I would like to thank Peter Williams for taking part in this debate and hope it will be productive, entertaining and useful for readers
The question is is there evidence for the existence of angels such as Gabriel, Michael and Satan. Peter's opening statement did not produce evidence for these angels. Indeed, he never even mentioned their names. I look forward to his producing evidence for the existence of Gabriel, Michael and Satan.
His opening statement limited itself to trying to show that angels are possible. Many things are possible. Unicorns, leprechauns, flying pigs are all possible. But there is no evidence for them, so I don't believe they exist. I am quite open to the idea that angels and demons are possible. But I want to see evidence for them before I believe in them.
However, Peter seems to me to have shown that angels are not possible. He has defined them as wholly good beings, who have been created by God. All of these beings , which were created by God , have free will and some have chosen never to commit sin.
Peter claims that eminent philosphers such as William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga and Dallas Willard believe in these beings that Peter claims exist.
If William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga believed that there were wholly good created beings, then these two philosophers could hardly claim that it was possible that all creatures are partly evil - at least not without contradicting themselves. After all, who can believe that Gabriel is wholly good and also believe that all beings, including Gabriel, are partly bad?
In http://www.origins.org/offices/billcraig/docs/hasker.html William Lane Craig writes about Alvin Plantinga as follows :- 'Plantinga has defended the possibility of transworld depravity--that every creaturely essence is such that, if exemplified, its exemplification would have committed moral evil.'
So Plantinga teaches that every creaturely essence would commit moral evil. He can hardly do that if he also teaches that there are wholly good created beings.
Peter argues that angels have been created by God and freely do what is right. The Christian philosopher , David Werther , wote to me on 19th March 2001 as follows :- ' Douglas Groothuis forwarded your e-mail to me. In the attached paper, "The Compatibilist Objection," I argue that it is a mistake to think that God could create free creatures who freely do that which is right.
I hope that the paper is of some help to you.
Peter quotes Dallas Willard as an authority on angels. I wrote to Professor Willard and he kindly replied as follows on the 19 Mar 2001 :-
Yes, i believe this to be POSSIBLE. But it isn't actual, and for good reason. Namely, he would have to stand over them so closely that they would never develop CHARACTER, and character is what he is after.
I has asked him if God can create beings with freewill who always choose right.
So two of the authorities Peter cites believe it is possible all creatures commit moral evil - something they cannot believe if they thought some creatures really were wholly good. Another denies that God actually has created wholly good beings who freely choose good.
So the very authorities Peter cites seem to deny the possibility of the creatures Peter claims exist.
Peter's definition of angels also raises many questions. How can a finite being choose always to do good? Can Peter choose always to do good, and know beyond all doubt that he will never go back on his choice and never commit evil? If not, how can an angel choose to always do good in the future, and know, beyond all doubt, that they will never go back on their choice?
How does Peter know, beyond all doubt, that some beings will always choose good in the future? Does Peter know the future? How does this being itself know that, in the future, it will always choose good? Does God know which of the angels he created will always choose good? If so, why did he create the other angels - the ones that he knew would choose evil? If God does not know which of his angels he created will always choose good, how does Peter know which angels will choose good in the future and which will not?
Were these angels wholly good , when God created them? If not, how did they manage to become wholly good? If God created angels which were wholly good, why would they even need to choose good? How could a wholly good being choose evil? If God created Satan and Gabriel as wholly good angels , how did Satan choose evil? If Satan and Gabriel were not wholly good when God created them, then how did Gabriel manage to choose always to do good?
Dallas Willard's definition of spirit as non-physical energy (it does work and has power) is as self-contradictory as Peter's. Energy is physical. Einstein said e equals mc squared. Energy is as physical as matter.
Peter's analogy of spirit with abstract objects such as the number six is also confused. The number six has no energy (physical or non-physical). It has no capacity to think, no values and no will. Indeed the idea that the number six can be classified as evil or good, as Peter classifies angels, simply demonstrates that a better analogy is needed. Can Peter think of an abstract object which exists , which he could say is evil or good , or has a personal name? Can Peter think of an abstract object that has energy?
