Posts Tagged ‘Atheism’

Responding to Bart Ehrman (part 1): Biography

October 27th, 2014

Did Jesus Exist (2013)Who is Bart Ehrman?

Dr. Bart Ehrman is an accomplished scholar and teacher in ancient biblical texts. He holds a teaching position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also an atheist who writes extensively about Jesus, except that the Jesus he writes about is not the Jesus of the Bible.

His latest book is entitled “How Jesus Became God” Some of his other books include: “Jesus Misquoted” “Jesus Interrupted” “Lost Christianities”, and “God’s Problem”. In each of these books, Dr. Ehrman attacks some aspect of the Historical Jesus, the Bible, or the accepted Christian Gospel.

Of course, numerous Christian scholars have written researched and well documented refutations of his books. Surprisingly, very few doubt the evidence he presents. The biblical texts do contain both different accounts and personal retellings. What they accuse Dr. Ehrman of doing is making invalid presuppositions in his argumentation. These presuppositions skew both his view of Jesus and his view of the biblical texts.

Bart EhrmanA look at Dr. Ehrman’s personal biography shows his transformation from an evangelical Christian, to an agnostic, and finally to an atheist. Dr. Ehrman states that he’s an agnostic on the existence of God, but is most certainly an atheist concerning the personal God of the Bible. The reason for his atheism is actually a common one: the problem of evil and suffering in the world. Dr. Ehrman just couldn’t reconcile how a “supposedly” loving and caring God, as we read about in the Bible, could allow so much suffering and evil in the world. This eventually led him to the conclusion that the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible does not exist.

Dr. Ehrman grew up in Kansas in the mid 1950’s. His family faithfully attended an Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Kansas. During his high school years, Bart had a “born again” experience and began attending Youth for Christ. Bruce, a leader of the local Youth for Christ group, help to lead Bart into a “born again experience.1

Bart was very impressed by Bruce’s knowledge of the Bible and decided he wanted to be a serious student of Bible.

Bart EhrmanWith that desire deep in his heart, young Bart Ehrman went to Moody Bible Institute in fall of 1973. During his time at Moody, Bart took traditional Bible courses such as biblical and systematic theology.

At the time, Moody Bible Institute had a strong emphasis on a particular type of Biblical inerrancy called “verbal plenary inspiration.” This view taught that there were no errors in the original manuscripts.

College student Bart Ehrman soon discovered that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts of the New Testament. He then began to wonder about the accuracy of the texts we do have. Did the scribes who copied the New Testament manuscripts change, alter or distorted the written texts? Whether intentional or unintentional, could scribal errors and changes, made for theological or political reasons, have corrupted the New Testament texts? These questions concerning the transmission of the New Testament manuscripts led Bart to take additional courses at Moody on textual criticism.3

Scrap of the John Ryland PapyrusAfter graduating from Moody in 1976, Ehrman had an even stronger desire to be a Christian scholar. Despite his doubts, he continue his education at Wheaton College, a major American Evangelical college.4 While at Wheaton, he took courses in New Testament Greek. During his time there, he increasingly questioned the relevancy of believing in Biblical inerrancy. We don’t have the original manuscripts of the New Testament. Scraps do exist from the late first and second century, but the only complete manuscript copies we have were supposedly written hundreds of years later.5

After graduating from Wheaton with these questions still in his mind, Ehrman went on to Princeton Theological Seminary where he studied under the renowned Greek scholar, Bruce Metzger. He took even more courses in Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek. The deeper he went into these courses, the further Bart’s confidence in the doctrine of inerrancy continued to erode.6

Dr. Ehrman’s total abandonment of his view of biblical inerrancy came when he did a term paper on a passage from the Gospel of Mark for his professor, Cullen Story. For his term paper, Ehrman looked at the story 2 where Jesus has a confrontation with the Pharisees over the disciples picking the heads of grain on the Sabbath. In the course of the confrontation, Jesus justifies his actions by appealing to the Old Testament. When David was on the run from King Saul, David went into the temple to eat the consecrated bread “when Abiathar was the High Priest.” Bart then looked at 1 Samuel 21:1-6 where it describes that during this very time when David ate the sacred bread in the temple, it was Abimelech who was the High Priest. Abimelech was the father of Abiathar. So Dr Ehrman started to wonder if the author of the Gospel of Mark made a mistake. Was the text in error by recounting the wrong man as high priest when David ate the consecrated bread?

When he handed in his term paper to Dr. Story, Dr. Story agreed with Dr. Ehrman by writing a one liner on his term paper that said, “Maybe Mark did make a mistake“.7

Everything went downhill for Ehrman from this point on. He found more supposed errors in the Bible. By the time he left Princeton Theological Seminary, he completely rejected the evangelical doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.8

The Late, Great Planet Earth coverHal Lindsay’s book “The Late Great Planet Earth” also contributed to Bart’s erosion of confidence in Biblical inerrancy. One of Lindsay’s assertions in the book is that Jesus would return in 1988, a generation of forty years after the modern rebirth of Israel in 1948. When Jesus did not return in 1988, that only confirmed Bart’s doubts about the inerrancy of the Bible.9

Dr. Ehrman states that his problems with the Bible led him away from his evangelical beliefs that he had learned in Moody and Wheaton. Though he had abandoned his evangelical beliefs about the Bible, yet he still considered himself a “liberal Christian.”

It was not the problem of missing original New Testament texts, it was the problem of evil and suffering that led Dr. Ehrman to totally reject Christianity. He states that the facts of scripture do not match with the hard facts of life. Given all the suffering and pain in the world, the God of goodness and love that Bible proclaims simply does not exist.10

Now that we’ve looked at the reasons for Dr. Ehrman’s presuppositions about the bible, in the next two articles Dr. Ehrman’s agnosticism will be answered. Then Dr. Ehrman’s atheism concerning the God of the Bible will be examined: Can he justify his atheism concerning the God of the Bible based on the suffering and pain in the world?

1 Bart Ehrman Misquoting Jesus 1,2
2 Ibid 4
3 Ibid.5
4 Ibid. 5,6
5 Ibid. 7,10
6 Ibid 7
7 Ibid. 9
8 Ibid. 9-11
9 Ibid. 12
10 Bart Ehrman, God’s Problem 3

30 Seconds With Dr. Fernandes: Atheism Is Doomed

November 25th, 2013

Atheism isn’t a destination. It’s a stopover on the road back to paganism.

Depraved New World (part 2)

October 19th, 2011

Dr. Fernandes continues speaking on the effects of Evolution and the Enlightenment. Following Darwin’s and his cousin Dalton’s philosophy, Dr. Fernandes shows how many of the ideas he was led to believe are anti-American and human rights. Inescapable, the conclusions he draws from merely taking Atheistic Evolution to its logical conclusion are startling: Eugenics, Racism and Hatred.

Refuting the “Christ Myth” Theory

April 27th, 2011


It’s back! Just when you thought it was dead, the corpse of the 19th century “Christ Myth” hypothesis has emerged from its grave to haunt the living. Popularized online by the “Zeitgeist” movie, it purports that Jesus never actually existed. Instead, ancient pagan myths and deities became mixed with first century Jewish expectations of a messiah; It was from that fire that the Christ character was forged.

Once the idea gained traction, the early church embraced this legendary “god man”, the long expected messiah, creating around him a new Jewish sect called later called Christianity. Given a legendary history by the Apostles, this pagan-turned-Jewish “god man” character went from god-man to god … and so pagan ideas were slowly morphed from Roman and Greek deities into a Christian character called “Jesus the Christ”.

Drawing out the real facts about both ancient pagan deities and the first century church, Dr. Fernandes thoroughly refutes this newly revived 19th century hypothesis.

Each 45 minute video represents a segment of the talk. Feel free to enjoy both at once or individually at your convenience.

Part 1

Part 2

“Scientists create life. We are God” (part 2)

May 27th, 2010

In the first part of this response, I mentioned a few of the arguments atheists use to discredit theists; For the most part, their contentions lack evidence and their convictions are just as religious as any Sunday morning Christian. We are not fooled.

Now that the groundwork has been laid, let’s ask the question the article brings up: Did the scientists  indeed create life in the laboratory;  Was this a precursor to artificial intelligence? I know this may seem surprising, considering the way the article words it, but the answer to both of these questions is no.

First of all, the idea of a true AI has already been demonstrated to be untenable. John Searle demonstrates this with his famous thought experiment: Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese. He’s locked in a room full of boxes. Each is covered with Chinese symbols (a data base of sorts). At his disposal is a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (a program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols, which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (input). Now imagine that by following the instructions in the program, the man in the room is able to arrange and pass out Chinese symbols which happen to be correct answers to the questions sent in (the output). The program does enable the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese. However, he still doesn’t understand a word of Chinese.

Searle goes on to explain that the man in the room is similar to a computer. While computers can process information at an incredible rate, they don’t have the capacity to think about what they process. True “Artificial life” shouldn’t just produce inputs and outputs. In order for it to be what most consider real, it must have independent thoughts about those inputs and outputs; Or more precisely, this AI must participate in a function found only in humans: the use of second order mental states.

Second order mental states are essentially thoughts about thoughts; It would be impossible for a machine to do this. A machine can evaluate evidence and determine probabilities concerning various outcomes. That, however, is hardly a second order mental state. Now, in time, machines, androids, or some other type of AI could become so anthropomorphized that they are barely distinguishable from humans. Once again, this is not a true artificial intelligence, but rather the result of very clever and careful programming.

