Episode 92: Atheists in the Pulpit with guest Dan Barker

Leaving religion can be difficult. It may lead to conflicts with family and friends and the loss of social support–and the more one is involved the deeper the loss. Clergy who silently doubt often feel trapped in a double life. They cannot continue to preach with conviction but they have come to depend on their congregations for financial support. Admitting their doubt could mean losing everything. Ex-minister Dan Barker, (co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and author of the Good Atheist) knows first hand the challenges faced by atheists in the pulpit. He joins us to talk about The Clergy Project–an online support network for ministers who have begun to question the faith. Also on this episode: We discuss the physical cost of leaving groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses on this weeks “God Thinks Like You.” Doubtcaster Justin Schieber takes on William Lane Craig for this weeks Counterapologetics and Fletch brings us a tribute to the Valkyries for a new Polyatheism segment.

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  1. Lion IRC says


    “…trapped in a double life.”

    Atheists pretending to be Christians?

    Why does that sound familiar

    Atheists in the clergy. Pedophiles in the clergy. Atheists in the clergy. Pedoph…………..

    WAIT A MOMENT!!!!!!

    …anyone else care to join the dots?

    (I never believed those atheists in prison statistics either)

  2. Lion IRC says

    I hope no money is changing hands.

    I would hate to think parishners are putting money in the collection bowl mistakenly thinking their priest is…you know…a Christian!

    Taking financial gain by deception is a crime in many jurisdictions.

  3. Derek says

    @ Lion IRC –

    Trolling isn’t effective if you’re that obvious about it. 0/10

    Also, Pedophillia (and the church’s constant enabling of it) is a very serious subject. Those criminal priests deserve to be put behind bars, and so do all the people who protected and enabled them. The safety of those children is not a laughing matter, and I’d appreciate it if you’d take it seriously.

    Unfortunately, these days it appears religious people rarely do.

  4. says

    Wow, I know that Lion IRC is a fucking drooling, stinky, smelly troll (actually I think he’s only a troll shit) from over at the RatSkep forums, but he’s here too? Who let’s this simpleton have access to computers unsupervised? Shouldn’t he be getting his meds right about now?

  5. Jeremy Beahan says

    Im Jeremy from the podcast. I agree with Justin (from the podcast). Please don’t feed the trolls.

  6. Minus says

    Just finished listening to the show.

    I have a lot of respect for Dan Barker and his work. Great guy.

    But I have serious problems worrying about these atheist preachers’ concern for their future. No job? No health care? Well, welcome to the real world. Just because you had it easy for a lot of years doesn’t entitle you to special privileges. Join the club, get a job – if you’re lucky. And try making a real difference instead of an imaginary one. Join the fight for a better world for every one. In case you can’t find us, we’re downtown occupying.

  7. Lion IRC says

    Derek wrote
    “…The safety of those children is not a laughing matter, and I’d appreciate it if you’d take it seriously…”

    Who is laughing about it and why would they?

    I see a bit of (typical) anti-theist invective.

    I see a few who want to dismiss my post as mere trolling.

    I see a conspicuous absence of actual responses addressing the concerns I have.

    Hmmm? Maybe I need to lurk a while longer. I wouldnt want to think the first few responses are indicative.

    The point I’m making is that atheists pretending to be clergy are being DISHONEST.

  8. says

    Justin, thanks for taking on Craig’s KCA and asking those questions.

    In my experience – not much, but a few years of on-line debating and reading papers on arguments for an against theism -, many theists find the KCA persuasive, and – perhaps worse – some non-theists (not philosophers) unfortunately make bad counterarguments in reply to Craig’s bad arguments.

    So, it’s good to see someone raising a point that actually puts Craig in the difficult position of having to try to weasel his way out of it, and in a context in which the counterargument can reach the public.

    On that note (and sorry in advance to bother you), I think there are a number of points that are not raised publicly against the KCA – at least, I’ve not found them in any debate -, and I think some of them might be of interest to you.

    I understand it if you don’t have time and/or interest, though – especially given that a random person on the internet making suggestions about weaknesses in the KCA is not exactly news or particularly promising.

    I still think you might find some of the points in question interesting, though, so just in case, I will leave a link where you can find an article (PDF and HTML versions) in the “website” field.

    Briefly, the main point is a contradiction that follows from Craig’s conception of events and a tensed theory of time, and God’s timelessness “sans creation”, but there are other points as well (e.g., the fact that what Craig calls the “Standard Hot Big Bang Model”, and which he uses to support the second premise of the KCA, actually entails that there are infinitely many past events).

    In any case, thanks again for taking on Craig’s argument and making good points against it.

  9. Derek says

    @ Lion IRC –

    Selective quoting, misdirection, and straw-manning earn you a 1/10. You’re a terrible troll, and your chosen source material outs you as a horrible human, being as well.

    If you’re going to try to be divisive and inciteful, at least pick a topic other than the sexualization of and exploitation of children by a group of people you claim to support.

