Essay:Is there no God?

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The original article Is There No God? The Improbability of Atheism is quite large. So I'm probably not going to side-by-side all of it, I'll see how it goes.


[edit] Life's meaning

According to atheists, there is no supernatural Power or Being separate from the universe and responsible for its creation. There is therefore no Creator to whom human beings are accountable. Furthermore, they argue, life has no ultimate meaning or purpose, since not only do all individual lives end in death, but the universe itself is doomed to run down until all life is extinct.

The basic thesis of this article seems laid out pretty cleanly here in the first paragraph and the next few neatly unpack the same idea: atheism means life is meaningless and purposeless. This is somewhat true, atheists will contest that life has no purpose or meaning. However, it's worth considering for a moment what these statements even mean. Why is it important to have meaning, or purpose? Why are these questions considered "deep"? I suggest that these questions aren't as deep as they might seem, and are circularly supported by religion.

Questions like "is there a God?" or "what is life's purpose?" and "why are we here?" are almost exclusively asked by people purporting to know the answer, and indeed the very formulation of such questions suggests not only is someone looking for a specific kind of answer but are asking them only to justify the existence of their answer. To someone living in the reality based community, deep and meaningful and important questions are things like "how can we cure the AIDS epidemic?", "how can we meet our energy needs for the future?", "can we effectively end absolute poverty?" - these, as questions, are far more meaningful precisely because we don't have an answer. We can explore options and trial our answers against reality to come to something that is not only correct but might actually help people. Contrast this aim with people purporting to know the answer to deep questions that only they call deep. Life doesn't need a meaning and those who say it does, and argue that atheism produces a bleak philosophy as a result, only argue so to advertise their own religion; religion is a solution looking for a problem, atheism lets you view the real problems and look for real solutions.

[Bertrand Russell quote]

[Questioning the "firm foundation of unyielding despair"]

[Questioning the appeal of atheism, its roots and "bleak philosophy"]

[edit] The appeal of atheism

In what, then, lies the appeal of atheism? Why, in particular, does it attract so many writers, artists, and 'creative' intellectuals? The first and most important reason is that for many individuals the Judeo-Christian concept of God is in itself unwelcome and objectionable. Their pride and sense of personal autonomy is wounded by the idea that they are in any sense dependent upon or indebted to some Divine Creator. They do not wish to acknowledge the possibility that they owe some allegiance to a Superior Being who made them, since to do so threatens their sense of worth, their independence, and their desire for unrestricted freedom in the use they make of life. For such people, therefore, religious faith and commitment is to be avoided because it appears to involve an unacceptable degree of personal humiliation and an unwelcome interference with the pursuit of pleasure and happiness. If, in addition, they are writers and artists, their desire for creative freedom increases their resistance to the idea that there may be some Eternal Power outside themselves to whom they are accountable for the use of their gifts and talents.

First I have to admire the scare-quotes around "creative" there. Discussed above is the fact that religion claims to hold a monopoly on deep and profound questions - questions that are only deep and profound because religion says so - but along with this comes a claimed monopoly on morality, and from that "intellectual" thinking (to contrast it with the scientific pursuits) and then finally stemming from this, creativity and artfulness itself.

Anyway, the core accusation of this section expands more on the thesis statement of the article: atheists just don't like God. It's worth noting that evidence plays little part in this, and like most religion-specific apologetics, it also mostly ignores that atheism is a rejection of all supernatural deities simultaneously. To a degree the accusation in this paragraph again is correct, personally I view what the religious put themselves through as humiliating and pointless. This isn't my one and only belief or reason, though, and to assume as much would be incredibly fallacious. If desirability was proportional to truth value - and by no means is this observed in reality, but for the sake of argument - then we would have a very good case against most religion. Specifically to the Christian tradition of constantly being accused of sinfulness, requiring constant repentance and reverence. To prostrate myself before something that I consider to be entirely imaginary and without basis in reality is, ultimately, a humiliating thing.

However, the key part of that isn't that what constitutes religious worship is undesirable in itself, but that it's all in a cause that an atheist considers futile. Without the sufficient evidence to convince someone that what they are doing is worthwhile it is a useless endeavour to get them to do it if there are so many negatives involved. Ask, for instance, any academic who has literally had to prostitute themselves for grant funding; you do it because there is evidence of a pay-off at the end. Without this evidence, no one would do it. This is the key factor missing from religion in this accusation.

[Atheism offers a big picture without God, is apparently more compatible with science because it doesn't involve 'blind faith']

[Is atheism true?]

[edit] Is "God" a pressing question?

You may think, given all the problems in the world, that there are more pressing matters to consider than the possible existence of God, but is this not the most important of all questions? If astronomers and doctors think it worthwhile to search for life in other galaxies or study the human body, is it not even more interesting to find out whether there is a creative Intelligence behind all the phenomena investigated by these and other scientists? Can anyone who cares about truth ignore this subject and pass by on the other side? Even if tempted to do so, is it sensible given the possible implications and consequences if God does exist? If it is possible that we owe our lives to a Creator who is the source of our very being and the fountain of all beauty, goodness, love and truth, should we turn our backs on Him? Would that not be like a plant refusing to grow towards the sunlight? That, surely, is the moral and intellectual challenge inviting us to examine the question of God’s existence.