Back to the article. While there are some very intriguing uses for the molecular science mentioned in the article, this is in no way creating life. Essentially, this is more like the photocopying of a cell. In a nutshell, the process includes: Taking existing DNA, sequencing it, rebuilding and programing it, and  placing the DNA into an existing live cell and watching it grow. It isn’t anything new and it only acts according to how it was programmed. Now, it’s not my intention to diminish this fascinating work, but in no way does this article describe creating life; After all the hype is stripped, it merely describes how scientists can rearrange existing life.

“Scientists create life. We are God”

May 21st, 2010

Originally posted by IBD Vice President Matt Coombe on

I recently read about this article on an atheist forum. It is provocatively titled: “Scientists create life. We are God.” I’m not sure if their intention was to mock theists or to disprove God (or both). Either way, I have every intention of dismantling not only the title but the evidence presented in the article as well. Before I can do that, however, we need to understand where these arguments come from. We should first take a look at current trends in atheist argumentation.

There are many trends in atheist thought today. That said, there appear to be two getting the most media attention. These are the incoherent claim: “Look at this amazing scientific breakthrough! God surely does not exist!” and the ever popular: “Look at these religious cooks! They’re part of some obscure cult! It’s obvious that all religious people are mentally deficient … and God surely does not exist.”

The first argument, the science disproves God claim, is usually spouted by atheists without any thought given to the actual evidence; I’m convinced most don’t even realize they’re using the argument. It forces me to respond with comments like: “Why is this subject being discussed under the guise of atheism?” Of course, I usually await atheist responses in vain.

As for the article (linked above), my response was: “Why is this article being discussed on an atheist forum?” Not that atheists aren’t free to discuss whatever they wish; Don’t get me wrong. I was just wondering why such an obviously religious article, as its title makes clear, is so popular among a group that abhors religion … unless, of course, they are engaging in the religious practice of apologetics.

At times it seems like atheists are similar to those “religious” people who claim to see miracles everywhere (i.e. “I found my car keys, it’s a miracle!”).  In the same way, an atheist claims: “Science did something really cool, therefore God does not exist!’” It’s beyond the scope of this essay to argue this point further, but science and theism are in no way fundamentally contradictory.

As for the second popular argument, where religious people are viewed as deficient, I always tell my students: “If you want to refute something, you must refute it at its best. If you had the choice to refute a ‘moral’ atheist who loves his wife, provides for his family, and gives to the poor, or refute an atheist who is a murdering rapist, we should choose to refute the better example of atheism.” When I first ask my students which of the two we should  refute, they usually miss the mark (atleast at first) and assert the immoral atheist should be refuted. But I remind the student, Christianity can measure up to and overcome any other worldview at its best; After all, the most superior being in all of existence should bestow a superior worldview or lifestyle.

Atheists like to point out pedophile priests or suicide bombers, but such claims are informal fallacies, stemming from (but not limited to): The “red herring”, “poisoning the well”, and “straw man” arguments; None address the fundamental evidence for theism. Atheists (and at times Christians too) think that if they were to sink another’s boat it would entail that their own boat is floating. But this is not the case. Poking holes in the Christian worldview will in no way seal the holes of atheism (or vice versa). While lifestyle or actions should play somewhat of a role in determining the relative superiority of a worldview, the debate should come down to evidence. Who is more justified in believing what they believe?

It seems at best strange for an atheist to make the assertion, “We are God.” As people that openly voice their hated of religion, they certainly do seem to make alot of religious claims. For example, I hear atheists refer to their conversion to atheism or make large, sweeping metaphysical pronouncements. Despite the very similar terminology and subject matter, atheists still vehemently maintain: “Atheism is no religion.” Really?

I recently read a popular atheist argument that goes like this: “Atheism is as much a religion as not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Okay, I understand the statement. However, I disagree; Atheism is more than merely a lack of participation. Consider the example presented and imagine it this way: Atheism is like a man confronting a stamp collector and saying, “Why do you collect stamps? That’s a child’s hobby! Who even collects stamps, anyways?” As soon as someone is willing to fight for a belief, whether in a verbal or physical way, the belief begins to enter into the realm of religion.

In fact, whatever belief is most important to a person, if it shapes their worldview and guides their actions, that belief is for all practical purposes their religion. It isn’t just having a belief in one or many supernatural beings that necessitates a religion; In fact, many traditional Buddhists are atheists. Buddha himself was an agnostic; To him, the existence of God wasn’t even an important question. Even so, who would claim that devout monks, spending hours in meditation each day while secluded in cloistered monasteries are not religious people? Clearly, atheists can be highly religious people.

However, are all atheists religious? Maybe it’s just the vocal minority. Maybe it’s not. Many people aren’t aware of this, but the original humanist manifesto clearly referred to secular humanism as a religion. Mankind’s salvation would be found through reason and technology. Since the atheists making the “We are God” claims are obviously secular humanists, it appears that they are denying the very definition of their own beliefs. As Ravi Zacharias once said, “It’s not me you have a problem with. It’s reality.”

So even if an atheist isn’t an activist, they still espouse a religious worldview. As Dr. Fernandes has questioned, “If the statement, ‘There is a God’ is a religious statement, then why is the statement, ‘There is no God’ not a religious statement?” Well said. After all,  aren’t both statements making judgments about the same metaphysical truth?

Anyways, since I spent so much space on tangents here, I’ll have respond the article tomorrow.

Fourth Statement: Michael Martin

April 14th, 2009

Phil Fernandes/Michael Martin Debate

Fourth Statement: Michael Martin
Dr. Martin’s Closing Statement

As Dr. Fernandes and I conclude our debate I would like to thank him again for his stimulating challenge to my position.


As I have shown again and again Dr. Fernandes’ objections to atheism are based on either misunderstandings or question begging assumptions. Even though I have pointed out his misunderstandings and directed his attention to more accurate interpretations of atheism he has persisted in them. When I pointed out that he begged the question his defense was that he was merely putting forth hypotheses. But when I insisted that he had given no reasons to believe his hypotheses he was silent. When I countered with objections against theism–recall I brought up epistemological and ethical arguments–Dr. Fernandes managed to avoid them. They are beyond the scope of the debate, he said. When I showed that what he was saying was mistaken or unjustified he claimed he was not really saying it.

Many of these same problems are manifest in his Closing Remarks. Dr. Fernandes now claims never to have maintained that human knowledge was impossible in a Godless universe. But he did. Read his past statements. Now he says that he was just saying knowledge is to be expected if God exists and I did not show that knowledge is to be expected if God does not. But I gave an argument as to why theism does not avoid skepticism (which he never bothered to answer) while he has given no reason why one should expect skepticism in a Godless universe.

Another example: I suggested in my Third Statement that secular ethics can be based on an ideal observer theory. Dr. Fernandes now objects that this confuses “ought” with “is.” However, this is again simply begs the question. The ideal observer theory presents an analysis of “ought” statements in terms of ‘is” statements about an ideal observer and Dr. Fernandes simply assumes without argument that this cannot be done. Moreover, if there is a confusion between is and ought here, surely theists who advocate the Divine Command theory are just as guilty. That theory tries to analyze what ought to be done in terms of factual statements about what God commands. In addition, Dr. Fernandes continues to avoid the problem of how one knows what God commands. Appeal to the Bible must be problematic for Dr. Fernandes since he thinks torturing babies is eternally wrong and yet the Bible says that for rebelling against God “They shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up (HO 13:16).” 1


I showed in previous statements that all of Dr. Fernandes’ arguments of theism are unsound. However, Dr. Fernandes still persists in calling the idea that the universe arose from nothing “absurd” despite the fact that leading cosmologists take the idea seriously. No argument is used to rebut the theory that the Universe could have been generated from nothing. He tries to answer my argument that it makes no sense that a cause such as God could be outside time but uses an irrelevant example: immaterial sorrow causes tears. But someone’s sorrow is a temporal event and indeed occurs temporally prior to the tears it causes and thus is beside the point. He continues to avoid my criticism of probability arguments for God’s existence: probability statements are meaningful only in certain contexts that do not hold in the case of cosmology. In fact, if we allow probability statements in this context, Dr. Fernandes’ design argument is subject to all of the problems raised by David Hume. For example, it would tend to prove a type of polytheism: finite gods with bodies created the Universe from preexisting material. 2 Dr. Fernandes again appeals to the argument from dependency: An independent Universe as a whole cannot arise from dependent parts. Although I have shown that Dr. Fernandes committed the fallacy of composition in so arguing, he has consistently denied he has committed this fallacy without showing any difference between his argument and obvious examples of fallacious reasoning. One might just as well argue that an army cannot arise from a non-army or that a rational conclusion cannot arise from a non-conclusion. In his Concluding Remarks he again fails to show any difference between his argument and obvious example of fallacious reasoning. 3


Dr. Fernandes’ criticisms of my arguments against God in his previous statements have all failed and they continue to do so in his Concluding Remarks. In the Argument from Incoherence I maintained that God cannot know certain things, for example, how to swim, since he has no body and that He cannot have certain knowledge by acquaintance, for example, knowledge by acquaintance of torturing babies since He is all good. But since God is supposed to be all knowing, the concept of God is inconsistent. What is Dr. Fernandes’ reply? He simply asserts without argument that there is no inconsistency “in believing God innately knows all things . . .” With respect to The Argument From Evil, Dr. Fernandes maintains that suffering leads people to God. Perhaps. But it leads many people away from God. Furthermore, it seems reasonable to conclude in the light of the evidence that the amount of suffering that leads some people to God could be much less than it is now. If there is an unknown reason why there is this apparently needless suffering, then why has not God revealed this reason or at least revealed why He cannot reveal it? His failure to do so conflicts with His desire to be loved. How can God reasonably expect His creatures to love Him if it is a mystery why they seem to be suffering needlessly?

