Tag Archives: atheism

Flying Teapot v. God: The Negative Proof


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800pxTouched_by_His_Noodly_AppendageThe worst argument that‘a believer in god can use is the negative proof i.e. when she says “can you prove god doesn’t exist?”- the answer to this is that the onus is on the one asserting a belief to positively prove that to which they assert. We are familiar with this concept in other areas of our society. If we are unfortunate enough to be charged with a crime how unjust would it be if you were told that the prosecutor was not going to adduce any evidence that you committed the crime but you have to prove that you did not break the law?

If this argument is brought to its natural conclusion it can enter into the realm of absolute absurdity. The mere fact that a proposition cannot be disproved does not render it true. This is known as an argument form ignorance which is a logical fallacy- X cannot be proved false therefore it is true. There are innumerable things that you do not believe in that cannot be shown do not exist. Bertrand Russell deals with this question delightfully in his essay “Is There a God?

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.[1]

There are infinite things that are things that cannot be disproved but we do not therefore accept that they are true. In fact taking this position belies all methodology that has advanced our understanding of our Universe. Russell’s teapot is the foundation for numerous incarnations of gods which have arisen to highlight the lunacy of this logic: Invisible Pink Unicorn, flying spaghetti monster. Religious people also try to use this logical fallacy when they say that “You are assuming god is false because we cannot prove he exists” I am not 100% sure that god doesn’t exist–no one is this is an epistemological problem; can we ever be 100% sure about anything?

By using evidence I can explain with greater quality the nature of our universe. The 14th centaury logician William Ockham provides a method of logical reasoning known as ‘Ockham’s Razor’ in which he states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible. Therefore where evidence explains our universe this implies that where there is no evidence to the contrary this solution is valid.


[1] Russell, B., “The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell” Slater, J. G. and P. Köllner Eds. (McMaster University ed G. Allen & Unwin, 1983)

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If I Fall From Grace…

IF only there was some magic being that could have seen this fall soming and sent some of his magic friends to stop it falling.

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Ontological Argument


This is the third argument about god’s existence that I am going to look at. Of the last two arguments this is perhaps one that might be a bit of a head ache. Unlike the last two arguments this is what is called a priori—meaning an argument where the knowledge is gained independently of experience.

Descartes’

Imagine god as being perfect—what are all the qualities of perfection? Would you include existence as one of these qualities? Surly if something is perfect then is exists or else it is not really perfect because, it doesn’t have the quality of existence. It might have all other great qualities like beauty and kindness but, if it doesn’t exist then it is not perfect because things that exist are better than it. If I said to you do you want an imaginary cake or real one which one of them is better?

So the argument goes:

  1. God is perfect;
  2. Existence is a quality of perfection;
  3. Therefore if god is perfect he exists.

Well what is to be said if we say that he doesn’t exist? Well theists will say then what you are thinking of is not god because god is perfect and has to exist because he is perfection. This is called an argument!

Let us then define a thing called a ‘shunicorn’ it is exactly like a unicorn except we also say it is perfect therefore shunicorns exist[1]Shunicorns do not exist they are just made up and defined like this but this is the exact same argument used to ‘prove’ god exisits.

There is also argument about if Desecrates can use existence as a property of something. If I say ‘Mary is nice’ you assume that she exists because if she didn’t she couldn’t be nice—things that do not exist do not have properties. All existing things by nature exist we do not have to give them the property. There is a much more detailed attempt at what I have tried o say in this paragraph in Everitt’s[2]book—I am not going to try and do justice to it here.

Anselms’

Think of a something in which nothing greater can be thought of—now think of that thing existing—that is greater than what you were thinking of before; hence god exists.[3]

Right really not much to say on this one. Gaunilo[4] had a retort to this argument. Think of the greatest tropical island perfect in every way; now think of it existing wouldn’t that be better? Don’t pack your bags just yet!


[1] Everitt, N., “The Non-Existence of God” (Routledge, 2004) at p38

[2] Ibid.

[3 Plantinaga, A., “The Ontological Argument from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers” (Macmillan, 1968)

[4] Everitt, N., “The Non-Existence of God” (Routledge, 2004) at p33

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Teleological

The second argument I am going to deal with on the existence of god is called the teleological argument. Teleology is the philosophical study of design and purpose. For a list of the Arguments of god’s existence see here)

Imagine you were walking along on an alien planet somewhere far away and you stumbled across a pocket watch on the ground—you pick it up and look at how intricate it is and you say to yourself that it must have been made by something intelligent. Now we are more complicated than a watch—we look like we were designed ergo we were designed by a creator. Fred Hoyle’s idea of a whirlwind blowing through a scrap yard and making a Jumbo Jet from the parts he says is a demonstration that complex things need a more complex creator and cannot be created by accident because it is statistically tantamount to impossible. This idea is both wrong and right. Let me explain; we all know that a jumbo jet being created by chance would be more-or-less impossible the same goes for humans as we are more complicated than jets but the fact is this analogy doesn’t apply to our creation because we aren’t suggesting we were created by chance. Anyone that suggests evolution is a process that is similar to a whirlwind in a scrap yard either doesn’t understand evolution or is trying to deceive you.

