Atheist Desperation

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The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a ...

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, composited from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 3, 2003 through January 16, 2004. The patch of sky in which the galaxies reside was chosen because it had a low density of bright stars in the near-field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The number of new articles and books coming out that assert that the universe literally arose from nothingness without any deity reveal the desperation of atheists. They behave like individuals that assert an absurdity, thinking that if they repeat it enough people will believe it. No matter how much atheists repeat the mantra, “The universe popped into existence out of nothingness,” it will not make that claim any less incoherent. Atheists still play games with the “quantum vacuum,” even though theists have pointed out time and time again that a quantum vacuum is not mere nothingness. When Hawking speaks of a true vacuum causing the existence of a false vacuum, he is spouting nonsense. “Ex nihil, nihil fit” (from nothing, nothing comes to be”) is true today as it was in the past. Pure nothingness is just nonexistence–since it is literally no-thing, not matter, not energy–it cannot have any powers including causal powers. If the atheist tries to bring in another factor into the “true vacuum,” that brings back “something.” The atheist would be more consistent to accept the ancient idea of the everlastingness of the universe as do some “multiverse” theories. In the end, I do not think they save atheism, but at least they are not obviously self-contradictory.

Atheistic scientists often accuse theists of believing in the fantastic, in something so absurd that it cannot exist. Such claims are often salted with terms such as “Santa Claus” and “The Tooth Fairy,” as if that has anything to do with the issue of the existence of God. It is far more fantastic to believe that something arose from sheer nothingness. It is also far more fantastic to believe in an infinite number of universes in which all logical possibilities are actualized (If the traditional conception of God is logically possible, involving no contradiction, which it surely is, then I suppose the atheist would accept one logical possibility that is not actualized–but then the atheist is all about making exceptions when it suits him).

Atheism is primarily about rebellion rather than reality–some people refuse to accept a God who calls their behavior to account. Atheism is a matter of human pride–the refusal to accept any mind higher than one’s own or any truths that go beyond the purview of physical science (especially physics). Some atheists, such as the late Antony Flew, were honest seekers of the truth, and he became a believer in a deistic God. Atheists who are really God-haters may also change their minds if they can overcome their hatred. There is a subset of atheists who are hard core, such as the majority of the members of the National Academy of Sciences as well as those who deign to assert that something can come from nothing. These individuals could see God face to face and deny His existence. They are like the dwarfs in C. S. Lewis‘s The Last Battle, who perceive the gold and jewels Aslan offers them as horse waste and straw. Anyone who asserts a clear contradiction in defense of atheism must be willfully blind. These same scientists will use logic and reason to attack the coherence of a theory they do not accept–yet they assert a blatant contradiction as being true. The only way I can explain that is that the scientists’ beliefs are an act of the will rather than primarily an act of the intellect. They have willed to reject God, and their assertion of contradiction follows. If asserting that something comes from nothingness is the only “argument” that an atheist gives for his position, then that atheist truly is desperate. Atheists who accuse theists of irrationality ought to look at themselves in a mirror first.

The Intellectual Dishonesty of Atheists

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As an academic sending papers out for publication, it is interesting how atheism is held to a lower standard than theism. That is, if theists used the same poor arguments some atheists use, their papers would be immediately rejected. For example, if a theist were guilty of using the genetic fallacy to attack atheism, the paper would be rightly rejected. A theist might try to argue, say, that atheism had its origin among moral libertines (which is a questionable assumption); therefore, it must be false. This is a terrible argument since it is illegitimate to argue from the alleged origin of a belief to the truth or falsity of that belief. Even if it were true that atheism originated among moral libertines, it would not follow that atheism is false. If a theist is to successfully attack atheism, the theist must first of all defend the rational nature of belief in God. Thomists would go further and use the Cosmological Argument to attempt to prove God’s existence, and rationalist theists might make use of the Ontological Argument. The theist can also answer critics of theism on such points as the problem of evil and suffering. Such debate is difficult and takes a great deal of intellectual effort on both sides.

To be fair, most atheist philosophers believe that a naive genetic argument against the existence of God, such as Sigmund Freud’s “religion as wish fulfillment” hypothesis, which states that religious people want to create a powerful father-figure, is not cogent. They admit that Freud commits the genetic fallacy. But the same atheists might appeal to religious wars or damage done to society by certain theistic religions as evidence against God’s existence. Theists, on the contrary, could appeal to the positive moral influence of theistic religions. Neither argument works to prove or disprove God’s existence. But some atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, continue to make such a poor argument, which is basically a repetition of Bertrand Russell‘s argument in his book Why I am Not a Christian. I have seen college and university students fooled by the wonderful writing and rhetoric of both Russell and Hitchens–and then they are unwilling to see the vacuity of Russell’s and Hitchens’ arguments. If a theist were to make a similar argument, I have no doubt that Russell would have, and Hitchens would, call the theist to task. There is a double standard here–and a double standard that is intellectually dishonest.