With respect to The Argument From Nonbelief I cannot see how Dr. Fernandes’ comments in his Concluding Remarks are even relevant. Recall that the argument was that God desires people to believe in Him. However, God has the ability to bring about more belief without interfering with human free will. So why is there so much nonbelief? After I refuted all of Dr. Fernandes’ rebuttals to this argument, in his Third Statement he produced a new counter argument: God knew from all eternity that some people, for example, 12th Century American Indians, would not have accepted Christ even if Christianity had been attractively presented to them. Consequently they did not deserve to be saved and thus God made no effort to get them to believe. I pointed out this reply fails to explain why a high proportion of American Indians in later centuries did accept Christianity when given the opportunity. What is Dr. Fernandes’ reply? “If a person in a distant land would be willing to accept the theistic God, then the theistic God would have no problem giving a missionary the desire to preach the gospel in that land. Also, counting noses can backfire on atheists, for there are many more theists than there are atheists.” His remark on counting noses is irrelevant since the question is not why there are more believers than nonbelievers but why are there hundreds of millions of nonbelievers. His remarks on “distant lands” is irrelevant since the question is distant times, not lands.


In his conclusion Dr. Fernandes boasts of the explanatory power of theism over atheism. However, theistic explanations of the problem of evil and of the existence of hundreds of millions of nonbelievers are problematic. Atheism has no such problems. Moreover, a theory such that is inconsistent and lacks rational support, such as theism, can hardly have great explanatory power. As I have shown, atheism is a consistent and a rationally supported position.


1  I owe this point to Cynthia Rubio.

2  See Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Chapter 13.

3   In a footnote, Dr. Fernandes tries to show that an Independent Being has all the attributes of a theistic God. But his argument begs the question at many points. For example, he assumes without argument that an Independent Being would have all perfections. However, it is unclear why a independent being would have to be morally perfect (or indeed have any moral properties) and to have the property of being all knowing. An Independent Being only means what it says: its existence is not dependent on anything else. No more should be inferred or smuggled in.

Fourth Statement: Phil Fernandes

April 14th, 2009

Phil Fernandes/Michael Martin Debate

Fourth Statement: Phil Fernandes
Dr. Fernandes’ Closing Statement

The big bang model and the second law of thermodynamics reveal that space, time, matter, and energy had a beginning. Therefore, the universe had a beginning. Dr. Martin has agreed with me concerning this premise. Still, he entertains the absurd idea that the universe popped into existence without a cause. Cosmologists who accept this idea redefine “nothing” so that it becomes a whole lot of something. But if we acknowledge that the universe had an absolute beginning (as shown by the big bang model), then it is more reasonable to conclude that the beginning of the universe was caused than to assume that it popped into existence out of nothing.1

Contrary to Martin’s criticisms, I see no difficulty with a Being that exists outside of time causing effects in time, just as immaterial causes like sorrow can cause material effects like tears.

I argued for the existence of a totally independent Being to ground the continuing existence of a dependent universe. I have already responded to Dr. Martin’s accusation that I have committed the fallacy of composition. The reader will have to decide for himself who is right on this point. However, even if one agrees with Dr. Martin that part of the universe is totally independent, then the dependent parts of the universe would depend upon the independent part of the universe for their existence. What Martin calls the independent part of the universe would actually be the sustaining Cause of the universe.2

Dr. Martin questions the legitimacy of probability estimates in the design argument. I disagree. The design, order, and conditions for life found in the universe are better explained by the theistic hypothesis (i.e., an intelligent Being designed the universe) than by the atheistic explanation (the universe is the product of random and mindless causes). The universe displays remarkable similarities with what we know to be products of intelligent design. It does not bear a resemblance to what we know to be products of random, mindless causes. The theistic hypothesis makes the design in the universe probable; the atheistic hypothesis makes the design in the universe improbable.3 Therefore, the design argument shows theism to be more probable than atheism.

Dr. Martin misunderstands my argument from human knowledge. I did not state that human knowledge is only possible in a theistic universe. I stated that theism (the belief that a rational God created the universe) better explains the possibility of human knowledge than atheism (the belief that the universe has a non-rational cause or no cause). I explained why human knowledge is to be expected in theistic universe; Dr. Martin never explained why he thinks it should be expected in a universe without God.

Martin’s two arguments for objective moral values completely fail since they both deny the existence of absolute moral laws. First, ethical naturalism reduces moral values to biological or psychological properties (i.e., “whatever is approved by most people” or “whatever is approved by an impartial, ideal observer”). It confuses what ought to be with what is, and reduces moral values to non-moral properties.4 Second, noncognitivist views of ethics reject the notion that moral statements are true or false. Moral statements merely express the speaker’s emotions or issue a command.5 Therefore, the statement “torturing innocent babies is wrong” is neither true nor false. Any worldview that cannot consistently call the action of torturing innocent babies absolutely and always wrong is a worldview that should be rejected. It is self-evidently true that torturing innocent babies is wrong. The dilemma for the atheist is as follows. If he accepts the reality of eternal, unchanging moral values, then they are “just there.” If he denies their reality then he cannot call the torturing of innocent babies wrong in any eternal and absolute sense. In short, atheism is either a non-explanation or it denies eternal, unchanging moral values. A theist can be consistent with his worldview and call rape and incest wrong in an absolute sense. But this option is not open to the consistent atheist, for his world view has no room for eternal, unchanging, prescriptive moral laws that stand in judgment on the actions of all men at all times.

Atheism also fails to adequately explain the existence of eternal, unchanging truths, for it rejects the existence of an eternal unchanging Mind. Atheism cannot offer man any eternal significance. Temporary meaning in life is insufficient, for our accomplishments die with the death of the universe — there is no ultimate purpose in a universe void of God.

Dr. Martin’s three arguments for atheism fail. First, there is no inconsistency in believing that God innately knows all things, whereas finite minds must learn many things through acquaintance and experience. Second, an atheist would have to be omniscient in order to prove that God cannot bring good out of evil and human suffering. In fact, evil and suffering often lead people to God. It may be a greater good for man to learn to trust God despite lacking a full understanding as to why God allows the amount of evil that exists in the world. Dr. Martin assumes that “lessening human suffering is good.” However, this is a prescriptive absolute moral law, implying the existence of an absolute moral Lawgiver. Third, Martin’s argument against God from nonbelief fails. If a person in a distant land would be willing to accept the theistic God, then the theistic God would have no problem giving a missionary the desire to preach the gospel in that land. Also, counting noses can backfire on atheists, for there are many more theists than there are atheists.

In conclusion, Dr. Martin has presented no persuasive arguments as to why one should expect absolute moral values, eternal and unchanging truths, the beginning of the universe, the universe’s continuing existence, the design and order in the universe, ultimate meaning in life, the sanctity of human life, the possibility of human knowledge, and the ultimate defeat of evil in a universe without God. I have shown that these aspects of human experience are predicted by the theistic hypothesis. Martin’s alternatives to my arguments are highly speculative, extremely improbable, and very unconvincing. It is apparent that he is willing to entertain absurdities (such as the universe evolving into existence from nothing, an infinite number of unverifiable universes, the rejection of eternal and unchanging prescriptive moral laws, etc.) in order to escape the conclusion that the theistic God does exist. In short, Martin fails to explain why atheism is a superior hypothesis to that of theism. He is willing to attack theism, but does not even attempt to show that atheism offers a better explanation for the nine aspects of human experience I discussed in my opening statement. Martin unsuccessfully attacks the explanatory power of theism while failing to show that atheism has any explanatory power.6 My thesis remains intact. It is more reasonable to be a theist than it is to be an atheist.


1  See William Lane Craig, “In Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Faith and Philosophy, vol. 14, April 1997, 236-247.

2  Further argumentation (like that of my opening statement) can show that this totally independent Being has the attributes of the theistic God. For instance, a totally independent Being, by definition, cannot be limited by any other being. Therefore, there can only be one totally independent Being, for two or more would limit one another. Also, a Being without limits must have all perfections to an unlimited degree. However, for two beings to differ, one must lack a perfection that the other being has or have a perfection that the other being lacks. Therefore, there can only be one Being without limits. The design argument proves that this Being is an intelligent Being, and the moral argument shows that this Being must be a moral Being.

3  J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 71-75.

4  lbid., 108-113.

5  lbid.

6  Copleston commented on the evasive tactics of atheist thinkers in the following words: “If one does not wish to embark on the path which leads to the affirmation of transcendent being … one has to deny the reality of the problem, assert that things ‘just are’ and that the existential problem in question is a pseudo-problem. And if one refuses even to sit down at the chess-board and make a move, one cannot, of course, be checkmated.” F. C. Copleston, Aquinas (New York: Penguin Books, 1955), 128.

