By R.N. Carmona
Many might be confused by the post-theist label. It does not mean that one is a theist unaffiliated with organized religion. This doesn’t mean one believes in a deity. Post-theism describes an attitude that one is beyond the god question. The atheist label no longer makes sense because the question of god is a settled fact; a god doesn’t exist and never did, so one doesn’t lack belief, but rather proceeds with the knowledge that there’s no god and conducts their life as such.
One no longer dwells on the question or considers the question. Yes, this is compatible with gnostic atheism because it requires knowledge rather than mere non-belief sans knowledge, i.e., agnostic atheism. However, the question of whether a god exists no longer interests the post-theist; it no longer occupies her time in that it’s something she gives no thought to. Religion and belief in god is a relic of human history. So she is as post-atheistic as she is post-theistic.
Post-(a)theism is a stronger position in that it isn’t a proclamation of non-belief or even knowledge of there being no god. It’s a stronger claim: religion was borne out of human ignorance; our lack of scientific knowledge, historical knowledge, philosophical understanding and reasoning, and technological progress resulted in a belief stemming from agency over-detection, among other fallacious conclusions. Religion was the result of primitive thinking, underdeveloped reasoning, and a severe misapprehension of the world we live in.
In many ways we are all post-theistic in that we don’t attribute lightning, tidal waves, strong winds, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes to the wrath of a god. We moved passed polytheistic explanations of natural phenomena and remain only with the palpably silly idea that a god created the universe and world. The post-theist gets to a point where those notions are as ridiculous as the idea that Zeus launches every lightning bolt everywhere – including on planets like Jupiter. If one is to learn about causation, the dispositions of material objects, and the universe, one will see that these do not allow for such an explanation; never mind that god is a human projection, a way of seeing our own image even behind phenomena we can’t even begin to control.
God is the name of an idealized human, infinite in every domain we are finite in: infinitely knowledgeable, powerful, moral, and good; every one of us will die and yet god is considered eternal. God is the name of human naiveté and arrogance, the notion that the creator of the universe must be a perfect version of ourselves. God is the name of the lack of imagination of our ancestors. If anything, imagination hasn’t discovered a super-human controlling and governing the universe; imagination has discovered natural forces that move celestial bodies and oversee their formation; imagination has scaled down the universe to previously incomprehensible small scales; imagination has proven once and for all that the universe is probabilistic, that chance rather than agency is more prevalent in the universe. Imagination has shown that the idea of god was borne from a lack of creativity rather than masterful ingenuity. Whether you like it or not, we are beyond the need for god as ultimate explanation or temporary placeholder; we are beyond the question of whether one exists. This is the age of post-theism.
By R.N. Carmona
Before I talk about the philosophical depths and conundrums of this type of mimicry, allow me to define it. Batesian mimicry is when one species adapts the features of another, usually poisonous species, so as to protect itself from predators. The most common example is the viceroy who adapted the wing patterns of the monarch for sake of avoiding its predators; note: this might actually be an example of Müllerian mimicry. Evolutionary biologists and geneticists have a handle on the genomic going ons that contribute to this, but philosophically speaking, this form of mimicry is intriguing. It boggles my imagination.
Let me preface my remarks by saying that I’m far from sympathetic to pseudoscience and as such, I don’t think creationism gets any closer to explaining the why of Batesian mimicry. Intelligent design doesn’t either. I highly doubt that the god of the Bible is siding with the prey and therefore, harming the predator. The height of benevolence would want what’s best for both prey and predator and wouldn’t actively harm one or the other. There’s also the case of imperfect mimicry, so if one wants to imagine that a designer is writing code into the fabric of reality, the designer isn’t the perfect designer of monotheism. With that said, my philosophical hold up has nothing at all to do with creationism and/or intelligent design.
My question is this: how did the viceroy know that a monarch’s pattern would protect it from predators? Does it have enough intelligence to understand its surroundings that well? Did it, in other words, survey its surroundings to the degree that it understood that birds avoid monarchs because of their wing patterns? Assuming we relinquish our tendency to belittle animal intelligence, how did the viceroy have the power to put these genetic changes into motion? That, that (!) is a question science doesn’t seem to care to answer. We can vaguely say that nature made this happen, but that moves the question of agency into a vague, mindless concept. Furthermore, it doesn’t explain the power of an animal to rewrite its genome.
Philosophers from Plato to Kant suggested that there may be more to reality than we realize. Before the advent of quantum mechanics, philosophers understood that reality might not be as simple as it appears on what Kant called the phenomenal level. There may be more to it. The powers of mimicry may be a hint. In Doctor Strange, the Ancient One, portrayed by Tilda Swinton, suggested that cells can be made to repair themselves and organize in all sorts of ways. She also implied that doctors like him are accustomed to one known way and are unaware of others. Humans do not have powers of genetic changes that are directed to a given end in the way some animals do. Batesian, Müllerian, and acoustic mimicry might be a most unexpected vindication for thinkers like Kant.
Westworld inclines me to ideas of competing engineers coding and recoding the fabric of our reality. Perhaps the true nature of reality is an elaborate game, a desperate reach for data, a simulation aiming to remap history before the present the engineers find themselves in. Perhaps not. Not everything makes sense; not everything has to. The Ancient One was right about that as well, but there are aspects of nature that don’t appear to be confined to nature and certainly can’t be readily explained by nature in and of itself. The noumenal, the Hegelian Absolute is the overarching objectivity that humans, in all their subjectivity, are striving for. There are phenomena available to our perceptions that may suggest that our arms are much too short to reach up and grasp that object of our desire. Perhaps we are doomed to decades of subjectivity, an existence that never apprehends truth. For some of us, there’s certainly no comfort in that.
Maybe this is the price we pay for being aware of our consciousness. In being aware of our consciousness, we have been disconnected from the full fabric of reality. Because of this awareness, maybe we are veiled from that which lies behind the curtain. We believe ourselves to be on the stage performing in the most meaningful way and in the only way that’s considered significant when in actuality, we are the audience that sees but the shadows of the performance. We can explain mimicry in our very limited ways, but we’ve apprehended only shadows. We have nothing in the way of why and nothing in the way of explaining to what is nothing short of a super power. We have nothing in the way of explaining the will and agency that drives such mimicry and much less the awareness necessary to accomplish it. Plato may have been right. Here we sit in the cave…
Book is now available for purchase here! Here are the Table of Contents to whet the appetite:
Chapter 1: Philosophical Approaches to Atheism
Chapter 2: Refuting the Kalam Cosmological Argument
Chapter 3: The Moral Argument Refuted
Chapter 4: Refuting Plantinga’s Victorious Ontological Argument
Chapter 5: On Qualia and A Refutation of the Argument from Consciousness
Chapter 6: Refuting the Fine-Tuning Argument
Chapter 7: The Failures of Aquinas’ Five Ways
Chapter 8: Transcendental Arguments and Presuppositionalism Refuted
Chapter 9: The Argument from Assailability
Chapter 10: The Arguments from History and The Multiplicity of Religions
Chapter 11: The Argument from Cosmology
Chapter 12: On the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
I hope you guys enjoy!
By R.N. Carmona
A Christian on the Humans of New York Instagram page brought up the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA) and named a few of its Christian defenders. Like I’m fond of pointing out, in naming just Christian defenders of the argument, it is likely he hasn’t considered actual objections. He’s read a degraded form of objections via the lens of these Christian authors. This is why I call apologetics, pseudo-philosophy.
In actual philosophical discourse, the participants in a given discussion are as charitable to one another as possible and they try very hard to ensure that nothing is lost in translation. They constantly correct themselves if they misinterpret what their opponent has said or they attempt to show that their interpretation better captures what their opponent is trying to say. Apologists don’t do this. Apologists straw man an objection, sometimes in ways that seem sophisticated, in order to make the argument or counter-argument easier to address. This is precisely why I advised him to deal with J.L. Mackie, for example–to read him directly and not through the lens of one of his favored authors. Then he would find that even Christians reject the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA).
