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Why “Everything Has a Cause” is a Terrible Argument for God

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Blake god “If there’s no God, then where did all this come from?”

I’ve written a fair amount about some of the more painfully bad arguments for religion and against atheism. I’ve written about the argument that religion is just a story, not meant to be taken literally… a story that still somehow makes people get very bent out of shape when atheists point out that it isn’t true. I’ve written about an assortment of arguments from wishful thinking, from the insulting (and irrelevant) argument that atheists don’t stay atheists when faced with death, to the baffling (and irrelevant) argument that religion gives us a needed feeling of mystery. I’ve written about the arguments that essentially just tell atheists to shut up. And I’ve written about the ways that, when asked what evidence they have for their religious beliefs, many believers simply deflect the question. Instead of saying, “This is why I believe what I do,” they offer a list of excuses for why they don’t have to show us any stinking evidence.

But that’s not true for all believers. When asked why they believe what they do, some believers take the question seriously and sincerely — and they try to answer it.

I want to return the favor. I want to look at some of these more earnest answers to the question, “Why do you believe in God?” I want to take them seriously, and assume that the people presenting them mean them sincerely. And I want to point out — in as much detail as I can in a single blog post — how they still don’t hold water. They’re less bad than a lot of arguments for God — at least they’re trying to actually answer the question about the evidence for god, instead of just treating it as stupid or meaningless or patently offensive. But in my years as an atheist writer, not one of them has made me stop and think, “Hm, that’s a poser.”

Basic_skills_cause_effect Today’s argument: But All Of This Had To Come From Somewhere! Otherwise known as the “First Cause” argument. “Things don’t just come out of nowhere,” the argument goes. “Everything that exists has a cause. Therefore, the entirety of physical existence itself had to have had a cause. Therefore, God exists.”

Yeah. See, there are some big problems with that argument.

For starters: If everything has to have a cause… then what caused God?

And if God can somehow have always existed or come into being out of nothing… then why can’t that be true of the universe?

I agree that the question “Where did the universe come from?” is baffling and intriguing. To say that physical existence either has been there forever or somehow popped into being from non-being… it does seem to call into question our basic understanding of cause and effect. It’s a legitimately tough question.

Circle of two arrows But the God hypothesis doesn’t answer this question. The God hypothesis simply begs the question. It simply moves the question back a notch. It gives an answer to the question of where the universe came from (“God”)… but then we have to ask the exact same set of questions about God. “Where did he come from… and if he just always existed, how is that possible?” “Where did the universe come from” is a legitimately tough question… but “God is a terrible answer. No, it’s worse than that. It’s no answer at all.

What’s more, the “God did it” answer cuts off further inquiry into the question.

Universe_expansion Many astronomers and astrophysicists think that the question “Where did the universe come from?” might someday be answerable. In fact, many of them strongly suspect that the answer may indeed call into question our basic understanding of cause and effect… in much the same way that Einstein’s theories called into question our basic understanding of matter and energy and space, and Galileo’s theories called into question our basic understanding of the structure of the universe. (For instance: One idea that’s being tossed around is that the beginning of the universe was the beginning, not only of matter and energy, but of space-time itself… and that it therefore makes no sense to talk about what happened “before” time itself began.) They think “Where did physical existence come from?” may be an answerable question… and they’re busily researching possible answers.

The “God did it” answer doesn’t do this. It doesn’t pose possible ways of investigating whether the God hypothesis might be the right answer to this question. It basically just says, “Everything has to have a cause… except God, who by definition can do anything.” It’s a non-answer. It insists that every question have a valid, comprehensible, cause- and- effect answer… except questions about God. It’s like a parent answering every question with, “Because I say so.” It’s what atheists call the “God of the gaps”: it takes any question about the physical world that’s currently unanswered by science, and says, “Oh, we don’t know the answer to that, therefore it must be God.” It’s like taking every empty space in the coloring book, and reflexively filling it in with a blue crayon.

Apollo There have been countless times throughout history when we thought that Phenomenon (X) had a supernatural cause. Must have had a supernatural cause. Could not possibly have been caused by anything other than the supernatural. Why the sun rises and sets; why people get sick; what causes the weather and the seasons; why children look like their parents; how the complex variety of life came into being; etc., etc., etc. We didn’t have a clue what caused it, or even the shadow of a clue… so we assumed it was God. (Or spirits, or demons, or whatever.)