Evolution does not rely on chance to create complex systems like us. How evolution works is that a simpler organism when reproducing (replicating) will have random mutations if these mutations mean that the new mutated organism is fitter then it spreads its jeans and then the process goes on again. The big difference is that it is not all happening at once no one thinks that a simple organism went to a very complex one all at once like the jumbo jet—what is happening is it is gradually getting more and more complex and it is not just randomly getting like this nature is picking the best one and of the random changes. It is important to see the distinction between random changes and randomly evolving—if five random mutations happen the ones that get passed on to the next generation are not randomly picked—nature picks the best ones. How can nature pick the best ones it’s not alive? Well, by pick I don’t mean consciously choose it is blindly choosing—the ones that aren’t as good at passing their genes around will lose out to the ones that are—so you see it is not a random choice on which ones will get passed on it is the best ones that will get passed on and what is more we don’t need any conscious being to choose the best ones.

This argument is of no real merit now that we can explain how things are they way that they are by using scientific methods and not have to resort to dulling our own intelligence by providing a story of creation as a fact when it has no evidence to support its magic claims.

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Cosmological Argument

The first substantive argument I am going to deal with is the fanciful named cosmological argument. Many people that first read this argument are taken in by the simplicity that it conveys itself—on a cursory glance it seems quite an attractive premise. How did the universe come into existence? This is really what is being dealt with by this argument.

Contemporary scientific understanding is that the universe came into being about 14 billion years ago as a singularity called the big bang—this is a bit of a queer concept—it says that the distance between anything in the universe was zero also the universe was infinitely dense and infinitely hot. What happened nearly instantly after this singularity came into existence was it began to expand very fast and it still expanding to this day. Thinking that time and space were both created is so odd to our heads that we find it hard to conceptualise.

What has all this got to do with god? Well, the cosmological argument basically tries to trace things back to their root. St. Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the most cited in terms of this argument—he has written extensively on god’s existence—in his Summa Theologiæ he lists five—what he calls ‘proofs’—I am going to group the first three under the heading of Cosmological because they all deal with the idea of tracing things back to a beginning.

First Cause
The first two of Aquinas’ proofs are nearly exactly the same—he says that the universe as it is now was caused by how it was a moment ago and how it was a moment ago was caused by how it was two moments ago and so on. Basically everything has a cause and every cause has a cause. The second is basically the same but instead of causes it’s motion. So what Aquinas does is to trace everything back and say that they cannot go back into an infinite regress—they must have a terminator i.e. a first cause and Aquinas conveniently calls this terminator ‘god’.
There a number of reasons why this argument can be undermined. The first one is the assumption that there cannot be as a matter of logic an infinite regress. Why not? The argument goes that without a start something cannot have reached the present—it could not have gotten started—well that’s the whole point of infinite—it didn’t start it has always been going—to suggest that it needs a start is therefore not allowing it to be infinite.

If we accept that there can be nothing without a cause all we need to show is a prior cause not the first cause—if we say that the regress is infinite then for every cause we pick we can point to one previous. Where Aquinas is mistaken is using his mind’s experience of events like if we imagine a chain hanging from the sky with a bell on the end we cannot see the top but we ask what is holding the bell up? The last link—yes, but what is holding the last link up? The second last link. But the question goes to what is holding the whole thing up? In our experience there are no chains that are infinite so we cannot imagine one but, causes are not chains there is nothing to put a limit on things going back forever.

There is no philosophical limit or paradox in infinite regress however, there is a practical one at least as applied to this universe insofar as modern scientific understanding says that the universe had a beginning some 14 billion years ago—therefore time cannot stretch back infinitely. Does this mean that the universe as a whole needed a cause? Well we have been accustomed to seeing things as requiring a cause—there is no dinner without a cook; there is no house without a builder—however, the development of quantum mechanics does provide explanations that refute this very idea—however; quantum mechanics is a very difficult concept to grasp it has been said of it that “anyone that says they understand quantum mechanics doesn’t understand quantum mechanics” if that doesn’t give you much hope in quantum mechanics understand that the results of predictions made on the basis of quantum mechanics are extremely accurate Richard Feynman is quoted as saying the precision of quantum mechanics “is equivalent to predicting the width of north America to within a human hair’s breadth”.