A quick example of what I mean: in responding to my Argument From Cosmology, my opponent says that the opposite of my conclusion is as follows: the fact that an x can’t be shown to exist in relation to y doesn’t mean that x doesn’t exist*; in other words, that god can’t be shown to exist in relation to the Earth doesn’t mean god doesn’t exist. Yet on Judaism and Christianity, god created the Earth. Modern science tells us that planets have no creator; they form naturally over an extended period of time. We have real time data of planet formation in other systems. The history of our planet doesn’t resemble anything mentioned in the Bible. By extension, I argue that god doesn’t exist in relation to the universe, since he didn’t create it. Modern cosmology tells us as much.
His assertion is not enough to refute my argument. In fact, all he’s concluding is the opposite of what he misunderstood as my conclusion. My actual conclusion is this: x does not exist in relation to y iff it is necessary that x exist in relation to y. If god did not create the Earth or the universe, he doesn’t exist in relation to either, and by extension, doesn’t exist; however, on Christianity, it is necessary that he does. This is precisely what his favored LCA says. Through the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), for every being or state of affairs that exist, there is a sufficient reason for why they exist. It then adds, that for every being or state of affairs that exist, there is a necessary reason for why they exist. Therefore, god is the necessary and sufficient reason for why these states of affairs exist.
My Argument From Cosmology best captures a decisive criticism of the LCA without directly engaging it. J.L. Mackie stated that PSR need not be assumed by reason. Reason only asks for antecedent causes and conditions that explain each being or state of affairs. These are considered facts until they themselves are explained by something prior to them. On reason, nothing is prerequisite beyond this.
Thus, going back to my conclusion, x does not exist in relation to y iff it is necessary that x exist in relation to y. In order for Christianity to hold true, god would have had to create the Earth and the universe. If we have reason to doubt that he created the Earth, and modern science establishes this conclusively, then we have much reason to doubt that he created the universe. If the Earth can be explained by antecedent causes and conditions, then the universe can as well. My argument offers a number of plausible explanations fielded in modern cosmology all whilst arguing that there cannot be the type of causation Christians would require, i.e., the type of causation that allows for an immaterial agent to create material objects. At best, such causation is unknowable and it is probable that there will be no hard evidence for it; hence the Christian must retreat to agnosticism. At worst, such causation is impossible and there cannot be any evidence for it; thus, the Christian must retreat to atheism.
Ultimately, my argument addresses the LCA by implication, i.e., my argument implies a defeater of the LCA. Therefore, I do not have to address it directly. The same can be said of the KCA. Rebuttals to both arguments are implicit in my argument. That fact alone should give apologists pause.
In any case, my point has been made: apologetics is pseudo-philosophy. Apologists prop it up by being uncharitable and purposely (in most cases) misinterpreting a claim or argument made by atheists. Apologists are also modern sophists: it matters not how things might be or probably are; what matters is what they think is the case, what they say is the case, or what they deem possible–as though possibility implies probability. Apologists are also quite fond of straw men, which they use to make their arguments seem superior to those of their opponents. Unlike them, I have defined PSR correctly and I’ve summarized the LCA charitably. However, I’ve also shown that my Argument From Cosmology considers the LCA, albeit indirectly. My argument implies a decisive blow to the LCA. It is therefore necessary to deal with my argument directly; it isn’t enough to choose a favored argument and deem it superior on the basis of a misinterpretation of my conclusion.
*His assessment is correct assuming that x isn’t necessary with relation to y. The fact that I (x) cannot be explained with relation to an invention (y) doesn’t mean I do not exist. Even the actual inventor of invention (y) doesn’t have this sort of connection to the invention in question. Another agent could have been the inventor. On Christianity, however, there are no other gods and hence no other creators. Thus, if god did not create the Earth, there is reason to doubt he created anything else in the universe and therefore, the universe itself. As stated, for Christianity to be true, it need only be shown that god is necessary in this possible world; the LCA, as originally formulated, wants Anselm’s deity and therefore, on the LCA, god is necessary in all possible worlds. My argument casts much doubt on this, especially since god is the necessary being antecedent to all contingent beings. If this connection fails on a minor front, e.g., god didn’t create all baseballs, that’s fine, for even then he would underlie the reason for the reason of the baseballs, namely human beings. If it fails on a major front, as I’ve shown in the case of the Earth and all planets for that matter, a glaring problem arises for Christians, for even if they posit a being that willed the laws of physics, what they have is a deity far removed from the deity in the Bible. That would make for a separate discussion altogether.
By R.N. Carmona
In the U.S., there are a few striking examples of science denialism. Perhaps the most troubling among these instances is the rejection of evolution. Fundamentalist Christians have fought to keep evolution out of schools and have fought equally as hard to push creationism and/or Intelligent Design (ID) into the classroom. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 42% of Americans deny evolution and accept creationism. Given this, it is imperative to be capable of explaining evolution and the evidence in support of it. Having this capacity does not ensure that denialists will come to accept it. There’s still the issue of comprehension; there is, in other words, a pervasive problem arising from two distinct and yet related facts: science denialists are not familiar with the relevant jargon and thus, cannot comprehend, for instance, an informal argument for evolution; science denialists usually have a disdain for both alternative opinions and reading and therefore, would forego reading a piece defending an alternative opinion. On that last issue, they would much rather accuse an “evolutionist” of lacking substance or not being an expert–despite the fact that said individual is citing experts and reputable sources. Given this, it is necessary to be brief and effective when presenting the evidence for evolution. This is what I’ll endeavor to do here.
There are a number of lines of evidence for evolution: biogeographic distribution, homologies, atavisms, vestigial organs and traits, and perhaps the most compelling stemming from genetics: GLO (short for gulono-y-lactone oxidase) and ERVs (endogenous retroviruses), which will be discussed at length. Since I am not an expert and I am sans pretenses to the contrary, I will cite reputable sources and experts in order to make a brief case. Since the evidence for evolution is vast and requires a grasp of multiple sciences–e.g., paleontology, anthropology, genetics, evolutionary biology, environmental science–I will narrow my focus and speak only of the evidence that is arguably most compelling. I will begin with GLO, which is a pseudogene or a non-functional gene. Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago, provides one of the better evidences of evolution:
The most famous human pseudogene is GLO, so called because in other species it produces an enzyme called L-gulono-y-lactone oxidase. This enzyme is used in making vitamin C (ascorbic acid) from the simple sugar glucose. Vitamin C is essential for proper metabolism, and virtually all mammals have the pathway to make it — all, that is, except for primates, fruit bats, and guinea pigs. In these species, Vitamin C is obtained directly from their food, and normal diets usually have enough. If we don’t ingest enough vitamin C, we get sick: scurvy was common among fruit-deprived seamen of the nineteenth century. The reason why primates and these few other mammals don’t make their own vitamin C is because they don’t need to. Yet DNA sequencing tells us that primates still carry most of the genetic information needed to make the vitamin.
It turns out that the pathway for making vitamin C from glucose involves a sequence of four steps, each promoted by the product of a different gene. Primates and guinea pigs still have active genes for the first three steps, but the last step, which requires the GLO enzyme, doesn’t take place: GLO has been inactivated by a mutation. It has become a pseudogene, called ΨGLO (Ψ is the Greek letter psi, standing for “pseudo”). ΨGLO doesn’t work because a single nucleotide in the gene’s DNA sequence is missing. And it’s exactly the same nucleotide missing in other primates. This shows that the mutation that destroyed our ability to make vitamin C was present in the ancestor of all primates, and was passed on to its descendants. The inactivation of GLO in guinea pigs happened independently, since it involves different mutations. It’s highly likely that since fruit bats, guinea pigs, and primates got plenty of vitamin C in their diet, there was no penalty for inactivating the pathway that made it. This could even have been beneficial since it eliminated a protein that might have been costly to produce.
A dead gene in one species that is active in its relatives is evidence for evolution, but there’s more. When you look at ΨGLO in living primates, you find out that its sequence is more similar between close relatives than between more distant ones. The sequence of human and chimp ΨGLO, for example, resemble each other closely, but differ more from the ΨGLO of orangutans which are more distant relatives. What’s more, the sequence of guinea pig ΨGLO is very different from that of all primates.