I was originally going to redact this as it adds little. However, I think it backs up my accusation above that religions justify themselves only with circular logic.

I suppose Essay:Privileging the hypothesis (and Yudkowsky's take on it) would cover a lot of this ground needed to indicate that this paragraph does nothing but circularly reinforce religion as "meaningful".

[edit] Reasoning against God

While atheist philosophers vary in their approach and their arguments, the standard case against the existence of God commonly embodies three propositions.

The first and most emotionally compelling is that the existence of evil and suffering cannot be reconciled with the assertion that the world has a good and omnipotent Creator. If there really were a God, Nature would not be marred by pain, disease, hatred, or death; therefore He obviously doesn’t exist. Secondly, modern science – in particular, the theory of evolution – explains the origin and development of the universe, and all its life-forms and structures, without any reference to God, so why do we need Him? He is plainly redundant. Finally, since enlightened self-interest and the good of society provide a perfectly adequate moral framework for human life, there is no need to invoke the existence of God in order to account for our moral faculties or provide a foundation for ethics.

Note that out of these three points that apparently are the core principle arguments for atheism, evidence plays no part at all. They're summed up as:

These are common arguments, though again because there's no mention of the word "evidence" they're not the strongest. I do blame Dawkins for the second one, since he has a tendency to push the "evolution means you can be an intellectually fulfilled atheist" line, he may have even invented it, and I think such reasoning is really attempting to bang a square peg into a hole that's not only round but only round pegs can even see. To cut a long story short, most of these points are either going to be misrepresented or very badly argued against.

["As a former atheist..."]

[edit] The Problem of Evil

There is, to begin with, a glaring contradiction in the argument that the presence of evil and suffering in our world indicates that there is no God. In the first place, our very awareness of evil and suffering underlines the fact that we seem to possess some internal standard of right and wrong, good and evil, by which we are able to judge existence and the universe, and find them wanting. But this raises an obvious question. Is this internal moral standard subjective or objective, true or false? If it is subjective – that is, merely an expression of our emotions and tastes – the case for atheism based on the existence of evil collapses, since we cannot condemn the universe, and by extension, God, just because reality doesn’t suit our private fancies. That would be like complaining about the law of gravity because it doesn’t allow us to jump off cliffs without getting hurt or killed. But if, on the contrary, our moral perceptions are true and objective, they clearly reveal the existence of something good in Creation, namely, an eternal Moral Law, written on our hearts, but reflecting some greater Reality outside ourselves and beyond Nature. Paradoxically, therefore, our consciousness of evil confirms rather than refutes the existence of God, just as a crooked line implies the existence of the straight line from which it deviates.

This seems to do two completely magical things: it firstly misrepresents the problem of evil and then goes on to justify an objection to this with a misrepresentation of God. Normally I don't accuse people of the straw man often because it's too easy to spot 10% of someone's argument that is straw and use that to dismiss the other 90%, but in this case I'll make an exception as it seems to be attacking a straw man with another straw man!

Firstly, this assertion that our internal moral standard is proof of God is just that, an assertion. Our internal moral standards can be justified and explained with competing theories, so without any additional evidence to say that it can only, and exclusively, be sourced supernaturally (spoiler alert: there is none) this premise is false and cannot be used to support the conclusions. But overall it completely misses the point of the problem of evil: it is an argument to say that an all-powerful, all-benevolent God does not exist as such a being, as proposed, should not allow such evil and suffering to exist. The problem of evil suggests a trichotomy of "God is impotent", "God is willfully evil", or "God is imaginary" and none of these three circumstances match what we are told God must be. Even if our moral standards were subjective, and we viewed evil in the world it would be saying that God, as a proposed hypothesis, does not exist. We cannot, and don't, condemn what doesn't exist.

The contrast with gravity then absolutely does not work. Christians propose a God that has properties of all-powerful and all-benevolent, no one proposes that gravity has a moral code that suggests it will save us if we throw ourselves off a cliff. Gravity is merely a force of nature with no moral direction. If God, however, was proposed as a force of nature with no moral direction the contrast might just stand, but no Christian or believer suggests this - deists and pantheists, maybe, but not those following prescriptive religion. So you see where the straw man multiplied by the straw man comes in? He's addressing a misrepresentation of the problem of evil with a misrepresentation of God! Essentially, this shoots the argument in the foot because in order to work it insists that God isn't actually a benevolent spirit, but a non-directed and truly amoral force of nature.

Even further, the second situation about an objective morality confirming the existence of God is still an assertion; it would merely justify the existence of an external standard of morality. Attributing this to God still puts it at the mercy of the Euthyphro dilemma, which questions whether something is good because says it is (circular, uninformative) or whether God is good because he's good (which reduces God to merely a messenger of an even higher power of morality). If you cannot address the Euthyphro dilemma, you haven't addressed the problem of evil thoroughly enough.

We can't condemn an amoral force of nature, but the problem of evil isn't condemning an amoral force of nature, it is a statement that suggests observations (evil) do not match with the hypothesis (God is benevolent).

[C.S. Lewis regurgitates the same point]

[Free will and evil]

Is this, then, all there is to say about the problem of evil? By no means. It is precisely the contention of the Bible and Christian theology that God has not abandoned the human race to its fate. He not only offers forgiveness and eternal life to those who turn to Him and reconnect with their Creator; He also promises eventually to judge the wicked and redeem Creation. But this is a great and controversial subject well beyond the scope of this essay. What is simply being stressed here is the inadequacy and implausibility of atheism as a contribution to this discussion.

