure actuality. And so what’s great about these arguments is that’s easy to deduce God’s infinite attributes from the ultimate infinite causes that the arguments conclusions naturally lead to. Though, I will say another con is that these arguments, there is no easy argument for the existence of God, because it is a complex subject.

They can as you drill down into them become more complicated. But I do think the other three points that I raised before do raise them high up in the tier and I’ve enjoyed sharing them with others. That’s why I made a contingency argument and the argument for motion. One of my key arguments in a debate I recently had with Alex O’Connor the Cosmic Skeptic. And I thought that debate went over very well. In fact, Alex didn’t even touch my argument for motion and barely interacted with the contingency argument. So I think they’re quite powerful arguments.

Yeah. I saw the debate. That was great. It was good to see obviously him being of his renown and the atheist world, atheist thought and have him articulated against those arguments. For contingency and everything and even motion, they stem from this similar foundation, right? This causal chain of events potentially. I’ve heard a lot of skeptics claim, even that the universe has always existed in this oscillation state. They didn’t necessarily need to be some beginning, but it exists in this isolation state or matter has always existed. So there was no need for some sort of beginning. What would your, I guess, response be to that? Is there any kind of validity to that?

Well, I think there’s two ways to go about it. You could attempt to show that there does need to be a beginning by taking arguments that show in infinite past leads to contradictions. You could take that route with the person, but if you don’t feel like it, you could say, well, let it… And that’s what Thomas Aquinas does in his five ways. He says, look, let’s suppose for the sake of the argument, the universe has always existed. We would still have a lot of questions. Imagine if I said to you, look at this spoon, it’s a pretty interesting spoon, right? Did you know this spoon has always existed? This has existed for all eternity, this particular spoon. And I’m sure you’d have other questions like, well, why? Or how? Or why is it a spoon instead of a fork?

It wouldn’t really be compelling if I said, why are you asking that? It’s always existed. So there’s no other questions we have to ask. And we can say the same thing for the universe, that this universe, even if it’s always existed, some people may say, well, the different things in it, haven’t always existed, but the fundamental particles have always existed. But even there, I was reading an article recently on particle physics and they asked different physicists, the question, what is a particle? And they didn’t give a uniform answer. Physicists don’t have actually a uniform definition of what a particle is. Fundamentally, is it a mathematical point? Is it an irreducible object? Is it something like a string that vibrates according to a dimensional frequency? They don’t know. So they have these different questions.

And so, one, the problem right there is saying, well, it could be a particle. We don’t even know what particles are per se. So that leads, the question is why do we have all these particles in the first place? And number two, we could certainly imagine the particles are different. So for example, let’s just suppose the fundamental elements of the universe are quarks. And I believe actually the word quark given to these particles comes from James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. The Ulysses it’s a great stream of consciousness novel. It’s weird to listen to an audible because it’s just Irish people, run it off the mouth of whatever pops in their head. But it’s a very famous novel. And I believe it’s Ulysses, I could be wrong where it’s from, but there’s a line in there, three quarks for Muster Mark.

And so it was just a weirdo word in there, and it’s a great word to describe a weirdo particle. So we have quarks and physicists identify, I think, six different types with different properties up, down, their spin, color. They give them these properties to these fundamental quarks. And I would say, well, it seems like there could have been more or less of these fundamental elements. They don’t appear to be necessary in any way. So the fact just saying, it’s always been around it, doesn’t answer the question, why for all eternity, has there been something instead of nothing? Why is that the case and why is it this something instead of another kind of something?

These are questions that demand answers that I think the arguments for motion and contingency ultimately lead to, the answer is something that can’t fail to exist explains why things that can fail to exist are here. And a being that is pure actuality explains a being that changes everything, moves everything, but doesn’t change or receive motion from anything, explains why there’s a universe of change in motion. The answers to these questions ultimately lead to an infinite and ultimate cause or what we call God.

Josh Smith:
Yeah. There’s so much that you could dive into there, we’re only breaking the surface in this episode too. And I think a lot of… Obviously these arguments for God’s existence, these are just showing in a lot of ways a necessary first cause, right. Rather than drawing the extension, just for those of you who are listening, rather than drawing the extension all the way to the Christian faith. There’s a couple of episodes that you’ve got to look at here. But at least getting to the point of saying, probably makes sense that there is a necessary first being that caused the whole of existence to come into being and come into motion.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Josh Smith:
As we wrap things up here, Trent, just curious, we talked about three, a mid tier, a low tier, and a high tier arguments for God’s existence. Just to let our whistles a little bit here.

Trent Horn:
Sure.

Josh Smith:
What in your opinion is the best argument against the existence of God. And I’m going to use some language that I hear you use on Catholic Answers quite a bit. Where do you find it lacking or where do you find it wanting?

Trent Horn:
Sure. I think what’s interesting is the two arguments that have the most promise for disproving the existence of God, would be the ones that Thomas Aquinas put forward in the Summa. He raised basically two arguments against the existence of God, and to this day they still remain the strongest arguments. One would be the problem of evil, that’s a perennial argument. I think it is the strongest emotionally that evil and suffering have the capacity to be a place where people fall into despair and give up on God. So I do believe they can be the strongest, especially emotionally. Though, I think the argument from evil fails because no atheist could carry the burden of proving God does not have sufficient reasons for allowing evil to exist. And the moral argument can help in that it gives us an objective grounding for the concept of evil itself, as distinct from suffering or unwanted suffering.

So that would be my problem with the problem of evil is that I think that if we only had evil as the evidence, God’s existence would be very unlikely. But when you balance that against everything else, the scale still tilts to God’s favor. The other one would just be, this would be probably like what Graham Oppy has put forward. He’s probably one of the best atheists out there today, as basically saying that… And Aquinas also mentioned this argument too, that God is an unnecessary hypothesis he becomes redundant. That there are simpler explanations for reality, that don’t require an appeal to the supernatural and we should go with those simpler explanations. So imagine we can hypothesize a simple, fundamental element of reality that explains everything, but does not have divine attributes and so that can supplant God.

Now, ultimately, I don’t think these arguments work because you can’t get this ultimate element of reality to be something that is not the traditional concept of God, but they have promise for sure in that regard. So I would say those two arguments, the problem from evil and the attempt to make naturalism the simplest or in jargon terms, most parsimonious explanation. But I think the arguments for God, when they are all put together, do stand to be convincing alternatives to these atheistic arguments.

Josh Smith:
Awesome. Trent, well, this has been awesome having you on the podcast. I really appreciate you taking the time. Where can our listeners find out more about you and get to see more of your work?

Trent Horn:
Sure. I would recommend they could check out my podcast, The Counsel of Trent, that’s available on iTunes and Google Play. They can become premium subscribers at trenthornpodcast.com. My books are available at online book retailers. When it comes to existence of God, I have my book Answering Atheism. If you’d like a book to give away to an atheist to explain Catholicism, the best book out there probably be my book, Why We’re Catholic, because I wrote it for non-Catholics. So if would you like to dive into the topic of atheism some great books on this subject Answering Atheism, it would be a start.

If you want to go deeper, I would recommend Ed Feser’s book Five Proofs. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology is a hefty book, but it does cover a lot of these arguments, it’s a bit more of an advanced reader. I think there’s a few other books out by Ignatius Press one called Who Designed the Designer? That is another good one in that regard. Lots of great stuff. Also, if you want to go deep on understanding atheism for and against my friend, John DeRosa has a great podcast called the Classical Theism Podcast that I would recommend.

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