And every single time that we eventually got a conclusive answer to the cause of Phenomenon (X), that answer has been entirely natural.

So why on earth would we assume that any currently unanswered question about physical existence — even a massive and baffling question like how it all came to exist in the first place — would eventually turn out to be caused by God? It’s never been the right answer before. Not even once. Why would we assume it’s the right answer this time?

Finally, and most importantly:

Slash circle There is not a single scrap of evidence that the God hypothesis is true.

There is not a single scrap of evidence suggesting that the universe had a supernatural cause, or that there are any supernatural beings or forces affecting it in any way.

As my wife Ingrid likes to point out: The universe does not look like one in which an independent outside agent is intervening. The universe does not look like one in which miracles happen and physical laws are violated by someone who’s above these laws. The universe looks remarkably like a system of physical cause and effect: an unimaginably massive, intensely complex system of physical cause and effect, but physical cause and effect nonetheless. And every single attempt to demonstrate the existence of any supernatural force or entity affecting the universe — at least, every attempt using careful, rigorous, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, etc. scientific methods — has fallen flat on its face.

When it comes to the question of how the universe came into being, the only reason for thinking that “God” is the answer to this question is the assumption that “God” has to be the answer to this question — the assumption that no other answer to this question is possible. And again, throughout history, whenever this assumption has been made in the past, it’s been shown to be bullpucky. Countless phenomena once considered not only to have a supernatural cause, but to have no possible cause other than a supernatural one, have been shown to be entirely explainable by natural forces.

We have no reason to think the universe’s existence is any different.

If you have evidence showing that the universe was caused by a supernatural creator, I’d be interested in hearing it. But if your only reason for believing in a God who created the universe is, “There had to be a creator because… well, because there just has to be, because everything has to have been caused by something, because I can’t imagine a universe without something making it happen”… you’re going to have to find a better argument.

Comments

  1. Ron says

    Very nice discussion of this argument.
    Minor nit: Copernicus theorized the heliocentric model; Galileo made observations that confirmed it (most notably the phases of Venus).

  2. says

    Note: both Copernicus and Galileo were Christians. Science has explained why the physical universe has not always existed–even the cyclic model admits a beginning. Coming from nothing is a miracle, moreso if there is no God…who did not come from nothing, but has always existed, not being constrained by physical limitations (like having a beginning). Read Brian Greene. While God’s existence cannot be proven–this is a good clue.

  3. says

    Maryann: Who cares that Copernicus and Galileo were Christians? Most people in the Western world were back then. People who weren’t Christians got burned at the stake. And even if their faith was sincere — how does that prove anything? That’s what we call “the argument from authority”: “Other smart people think this, therefore it’s true.”
    And your “God isn’t constrained by physical limitations, therefore he can do anything, including not having a cause” is what I call the “God is Magic” argument. Here’s what’s wrong with it.

  4. says

    Hi Greta. I wasn’t saying “Galileo and Copernicus were Christians, therefore Christianity is true”–I was saying “this is an example of faith being compatible with science.” If God is physically constrained, then He is not God. I did not say God can do the impossible…

  5. says

    Maryann, saying “Some scientists believe in God” is not the same as saying “Science is compatible with faith.” Human minds are capable of a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance, and can hold contradictory ideas simultaneously.
    More on whether science and religion are compatible:
    What Does Science Have To Do With Atheism?
    As for God not being physically constrained: The universe does not look like one that is run by a God with no physical constraints. Everything we know about the universe points to it operating by immutable physical laws of cause and effect. And the more we learn about the universe, the more it looks that way. Violations of physical laws simply don’t happen… and if God existed, you would expect them to.

  6. Veritas says

    In reference:
    You might consider regarding Aristotle and St Aquinas’ arguments on the tenets of “necessity” I might also suggest you look at the Arab – Kalaam argument. Might help clear things up a bit.
    I am not trying to be smart, but these philosophies are out there and they are still in deep contention after sooooo many years. Why?
    Because they are NOT settled.
    Interesting…
    Personally, I am deeply attracted to the Ontological argument which generation after generation keeps popping up.