I kept this in just to have a section about how apologists tend to phrase their conclusions. This is simply regurgitating fabrications; remember that real evidence plays no part in this discussion at all. We can just as easily replace this paragraph with a similar statement about characters from Lord of the Rings and it will have equal logical validity.

[edit] The religious impulse

The superficiality of atheism in relation to the problem of evil is mirrored in its equally shallow explanation of the religious impulse in human beings. To dismiss belief in God as a form of wishful thinking rooted in a desire for significance and security, as atheists typically do, begs more questions than it answers. In particular, it fails to give proper consideration to what, on atheist premises, is a remarkable puzzle. If the material universe is all that exists and there is no God, why are we, its accidental products, so unreconciled to our place in it and our fate? Fish don’t complain of the sea for being wet, so why do we seek some non-material Reality outside the world we can see and hear and touch? If it is absurd to imagine falling in love in a sexless world, is it not possible that our desire for God is actually a pointer to His existence rather than an illusion? Furthermore, what are we to make of the fact that religious belief has been common to millions of human beings down the centuries, of all types, races and social conditions? Why, if there is no God, have kings and philosophers, artists and scientists, poets and peasants, thought otherwise? Has most of the human race, from Hebrew prophets to modern physicists, simply been mistaken in their religious convictions? And what, finally, are we to make of the experience of God claimed by mystics or encountered by ordinary people in their prayer lives? Even allowing for the fact that majorities can be mistaken, should this weight of testimony across the ages be lightly set aside? Should it not give pause for thought to even the most hardboiled atheist?

More than enough has probably been written on cult thinking and the psychology of religion, and I'm probably not the most qualified to recreate it here without error. In short, it is easy enough to dismiss religion as wishful thinking - lacking corroborative evidence directly related to the proposed hypothesis, desirability isn't related to truth value. This argument doesn't actually support anything, it certainly doesn't support a specific God over any others even if we do accept this as a sound theological argument.

The simple fact is that people believing something in large numbers doesn't make it true. If there was an individual god-like character that was true above all others, and there was an underlying religious impulse then we would only have one religion. We wouldn't have multiple religions. We wouldn't have apostates. And above all - relating it back to morality and the problem of evil discussed above - we most certainly wouldn't have millions of people killing each other over differences of religion.

Atheists do pause for thought given religious testimony; but because we're outside the system we can view all of it for what it really is and the fact that there is so much of it, and so much of it differs and so much of it is more easily explained by deep rooted psychological urges for power and dominance and collective mentality, rather than actual truth to an individual religion over all others.

[Atheism fails]

[edit] Free will

Take the issue of free will first. Although scientific determinists, like the late B.F. Skinner, deny its reality, the evidence that we do in fact possess it is overwhelming. Our freedom to choose is not only confirmed by our own internal experience of weighing alternatives and deciding between options, whether this involves selecting food from a restaurant menu or changing jobs; it is also presupposed by the very nature of all argument and debate, since there is no point in engaging in philosophical discussions if we are not free to examine, accept or reject a particular chain of reasoning. Indeed, it is precisely here that determinism undermines its own intellectual credentials most thoroughly, for if it applies to human thought as well as action, it means that the reasoning of determinists is, like everyone else’s, inevitable. But if their belief that we have no free will is inevitable, how do we know that it is true? It has, on their own assumptions, no more validity than the conclusions of their philosophical opponents. Why, in any case, should the burden of proof rest upon the upholders of free will rather than upon their determinist critics? Does not our experience of being able to change our minds or resist temptation confirm our common sense conviction that we are not robots?

Just to point it out, our internal experience isn't evidence of free will. Such a thing could only be viewed externally, hence the whole "free will is an illusion" argument. "Free will" tends to be a lot more complicated than this, not least because people rarely ever define what they mean by it in advance.

It's perfectly possible to have a deterministic system that a) produces an illusion of free choice internally and b) is chaotic to the point of being unpredictable. Those two things effectively make the question of "do we have free will" as most people will put it quite moot; it allows us to think, examine, and then choose an option as an informed choice. The observational differences between "free will" and "chaotic determinism" are non-existent, in fact many would easily define "free will" as chaotic determinism if pushed. Especially considering that otherwise one would have to propose some kind of dualism, or homunculus style idea to explain "free will", and the burden of proof - the onus to provide evidence - certainly would then lie with the person proposing it. You simply can't shift off the burden of proof just because it's inconvenient... oh wait, this is an apologetics article, that's what they do!

To say that free will must exist because otherwise we'd be robots is really just more arguing from desirability. It proves nothing even if it was true that it would be preferable to be free agents rather than deterministic ones - but again, the distinction is moot if you don't state what you mean by "free will".

[Atheism = determinism. Nothing important.]

[More C.S. Lewis]

It may be objected, at this point, that minds must be wholly dependent on brains, since death or injury can terminate or damage human consciousness, either by ending life or impairing our mental faculties. But this is not a convincing defence of the truth of atheism. Not only does it fail to provide an adequate answer to the problem raised above by critics like C.S. Lewis; but it also overlooks the fact that physical death and decay can never be cited as proof of the non-existence of the human soul and its link with God. It is obvious that if human beings are a composite of body and soul, death or disease will dissolve or distort this union of matter and spirit, but this does not imply that materialism is true. Otherwise one would be justified in denying the existence of newsreaders and the human voice because our ability to receive televised news bulletins will inevitably be disrupted if some hooligan destroys our television set.