Third Statement: Michael Martin

April 14th, 2009

Phil Fernandes/Michael Martin Debate

Third Statement: Michael Martin
A Response to Phil Fernandes’ Third Statement


Atheism in the positive sense is the view that the theistic God, an all good, all knowing, all powerful being who created the Universe, does not exist. Throughout this debate I have defended atheism in this sense in three different ways. First, I have shown that Dr. Fernandes’ objections are based on unsupported assumptions about what atheism entails. He does not argue for but merely asserts that atheists cannot give an account of knowledge, cannot have absolute standards of morality, cannot live meaningful lives, and so on. Second, I have shown that Dr. Fernandes’ arguments–variants of the Cosmological Argument and the Design Argument–for believing in God either contain unsupported premises or else “prove” something less than the theistic God, In addition, his attempts to rebut my refutations have been uniformly unsuccessful. Third, I presented three arguments for disbelief in the theistic God–the Argument from Incoherence, the Argument from Evil, and the Argument from Nonbelief– and have shown that Dr. Fernandes’ attempts to rebut these have failed.

Unfortunately, Dr. Fernandes’ Third Statement is almost exclusively a rehash of his early ineffectual defense of theism, his unsuccessful criticisms of atheism, and his unavailing rebuttals of my arguments. In what follows I will once again show the difficulties of Dr. Fernandes’ position.


Consider yet again Dr. Fernandes’ question begging. In his Third Statement he once more claims that human knowledge is only possible in a universe that contains God. But he still gives absolutely no reason to suppose that this is true. He tries to escape the problem by saying that he is merely suggesting a hypothesis. But hypotheses should only be taken seriously if they are supported. He provides no support.

Dr. Fernandes accuses me of not arguing for the possibility of human knowledge in a Godless universe and he insists that I personally must show how secular knowledge without God is possible. However, since he has not demonstrated any problems, it is not necessary that I do so. Indeed, I have already gone beyond what is required of me by pointing out to Dr. Fernandes important existing secular epistemological theories in order to show that secular knowledge is possible. Instead of attempting to refute these theories, he simply rejects my appeal to them out of hand.

Suppose the situation were reversed. Suppose I had suggested that knowledge was only possible in a Godless universe but I gave no argument for this position while rejecting appeals to theistic theories of epistemology as prima facie counterexamples to my hypothesis. In this hypothetical situation, I believe Dr. Fernandes would have been ill-advised to try to answer my unsupported charge. In fact, in my Second Statement I did raise problems with theistic epistemology. However, I did not merely assert these as Dr. Fernandes now asserts the impossibility of atheistic epistemology. I presented a four paragraph argument in direct response to Dr. Fernandes’ appeal to Genesis 1: 26-27. Does Dr. Fernandes answer this argument in his latest statement? In fact, he ignores this argument except to say that he is merely presenting a hypothesis. But why should we believe this hypothesis?

Dr. Fernandes uses similar tactics in his claim that absolute moral standards are impossible in a Godless universe. Again he give no argument for this claim but instead demands that I demonstrate the possibility of secular absolute standards. However, since no problem has been demonstrated with having absolute moral standards in secular ethics, there is no reason for me to do so. Again he rejects my appeal to existing objective theories of ethics as prima facie counterexamples to his claim. In addition, he objects to my appealing to the arguments for objective ethics I used in my own book on the grounds that he argues that he is debating me and not my 500 page book. But my discussion of ethics is not 500 pages–it is only about six. Since he has refused to read my book, for his convenience I will briefly summarize my position in a footnote. 1

To make matters worse, although Dr. Fernandes demands that I defend atheistic ethics although he brings up no problems against it, he refuses to defend theistic ethics against one of its primary problems which I have raised in this debate. One of the most difficult problems facing theistic ethics is epistemological: how does one know what God commands since what God commands is the standard of moral right and wrong? The traditional answer is that one knows by divine revelation. This answer raises the difficult questions of which purported source of God’s word should be chosen since there are conflicting sources and of how the chosen source should be interpreted since there are conflicting interpretations of any source. Surely any rational acceptance of theistic ethics must come to grips with these questions. Unfortunately, Dr. Fernandes has explicitly refused to answer this challenge to his position in this debate. 2

Dr. Fernandes attempts in two sentences to reply to another problem of theistic ethics: the Euthyphro dilemma. However, I presented serious problems with the sort of reply in a recent paper. 3 But since Dr. Fernandes refuses to respond to any argument not explicitly brought up in this debate, I will summarize my criticisms in a footnote. 4

Dr. Fernandes again begs the question by assuming that a person’s life can only have meaning if it is eternal. Thus, he assumes without argument that the goals of happiness, contribution to knowledge, and contribution to one’s community can only have meaning if one lives forever. 5


In his arguments for the theistic God Dr. Fernandes relies on two versions of the Cosmological Argument and one version of the Design Argument. The first version of the Cosmological Argument–the Kalam Cosmological Argument–maintains that since the Universe has a beginning it must be caused and that cause must be the theistic God. In response I have argued that the possibility that the Universe is uncaused has been entertained by many leading cosmologists. It should not therefore be dismissed as absurd, which is what Dr. Fernandes did in his Second Statement. Second, I pointed out that even if the Universe has a cause this need not be the theistic God. Third, I argued that because causality in its standard sense is a temporal notion, it is incompatible with the Universe (including time and space) being caused by God.

I am pleased to see that Dr. Fernandes no longer dismisses the possibility of the Universe occurring without a cause as absurd. Relying on arguments from quantum theory as interpreted by William Craig 6, his position now seems to be that quantum theory is irrelevant to the origin of the Universe since quantum theory assumes space and time. Since he assumes that I base my argument directly on quantum theory, he thinks that my argument fails. But careful readers of this debate will recall that I do not base my argument on quantum theory in any direct way. My point is that quantum theory indicates that science is not committed to causal determinism as Dr. Fernandes claims. In fact, the relevance of quantum theory to cosmology is much more controversial than Dr. Fernandes seems to suggest. Indeed, one finds cosmologists explicitly linking quantum notions and Big Bang cosmology. 7 I, for one, certainly have never implied that there is universal agreement among cosmologists. I have only wished to suggest that the hypothesis of the spontaneous generation of the Universe “out of nothing” is still considered plausible by many leading cosmologists and cannot be dismissed as an absurd view. (Of course, spontaneous generation cosmologists could be wrong. This goes without saying. But the same thing can be said about their opponents.) I will only add here that such cosmologists, despite Dr. Fernandes’ suggestion to the contrary, do discuss what is meant by nothing. 8

My second point against the Kalam Cosmological Argument was that even if there was a cause of the Universe, this cause need not be the theistic God. Dr. Fernandes attempts to counter this by arguing that his case is cumulative and that he has ruled out the other possibilities by his other arguments. But where has be done so? He refers us to his Opening Statement where he assumes a monotheistic and infinite God but gives no arguments in support of this. All of his various points–the causal beginning of the Universe, the design in the Universe, the meaningfulness of life, the existence of absolute moral standard–are compatible with polytheism or a finite god.

Dr. Fernandes dismisses my third point against the Kalam Cosmological Argument that causality in its standard sense is a temporal notion and, as such, is incompatible with the Universe (including time and space) being caused by God because he confuses the issue by introducing a discussion of other dimensions of time. My point, however, is that it makes no sense to speak of something in time–or, indeed, of the beginning of time–as being caused by something outside of time. Adolf GrŸnbaum has pointed out that the supposition that it does make sense has generated creationist pseudo-explanation in cosmology. 9

Dr. Fernandes’ second version of the Cosmological Argument is that, since parts of the Universe are dependent, the whole must be. I pointed out that Dr. Fernandes committed the fallacy of composition. He continues to do so when he assumes in his Third Statement that the dependency of the parts of the Universe with respect to Universe is like the color of the individual tiles of the floor with respect to the whole floor. Nor does it follow, as Dr. Fernandes assumes, that if the Universe as a whole is independent, it is “virtually synonymous with God.” After all such a Universe would not have most of the traditional properties of God: omniscience, omnipotence, etc.

Dr. Fernandes’ defense of Design Argument confuses two different points: the legitimacy of probability estimates in the Design Argument and the legitimacy of probability estimates in arguments that use the hypothesis of world ensembles. In his Opening Statement he argued that this Universe is astonishingly improbable if it occurred by chance. I replied that probability estimates are meaningful only given certain assumptions and that these assumptions cannot be made in the case of the Universe. Dr. Fernandes continues to ignore this.

In relation to the second point I said that IF such probability estimates could be made, they could be used to argue for the high probability of this Universe without recourse to design. It is at this point I suggested the world ensembles idea. To be sure, such an idea is speculative–I never assumed otherwise– but it is no more speculative than the hypothesis of a theistic God and has fewer conceptual problems. 10 However, nothing in my argument hinges on this idea. The important point is that my criticism of Dr. Fernandes’ appeal to probability estimates remains unrebutted. And yet the possibility of making such estimates is essential to his version of the Design Argument.

I also argued that the Design Argument, even if sound, does not prove theism and is compatible with other hypotheses. Since appeals to such events such as miracles and Christ’s resurrection have been ruled out of bounds for the purpose of this debate by Dr. Fernandes, he resorts to his “cumulative case” to support his theistic interpretation of design. However, as I have already pointed out, Dr. Fernandes’ cumulative case does not rule out other interpretations and is compatible with other hypotheses such as polytheism and a finite God.


I gave three arguments for atheism in my Opening Statement: The Argument from Incoherence, the Argument from Evil and the Argument from Nonbelief.