Only evolution and common ancestry can explain these facts. All mammals inherited a functional copy of the GLO gene. About 40 million years ago, in the common ancestor of all primates, a gene that was no longer needed was inactivated by mutation. All primates inherited that same mutation. After GLO was silenced, other mutations continued to occur in the gene that was no longer expressed. These mutations accumulated over time — they are harmless if they occur in genes that are already dead — and were passed on to descendant species. Since closer relatives share a common ancestor more recently, genes that change in a time-dependent way follow the pattern of common ancestry, leading to DNA sequences more similar in close than in distant relatives. This occurs whether or not a gene is dead. The sequence of ΨGLO in guinea pigs is so different because it was inactivated independently, in a lineage that had already diverged from that of primates. And ΨGLO is not unique in showing such patterns: there are many other such pseudogenes.1
The above is a compelling example demonstrating that we share a common ancestor with apes and monkeys. However, it arguably isn’t the most compelling example serving as evidence for evolution. Another example of such a gene demonstrates that we descend from egg-laying ancestors. Dennis Venema, Biologist at Trinity Western University, stated the following:
Common ancestry also predicts that, beyond human-chimpanzee common ancestry, the common primate ancestor also shares ancestry with other vertebrates in the more distant past. For example, evolutionary theory predicts that humans, like all vertebrates, are descended from egg-laying ancestors. As with all placental mammals, humans do not use egg yolk as a source of nutrition for their embryos. Other vertebrates such as fish and birds do employ egg yolk, as do a small number of extant mammals such as the platypus.
They found that these genes were present side-by-side and functional in the human genome; then they performed an examination of human sequence between them. As expected, the heavily mutated, pseudogenized sequence of the vitellogenin gene was present in the human genome at this precise location. The human genome thus contains the mutated remains of a gene devoted to egg yolk formation in egg-laying vertebrates at the precise location predicted by shared synteny derived from common ancestry.2
Another line of evidence for evolution comes from molecular biology, namely endogenous retroviruses. In humans, “endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) represent footprints of previous retroviral infection and have been termed “fossil viruses.”3 Also, ” it has been shown that the human genome contains numerous ERVs (HERVs) distributed in several multigenic families comprising a few to several hundreds elements (26, 45, 48). These elements are hallmarks of ancient infections of the germ line by retroviruses which have thereafter been “endogenized” and can be used as molecular markers of evolution.”4
Someone who doesn’t believe in evolution needs to offer alternative explanations for these facts. Their probable next move is predictable: indulge their confirmation bias by consulting creationist and intelligent design websites. Those sites will certainly have “refutations” of these facts, but keep in mind, having a Ph.D. doesn’t imply that one has expertise even on matters unrelated to what one studied. In other words, a Ph.D. in law doesn’t mean one can speak with authority on biology; a Ph.D. in biochemistry doesn’t mean one can speak with authority on physics. This is a common mistake made by creationists: anyone with a Ph.D. is an authority on absolutely anything they purport to be an expert in. Donald Prothero, who was a Professor geology and paleontology for 35 years, states the following:
One of the principal symbols of authority in scholarship and science is the Ph.D. degree. But you don’t need a Ph.D. to do good science, and not all people who have Ph.D.s are good scientists either. As those of us who have gone through the ordeal know, a Ph.D. only proves that you can survive a grueling test of endurance in doing research and writing a dissertation on a very narrow topic. It doesn’t prove that you are smarter than anyone else or more qualified to render an opinion than anyone else. Because earning a Ph.D. requires enormous focus on a specific area, many people with that degree have actually lost a lot of their scholarly breadth and knowledge of other fields in the process of focusing on their theses.
In particular, it is common for people making extraordinary claims (like creationism or alien abductions or psychic powers) to wear Ph.D. (if they have one) like a badge, advertise it prominently on their book covers, and feature it in their biographies. They know that it will impress and awe the listener or reader into thinking they are smarter than anyone else or more qualified to pronounce on a topic. Nonsense! Unless the claimant has earned a Ph.D. in the subject being discussed, the degree is entirely irrelevant to the controversy. For example, leading creationists include Duane Gish, who has a doctorate in biochemistry, and the late Henry Morris, who had a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering. However, they both earned their degrees almost 50 years ago, so they are not likely to be up-to-date on these rapidly changing fields that they have not practiced in decades. If they stuck to discussing just those topics, they might be halfway believable, but all their criticisms focus on the fossil record, geology, thermodynamics, and so on—topics in which they have absolutely no first-hand experience, published research, or training. Their entire knowledge of these fields (vividly demonstrated by reading their books) consists of skimming and misquoting popular books by real experts in those fields who did the actual work, not going out and doing the research themselves or publishing in peer-reviewed journals. They are no more qualified to comment on paleontology, geology, or thermodynamics than they are qualified to critique music theory! Yet they always flaunt their Ph.D.s to awe the masses and try to intimidate their opponents. The same goes for creationists like Jonathan Sarfati (physical chemistry), Michael Behe (biochemistry), and Jonathan Wells (cell biology)—none of those subjects gives them ANY background in fossils or paleontology, and none has published in any peer-reviewed paleontological journals, so they are complete amateurs when it comes to fossils.5
Given this, one can’t trust any purported authority. One must consult actual experts. Going back to what was mentioned earlier, the issue all creationists and ID advocates have, is that they have a misunderstanding of science. The Christian persecution complex is palpable among such people. They honestly and generally believe that their ideas are being suppressed by the scientific community, a sentiment overtly present in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. That sentiment is, however, wrong since it has no place in science. Carl Sagan said it best: “The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there’s no place for it in the endeavor of science.”6
Therefore, it is something about creationism and ID that exempt them from science. The reason they’re exempt is not simply because they’re religiously motivated views, but because they’re akin to astrology, homeopathy, and alchemy—i.e. they are pseudoscience. Jack Ritchie puts it succinctly:
Science is a self-critical enterprise. It provides resources for criticizing itself and other disciplines. We have good and obvious reasons to exclude topics such as astrology or creation science. These disciplines are not successful by their own lights. Astrologers do not accurately predict people’s future on the basis of planetary motions. Advocates of intelligent design, whatever the merits of the problems they raise for various parts of the theory of evolution, have no alternative scientific story to put in its place; they have no suggestion as to how to undertake research into the nature of the “intelligent designer.” Science is different. The sciences have made progress—at least by their own lights. Physicists know more about the subatomic realm than before. No doubt the Large Hadron Collider will enhance that process. Evolutionary biologists know more about the evolutionary process than Darwin. Good science is, furthermore, rich in unsolved problems that this deeper knowledge throws up. We don’t need any general definitions or criteria of what science is to make these points.7
The lack of success of these views is literally the tip of the iceberg. That they’re not successful isn’t what determines that they’re pseudoscience. Pick any of the demarcation theories put forth by philosophers of science and you’ll find that creationism and ID don’t meet the requirements to pass as science. Take, for example, Popper’s falsification. Can we falsify the intelligent designer who, according to many ID advocates, is the Judeo-Christian god? What matters here is not whether a naturalist or an atheist can falsify him. What matters is whether ID advocates are willing to attempt falsification of the intelligent designer. Since their view is rooted in religion, we can be reasonably certain that they’re not going to attempt to falsify the intelligent designer.
Let’s assume, however, that Popper’s falsification isn’t a good marker of demarcation. Let’s instead go with Kuhn’s paradigm shifts. Let’s assume that creationist and ID advocates try for centuries to locate this intelligent designer or creator. Will they put a new theory in place and allow their enterprise to go through a paradigm shift? In other words, will they, like early chemists who discarded Phlogiston theory and introduced theories that better describe the phenomena in question, introduce a new theory that perhaps eliminates an intelligent designer or creator altogether? Again, we can reasonably expect that no matter the evidence, no matter how stacked the odds are, creationists and ID advocates will not discard their current theory in favor of more tenable ones.