This almost sounds like someone is considering evidence. We know that the mind is based inside the brain - it's a pattern of signals that the brain creates which leads to conscious thought - and we have a lot of evidence for this. Brain damage, neurology, and to a degree we're making progress into how the brain does it and what parts do what, though we're not all the way to full understanding by a long shot.

Does this disprove the soul? No. As the soul is an unfalsifiable concept; we can fully explain the brain and those who believe in some magical entity can still shift it to another place. Indeed, by many definitions it's put beyond science to explain anyway - and the ramifications of this aren't good. In short, there are no observational qualities associated with the soul; the universe looks the same with or without them by the definitions put forward by those who believe in it.

[Something about computers. Do they prove atheism?]

[edit] Computers and atheism

Not by a long chalk. In the first place, this argument still fails to explain how, on atheistic premises, we can be sure that we know anything through the use of reason. Secondly, it is invalid because it is based on a subtle confusion and misuse of language. As Dr Raymond Tallis, Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester, has pointed out, in his book, Psycho-Electronics (Ferrington 1994, ISBN-1-898490-01-5), a rigorous and detailed analysis of this subject, it is simply inaccurate to say that computers ‘analyse’, ‘calculate’, ‘process information’ or generally perform mental operations analogous to the workings of the human mind. It is the human beings who use the computers who are the ones really analysing, calculating, and processing information. To believe the opposite is like saying that scissors ‘cut’ paper or electric kettles ‘boil’ water. The plain truth, of course, is that without the initiative and intervention of willing, acting, and interpreting human agents, computers, scissors, kettles, and all other artefacts, are just inert and purposeless pieces of machinery. Only our loose conversational shorthand makes us temporarily forget this.

This is a semantic argument of the worst kind.

All this does is take a series of verbs - such as "to boil" or "to calculate" - and then merely assert that, by definition, these can only be performed by humans. As a result, it says they cannot be performed by computers and concludes as such. Does this actually change anything, though?

Assume we create a new word, a new verb called "to fusulate". This is analogous to "to calculate" except it is the description of what a computer does when it takes binary bits and manipulates them to perform a mathematical calculation. So a human calculates, a computer fusualates. The actual properties of what a brain does and a computer does haven't changed; data is manipulated on a wafer of silicon or in a mush of neurons depending on the verb in question. But what is, then, the meaningful difference between these two operations besides one is done by a brain and one is done by a computer? Little, if anything. Data manipulation is still at the core of both, and all that has been constructed is an illusory inference that computers can't or don't think therefore the mind is special. Indeed, the brain and a computer are very different in operation but this supposedly stunning and fanatically in depth analysis is nothing more than a word game.

See the Chinese Room though experiment for a similar kind of question-begging.

[Computers aren't sentient]

Does this demonstrate that there is an unbridgeable gulf between mind and machine? Yes, unless someone manages to construct a computer which has motives, is self-critical, can fall in love, change its mind, compose music, write a novel, develop a new idea or product, and worship God. But even if that should prove possible, the discovery that minds are machines would still offer no evidence in support of atheism, since computers are not random creations but the product of conscious design. Without their human creators, they would not exist. Where does moral conscience come from?

This is impressive. It reminds me of this - in fact it's practically the same point. Essentially here we have a potential to prove someone wrong: we make a computer that is self-aware, therefore by everything that has been argued in the above paragraphs the human mind must be similarly mechanical. BUT this is a problem: it opens up belief to falsification. This is simply not acceptable to an apologist, so there must be an addendum that says "although everything I've argued could be proved wrong, if it was proved wrong then I'm still right."

If this is the case then your argument is worthless. If you go to the trouble of setting out a set of premises to lead to a conclusion then they are absolutely meaningless if, upon proving these premises wrong, you still accept the conclusion anyway. Why bother with the premises? Why bother with the argument? Why blow such a word count when you know you're going to accept your conclusion regardless? Why not admit the circularity of your belief and be honest about it?

Anyway, the caveat is that computers would be designed. But this in itself doesn't prove anything either way; it merely proves that something designed to a specification will meet that specification. A more interesting thought experiment would be if computers were programmed to evolve sentience via a natural selection routine. Indeed, some AI researchers favour this approach. This would almost certainly be passed off as "humans designed the selection routine anyway", but that doesn't actually address the fact that these hypothetical computers evolved sentient traits on their own, analogous to evolution evolving us out of the laws of physics (which may well have been written down by God, although this is unlikely). Setting some initial conditions and letting a program execute and evolve is not quite the same as "design" as most people recognise it.

[Atheism cannot account for the human mind even though this assertion hasn't actually been backed up]

[Instincts in conflict]

[edit] Naturalistic morality

What about the other commonly held view, that it is the long-term interests of society which determine and explain our moral values, rather than our own immediate interests?