  10. Justin Schieber says

    @davideves I posted it on his personal facebook page, not the Reasonable Faith page. It was posted on his page nearly a month ago on Sept. 17.

    @Angra Mainyu Thanks for sharing the link. I hope to explore it soon!

    We are always looking for new or lessor-known approaches to counter-apologetics for future segments.

  11. Angra Mainyu says

    Justin, thanks; I hope you’ll like it.

    Also, if there’s anything unclear in the article, please let me know and I’ll try to clarify it.

  12. Ripples says

    I listened to this episode as I drove home from visiting a prison (professional capacity only). Seeing a prison is one of those things that really gets the thinking cap running as I often think about other options of punishment, deterrence and protection. Alas that’s another subject but it creates fertile ground for a bit of atheistic thinking.

    I found it very interesting in this episode that I was surprised and a touch ashamed to realize I hadn’t given thought to the idea of members of the clergy basically not only losing their religion but their careers too.

    I would love to see them all out of work and doing something else but there is a human toll connected with this.

    I have found that for many professionals what they do as a career often defines who they are as people. Lawyers are often lawyers first as are many doctors. I just hadn’t given much thought previously to the clergy in this manner.

    As such I get why someone losing or who has lost their faith remain in the role. I would equate it to a lawyer being disbarred, where do you go once your world falls apart?

    I am trying hard to not feed the troll, it’s very hard to resist not engaging in a battle of wits with an unarmed foe.

  13. Sam C says

    Oh, I like the troll position, if I have understood it:
    (1) Christians are good guys who (of course) always tell the truth,
    (2) Christian priests should be Christians,
    (3) Christian priests whose lose their faith become atheists,
    (4) Atheists who are priests are living a lie,
    (5) So the problem is those dishonest atheists who even (agh!) pretend to be priests!

    In short: it’s all the fault of those atheists!!!!

    Priests losing their faith is good: I welcome these sinners who repent!

  14. carlosdiaz says

    Great episode, as always. I just wanted to say that I loved the last piece of the show, the Dr. Who quote. Best. Episode. Ever.

  15. grumpyoldfart says

    I’m not impressed by those atheists who say they keep on preaching because they’ve got to earn a living and they don’t have qualifications for other types of work. What about fruit-picking, or factory work? Millions of people can get by with jobs like that, so why can’t these lying atheists? They’re no better than any other confidence trickster; telling lies and encouraging gullible fools to pay money to hear those lies.

    [Just for the record, I am a life-long atheist.]

  16. Barefoot Bree says

    Doubtcasters, I’d like to suggest you do a PolyAtheism bit on Angra Mainyu – not the commenter above, but his namesake, the Zoroastrian “Evil Spirit”.

    I don’t think you’ve ever touched on Zoroastrianism. Could be interesting…

  17. Dave Herres says

    Great show as always guys. Hey, how about a show about nuns who don’t believe. You could call it “breaking the habit.” Sorry about that…

  18. Karen Finkelstein says

    @Lion IRC
    Please come home, hon. Your father and I are worried sick. If you’re still worried we won’t approve of your living conditions, we can pick you up at the public library like last time.

  19. Lion IRC says

    Sam C wrote:
    Oh, I like the troll position, if I have understood it:
    (1) Christians are good guys who (of course) always tell the truth,
    (2) Christian priests should be Christians,
    (3) Christian priests whose lose their faith become atheists,
    (4) Atheists who are priests are living a lie,
    (5) So the problem is those dishonest atheists who even (agh!) pretend to be priests!

    In short: it’s all the fault of those atheists!!!!

    Priests losing their faith is good: I welcome these sinners who repent!

    Hi Sam C,
    No need to overthink this.
    You can understand the problem here quite easily if you first resolve the question…“is it OK for atheists to masquerade as Christian clergy for financial gain?”
    Some obviously do. But then, some ppl think the church is a good (logical) place to hide if you are a pedophile.
    Pedophiles OUT!
    Atheists OUT!
    Gutless, egotistical church hierarchy afraid of bad PR
    G.T.F. OUT!

    What an appalling lack of faith in God to try and cover up things done “in the darkness” (John 3:20) and put the reputation of men ahead of the welfare of “little ones” (Matthew 18:6)

  20. Curt Cameron says

    Justin, I’ve always thought that the huge flaw with the Kalam argument is in its first premise, which makes a statement about “things which begin to exist.” It sounds convincing to someone who hasn’t thought about it, but really, what begins to exist? The only things are:

    1. Subatomic particles.

    2. Maybe the universe itself.

    That’s all.

    So his second premise, that things which begin to exist have a cause, is proved false by #1 – we know that subatomic particles pop into existence without a cause. It’s a direct result of the uncertainty principle. Craig wants us to accept that the universe had to have a cause, based on this?!? The only other thing that begins to exist, we know has no cause!

