(Please note that the University of Johannesburg does not endorse, nor were they involved in the organisation of this debate.)
This is a transcript of Piet Croucamp’s speeches in his debate with Richard Howe at the University of Johannesburg on 15 August of 2013 on the topic, ‘Does God Exist?’
Piet Croucamp’s Opening statement
Listen, it bothers me. It worries me. I think about it all the time. What is going on in people like Richard’s frontal lobe? Why do they think what they think? What type of personality do I deal with when I’m confronted by a Christian or a religious believer? And there’s this question about this type of debate, whether it is sensible at all to debate with a Christian or with a believer if you’re an atheist. And I’ve had one experience in the past and I thought it was the most useless experience, most nonsensical experience of my life. I had to listen to weird and wayward things that I thought that was completely useless to my understanding of life and eternity.
But I decided I must find out a little bit about Richard before I…I just wanted to know what the enemy looks like. And he looked very typical, I’ve seen him before. Somewhere Richard wrote the following things. I thought it’s important to know. If the question is “Does God exist?” And I think that question is completely irrelevant. I think a much more important question is, “Why do people believe?” That’s much more important. Why do people believe? So I…I looked at the…what Richard has written before. And, uh, forgive me and explain to me if I’m wrong, if this was not you. Richard said, Richard-…Richard wrote somewhere, he said…and the reason why this is important to me is I want to know, this god we’re talking about, is it Richard’s god or any of the other 3000 gods that exist? Because we’re not sure which god Richard is talking about. Richard’s god says the following and I assume he echo’s the words of his god: “We want to outlaw public homosexuality. We want to resist the effort of the homosexual community to establish their lifestyle as legitimate. We believe that homosexuality is immoral and leads ultimately to personal and social decay.” This is the word of the god who not only created the law of physics, but also the laws of morality. Is this, is this your god talking there?
The institution where Richard comes from…part of their motto, they explain themselves as follow: “We believe there is a personal devil, a being of great cunning and power, who is the prince and the power of the air, the prince of this world and the god of this age. We believe that he can exert vast power, but only as far as god permits him to do so, that he shall ultimately be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone and shall be tormented day and night forever….Earth was created in six days.” This is Richard’s God I assume. I can tell you now, I know Christians here who will deny that God, it is not their God. That is why the question of why people believe is so important to me.
It is of…Critical thinking is a swear word to those who have succumbed to the primitive things required in defense of a dogma, so as somebody who believes this medieval story about the devil. If you dare not sit here thinking that a good argument can change you tonight into a non-believer, you have a problem. Equally so I will commit myself to becoming a believer tonight if any shred of evidence is produced for the existence of God – a single shred of evidence. If Richard produces a single shred of evidence of the existence of God tonight I will become a believer. I wonder if he will say the same.
The evidence for God must be verifiable, pass scientific protocol, and be conducted in terms of a defined methodology. That’s science for you. If you talk about evidence, and it’s obvious that Richard likes the word ‘evidence’. He uses the word – the scientific word – ‘evidence’. The evidence for God must be verifiable, pass scientific protocol, and conducted in terms of a defined methodology. I’m not interested in hearsay. I’m not here to defend atheism, I’m here to defend the notion that the origins of humans are most likely adequately explained by science through sufficient cause and effect hypothesis. The fact that some of you here tonight doubt the scientific value of evolutionary theory or argues that it’s no more than just a theory, is testimony to the damage, the incredible damage, of religion. Religion is the early narrative denying that evolution is pure science. Evolution is science, no less scientific than e = mc2. Most of you will probably buy into the definition of the equation e = mc2, but you deny evolution. If you’re a Christian and you deny evolution, it is the damage done by religion to your critical thinking. In denying evolution, religion encourages deliberate intellectual and scholarly fraud and should be banned from the public space such as schools. If you say to yourself tonight, ‘I do not accept the scientific value of evolution’, consider yourself be fooled by theology and very bad philosophy, because it is science.
