A Response to Nilofar Shidmehr's God Existed or Exists

A Response to Nilofar Shidmehr's God Existed or Exists

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A Response to Nilofar Shidmehr's God Existed or Exists


In recent years, scientists have come to the amazing discovery that the existence of carbon-based life in our universe is dependent upon a set of extremely improbable initial conditions. In their article, “The Anthropic Teleological Argument,”[1] Betty and Cordell lay out some of these conditions in cosmology and biochemistry. Had various initial conditions of the universe been slightly altered, life would have been impossible. Betty and Cordell then argue that the existence of an intelligent designer is the best explanation for the universe. Needless to say, their conclusions have not gone unchallenged.

Nilofar Shidmehr, in her article “God Existed or Exists!” has presented four objections to Betty and Cordell’s Anthropic Teleological Argument (ATA). First, she argues that at best, ATA only shows that God existed, but not that God exists. Secondly, she argues that the dictum that the greater cannot come from the lesser is false. Thirdly, she argues that “There is a huge difference between having an explanation and telling that there must be an explanation.”[2] Fourthly, Shidmehr presents three theories that increase the chances that the universe randomly evolved for the existence of carbon-based life. Thus, there is no need to invoke an intelligent designer. Given these four objections, it seems evident that Shidmehr believes that ATA fails.

In this paper, I will defend ATA against only two of Shidmehr’s objections. I will argue against her first objection by showing that a sound analysis of ATA does give us reason to believe that God currently exists. Secondly, I will argue against her third objection by showing that the existence of God is a good explanation for the initial conditions of the universe. So without further ado:

I. God Existed AND Exists!

Shidmehr’s first objection is to argue that there is no reason to believe that even if ATA is sound, God would not have to currently exist. Shidmehr writes:

If we look around ourselves, we can see several well-designed buildings and goods whose creator or designer had died… the existence of a creation and the continuity of its existence, since it came to being, are not dependent upon the existence of its creator.[3]

Secondly, Shidmehr goes on to say that there are several stories we can speculate to account for the demise of God. Suppose there was some sort of SuperGod that was unpleased with God’s creation of the universe causing SuperGod to destroy God.

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[4] Or perhaps God simply ceased to exist. Shidmehr goes on to state that only in the case that God exists by necessity of His own existence can we know that God currently exists.

It is important to note that Shidmehr’s objection is a conditional one. The nature of her objection is that if we grant that ATA is a successful argument, then it is not rational to conclude that God currently exists. Thus, I don’t have to argue that the antecedent is true, but only that the consequent does not follow from it.

In this section of the paper, I will rebut Shidmehr’s objection. I will mostly argue that given the various theories of divine eternity and the two main views on the nature of time, we are rational in believing that Shidmehr’s objection is unsuccessful and that the consequent does not follow from the antecedent.

The A and B theories of time (first originated by J.M.E. Mactaggart), are the two well-supported, but mutually exclusive views on the nature of time.[5] Here, I will provide only a brief outline of the two theories and their implications. The A-theory affirms an objective sense of the past, present, and future. So the statement, “Lincoln’s death occurred in the past” is an objectively true statement about an objective past. The B-theory, however, rejects an objective sense of the past, present and future, and affirms them only relationally in the forms of earlier than and later than. So a B-theorist might say, “Lincoln’s death occurred earlier than the uttering of this statement.” In the B-theory, events within time eternally exist in relation to one another.

In addition, the A-theorist normally embraces presentism, which denies the real existence of the past and future. According to the A-theorist, only the present exists. The B-theorist, however, normally embraces eternalism, which affirms the real existence of the past and future. As J.J.C. Smart vigorously argues, the universe is some sort of four dimensional space-time block where all of time exists and there is no ontologically privileged temporal moment.[6] This is opposed to presentism, which states that the present is ontologically privileged in that only the present exists. Now that I have given a brief outline on the A and B theories of time, I will apply them to God’s divine eternity.

By sheer force of logic, God is either temporal (in time) or timeless (not in time). Therefore, it seems that we have four options concerning God’s relationship to time.

God is Timeless God is Temporal
A-Theory Universe (1) (3)
B-Theory Universe (2) (4)

I will examine each scenario case by case.

First, let’s consider (3) and (4) together. These are not applicable because if God is temporal, then it doesn’t make sense that God could have designed the space-time universe. God himself would be subject to the laws of physical space and time. And this runs contrary to the antecedent that Shidmehr has already granted: that ATA is true. It seems the only conception of divine eternity that would be relevant is if God were timeless or outside of our space-time universe. Remember, Shidmehr’s objection was a conditional one, which stated that if the antecedent is true, then the conditional follows. So the state of affairs (3) and (4) are irrelevant to Shidmehr’s objection.