  7. Locutus7 says

    Greta, a brilliant post, as usual. But some of these responses are puzzling.
    Veritas, sorry to disagree but the Kalam and Ontological argument have been thoroughly refuted, and are settled in the minds of everyone BUT believers.
    That you are deeply attracted to an argument does not make it true, nor does the fact that an argument keeps popping up generation after generation. This only proves that believers have a soft-spot for sparkly but flawed arguments that support their cherished beliefs.

  8. Veritas says

    Good evening;
    May I ask ‘Locutus7′ – refuted by whom – where and how? Perhaps you are unaware that purely philosophical arguments, by their very nature, can not be – refuted.
    This is why they pop up from generation to generation, and why the theist vs. atheist arguments have been ongoing for the last twenty-five hundred years. Check out Acts chapter seventeen for yourself.
    Perhaps unbelievers have a soft-spot for sparkly but flawed “refutations?” That you are deeply not attracted to an argument does not make it untrue.
    You will have to show that the so-called “refutations” are true. Your response is equally puzzling?
    Just curious.
    Thank you

  9. Rosita says

    It is much more logical to argue, as modern astro-physicists do (eg Hawking), that the universe arose from simple random fluctuations in basic eternal gravity than to argue that it arose from some human’s parochial version of an invisible, immeasurable, extremely complex eternally existing supernatural power with a personality but no validly demonstrable existence outside the realm of imagination. The application of Occam’s razor deletes the elaborate and unnecessary “god” hypothesis.

  10. says

    To Veritas,
    All theological arguments HAVE been refuted (read any of the atheist books, go on Youtube and search on Kalam or Ontological, or read Kant or Hume).
    All these “sophisticated” theological arguments hinge on just a few logical fallacies such as Special Pleading, Appeal to the Consequent, etc.
    And even if one of these arguments were valid, it would mean nothing unless it could be tied to reality and empirically observed and tested.
    All believers reason – employ logic – by starting with the presupposition of their deity and constructing syllogisms to “prove” their presupposition.
    The problem is, believers disregard refutations; they insist their arguments are sound and point you to yet another theological work, or demand you re-read them as we “clearly have not comprehended their profundity.”
    I’ll close with a quote from my own sophisticated philosopher, Mark Twain, who said, “Theology is the study of nothing.” And it is believers who wail that something cannot come from nothing.
    Regards, L7

  11. Ben Myers says

    Greta’s “First Cause” article at one point asks basically this; “If everything must have a cause, then what caused God?” I answer: it takes light 8 minutes to reach our earth from the sun, and 100,000 years to cross our galaxy. There are possibly trillions upon trillions of galaxies.
    Once you concede that God is the creator of all this, and what is more impressive is that he did it from nothing and established and governs the laws that run it, then you must concede that he is above its rules
for why would he who created the rules – including that of cause/effect – and existed in time and space before time and space began, be subject to his own created law of cause-effect?
    It is not a thoughtful argument to apply the rules of the system to the one who created the rules and the system.
    Much of what Greta discusses in the article hinges on her poor treatment of the theocentric viewpoint and therefore does great harm to the topic as it is being discussed in the world today.

  12. says

    “Once you concede that God is the creator of all this…”
    In other words, if you assume that God exists, you can prove that God exists.
    ???
    The rest of your argument is what I call the “God is magic” argument: God is magic, so the rules of cause and effect don’t apply to him. And I address it in this piece, God is Magic.

  13. Eclectic says

    Ben, it’s the personification of the first cause that I object to. The basic Big Bang just needs about 1080 protons + electrons and a lot of heat. This is a large but finite number, and is quite devoid of intelligence, personality, or moral judgments.
    Cosmologists have extrapolated further backward, but I don’t understand it particularly well. It eventually runs into pretty wild speculation.
    But it’s acknowledged speculation, and the parts that are understood are well justified. And it makes a heck of a lot more sense than the wild speculations of a bunch of Levantine goat-herders who thought the stars were suspended from a beaten bowl (ךקיע , raqiya).

  14. Nurse Ingrid says

    Rosita, I just have to say that is one of the most elegant summaries of atheism that I have ever read. Beautifully done.