Let’s set Kuhn aside. Perhaps his demarcation marker is wrong. Let’s instead look at creationism and ID from the point of view of Lakatos’ research programmes. Lakatos posited that within normal science there are research programmes. The aim of science isn’t hypotheses in isolation or trial and error or conjectures followed by refutations. According to Lakatos, the reason Copernicanism succeeded where Ptolemy’s astronomy failed is because Ptolemy’s astronomy lagged behind as a research programme. The facts, especially after Galileo, supported heliocentrism rather than Ptolemy’s geocentrism, which featured epicycles. Are creationism or ID viable research programmes? No because their so called scientists are not doing normal science. Furthermore, they have no heuristic that serves as a problem-solving mechanism. Therefore, on Lakatos’ view, creationism and ID don’t qualify as science.
With this brief survey of demarcation theories in the philosophy of science, one can see that creationism and ID don’t qualify as science under any of these theories. That’s a problem. It follows that creationism and ID are not suppressed. Rather, it’s that they don’t qualify as scientific theories. Their proponents don’t participate in normal science. They have no research programme in place. They have no interest in falsifying their theory. ID and creationism do not belong in the science classroom and definitely not in a scientific discussion.
Given the case above, creationism and ID should be rejected. They are pseudoscientific theories. Even if they could be falsified, proponents of ID or creationism have no interest in falsifying them. This is due to the fact that advocates of these theories are not practicing normal science. As we can gather from what Prothero said, creationist and ID advocates mislead people with Ph.D.s in normal sciences. However, some of these fields progress rapidly and they are thus required to stay up to date on the changes in their field. This is usually not the case given that some of these people received their Ph.D.s literal decades ago. Therefore, their authority is dubious and upon closer examination, entirely lacking. These purported experts cannot be trusted. Yet this isn’t the reason evolution should be accepted. The reasons outlined above are great starting points. The experts cited are also trustworthy scholars who have done far more work in their respective fields than I was able to showcase here. My hope is that readers who are currently evolution denialists make the choice of doing honest research and coming away with a level of understanding they currently lack.
1 Coyne, Jerry A. Why Evolution Is True. New York: Viking, 2009. 67-69. Print.
2 Dennis Veneme as quoted in Farrell, John. “The Fossils in Our Genes”. Forbes. 21 Oct 2011. Web. 22 Dec 2014.
3 Nelson PN, Carnegie PR, Martin J, et al. Demystified. Human endogenous retroviruses. Mol Pathol. 2003; 56:11–8.
4 Benit L., Dessen P., Heidmann T. Identification, phylogeny, and evolution of retroviral elements based on their envelope genes. J. Virol. 2001; 75:11709–11719. doi: 10.1128/JVI.75.23.11709-11719.2001.
5 Prothero, Donald R., and Carl Dennis Buell. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. 16. Print.
6 Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Ep 4: Heaven and Hell. 1980. Web. 22 Dec 2014.
7 Ritchie, Jack. Understanding Naturalism. Stocksfield, England: Acumen, 2008. 108. Print.
By R.N. Carmona
With the exception of the last tactic on the list (obscurantism), I’ve attempted to place the arguments in an order proportional to their degree of weakness. In other words, none of the arguments below are strong arguments or tactics for the existence of a god. All of the arguments are weak, but some are undoubtedly weaker than others; to put it bluntly, some of these arguments are plain foolish and it is difficult to explain why they’re so frequently used. So let us turn now to what I think is the weakest argument frequently used by Christians.
The “Faith in Science” Argument
This argument is perhaps the weakest argument offered by Christians. In more than three years of blogging, I’ve experienced this argument countless times–most recently twice within the same week (see here and here). Given the ensuing length of this post, you can read those responses to see why the argument is simply bad. There’s no reason to beat a dead horse.
The Argument From Consequences
The most common version of this argument is one attempting to link atheism and nihilism. Some Christians would go as far as to say that modern atheists aren’t really atheists. A Tumblr Catholic posted the following unsourced quote from Father Baron:
… at least the existentialists were serious about their atheism — they saw the implications of it. I think what we see in a lot of the New Atheism is a kind of frivolous, or superficial, or childish atheism, a kind of playing at atheism.
Jerry Coyne writes: “atheists simply aren’t dolorous enough about our nonbelief; Like Nietzsche, we should be mourning the death of God, which takes away from us a grounded morality, and one that we haven’t replaced it with a solid secularly-based morality.“1 Coyne isn’t agreeing with this sentiment; he’s objecting to it. This argument can often piggyback on the Moral Argument for God. We’ll discuss this argument later.
Even if it were the case that there is a salient connection between atheism and nihilism, this still wouldn’t imply that atheism is false. Truth often has uncomfortable implications. “How can you believe in natural disasters? They kill so many people and destroy so many things.” Obviously, this type of contention doesn’t show that natural disasters don’t happen. They do happen and it’s true that they destroy things and kill people, but the fact that natural disasters lead to discomforting consequences doesn’t mean they don’t occur or better said, that we should deny that they occur or force ourselves to believe that they don’t on the basis that its more comforting to do so.
Likewise, if it’s true that nihilism follows from atheism, then if atheism is true, life is devoid of meaning. That life is devoid of meaning if atheism is true doesn’t mean that theism has to be true because a meaningful life is more comforting. Conversely, this same reasoning can be applied to notions of an afterlife. The finality of death is uncomfortable for most people who dwell on it, but that it’s uncomfortable doesn’t make it false.
Such arguments are fallacious because they appeal to consequences. Whether one appeals to desirable or undesirable consequences doesn’t make a difference. Aside from the aforementioned example, one will often hear Christians state that evolution must be false because if it isn’t, we’re equal to animals. One will also hear that since eternal life is preferable, heaven must exist. The desirability or undesirability of a given consequence(s) doesn’t prove or disprove any proposition.
In any event, this still doesn’t prevent atheists from finding meaning in life. Nietzsche’s nihilism isn’t an atheist’s only choice when it comes to existentialism. His nihilism can be considered the epistemic equivalent to atheism: atheism is the lack of belief in gods; nihilism is the lack of belief in meaning in life. However, like the question of god, there are alternatives and a middle ground. For instance, absurdism is to existentialism what agnosticism is to the question of god; while absurdism states that there’s an incongruence between our desire for meaning in life and the lack of meaning in the universe, agnosticism states that the question of god is unanswerable because whether or not god exists is unknowable. They both posit an unknowability. An atheist can also choose to believe in self-generated meaning; this attitude originates in the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre though Sartre’s existentialism is more metaphysical given his heavy emphasis on the concept of being.
The Argument From Martyrdom
This argument is less frequently used and for good reason. Aside from the assumption that something is true given that people die for it, it completely ignores the fact that people have died for the sake of other religions. Aside from that, people have died for ideologies (e.g. Nazism, racism, nationalism). Richard Carrier puts it succinctly:
[T]he fact that believers are willing to die for their belief does not confirm their belief is true, since there have been willing martyrs for Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Marxism, even paganism, and many other religions and ideologies throughout history. In the right social conditions, such martyrdom doesn’t even slow recruitment because such willingness to die is normal for such movements, not unusual. As W.H.C. Frend says of that time, “there was a living pagan tradition of self-sacrifice for a cause, a preparedness if necessary to defy an unjust rule, that existed alongside the developing Christian concept of martyrdom inherited from Judaism.” Christian martyrdom particularly made sense from a cultural and sociological perspective. Many sociologists studying world martyrdom movements have found they have a common social underpinning throughout history, from aboriginal movements in the New World to Islamic movements in the Middle East. For example, Alan Segal says that in every well-documented case a widespread inclination to martyrdom “is an oblique attack by the powerless against the power of oppressors,” in effect “canceling the power of an oppressor through moral claims to higher ground and to a resolute claim to the afterlife, as the better” and only “permanent” reward. “From modern examples,” Segal concludes, “we can see that what produces martyrdom,” besides the corresponding “exaltation of the afterlife,” is “a colonial and imperial situation, a conquering power, and a subject people whose religion does not easily account for the conquest.” Some of these subjects are “predisposed to understand events in a religious context,” and are suffering from some “political or economic” deprivation, or even social or cultural deprivation (as when the most heartfelt morals of the subgroup are not recognized or realized by the dominating power structure).2
Matthew Ferguson takes the wheels off this argument by investigating “the circumstances of the apostles’ deaths” and finding “that they are virtually all ahistorical legends, full of contradictions, and little more than magical absurdities.”3 This argument isn’t cogent and while not as bad as the previous argument, it’s still a bad argument.