No matter how sophisticated a genetic fallacy is, it remains a fallacy. An analytic philosopher can dress a bad argument up in enough Ps and Qs to write ten logic textbooks, but if the argument is fundamentally unsound, all the alphabet soup in the world will not turn a bad argument into a good one. When an atheist analytic philosopher rejects a theist for calling him on what he is actually doing, the atheist is being intellectually dishonest. The atheist may even question the competence of the theistic philosopher or accuse the theist of misrepresenting him. Now it is possible for a theist, an atheist, an agnostic, or any other philosopher to misrepresent an opponent’s argument or set up a straw man to attack. But I become angry when atheists try to hide their bad arguments in a sea of rhetoric and symbolic logic, and then accuse theists of being ignorant and misrepresenting them.

It is easy to become cynical toward my own field of philosophy. More and more I see philosophers, including myself, holding cherished positions first and then trying to back them up through philosophical argument. Perhaps these great world-view issues are so emotionally powerful that one cannot avoid prior nonrational commitments that are later putatively supported by arguments. I do not want to go the postmodern route–I do believe in “Truth” with a capital “T,” but the more intellectual cheating I see in the field, not only among atheists, but among some theists and philosophers of every stripe, the more I see faith commitments as guiding people’s lives, even the lives of philosophers, whether theist, agnostic, atheist, pantheistic, panentheistic, Platonic, or Aristotelian. But if someone is intellectually cheating and is caught, he should have the intellectual balls to admit it (and this does not exclude myself).

Cosmological Arguments Based on Sufficient Reason are Flawed

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One of the most popular family of cosmological arguments for the existence of God is based on the principle of sufficient reason. This principle dates back to at least the time of Leibniz, who used the principle to argue that contingent beings must have a sufficient reason for their existence, and that reason is God. As much as I love the cosmological argument based on neo-Aristotelian notions of cause and effect, the argument from the principle of sufficient reason fails.

Leibniz’s own argument fails, first of all, because his notion of “contingency” is only an epistemological, not a metaphysical, notion. Beings and events are contingent only from our limited human point of view. But every object and event is logically necessary given God’s preestablished harmony between the monads, the ultimate (non-spatial, non-temporal, windowless) bits of “mind-stuff” that are the basis of all being. Leibniz was such a determinist that he believed that if at time A, person B had one less hair on his head, he would literally be a different person. Thus the contingency of being is only an appearance, only a quirk of human beings’ limited capacity to know a complex world, rather than an actual state of finite beings. Leibniz’s distinction between contingent and necessary being collapses into only necessary being, and since the distinction is essential to his cosmological argument, his argument fails. A similar criticism applies to all arguments from sufficient reason that posit a necessary connection between reasons in a deductive logic framework.

A major problem with all arguments based on the principle of sufficient reason is that this principle, beloved of many rationalists, subsumes causes under reasons. But not all causes are reasons and not all reasons are causes. The cause of the late President John F. Kennedy’s death was the bullet that caused fatal brain destruction. The reasons for his death are more complex and involve the motives of Oswald, perhaps too lax security, and so forth. It is true that we talk of reasons being causes in a loose, extended sense and vice versa, but this does not imply that the distinction is illusory or unreal.

If a cosmological argument for the existence of God is to be sound, it must start from cause and effect among finite beings, with the finite causes being contingent because they do not have the cause of their existence within themselves, and therefore they are liable to change, decay, and in the case of living things, death. Aquinas’ Five Ways to prove God’s existence are examples of arguments based on traditional Aristotelian causality. Of course the arguments will have to be updated to some degree due to their statement in terms of outmoded Aristotelian science, the substance of those arguments are correct–but that discussion is for another day.

The Warren-Flew Debate: Thirty-Five Years Later

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The Warren-Flew debate on the existence of God took place from September 20-23, 1976, on the campus of North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in Denton, Texas. Affirming the existence of God was Dr. Thomas B. Warren of the Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tennessee. Denying the existence of God was Dr. Antony G. N. Flew of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. Both men have passed on now, but to this day that debate has influenced me–and is one of the main reasons I am a philosopher today.

Even as a child I was tormented by doubts about my Christian faith, doubts that continue to haunt me today. In junior high and in high school I wanted to defend the existence of God against atheists, at the time focusing on science. Although I do not agree with my position then, I fell in love with the young earth creationism of Henry Morris, Duane Gish, and the members of the Institute for Creation Research in California. I wanted to get a degree in one of the sciences–my childhood dream was to do what Hugo Ross is doing today–get a Ph.D. in astronomy and defend the Christian faith. Thank God I later recognized that young earth creationism is false–but by then I had an alternative field–philosophy. And it was the book on the Warren-Flew debate that led me into the field.