    It seems like a more reasonable version of the cosmological argument would be basically what Hawking says, which I’ve reformatted to parallel the KCA:

    1. Things that we know of which begin to exist have no cause.

    2. The universe seems to have begun to exist.

    3. Therefore, the universe very likely has no cause.

  21. Angra Mainyu says

    Pretty much everything we see around us begins to exist: cats, dogs, horses, cars, buildings and so on.
    In order for X to begin to exist, it is not required that all the particles that make up X begin to exist, just as for X to cease to exist it is not required that all the particles that make up X cease to exist.
    For instance, all T-Rex ceased to exist. And earlier, they began to exist.
    As for subatomic particles, the principle of uncertainty does not say that they pop into existence without a cause.
    Also, there are deterministic and indeterministic versions of Quantum Mechanics (QM), and only in the latter case one could make a case for some particles beginning to exist without a cause.
    However, given that Craig and other theists seem to use “cause” so broadly that the previous condition in the QM case would count as a “non-determining cause”, you’d have to challenge their account of causation in order to establish that indeterministic interpretations of QM entail the falsity of premise 1.
    That is doable, but it’s not the most direct way of counter-arguing, and gives them opportunities to muddy the waters.

    Moreover, they can reject indeterministic QM, and then you’d have to show that it’s untenable to reject that while claiming humans to be indeterministic. Once again, that is a possible route, but not one without opportunities for the theist to muddy the waters.

    With regard to the first premise, I think it’s better to argue belief in it is not warranted – rather than arguing it’s outright false -, by means of pointing out the distinction between X’s beginning to exist – which seems to mean X has a temporal beginning – and X’s coming into existence – which seems to mean there is a change from a state of the world at which X does not exist, to one at which it does.

    That aside, I think there other ways to deal with the KCA, without directly challenging either premise, but instead showing that it does not provide any support for theism, anyway. But that would be too long for me to argue here.

  22. Angra Mainyu says

    Just a point of clarification: while things to begin to exist and cease to exist, actually ceasing to exist would be in a sense the opposite of coming into existence, not of beginning to exist.

    So, perhaps, in the previous post above, I should have avoided the analogy of things ceasing to exist and beginning to exist, because while the analogy works because beginning to exist and coming into existence go together for all ordinary things, the analogy might also give the mistaken impression that there is no conceptual difference between coming into existence and beginning to exist.

    In any case, I just wanted to clarify that point.

    On that note, in the KCA, Craig claims there is no conceptual difference between beginning to exist and coming into existence.

    However, there is one, and that could be used to argue that belief in the first premise is unwarranted – as I mentioned, there are more ways of defeating the KCA, but that’s a possible one.

  23. Justin Schieber says

    There are many problems with kalam. My argument in this episode can actually move forward regardless.

    If I were ever to go toe to toe with Craig, I would actually concede kalam and fine tuning and then show why it does not matter. His version of god can not be the intentional perfect being who is responsible for the universe that he wants it to be.

    If he can’t fix this problem, (i dont think he can) it destroys both cosmo and tuning arguments and shows Christian theology as incoherent.

    I am referring mainly to my initial perfect/creator argument in this post.

  24. Curt Cameron says

    Angra Mainyu wrote:
    In order for X to begin to exist, it is not required that all the particles that make up X begin to exist, just as for X to cease to exist it is not required that all the particles that make up X cease to exist.

    But in that case, you’re using the phrase “begin to exist” to denote simply a rearrangement of particles into a new configuration, and if you do that, then the argument devolves into one of the meaning of words; just because you have a different word for that kind of arrangement doesn’t really mean that there’s substance to your definition. When a T-Rex “began to exist,” it was simply a rearrangement of matter already in existence – nothing there actually began to exist.

    It’s a false equivalence to compare something like that to the universe “beginning to exist.”

  25. Angra Mainyu says


    Yes, I agree that that would work. I suppose you’d be using a Problem of Evil or Problem of Suffering argument.
    In fact, one can just make an argument against Christianity in particular, and then one has a lot more ammo.
    Still, given that in fact arguments like Kalam are often debated, having a good refutation is interesting to me.

  26. Angra Mainyu says


    I’m using “begins to exist” in the sense of the usual meaning of the words, at least assuming there is one such sense.
    Craig and other defenders of the KCA claim that their usage of the expression matches common usage.
    That can be challenged, and that’s what I was suggesting.
    In fact, Craig does give a definition of “begins to exist”, and claims that our intuitions support the premise because things like horses and other stuff just don’t pop into existence uncaused.

    Perhaps, you could make an argument saying that, using “begins to exist” in the (or a) standard way, it’s not the case that a T-Rex, or a horse, began to exist.
    Alternatively, you could claim that there is no common usage of “begin to exist”.
    However, you’d have to argue for it, and it seems to me that the theist could try to paint your position as radical, and you might have some difficulty with that.

