Blog Hiatus

Hey all– I am going to need to take about two and half weeks off from the blog.  I have to be out of town for a week for work at the end of next week and have way too much stuff to get done in the meantime.  I don’t want to do this unless I can do it right.  Rather than submit something that is poorly written and/or poorly thought out, I would rather just take the two weeks off and start fresh when I get back.

I will still be on Twitter a bit, so see you there.

Thanks for reading.

—-John

If you have a blog please feel free to promote it on my “Promote Your Blog” page above.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @logicalbeing

If you would like to share your story of how you became an atheist, please do that on my “Share your Atheism Story” forum.  Our stories may help to encourage others with similar feelings to know that life is more than just okay without god(s).

If you have not yet checked out Alltop.com’s Atheism Blogs….what are you waiting for?

 

Science versus Religion: Memes

The last time I made memes, I had a ton of fun doing it.  I thought I would give it a go once again.  Below you will find some Science vs. Religion memes.  I hope you enjoy them.

Science meme 1

science meme 2

Science meme3

science meme4

science meme5

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

—-John

If you have a blog please feel free to promote it on my “Promote Your Blog” page above.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @logicalbeing

If you would like to share your story of how you became an atheist, please do that on my “Share your Atheism Story” forum.  Our stories may help to encourage others with similar feelings to know that life is more than just okay without god(s).

If you have not yet checked out Alltop.com’s Atheism Blogs….what are you waiting for?

Debating Theists: “I Don’t Know” Is an Acceptable Answer

Alternative Answers Are Not Necessary to Reject Theism

Pic From: http://lolgod.blogspot.com/2012/04/how-debating-religion-usually-works.html

Pic From: http://lolgod.blogspot.com/2012/04/how-debating-religion-usually-works.html

When debating theists I have found that it is a common tactic for many of them to attempt to “turn the tables” on the atheist when their own arguments are failing, have failed, or even from the start.  To make things clear let me provide you with an (oversimplified) example:

Atheist: There is no evidence that your god exists.

Theist: Well if there is no god, then how do YOU think that the universe was created?

This approach from the theist is a classic example of the logical fallacy of “false dichotomy”.  There are more than two possible options to the question.  The choices are not simply a) god did it or b) you need to have a better answer.  The answer, “I/we don’t know” is not only an acceptable answer; it is often the only honest and truthful answer.

This approach is a common tactic deployed by theists of all stripes.  I have seen people well versed in apologetics use it and I have seen personal (theist) friends who have absolutely zero knowledge of theology, philosophy, science, or any other typically relevant field use it.  A problem that I see quite often is that people new to atheism often do not know how to handle this encounter. I know that I struggled with this at first as well.

Here is where I think atheists often go wrong.  They engage the theist on those terms and wind up trying to prove something that is not provable.  They end up trying to prove a godless cosmic creation—sure there are theories, but nothing is definitive yet.  They end up trying to prove a source for morality—again, there are theories, but nothing is definitive yet.  Etc.  This is not necessary.  In fact, what have here are really two separate conversations that have merged into one.  This is clouding the issue at hand.

Conversation 1: The existence of god and the theist’s reasons for believing in their deity of choice.

If a person is positing that a supernatural being exists, it is their burden to provide evidence for that being.  I personally view it as my burden to listen to that evidence and either accept it or point out why it is flawed.

The important thing to note here is that what I (the atheist) believe to be the truth of the matter is completely irrelevant to the theists claims.  This conversation is NOT about me or what I believe, it is about their belief in god(s).  To make my point, we need look no further than the answer “I don’t know”.

I am quite happy about the fact that I am fortunate enough to be reasonably well educated and can converse relatively well on a variety of the relevant subject matter debated between theists and atheists.  However, often the only truthful answer is “We (as a species) do not yet know the definitive answer to that question”.  My (or humanity’s) lack of knowledge does not make the “god-concept” correct.

However, pretend that I had absolutely zero knowledge of theology, philosophy, cosmology/theoretical physics, biology, etc.  Suppose that I cannot offer even one possible answer to life’s larger questions.  This is would be completely irrelevant to “Conversation 1”.  I do not need to posit an alternative answer in order to point out weaknesses in someone’s (the theist’s) argument(s).

