Contingency and Necessity

Theists say something created everything out of nothing. But was this something, this God, itself part of the nothing or part of the everything? If part of nothing, it is nothing. If not part of everything, isn’t it also nothing? On the other hand, if it is part of everything it cannot be the creator of everything since that would require creating itself. If something can create itself then everything can create itself, and there remains no way to distinguish something from everything.

Theists counter by maintaining that the something, God, is unlike everything in one very important respect. It differs from everything in that God is a “necessary being” while everything (else) is “contingent”. Contingent here refers to things which interact in a causal chain with other things. A creates B, B creates C, C creates D in this interaction of cause and effect. Thus A, B, C and D are “contingent”. But if A is contingent then something must have created A.

Ah, but if A is God then nothing created A. The causal chain is broken by saying that A is a “necessary” being — which means, simply, uncaused. God’s existence doesn’t require the existence of anything else.

But is this anything other than a word game? Continue reading

Posted in Articles Highlighted, Cosmological | 10 Comments

Teach the Controversy

One thing advocates of teaching Intelligent Design (ID) in school like to say is why not expose kids to both sides and “teach the controversy.” I’m actually very sympathetic to this approach. The goal of education is to learn how to reason and evaluate evidence on your own, not merely have your head loaded up dogmatically with “facts.”

However, there’s no scientific controversy between evolution and ID; therefore no appropriate way to present the controversy in science class. ID relies on abandoning the scientific method and declaring that despite all the scientific evidence, evolution (at least macro-evolution) does not occur.

There is a controversy, of course. But it’s not a scientific controversy. Continue reading

Posted in Evolution & ID, Naturalism | Leave a comment

Can General Atheism be Proved?

In Agnosticism Revisited and the Case for Atheism I argued that being agnostic about the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Creator isn’t justifiable. I used the Argument from Perfection (a version of the Problem of Evil) to demonstrate that belief in a perfect creator isn’t sustainable and therefore people who are not agnostic about imperfect gods and goddesses have even less basis to be agnostic about the monotheistic deity at the heart of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Instead they should be atheist.

However that article received a comment from Max, an agnostic, which deserves serious attention. Although agreeing that I did “a good job pointing out the irreconcilable difficulties in a particular concept of God,” one which “embodies specific attributes,” Max argued that I “left the basic idea of god untouched.”

Although Max doesn’t “believe in Allah, or Jesus, or any and all specific mythic representations of god,” he is still agnostic rather than atheist since he doesn’t “disbelieve in the very idea of god.” In fact, Max wrote,

You did not present an argument at this level. Nor will you ever, since the concept of god in abstract of a specific mythic tradition is a completely non-falsifiable proposition, and thus cannot be affirmed or denied by any rational means.

He fleshed this objection out at the end of his comment this way:

If you argue against the existence of god, must you not pin that argument on some imagined attribute(s) of god. The problem is that as soon as you imagine god’s attributes you cease talking about the idea of god, and start talking about some specific imagined representation of god. You can disprove a billion representations without ever even addressing the concept of god itself.

Although Max left his comment over a year ago, I never got around to replying. I’m rectifying that now. Continue reading

Posted in Articles Highlighted, Naturalism, Non-Existence Arguments, Supernaturalism | 6 Comments

Why Are We Alive?

We go to work, we eat, are entertained or entertain others with movies, music, tv, drama and comedy, we party with friends, couple, have sex, yet behind all our activities lurks the question, why do we exist? What is it all about? Why should there be life rather than not? And why us—why are we the ones who should be alive?

I think it is fair to say that this is the ultimate religious question. All of our major religions have a “story” whose purport is to answer it.

It’s likely that humans are the only species on earth who asks such a question of themselves. That observation itself, that we alone ask the question of existence, is often thought to be a clue to the answer. Perhaps other animals fail to ask why they are alive because they have no “higher purpose”; perhaps we ask because we sense that we do. That we even wonder about such things could itself be evidence that there is something “untold” about our lives, that there is “something more”.

Before continuing, let’s ask ourselves what kind of answer could ever satisfactorily resolve this question of “why?”.

Imagine God asking himself (itself/herself)

Why do I exist? What is my purpose?

For God, what could the answer be to such a query? What is it that makes God’s existence meaningful for God? Continue reading

Posted in Articles Highlighted, Atheist Culture, Meaning & Value, Naturalism | 209 Comments

Fundamental Enemies

It is not easy to make human pleasure the enemy. It is not easy to induce people to sacrifice the creature comforts of bodily life for the wasteland of spiritual existence called heaven: paranoia and fear are required for the task.

To create the necessary conditions requires the presence of a dangerous, virtually undefeatable enemy. Satan, who is so powerful that God apparently needs our assistance to defeat him, fits the bill perfectly. And the devil is the sort of ubiquitous, wily adversary that can’t help but make believers paranoid at every momentary lapse from the battle, at every voice that isn’t an obvious paean to God.