In the Argument from Incoherence I argue that God’s attributes are not only inconsistent (as specified by the Bible) but His essential attributes are in conflict with one another (as specified by philosophers). 11 Dr. Fernandes’ position on Biblical argument is difficult to understand. In his Second Statement he said that my Biblical arguments are irrelevant to this debate but he decided to address them any way. In my Second Statement I showed how his attempt to answer my argument was implausible. In his Third Statement he refused to address them at all since “Christianity is not on trial”. However, he appeals to Christianity to help his own case. 12

With respect to conflicts among the attributes specified by philosophers, Dr. Fernandes ignores completely my argument from knowledge by acquaintance, he fails to answer one of my main criticisms of the coherence of omniscience 13, and he unsuccessfully tries to answer the argument from knowledge how. He seems to assumes that knowing how to swim is reducible to knowing certain facts about swimming. Consequently, God could know how to swim without having a body. But a little reflection should convince him otherwise. On the one hand, paralyzed people can write knowledgeable books on swimming and not know how to swim, that is, not have the requisite physical skill. On the other hand, animals–not to mention many people–know how to swim and yet have no factual knowledge about swimming.

In the Argument from Evil I showed how the existence of evil makes the existence of an all good, all powerful God implausible. I showed in my Second Statement that all of Dr. Fernandes’ attempts to reconcile evil and the existence of God fail. I argued that his appeal to the Free Will Defense (FWD) as a defense of moral evil is unavailing and that his defense of natural evil is unsuccessful. In his Third Statement he appeals to a new justification for evil: the existence of evil is a mystery beyond our human ken. However, if this is his position, then what was the point of his arguments in his earlier statements? In these he assumed that evil was not a mystery and, indeed, that he had a good idea of why evil existed. Has Dr. Fernandes retreated to a new position in the light of my criticisms or he is simply confused? His unsuccessful attempt in his Third Statement to answer my earlier criticisms is inexplicable. If he now believes that evil is mystery, why is he still trying to provide reasons for its existence? 14

In any case, Dr. Fernandes’ appeal to the mystery of the evil is problematic in its own right. On most interpretations of the theistic God, He desires His creatures to love Him. However, the mystery of evil conflicts with this desire. It is difficult for rational humans to love God when they do not understand why there is so much evil. If the reasons for evil are beyond human’s ken, God could at least make THIS abundantly clear. Why does He not do so? Moreover, why does not an all powerful God have the power to raise human intelligence so humans can understand why there is so much evil? If there is reason for not doing this, then why is THIS not made clear? There is mystery on top of mystery here which seems to conflict explicitly with God’s desire to be loved.

In contrast, nonbelievers need not appeal to mystery in explaining moral evil. Murder, cruelty, genocide, torture are explainable in various ways–psychologically, sociologically, historically–depending on which particular moral evils one is talking about. Sometimes, of course, the reasons for some moral evil is not known. But there is no problem in principle. The explanation of moral evil will depend on the empirical evidence and the social scientific theories available. The same is true of natural evil. The explanations of, for example, hurricanes, floods, and many diseases that cause human death and suffering are fairly well-known. In some cases, of course, we may be ignorant of the cause of natural evil. Again there is no problem in principle. The explanation of natural evil will depend on the empirical evidence and the natural scientific theories available.

Dr. Fernandes wants to know what I mean by evil. I would have thought that the examples I used to illustrate moral and natural evil made that fairly clear. Indeed, I would be surprised if there is not a great deal of agreement between us on what counts as evil. At the very least I am referring to suffering and premature death. No doubt far more is included by the concept, e.g., dishonesty and unfairness. But such refinement is not really necessary for my purposes since a rather minimal account of the meaning of evil is sufficient for making the Argument from Evil. Dr. Fernandes asked what my remedy for evil is. Of course, remedies will vary with the specific evil at issue. For example, possible remedies for the evil of rape might include women’s self-defense courses and the elimination of gender stereotypes by education. Possible remedies for the evil of AIDS might include education in safe sex, developing an AIDS antidote, and needle exchange programs. These possible remedies, of course, would have to be tested in light of experience to see how they work.

In the Argument for Nonbelief which I presented in my Opening Statement I argued that if God exists He wants everyone to believe in Him. Since He has the capacity to produce much more belief than there is now, why is there so much nonbelief? I argued that there are various ways God could increase the number of nonbelievers without intervening with human free will. I showed in my Second Statement that all of Dr. Fernandes’ rebuttals fail. In his Third Statement, he again wrongly assumes that in order to increase belief God would have to force people to believe. However, his main rebuttal now seems to be based on an appeal to Molinism, the view that God has knowledge of certain counterfactuals about how people would respond if, for example, they were to be presented with the Gospel message. Thus, God knew from all eternity that 12th Century American Indians would not have accepted Christ even if Christianity had been attractively presented to them and consequently they did not deserve to be saved. But this suggestion does not explain the mystery of why a high proportion American Indians in later centuries did accept Christianity when given the opportunity. 15 Moreover, it is difficult to reconcile this idea with the assumed efficacy of Christian missionary work, that is, the assumption that there are many people who would accept Christ if they were preached to. 16


In his conclusion, Dr. Fernandes lapses into metaphor, claiming that I throw rocks at theism while refusing to give us the address of the glass house called atheism. I would have thought that, if metaphors are appropriate, the outcome of the debate so far reveals that the glass house of theism is completely shattered while the brick house of atheism (whose address believers know well) is without a scratch.

Metaphors aside, I have shown the utter failure of Dr. Fernandes’ case. Dr. Fernandes claims I either misunderstands his thesis or choose to ignore it. On the contrary, I understand his thesis all too well and, far from ignoring it, have refuted it point by point. What I have refused to do is attempt to answer Dr. Fernandes’ unargued for charges against atheism. For some unstated reason, he seems to suppose that when he fails to give arguments for his so-called cumulative case he can defend himself by saying: “Don’t forget. I am only putting forth a hypothesis”. For some unexplained reason, he thinks that the strength of atheism over theism is not manifest when his case for thesis has been destroyed and my atheistic arguments are successfully defended. For some inexplicable reason he believes I should be doing more than refuting the arguments for theism, defending atheism against criticisms, and providing reasons for denying God’s existence. In contrast, any reasonable person would suppose that doing this successfully shows the advantages of atheism over theism and provides a strong case for atheism. 17


1  Let us consider two ways in which atheism is compatible with objective morality. First, objective morality could be based on ethical naturalism–the view that ethical properties such as being good or being morally obligatory are identical with natural properties. Naturalism in ethics can take many forms and need not result in a position that would be characterized as objective ethics. However, naturalism is also compatible with analyses of ethical properties that are not subjective.

The late Roderick Firth, a Harvard philosophy professor, proposed the most plausible version of naturalism that is not subjective. According to his view, ethical terms such as “good” are analyzed in terms of what an ideal observer would approve under ideal conditons. These conditions would include being fully informed, being completely empathetic, being completely dispassionate and unbiased, and completely consistent. So to say that honesty is good would be to say that if there were an ideal observer under ideal condition, it would approve of honesty. This analysis entails a decision procedure for ethics: one makes ethical decisions by seeing what one would approve of when one approximates to these ideal conditions. Appealing to these criteria defines what moral good is and provides the criteria for adjudicating ethical disagreements: if there is disagreement over some ethical issue, one looks to see if there is agreement over the facts, whether there is hidden bias, consistency with analogous principles, and so on.

Objective morality could also be based on a sophisticated version of non-cognitivism–the view that ethical statements are neither true nor false and do not state facts but have other functions. On recent sophisticated versions of non-cognitivism ethical expressions are used to make proposals, recommendations, advice, and so on. In its most plausible versions these recommendations, proposals, and so on are to be made from a particular point of view: a point of view that purports to be fully informed, empathetic, unbiased, and consistent. Ethical disagreement would be attributed in the vast majority, if not all, of the cases to differences in factual belief, hidden biases, and so on. William Frankena, a University of Michigan ethical theorist, advocated this form of non-cognitivism.

2  He says: “The issues that Martin raises about conflicting sources claiming to represent God’s revelation and various punishments for crimes have absolutely nothing to do with this debate. Therefore, I will not address them here. This debate concerns theism verses atheism. Whether or not God wrote a book is an entirely different issue.”

3  Michael Martin, “Atheism, Christian Theism, and Rape,” July 23, 1997

4  Some theists suppose that the Euthyphro dilemma can be avoided by basing morality on the necessary attributes of God’s character rather than directly on His condemnation. It may seem that to say that God condemns rape as wrong because His character is necessarily good avoids the dilemma, but this is an illusion. For example, Greg Bahnsen argued that in the Euthyphro Plato set up a “false antithesis”: “The truth of the matter is that good is not independent of God. Certain behavior is good because God approves of it, and God approves of it because it is the creaturely expression of His holiness — in other words, it is good. To be good is to be like God, and we can only know what behavior is good if God reveals and approves of it. The important point is that good is what God approves and cannot be ascertained independent of Him. . . “(Theonomy in Christian Ethics, p. 284)

Unfortunately, however, Bahnsen’s position is not clear. The quotation suggests both that something is good because God approves of it and that God approves of it because it is good. But these two positions cannot both be maintained at once. Suppose that “X because of Y” means “X is caused by Y”. This would mean that when one says that rape is bad because God disapproved of it one means that God caused rape to be bad by disapproving of it. But if one says that God disapproved of rape because it is bad, this would mean that the badness of rape caused God to disapprove of it. But how can what God caused by disapproving of it have caused God to disapprove of it? If “X because of Y” means “Y is the reason for X,” a similar problem arises. If the reason for rape being bad is God’s disapproval of it, how can it be the case that rape being bad is the reason for God’s disapproval of rape?