  15. Ben Myers says

    Ben’s response to Greta and Eclectic
    Greta, thanks for pointing me to your article, “God is Magic”, in which you wrote

    “Look at the number of times that unexplained phenomena have been carefully, rigorously studied, and all the best evidence pointed to the cause being spirits, or metaphysical energy, or God…It’s exactly zero.”
    Well, off the top of my head, there is the problem of this carpenter guy who made some pretty outrageous claims for which he was slain, only to vanish into thin air despite all the efforts of a nation to prove otherwise. You may want to read Lee Stroble’s “Case for Christ” (Strobel is a former Atheist and Yale Law grad who turned creationist after applying courtroom techniques to investigate the historicity of Christ and the empty tomb).
    And, yes, you are right Greta. I am indeed throwing the old “God is magic” argument at you – guilty as charged.
    To Eclectic:
    Thanks, I have heard the supposed requirements for a “Big Bang” to theoretically occur.
    First, how long would one have to shake those particles up in a jar to get them to explode into hundreds of billions of galaxies? Long enough for me to conclude that those who believe in the universe spontaneously creating itself are possibly subject to a presupposition they hold very dear – that God cannot exist, even when he may be a really logical explanation. I am just thinking out loud hear like our host Greta :)
    Secondly, think about this; does it seem to you that in that point of near singularity there would need to be the potential for a rock, blade of grass, insects, the Grand Canyon, and the billions of individuals that have lived and died, not to mention great hits like Handel’s “Messiah” and Backstreet Boys’ “Hangin Tough”? Do you know what I mean by “potential”? Just bouncing some ideas around here
your turn.

  16. Locutus7 says

    Ben,
    Firstly, I compliment you on actually participating in civil discussions in a substantive and thoughtful way. I, for one, very much appreciate it.
    Let me suggest an idea for you to turn over in your mind at your convenience. A response is not required.
    Most theists believe because it was how they were brought up as children. Even if they change religions at a later date, they tend to view realty through this lens of “a creator made the universe (and possibly takes a hand in our lives).”
    It is only after childhood, perhaps during high school or college age when they are stretching their reasoning abilities, that most theists read the logical arguments for god in order to buttress their childhood beliefs with a rational superstructure.
    Current apologists like William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Frank Turek update the classical arguments of Anselm and Augustine with modern age cosmology, historicity, and quantum physics. Those are the arguments that theists (in America, Chrisitans) use in debating atheists.
    But those arguments are not the reason the great majority of theists believe. If pressed, an honest theist will concede that he believes because it was how he was raised.
    So I only want you to think about why you really believe. Many theists who do so retain their beliefs even though they realize on some level that the ideas do not make sense. They retain the beliefs because they are strongly connected to a time in life where we – most of us – were in a loving and protective family when we were at our most vulnerable.
    But if you come to understand that your parents were well-intentioned in teaching you a false idea, that they were doing it as part of our cultural traditions, you may find it easier to turn your critical thinking skills upon your own belief narrative.
    Just something to contemplate. L7

  17. says

    Well, off the top of my head, there is the problem of this carpenter guy who made some pretty outrageous claims for which he was slain, only to vanish into thin air despite all the efforts of a nation to prove otherwise.

    A story for which there is absolutely no good evidence. There is serious doubt as to whether the historical Jesus even existed… and the notion that the New Testament is an accurate and trustworthy historical document is absurd. It was written decades after the purported events it describes, by people with a powerful interest in persuading others that the story was true. It is shot through with internal inconsistencies, and it is not corroborated with any reliable contemporary documentation from the time.
    I suggest that you read Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All. Or Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Or any number of other books questioning the accuracy of the New Testament. Or just look at the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, and its long list of internal contradictions, historical inaccuracies, and other reasons the New Testament should, at best, be treated with extreme skepticism, and not be relied on as an accurate source of information. To say “Supernatural events happen, and Jesus is proof” is a classic example of assuming the thing you’re trying to prove.

    And, yes, you are right Greta. I am indeed throwing the old “God is magic” argument at you – guilty as charged.

    So answer the argument.

    …those who believe in the universe spontaneously creating itself are possibly subject to a presupposition they hold very dear – that God cannot exist

    You misunderstand atheists. We do not say (most of us, anyway) that God cannot exist. We say that God does not exist. Or, to be more accurate: We say that the God hypothesis is logically unnecessary and unsupported by any good evidence — and until we see some better evidence for God’s existence or a better argument for why God is logically necessary, we are going to assume that he doesn’t exist. For reasons of Occam’s Razor, if nothing else.