Observation confirmation of the Big Bang scenario came with the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964 and confirmed later when its spectrum, in other words the amount of radiation measured at each wavelength, was found to match that of thermal radiation from a black body. Science- Since then, astrophysicists have incorporated observational and theoretical additions to the Big Bang model. General relativity on its own cannot answer the central question of cosmology. Why is the universe the way it is, is the big question. However, if general relativity is combined with quantum theory, it may be possible to predict how the universe could start and expand at an ever increasing rate. I’m not telling you these things as if I thought it out myself. This is the consensus of most of the world’s best scientists. But unlike believers, science is humble, they say we don’t know rather than easily- they say we don’t know rather easily. Theoretically, gravity and quantum mechanics do conform to a single theory and that will be the next big challenge to unravel that. Richard has it that the universe must have a beginning, for if the universe had always existed, this would mean that the past is an actual infinite. Yes, the universe, as we observe it, must have a beginning, we’re in congruence with that, but before universe, but, but before the universe, science in various ways and forms existed, otherwise there would have been no universe. We know that matter changes, that the universe looked very different a few billion years ago. Just because you wouldn’t recognize it, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist. Scientists suspect that very different laws might apply to different universes – that’s true. In the same way as very different forces existed even before the Big Bang, we know that. Just as we know, and I quote from particle physicist Lawrence Krauss here, just as we that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. You couldn’t be here if stars didn’t explode, because the elements carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, the things that matter for evolution and for life, weren’t created at the beginning of time, they just weren’t there. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of the stars and the only way for them to get into your body, is if those stars exploded. As Lawrence Krauss puts it: it is not Jesus who died for you, it is the stars who died for you. You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for dead or exploding stars. Thus for science, as far as science is concerned, God is unemployed. If evolution, general relativity and quantum theory is combined, we have no need for a creator. Science does the job well enough. And even though physicists have not resolved all the questions about the theoretical overlap between quantum theory and the known laws of gravity, there is absolutely no reason to fill God into the gap of the undefined variable or the assumed relational tissue between known variables. Importantly, the magic of this theory is that it is conceived in a general consensus about the validity of the scientific method. The complicated nuances of a meticulously observed and verified variable, which has been peer reviewed by hundreds of thousands of scientists over a long period of time. Theoretical physicists have collected observations and postulations, challenging this and other theories, their own theories and weighed the evidence for and against it with great care. While there are still contested theoretical dispositions, variables with unidentified operational content, questions about relational tissue between dominant theories, the methodology of peer review, falsification and verification, has left this scientific narrative, as not only the most dominate narrative, but perhaps the only credible scholarly justification for the absence of god. Richard uses the word evidence and explanatory hypothesis in a very seductive way. Evidence becomes what he- what he wants to believe, not what was tested and verified and peer reviewed, not a single thing that Richard has said here tonight will pass a scientific protocol. If you talk about evidence for god, you must comply with science, because evidence is science.
If believers could produce any evidence which explain the existence or even the need for a god, and if Richard could have done it tonight, Time Magazine would have been here tonight to record that and he would have the front page of Time Magazine as man of the year this year. All these years, all these decades, all these thousands of years, theology and philosophy could not provide a single shred of evidence for god. They didn’t contribute much to understanding of the universe and they also couldn’t provide evidence for God.
Instead, Richard’s argument here tonight has been included- has not been included, in a single peer reviewed scientific journal and with the exception of the lunatic fringe, not a single scientist has published extensively using Richard’s conceptualization of evidence. Theology and the philosophical stray Richard promotes is plain intellectual dishonesty. Convoluted reasoning and the lack of understanding for the progress science has made.
There is a way of reasoning which has much more integrity than that of Richard, and I personally have a measurable compassion for that kind of reasoning. It is much more honest to say, ‘I can’t prove the existence of god’. It’s a big lie when philosophers and theologians try to pretend that they can prove the existence god. There is a way out for them, there is more integrity in another way. They can argue like most people do, who are Christians, who inherited the god from their fathers, who don’t know much about the Bible: ‘I have a personal relationship with him, with my God, which no one can take away from me, he loves me, I love him. I founded the architecture of my life upon which I perceive to be God’s will.’ That might be wrong, in my view, but it is honest, it has integrity as a complexity of emotions and you don’t claim evidence. Your personal experience, which may or may not be real, is all that matters.
If you’re naively god-fearing, you are more honest then when you pretend that you have scientific evidence for god. For evidence you need a causal explanation, not a correlational one, which is the one I think Richard proposes. And if you don’t confirm the causal relationship, you should like a good scientist, or like Bertrand Russell has said, you should suspend judgment.
If you’re going to imagine God as a variable to supplement your ignorance, the God of the gaps, what other leaps of faith do you make? And if you have to make the leap of faith, such a leap of faith, why don’t you consider the hallucinations of your primitive instincts to be conceived, at least partially, in your evolutionary DNA combined with cultural practices, as a feasible postulation for the connective tissue between god and the universe? It makes a lot more sense. In the absence of empirical justification for a god, perceiving the laws of nature, why not remain skeptical? Why fit god in there? Why invent one of three hundred gods, to fill him into the gap of what you don’t know?