The problem with that is that it fails to explain why we should care about society as a whole if we can have a better or happier life by ignoring, as many do, its wider interests. In the end, unless we are nihilists who deny the existence of all values, we are forced to admit that our moral convictions about the preciousness of life, truth, justice, mercy, and so on, are self-evident axioms. We either ‘see’ that it is wrong to tell lies, break promises, and hurt others, or we are, as it were, morally ‘colour blind’. But if this is the case, and therefore there is a Moral Law which is objectively ‘true’ and to which our consciences bear witness, how can this be reconciled with atheism? How can we attach any importance or authority to our moral perceptions if they are only, as we are, the accidental product of a random and purposeless universe? The fact that we recognise an objective standard of Right and Wrong which exists whether we live or die, obey or disobey it, can surely only mean one thing: it is the manifestation within our being of an Eternal Self-existent Goodness outside ourselves and the natural order but in communication with us. In short, it is the moral argument for the existence of God. Why does anything exist?

If someone was to say "[a naturalistic explanation or morality] fails to explain why we should care about society as a whole if we can have a better or happier life by ignoring, as many do, its wider interests" I would expect examples to follow pretty soon. In what cases do we lead happier lives by violating implicit social contracts, and how do those proposing naturalistic origins for moral feeling fail to explain it?

Theories on the natural origins for morality can be quite complex and involved, but the basics revolve around admitting that the human race is a social species. We live in groups, we hunt in packs, and we build and construct as teams. An individual is stronger with those around them. On average, and over all time, it is better for us to co-operate with each other than stab each other in the back. Murder promotes distrust, as does theft, brawling attacking, and lying. Such mistrust diminishes the reciprocal nature of our collective instinct and the moral code that then evolved out of it.

Such theories do not need to postulate that one individual gaming and abusing such a trusting system cannot under any circumstances be better off. It only needs to state that these be exceptions, or treated harshly if found. This forms the basis for our ideas of punishment, which often involves either execution or incarceration, and rehabilitation that attempts to sway such people back to the idea of a collective good.

There is nothing self-evident about following the basic moral codes, formulated by the likes of the Golden Rule. We can see the results of violating the trust of others quite plainly and we know that such actions have consequences that will come back to us - or at least have a good chance of coming back to us.

[Atheism doesn't explain where we come from]

[edit] The origin of everything

I have decided to break this one down into a finer side-by-side rather than on a per-paragraph basis.

The first important question it fails to answer is why does anything at all exist? Is the universe self-explanatory?

It's quite a jump to go from how atheism sucks at explaining morality to the actual question of whether God exists - or, as apologists should but rarely (if ever) phrase it "Is my one specific religion completely true on all counts?". But this sort of thing has to happen at some point.

To clarify, atheism is specifically a belief in no gods or a lack of belief in gods (they're more or less the same, really, though some people like to separate these concepts out) and nothing more, nothing less. Does "atheism" have to explain why things exist? Not really. The issue that is always at hand isn't that atheism doesn't provide a prescriptive edict to the origins of the universe (just like it doesn't provide a prescriptive edict about whether men can bum each other freely and consensually, or whether we can wear polycotton shirts) but whether one specific religion provides the correct answer.

The fact that scientists can study life and the universe without having to even ask, let alone answer, this question, does not make it any less interesting or relevant.

So, a recurring theme is that religion effectively has a monopoly on "deep" questions, that are only deep because religion says so. I present this sentence as evidence for that. The very fact that science can get away without invoking the supernatural or the so-called spiritual should be very telling. We can explain the universe adequately without it because the relationship between our beliefs and observations don't require it.

To anyone searching for truth, it is a meaningful inquiry to ask whether Nature has an Author or is self-sufficient, for one very compelling reason. Something cannot come from nothing – a common sense observation rooted in both logic and experience.

Is it even worth saying "then where did God come from?" here... I mean, when an author cites common sense observation and logic in their "something cannot come from nothing" argument they have a very clear contradiction here. Either the universe came from nothing - in which case observation and logic certainly say otherwise to this. Or the universe came from God, which in turn came from nothing - and if you believe this then, similarly, observation doesn't back up the assertion "something cannot come from nothing". This is a tired old trope, and though I'd like to do more, I'd rather ask people to go talk to Scott Clifton about it.

To underline the obvious, it is not only self-evident that the absence of something cannot at the same time account for its presence, but this is a truth confirmed by everything we observe and know. Babies do not materialise from nowhere and works of art do not create themselves. But if it is the case that nothing cannot produce something, what are the wider implications? Simply this. For anything to exist, it must either be self-existent from all eternity, or else the creation or effect of something else that is.

Such things do not materialise from nowhere, but they do have raw materials that are in pre-existence. We assemble works of art from paint and canvas, we assemble babies from initial genetic material and a few molecules that can be processed and have their atoms rearranged into cells. So, if God created the universe - from what did he make it out of?

Again, "atheism" - which is a position that only makes sense in the context of the wider ubiquity of religion - doesn't prescribe an answer. Religion does. Therefore it is a burden of religion to answer this question and provide predicted observations associated exclusively with that belief and then present its evidence. Atheism is more open minded about the idea. While "I don't know" still isn't a great answer - because we need to suggest why we don't know and what we can do to overcome such limitations - "I don't know" is a far more acceptable answer than "let's make some shit up". And this is especially true given that these questions are biased towards giving undue privilege to religious belief, rather than an interpretation of reality.