    As for the T-Rex, if you claim it’s only a rearrangement of matter, you’d probably be asked to make a case against souls and the like. It’s doable, but it would probably require more arguing on your part – and even then, Craig and others would probably insist that the T-Rex began to exist even if it has no soul.

  27. Justin Schieber says


    I would be using the argument I present in episode 79 and clarify/defend in this episode rather than an argument from evil. And yes, I agree that familiarizing ones self with kalam and it’s critics is essential as well.

  28. Angra Mainyu says

    Justin, thanks for the clarification (I guess I misinterpreted the extend of the concessions when you said you’d concede both Kalam and fine-tuning).

  29. Justin Schieber says

    I would conceede them in a debate with wlc for strategic purposes because, unless he can fix this problem, the arguments get him absolutely nothing. I don’t want to waste time with his defenses of kalam if I can just show that.

  30. Angra Mainyu says

    Okay, I get it.
    What I misunderstood is what it is exactly that you would concede. I got the impression that that included an intelligent designer, and that’s why I thought you’d raise moral objections.

  31. Jason Goertzen says

    @ Angra Mainyu (re: Curt’s argument)

    The point isn’t that it’s inappropriate to use the phrase “begin to exist” to describe T-Rexes and other things coming about. The point is that it’s an equivocation to use it in the context of proving anything about ‘popping into existence’ which is surely *not* what T-Rexes do.

    If you use different terms for the two kinds of ‘coming onto the scene’ being described–‘popping into existence’ and ‘being formed from pre-existing stuff’ (‘being formed’ for short), then Kalam looks like this:

    1) Everything which is formed has a cause.
    2) The universe popped into existence.
    3) Therefore the universe has a cause.

    Thus stated the syllogism is broken.

  32. Angra Mainyu says

    @Jason Goertzen

    The move that Craig attempts to make is that things that begin to exist have a cause, and the examples he provides are examples which purportedly support such a claim.

    The claim is not that things that form from preexisting stuff have a cause, but that things that begin to exist have a cause.

    That said, it’s true one could make a counterargument saying that even if things that come from preexisting stuff have a cause, that does not provide any support for the claim that things that do not come from preexisting stuff have a cause.

    In other words, one could claim that what horses, houses, etc., have in common and which is relevant to the issue of causation is not that they begin to exist, but that they are formed from preexisting stuff.

    It’s a possible route, no doubt, but the theist could insist that formation from preexisting stuff is not the relevant point here, or alternatively challenge the non-theist to show that, say, human minds, horse minds, etc., all come from preexisting stuff.

    Moreover, they can make an argument like the following:

    Let’s suppose that, say, human minds are not formed from preexisting stuff, and we have souls. Wouldn’t it still be intuitively clear that there is a cause of their existence?

    In fact, most people believe that humans do have souls, and they don’t seem to have a belief that humans are formed from preexisting stuff. Nevertheless, they would find it just as counterintuitive if souls began to exist uncaused.

    I think all of that can be challenged, but in my view, a more effective challenge to the premise is to maintain that what they seem to have in common and what is relevant to causation is that they come into existence.

    In other words, not only that they have a temporal beginning, but that there is an event “X comes into existence” – that is, a change in the state of the world from a state S1 at which X does not exist, to a state S2 at which X does exist.

    That would be a specific case of a more general principle “every event has a cause” (i.e., every change has a cause). Craig identifies “X begins to exist” with “X comes into existence”, but they don’t seem to mean the same – and certainly not what Craig contends they mean -; that X begins to exist seems to mean that X has a temporal beginning, whereas that X comes into existence seems to mean what I described above.

  33. says

    Something that crossed my mind about the atheist clergy. If I understand, Dan Barker grew up in an evangelizing family so it was a bit like going into the “family profession” when he was fairly young without questioning it. It would be interesting to see if there was any correlation between when in life “apostate” clerics got their “calling/indoctrination”. Is there a chance the (now) atheist clergy were more likely to have “gotten the bug” early -before they got a chance to be exposed to conflicting views? Be interesting to see if the atheists in the pulpit forum could collect some statistics.

  34. Jason Goertzen says

    @ Angra

    I’m a bit confused. Your tone suggested that you disagreed, but the content of your post was a kind of dialogue which, after teetering back and forth, landed by restating exactly what we were saying.

    To be clear, since I think we agree:

    There’s no reason to think that ‘popping into existence’ and ‘forming from pre-existing stuff’ are at all analogous in the relevant way of requiring a cause. As a result, to avoid equivocation the premise needs to be ‘Everything which pops into existence out of nothing must have a cause.’ But this premise is totally unsubstantiated and, if physicists are to be believed, probably false.

    You’re certainly right that Craig relies on how intuitive his premise sounds–I just can’t decide whether he relies on it cynically (to convince the crowds) or whether he relies on it personally, finding the premise so obviously true that he hasn’t bothered dissecting it. In either case, it’s when he tries to provide examples–to defend the premise from criticism–that his equivocation is made patently obvious.