The Design/Watchmaker Argument
This argument has taken on various forms over time and though it’s closely related to one of the notable arguments below (namely, the God-of-the-Gaps Argument), it’s an argument unto itself. The argument was originated by William Paley who opened his book, Natural Theology (1802), with the following:
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there: I might possibly answer, that for any thing I know to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch, as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissable in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz., that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose … This mechanism being observed … the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place of other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.4
This argument has modern variants: Kyle Butt, in his debate with Dan Barker, employed the Watchmaker Argument but instead of a watch, he asked us to imagine stumbling upon a laptop on a beach.5 This argument is rightfully called the Watchmaker Fallacy. This analysis of the argument is correct since the argument hinges on a false analogy. That something appears designed doesn’t mean it is. It’s also non-sequitur to infer design where there’s no evidence of any.
A more modern iteration of the Design argument, which is a teleological argument, is the Fine-Tuning Argument. Sean Carroll, in his debate with William Lane Craig, offers a rebuttal against the Fine-Tuning Argument:
Even if you think the universe is finely-tuned and you don’t think that naturalism can solve it, theism certainly does not solve it. If you thought it did, if you played the game honestly, what you would say is, ‘here is the universe I expect to exist under theism; I will compare it to the data and see if it fits.’ What kind of universe would we expect? And I claim that over and over again the universe we expect matches the predictions of naturalism, not theism. So the amount of tuning—if you thought the physical parameters of our universe were tuned in order to allow life to exist—you would expect enough tuning but not too much. Under naturalism a physical mechanism could far over-tune by an incredibly large amount that has nothing to do with the existence of life, and that is exactly what we observe. For example, the entropy of the early universe is much, much, much, much lower than it needs to be to allow for life. You would expect under theism that the particles and parameters of particle physics would be enough to allow life to exist and have some structure that was designed for some reason; whereas under naturalism, you’d expect them to be kind of random and a mess. Guess what? They are kind of random and a mess. You would expect under theism life to play a special role in the universe; under naturalism you’d expect life to be very insignificant. I hope I don’t need to tell you, life is very insignificant as far as the universe is concerned.6
In another lecture on this topic, Carroll offers the possibility that the parameters aren’t as fine-tuned as we think when concerning life and that it’s presumptuous to assume that we understand perfectly when life could exist, since different parameters might yield different forms of life. He adds that if we were serious about this argument, we’d consider all possible theories, all cosmologies arising as a result of those theories, all possible manifestations of life and consciousness, and calculate which universes among all possible universes are life-bearing. He also points to a specific case of over-tuning, which is the entropy of the early universe. At 10^10^120, the entropy of the early universe is enormously smaller than it needs to be to allow for the existence of life.7
Victor Stenger notices a case of double think among proponents of this argument. In other words, he notices a common inconsistency among apologists and their admirers.
On the one hand the creationists and God-of-the-gaps evolutionists argue that nature is too uncongenial for life to have developed totally naturally, and so therefore supernatural input must have occurred. On the other hand, the fine-tuners (often the same people) argue that the constants and laws of nature are exquisitely congenial to life, and so therefore they must have been supernaturally created. They can’t have it both ways.8
Aside from the fallacies already mentioned, the argument is a case of agency over-detection. Proponents of this argument are inferring agency where there isn’t any. Furthermore, they’re engaging in confirmation bias. For instance, to them, the Earth is obviously created and bears the marks of fine-tuning. However, they ignore cases in modern astrophysics which show planets forming naturally and without any discernible purpose.9 Given such cases, the Earth isn’t the exception to the rule. It’s likelier that the Earth was the product of naturalistic processes.
The “Atheist Atrocities” Argument
This argument is quite common. Whether it’s an attempt to poison the well by making atheism look bad or simply a response to an atheist who brings up The Dark Ages is hard to notice. In any event, even if it were true, the argument would rest on a fallacy–namely tu quoque. Tu quoque is a “you too” puerile response that forgets that two wrongs don’t make a right. Whether the argument is made on a whim or as an attempted rebuttal doesn’t change the fact that a fallacy is being committed. If on a whim, the Christian is poisoning the well; if as a response, they’re committing tu quoque: “sure Christians have killed in the name of Jesus, but atheists murdered millions in the name of atheism!”
Unfortunately for the Christian, this is an oversimplification of what actually happened. It ignores, especially in Mao’s and Pol Pot’s cases, a number of facts that have to be accounted for. Michael Sherlock shared a well-researched piece very recently.10 Any Christian who puts stock in this argument owes it to him/herself to read it.
This is an argument that apologists claim isn’t understood by modern believers and atheists. This is apparently why we have colloquial variants of the argument: “it’s better to believe in God; this way you’ll avoid going to Hell.” Unfortunately, this argument isn’t misunderstood because it’s precisely what Pascal argued.
On the basis of doxastic voluntarism, Pascal assumed that we can choose whether or not to believe. He therefore offered scenarios: if one believes, there’s an infinite reward, whereas if one disbelieves, there’s infinite punishment. He also argued that even if god’s existence were 50/50, it would still be more rational to believe on the basis of expectations.11
The multiplicity argument, first offered by Denis Diderot, is one of the more common rebuttals. A short video posted on YouTube by Theramin Trees illustrates it succinctly.12 The rebuttal refutes Pascal’s two-two matrix. The matrix is clearly not a two-two matrix. It’s not as simple as belief versus non-belief in the Judeo-Christian god. There are consequences if you choose to believe in this god though Allah exists or choose to believe in Allah though Krishna exists. There are myriad religions with multifarious consequences for rejecting the purported truth offered by said religion. Some religions, on the other hand, don’t carry any consequences for disbelief and thus, if they turned out to be true, the non-believer wouldn’t face punishment of any kind.
While the multiplicity argument is a strong rebuttal, I think a more pointed rebuttal rests on the same decision theory employed by Pascal. I introduced the thought process of investors and gamblers to show that risk is taken only when real rewards are available.13 On Christianity, there’s no definitive way to know that there’s reward for one’s risk. The afterlife and all its rewards are believed on the basis of faith rather than fact. This isn’t the case with investing and gambling. Furthermore, as surveyed in this post so far, there’s no good reason to wager on the Judeo-Christian god.
The Moral Argument(s)
In case anyone is still inclined to think that the laws of nature can be identified with the commands of a superior being, it is worth pointing out that this analysis cannot be correct. It is already an objection to it that it burdens our science with all the uncertainty of our metaphysics, or our theology. If it should turn out that we had no good reason to believe in the existence of such a superior being, or no good reason to believe that he issued any commands, it would follow, on this analysis, that we should not be entitled to believe that there were any laws of nature. But the main argument against this view is independent of any doubt that one may have about the existence of a superior being. Even if we knew that such a one existed, and that he regulated nature, we still could not identify the laws of nature with his commands. For it is only by discovering what were the laws of nature that we could know what form these commands had taken. But this implies that we have some independent criteria for deciding what the laws of nature are. The assumption that they are imposed by a superior being is therefore idle, in the same way as the assumption of providence is idle. It is only if there are independent means of finding out what is going to happen that one is able to say what providence has in store. The same objection applies to the rather more fashionable view that moral laws are the commands of a superior being.14
The Moral Argument for God states that since objective values and duties exist, god exists. A relativist will disagree with the former assertion. My view is that the Moral Argument for God, which is rooted in substantive realism, has the story backward. Substantive realism is the view that states that “there are correct procedures for answering moral questions because there are moral truths or facts, which exist independently of those procedures, and which those procedures track.”15 The fatal flaws of this position are as follows:
- Whether one argues that morality is simply objective and that it exists independently, or that it’s objective because it hinges on god and exists independently insofar as its being is conferred by god, the view begs the question and thus isn’t epistemically justified.