Does our knowledge of the universe, then, suggest that it is self-existent? Surely not, since all organic life has a beginning and an end (animals and humans are born, live, and die), and inorganic structures and processes are subject to constant alteration and change. Even if the universe had no beginning but instead is the product of the continuous creation or ‘appearance’ of matter, it still lacks that attribute of self-sufficiency which is the essence of self-existence, since the question that still arises is ‘what accounts for the creation or appearance of matter?’ Where, so to speak, does the ‘stuff’ of the universe continually come from? Why does change occur at all? Who or what brings it about? If, on the other hand, the majority of scientists are correct in their belief that the universe came into being through some ‘Big Bang’ explosion, its lack of self-sufficiency and its inability to account for itself is even more apparent. The answer to the riddle of existence, therefore, stares us in the face if we are open-minded enough to see it. There is a self-existent Creator. God is real.

I'm sure this is all interesting stuff to ask, but it's worth reiterating the one key point apologetics ignores constantly: how does this lead you to believing one holy book out of dozens, one varient of god out of millions, and one specific set of arbitrary rules out of pages and pages of law that has accumulated throughout time. In sort, it doesn't.

Those subscribing to a non-religious view are under no obligation to provide an answer they do not posses sufficient evidence to say either way - in fact, this is the true open-minded position, unlike the blatant abuse of that term used here. If you state your answer, then you must state why you have arrived at that answer in a way that cannot, with equal validity, be used to arrive at a different one. How does this argument arrive at Christianity rather than the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Last Thursdayism, or Allah? In short, it doesn't.

You cannot propose a question and then simply go straight to goddidit. You must propose your hypothesis - the Christian God, Yahweh, Jesus and so on - and state what observational variables will make this distinct from other hypotheses - Muhammad and Allah, the FSM, the IPU - and indicate the parts of reality that back this up. But, as always, this is merely a result of religion asking so-called "deep" questions without any regard as to why they should be important from base principles. It is merely an assertion of importance, and a very circular assertion at that.

[edit] Causality

Unfortunately, despite the clarity and coherence of the cosmological argument for God’s existence...

Such "clarity" and "coherence" of course is entirely imagined. The cosmological argument postulates "the universe had a cause", and emphatically not "therefore my religion is completely right on everything". When we talk of assuming reasonable and unreasonable inferred properties from observed properties, the former is reasonable, the latter - saying one specific world religion is correct thanks to a prove that works equally for all of them - is far from reasonable. It is, in fact, by most definitions that we'd ever use, irrational.

...its truthfulness is not recognised by many modern philosophers and scientists. One reason for this arises from the belief that since the quantum theory of modern physics suggests that sub-atomic events have no apparent cause, the universe does not need one either. The problem with this argument, however, is that no physical investigation can prove the absence or presence of causation, since the concept of causality is a metaphysical one, whose truthfulness can only be challenged philosophically, not scientifically. If, therefore, we are correct in thinking that something cannot come from nothing, the most that any scientific experiment can establish is that in some particular instance it was not possible to identify the causal agent involved in a certain process or chain of events. To believe more than that, would be equivalent to saying that Bach’s cantatas came into existence of their own accord because no-one saw Bach, or anyone else, composing them. There is another equally powerful objection to all scientific attempts to question the reality of the causal principle: it is intellectually counterproductive because it undermines the very basis of science itself. Unless they already believed in the causal principle, scientists could not draw general conclusions from particular experiments and observations, and consequently could not formulate or discover any scientific laws.

This seems to confuse the idea that quantum mechanics has a probabilistic nature with an "acausal" nature. There are many interpretations as to why quantum mechanics is like this - perhaps there are hidden variables that make the world very much deterministic but that we don't see with our current technology, for instance. Whatever your preferred interpretation of quantum mechanics, at the end of it all science has one question: what do you expect to see from this idea and how do you go about testing it. Until that is settled, all scientists accept the evidence and make only the most reasonable of inferences about the world.

Trying to claim the concept of "cause" for philosophy is an attempt to place it all "beyond science". This is a problem for many reasons - but mostly the motive is to try and get out of the simple task of providing verifiable evidence for what you assert. I've seen this done in far more amusing ways, though. Is this a claim that because science cannot determine casual relationships with philosophical certainty that it cannot make any legitimate or reasonable inferences of causality? It seems so. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record with this kind of point, a statement like "A causes B" is an hypothesis. It generates a testable statement that we can look for. If we have A, we get more B. If we don't have A, we get less B. If we add, C, D, or E we see no change. If we alter A in a certain way we can change the nature of B. And so on. It is entirely about the relationship between evidence and hypothesis.

One can try and claim "cause" for philosophy, but that doesn't rob science of its reliance on empiricism, and it certainly doesn't give religion and excuse to avoid it either.

[Some more stuff on causality]

...If writers like Tolkien can create imaginary worlds which would not otherwise exist, why is it unreasonable to argue that the real world has a Creator?... Okay, I admit I cut out some other interesting stuff on causality in favour of cherry picking this sentence, but it was almost entirely irrelevant and seemed to have little point to it. This one, on the other hand, seemed to be pretty fucking bizarre so I kept it in for posterity.

[edit] Darwinian everything

If our grounds for believing in God’s existence and dismissing atheism are sound...