    Of course, as for the premise being intuitive, the history of science has shown that many intuitive ideas are wrong while many totally counter-intuitive ideas turn out to be right.

  35. Angra Mainyu says


    Let me try to clarify.
    I partially agree, and partially disagree with what you were saying.
    I don’t agree that we can conclude that Craig incurred an equivocation in that part of the argument.
    He may well consider that what those examples (e.g., horses, buildings), have in common that is relevant to our intuitions about causation is that they begin to exist, not that they are formed from preexisting stuff.
    If that’s what he’s saying, there is no equivocation on his part as far as I can tell, since he’s not using “begins to exist” in different senses. In fact, he gives a definition of “begins to exist” that does not involve being formed of preexisting stuff (the definition is mistaken for other reasons, but that’s another issue).
    I do agree that challenging what the relevant commonality is, is a way to defeat the KCA, by showing that belief in it is unwarranted.
    In my view what’s relevant to those intuitions is neither that they have a temporal beginning nor that they’re made of preexisting stuff, but rather that they come into existence – i.e., that there is a change from a state of affairs at which they do not exist, to one at which they do.
    So, in other words, I think the first premise should be “every event has a cause” – here, “event” means any change, as Craig claims -, or – more narrowly – “every event of the form ‘object O comes into existence'” has a cause.
    That premise seems to match our intuitions.
    It can still be attacked based on indeterministic interpretations of QM, but one would also have to attack Craig’s interpretation of causation that holds that even under such an interpretation, there is a cause – a “non-determining cause”, as he would call it.
    Also, one would have to argue that Craig can’t use deterministic interpretations of QM in support of the KCA, because they preclude human non-determinism, so they mess with another part of his argumentation, and generally his theology.
    However, there is room for Craig to muddy the waters a little in that case, so I think it would be much simpler to grant that premise. It’s not going to help Craig, though one would have to show why.
    Also, I do agree that counterintuitive ideas have often turned out to be right; however, tactically, I think that that is probably not the most effective reply to the KCA:
    Craig can point out that we should trust our intuitions unless we have a good reason not to, thus shifting the burden. As it turns out, when it comes to intuitions about causation, I think we do have a good reason not to trust them when it comes to something like the universe (in some sense of “universe”), but that has to be argued for, and it may give Craig the opportunity to muddy the waters again, or even paint the objector as supporting radical and/or absurd ideas.
    So, I think it’s tactically better to show that the intuitive premise is not what Craig claim it is, and his conflation of “begins to exist” and “comes into existence” is unwarranted: the two expressions do not mean the same.
    All that aside, I think there is another way of attacking the KCA that may be more persuasive that attacking the first premise, which is some of what I wrote in the article I mentioned in my first post here. But challenging the first premise works as well.

  36. Jason Goertzen says

    Ah, that clarifies it some. I think you’re right that ultimately it’s just a difference in ‘tactics’: I’ve never been a fan of ‘granting’ a false premise unless I have a solid reductio ad absurdum. :)

    You propose a definition of ‘beginning to exist’ which saves Craig from equivocation–but it does so by rendering his second premise false. You say:

    “In other words, not only that they have a temporal beginning, but that there is an event “X comes into existence” – that is, a change in the state of the world from a state S1 at which X does not exist, to a state S2 at which X does exist.”

    But there is no ‘state of the world’ (S1) at which the universe does not exist: there is no time ‘before the universe’ (as Stephen Hawking points out), any more than there is a North of the North Pole. So when using your definition, it’s not correct to say that the universe “began to exist,”

    This leads to the whole point of focusing on dissecting what is meant by “beginning to exist.” To my knowledge, there is no definition of the “beginning to exist” which makes both of Craig’s premises true; so he uses one in the first premise and another in the second–which is the very definition of equivocation.

    This is why I tend to insist on this strategy. If someone can’t define their terms in such a way as to make their premises true, the argument is dead. I don’t see the point of laying a spike belt down the road if the guy can’t get his car to start. :)

  37. Jason Goertzen says

    Also: after all the time I spent editing that down, it pains me to see that comma trying desperately to end a sentence. Oops. :P

  38. says

    I don’t see these apostate pastors as particularly more fraudulent than other pastors. God still does not exist, and religions are man made nonsense regardless of what the pastor believes.

  39. Angra Mainyu says


    I see your point, but as I see it, Craig does not switch from one definition to another, though he does make unsubstantiated claims.

    His definition – which he claims matches common usage – is as follows:
    A. x begins to exist at t iff x comes into being at t.
    B. x comes into being at t iff (i) x exists at t, and the actual world includes no state of affairs in which x exists timelessly, (ii) t is either the first time at which x exists or is separated from any t′ < t at which x existed by an interval during which x does not exist, and (iii) x’s existing at t is a tensed fact.
    Source: William Lane Craig and J.P. Sinclair, "The Kalam Cosmological Argument", in "The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology", Edited by William lane Craig and J. P. Moreland; pages 184, 185.