An example:  I know almost nothing about cars.  Let’s say that my car is making a funny clunking noise when I drive down the highway.  I take my car in to be looked at by a mechanic.  After his inspection and testing he informs that my car is in fact in tip top shape, that nothing is wrong with it at all.  I already told you that I know almost nothing about cars.  There is zero chance that I can offer him any explanation for why my car is making this awful noise.  Must I accept his conclusion that my car is operating perfectly?  I would never do such a thing.  I can easily point out that my car is clearly not operating correctly, though I have no idea why or what is causing this problem.  I do not have to offer my own diagnosis in order to know that there is a problem with this mechanic’s “theory”.  My answer to the question is “I don’t know” what is causing this problem.  My ignorance does not mean that he is correct.  (You can also be sure that I will be visiting another mechanic).

Back to our theist…  Many theists do not accept the above scenario when it comes to discussing god.  They refuse to accept the fact that often an atheist may not have a definitive alternative answer to “god did it”.  The fact of the matter is that they do not have to like it.  It is completely irrelevant to whether or not their argument is correct.

In summary, the atheist does not need to posit an alternative answer to show why an argument for god fails.

Conversation 2:  What the atheist believes.

This is a completely separate conversation from what the theist believes.  I find, as I alluded to above, that many theists try to merge the two.  It is incorrect to do so.  What I believe may very well be worth talking about.  I may be correct.  I may in fact be completely wrong.  The point to note is this, that whether or not my belief(s) are correct or not has no bearing on whether or not the theist’s belief in god is correct.

I can point out flaws in the theist’s argument all day long and illustrate why god belief is irrational and unjustified.  However, suppose I believe that the universe was created by a giant stork that laid a “universe egg” which hatched and lo and behold, here we are!  This is not a supernatural stork mind you, nor is it a deity.  The absurdity of my belief is not at all relevant to the theist’s premise.  In this scenario it just so happens that we would both be wrong.

These are two very distinct conversations.  I fully admit that I have a burden of proof for my beliefs.  I believe that evolution is true.  As a result of that belief, I am prepared to defend it.  However, I need not do so, nor must I be able to do so, to disprove Young Earth Creationism.  This is a huge point that must be recognized.

Many theists that I debate chafe at this distinction.  They point out that I must disprove their god, because as an atheist, I do not believe in god.  This is not correct.  This theist is assuming that I am a gnostic atheist (who does have a burden of proof).  I do not believe in the existence of god(s) because I see no compelling evidence/reason to do so.  Could some type of god exist?  I suppose so, but I have no reason to assume that one does.  In fact, I have many reasons to assume that one does not.  The probability of a god existing is quite low.  Therefore, I lack a belief in gods.  My only role (or burden) in this conversation is to either accept the theist’s argument or show where it fails.  (There is a great deal more to be said on this topic and I have done so elsewhere.  If you want to read more on that you can click on my Atheist v Theist, Agnostic v Gnostic and The Burden of Proof posts, as well as a few others on my Atheism 101 page).

In closing, what the theist believes is often irrelevant to what the atheist believes and vice versa.  They are two separate conversations.  I would caution those of you who are new to debating theists to be cognitive of this.  Do not let yourself be drawn into a mess of conversation where you are trying to attack the theist’s position and trying to defend yours at the same time, all the while, the theist is doing the same thing.  This will get you nowhere.  It is far better to slow things down and separate the two conversations.  It leads to far less confusion and, it keeps the conversation honest.

It is the theist’s burden to prove his/her deity.  If you have engaged in that conversation, it is your burden to accept or reject his/her “evidence”.  It is also completely acceptable for you (the atheist) not to have an alternative answer to “god did it”.  Any alternative answer—either true or false, is irrelevant as to whether the theist’s claim is true.  Further, “I/we don’t yet know” is an acceptable and often, honest answer.  The “god-concept” does not win by default.  It must be vetted and proven like all other ideas.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

—-John

If you have a blog please feel free to promote it on my “Promote Your Blog” page above.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @logicalbeing

If you would like to share your story of how you became an atheist, please do that on my “Share your Atheism Story” forum.  Our stories may help to encourage others with similar feelings to know that life is more than just okay without god(s).

If you have not yet checked out Alltop.com’s Atheism Blogs….what are you waiting for?

 

 

Cosmological Arguments for God

Why the Various Cosmological Arguments for god Fail

Belief_SystemLargePerhaps the most common arguments for the existence of a god are the various cosmological and teleological arguments.  Today, I want to address the cosmological arguments.  I will get to the teleological arguments sometime in the future.  For further reading, let me suggest that you check out Grundy’s work(s) on the subject, which you can find on his blog Deity Shmeity or just click this link.  Cephus from Bitchspot also has a great article on the subject which you can read here.