- Given that the view begs the question, we need to look elsewhere; in other words, given that it isn’t enough to posit that morality is contingent on a deity, we’ve more work to do.
- Enter procedural realism: “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”16
- Such a procedure would be Kant’s CI procedure or Smith’s problem-solution model. Or it could be something simpler. The procedures could even vary. One thing is clear, however: morality is constructivist and more specifically procedural and this is evidenced by the codification of law throughout history.
Conversely, that law descends from a sovereign was fashionable in one of the earliest theories of law. John Austin’s Command Theory, which is arguably the first fully developed positivist theory of law, stated that law was the command of a sovereign. By sovereign, Austin wasn’t referring to a god, but rather, to a king. This portrait of the law was supplanted by H.L.A. Hart’s Model of Rules17, which is an alternative positivist theory of law, and then later by Ronald Dworkin’s Law’s Integrity, which is a non-positivist theory of law.18 In brief, the reason these theories supplant Austin’s is because his theory doesn’t accurately apply to governments like those found in the US and England. The notion of sovereignty is either nonexistent or conflicting in some governments and therefore, Austin’s theory is inadequate. Hart’s theory is actually a generalization of Austin’s theory and therefore, encompasses the types of governments accurately described by Austin’s theory and governments his theory fails to describe. In any event, notions of a divine sovereign cause problems as my reductio ad absurdum of Divine Command Theory demonstrates.19
Kant’s CI Procedure and Adam Smith’s Problem-Solution Model are detailed in this response to a defender of the moral argument. These concepts are simply too broad to cover here. Also, along Goldstein’s suggestion of morality operating like an algorithm, I suggested two types of moral algorithms that may exist in the human mind if we are to assume CTM (Computational Theory of Mind).20
If this is too esoteric, one can easily attack the first premise of the Moral Argument for God: if god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. The premise contains a hidden presupposition. One cannot simply assume that objective moral values and duties can’t exist without god. The premise, in essence, assumes the conclusion of the argument and thus, reveals a veiled circularity. The premise is therefore, unsound.
The argument only pretends to give us an origin for morality, whereas my explanation is both philosophically and scientifically sound. Generally speaking, humans are moral agents. This, in part, can be traced given evolution. There are, for instance, empathy, cooperation, and care for kin in nature. Therefore, the rudiments of morality can be seen in nature and not surprisingly, it is mostly seen in mammals—the phylum we pertain to. Given our common ancestry and given the congruence of our brains, whatever procedures (e.g. problem-solution; CI procedure) we employ to answer moral questions will be objective. Even if it doesn’t start out that way, it will end up that way (e.g. Kant’s Kingdom of Ends). Also, given that morality is an example of crowd-sourced knowledge, the peculiarities of this or that individual or group will eventually be weeded out.
An explanation on the origin of morality can consist of the following parts: evolution and/or neurobiology, genetics, cultural evolution, etc. The reason I offer a choice between evolution and neurobiology is because people have questioned whether evolution is necessary when explaining morality. In other words, who’s to say we evolved to be moral? What if our moral instincts find their origin in our brains? This is Churchland’s line of thinking in her book Braintrust. Then again, contrast that with Korsgaard’s view, which is based on Nietzsche’s internalization of man. She maintains that we, as primates, may have internalized what was once external authority. In other words, when you look at most primate societies, you’ll find an alpha. This alpha serves as an authority. As h.sapien became a separate biological population, this sort of authority was seldom needed. Eventually, we developed autonomy and upon doing so, we internalized the authority that was once external. In this sense, evolution can serve as morality’s foundation.
Aside from the fact that the Moral Argument is redundantly offered as a so called ironclad proof of god, Christians commonly demonstrate ignorance of ethics. None of the Christians I’ve spoken to are aware of alternatives. The most common tripe is that if we don’t accept the Moral Argument, relativism ensues. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who doesn’t assume all atheists are moral relativists. They couldn’t summarize moral nihilism, contractualism, consequentialism, utilitarianism, procedural realism, etc. even if their lives depended on it. On philosophy, this sort of behavior is unacceptable. One can’t simply side with a position without considering alternatives. It isn’t enough to state that one knows the truth if one never set out in search of it.
Also, and this is rather pathetic, they show no sign of knowing of better alternatives on their end. Take, for example, Leibniz’s Natural Law, which takes morality to be independent of god and considers it to consist of “eternal truths, objects of the divine intellect, so to speak, the essence of divinity itself.”21 Rather than hinge on a particular god, the view hinges on the existence of metaphysical entities that include morality. This is a more general postulate of religion. Going back to my summary of the problems faced by substantive realism, all it would take is one alteration to apply those same problems to Leibniz’s view (i.e. given that it isn’t enough to proffer that morality has independent existence, we have more work to do).
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
Popularized by William Lane Craig, this argument is mostly presented by admirers of Craig or people who want to be or fancy themselves apologists. Whether from a scientific or philosophical angle, the argument is unsound.
Scientifically speaking, Craig attempts to provide support for the KCA by citing the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem. Craig offered the following in his debate with Sean Carroll:
In 2003 Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to show that any universe, which is on average in a state of cosmic expansion throughout its history, cannot be infinite in the past but must have a beginning.22
This is false as Carroll pointed out:
So I’d like to talk about the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, since Dr.Craig emphasizes it. And the rough translation is that in some universes—not all—the space-time description that we have as a classical space-time breaks down at some point in the past. Where Dr.Craig says that the Borde-Guth-Vilken theorem implies the universe had a beginning, that is false. That is not what it says. What is says is that our ability to describe the universe classically—that is to say, not including the effects of quantum mechanics—gives out. That maybe because there’s a beginning or it maybe because the universe is eternal—either because the assumptions of the theorem were violated or because quantum mechanics becomes important.23
Carroll would later state that he talked to Alan Guth. Guth then popped up on the projector holding up a sign that read: “the universe probably didn’t have a beginning, and is very likely eternal.”24
Given this, it’s safe to conclude that the KCA has no scientific support. A misapplication of cosmology and theoretical physics merely appears to support it. Upon scrutiny, this seeming support folds. The KCA isn’t empirically established because though Big Bang cosmology is the current paradigm in modern cosmology, it isn’t set in stone. There are details that need to be ironed out and some of these details are damning to the notion of creation (e.g. primordial gravitational waves, which imply inflation; inflation then implies the inflationary multiverse).
Philosophically speaking, there are two issues with the KCA that are condemning. Both of these issues arise from the first premise: whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence. One could, for example, apply Humean causal skepticism to P1 of the KCA. This isn’t as absurd as some people may think. C.S. Peirce, who many consider the greatest American philosopher, stated the following:
In order to explain what I mean, let us take one of the most familiar, although not one of the most scientifically accurate statements of the axiom viz.: that every event has a cause. I question whether this is exactly true. Bodies obey sensibly the laws of mechanics; but may it not be that if our means of measurement were inconceivably nicer, or if we were to wait inconceivable ages for an exception, exceptions irreducible in their own nature to any law would be found? In short, may it not be that chance, in the Aristotelian sense, mere absence of cause, has to be admitted as having some slight place in the universe.25
I note that Peirce is well-respected, in this case, because it must be stressed that this wasn’t offered by some quack pseudo-philosopher who pretended to know what he was talking about. Humean causal skepticism is a perfectly valid approach to the KCA. His causal skepticism can possibly be traced back to the following:
To begin with the first question concerning the necessity of a cause: ’Tis a general maxim in philosophy, that whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of existence. This is commonly taken for granted in all reasonings, without any proof given or demanded. ’Tis suppos’d to be founded on intuition, and to be one of those maxims, which tho’ they may be deny’d with the lips, ’tis impossible for men in their hearts really to doubt of. But if we examine this maxim by the idea of knowledge above-explain’d, we shall discover in it no mark of any such intuitive certainty; but on the contrary shall find, that ’tis of a nature quite foreign to that species of conviction.26
In employing causal skepticism, I entertained the possibility that dispositions explain what we otherwise would call cause and effect.27 From this, in my initial response to Edward Feser, I noted that a material condition has to be met given that dispositions are the case.28 This material condition isn’t met by god. In other words, since god is universally considered to be an immaterial being, he hasn’t the dispositionality to interact with and/or within the universe. Also, since my material condition encompasses Hume’s spatio-temporal condition, there’s no way for god to interact within space-time–since he is also considered to be transcendental (i.e. existing outside of space-time).