    The first problem with that definition is that it may be incoherent (timeless what?), but assuming it's not, then it seems to me Craig is not equivocating – and, in fact, he claims that by such a definition, the universe did begin to exist.

    However, even if we leave the issue of timelessness aside, the definition does not seem to match usage.

    Still, Craig claims that he does not really need to define "begins to exist", but just point to common usage instead, and insists that, by common usage, the first premise is intuitively obvious.

    However, what seems intuitive to me is that any event has a cause, not that everything that begins to exist by Craig's definition has a cause; if I'm right, then regardless of whether Craig's definition matches common usage of the words, premise 1 is a non-starter.

    That aside, and regarding granting a false premise, while I share your concern, I'm pretty sure I do have a solid reductio ;), – though more than granting it, my analysis indicates that Craig's position entails a contradiction, and that no matter how a defender of the KCA might modify it, the argument will not support theism.

    I'd post a link but I don't know whether that's allowed.

  40. Jason Goertzen says

    Craig says:
    “x comes into being at t iff

    (i) x exists at t, and the actual world includes no state of affairs in which x exists timelessly,

    [Right here he has committed the exact error I described when addressing your proposed (paraphrased) definition. This meaninglessly uses temporality to describe “a time in which the universe did not exist,” which is nonsense. By this definition, the universe did not come into being, and therefore did not ‘begin to exist.’]

    So yes: Craig relies on ‘common usage’ and ‘how intuitive the premise is,’ but when pressed to provide a definition, he cannot provide one which makes both of his premises true at the same time. He relies on the fact his audience–who *want* his argument to work–will be satisfied with the fact that it makes sense to them intuitively.

    I will take a look at your link from your first post when I get some time. Sounds interesting!

  41. Angra Mainyu says

    Oops, I didn’t realize that the link in my first post was actually posted.

    I hope you like it; I do concede it’s a bit long;), but the first part is actually short and straightforwardly shows a contradiction.

    Regarding your point about Craig’s claim, I’m not sure I get what you’re saying here.

    Are you saying that his definition fails because “timelessly” is meaningless?

    If one assumes that it’s not meaningless, then by that definition, he can – assuming that time has an intrinsic metric, as he does – claim that universe did begin to exist, as long as there is a finite past and a tensed theory of time is true, since there is a time t (a finite interval in the past; t can be an open interval, it seems) at which the universe exists, no previous t at which it does exist, and no timeless state at which it does exist.

    A problem for his position is, however, that the main scientific theory he tries to use in support of a finite past, if fully accepted for the sake of the argument, entails that a tensed theory is not true – and in any case, it fails to establish a finite past.

    Still, he has the Hilbert Hotel and the argument against an infinite regress of past events on a tensed theory; however, that is also incompatible with theism, if the first premise is true.

  42. says

    Hi Guys,

    As always, another great show with Dan Barker. But I was especially excited to hear this interview.

    I, too, was raised in the “clasp of America’s Bible Bra” (Grand Rapids). I even went to Grand Rapids Christian High School and Calvin College–just to give you a taste of my upbringing.

    However, 4 years ago, my husband and I decided to read some books that we were NOT exposed to during our Christian upbringing (he’s also a Calvin grad). The first “atheist” book we read was “From Preacher to Atheist” by Dan Barker.

    It was all I (we) needed. It completely changed our lives. Dan came from being very religious to asking critical questions of Christianity. This viewpoint made his book very easy to follow. I finished the book with one thought: “The burden of proof remains on Christians and until they can prove it, I will not live my life believing something that has no good evidence”. Anytime a Christian in my life is trying to understand how I could leave the church, I suggest we talk after they read Dan’s book (Preacher to Atheist). Of course, no one does! :)

    I’ve never looked back! I went from Christian to Atheist after reading that book in a day. It wasn’t easy (our family practically hates us, for instance), but my mind is FREE from trying to make something irrational fit into my otherwise rational mind.

    Thanks Dan Barker and thanks Reasonable Doubts for offering wonderful conversations like this each week on your podcast!


  43. Jason Goertzen says

    @ Angra

    The source of your confusion is probably my having accidentally clipped the quotation of Craig’s definition–this part:
    “t is either the first time at which x exists or is separated from any t′ < t at which x existed by an interval during which x does not exist"

    "Timelessness" isn't necessarily meaningless, but 'a time before the universe existed' is, since it entails 'a time before time existed,' which is nonsense. The idea that 'this is the first time the universe existed' presupposes this false understanding of time.

    Craig could try to say 'not at all: that it be the first time something exists does not require that there be a time when it did not" but this would be to give away his argument in its entirety, because then he would have to concede that, by his own definition, God began to exist (and therefore requires a cause).