If you don’t understand Richard at all tonight, it is because you are atheist, even if you don’t know it. Much of what he said just now also does not make sense to me. You have to fit into the Christian or religious paradigm. The connective tissue in your mind which makes you susceptible to the type of agency, the religious agency. It must be there, it must be culturally imbedded. You must be born into it, that’s why you pray to the god of your father and not to god of your choice. If you’re a Christian, Richard will make sense to you tonight, even if his reasoning deny every scientific principle regardless of how often it was verified and proved to be valid. You inherited your god from the culture you were born in. You had no choice. From amongst the 3000 plus gods in this world today at offer, the god of your father is your god. And if your neighbor tells you that his god Zeus or Wotan raised a soul from the dead, you think his mad and delusional. If you are an atheist, you are surrounded by god-fearing people who think of each other as mad.
In an interview, following the publication of one of Stephen Hawking’s books, Richard suggested that while he is not qualified to doubt the science of the text, he finds the philosophical content rather inadequate. Well, my argument is that if your philosophical claims do not correspond with scientific observations, do yourself a favour, listen to the advice of Bertrand Russell: Suspend judgment until your premise has been peer reviewed for validity. Religious people want to skip the science, the want to take the shortcut, they want to fit God into the gap of our ignorance and the areas where we are less educated and they want to convince you that that is not only a truth, but a verifiable truth. Because why? Because God said so. Not because it’s been proven, not because there is any evidence for it – just because God said so. Any of the 3000 gods could’ve said so.
Theology has given us a single reality. It didn’t come up with e = mc2, or evolution theory or quantum physics. I cannot think of a single verifiable peer reviewed-…peer reviewed reality on earth by theology. Some of Richard’s philosophical postulations and conceptual convolutions are so nonsensical that it reminds of the sowing of confusion with confusion. The method and logic of his argument, listen to this gem of an argument he once had: “Since theists believe that God created the universe, theists believe that gravity exists because of God. Atheists that deny gravity…atheist deny that gravity…atheists deny that God created gravity, but just because atheists deny the actual cause of gravity, doesn’t mean that atheists float. Just as atheists experience gravity without believing in the existence of God who created gravity, in the same way atheists can experience moral reality without believing in the existence of God who is the grounding of moral reality.” I mean, really, where the hell are you going when you argue like that.
So, I had a, I had a, email conversation with a particle physicist Lawrence Krauss. This lecture that Richard has given here is available, most of it on the internet, and I copied it. I send it to Lawrence and I… he was in a, in a, Australia at the time, so I couldn’t expect him to spend some time to advise me on how to address this meeting tonight. He just me two words back, he said: “You’re funny.” Thank you.
Piet Croucamp: Rebuttal
There was this debate in America and I think it was Ronald Reagan and some other, some other presidential candidate and I think it was…wasn’t it, no, it was Dan Quayle or somebody. In any case…and he went on, he went on about, he went on about… Kennedy…no it was, it was, it was deputy presidential debate…he went on about Kennedy, he went on about Kennedy, and at one stage…the…democrat in the debate said to him, “Sir, I know John Kennedy, I’ve been a friend of John Kennedy, you are no John Kennedy.” And I want to say to you, I have read Bertrand Russell, I have read why I’m not a Christian, you have no understanding of the text, because I think it’s a very interesting, intelligently, well-written text with a good understanding of the history, the history of religion.
Sorry…I lost my…there it goes…okay, I’ve lost the, my notes there, but let me, let me…start by…the first thing…and that is that the contribution of philosophy to the understanding of…of science. And the argument of…Dawkins that…philosophy is not only dead, but probably in the last…few decades made absolutely no contribution to understanding of the universe and of science. And there are good reasons why this happened, one of which is…the infatuation that philosophy had more recently with…the type of relativism in postmodern theory. The damage that they have done to philosophy – anybody who consider themselves postmodern philosopher – the damage that they have done in philosophy as science, as, as science with a history of applying a verifiable, credible methodology, it is just absolutely enormous. And there is something, something of that relativism in the argument of Richard.