Memory fails me regarding when I received the book–perhaps it was a Christmas present. I was in the middle of the ninth grade. The first thing that impressed me about the book was its dedication by the publishers–“To all who love truth and are willing to make the search to find it.” It was truth I had always sought–what was and is important is that God exists in truth, in extramental reality. As I read on, I believed (and still do) that Dr. Warren got the better of Dr. Flew in the debate. Perhaps Dr. Flew was not ready for an American style of all-out debate rather than a quiet discussion of the issues. In any case, I admired Warren’s chart of “Chinese Boxes,” each of which Flew had to know to know that God does not exist.  The idea of consciousness arising from that which has no consciousness or intelligence from the non-intelligent still seems fantastic to me today.

This is not to say that Dr. Warren did not equivocate–many of his arguments are vulnerable to attack. Warren’s pseudo-dilemma about which came first, a human mother or a human baby, and how it is impossible for a nonhuman mother to bear a human baby misses the point of evolution. Flew noted this weakness but did not do an adequate job of refuting Warren’s point. Later, Wallace Matson in his debate with Warren offered an effective argument from an analogy with language: “When did Latin become French.” Just as it is impossible to say at what exact point Vulgar Latin ended and Old French began, so it may not be possible to determine when an ape-like primate ended and a human being was born. Despite these flaws, I admire Dr. Warren’s use of logic, his consistent evidential apologetic position, and his willingness to stick to his guns and debate the leading atheists of his day. Reading that book first gave me a love for philosophy that remained in the back of my mind and finally came to fruition when I took some philosophy classes at David Lipscomb University (although my major was Biblical languages) and especially when I took Dr. Harold Hazelip’s classes in the philosophy of religion at Harding Graduate School of Religion, Dr. Warren’s old school. By the time I entered Vanderbilt University for an M.A. in Religion, most of my courses were in philosophy as well as my thesis. By then the course was set, and I thought of Dr. Warren and his debate the day I received my Ph.D. in philosophy from The University of Georgia.

If Dr. Warren were alive today, he would be disappointed in me–he was an old-fashioned believer in the New Testament as a constitution-like document with a set pattern for doctrine and practice that he believed was only fulfilled in the present day through Churches of Christ. In 1983 the paper The Firm Foundation published Warren’s article, “The Only Christians” that argued that the only Christians were members of the Churches of Christ. The article contained a great deal of equivocation on the term “Church of Christ.” Sadly, Dr. Warren would think, if he were still living, that I am on the road to hell. He was man consistent with his convictions to the end of his life, and I admire that. But I believe that it was proper to offer a tribute to Dr. Warren for being, unknowingly, a major inspiration for my decision to go into the field of philosophy–and I thank him.

Multiple Universes, God, and Faith

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Since Hugh Everett proposed his “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, physicists and cosmologists have speculated about the existence of multiple universes. In Everett’s theory, whenever there was an event of quantum uncertainty, the universe splits. Thus, in the famous story of Schoedenger’s Cat, in which a subatomic particle is fired at a batch of poison, there is a period of uncertainty in which is seems the cat is neither alive nor dead. This is the view according to the standard Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. But Everett said that what actually happens is that the universe splits into one universe in which the cat stay alive, and into another universe in which the bottle of poison breaks, the cat drinks it, and the cat dies. Since such events occur a near-infinity of times, there are an uncountable number of different universes.

Since then various theories of multiple universes have been proposed. In some theories all possible states of affairs take place, so that there is no contingency in nature–the “multiverse” is a metaphysically necessary being, and there is no need for the existence of God as a necessary being. In fact, multiverse theories seem to be a convenient way to avoid the existence of God.

Empirically, since other universes are said to be causally closed to one another, we could not detect another universe. Thus, what we really have in these theories are mathematical constructs that may explain some of the data. How to decide between the various multiverse theories or between them and m-theory or supergravity or some other global cosmological theory is the rub.

Theists, those who believe in a transcendent God, are often mocked by scientists because of the role of faith in theism. Yet what takes the stronger faith: to believe that the universe is created and sustained by an infinite mind or to believe that there are an infinite number of universes in which all possible states of affairs take place? Both views take faith. It seems to me that rather than believing an a near replica of me living in some other universe or on many universes, it makes more sense to affirm that this universe is the only one that exists, that it is by nature contingent–it does not have to exist–and thus it requires a necessary being to create and sustain it. If scientists wish to say otherwise through their multiverse theories, they have a right to do so, but they are not within their intellectual rights to deceive and claim that their positions require no faith.

So…. Where Did God Come From?