Naturally, I agree that abstract objects exist. I work with computers and I analyse the workings of my computer in terms of abstract, non-material objects objects such as numbers, software objects, software classes, programs, queues etc etc. Contrary to Peter's claim, science is quite happy with abstract objects, which cannot be reduced to material objects. (I have yet to see a computer science book which even attempts to explain software queues in terms of atoms and molecules. Perhaps Peter knows of an example.)
However, there is a big difference between these abstract objects and angels or demons. The existence of abstract objects is not evidence for angels , no matter how much Microsoft programs seem to be the work of the devil. Simply showing that there are such things as abstract, non-material objects is no more evidence for angels, than it is evidence for fairies.
All abstract objects I have seen have needed a physical implementation. Indeed, how could Peter point to an angel and say 'There is the Angel Gabriel' , unless there was something physically there to point at.
We might one day be able to create an abstract object, a computer program, which when implemented on appropriate hardware , displays intelligence, personality , and might even be said to be good or evil. Does Peter agree that an abstract object, such as a computer program, might, in theory , be genuinely intelligent and conscious?
However, even if such a thing were possible, this intelligence would require a physical prescence - something Peter denies angels and demons have. I would be interested to see Peter produce examples of an intelligence and personality that can exist without a body.
Peter gives as an example of intelligence and personality existing without a body , the idea of God speaking to Moses. Does he have any evidence that that happened? Giving fictitous examples to back up his claims is not really the sort of evidence I was after from him.
Peter claims that atheists understand what is meant by God speaking to Moses and so accept that it is possible for intelligence to exist without a body. As it happens, I would like him to explain how God spoke to Moses. I don't understand how it happened.
His reasoning about atheists and understanding is also flawed. I'm sure Peter understands what is meant by time-travel, parallel universes , teleportation, and people being in five places at once. This does not mean that he thinks these things are possible. Peter can understand many things and still deny that they are possible.
I am not sure what is the point of his discursion into science and personal explanations.
Firstly, it seems totally flawed to me. Science deals happily with personal explanations. Forensic science takes physical evidence at the scene of a crime , for example, semen stains, removed clothing, stab wounds, strangle marks and tries to work out the motivation which could have led to this physical evidence.
The science of archaeology often tries to work out the motivation which led to the physical evidence found in burial sites, ancient temples etc etc.
The science of psychology is devoted to personal explanations.
I'm totally baffled that Peter thinks science cannot deal with personal explanations.
However, Peter is quite right to say that science cannot disprove supernatural agents. Science cannot even disprove the existence of the universal aether, and scientific explanations of gravity do not disprove the idea that planets move because angels push them with their wings. Provided the angels are motivated to push the planets in a way that mimics Newton's Laws, then science cannot disprove them.
However, the fact that science cannot disprove the idea that supernatural angels push planets with their wings in ways which mimic gravity is not evidence that angels push planets with their wings. The fact that science cannot disprove something is not evidence that that thing exists. The fact that science can only deal with personal explanations that can be examined (by looking at the humans and animals who do things, and working out their motivations) is not evidence that their are supernatural beings who are making things happen for reasons unknown to science.
Peter's claim of common consent is also hardly convincing. Most people throughout history have believed in some form of astrology and most people today are superstitous to some extent. The fact that many people believe in Murphy's Law is not evidence for Murphy's law! I could give Peter examples of many intelligent people who believed in special creation, or phlogiston or spiritualism, but I would not expect Peter to regard this list as evidence.
Similarly his claims that many people have seen angels are no more convincing than claims that many people have seen UFO's. I'm sure he does not think we should take alien abductee's stories at face value.
Peter does have something which may be evidence, if he could get better documentation of it. He claims that there are possessed people. Naturally, his chosen example is not evidence for angels, but it would be at least a start if he could get evidence for demons. However , his chosen example is no more convincing than Muhammad's claim to have seen the Angel Gabriel. He needs to get better documentation. If he could get a genuine case of demonic possession in the Lancet or the British Medical Journal..... As it is, all he has is a committed Christian interpreting something in his world view. This is no more convincing than people 'possessed' in voodoo trances, or in whirling dervish dances, or excited enough to talk in tongues, or withstand great agonies. The human mind is very powerful, and can produce amazing effects. There are often many real demons in a human mind , without having to invent supernatural ones.
Peter Williams Opening Statement
Peter Williams's First Response
Steven Carr's First Response
Peter William's Second Response
Peter William's Final Response
Comments to Steven Carr
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