God is still dead and this effort at resuscitation fails miserably


When I saw an article titled Five rational arguments why God (very probably) exists I felt I had to read it, since I am someone who has argued repeatedly that there is every reason to believe, based on scientific reasoning, that god does not exist, and expand on this in my forthcoming book. So what argument does Robert H. Nelson, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, advance in support of his contention that god exists that he has taken from a book he published in 2015?

Here they are, and they are all variations of what I call the ‘argument from incredulity’ that can be stated briefly as “I don’t understand how something could have come about, so god must have done it.”

  1. His first argument is based on an article that physicist Eugene Wigner wrote in 1960 titled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences. For reasons that are beyond me, many people are impressed with this article and it is cited widely . Even though Wigner was a great mathematical physicist, this article seems to me to wallow in imagined mysteries. As a result, this article has been seized upon by many who see any mystery as a sign of god’s activities. Nelson is not the first and will not be the last to suggest that there is something mystical about the nature of mathematics.

    Nelson takes Wigner’s statement that “the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it” to argue that “It takes the existence of some kind of a god to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.”

    Hence god probably exists.

  2. He then turns to that other old chestnut of human consciousness and argues that it is a mystery how material entities like atoms and molecules could produce something nonmaterial like consciousness, and says “The supernatural character of the workings of human consciousness offers a second strong rational grounds for raising the probability of the existence of a supernatural God.”

    Hence god probably exists.

  3. He then goes after evolution and says that Darwin’s theory is being challenged and ergo, god exists. “With these developments bringing standard evolutionary understandings into growing question, the probability of a God existing has increased correspondingly.”

    Hence god probably exists

  4. He then suggests that it no one has been able to explain or understand how the scientific revolution and modern societies could have occurred.

    Hence god probably exists.

  5. Because Christianity is the best religion, yo!

    Nelson says “That the Christian essence, as arose out of Judaism, showed such great staying power amidst the extraordinary political, economic, intellectual and other radical changes of the modern age is a fifth rational reason for thinking – combined with the other four – that the existence of a God is very probable.”

    Hence god probably exists.

I cannot believe that these are the arguments that he used to write an entire book.

Comments

  1. kestrel says

    Wow. That’s IT?! And it got printed??!!

    It’s like Nelson isn’t even trying.

  2. A. Noyd says

    I cannot believe that these are the arguments that he used to write an entire book.

    It’s so unlikely that someone could make an entire book out of such terrible arguments for the existence of god that the fact of this book’s existence raises the probability of a god existing!

  3. felicis says

    I cannot believe that these are the arguments that he used to write an entire book.

    Well – Tipler’s “The Physics of Immortality” is a big book that is almost entirely based on #1 (well – not exactly, but more physics implies God…)

    There are movie franchises dedicated to #5 (“God’s Not Dead”), and, I expect, entire books based on that premise as well…

    I would be willing to bet that there are several books on #3 as well – probably for sale in the gift shop at the Ark Museum. All wallowing in the fallacy that – ‘because this is wrong, I am right’.

    I would also not be surprised at books about #2 as well – sounds very Chopra-esque to me, so I can see some sales in that arena.

    The only one that seems like it would be a tough book sale would be #4. And even then, I don’t discount the idea entirely.

    However, maybe I can find one of those romance book generators and have it knock out a few of these for me…

  4. Siobhan says

    My future in getting published looks brighter and brighter once I remember the drek that makes the cut.

  5. says

    Because Christianity is the best religion, yo!
    Nelson says “That the Christian essence, as arose out of Judaism, showed such great staying power amidst the extraordinary political, economic, intellectual and other radical changes of the modern age is a fifth rational reason for thinking – combined with the other four – that the existence of a God is very probable.

    If a million people do a stupid thing, it’s still a stupid thing.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    … a professor of public policy …

    Writing about (1) mathematics, (2) psychology, (3) biology, (4) history, (5) sheer fallacy – when only that last seems to have anything to do with his area of expertise.

  7. lanir says

    … Why does he exclaim about how wonderful consciousness is and then proceed to prove it’s not so wonderful by jumping to silly conclusions? And then proclaim that because other people also jump to silly conclusions and make noise about it (the evolution bit) that there is some magic here? Doesn’t he basically disprove at least that point all on his own without outside intervention? Is that common with these people? I must admit I’m mystified by these arguments.

  8. Owlmirror says

    Rather than “God is dead” in response to “God’s not dead”, I’ve been thinking of using the phrase “God’s not real” as a response.

    Imaginary people were never really alive to begin with.

  9. Johnny Vector says

    Owlmirror #7:

    “And to say that God is dead presupposes that he was at some time alive.”
    –Roy Harper, The Spirit Lives

    And that’s not even the best lyric in the song!

  10. busterggi says

    Of course god exists – just the other day I saw someone make music come from a small box in her hand – its’ a miracle!

  11. mnb0 says

    If Nelson calls these reasons rational I don’t want to know what reasons he calls irrational.

  12. phhht says

    The first four points are variants of a favorite fallacy of the religiously demented, namely god of the gaps: if there is something we do not know or understand, that means gods are real. I say ignorance does not entail the supernatural.

    The fifth point is nothing but religious jingoism.

  13. Matt G says

    I knew an Episcopal priest who once talked about one of his favorite “proofs” of god’s existence. To paraphrase Einstein, if it were a good proof, he’d only need one.

  14. says

    With regard to mathematics, I suspect that in a different world with different mathematics, that different mathematics (based on different fundamental axioms) is what we would have come up with.

    PS. Have you read Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture”? A great read.

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    I am someone who has argued repeatedly that there is every reason to believe, based on scientific reasoning, that god does not exist

    Scientific reasoning provides no reasons to believe god exists. Period. I think you and Sean Carroll vastly overstate your case. I’m with Peter Woit;

    My own point of view on all of this is that I just don’t think theoretical physicists have anything useful to tell the average person about meaning [including belief in gods] and morality , other than that it’s a mistake to search for it in our discoveries about physics.

    ——————————————————————————————

    Even though Wigner was a great mathematical physicist, this article seems to me to wallow in imagined mysteries.

    Yeah, it always made me scratch my head. It’s really an anthropic “argument”, and Douglas Adams’ puddle answers well enough.

  16. rcurtis505 says

    (Paraphrased from George Carlin): A plane crashes with 138 people aboard. 137 are killed, and one little girl survives with only third-degree burns on 50% of her body. Therefore God exists. And He is merciful!

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