I just want to break this off to make one slight observation: why do people say "dismissing atheism" in this way? It's similar to Shockofgod's super-dooper question of "what evidence do you have that atheism is true and correct?" Atheism, even though we give it a name, is a privative - one might also call it a secondary property. Although it's a complex semantic argument, atheism is still a lack of religion and a sort of "not applicable" state, there's nothing actually there to dismiss or prove in this manner. Anyway, that's beside this particular point...

...what are we to make of the classic Darwinian argument that the theory of evolution explains the emergence and development of life from simple beginnings to ever more complicated forms and structures, without any need to invoke God? So, here we are, Darwin! Now, the UCCF and the Christian Unions it co-ordinates (these people are hosting this article as a "resource", if its vast length and idiocy fail cause you to forget that point) don't claim to be anti-science, and in my experience they're certainly not raving YECs. Their attitudes in this respect are far more guarded, as we shall see.

The first point to make is that Darwinism not only fails to explain the existence of the universe in the first place; it also cannot account for the existence of any scientific laws. Why is the universe a cosmos and not a chaos? Is it not extremely improbable that a few simple laws of physics would underlie all phenomena in a random and accidental universe? What are we to make of the strange but interesting fact that the structure and order of the universe can be understood and described so perfectly in terms of mathematics? Does all this not suggest the existence of some Supreme Mind or Intelligence behind the ‘architecture’ of Nature?

Here's the thing; people that write this sort of crap will be the first to jump to a really banal Courtier's Reply over someone like Richard Dawkins getting one single, minute and practically inconsequential detail about Christian theology wrong. Yet they retaliate showing their pig ignorance of basic science, theory and how we put together our knowledge of the universe. This isn't just a minor detail that correlates to a straw man argument if you're a pedant, it's flat out wrong.

So, for the record let's get the rigmarole of explaining this out of the fucking way:

  • ...fails to explain the existence of the universe - this is why we have the standard model and big bang cosmology, not natural selection.
  • also cannot account for the existence of any scientific laws - again, physics not biology, but there are a few interesting theories for this one.
  • Why is the universe a cosmos and not a chaos? - the anthropic principle is one nice handwavy excuse, I don't really want to go deeper into this right now.
  • Is it not extremely improbable that a few simple laws of physics would underlie all phenomena in a random and accidental universe? - when you actually understand things like "random" and "probable" this ceases to make sense.
  • What are we to make of the strange but interesting fact that the structure and order of the universe can be understood and described so perfectly in terms of mathematics? - You see, people get all mystical about how mathematics explains things, but there's really nothing magical about it. The mathematical treatments that describe the universe stem from very simple relationships. Relationships like how 2 happens to be exactly twice as large as 1. It's no more strange and interesting than the fact that speed just so happens to be exactly equal to distance travelled divided by the time taken to travel that far!
  • Does all this not suggest the existence of some Supreme Mind or Intelligence behind the ‘architecture’ of Nature? - perhaps it does, but it similarly suggests countless other hypotheses from the Flying Spaghetti Monster to a simulated reality.

[Shameless, and I mean truly shameless, JAQing off.]

Darwinian scientists like Richard Dawkins, answer triumphantly in the affirmative. As he attempts to argue in his best-selling book, The Blind Watchmaker, the theory of evolution – properly understood – offers a perfectly satisfactory explanation of how complex life forms and biological structures have developed by chance from simple beginnings. All that is required is the action of natural selection working on admittedly random mutations. Mutations that increase the survivability of organisms and creatures simply accumulate and spread throughout the relevant populations, thus allowing ever more complex and well adapted forms of life to emerge without any conscious design or Designer. Darwinism’s key insight, in other words, is that while natural selection is not a conscious process, it is not a random one either. It is truly a ‘Blind Watchmaker’, and therefore able to account for the apparent order and purpose we seem to see around us. This is almost a non-straw description of evolution: a non-random process applied to random mutations. Perhaps the most correct paragraph I've yet seen.

[edit] Straw Darwinism

Despite the skill and confidence with which Dawkins and other Darwinists state their case, it does not stand up to closer examination for a number of reasons. Don't hold your breath. The next section, titled in the original article "The weak arguments and lack of evidence for Darwinism", this isn't that impressive.

The first problem is that many Darwinian scientists already disbelieve in God before even beginning their scientific investigations. As a result, they have a strong predisposition towards accepting the theory of evolution, since it is hard to imagine how else life could have developed in the absence of a Creator and Designer.

Well, it's easy enough to respond with something trite like "actually, scientists are predisposed to believing things based on evidence" but perhaps there's something more to be said here. As I'm sure I've hammered out several times elsewhere, there's a massive difference between saying that there's a "intelligent entity that explains the universe" and "Yahweh, my specific one god who wrote the Bible". Evidence can fit many hypotheses; most of which are patently absurd and don't lead to anything interesting. Then we have the competition between multiple naturalistic hypotheses and multiple non-naturalistic hypotheses. We can distinguish the naturalistic ones, but as for the supernatural? No. If you say God, my god, Yahweh, God of the Bible, father of Jesus explains it, then it is all too easy to say Allah, great and glorious who spoke to us through the Prophet Muhammad also explains it. Magic pixies explain it. Gnomes in blue socks explain it. Gnomes in red socks equally well. This is the central problem facing any religious hypothesis; not that scientists aren't believers.