In any case, appealing to God’s character only postpones the problem since the dilemma can be reformulated in terms of His character. Is God’s character the way it is because it is good or is God’s character good simply because it is God’s character? Is there an independent standard of good or does God’s character set the standard? If God’s character is the way it is because it is good, then there is an independent standard of goodness by which to evaluate God’s character. For example, suppose God condemns rape because of His just and merciful character. His character is just and merciful because mercy and justice are good. Since God is necessarily good, God is just and merciful. According to this independent standard of goodness, being merciful and just is precisely what a good character involves. In this case, even if God did not exist, one could say that a merciful and just character is good. Human beings could use this standard to evaluate people’s character and actions based on this character. They could do this whether or not God exists.

Suppose God’s character is good simply because it is God’s character. Then if God’s character was cruel and unjust, these attributes would be good. In such a case God might well condone rape since this would be in keeping with His character. But could not one reply that God could not be cruel and unjust since by necessity God must be good? It is true that by necessity God must be good. But unless we have some independent standard of goodness then whatever attributes God has would by definition be good: God’s character would define what good is. It would seem that if God could not be cruel and unjust, then God’s character must necessarily exemplify some independent standard of goodness. Using this standard one could say that cruelty and injustice are not good whether God exists or not.

This attempt to avoid the dilemma by basing objective morality on God’s necessary character has another problem. It assumes that there would not be an objective morality without God. However, this seems to beg the question against an objective atheistic ethics. After all, why would the nonexistence of God adversely affect the goodness of mercy, compassion, and justice? Yet, this is precisely what would happen if being part of God’s character created the goodness of mercy, compassion and justice. This point can perhaps be made in another way. One could affirm the objective immorality of rape and deny the existence of God with perfect consistency. There is no contradiction in claiming “Rape is objectively evil and God does not exist.”

5  He says: “Martin fails to realize that all these things lose any meaningfulness if the entire universe will some day die. What contribution to knowledge would there be when knowledge is no more? Can loved ones have happiness when they have ceased to exist long ago? Can a community enjoy Dr. Martin’s contributions when the community (along with Martin and the rest of the universe) is extinct? Without the existence of God and life after death, life becomes ultimately meaningless.” Note that no reasons are given for the first and last sentences in this quotation and his rhetorical questions are confused. For example, of course, my loved ones will not be happy when they cease to exist. But what is the relevance of this to the question of whether my contribution to their happiness while they are alive gives my life meaning? Dr. Fernandes’ other questions are confused in a similar way.

6  Craig’s criticisms of recent critiques of Kalam Cosmological Argument has been evaluated by Graham Oppy who concludes, “the points raised by Davies, Hawking, and Grünbaum do suffice to undermine the dialectical efficacy of the kalam cosmological arguments.” See Graham Oppy, “Professor William Craig’s Criticism of Critiques of Kalam Cosmological Arguments by Paul Davies, Stephen Hawking, and Adolf Grunbaum,” Faith and Philosophy, 12, 1995, p. 237.

7  See, for example, Adolf Grünbaum’s discussion of Weisskopf in his paper “Creation as a Pseudo-Explanation in Current Physical Cosmology,” Erkenntnis, 35, 1991, p. 249.

8  See note 7.

9  See note 7.

10  For example, unlike the concept of the theistic God it is not incoherent.

11  Dr. Fernandes contends I cannot bring up contradictions if I assume an atheistic worldview. However, he gives no argument for this claim.

12  He says: “Christianity can easily justify the possibility of human knowledge, for it teaches that a rational God created man in His image…” He goes on to mention Christianity two more time in this paragraph to support his case.

13  I said: “Dr. Fernandes attempts to answer my argument that God could not know He was omniscient by arguing that God could know the set of mathematical truths in one eternal thought and not one at a time. As far I can see, this does not answer the crux of my argument that God would have to know there were no facts He did not know.”

14  (1) In my Opening Statement I pointed out that the FWD assumes contracausal freedom (CCF) and CCF assumes that brain events do not cause human decisions. However, Dr. Fernandes gives no evidence for this assumption. In his Second Statement he confused the thesis that brain events cause human decisions with materialism. He still confuses this. Mind-body dualism is compatible with determinism. Dr. Fernandes thinks otherwise but gives no argument. I took him–apparently mistakenly– to suppose that if human decisions were caused by brain states, punishment would not be possible. He now says that his claim was that if brain events cause human decision, punishment would be absurd since people would not be responsible for what they do. Yes, criminal law assumes people must be responsible in order to be punished. However, unfortunately for Dr. Fernandes’ thesis, in a criminal trial the question of whether events in the defendant’s brain caused the defendant to act in illegal ways is not at issue. In a criminal trial the Court tries to decide questions such as whether the action of the defendant was a proximate cause of the wrong, whether the defendant intended to bring about the wrong, whether the defendant was acting under duress, and so on. I recommend that Dr. Fernandes consult any textbook on criminal law or consider what is at issue in any well publicized criminal trial to see how far removed his ideas are from legal responsibility.

(2) In my Opening Statement I argued that God could have made human beings with a tendency to do good and that this would have eliminated a lot of moral evil and yet would be compatible with CCF. In his Second Statement Dr. Fernandes maintains that humans were indeed so created and their present tendency towards evil is the result of the Fall. In my Second Statement I raised several problems with this idea none of which are answered by Dr. Fernandes in this Third Statement. He pleads now that he was merely suggesting a hypothesis. But the problems with a hypothesis must be answered if it is to be taken seriously.

(3) In my Opening Statement I argued that people could be created who were less vulnerable to physical attack and that natural laws could be created which made it more difficult to harm human beings. Both of these possibilities are compatible with CCF. In his Second Statement Dr. Fernandes attempted to answer this by maintaining that if God did not allow people to suffer, there would be no incentive for compassion. However, I argued in my Second Statement that if God is all powerful, He could have created less evil and still permitted the exercise of compassion. If God was good, He would want to do this. In his Third Statement Dr. Fernandes maintains that God might have good reasons–presumably which He has not revealed to us–for allowing so much evil– evil that is not necessary for compassion. This seems to be an appeal to the unknown reason argument and suffers from the same problems specified in the text.

15  Nor does it explain why there are so many more people in American and Europe than in Asia and Africa who accept Christ given the opportunity. See Theodore Drange, Nonbelief and Evil, (unpublished), p. 75.

16  See Drange, Nonbelief and Evil, p. 75.

17  See my definition of atheism in the Introduction to this statement.

Second Statement: Michael Martin

April 14th, 2009

Phil Fernandes/Michael Martin Debate

Second Statement: Michael Martin
A Response to Phil Fernandes


I am grateful to Dr. Fernandes for the courteous tone he has adopted in this debate and his thoughtful attempt to answer my criticisms.


In my opening statement I said that Dr. Fernandes misunderstood atheism because he claimed that atheism is committed to materialism, epistemological relativism, epistemological skepticism, ethical relativism, and the meaningless of life. In his reply he reaffirms these claims with the clarification that atheists who deny their commitment to these positions are being inconsistent. I affirm that there is no inconsistency in atheists denying these positions. Instead of bringing up solid arguments for his claims against atheism, Dr. Fernandes is inconsistent and begs the question. For example, he accuses atheism of being committed to both epistemological skepticism and epistemological relativism. Dr. Fernandes cannot have it both ways. Epistemological skepticism is the denial of all claims to knowledge; epistemological relativism is simply the denial of all claims to absolute knowledge. Relative knowledge is not denied but affirmed by epistemological relativism. If atheists are skeptics, they are not relativists and conversely.

In fact, Dr. Fernandes does not show that atheists are committed to either position. He simply assumes that human beings cannot know absolute truths without God being the source and thus begs the question against atheism. His basic argument seems to be this:

(1)   Human knowledge is possible.
(2)   (1) could only be true if God exists.
(3)   Hence, atheism is false.

I can find no arguments for premise (2) in his reply. What I find again and again is that Dr. Fernandes simply assumes that (2) is true. In fact, almost every contemporary epistemologist has attempted to give an account of knowledge that does not presuppose God and yet is committed neither to relativism nor skepticism.1 Perhaps all of these attempts fail but Dr. Fernandes does not show this. Indeed, he does not even try.

Dr. Fernandes also assumes that theism provides a solid foundation for human knowledge and that skepticism is incompatible with belief in God. Both assumptions are dubious. His argument for both assumptions relies on Genesis 1: 26-27 that God made humans in God’s image. Since God is a perfect knower, and God made humans in His image, He would create humans with a reliable cognitive apparatus. However, in what specific respects God was supposed to make humans in His image is not clear. After all in many respects humans are not created in God’s image: God has no body, humans do; God cannot sin, humans can and do; God is infinitely strong, humans are weak, and so on. Given all these disanalogies why should one expect human cognitive abilities to be remotely close to God’s?

In addition, as Evans Fales has pointed out in a recent article, the event specified in Genesis 1: 26-27 purports to be a factual event about our prehistory.2 But why should one believe that such an event occurred? There is also the mythical character of Genesis in which many of its themes are influenced by or borrowed from the myths of other cultures. In addition, Biblical archeology indicates that the stories of the Egyptian captivity of the Jews and the Exodus are mythical. All of this suggests that it is problematic to rely on Genesis as sources of accurate historical facts.