This God that he talks about is almost indefinable. He uses scientific concepts to explain his God, but then deny that this God has any scientific value. He denies that he says that this God fits into some complex equation preceding the universe, he insisted that the universe has been created, and that in the absence of his understanding of what preceded the creation of the universe he fits in God. He makes the scientific hypothesis, similar to the one that says e = mc2, he said God equals the process and the procedure and the method according to which the universe came about. And there’s a famous book, again, while we’re at the – on the case of Lawrence Krauss tonight, he wrote the wonderful book…about how the universe can evolve and develop from nothing. The most primitive way of looking at nothing is perhaps the biblical one and the philosophical one that Richard uses. And that is that ‘nothing’ is an empty space where there’s a vacuum, where there is nothing in there. But even if it’s an empty space there’s still this space and there’s still this emptiness, there’s still this vacuum. There’s not completely nothing, but in science, this type of nothing that Richard chases, doesn’t exist, because as…most particle physicists agree now, that even this empty space, which is assumed to precede the creation of the universe, even this, in this empty space, there’s this particles rapidly popping in and out of existence. And in this equation of the laws of physics which eventually created the universe, is the laws of matter, energy, radiation and it’s from this emptiness, this nothingness where this particle pops in and out of existence where you’ll also find the laws that prevailed before the Big Bang. That doesn’t mean that scientists claim that they know exactly what happened, that they have a clear understanding of exactly how the universe came about. That’s why, with the big Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the question is what happened in that first milli-milli-nano second of the explosion of the Big Bang. What forces were and prevailed at the time? And the Higgs boson which was theoretically defined and the question where…about mass, matter, was to a large degree dissolved a few months ago. Something the scientists didn’t know at all, they made an extrapolation, they made a generalization in this equation, but it proved to be true when they did the science. And if you believe in God you prefer not to do the science, you deny the science. What Richard is doing in a very simplistic almost childlike manner, he says, I don’t know what’s going on here. He doesn’t have the scientific experience to come to a conclusion about this nothingness, this emptiness which Lawrence Krauss talks about. So what does he do? Because he inherited his God from his father and his culture – and we don’t know which of the three thousand gods – he takes that God, he defines him in a way that is impossible to pin him down, he use all sort of scientific language and lingua franca to confuse you, to make you think that he is knowledgeable about this God, that this God is actually meaningful and that it fits in there, perfectly in the same way that m fits into mc2. But he is bull$#!g you, he is lying, it’s not true, there is no evidence, there is no f@&#g evidence for a god. You could try to force it, you can fit it in the way you like – it doesn’t exist just because you want it to exist.
If you want to make a point about a god, you must make him understandable, applicable, verifiable, testable, you can’t define him in such esoteric terms that he can be all things to all people. And then you are more preposterous and you go on and you f@&#g tell me what he thinks. You tell me what your God thinks. You tell me, ‘My God think like this’, ‘My God send you to hell’. His God send you to f@&#g hell!! If you don’t believe in his God you going to hell! That’s what they think. You will burn in hell if you don’t believe in Richard’s God. What about Wotan? What about the Juju in the mountain? What about all the three thousand other gods. They are all going to hell, the Muslims are going to hell, they will burn in hell, because they don’t believe in the homophobic God of Richard. The one that think that homof…homophobia…or homosexuals are a despicable breed, that is a culture that they learn themselves and they should be wiped of the face of the earth. They should be removed from American society, they should be careful that they don’t…uhm…create the conditions for the type of decay of our social values in the society. That is the God of Richard. Is that, is that your God too if you’re a Christian? That’s why he defines his God in away that nobody understand. That’s why he refuses to, to, to allow you to apply a methodology, a verifiable, scientific protocol, because he doesn’t want you to know his God. He will define him the way he wants him to be. He wants to – him to be the God for all the…gaps that exist in the absence of his experience and knowledge. And if you pin him down, he will just move his arse this way, depending on the wind blows.
You will never know if God is real if you pray to the God of Richard. There are many ways to define God, it is much more intelligent, interesting, real and of value to human beings. To me God is somewhere hidden in the complexities of science. He’s not hidden in prejudices, war, hatred, deliberate efforts to mislead, to lie, to cheat, to intellectually deny the value of research, critical thinking, etcetera. That’s the type of God that Richard has. I could uhm, I was, I was bored by Richard’s definition of his God, but I am infuriated by the hatred of his God. I’m infuriated by the fact that his God thinks that people that I know, people that I love, people who are gay, that they are, in moral terms, despicable.
In his reading he said tonight that uhm, you can be moral regardless your religion, you can be moral regardless whether you are atheist or not. I’ve seen a lecture where he says, no, that’s not true, he said God is the source of all morals. He suddenly took a very liberal view tonight on morals when the pressure was a bit on, isn’t it? When he had to define his God, he suddenly says, no, my God actually do make provision as far as morals concern for all creeds and colours and thinking and atheist. But that is not what he said before and it also doesn’t correspond with some of his other views. The views of somebody who thinks like Richard is one that says, God is the epistemological, cultural, social origins of all morals. The God that the homophobe, the one that ordered the killing of babies in the Bible, women, children, justified wars, mass executions, that’s the God of Richard. He teaches at the college and that college says earth was created according to the Bible in six days and that Adam and Eve are real people. I wonder if he disagree with the college that he teaches about those things. I don’t think so, I suspect that’s how he thinks about it and that I think is rather primitive, I think it’s medieval. I will always wonder what goes on in his mind, what happened to him? Where has it gone wrong, that somebody can have such dogmatic views, such judgmental views about other people, life and eternity, people who think differently, people that pray to other gods, People that are good people, but they think that Wotan or Allah is their God. Why does he send them to hell, to burn in hell? That’s what I don’t understand about religion.