Secondly, we shall assess (2). This is, indeed, the classical view and is popularly held even today. Medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas used the famous analogy of an observer who sees a road from a great height. The observer can see all travelers simultaneously, but the travelers themselves are limited in seeing who is behind or before them. From this analogy we understand that God (represented by the observer) who is outside of time, sees all of time simultaneously, while human beings (represented by the travelers), are within time.[7] Thus, God exists timelessly in relation to a static, B-theory universe. This is also applicable to ATA, because if we think of the whole space-time, B-theory universe existing contingently on God’s timeless existence (as many medieval philosophers did), including the initial moments where we detect design, we have a coherent picture of the universe. This grants the antecedent of the conditional. But if (2) is true, then Shidmehr’s objection fails. Given (2), it doesn’t make sense to say that God existed, and then at some time in the future, God failed to exist because that would mean that God is temporal. For in this view, God has no past, present, or future simply because He is timeless. Thus, (2) escapes Shidmehr’s objection.

But what about (1)? This is tricky, because how could a timeless God design an A-theory universe? It seems that the only coherent possibility is if God exists timelessly without the universe at t0 (before the beginning of time) at which he wills the space-time universe into existence, but then ceases to exist at subsequent moment t1. This is one coherent way in which God could timelessly exist in relation with an A-theory universe. For clarification’s sake, this is different from God timelessly existing in relation to a B-theory universe (option (2)). God could timelessly exist in relation to the whole of B-theory universe all at once because the B-theory universe timelessly and eternally exists in one space-time block. God could only timelessly exist in relation to the first moment of the A-theory universe, however, because only one moment, the present, exists at a time. After that, God would cease to exist. This seems very applicable to Shidmehr’s objection because we have a God who designed the universe, but then ceased to exist after willing the universe into existence.

Before I assess (1), I think that there is one other option that is applicable to Shidmehr’s objection that is very similar to (1). I will call this fifth option (5) and it is a sort of an extension of (1). Philosopher of time, William Lane Craig has argued that God can be both timeless and temporal, but with some qualification. In this case, God would exist timelessly at t0 without the universe, but enter into time and become temporal at subsequent moment t1 with the universe. He writes, “God would exist timelessly and independently 'prior' to creation; at creation, which he has willed from eternity to appear temporally, time begins, and God subjects himself to time by being related to changing things.”[8] God timelessly exists at t0 without the universe, where He is in the timeless state of willing the universe into existence. The first moment, t1, comes into existence. If God does not cease to exist (as he would in (1)), then God has automatically been drawn into time. Why? Because God now has moments. God exists at t0 and t1, and that is enough to say that God is in time. So it seems that this is really (1), but only that God does not cease to exist after t0, but enters into time at t1. It seems that Shidmehr’s critique is also applicable to this example as well. Shidmehr could argue that God exists timelessly without creation, existed temporally within, and somewhere within the temporal universe, ceased to exist. It seems like this was what Shidmehr was originally pointing her objection at in the first place. For organization’s sake, I will refer to the scenario where God ceases to exist as (5a) and the scenario where God continues to exist as (5b).

There is one last possibility that I will consider only to exhaust the possibilities. Perhaps God exists timelessly without the B-theory universe, but then enters into it at creation. This would be impossible, however, because both God and time would timelessly exist in relation to one another. God could not enter into time under this scenario as He did in A-theory. For under B-theory, t0-tn do not come into existence as they do in the A-theory, but they all timelessly exist in one big space-time block. I will summarize the above information here for organization’s sake.

God is timeless without creation and temporal within.
Ceases to exist (A-theory) (5a)
Continues to exist (A-theory) (5b)
Ceases to exist (B-theory) (6a)
Continues to exist (B-theory) (6b)

So we are left with this. Options (3) and (4) are not applicable. Option (2) shows Shidmehr’s objection to be false. Options (6a) and (6b) are incoherent. Option (1) fits perfectly well with Shidmehr’s objection. (5) could either support or reject Shidmehr’s theory, depending on whether (5a) or (5b) is true. So it seems that Shidmehr’s objection depends on (1) and (5a) being true where God does not exist in some temporal moment following t0. With all of this background given, what arguments has Shidmehr given us to think that (1) or (5a) are true?

Well, let us return to Shidmehr’s original critique. She writes:

There are books, each one a masterpiece, written by creative writers who do not exist anymore. War and Peace, and Crime and Punishment are still alive today and read by thousands of readers, yet Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky passed away long time ago.[9]

Analogously, we are to suppose, the creator of the universe might have followed a similar demise as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. But what could have happened to the creator that would cause him not to exist? Shidmehr responds, “Like Betty and Cordell, one can speculate several stories…”[10] I have three responses.