There are various forms of the cosmological arguments for god.  The most basic is:

  1. Everything that exists has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe exists.
  3. The universe has a cause of its existence.
  4. If the universe has a cause of its existence, then that cause is God.
    Therefore:
  5. God exists.

Educated theists do not usually employ this version of the argument.  The reason can be found in premise 1.  If everything that exists needs a cause, then what caused god?  This leaves them scratching their heads.  After much head scratching, they will return with the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  This argument has been made popular (again) by famed apologist William Lane Craig.  It works better than the above because it accounts for the Big Bang and some fancy math on infinities.  This is ironic as it originated in the Muslim world in the 9th century.  Anyway, it reads as follows:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
  4. If the universe has a cause of its existence, then that cause is God.
  5. God exists

This is the version of the cosmological argument that is most common and the one that I would like to deal with today.  Please realize that the scope of this blog post cannot possibly cover all of the aspects of this argument.  That would require a book length treatment.  I mean simply to highlight some of the more common objections and problems with the argument.   There are a few other formulations of the cosmological argument which I do not have time to deal with here today.  They are the Leibnizian and Thomistic Cosmological Arguments.  It is worth nothing that they generally fail for the same reasons as Kalam.  This going to be a long post, for those of who you want the short “Cliff’s Note’s” version, skip to the end, where I write a brief summary.

The Kalam cosmological argument attempts to correct the problem we find in the original formulation of the argument above.  It simply adds the word “begin” to premise 1.  While no one today would disagree that our universe had a beginning, we know precious little about how that occurred.  We also know of nothing that “began to exist” without a cause.  William Lane Craig then launches into a whole series of (poor) math about infinities.  This can best be summed up in a syllogism that I am going to copy from Deity Shmeity:

  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.
  2. An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
  3. Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.

We find arguments that use Herbert’s Hotel, and infinite lines, and counting backwards, and all sorts of other things that are designed simply to fool those who are not astute mathematicians.  Here is the problem, most people who get math will tell you that Craig has most of his arguments incorrect.  I am not going to get into that today because, in truth, it is irrelevant.  The entire discussion of his math is just a side-show, a distraction technique from the real issue at hand—god and vocabulary.

Craig, and others who employ this argument state that the universe cannot be infinite.  Okay, fine, let us say we grant them that (though we need not do so, again, it is irrelevant).  The natural next question to ask would be, “Wouldn’t god also need to be finite?”  This is where the theist will smile and tell you, “No”.  They will tell you that only things that “began” to exist need a cause and cannot be infinite.  God, did not “begin” to exist, therefore he needs no cause, and is in fact infinite!  You will also often hear theists point out that only “material” things need a cause or must be finite and that since god is “immaterial” he needs no cause and can be infinite.  In short, you will get all sorts of wild answers explaining why “god” is the exception to this rule.  This of course assumes a great deal of unwarranted claims to be true.  There of course is zero evidence for anyone to think that an immaterial god exists and is eternal.  A leap of faith, has been made.  Simply because we do not know what caused the Big Bang, the theist wishes to insert his specific god into that spot.  This is logically fallacious—it is an “argument from ignorance”, and in truth, the entire Kalam cosmological argument can be dismissed at this point. (Though there are many more objections, so please keep reading).  This is also where the vocabulary comes in.  One does not need to understand complex math to understand the following:  The theist just spent a great deal of time explaining why infinities cannot exist. Then, in the next breath, he/she just posited this creator/god as infinite.  It simply does not work, no matter how hard the theist tries to wiggle out of this self-created dilemma.

From the start, in premise 1 of the Kalam argument, we see that it is logically fallacious.  It, by its nature, is nothing more than a fancy argument of “special pleading”.  We have already discussed that we know precious little about the start of the universe.  We know nothing about what/when existed prior to the Big Bang.  With the Big Bang, it was not just matter that was created, but also space-time.  There is no “prior” to the universe that can be coherent to us at this point in our knowledge.  However, the theist is making an argument for exactly that—coherency prior to space-time.  They are positing a sentient being/agent existing prior to the Big Bang that is all powerful and infinite.  How in the world could they possibly know such a thing?  The answer is that they cannot, no matter how much they want to philosophize this being into existence.  As previously stated, we have almost no knowledge of things prior to the Big Bang.  We certainly do not have the knowledge of an infinite sentient agent!