    A similar problem exists with the idea of there being 'an interval of time during which the universe did not exist.' This, again, is nonsensical ("a time during which time didn't exist").

    So using the 'commonsense' definition of beginning to exist, it's not true that the universe did. So either Craig is equivocating–either he has some other definition by which it can be said that the universe began to exist–or he just has a false premise.

    Reading your paper now (at least some) before work!

  44. Jason Goertzen says

    @ Angra

    Couldn’t a tensed theory of time be true within the universe, but not outside of it?

    Would that not make your objection fail?

    In any case, I think the ‘tensed theory of time’ is the ‘common sense’ theory, and not the one consistent with the modern understanding of physics, which makes your section 8 (hehe M.A.S.H fans: I’m not calling Angra crazy!) especially relevant.

  45. Angra Mainyu says

    Jason, I’m afraid I’m not following your points:

    What Craig claims is that:

    a) There is a t at which the universe existed.
    b) There is no previous time u < t, and hence no time prior to t at which the universe existed.
    c) The actual world contains no state of affairs at which the universe exists timelessly.
    d) A tensed theory of time is true.

    If those claims were true, and going by Craig's definition of "begins to exist", it follows that the universe began to exist.

    Regarding my article, what do you mean by a tensed theory to be true in the universe, but not outside the universe?
    Here, I think one needs to be careful with the definition of "universe", and also whether one can formulate such a theory coherently.
    What conclusion I'd like to know what conclusion you think I would not be able to reach, and why, so I can either clarify, or add that case to the article if required.

    If you're talking about the initial contradiction, that only requires that God changes from timeless to temporal, or from knowing no tensed facts, to knowing at least one tensed fact.

    So, that works as long as there are tensed facts at t=0, but then again, it also works without that, since there is still a change in God form timeless to temporal.

    In any case, I'd need more details on your objection to provide a more detailed reply. :)

  46. Jason Goertzen says

    I’m afraid I’ve explained it as well as I think I am able quickly, but I will give it another go.

    Craig claims to use the ‘common sense definition’ of beginning to exist. Fine. But the four points you laid out are *not* the common sense definition of beginning to exist. The common sense definition of beginning to exist is:

    “X is said to begin to exist if X exists and if there is a previous time when X did not exist.”

    I can’t think of a single object that certainly ‘began to exist’ but which isn’t adequately described by this definition. Whether, by this definition, it is true that “everything which begins to exist has a cause” depends on how far you’re willing to stretch the definition of cause (it gets pretty nebulous when you try to describe the ’cause’ of quantum fluctuations and virtual particles), but let’s pretend that it does. Let’s pretend that, by the common sense definition, “everything which begins to exist has a cause.” The problem is that, by this definition, the universe cannot be said to have begun to exist. So Craig needs another definition.

    “a) There is a t at which the universe existed.
    b) There is no previous time u < t, and hence no time prior to t at which the universe existed.
    c) The actual world contains no state of affairs at which the universe exists timelessly.
    d) A tensed theory of time is true."

    By this arbitrary and contorted, unnecessarily complex definition we can say that the universe began to exist.

    But is a cause necessary for "every existing thing which does not exist timelessly and for which there is no previous time when it existed (because there is no previous time at all!)." That isn't at all clear! Why? Because this only describes one thing: the universe!

    So in order to grant his first premise, using his definition, you need to presuppose his conclusion, which you can't. That makes his definition circular. So he uses the common sense definition to sneak his first premise by, then he uses this, contorted definition to defend his second premise.

    I hope this has made it more clear. I'm afraid my keyboard is running out of letters! I will try to write a more clear statement about your essay a bit later.

  47. Angra Mainyu says


    Okay, I get your point. :)
    Your point that his definition is not the common sense one, and it’s essentially an ad-hoc definition for the purposes of the KCA.
    In my view, the common sense one – i.e., the one that would match common usage, even if not obvious – is the second hypothesis in my article, but in any case, it’s clearly not Craig’s.
    Essentially, it says that x begins to exist (in the relevant sense) if it has a temporal beginning, whereas x comes into existence if there is a state of the world S1 at which x does not exist, causally followed by a state S2 at which x does exist.
    Introducing the idea of having a temporal beginning in a definition is slightly complex, so that’s why my definition in hypothesis 2 (appendix 1) may not look too intuitive, but if one analyzes it in detail, it seems to me it matches usage.
    The reason I prefer that definition is that, if there is a t=0, then in my view the universe – and everything that exists at t=0 – begins to exist (since it has a temporal beginning), even though it does not come into existence, since there is no state of the world at which the universe does not exist, followed by one at which it does.
    However, under that definition, there is no support for the claim that everything that begins to exist, has a cause – not that it would help the KCA, anyway, for a number of other reasons.
    On the other hand, by the definition you provide, I agree that quantum fluctuations and virtual particles are problematic for premise one, under non-deterministic interpretations of QM. In fact, I think pretty much any type of non-determinism would be problematic for premise one.
    However, as you point out, under that definition, it’s not the case that the universe began to exist – not as far as one can tell, anyway.