Richard Dawkins, for instance, describes the idea of God as "a very naive, childish concept," and has explicitly expressed his relief that Darwinism enables him to be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Earlier Darwinists made similar comments. In 1943, for example, Professor D.M.S. Watson wrote: "Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or...can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible." (Quoted in "Science and the BBC", Nineteenth Century, April 1943). But if Darwinism is being embraced because of an unexamined philosophical (or emotional) prejudice against God and the idea of creation, why should it be accorded any respect as a scientific theory? Is it not self-evident that this atheistic bias will ensure that even the strongest evidence against evolution will be ignored or explained away by Darwinian scientists?

This Watson quote even has its own Wikipedia section dedicated to it - and don't say you didn't see this one coming. The full quote, actually from an article in Nature in 1929 is this:

Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or is supported by logically coherent arguments, but because it does fit all the facts of taxonomy, of paleontology, and of geographical distribution, and because no alternative explanation is credible.

The second part, after the "..." actually occurs a few pages later in Watson's article - though if memory serves its Ray Comfort that owns the record for the longest ellipsis, quote-mining Origin of Species with a gap of several chapters.

The extreme difficulty of obtaining the necessary data for any quantitative estimation of the efficiency of natural selection makes it seem probable that this theory will be re-established, it it be so, by the collapse of alternative explanations which are more easily attacked by observation and experiment. If so, it will present a parallel to the theory of evolution itself, a theory universally accepted not because it can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.

I think the author here may have based the quote mine on something written by CS Lewis - you know, that well-famous evolutionary biologist with countless publications on the issue.

More disquieting still is Professor D. M. S. Watson's defense. "Evolution itself," he wrote, "is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or... can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible." Has it come to that? Does the whole vast structure of modern naturalism depend not on positive evidence but simply on an a priori metaphysical prejudice. Was it devised not to get in facts but to keep out God?

Either way, an article published in the 21st century relying on a quote from 1929 that was first mined by a religious apologist in the 1940s can be described by many words. "Intellectually vacuous" is my current favourite description.

[More quote mining.]

[My quote mines and straw men prove that evolution is impossible! Therefore Dawkins lacks an open mind!!]

[Newton believed in God! The eye! Evolution is preposterous! Generic argument from incredulity. More shameless JAQing off. And I really wish this summary of what I just cut wasn't 100% accurate, but alas, it really is.]

[edit] Hoyle's Fallacy and concluding remarks

The inherent implausibility of Darwinism is only reinforced when one turns from the development of species to the world of microbiology and the origins and building blocks of life. To quote Britain’s most famous 20th century astronomer, the late Sir Fred Hoyle, FRS, formerly an atheist: "Imagine a blindfolded person trying to solve the Rubik Cube. The chances against achieving perfect colour matching is about 50,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1. These odds are roughly the same as those against just one of our body’s 200,000 proteins having evolved randomly, by chance." (The Intelligent Universe). In another of his books, Evolution From Space (1981), co-authored with Professor C. Wickramasinghe, Fred Hoyle adds: "From the beginning of this book we have emphasised the enormous information content of even the simplest living systems. The information cannot in our view be generated by what are often called ‘natural processes’... As well as a suitable physical and chemical environment, a large initial store of information was also needed. We have argued that the requisite information came from an ‘intelligence’... The scientific facts throw Darwin out ... but leave William Paley still in the tournament."

There is actually a word for this: Hoyle's fallacy. It comes from the fact that most scientists - especially the ones who have, you know, studied biology thoroughly (Hoyle is an astronomer by trade) - reject Hoyle's very liberal bullshitting of his statistics here. But Hoyle was no intelligent design advocate nor was he a creationist. He was simply against abiogenesis, and was actually more into panspermia, surprise surprise considering he was a space enthusiast!

Hoyle simply didn't like the idea of an Earth-based abiogenesis, and so conjured up his incredible ("incredible" as in "in-credible") statistical analogy to reject spontaneous assemblage of whole protein molecules from nothing. The important part to remember, though, is that this, even by Hoyle's admission, only would refer to "whole protein molecules" and "from nothing". It's a good thing, therefore, that nowhere does either natural selection nor naturalistic abiogenesis require such a thing to occur! A quote mine of a straw man, and this is from something that is supposed to be a respectable resource for religious apologists.

Talk.Origins naturally has a bit more about quote mines like this.

The Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Francis Crick, one of the joint discoverers of DNA, has also expressed similar sentiments: "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which had to have been satisfied to get it going." (Life Itself, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1981).

That quote in full:

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. But this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions.

[More straw man evolution to conclude]

To quote Michael J. Behe, Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, and the author of Darwin’s Black Box: the biochemical challenge to evolution (Simon & Schuster, 1996): "...the main argument of the discredited Paley has actually never been refuted. Neither Darwin nor Dawkins, neither science nor philosophy, has explained how an irreducibly complex system such as a watch might be produced without a designer." Micro-biologist, Michael Denton, agrees with him. As he concludes in his own book, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis (Adler & Adler, 1986): "Ultimately the Darwinian theory is no more nor less than the great cosmogenic myth of the twentieth century."

God, then, is not dead, despite the best efforts of 18th, 19th and 20th century intellectuals to kill Him off. How will you respond to Him?

Behe, of course, is a well-known ID advocate, so no risk of a quote mine here, for the first time in this entire article.

If God isn't dead but this is the quality of the people speaking for Him, He probably wishes He was dead.

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