The second issue we encounter in P1 is double think. There’s an inconsistency inherent in any Christian who cites the Problem of Induction to discredit science, but consciously misses or avoids it in P1 of the KCA. The KCA is a deductive argument, but P1 imports inductive reasoning.29 Therefore, if the Problem of Induction is an outstanding problem–as some Christians will argue–then the proposition in P1 isn’t established. The argument, therefore, doesn’t follow.
The Ontological Argument
Every version of this argument hinges on one or more of the following: Leibnizian Possible Worlds, Leibnizian Necessity, or Anselm’s notion of conceivability. He argues that since we can’t imagine or conceive of a being greater than god, god exists. A criticism offered by Gaunilo of Marmoutier is still the most common rebuttal of the argument. Anselm never justifies his move from conceivability to reality. In other words, Anselm never legitimizes his move from the idea to an existing entity that corresponds to that idea.30 A theist may object to the following statement, but a close analysis of modern variants of Anselm’s Ontological Argument (e.g. Alvin Plantinga’s), demonstrates that this same mistake is repeated. So though such arguments are considered revisions of the original formulation, they do nothing to respond to Gaunilo’s original criticism.
For instance, Plantinga’s version of the argument begins with the following as its first premise: “There is a possible world in which unsurpassable greatness is exemplified.”31 Not only does this contain a veiled presupposition, but it also implies a transfer from conceivability to reality by offering a proposition that expresses the idea as though it is true in reality. This then follows to the conclusion of Plantinga’s argument, which states that unsurpassable greatness exists in every possible world.
Another version of the argument doesn’t make use of this concept or possible worlds. It instead hinges on Leibniz’s notion of necessity. This is to be contrasted with contingency and impossibility. While the Modal Ontological Argument is a valid argument for a necessary being, the inverse of the argument is a valid argument for an impossible being. Therefore, when choosing between the two, we have to figure out which argument is sound because it cannot be the case that god is both necessary and impossible.32 He either exists or he doesn’t.
Given the failure of the above arguments and the arguments below, another common tactic is obscurantism. This isn’t so much an argument, but rather, a response to the failure of theistic arguments. Others are dishonest and claim that the tactic is original to Patristic thought (i.e. the thoughts of early Church Fathers). David Bentley Hart would make that argument. In any case, you can’t find a believer that is capable of explaining the following:
Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), for instance, spoke of God as the non aliud: the “not other” or “not something else.” For the Neoplatonist Plotinus (c. 204-270), the divine is that which is no particular thing, or even “no-thing.” The same is true for Christians such as John Scotus Eriugena (c. 815-c. 877) or Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-c. 1327). Angelus Silesius, precisely in order to affirm that God is the omnipotent creator of all things, described God as “ein lauter Nichts”—“a pure nothingness”—and even (a touch of neologistic panache here) “ein Übernichts.” If this all sounds either perilously blasphemous or preciously paradoxical, this is because language of this sort is meant to give us pause, or even offense, in order to remind us as forcefully as possible that, as the great Muslim philosopher Mulla Sadra (c. 1572-1640) insisted, God is not to be found within the realm of beings, for he is the being of all realms. Or, as the Anglican E.L. Mascall put it, God is not “just one item, albeit the supreme one, in a class of beings” but is rather “the source from which their being is derived.33
What is meant by “he is the being of all realms”? This kind of talk strips the notion of god of all its definition and plunges it into the obscure. We can no longer have a discussion or debate if definitions are discarded. It’s difficult enough to have such discourse when there’s disagreement on definitions, so what are we to do in the absence of definitions? This sort of talk is an abuse of language. Theologians of this sort are intentionally obscuring the concept of god so that they have a better chance of preserving it.
Also, this puts the concept on equal footing with Deepak Chopra’s concept of consciousness and Karen Armstrong’s concept of god–which is just as obscure as Hart’s as recently pointed out by Jerry Coyne.34 The reason obscurantist tactics resound with people is because such people are desperate to preserve religious belief and a given concept of god. Both are continuously eroding in societies that are scientifically and technologically advancing. The explanatory power religion once had is increasingly being viewed as inferior to empirical explanations. This leads us to notable arguments.
God of the Gaps Argument
Given the increasing explanatory scope of science, Christians are now turning to an argument that cites the ignorance of science as proof of god’s existence. This argument was popularized by Bill O’Reilly’s meme-worthy statement: “Tide goes in, tide goes out…you can’t explain that.”35 Fortunately, its variants usually focus on the origin of the universe and the origin of life. Christians have argued that since we can’t explain the origin of the universe, god exists; alternatively, they’ve argued that since we can’t explain the origin of life, god exists. Suffice it to say, that if that’s what they’re offering as evidence, “god is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.”36 The more doors science closes, the less are the gaps he can be shoved into.
Ignoring that there are theories that explain the origin of life and the origin of the universe, what makes this argument bad is that it’s perhaps more obviously fallacious than many of the previous arguments. Since there’s no evidence to the contrary when considering the origin of life and the origin of the universe, god must explain both. If that isn’t enough, they ignore the fallacious nature of the argument and commit another tu quoque: “sure we have god-of-the-gaps, but atheists have science-of-the-gaps.” In other words, they claim that we’re also committing a fallacy when we respond by stating that science will eventually pinpoint the origin(s) of life and the origin of the universe. I would argue that this isn’t the case, but doing so requires me to employ inductive reasoning even if I were to present a deductive argument to that effect. Consider the following:
P1 If the history of science features cases where previously unexplained phenomena were explained, then science will explain contemporary unexplained phenomena.
P2 The history of science features cases where previously unexplained phenomena were explained.
C Therefore, science will explain contemporary unexplained phenomena.
Though this is a deductive argument, P1 imports inductive reasoning. I argue that we can replace inductive reasoning with abductive reasoning. This discussion, however, is too much of a tangent for our purposes. Suffice it to say there’s nothing fallacious about citing the history of science and on that basis concluding that science will eventually answer modern conundrums.
The Christian Argument From Tradition
Any argument from tradition is fallacious, but in refuting this argument, I’m not at all interested with P1. I’m interested in P2. I want to know whether or not it’s apt to assume that Christianity has been around for a long time. My conclusion is that it hasn’t been around for a long time and that, in fact, it has been long dead.37
The Argument From Desire
This argument is popular among the Tumblr Catholic community though it’s rooted in the following statement by C.S. Lewis: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”38 Though popular, the argument is unsound. Furthermore, though it’s as bad as the “Faith in Science” argument, it is offered less frequently as a solid proof of god’s existence. As I summarized, the argument fails because some of us don’t share the desire Lewis speaks of; the Judeo-Christian god is assumed to be the only god concept capable of satisfying said desire; to support the argument, Lewis and others have offered needs (e.g. hunger and thirst) rather than desires; gods are invented solutions rather than actual entities capable of satisfying this desire; there’s the issue of insatiable desire and thus, not all desires warrant satisfaction.39
The Argument From Experience
Subjective experience simply doesn’t prove anything. This argument is frequently used–especially among fundamentalists. I put it under notable arguments because it’s a bad argument. Simple analogy refutes it:
[T]he “feeling” that Christ now speaks to us or lives in our hearts is not such, because people of completely different religions have exactly the same feelings and experiences, only of their gods and spirits and forces, so we know the odds of such feelings and experiences being had even by believers in false religions is 100 percent. Christians experiencing such feelings, too, proves nothing precisely because this is already expected even if their religion is false.40
Sometimes I sympathize with Keith Parsons who states:
I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud, and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position–no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory…I just cannot take their arguments seriously anymore, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote academic attention to it.41
Unfortunately, matters are more complicated. While it is true that some Christians are intelligent, others simply aren’t. Some aren’t even aware of how often they display logical fallacies and cognitive biases. Such people will influence other gullible people, and raise and indoctrinate children. Given this, as painstaking as it is, they have to be addressed. In order to promote philosophical and scientific literacy, it is necessary to address them who would work against that goal–them who would distort the facts, or lead people to deny the facts or consider them to be falsehoods. Freedom of speech has led many to regard opinions as sacred. No opinion, whether religious or not, can be immune to criticism and outright derision.