First, to assume that Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky do not currently exist is presumptuous on Shidmehr’s part. If one already assumes an atheistic, naturalistic position in which there is no life beyond the grave, then I grant Shidmehr’s point. That life ends at the grave fits comfortably well (but not necessarily) within naturalistic views of life. However, that life does not end at the grave fits comfortably well (but not necessarily) within most theistic positions, which is what Betty and Cordell are arguing for in the first place. So on most theistic views, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky do currently exist! At minimum, however, all I am trying to show here is that Shidmehr’s analogy is unsubstantiated.

Secondly, Ockham’s razor will shave off most of Shidmehr’s speculative stories. Postulating the existence of some SuperGod to kill God does no real explanatory work. It is bad epistemology and metaphysics to multiply entities beyond necessity ad hoc. This is rather unlike Betty and Cordell, who are positing the existence of an entity that does explanatory work because it explains the creation and fine-tuning of the universe. (Whether it is a good or sufficient explanation will be discussed in the next section.)

My third comment is that the burden of proof is on Shidmehr to show that God no longer exists. Shidmehr must provide some sort of reason that caused God to cease existing at t1 (as is relevant with (1)) or some reason that caused God to cease existing at any subsequent moment following t0 to show that (5a) is more reasonable than (5b). Let me provide an example to illustrate my point. Suppose I find out, while examining my birth records, that I have a long lost twin sister. Unless I have evidence that she died, I will be justified in believing that she is still alive and that I have a chance at finding her. But suppose I do some research and find evidence that after she was born, she was infected with a deadly virus. In that case, I would be justified in believing that she is not alive and that I have little chance of finding her. What is it that changed my mind from thinking she probably was alive in the first case (before doing my research) to thinking she probably wasn’t alive in the second case (after doing my research)? In the first case, I had positive evidence that she existed at least some time in the past and I didn’t know of any causes existing in the generally safe environment of America that justified my thinking that she was dead. In the second case, I was justified in believing that she had died because I knew of a probable cause that would have caused her death – namely the deadly virus.

I will argue that ATA is a scenario that is more similar to the first case than the second case. We do know from ATA that God is extremely intelligent and has the power to finely tune physical laws and set them into existence (as Shidmehr has granted). Since God has power over the universe in this way, we have evidence that the universe would be a generally safe environment for God to exist in, just as America would probably be a safe environment for my twin sister. To show that ATA is more like the second case where something would cause God’s death, Shidmehr must provide some sort of evidence analogous to the deadly virus that would warrant the belief that God ceased to exist. I will specify that this must be genuine evidence, rather than some speculative evidence such as a SuperGod that Ockham’s razor will shave off anyway. Only if Shidmehr gives us this will we have reason to believe (1) or (5a). Since she has not, and we do have evidence that (5b) is true (given the safe environment of a physical universe for a God who has power over its physical laws), we have reason to reject both (1) and (5a).

In conclusion, we have examined a total of six possibilities concerning divine eternity and the nature of time, and how they apply to Shidmehr’s objection. The results can be summarized here:

God is Timeless God is Temporal
A-Theory Universe (1) No evidence (3) Inapplicable
B-Theory Universe (2) False (4) Inapplicable

God is timeless without creation and temporal within.
Ceases to exist (A-theory) (5a) No Evidence
Continues to exist (A-theory) (5b) False
Ceases to exist (B-theory) (6a) Incoherent
Continues to exist (B-theory) (6b) Incoherent

In (2), (a position held by many theists), God is timelessly related to a B-theory universe in which God does currently exist and timelessly exists in relation to all time. We also saw that (3) and (4) are not applicable to Shidmehr’s objection. (6a) and (6b) are incoherent. Only (1) and (5a) seemed to be compatible with Shidmehr’s argument, and we concluded that the burden of proof is on Shidmehr to show that God no longer exists and (5b) is not true. Until Shidmehr does this, I think that we are justified in believing that God existed AND exists!

II. The Nature of Explanations

Shidmehr’s third objection basically states that God is not a good explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. She proposes this scenario:

Imagine one enters her room and sees that a stack of paper on her desk is somehow blown away and papers are dispersed on the floor. She has a theory that the wind blew the stack of paper… Then, her husband comes and she tells the story to him. He says we have a neighbor; he must have come and thrown the stack of paper on the floor. My question is if his explanation can be considered as an explanation at all? The mere fact of existence of a somebody in their neighborhood does not prove anything.[11]

In considering this objection that Shidmehr has given, I think that she needs less of a rebuttal and more of a clarification of Betty and Cordell’s argument. Let me restate the analogy that Betty and Cordell used to illustrate ATA. Imagine nine jars, each with ten slips of paper with one number from 0 to 9. Suppose that with a random drawing from each jar, the nine numbers correspond with my social security number. The chances for this are one in a billion.