Fales also points out that the New Testament complicates the picture. Rom. 8:29., II Cor. 3:12-4:4, and Col. 3:10 imply that humans have lost the divine image and need to regain this image through Christ. On the other hand, I Cor. 15:29 suggests that we never had this image and will obtain it only when we enter the Kingdom of Heaven while 1 Cor. 11:7 suggests that men, and not women, are made in the divine image. Moreover, Fales also points out that Adam’s fall creates a particular problem for theists such as John Calvin who believe that human beings inherited cognitive depravity–not merely moral and volitional depravity–from this event.

In addition, as I pointed out in a footnote in my opening statement that was apparently overlooked by Dr. Fernandes: God may have good reasons for not providing us with reliable knowledge. If God has unknown but good reasons for allowing evil, He could have good but unknown reasons for allowing such an epistemological gap [between appearance and reality].3

Dr. Fernandes claims, as he did in his opening statement, that absolute moral truth must be based on God. He provides no non-question begging argument for this claim, however. He simply assumes without argument that prescriptive laws “need a prescriber” and this prescriber must be God. In my opening statement I pointed out that I argued for objective ethics in my book and that others have as well. Dr. Fernandes, far from refuting my position or other non-theistic foundations of ethics, shows no awareness of them.4

In addition, Dr. Fernandes seems to assume that a theological foundation of ethics is unproblematic. It is not.5 First, there is the Euthyphro dilemma: If something is moral simply because God commands it, morality is based on the arbitrary will of God. But if God commands something because it is moral, then morality is independent of God. In addition, if morality is based on the commands of God, how does one discover what God commands? There are many conflicting sources claiming to represent God’s revelation: the Koran, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, etc. I know of no rational way to decide between them. Moreover, even if one can single out one source, for example the Bible, there are still different interpretations of what God commands and no apparent rational way to decide between them. Finally, the Bible commands many things that sensitive moral persons find morally absurd, for example, the death penalty for homosexuality, bestiality, blasphemy, cursing one’s parents, witchcraft, working on the Sabbath and non-chastity.

Dr. Fernandes claims I have misunderstood him concerning atheists and the meaning of life. No, I think he has misunderstood me. I understood him to be saying that atheists have an inconsistent worldview if they suppose life has meaning. But, as pointed out in my book, atheists to be consistent should not claim that life has cosmic meaning. However, as I also pointed out, life can have meaning in other senses. I do not see why my life would have no meaning, as Dr. Fernandes implies, if I and those I love ceased to exist. (For example, I would hope that the significance of my life would be judged by such criteria as its contribution to knowledge, the happiness I provided my loved ones, and the contributions I make to my community. This significance is not affected by my life’s finite duration.) To suppose otherwise assumes what is at issue: that life cannot have meaning in a different sense from the cosmic sense. In my opening statement I urged Dr. Fernandes to study my arguments on this point. Apparently he has not done so. I urge him again.


1. Kalaam Cosmological Argument

Dr. Fernandes maintains that the Universe must have a cause. He provides no argument for this claim. He simply asserts that the view that Universe has no cause is “absurd” although he admits that such a view is not inconsistent. Dr. Fernandes does not care that this view has not seemed absurd to many leading cosmologists. Indeed, Dr. Fernandes seems to think that the indeterminacy of quantum physics is an absurd view despite the fact that this is a primary part of contemporary physics and at the present time there seems to be no plausible alternative to it. For support he cites Einstein’s opposition. However, although Einstein was a great physicist, he was capable of error and in the judgment of the vast majority of physicists he was mistaken in this case.

Dr. Fernandes suggests that I should offer logical guidance to cosmologists rather than accept the results of their poor reasoning. But Dr. Fernandes has not shown that acceptance of indeterminacy is the result of poor reasoning since has not given any counter arguments to this position. Moreover, the acceptance of indeterminacy in quantum theory is justified by good scientific reasoning, for example, the theory accounts in the simplest way for the experimental facts and it coheres with well-supported background theory. What it does not do, which is irrelevant to science, is to cohere with commonsense and long standing metaphysical prejudices.

I also argue that even if the Universe is caused, the cause need not be the theistic God. It could be a malevolent being or an impersonal force or a plurality of gods or a finite God. Dr. Fernandes says that if this is so atheism will be refuted. This is to miss the point. These other possibilities show that Dr. Fernandes’ argument from a cause of the Universe to a theistic God is a non-sequitur. Nothing he says rules out these other possibilities. As I pointed out, even if intelligence cannot evolve from non-intelligence, this would be compatible within non-theistic causes. However, Dr. Fernandes gives no argument for the impossibility of this evolution and simply appeals to readers of this debate to decide the issue.

I also maintained that God’s desires and intentions cannot be the cause of the Universe since a cause–especially one in terms of intentions and desires–must be temporarily prior to its effect. Since time and Universe began together according to the Big Bang theory, God’s desires and intentions could not be the cause. Dr. Fernandes dismisses this point too quickly. I believe he should carefully consider the ordinary concept of causality. According to this concept it makes no sense to suppose that someone’s desire at time t1 is the cause of something at time t1. Indeed, the notion of creation implies a temporal gap between the creative act and the beginning of creation.

2. The Thomistic Argument

Dr. Fernandes appeals to St. Thomas’ Five Ways to prove the existence of God. I criticized Dr. Fernandes’ by pointing out that (a) he misinterprets St. Thomas, (b) St. Thomas in the Third Way and Dr. Fernandes in his argument from dependency commits the fallacy of composition, and (c) the conclusion of St. Thomas’ and his arguments need not have the properties of the theistic God. Dr. Fernandes chooses only to try to answer (b). He attempts to answer (b) by distinguishing emergent properties and additive ones. However, he immediately begs the question by assuming without argument that the property of dependency is additive and not emergent.

With respect to his Third Way Thomas argues that contingent parts of the Universe could not make up a Universe that is necessary. It is certainly not obvious that he was correct. The following logical analogy is suggestive: Logically necessary propositions can be made of contingent propositions. (For example, “Either P or not P” is logically necessary while “P” and “not P” can be contingent.) Might not a similar thing be true with respect to metaphysical necessity? With respect to dependency?

3. The Design Argument

In his opening statement Dr. Fernandes argues that it is astonishingly unlikely that life could have arisen by chance and cites a number of seemingly impressive statistics to support his case. He then concludes that the theistic God must be the cause of life in the Universe. I criticized this argument by arguing that (a) the probability estimates used in the argument are illegitimate, (b) there are other naturalistic hypotheses to account for life and (c) other supernaturalistic hypotheses are possible. Dr. Fernandes chooses to ignore (a) in his reply although this argument is crucial. With respect to (b) without argument he dismisses my example of an alternative naturalistic hypothesis such as the world ensembles theory by saying I am grasping at straws, although this hypothesis is seriously considered by world class cosmologists. He claims in his opening statement he has answered (c), but a rereading of his opening statement has convinced me that he has not and has simply begged the question.

In this second statement he tries to eliminate the possibility of Deism by arguing that the Deistic God is problematic since (1) if He could create the Universe, He could have intervened in it and (2) if He cared enough to create the Universe, He would intervene. Dr. Fernandes assumes one common meaning of Deism: a god who creates the world and stays remote from it. But this is not the only meaning of the term or the one closest to the historical reality. However, even granting Dr. Fernandes’ sense of Deism, there is a problem in accepting his quick dismissal of it. Just as the Theistic God intervenes or does not intervene for unknown reasons, so a Deistic God might not intervene for unknown reasons. One cannot have a double standard–allowing that the Theistic God has some unknown reason for not intervening to prevent, for example, the Holocaust and yet disallowing that the Deistic God has unknown reasons for not intervening at all.


1. The Argument From Incoherence

In my opening statement I argued that the concept of God is incoherent: The Bible attributes contradictory properties to God and qualities specified in philosophical accounts of God are either in conflict with one another or are internally inconsistent. With respect to Biblical contradictions, Dr. Fernandes in large part attempts to explain them away by maintaining that they are based on the anthropomorphic and figurative uses of language. In regard to many of the examples I cite this reply seems far fetched. For example, Dr. Fernandes that says God does not do evil although He allows evil for a greater good. But in some of the passages I cited God Himself is portrayed as doing evil, for example, sending an evil spirit to torment people. (In other passages God is portrayed as merciful and just.) But what are the figures of speech involved in these passages? In fact, many of these passages seem rather non figurative. And even if a figure of speech could be identified, why suppose it should be translated in such a way that it eliminates the contradiction? Dr. Fernandes points out that some important thinkers have not found contradictions in the Bible. This is hardly a telling point since there are an equal number of important thinkers– many of them Biblical scholars–who have found them.

I argued that God could not know how to swim since He does not have a body and knowing how to swim is a physical skill. Dr. Fernandes wrongly supposes that knowing how to swim is an intellectual affair, something that goes on in one’s mind. There is long line of philosophical argument that knowing how to do X cannot be reduced to intellectually knowing that things are true about X.6 Dr. Fernandes ignores this line of argument; indeed, he does not seem to be aware of it.

