Tearing down a Christian’s “good” argument for theism line by line
In the comment section of Doubt in and faking of faith, and the need for secular alternatives to religious communities a reader named Colin has accused me of having strawmaned Christianity and of neglecting arguments against my position. I maintain that I have done no such thing. But to leave no doubts in his mind, I have addressed line-by-line what he considers to be a very strong argument for theism.
Colin begins by listing the first 3 lines of the cosmological argument:
1. Everything that began to exist has a cause for its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.
He also writes:
You say… “As an agnostic atheist, I don’t need to give anyone an explanation for anything. All I need to do is show that your explanations are weak.”
Of course an atheist has to account for the beginning of the universe…the universe began, but according to the atheist’s view, there is no cause for it to begin…extraordinary claims like this need extraordinary evidence…don’t they?
He also pointed out the fact that the mechanism by which abiogenesis (i.e., the emergence of life from nonlife) occurred is not known.
I responded as follows:
Your argument from the beginning of the universe is so weak it’s like you’re trying to make a weak argument. Wow, the universe had a beginning. So what? That beginning could have been caused by any of an infinite range of causes. The cause could have been nonconscious. I’m not saying it was physical—perhaps there is some 3rd category outside of physical and conscious that humans aren’t aware of. And if the cause was an intelligent cause, it could have been by an infinite number of other intelligences other than the one you subscribe to.
So no, I didn’t just dismiss your argument out of hand, or because I didn’t like the conclusion. The argument is just garbage for its purposes. It does nothing to argue for your point. The fact that it impresses you is mindboggling.
Next, for all we know *this* universe had a beginning but it was the creation or offshoot of another parallel universe that was infinite. Has this possibility been discredited? I’m not saying that I believe this to have happened—again, I make no claims as to what actually happened—I’m just saying that for all we know it just might’ve been.
“Of course an atheist has to account for the beginning of the universe…the universe began, but according to the atheist’s view, there is no cause for it to begin…extraordinary claims like this need extraordinary evidence…don’t they?”
Um, no, the atheist doesn’t. This reflects, I think, a flaw in the thinking of many religious people: that we have to take a stand on things. When there isn’t sufficient evidence for what happened or how something happened, the rational position is one of agnosticism. I have no idea how this universe started, or if it’s the only universe, so why should I have to take a stance?
Next, as I have said for abiogenesis: what is more improbable, life coming from nonlife when nonliving matter already contained many complex carbon structures, or a superhero God who is capable of creating all of this just being there?
Colin then responded by listing an additional long set of premises for the cosmological argument. Presented below is the continuation of the cosmological argument as presented by Colin in full, along with my line-by-line replies in parentheses:
4. If the universe has a cause of its existence, then
an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists,
who sans creation is beginningless, changeless,
immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously
powerful and intelligent.
(There is no reason to reject out of hand that our universe didn’t emerge from another universe which has different properties than ours—perhaps IT is infinite. Again, I’m not saying that this is what happened, but there is no reason to simply reject it or act as if the God theory is better than it)
4.1 Argument that the cause of the universe is a
4.11 The universe was brought into being either
by a mechanically operating set of necessary and
sufficient conditions or by a personal, free agent.
(Why is this? You’ve given no reason to disqualify a non-physical and non-agentive cause that humans simply haven’t conceived of)
4.12 The universe could not have been brought into
being by a mechanically operating set of necessary
and sufficient conditions.
4.13 Therefore, the universe was brought into being
by a personal, free agent.
(False because of my objections above)
4.2 Argument that the Creator sans creation
is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial,
timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful and
4.21 The Creator is uncaused. (The creator need not be intelligent/sentient; there could be a 3rd category of cause that humans don’t know of for all we know; further, for all we know the creator of our universe was caused within another pre-existing universe that has different properties than ours—perhaps allowing it to be infinite; we can’t disqualify this possibility)
4.211 An infinite temporal regress of causes cannot
exist. (2.13, 2.23) (Oh, but you can simply say that God is not an infinite regress argument because you simply declare that God is causeless and outside of time? Where was your evidence for this again?)