However, what about the universe as a whole—could that have a cause? First, I have to say that at the creation of the universe everything was created: matter; space and time. So before the big bang was created there was nothing—no matter; no space and no time—so to say that the universe had to be created doesn’t make sense there was no time before the universe so when did it happen? It is like asking what is north of the North Pole —it is not a valid question to say what was before the big bang?

But let’s indulge for a moment and contemplate what was before the big bang. Is it what Aquinas suggests it is i.e. god? The reasons for suggesting it is a ‘personal god’ are thus; it goes that where there are two different options that are equally likely that is the existence of the universe or not then this choice must be made by a personal agent that chooses one over the other. This is not a logical statement—they are mutually exclusive either one occurs or the other one does—if a free agent chooses neither then one of them will occur as a matter of logic. Obviously that kind of logic really doesn’t hold any water.

Now ignore all that again so we can suppose how a creator can be excluded from the idea that everything must have a first cause. What is his first cause? The theists’ answer is that god has a different kind of existence—outside of time—because we know that he cannot exist in time because time is in the universe and god cannot be in the universe and also cause the universe—and also be excluded from needing a creator.

The Argument from Contingency
Aquinas’ third ‘proof’ tries to deal with that—it says in basic terms that everything in contingent on something else that is the bell is contingent on the last link in the chain and the last link is contingent on the second to last and so on—he applies this to the universe that everything in the universe in contingent on something else therefore the universe as a whole is contingent e.g. all parts of a chair are contingent therefore the whole chair is contingent. Since conceivably the universe as a whole might not have existed because it was contingent on something else existing then that means that there is something that exists that doesn’t need a cause—Aquinas calls this god Aristotle calls it the ‘uncaused cause’.

We are expected to take it that the uncaused cause doesn’t need a cause just because it is necessary. Furthermore the qualities of the uncaused cause need not have traditional god-like powers e.g. goodness, omnipotence or even sentience. Why does it even have to be just one could there not be more than one? Why couldn’t it be a cosmic force or something rather than a ‘living’—for want of a better term—thing?

We also need some explanation of how this being created the universe—it is not fair to say that we have contingent things on one hand and god on the other and he causes the contingent things. Theists’’ answer to this is that god had a choice he could have created another universe or none at all—‘[god] is a being that exists of necessity but which creates this universe as an act of free will’

OK, well then does this god exist in time? He cannot exist in time because as we have said how can he create time and exist in it? So he must exist out-of-time—well then how can he make a choice? Choices need to take place in time—I must choose to bake a cake before I bake a cake—surly the same can be said of universes. “But”—you might say—“maybe the creator can make a non-temporal choosing—he doesn’t need to do it in time”—well then if he chooses to create the universe he is doing it at no time so he doesn’t make it occur. But again it gets worse remember we said that we let the uncaused cause be god because he is making a choice to create a universe rather than not? Well part of that choice has to be why he chose to create the universe when he did. He cannot choose when to create it if there is no time.

As you can see this argument really is not much help when you really get a good look at it. It can be kind of a head wrecker. There is lots of counter-arguments to what I have said but I have read a lot of them and do not think that they are valid counter arguments.

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Is there a proof that god exists?

“IN THE BEGININING, human beings created a God who was the First Cause of all things and Ruler of heaven and earth.” Humans have created innumerable gods over our pin-head-sized history of existence. All across our planet and throughout our history there are conceptions of the supernatural that are varied and completely contradictory to each other. All religions involve some incorporeal idea has some power outside the realm of natural explanation.

But what is even more diverse than the huge variation in the definitions of god is the supposed ‘proofs’ that people throughout history have put forward to affirm that their god exists. Some of these ranging from the quite absurd to metaphysical headaches—but what they all have in common are that none of them can conclusively prove the existence of a god or gods.

Someone left a comment on one of my posts suggesting I read the logical arguments for the existence of god. I have read all the arguments and have to say I am unconvinced by them. I am going to run a series of posts showing my problems with them.

I will post the links to them here as I post them:

Cosmological Argument

Teleological Argument

Ontological Argument

Omni-Paradox

Negative Proof

Pascal’s Wager

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Is Obama a Secret Atheist?

I watched this video of Obama speaking and I got the impression that Obama wasn’t really a true believer. He may just be putting out this theist non-sense because it is hard to get elected to public office in the United States without presenting some for of religious belief.


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