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Like many children, I drove my parents crazy by asking questions. One question I always had was, “Where did God come from?” Later I discovered how the question “Where did God come from?” differs from the question, “Where did the universe come from?” In an earlier post, I mentioned Aquinas’ Third Way to prove God’s existence, a version of the Cosmological Argument. Now if the universe is contingent, that is, it does not have the source of its existence within itself, then it must have a cause. Without the possibility of an infinity of contingent causes (for the infinity of contingent causes are still contingent), there must exist a Necessary Being that creates and sustains the universe. Now a necessary being cannot pass out of existence–so there is no issue of where a Necessary Being come from; God, the Necessary Being, just IS, ipsum esse, existence itself. Thus, the childhood question of “Where did God come from?” is an inappropriate question, a “category mistake,” to use Gilbert Ryle’s term.

But there is a psychological reason that we ask the question. When we see the world, the only conscious beings we know are humans and many animals. But humans and animals all die. Yet if we see a mountain in the distance or look up at the moon at night, psychologically it seems that they have existed forever and will exist forever. This is an illusion of our short life span as human beings. We do not have time to see massive geological and astronomical changes. But we do have time to observe the deaths of family members, beloved friends, and beloved pets. But there is no necessity that every conscious being be finite and contingent like us. I could not understand, as a child, how God could be conscious forever, past and future. Now I accept the Classical notion that God transcends time, but my mind cannot wrap itself around that concept–and why should it? For a species that cannot exhaustively understand finite things, it makes no sense that it could exhaustively understand God–such understand that we have is more at the level of an ant trying to comprehend human beings. It is still hard to grasp, having lost my best friend to cancer at the end of May, how a mind could exist eternally. But that is not a philosophical difficulty. The solution to the psychological difficulty is to accept that God, a Necessary Being who cannot not-be is required philosophically, and to realize that something can be true without our understanding it. Intellectual humility is a virtue.

Stephen Hawking on God’s Existence

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Suppose you’re walking in a park one day when you are startled by a man standing right in front of you. After jumping higher than you ever have in your life, you force out the words, “Where did you come from?” The man answers, “I just created myself.”

Would you believe him? I wouldn’t. For a man to create himself before he exists is impossible, for if he doesn’t exist, he wouldn’t be there to create himself in the first place! Yet it is this rabbit out of the hat trick that Stephen Hawking uses to explain how God is not necessary for the creation of the universe.

Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man–I give him credit for doing wonderful work in physics and astronomy, especially in the area of black holes. I also admire his brave fight against ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), from which he has suffered for over forty years, making him by far the longest-lived survivor of that debilitating disease. Despite his handcap, he has continued to write and lecture, and he is a fine popularizer of complex ideas in physics for people without training in the field.

However, in  accepting the view that there is no God because the universe created itself from nothing, he is contradicting himself. If he said that the universe is everlasting, that it has always existed, then he would at least be holding a coherent position. But in saying that the universe “spontaneously created itself from nothing,” he falls into incoherence. If the universe created itself from nothing, then it would already have to exist to do so.  Nothing can be prior to itself. Nothing can exist before it exists. If this what Hawking actually believes, his belief is just as much false as believing in a square circle. If Hawking replies that a quantum vacuum, even a “true vacuum,” produces particles and antiparticles all the time that then annihilate one another, then what he calls a “true vacuum” isn’t. His quantum vacuum is NOT nothing. Even a sea of quantum events is something. Pure nothingness is just what the word implies–no particles, antiparticles, no annihilation of particles and antiparticles, no space, no time–sheer, absolute nothingness. If Hawking’s concept of “nothing” includes more, then he is manipulating words to mean what he wants them to mean. Since his notion of “nothing” isn’t really no-thing, he does not believe that the universe created itself; in a sense, some kind of energy has always existed. I have always been suspicious of arguments such as Hawking’s, whether they posit true and false vacuums, zero-point fields, or some other pseudo-nothingness to argue that the universe arose from nothing. It may be that true and false vacuums exist, and there is good evidence for the existence of a zero-point field, but all of these items exist in some sense. The universe could not have arisen from literal non-being–and this is what Hawking would have to say to justify his claim of a spontaneous universe arising from nothing.

Does Hawking’s view explain the existence of a quatum foam of particles and antiparticles in a “vacuum”? Does it explain why enough energy arose for the universe to have arisen? Or does he say explanation stops at that point–if so, why? If he is saying that the universe is some kind of necessary being, this seems inconsistent with stellar life cycles–eventually the formation of new stars will stop, and the universe will consist of white and black dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes–and even these will evaporate. All these items are contingent–they do not have to be. Thus a necessary being is required to explain the existence of contingent things, whether those things be the universe, a zero-point field, or a “true vacuum” that really isn’t a true vacuum. Once atheists get to the point of saying that the universe created itself, they are holding a view so irrational that it would be best to halt discussion, go to a bar, have some drinks, and talk about the upcoming NFL season.

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