Sitting on the stairwells and leaning against walls, students and community members exceeded the legal capacity of Baird Performance Studio to hear two men debate one question: “Is it rational to accept Christian theism?”
The debate, co-hosted by the Rogers State University Secular Student Association and the Oklahoma Apologetics Alliance last Thursday, pitted Eric Murphy of the Atheist Community of Austin against David Wood of Acts 17 ministries.
In his opening statement arguing the atheist perspective, Murphy addressed three issues that call into question the rationality of Christian theism: original sin and the creation story; the holy trinity; and the existence of a soul.
For the creation story, Murphy argued that a population size of two was unsustainable.
“We know, from a study of evolution, that there was never a time when there was just one man and one woman,” Murphy said. “Heck, if the population ever got that small, the lack of genetic diversity would doom the species altogether.”
However, that was an anecdote within the larger issue of original sin.
Murphy’s question for Wood was, is there a rational explanation for the creation of moral good and evil, or did it simply appear because God said so?
Murphy also argued that the holy trinity lacked rational explanation.
“God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, they are all unique, separate beings. And yet, they are all the same,” Murphy said. “In order for us to not break the laws of logic, we need too come up with an explanation. I have not yet found a way for us to rationalize it.”
“Finally, I want to talk about the existence of a soul,” Murphy said.
The soul is a crucial component of the Christian narrative, Murphy said, “I think we should be able to determine whether or not a soul is likely before we can determine whether or not excepting Christian theism is rational.”
As evidence for their being no soul, Murphy highlighted twins in utero.
“If the soul enters the body at the moment of conception, we have been able to observe in gestation that the embryo splits and you get twins. So does an extra soul come in or do they have to share the same one? Do they each have half a soul? Does one not have a soul?” Murphy questioned. “Sometimes you have twins and one absorbs the other in utero. Then what happens? Do you have two souls sharing the same body?”
He also talked about traumatic brain injuries.
“Traumatic brain injuries drastically impact the personalities in people,” Murphy said. “What happened to the soul? Is the soul not the thing that gives you your personality? Because you can cut that out of your brain. Did the soul change? Is it trapped somehow?”
To summarize, Murphy said, “We have original sin, we have the trinity, we have the existence of the soul, and to the best of my ability I have not been able to see a satisfactory response to any of those. You could not justify to me that it is rational to accept it, because there is not sufficient evidence to support the claims that are built into it.”
If the answer to any of those questions is, “don’t know, it’s magic, God will sort it out,” Murphy said, “If you appeal to mystery, that is not rational. If you say ‘I just have to trust God’ then that is your decision. I’m not here to take it away from you. But I will tell you that you are not making a rational decision.”
Representing the Christian perspective, Wood then took the stand to deliver his opening statement, which consisted primarily of his personal testimony.
“I’m going to put all my cards on the table and tell you how I became convinced that Christian theism is true,” Wood said.
His story starts at 5 years old, when his dog dies and he can’t figure out why his mom is crying about it.
In the tenth grade, Wood’s elementary school friend died in a parasailing accident. Again, he had no reaction.
Wood concluded at the time that he had “evolved passed petty human emotional reactions.”
“I am a diagnosed psycophath,” Wood said, in explanation.
The following year, while escaping from the police, Wood stopped to philosophize about the courteous act of running around his neighbor’s gardens instead of straight through them.
“As I stomped my way threw that garden, I got this incredible rush of freedom, like I had been on a leash my entire life,” Wood said. “I had been breaking the law for years but I realized that my behavior was still being manipulated by all the rules we absorb while we are growing up.”
Wood embraced the freedom and went out of his way to break rules from there on out.
Wood ultimately landed in a mental hospital for “bashing my father’s head in with a hammer,” he said.
In jail he met a Christian named Randy. Randy committed many crimes as a young man and didn’t get caught, but after becoming a Christian later in life, he turned himself in to face all 21 felonies.
An atheist at the time, Wood believed, “the universe couldn’t conceivably care less whether you loved your neighbor as yourself or tortured him to death for fun, so you might as well do whatever you feel like doing with the time you’ve got.”
Who determines right and wrong if not for God, Wood argued. You? Your Grandma? Society?
“If you atheists took the skepticism you apply to religious claims and apply them to your own moral claims, they would crumble instantly. Any appeals to right and wrong after that would seem laughable,” Wood said, before continuing his story.
Wood started a years-long debate with Randy over the bible. And he kept loosing.
“Here I am, the most advanced human being in the world. Any discussion with a Christian, especially a Christian so stupid that he turned himself in for 21 felonies, should be a massacre. But it wasn’t,” Wood said.
Wood eventually hit upon two theological arguments that he had no rebuttal for: the design argument and the martyrdom of Jesus’s apostles.
“I was looking at a wall, at all the bricks stacked up, and thought if someone told me those bricks went into that simple order by some process that didn’t involve intelligence I would have smacked the taste out of their mouth,” Wood said. “But yet, I believed that life, which is vastly more sophisticated than some bricks stacked on top of each other, formed on its own.”
“My explanation for Christianity had always been that the disciples got together after their guy died and made up a story,” Wood said. “But when you are ready to die for someone it seems like you have to really believe what you are dying for.”
Murphy started his rebuttal by saying, “Mental health is a serious issue,” and sympathizing with Wood.
“If the only thing that is holding you from murdering somebody is your Christianity, then I hope that you keep your Christianity. Not because it is rational, because it keeps you a part of society,” Murphy said. “But this debate is about whether it is rational or not.”
In response to the design argument Murphy said that it could be an argument for the belief in God, but it doesn’t get you any closer to a belief in Christianity.
Wood defended this point by saying that eliminating naturalism may only get you to theism, but it is one step closer to Christian theism.
In response to the die for a lie claim of martyrdom, Murphy highlighted cult leaders and religious extremists who have convinced people to commit mass suicide and terrorist attacks.
Wood defended this point by distinguishing between people who act because they believe an ideology and people who act because they saw something with their own eyes, as a group of 12 men simultaneously claimed they did.
Wood offered rebuttals to Murphy’s points as well.
Wood said that the doctrine of original sin is not necessary for a belief in Christianity.
Murphy responded that, according to the Bible, original sin is the reason we are all born sinners and therefore the reason Christ died.
In defense of a soul, Wood said that if you take the naturalistic view of consciousness that every decision people make comes from synapses in the brain, that means people are accepting a deterministic worldview. In an otherwise deterministic world, something like the soul would be necessary for people to have free will and the ability to rationalize.
When it comes to the doctrine of the trinity, Wood said, “If I can establish that someone died on the cross and rose from the dead, well it looks like he has got God’s stamp of approval, so I’m going to take his message seriously. If his message involves father, son and Holy Spirit, and the idea that there is only one God, then I am going to accept it whether it makes perfect sense or not.”