    …does it seem to you that in that point of near singularity there would need to be the potential for a rock, blade of grass, insects, the Grand Canyon, and the billions of individuals that have lived and died…

    You seem to be making the “Life and the universe are amazing and complex; I am amazed by them and can’t understand how they came into being purely by physical cause and effect; therefore, there must be a God.” If so, I strongly suggest that you spend a little time reading about evolution and cosmology. You don’t need to get a PhD; there are lots of good works for the layperson out there. Evolution and cosmology actually provide excellent explanations for how, out of a singularity and subsequent explosive expansion 13.7 billion years ago, the universe and life came into being. Many of the details of how exactly this happned are still being debated and figured out… but the basic mechanisms are pretty well understood, as are an astonishing number of the details. Yes, it’s amazing, and the more I understand it the more I’m amazed by it… but it’s really not inexplicable, or even unexplained.

  18. ben myers says

    Thank you Greta and Locutus for being my brain work-out partners here.
    Locutus, your argument that “I was raised this way” is a popular one, especially today since tv folks like Bill Maher use it.
    You are so right I am excited here a bit! I sometimes think Atheists quote the Bible more than modern “preachers”.
    Remember, however, your argument applies to each of us.
    If I were raised in my formative years to believe that there was no such a man as Abe Lincoln, then there would be almost no amount of convincing to make me believe otherwise, especially if my parents warned me that “people in the world will try to sway you to believe he existed. They will present documents which are forged and a tomb that is all part of the conspiracy to make us believe in Abe Lincoln.”
    To answer your challenge, “why I truly believe”…
    1) You said it…I was raised this way. And most unbelievers?…raised that way.
    2) The answer to why we are born into families that tend to determine our beliefs, and what dictates who is born into what family is 400-level Theology answered by a close analysis of the people of Israel and the book of Romans. (Actually, the crux of which is the politically incorrect Romans 9, a passage avoided by most contemporary churches).
    Greta:
    You said, “You misunderstand atheists. We do not say (most of us, anyway) that God cannot exist. We say that God does not exist.”
    I humbly disagree with you. If I were to present you with hardcore evidence you would reject it (see “Abe” story above, or Luke 16:31). Since we are both stubbornly subject to our presuppositions, an external and monergistic God must change us at the very heart level.
    Oh shoot!…I have to teach class in ten minutes! Sorry and thanks.

  19. Bruce Gorton says

    1) You said it…I was raised this way. And most unbelievers?…raised that way.

    The atheist population is growing despite the fact that we tend to have small one or two child families. About 55% of the US atheist population is under 35.
    A lot of atheists, perhaps even most atheists, are raised religious – but don’t stay religious.
    Upbringing has a massive effect – but it isn’t the only factor at play.
    Personally I credit the rise of modern atheism not so much to really killer arguments coming out – but rather access to information.

  20. ben myers says

    Parents are not the ones who raise most kids these days, Bruce. Government schools and the media are where most of my students get their doctrine.
    In high school, My Anthropology class (A+) forced me to learn that God was made up by humans, and in Biology (D-) I was taught the theory of macro-evolution as law.
    Stalin, who believed that religion is the opiate of the masses, knew that in order to eradicate religious fanatics who would oppose his murder of 30 million Russians, he would have to capture the education system and raise them in his own amoral doctrine. This he did with great success.

  21. Patrick. says

    Hmmm…let’s see. If time and space, along with matter and energy, came into being at a specific point, then if there is a Creator that being would have to be outside of time and therefore timeless. And isn’t the idea promoted by Stenger and others that the universe with all it’s complexity and physical constants and laws came into being from nothing magical thinking?
    If there ever was a ‘time’ when there was nothing then there would be nothing now. I think we are forced logically into believing that either the universe or some kind of Creator simply has existed forever. And since the universe sure looks like it had a beginning…

