When I was invited to debate Chris Hallquist on the question “Is theism irrational?” I had one important reservation. The very topic of debate was reflective of an extreme fringe view. It is the same reservation that any person familiar with the mainstream of informed opinion on a particular topic (e.g. climate change, Shakespearean authorship) has about debating fringe topics like “Do humans contribute anything to climate change?” or “Did Shakespeare author any of his plays?” Like these questions, the question “Is theism irrational?” grants an undue credibility at the outset to a fringe view by suggesting that the rationality of theism simpliciter is a live topic of debate in the mainstream of informed opinion (e.g. among mainstream philosophers of religion and epistemologists). It isn’t. (Please keep in mind that many philosophers of religion are non-theists, people like Paul Draper, J.L. Schellenberg, Evan Fales and Erik Wielenberg.)
Incidentally, last week I had dinner with Justin Schieber of Reasonable Doubts Podcast, the podcast sponsor of the debate, and he acknowledged that the topic of debate reflected a fringe view. (I recorded a podcast interview with Schieber which will be released in a few weeks; you can hear his comments there.)
Chris’ argument rested ultimately on the claim that the problem of evil and Stephen Law’s poorly named “Evil God” argument are sufficient to make theism irrational. By the way, Chris’ level of sophistication with the problem of evil went no further than describing a moral atrocity and asking what reason God could have for allowing it.
As the evidential ground for a conclusion this sweeping, this is simply nuts.
Let’s turn things around for a moment. Imagine the topic was “Is atheism irrational?” And then imagine that I argued that atheism is irrational for all people based on a five minute summary of two arguments for the existence of God (e.g. Craig’s kalam cosmological argument; Meyer’s argument from biological information).
This would be simply laughable. A short debate can’t begin to weigh all the arguments for and against the existence of God with sufficient depth to render anything like a universal judgment on the irrationality of all atheists. But from that it follows that this span of time is likewise insufficient to justify a universal judgment on the irrationality of all theists.