Now suppose, unlike a legitimate, genuinely random lottery drawing, there was no special reason dictating that the drawing had to be random, even though the mechanical device suggested randomness. If your number were drawn, would it not be far more reasonable to assume that the drawing was not random, that it was instead a being superintended by some intelligence behind the scenes who was in some way invisibly manipulating the mechanical device?[12]

Betty and Cordell reason that this very improbable event is best explained by intelligence. Just as the drawing from the jars happened to correspond to my social security number, the universe’ initial conditions happen to correspond with a life-permitting universe. And just as it was reasonable to believe that intelligence is the best explanation behind the jar drawing, it is also reasonable to believe that intelligence is the best explanation behind the universe. Like the traditional defenders of the teleological argument, Betty and Cordell employ an argument from analogy. So what exactly is Shidmehr’s argument against this?

All Shidmehr presents, I think, is a false analogy that is not related to ATA at all. She sets up the scenario of an improbable random paper blowing. Then she talks about the existence of people in the neighborhood. Then she speculates on how the existence of people in the neighborhood is unconnected with the improbable random paper blowing. But this is not a proper analogy!

First, the improbable random paper blowing in Shidmehr’s analogy is really not that improbable at all. The chances of paper blowing in a room on a not very windy day where the window is ajar may be low, but it is not that low! Compare this probability to Don Page’s estimate that Betty and Cordell cite. This is one in 10,000,000,000124!!![13] There is no comparing this to an improbable random paper blowing! Shidmehr’s analogy does not even compare to Betty and Cordell’s relatively meager “one in a billion” analogy with the jar drawing.

Secondly, there is no specification involved in Shidmehr’s analogy. In the case with the jar-drawing, the correspondence just happened to be with my social security number. Or in the case of the universe, the correspondence just happened to be with the existence of life. But in the Shidmehr’s analogy, there is no specification. A better analogy would be one in which the woman left her room with the papers in a complete mess, and when she comes into her room a few hours later, she sees that all the papers are neatly stacked into a pile on her desk just as she would want it. If this were the case, we would suspect not that wind from the slightly ajar window blew the papers into a neat stack, but that some intelligent agent came in and cleaned her room for her. It might be possible that the wind blew in the slightly ajar window and blew all the papers into the stack, but that would be so highly improbable that we would be more rational in suspecting that an intelligent agent (possibly even a neighbor!) came in and stacked them neatly onto her desk.

Shidmehr might ask what level of improbability something must be before it is considered improbable enough to be a good analogy. She might also ask exactly what “specification” means and what pattern must the state of affairs correspond to. While those subjects have been subject to fruitful discussion, I think they are unnecessary.[14] The distinctions and definitions do not have to be sharp to be non-arbitrary. And I think it is evident to any thinking person that the analogy of the jar-drawing seems to be analogous to the universe (where both cases call for a designer) where Shidmehr’s analogy of the blowing-papers is not. Thus, Shidmehr’s third objection is unsuccessful.

III. Conclusion

In conclusion, the scientific evidence behind ATA has provided much discussion concerning the nature of our universe. While I do not have the time nor space to enter into all of Shidmehr’s objections, I hope to do further research in this area. I think that it provides many intriguing mysteries for philosophers to uncover – for both atheists and theists alike.


[1] Betty, L. Stafford and Cordell, Bruce, The Anthropic Teleological Argument, in
Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, ed. Michael Peterson, William Hasker,
Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp.

[2] Shidmehr, Nilofar, “God Existed or Exists!” Prolegomena (Winter 2002/2003): 2nd

[3] Shidmehr, Nilofar, 3rd paragraph

[4] Shidmehr does not actually use the term “SuperGod”, but I use it for convenience.

[5] Mactaggart, J.M.E., Time, in Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings, ed. Michael J. Loux
(London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 260-270.

[6] Smart, J.J.C., The Space-Time World, in Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings, ed.
Michael J. Loux (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 294-303. Of course, this is also
well supported by contemporary physicists as well.

[7] Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas Aquinas, chap. IV.4 in Basic Issues in Medieval
Philosophy, ed. Richard N. Bosley and Martin Tweedale (Toronto: Broadview Press.,
1997), p. 271

[8] Craig, William Lane, “God, Time, and Eternity,” Religious Studies 14 (April 1979):
p. 502. By ‘prior’, Craig means causally prior and not temporally prior. To say
God is temporally prior to the beginning of time would not make sense. Something
that is causally prior to its effect, however, can be simultaneous with its effect
and so no time element would be involved.

[9] Shidmehr, Nilofar, 3rd paragraph

[10] Shidmehr, Nilofar, 4th paragraph

[11] Shidmehr, Nilofar, 10th paragraph

[12] Betty, L. Stafford and Cordell, Bruce, p. 222

[13] ibid, p. 222

[14] An good introductory example is Dembski, William A., Signs of Intelligence: A
Primer on the Discernment of Intelligent Design, Chapter 13 in Signs of
Intelligence, ed. William A. Dembski and James M. Kushiner (Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Brazos Press, 2001), pp. 171-192
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