  48. says

    Guys, thanks for this episode – really interesting to hear from Dan. I know a number of Christians who have secretly figured out that god doesn’t exist, and it can be hard for them, especially if their whole life had been linked up with theist connections – they frequently feel like they are the only one. I’ve blogged on these issues occasionally at Answers in Genes and The Church of Jesus Christ Atheist (would appreciate any comments!).
    I now sometimes call myself an “Atheistic Christian” because I don’t feel any different to when I was a theist, and I think it’s possible to do homage to the tradition of Christianity while recognising that it got *so much* wrong, not just about the universe and morality, but even about the (relatively shadowy) Jesus himself and his Jewish background. And it really pisses theists off when I do that – that makes it worthwhile.

    As far as WLC and the Kalam is concerned, it’s a busted flush. Even Craig only now claims it as a probabilistic argument (and WOW are theists *clueless* about Bayes’ Theorem!), and I know of no physicists who think of it as anything more than a giggle.

    Keep up the brilliant work, guys!

  49. @shanemuk says

    @Alice, really?? Even if you found out that some of the central tenets of your religion are not true?

  50. Angra Mainyu says

    Alice, could you elaborate on that, please?

    More specifically, are you saying that:

    a) No matter what the evidence or argument, you will never reach the conclusion that shanemuk mentions – namely, that the central tenets of your religion are not true.

    b) If you were to reach the conclusion that the central tenets of your religion are not true, you would pretend to still believe that they’re true.

    c) Other.

    My questions are:
    If it’s a), why do you think so?
    If it’s b), why would you do that?
    If it’s c), please elaborate.

  51. sc_a942540180f51643a3a9fb823ce24e83 says

    I suspect many of the aforementioned ministers could not have conceived at the start of their ministry that deeper study of the bible would lead them to the conclusion that, say, the resurrection never happened. Yet that’s where we are. I’m all for promoting this specific example, because it can engender some truly productive cognitive dissonance.

  52. Daniel says

    A good deal was made of the Christian supposition that god is “perfect.” I submit that the term “perfect” is a subjective one denoting more of a value judgement than a definable quality. Therefore, in any rigorous argument, the term is meaningless.

    All definitions of “perfect” as Christians apply the term to their god seem to be circular, amounting to “God is perfect because he is god.”

  53. says

    But the same applies to all the other supposed “attributes” of god that apologists love jabbering about. Omniscience? Omnipotence? Omnibenevolence – when you get down to it, these terms are utterly meaningless. Things don’t have ATTRIBUTES – *systems* exhibit *behaviours*. I argued this in one of my blog posts here: http://answersingenes.blogspot.com/2010/07/things-do-not-possess-attributes.html – this is (in my view) an important failing of the so-called analytic philosophical approach (which I also castigate elsewhere on my blog).

  54. Justin Schieber says

    @Daniel, I would disagree… partially.

    All value judgements are subjective in a way, but within Christian theism, the subjective value judgements of God are taken as ‘objective’. This, I fully agree, is trivial.

    But the argument can talk of ”Perfect’ according to the absolute standard of God. If God’s infinite attributes such as omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolenc are taken as ‘perfect’ because you cannot improve them, I do think that the term can be meaningful.

    God’s value judgements are taken as flawless, and if he prefers a state of affairs that is himself plus some other non-God items over a state of affairs that is pure God, then there is a problem.

  55. F says

    They’re no better than any other confidence trickster

    Going by this, nothing really changed but one aspect of the trickery. What’s one more bit of hypocrisy within an existing scam?

    But yeah, those having a crisis of faith should get out or go wherever people in these positions go to sort out their faith issues. Those who have come fully to be admitted atheists should get out in a reasonable amount of time. No harm in sticking around long enough to put their affairs in order, since the religion infected them in the first place. Like alimony, because the position doesn’t allow for learning and gaining experience in another trade.

  56. Solita says

    regarding The Valkyrie Skuld: Because I only understand the world through X-Men references. So, thanks for that. Lol!

  57. Hugo Macneil says

    According to their website, the International Society for Research for Aggression is a self-formed organisation with a special interest it seems in talking up negative aspects of our society generally. I note that the current President s professional involvements appear to have been almost entirely with disadvantaged children. Is that typical of the membership, I wonder? Has the ISRA research been based only on observations of children in disadvantaged circumstances? Has there been any attention given in the research to the effects of media depicting acts of violence on children growing up in households where a peaceful milieu is the norm? I don’t know. If such was the case, the research wouldn’t necessarily be “flawed” of course, but , for me at least, given my own observations of my own children, it would make a generalisation of the ISRA findings to all children everywhere unacceptable.

  58. says

    I’ve got to speech our passion for ones kindness offering service to help the individuals that should have got assistance with this specific essential matter.

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