This is where the special pleading comes in.  The theist is quite happy to tell us that everything that begins to exist needs a cause and that nothing can be finite—except for the premise (god) that they are trying to prove with this argument.  It is completely and utterly fallacious to make this argument, for all of the reasons pointed to above.

The Kalam argument is also guilty of the logical fallacy of False Dilemma.  It assumes that we must have a cause that is infinite, powerful, and has agency or we would not be here.  These are not the only two choices.  There are many hypotheses out there that could show us how our universe originated naturally from nothing.  Some hypotheses that propose a natural solution to our problem are Quantum Tunneling hypothesis, Black Hole hypothesis, Multiverse or Bubble hypothesis, the Oscillating Universe hypothesis, the Ekpyrotic Model, and all sorts of others dealing with quantum mechanics.  It is also important to note that we have no idea if there are all sorts of infinite “things” prior to the Big Bang.  Perhaps some of these things are not sentient at all.  Perhaps they are an “energy”, or perhaps the “nothingness” is also governed by some laws of physics that insist it must create stuff (there is a good deal of work being done on just that premise).    The fact of the matter is that the choices are not “god” or “nothing”.

This argument is also a Fallacy of Composition.  The very first premise, “everything that begins to exist has a cause” is simply not a proven statement.  Just because everything within our universe that begins to exist needs a cause, does not mean that the universe itself needs a cause.  We know nothing about “before the Big Bang”.  (In fact using the word “before” is a bit silly as time did not yet exist, but it is a useful word for this discussion).  Perhaps, the universe did not need a cause at all.  We simply do not know.  What we do know is that assuming knowledge of this sort (needing a cause) is unwarranted.  It is something that the theist is doing/philosophizing, while science is quite okay with accepting the truth—“we don’t yet know”.  (It is worth pointing out that modern cosmology has some ideas that “nothingness” would be unstable and would need to “create”, though these ideas are not yet proven).

The Kalam Cosmological argument fails the test of Occam’s razor.  We do not need to posit an incredibly complex, infinite, non-material, omnipotent, sentient agent as a creator.  We have the potential for much simpler answers.

So to sum up, the Kalam Cosmological argument fails for a few reasons.

  1. It is a Fallacy of Argument from Ignorance.  We do not know what caused the Big Bang, or what existed/did not exist prior to the Big Bang.  The theist cannot simply insert his version of a deity into that spot.  There is no evidence to warrant this.
  2. It is a Fallacy of Special Pleading.  It argues against “uncaused” beginnings and infinities, yet claims the answer to creation of our universe is an “uncaused and infinite” being who just so happens to look just like their god.  There is no evidence that this exception should be granted.
  3. It is a Fallacy of False Dilemma.  There are more options available for how the universe came to be than a) God or b) nothing.
  4. It is a Fallacy of Composition.  It assumes that because things that “begin to exist” within our universe need a cause, that the universe itself must also need a cause.  There is no reason to assume this is true as we know nothing about the state of affairs prior to the creation of our universe.
  5. It fails the test of Occam’s razor.  God is just clearly not the most simple answer to the problem of our universe’s origination.  As Grundy wrote in one of his pieces, positing “god” is just solving one mystery by creating another.
  6. Lastly, the Kalam Cosmologial argument fails, like all other arguments for the existence of god, because there is zero evidence to back it up, it assumes much, and perhaps most importantly, it posits answers to questions whose only honest answer at this point is: “we don’t yet know”.  What we do know is that the probability that a god is responsible is far less likely than any natural solution.  The various natural hypotheses to explain the creation of the universe are all based on some solid empirical evidence.  The god-hypothesis is based on absolutely nothing but certain people’s imaginations.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

—-John

If you have a blog please feel free to promote it on my “Promote Your Blog” page above.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @logicalbeing

If you would like to share your story of how you became an atheist, please do that on my “Share your Atheism Story” forum.  Our stories may help to encourage others with similar feelings to know that life is more than just okay without god(s).

If you have not yet checked out Alltop.com’s Atheism Blogs….what are you waiting for?

 

New Study to Map the Human Brain

Why “Brain Mapping” Should Matter To Atheists

Pic From: http://www.news.com.au/world/project-to-map-human-brain-wins-129-billion-from-european-union/story-fndir2ev-1226563828167

Pic From: http://www.news.com.au/world/project-to-map-human-brain-wins-129-billion-from-european-union/story-fndir2ev-1226563828167

I was planning to post a piece about the Kalam Cosmological Argument today.  It is mostly written and just about ready to go, but I can post that anytime.  Sadly, I have a feeling that theists will continue rolling this argument out for quite some time—no matter how many times it is debunked.  I changed my mind on the topic for today when I saw the following headline in the New York Times “Obama Seeking to Boost Study of Human Brain”.  This is important news for many reasons (Alzheimers, schizophrenia, TBI’s, concussions, etc) .  I want to focus on why it should matter to secular Americans, particularly, atheists.