There is no evidence for God, nobody who’s sitting here tonight will bring me a shred of evidence for God. He doesn’t exist. He exist in your mind, he is part of your primitive DNA. It is part of your primitive instincts, your primitive reaction. Sometimes when you listen to somebody who’s religious, you think it is absolutely madness. Imagine a virgin birth, imagine a virgin birth. There are people sitting here thinking it’s a fact, it’s science. What goes on in your mind when you suspend all other scholarly experience, because you want to believe in bull$#!t such as a virgin birth. Or you want to believe that somebody walked on water, or changed water into wine. Or descend this earth, he sunk to this earth, to die for you. And you know what he send his son here, and his son is a god and he came here, but he didn’t know e=mc2, he was a flat-earther. He didn’t know that the sun, that the earth revolves around the sun, orbits around the sun, he didn’t know that. That’s God, Jesus Christ came to this earth and he’s the complete ignorant individual. I’ve never heard of such an ignorant God in my life. He knew nothing about science or diseases. Nothing that you hear from Jesus reminds you of somebody that knows anything. If he just in some or other way reflect the intelligence of his dad – they’re both brain dead. Thank you.
Piet Croucamp: Conclusion
So first, ‘Bertrand Russell, makes himself guilty of bad history’. But I’ve also heard him say in an interview that Hawking makes himself guilty of bad philosophy. It’s easy, Richard, it works like this: When the facts are on the table, when the science is being done, you have to readjust your philosophical proposition to comply with reality and with facts. You can’t talk the philosophy of your heart and want everybody to believe it.
It is a real question whether God exists. It’s a question, but it is not an important question. It’s not an important question because God is absolutely no consequences for our existence. Science is everything, science is all the consequences for what we are, who we are, where we going to, where we’re coming from. And the question, the difference between me and you is, that nothingness which you, because you’re not a scientist, describe in a rather woolly manner, that nothingness, that’s where you like to fit God in there. Because you don’t understand that, because it doesn’t make sense to you, and also because you have a vacancy, you need a vacancy somewhere for your god, you must fit him in somewhere, because God over the last hundreds of years was retreating all the time. Before we found e=mc2, God was the ‘e’ in e=mc2, and the when we managed to figure that one out, God retreat- before that God was responsible for gravity as well and for relativity as well. And God is retreating the more we get information of what’s going on in life and in science, the more God is retreating until…And I think we’re this far from it, we’ve reached the point where there is absolutely no scholarly scientific need for a god anymore. That’s why the question has now emancipated. It is now ‘What goes on in your head?’ when you so desperately want to belief in a god. What, which of your primitive instincts and urges force and drive you towards the placebo, the comfort zone, the big lie in which you feel so comfortable that there is a god? Why is, why is something like that so important to you that you’re willing to sacrifice your intellectual credibility. Because that’s what you do. I always make this joke, I say, 87% of America’s top scientists are atheist, and 87% of America’s jail population is Christian and Muslim. Pick your friends for you. Because it’s true.
People who know, people who’ve done the legwork of science, who’ve done the research, people who’ve put in the scholarly work, hours – have general consensus about what has happened to the universe, how it’s developed, how it’s evolved, and there’s a good degree of understanding of what happened just before then as well. If you fit in God there, it’s not very intelligent, it doesn’t fit appropriately there, it doesn’t make sense there – all you do is you give God a bad name. If you want to give God a name that I can live with and most other people, you say, “he lives in my heart; I love him; I have a personal relationship with him; he guides me through life; in the evening I talk to him; and in the morning I’m thankful to him; but I will not lie to you and pretend that I can prove that he exists, I will not try to lie to you and pretend that I have evidence for his existence” – because you don’t have, “I will have to deliberately try to bull$#!t you, but I cannot convince you of a God.”
If Richard has provided you with any evidence of God tonight, I will definitely tomorrow call Time magazine, to record it. Because there is general consensus throughout the scientific world: there is no evidence for God, there is no reason for a God, you don’t need a God. You’re doing quite well for yourself if science is helping you perfectly. Thank you very much.