I argued that God could not have knowledge by acquaintance, that is have direct experience of such things as fear, envy, lust and thus could not be all knowing. Dr. Fernandes admits that God could not experience such things but refuses to call this experience knowledge and considers my willingness to do so a confusion. But knowledge by acquaintance is implicit in our ordinary concept of knowledge–for example, one might say: “I know all the facts about poverty but I do not know poverty.”– and has long been recognized as a type of knowledge by epistemologists.7

Dr. Fernandes attempts to answer my argument that God could not know He was omniscient by arguing that God could know the set of mathematical truths in one eternal thought and not one at a time. As far I can see, this does not answer the crux of my argument that God would have to know there were no facts He did not know. Furthermore, this reply seems inconsistent with Dr. Fernandes’ rejection of actual infinities in his opening statement. Now he seems not only to accept them but to maintain that God could know them.

2. The Argument From Evil

I used the argument from evil in my opening statement and brought up several objections against Dr. Fernandes defense of moral evil and natural evil. Dr. Fernandes’ defense against my criticism of the free will defense fails to answer any of the problems I raised.

1)  I argued that contra causal freedom (CCF) assumes that human decisions are not caused by events in the brain and that no evidence is provided for this assumption. Dr. Fernandes counters by saying that if human decisions are caused by brain activity, this would make punishment impossible. No evidence is given for this remarkable claim. He also seems to assume that my argument commits me to materialism. But materialism entails that the mind is identical with the brain and not simply that human decisions are caused by the brain. Moreover, he wrongly takes me to be asserting that human decisions are caused by the brain. In fact, what I argued was that believers in CCF assume that human decisions are not caused by the brain and give no evidence for this assumption. The burden of proof is on them.

I argued that God could have made human beings with a tendency to do good and that this would have eliminated a lot of moral evil and yet would be compatible with CCF. According to Dr. Fernandes, humans were indeed so created and their present tendency towards evil is the result of the Fall. This reply raises more problems than it solves. There is no solid historical evidence for the Fall and, in any case, it unjustly punishes people for the sins of their ancient ancestors. In addition, why should people be blamed for their evil deeds when they have an innate tendency towards evil–a tendency caused by their ancient ancestors?

I argued that people could be created who were less vulnerable to physical attack and that natural laws could be created which made it more difficult to harm human beings. Both of these possibilities are compatible with CCF. Dr. Fernandes attempts to answer this by maintaining that if God did not allow people to suffer, there would be no incentive for compassion. But I never claimed that human beings should be made completely invulnerable or that they should be totally free from harm. If God is all powerful, He could have created less evil and still permitted the exercise of compassion. If God was good, He would want to do this.

Dr. Fernandes supposes that moral evil is no problem so long as it brings about some greater good. However, this is a plausible reply only if we have some assurance that this greater good could not bring about in less harmful ways. Many theists believe that part of this greater good is the exercise of CCF. However, I have shown that CCF is compatible with the existence of less evil. Other theists have argued that this greater good is the development of human character. But this too could have been accomplished with less evil.

2)  Dr. Fernandes’ defense against natural evil is contained in one short paragraph: Natural evil is a consequence of the Fall, and a world with the amount of natural evil contained in this world is the best possible way God has of persuading humans to desire His Kingdom to come to earth. I have already criticized the Fall defense. This second defense strikes me as even less plausible. Why should people be persuaded to desire God’s Kingdom by the existence of seemingly pointless suffering and seemingly needless premature death? Indeed, one would suppose that one of the greatest obstacles to accepting God’s existence is the existence of natural evil.

Dr. Fernandes again questions how atheists can have knowledge of evil and again assumes without any argument that atheists cannot have absolute standards of goodness. However, in order to use the argument from evil against theists, atheists only need to appeal to theists’ own examples of evil — they do not need any of their own. For example, theists judge that the Holocaust and the Lisbon earthquake are evil. How are these events compatible with an all good, all powerful God? My argument can be construed as a purely internal critique of theism: What theists themselves judge as evil events make their God’s existence unlikely.

3. The Argument From Nonbelief

I argue that the large number of nonbelievers in the world is itself evidence that conflicts with the tenets of evangelical Christianity. Dr. Fernandes objects to my use of this argument since he says he is only defending theism, not Christianity. This is puzzling since at least twice in our debate he has referred to the Fall and at least once he has appealed to a passage in Genesis. But neither the Fall nor Genesis is necessarily connected with theism per se. Be that as it may, my argument can be formulated independently of Christianity: If God exists He wants everyone to believe in Him. If God exists, He has the capacity to bring much more belief than there is now. Then why is there so much nonbelief? I suggested in my opening statement that there are various ways God could increase the number of nonbelievers without intervening with human free will. Many of these ways still apply in my reformulated argument.

Dr. Fernandes’ response to this argument is short and inadequate.

1) I suggested that God could have implanted a belief in God and His message in everyone’s mind. Dr. Fernandes says that God has done this but humans have repressed it. He supplies no evidence for this claim and makes no attempt to answer my detailed refutation of it that has appeared on the Internet.8 Moreover, this ploy simply pushes the problem back. Why are there so many people who repress their belief in God? God could have done many things to overcome their repression.

2) Dr. Fernandes says that if humans act upon the light God has given them, God will see that the Gospel message is presented to them. This is difficult to believe this. For example, for hundreds of years before the coming of missionaries, Native Americans and Black Africans had no exposure to the Gospel message. They lived and died in ignorance of it. How could Native Americans living in the 12th Century be presented with the Gospel message if they had acted on God’s light? The existence of Native Americans was not even known by Christians. To be sure, God could have provided 12th Century Native Americans with exposure to the Gospel message in some of the ways that I suggested in my opening message. But we have absolutely no reason to suppose that He did.

3) Dr. Fernandes’ attempts to answer my argument by advocating God’s foreknowledge, not just of actual events, but also of hypothetical ones. He says that God knows in advance who would accept His message if it was presented to them and thus has no obligation to proclaim His message to those who would reject it. How Dr. Fernandes reconciles this view with his assumption of CCF is unclear. Yet belief in CCF is an essential part of his defense against the argument from evil. Moreover, unless I seriously misunderstand him, Dr. Fernandes also seems to advocate some form of predestinationism. He says that God “foreordained” certain circumstances that would bring some people “to faith.” This undermines his belief in CCF and raises serious questions about the justice and mercy of God. Since belief in God is essential to humans’ eternal happiness, how can an all good God foreordained those who will be brought to faith? No only does Dr. Fernandes supply no answer to this problem, he does not seem to realize that there is problem.


Dr. Fernandes’ Second Statement has been characterized by question begging arguments, unargued for claims, seemingly incompatible positions, and non sequiturs. In his conclusion he continues this pattern of argumentation.

He claims that I refuse to defend materialism, epistemological relativism, epistemological skepticism, ethical relativism and meaningless existence. But Dr. Fernandes assumes without argument that I am committed to these positions. He claims that he has shown that the hypothesis that the Universe is uncaused is less reasonable than the hypothesis that God caused it. But let us recall that Dr. Fernandes gives no arguments for his view that an uncaused Universe was impossible. Indeed, he merely asserts that such a view is “absurd.” He assumes he has shown that my three arguments for atheism do not prove my case. But let us not forget that his criticisms are based largely on question begging arguments, misunderstandings, and implausible assumptions.

In the final paragraph and footnote of his response he attempts to defend Pascal’s Wager. In my opening statement I referred him to my detailed critique of this argument. Unfortunately, he does not deal with the brief critical point I made in my opening statement. Let me state it more clearly. Dr. Fernandes points out in a footnote that Pascal’s Wager is not an argument for God’s existence. He is correct. I would say it purports to provide humans with good pragmatic reasons for belief: If you do believe and God exists, you will be rewarded and if you do not believe and He exists, you will be punished, and so on. But as many critics have pointed out God might not appreciate people believing in Him for these pragmatic reasons. God may want people to believe in Him for purely nonpragmatic reasons and punish those who avail themselves of this argument. Dr. Fernandes makes no attempt to answer this argument let alone the other arguments I raised in my book.


1  Dr. Fernandes makes a lot of the fact that in my book I do not attempt to provide a systematic defense of induction and an extended account of epistemic justification. He makes it sound as if defenses and accounts of nontheistic epistemology are not available. But they are. For extended discussions of nontheistic epistemology, see for example, Lawrence BonJour, The Structure of Empirical Knowledge (Harvard UP, 1985), Arthur Danto, Analytical Theory of Knowledge, (Cambridge UP, 1968), Alvin Goldman, Epistemology and Cognition, Harvard UP, 1986), Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge, (Oxford UP, 1972). For a defense of induction see Michael Martin, “Does Induction Presuppose the Existence of the Christian God?” forthcoming in Skeptic.

2  Evan Fales, “Plantinga’s Case Against Naturalistic Epistemology,” Philosophy of Science, 63, 1996, pp. 447-48.

3  I argue this position at length in Michael Martin, “Does Induction Presuppose the Existence of the Christian God?” forthcoming in Skeptic.

4  See Richard Boyd, “How To Be a Moral Realist,” and Peter Railton, “Moral Realism,” in Moral Discourse and Practice, ed. S. Darwall, A. Gibbard, and P. Railton, (Oxford UP, 1997) and David O. Brink, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (Cambridge UP, 1989)

5  See Martin-Frame Debate and Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity, Chapter 6, Appendix 1.

6  For an account of these two types of knowledge see Israel Scheffler, Conditions of Knowledge (Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co. 1965).

7  See D. W. Hamlyn, The Theory of Knowledge, (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1970), pp. 104 -106.

8  Michael Martin, “Are There Really No Atheists?” Sept. 11, 1996