This new study will cost a few billion dollars and will take about a decade or so.  It is being compared to the project that mapped the human genome.  That project cost a little over $3 billion.  Before you scoff at the money being spent, you should know that the research that came out of that project returned about $140 per dollar spent back into our economy.  In the end, studies like this help to make the science and health care parts of our economy stronger.  Both of those are huge parts of our economy, particularly the latter.  It is anticipated that the “Brain Activity Map” study will do the same.

Why should this matter to atheists?  If you spend a fair amount of time debating theists, you most likely have had conversations about the soul and consciousness.  At this point in time, there is no evidence for a soul, so I am not going to discuss that today.  However, consciousness is also not explained very well.  In recent years we have made large advancements in our understanding of this phenomenon, but still cannot explain it fully.  Through this study, that is likely to change.

One of the favorite arguments from theists is that atheists cannot explain the “immaterial” in our minds—like thoughts, likes, dislikes, love, and all of the other things that can fall under the banner of consciousness.  They ask, how can a brain made up of purely physical things, sub-atomic particles, produce something immaterial?  While many theists who pose that question scoff at the ideas of chemical reactions and electric activity in the brain as being keys to this slowly unraveling mystery, we understand more than they think we do—or that they are willing to accept that we do.

This study will remove that problem.  A mapping of the human brain will remove one more “gap” for god to hide in.  When we can fully explain how our brain operates through completely material means, in a logical manner, the theist will no longer be able to claim god as a source for consciousness.  Will all theists accept the inevitable conclusion that this is a purely material process?  Certainly not, just look at Francis Collins, whose organization will be heading this up.  The mapping of the genome did not sway him from his Christian views (see: cognitive dissonance).  However, like so many scientific advancements in the past, this will undoubtedly sway many away from the superstitious clutches of god-belief.  It will also lead to new apologetics, as things like this often do.  I welcome that as well.  It would be nice to actually be academically stimulated with new arguments from theists.

I am really hoping that study gets off the ground.  The fewer the “gaps” for god, the fewer believers we will see.  This has been a trend for centuries.  The more we shrink the available spaces for god to hide, the better.  I fully anticipate this study to do exactly that, even though it is not at all the intended purpose.  This brings me to my last point.

So many theists that I talk with assume that I (and many scientists) are atheists first and truth seekers second.  They assume that I reject god because I want to do so—that I have always had some predisposition to do so.  They assume that I reject god because I worship science.  They assume that I will reject whatever they have to say because I am “biased” by science.  They point out that, “ …of course Dr. X says that…he’s an atheist!”  This is complete nonsense.  What they fail to understand is that me, most other atheists, and many scientists are interested in the truth first, and atheism/theism second.  I am an atheist because there is NO evidence to support the idea of god.  If this were to change, which at this point in human knowledge, is incredibly unlikely to happen, then there would be fewer atheists.  Period.  The theist cannot just dismiss what a scientists tells him/her is factual simply because that scientist is atheist.  I read a quote from Lee Strobel this weekend.  To paraphrase, he said that if a theist has some doubts, which he admits is inevitable, they should look for one of the many books on the subject written by Christian authors.  How absurd is that?  By all means, read the book by the Christian author, but do not stop there!  Read all that you can on the matter, regardless of the religious background of the author!  Get all of the facts and information that you can!  I can’t help but think that many theists view science the same way.  They see an imaginary division between the author/sceintist’s religious background and facts.

In closing, I hope that you support this study.  Aside from all of the medical benefits that will be gained, there is the very real potential for the unintended benefit of removing another major “gap” where, in the minds of many theists, god resides.

**When searching for the picture at the top, I learned that the European Union also allocated $1.2 Billion to a study for brain mapping as well.  Great news!**

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

—-John

If you have a blog please feel free to promote it on my “Promote Your Blog” page above.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @logicalbeing

If you would like to share your story of how you became an atheist, please do that on my “Share your Atheism Story” forum.  Our stories may help to encourage others with similar feelings to know that life is more than just okay without god(s).

If you have not yet checked out Alltop.com’s Atheism Blogs….what are you waiting for?