  22. Joel says

    This is what i said to an atheist friend about this blog: “Thanks for sending me these :) Just finished reading the first blog. It was interesting. Couple of things to say on it.
    1). I think the first problem i encountered was her miss understanding/wording of the ‘first cause’ argument: She writes “Everything that exists has a cause. Therefore, the entirety of physical existence itself had to have had a cause. Therefore, God exists.” This wording leads, and rightly so, to the obvious critism “If everything has to have a cause… then what caused God?”. If God did have a cause then all we’ve done, as she points out, is move the question back a notch. ( she should have then gone on to say that the cause of God would have to be greater than God. something greater than God (in our definition of him) is impossible so therefore God does not exist!!). But back to the wording. There are two versions of the cosmological argument i follow. The first one is from Leibniz and he argues that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature OR an external cause. He goes on to argue that God exists out of necessity. However the one i would like to explain here is the second. The two premises are: 1). Whatever BEGINS to exist has a cause. and 2). The universe began to exist. and the conclusion is 3). Therefore the universe had a cause. (this being God). If God did not BEGIN to exist then he did not need a cause. Now if someone can show that God must have begun at some point then i’ll concede that God does not exist. But to disagree with this argument one has to disagree with one of the premises, i can’t find a good reason to…
    2). Misuse of ‘God of the Gaps’. Science is “the systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation”. Now she argues that using God to solve the problem of the cause of the universe is the same as other scenarios throughout history. For example the sun rising and setting, how complex life came to be, why children look like their parents etc etc. Now all these examples are to do with the “physical or material world”. However the origin of the universe is NOT to do with something in the physical world but about something beyond the physical world. (Unless of course, as some have argued, the universe caused itself). Before space/time, science, by definition, can have no knowledge. Therefore i find this effort to reduce God as the origin of the universe to another “God of the Gaps” both futile and logically impossible. (I do belief God can influence the physical world however, for example the resurrection of Jesus. Hence I find the statement “And every single time that we eventually got a conclusive answer to the cause of Phenomenon (X), that answer has been entirely natural.” a bit dogmatic. I would say that for her “a conclusive answer” can only be natural and therefore even if something supernatural did exist it could still not be the answer to a problem since she has presupposed that only something natural can give “a concluisive answer”).
    3). The rest of her blog is based upon two radical statements:
    “There is not a single scrap of evidence that the God hypothesis is true.
    There is not a single scrap of evidence suggesting that the universe had a supernatural cause, or that there are any supernatural beings or forces affecting it in any way.”
    First of all the last bit of her second point: If i were God i would make a universe where i wouldn’t have to be part of the machine. I would make it so that the physical systems could run without me having to help them along, it seems alot less effort to do that then leave plenty of “gaps” that i would have to fill. So even if there wasn’t any evidence of supernatural forces affecting the universe this wouldn’t necessarily lead to atheism.
    On the first part of her second point: I’ve already discussed this with a correctly worded Cosmological argument. However i would like to add that there is not a scrap of evidence suggesting that the universe had a NATURAL cause either and yet that doesn’t stop her believing it. Therefore even if there were no evidence of a supernatural cause (and i believe there is!) then her argument fails due to its hypocrisy.
    On the first of her three points: I would argue against this dogmatic statement on five fronts: 1). Kalam cosmological argument. 2). Argument from Design. 3). Argument from morality. 4). Historical (physical evidence (Jesus and his teachings). 5). Personal religious experience. I understand the fifth point is not a logically provable argument however I’ve put it in for completeness.”

  23. says

    @Joel:

    The two premises are: 1). Whatever BEGINS to exist has a cause. and 2). The universe began to exist. and the conclusion is 3). Therefore the universe had a cause. (this being God). If God did not BEGIN to exist then he did not need a cause.

    Uhm, you’re trying to get away with sneaking in (at least) two extra premises: the first cause is God, and God did not begin to exist. Without the first extra premise, you couldn’t get to your “this being God” from your premises. After all, we could accept the premise that the universe had a cause, but it could also have been a natural cause, possibly in a multiverse of some sort. And without the second extra premise, you couldn’t escape the “what caused God to begin” question. But why should anyone accept any of those extra premises?

    If i were God…

    I thought your religion didn’t allow you to put yourself in God’s shoes? Besides, you wouldn’t want to invalidate the arguments of all those sophisticated apologists that say that we can’t know anything about what God wants, right?