That is the real reason we invaded Iraq. It is the reason we threaten Iran today with two major carrier groups sitting in the Gulf ready for attack. Fundamentalism relies on struggle with a dangerous adversary. The state of the world in 2007 is the direct result of putting a fundamentalist in the White House and giving him the most powerful position in the world. Continue reading

Posted in Afterlife & Immortality, Articles Highlighted, Bush Wars, Bushwacked, Christinsanity, Islaminsanity | 2 Comments

Goodbye Burden of Proof

Atheism is impoverished by the weakness of popular theism. Although God-believers are numerous, they are overwhelmingly advocates of revealed religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, which are built on credulity and faith. To put it bluntly, atheists are used to puff-ball theism. They rarely find themselves challenged in their interactions with opponents. The result has been unfortunate: most atheists have not developed robust arguments against intelligent or “informed” theism. is all about rectifying this situation, of course. But first, what do I have in mind when I say that most atheists don’t have a robust enough argument against this higher-class theism? Continue reading

Posted in Atheologians, Naturalism, Non-Existence Arguments | 2 Comments

Thoughts & Trees

In God & Rocks I wrote,

Even if we concede the doubtful proposition that God can think thoughts, those thoughts can’t get anything done. And we all know this. A thought of a tree can’t bring an actual tree into existence. Thoughts are simply incapable of being anything other than, well, thoughts. If anyone doubts this obvious truth, they can prove me wrong by simply imagining a tree into real existence.

Thoughts can’t move, create or destroy anything in the physical world. This is not because our human thoughts aren’t strong enough, or because we are “only human”. Rather, the limitation is inherent to the nature of thoughts. Thoughts can’t do any real, physical work because thoughts are a type of experiencing, and nothing more. We use thoughts to guide our physical actions, but it is those physical actions (using our hands and arms and legs and so on) which do all of our actual doing.

Thoughts, in other words, are useful only because we have bodies with which to carry those thoughts out. God has no body, and therefore God’s thoughts would be useless.

In face of such an obvious difficulty, how can theists continue to think that the concept of God as Creator remains viable? The answer, I believe, is that they have a very fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the world. This misunderstanding is encapsulated by the “principle of sufficient reason.” Continue reading

Posted in Naturalism, Non-Existence Arguments | 1 Comment

God & Rocks

Given that He is all-powerful, can God create a rock so heavy even He can’t lift it? Theologians have puzzled over this particular nugget for centuries. The general consensus has been that God can’t do anything which involves logical contradiction, and therefore the answer is no. Even God’s omnipotence, in other words, is limited by the rules of logic.

But it has always been the wrong question. The more important question is this: can God lift any rock at all? The answer would appear to be no.

God’s problem, of course, is that He’s not a body-being; He doesn’t have a body. (Which means also, strictly speaking, God can’t be He since God lacks genitalia — but we’ll politely ignore that little detail.)

Theists, we know, scoff at the notion that God requires a body to do anything. Even atheists generally consider this a pretty weak argument. And yet no one, theist or atheist, can imagine how God, a purely spiritual infinite being with no specific location in space, interacts with the physical world.

It’s not that God is in a different location than the universe; rather God has no location at all. God is also timeless: no moving parts. And that’s the crux of the problem: logically speaking it’s impossible for any being defined as God is defined to do anything.

Doing involves change, and the changeless — as a matter of definition — can’t change. Doing something with a physical world involves being someplace, in some physical location, and then interacting with constantly changing physical things. At every step required for doing anything with the physical world, God’s definition gets in the way and makes the interaction impossible.

Ah, but God can just have an idea and it will happen. God doesn’t have to interact with anything, He merely has to think a thought. Continue reading

Posted in Non-Existence Arguments | 3 Comments

Bad Faith

Reliance on faith demonstrates bad faith on the part of the faithful. What makes reliance on faith “bad”? It’s bad, I would say, because it is intellectually dishonest. But what makes reliance on faith dishonest?

If the way we determine “facts” is by turning to faith, then yes, that is intellectual dishonesty. As I’ve said before, faith is useless at discerning matters of fact. The reason is simple: faith justifies or proves whatever we want it to. You tell me Osiris doesn’t exist? I have faith he does. I believe it, that settles it, and therefore Osiris does indeed exist.

Faith is not a method for determining truth at all. In fact, faith begs the question of truth. Yet people who invoke faith usually pretend otherwise, and that is dishonest. Bad faith.

If that’s bad faith, what is good faith? Continue reading

Posted in Articles Highlighted, Faith & Reason | 1 Comment

CS Lewis’ Moral Argument

In Mere Christianity, C S Lewis wrote:

If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling “whatever you say and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?” But then that threw me back into another difficulty.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too — for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.*

There must be a source for our moral sensibilities, C. S. Lewis is saying, outside of our own personal preferences and likes. If there is no outside criteria for truth, justice, fairness and the like, no criteria outside of me, then I can never rationally exhort others to behave the way I believe they ought to. Fairness, justice, right and wrong: it’s all merely my word against theirs, my preference instead of someone else’s preference.

Of course I may by force impose my moral viewpoint on others, but I have no basis outside myself for doing so; by extension, the same applies to any government or state: although it can impose by force, it can have no moral authority since there is no basis except the personal preferences of the governors. Continue reading

Posted in Ethics & Morality, Moral | 40 Comments