4.22 The Creator is beginningless. (See my argument against it being uncaused; and recall my point that it needn’t be sentient/intelligent)
4.221 Whatever is uncaused does not begin to
4.23 The Creator is changeless. (Irrelevant; but why not?)
4.231 An infinite temporal regress of changes
cannot exist. (2.13, 2.23) (Again, but God can exist without explanation just because you declare without evidence God to be infinite?)
4.24 The Creator is immaterial. (maybe it’s a 3rd category entity outside of matter and mind, kind of like how there is life, nonlife, and viruses which have qualities of both but don’t fit neatly into either)
4.241 Whatever is material involves change on
the atomic and molecular levels, but the Creator
is changeless. (4.23) (no evidence for changelessness)
4.25 The Creator is timeless. (no evidence for this)
4.251 In the complete absence of change, time does
not exist, and the Creator is changeless. (4.23) (addressed)
4.26 The Creator is spaceless. (addressed–no evidence for creator)
4.261 Whatever is immaterial and timeless cannot
be spatial, and the Creator is immaterial and
timeless (4.24, 4.25) (addressed)
4.27 The Creator is enormously powerful. (evidence?)
4.271 He brought the universe into being out of
nothing. (3) (evidence? So a pre-existing mother universe that gave rise to this one cannot exist infinitely but your God can?)
4.28 The Creator is enormously intelligent. (addressed–where’s the evidence for the creator? Why need the creator be minded rather than of a third category?)
4.281 The initial conditions of the universe
involve incomprehensible fine-tuning that points
to intelligent design. (This is *beyond* ridiculous and you should know better than to bring up this empty argument. Maybe the universe isn’t perfect for us. Maybe we’re suitable for it because, umm, we evolved in it! If the universe were different, maybe we wouldn’t exist but an analogous form of life adapted to it would. Or maybe there would be nothing analogous to our version of life in it. Of the known universe, only the tiniest fraction of it sustains life, to our knowledge. 99% of known species have gone extinct. There have been a number of collosal natural disasters that have wiped out huge proportions of the earth’s life. For all we know there are countless other galaxies with no life in them. Ditto for parallel universes if they existed (again, I’m not saying they do, but I see no reason to disqualify the mere possibility)
5. Therefore, an uncaused, personal Creator of the
universe exists, who sans creation is “beginningless,”
changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and
enormously powerful and intelligent. (ADDRESSED)
The arguments above get us far closer to theism than the initial three propositions and they eliminate your points that the cause could be any number of things including your imaginary ‘3rd category.’ (The arguments were weak beyond words and they do nothing for theism, let alone your particular corner of theism; and they do not eliminate my “imaginary ‘3rd category’ any more than they bolster your imaginary God.
As I said before, Okhams Razor dispatches your ‘infinite number of intelligences’ as we don’t need to posit more causes than necessary, one is enough. (This is ridiculous. How is the proposal of one God with an infinite number of amazing attributes more parsimonious or probable than proposing an infinite number of gods with one amazing attribute each? You’re still invoking just as many assumptions—i.e., that there is a supernatural explanation for an infinite range of phenomena)
“Parallel universes”…there is a difference between science and science fiction. We could not possibly detect such a thing, so why would anyone consider it as a possibility?
(”The Christian God”… there is a difference between science and science fiction. We could not possibly detect such a thing, so why would anyone consider it as a possibility?)
Abiogenesis with its lack of any mechanism is far more improbable than the God hypothesis. (What was the God mechanism again? Oh yeah, you just declared that he doesn’t need one. Yeah, that’s a strong position to hold…)
Now that I have completely torn down your cherished “good” argument for Christianity, please don’t accuse me of strawmaning Christianity.
To comment on this discussion and to read the full range of comments go to the comment section of Doubt in and faking of faith, and the need for secular alternatives to religious communities.