    However i would like to add that there is not a scrap of evidence suggesting that the universe had a NATURAL cause either and yet that doesn’t stop her believing it.

    Considering that natural causes are the only kinds of causes we have excellent evidence for, I think it’s a completely reasonable inference that any new cause we will find evidence for will likely be natural as well. This is not hypocritical, it’s just siding with the best odds.

    4). Historical (physical evidence (Jesus and his teachings).

    Sorry, but the Bible can’t be used as evidence to show that the Bible is accurate.

  24. cmv says

    @Joel – “Hence I find the statement “And every single time that we eventually got a conclusive answer to the cause of Phenomenon (X), that answer has been entirely natural.” a bit dogmatic.”

    This is not a dogmatic statement. It is a statement of fact. You go on to accuse Greta of circular reasoning (a conclusive answer must be naturalistic, therefore only a naturalistic answer can be conclusive). This is unfair, and redefines the word “conclusive”. “Conclusive” means final. It means you no longer have to look for other answers. In every case to date, when people have continued to search for an answer and found one, it has been naturalistic. Having found a natural cause for whatever phenomenon is being studied, researchers stopped looking. The answer was conclusive.

    Saying “God did it” is also conclusive. You stop looking for other causes. It just doesn’t get you very far. What Greta has rightfully pointed out is that consistently over time people have continued beyond the “God did it” answer and found much more compelling natural answers.

    Interesting reading on the cosmological argument is found here. More or less, it doesn’t work. Neither does the argument from design, or morality. As for the historical evidence, Deen had a good point above, but beyond that, your argument would also validate the historical accuracy of the Iliad, including the existence of all of the gods therein. You’re right about your 5th point, it doesn’t count.

  25. says

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  26. Jason Firestone says

    Good article, especially the last section. The “god” answer is not “necessarily” the only answer, if one, (in one’s anal retentive phase), requires all the answers today. Thus no answer. Infinite regression has not been proven false.

    To Veritas, the Kalam argument HAS been debunked by many. It assumes spacetime for the creative act to “happen” in. We simply don’t know. You cannot name one property of “existence” which does not require time, without invoking Special Pleading.

    The universe in non-intuitive, as we know from Relativity, Dirac, (spinors), and Heisenberg. Therefore First Cause is not required, if the the universe is not intuitive.

  27. says

    Another problem with First Cause, is that causality itself, has to be in place already, in the structure of the universe, for a cause to work at all. Thus the question is begged, what caused causality ? If causality is not, a priori, in place, nothing, or no one, can cause anything. God cannot “cause” causality”, unless causality is already in place. Therefore, the god, is not, and cannot, be the creator of everything. The question leads to Infinite Regression. Too bad for the gods.

  28. mark4nier says

    In fact, Jason’s rebuttal to the First Cause argument was first stated by St. Augustine, who correctly observed that causality is a function of time, and any talk of a cause of time itself is nonsense. This was in the fourth century, mind you, which demonstrates how bad arguments for the existence of God persist.

    It’s also worth noting that sentience and consciousness are processes, which can only occur in time. Nothing outside of time can be sentient.

    The Ontological argument was debunked in all its forms by Kant, who observed that existence cannot be an essential property of anything. You cannot simply wish something into being, merely by asserting that it is its nature to exist (if you could, we could wave this magic wand to create anything!)

    The bigger problem, which Jason also mentioned, is summarized by Richard Feynman: “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” This is probably the most important epistemological result of the 20th century, particularly because it is supported by so much evidence. What it means is that ordinary human intuitions are useless in the study of cosmology. As Dawkins put it, the human mind evolved for the middle world. We have one narrow window on cosmology, and that is mathematics working with very precise data, and it is giving us a view of the universe that we don’t really understand–for example, that you really can get something from nothing. This lays to waste virtually all of theology and a good deal of metaphysics, which are the application of folk intuition to questions well beyond its scope.

    The worst misapplication of intuition is our use of social intuitions to attempt to understand physical reality. This is a category error encouraged by the fact that we have a highly developed social intelligence but a rather rudimentary rational intelligence (we can already build computers that can outperform us in reason, but are nowhere near understanding how to build one that is in any way socially competent.) So we have a natural tendency to look at the cosmos and ask what is it thinking, rather than how does it work.

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