Now, there are arguments that are more specific to Christianity (e.g. the minimal facts argument; the Argument From the Resurrection; the Argument From the Success of Early Christianity). Those aren’t included here because surprisingly, they’re not frequently offered when Christians attempt to demonstrate that Christianity is true. Like the arguments surveyed above, these arguments also fail because they’re based on non-specialist publications geared at a gullible lay audience whose only interest is the verification of their deeply seated beliefs. Many of these people won’t go out of their way to test claims like the following: “there’s more evidence for Jesus than there is for Alexander the Great” or “there’s more evidence for Jesus than there is for Emperor Tiberius.” Both statements are false. The same can be said of the pseudo-historical arguments.
Ultimately, the failure of pseudo-historical arguments attempting to prove Jesus’ existence, his resurrection, or some other false historical claim attached to Christianity undermines the entire endeavor of apologetics and thus, guarantees the failure of apologetic arguments. This is precisely the conclusion of my Argument Against Apologetics.44 If Jesus wasn’t the Christ portrayed in the New Testament or if Jesus never existed, Christianity is false; if Christianity is false, then apologetics is pointless. Apologetics is only valuable to them attempting to defend their religion or prove it true. In particular, apologetics is valuable to Christians and Muslims; even then, it is only valuable to small groups within these religions. Even apologetics has it variants (e.g. creationist apologetics: defending against the claims of so called evolutionists).
I have to reiterate, apologetics is a fruitless endeavor. Truth may require explanation and elucidation, but it certainly doesn’t require defense and yet, this is precisely what apologists set out to do. Arguments for god don’t explain or elucidate anything. They merely make assertions and attempt to make them appear intelligible. When scrutinized, as we’ve hopefully gathered by now, these assertions are false and unintelligible.
1 Coyne, Jerry A. “Michael Robbins uses a book review as an excuse to bash atheists—again!”. Why Evolution is True. 9 Jul 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
2 Loftus, John W. “Christianity’s Success Was Not Incredible.” The End of Christianity. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2011. 64-65. Print.
3 Ferguson, Matthew. “March to Martyrdom! (Down the Yellow Brick Road…)”. Κέλσος. 18 Dec 2012. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
4 “William Paley: A View of the Evidences of Christianity”. William Carey University. 26 Jun 2001. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
5 “Kyle Butt vs Dan Barker ‘Debate’ – The Existence of God (part 1 of 14)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 26 Jan 2010. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
6 William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll, “God and Cosmology (33:33)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 3 Mar 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
7 Sean Carroll, “God is Not a Good Theory (26:50)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 6 Jun 2013. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
8 Victor Stenger, “Is the Universe Fine-Tuned For Us?”. University of Colorado. ND. 24 Nov 2014.
9 Byrd, Deborah. “Astoning image of planet-forming disk from ALMA”. Earth Sky. 6 Nov 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
10 Sherlock, Michael. “The Atheist Atrocities Fallacy – Hitler, Stalin & Pol Pot”. Michael Sherlock Author. 21 Oct 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
11 Saka, Paul. “Pascal’s Wager about God”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
12 “Betting on Infinity”. Theramin Trees. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 13 Apr 2010. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
13 See “Pascal’s Wager Refuted”
14 Ayer, A.J. “Laws of Nature.” Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. Second ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. 817-818. Print.
14 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity, p. 36-37. Ca5mbridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
16 Ibid. 
17 Austin, John, and Wilfrid E. Rumble. The Province of Jurisprudence Determined. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.
18 Dworkin, Ronald. Law’s Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1986. Print.
19 See “Utilitarian Command Theory”
20 See “The Moral Algorithm”
21 Youpa, Andrew. “Leibniz’s Ethics”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 26 Aug 2004. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
22 Ibid. 
23 Ibid. 
24 Carroll, Sean. “Post-Debate Reflections”. Preposterous Universe. 24 Feb 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
25 Peirce, Charles S. “Design and Chance”, The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings (1867-1893). Indiana University Press. Bloomington Indiana. 1992. Print.
26 Hume, David. “A Treatise of Human Nature”. Online Library of Liberty. 2004-2010. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
30 Himma, Kenneth E. “Anselm: Ontological Argument for God’s Existence”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
31 Oppy, Graham. “Modal Theistic Arguments”. Infidels. 1993. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
33 See Hart’s The Experience of God
34 Coyne, Jerry A. “The incoherence of Karen Armstrong”. Why Evolution is True. 18 Nov 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
35 “Tide Goes In, Tide Goes Out”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 17 Feb 2011. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
36 “God of the Gaps & The Frontier of Knowledge – Neil deGrasse Tyson”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 1 Mar 2011. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
38 Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Harper. San Francisco, California. 2009. Print.
40 Ibid.  (p.69)
41 Keith Parsons as quoted in: Loftus, John W. “Christianity is Wildly Improbable.” The End of Christianity. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2011. 75. Print.
42 Ferguson, Matthew. “Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan”. Κέλσος. 14 Oct 2012. Web. 25 Nov 2014.
43 Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, p.21-23. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd, 2014. Print. Available on web.
By R.N. Carmona
Though the strongest argument of the arguments for atheism, this argument is the most philosophically involved. That is to say that, due to the implications of the argument, the argument ventures into philosophical territory–much of which is the subject of continued disagreement and lack of consensus. On the surface, the argument is strong. However, the argument’s tacit assumption has to be qualified so that the strength of the argument is augmented. In doing so, however, some problems will arise. Though these problems aren’t damning to the argument and though these problems do not lend credence to antithetical arguments, the problems must be addressed. In other words, at the very least, solutions must be suggested.
It is time now to turn to the argument. Groundwork will then be laid out to qualify its assumption. Problems will then be presented and addressed. Then it will be suggested that the uncertainty of the solutions to these problems lends no support to antithetical arguments because such arguments carry their own onus. The argument is as follows:
P1 If there is a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe, a creative agent does not exist. (P -> Q)
P2 There is a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe. (P)
C Therefore, a creative agent does not exist. (∴ Q)
Prior to qualifying the assumption of the argument, the conclusion will be qualified. The implication here is that if there is a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe, a creative agent is not necessary. However, as is argued below, if a creative agent is not necessary, then it follows that a creative agent doesn’t exist.
To see how the conclusion follows, it is perhaps best to shrink the scope. This is to say that rather than focus on the universe as a whole, the focus should turn to a smaller aspect. Suppose that the argument instead argues that if there is a naturalistic explanation for the formation of planets, a creative agent doesn’t exist with respect to planets. Antithetical arguments would no doubt focus on the formation of Earth and thus, would engage in special pleading or question begging. In other words, such arguments would have no choice but to accept that there is a naturalistic explanation for planet formation, but that this explanation is somehow inapplicable to the Earth.
However, if a creative agent isn’t necessary for the formation of the Earth, then there’s no respect in which it can be said to exist in relation to the Earth. Now, in broadening the scope once again, the same argument applies to the universe. If a creative agent isn’t necessary for the origin of the universe, then there’s no respect in which it can be said to exist in relation to the universe. If it isn’t necessary for the creation of the universe, then it doesn’t exist within the universe or transcendentally in respect to the universe. The latter is to say that if it played no role in the origin of the universe, even the assumption that it exists outside of the universe doesn’t lend support to its existence. With respect to this universe, it simply doesn’t exist.
The assumption of the argument is where much of this discussion will focus. The discussion will center around the question of what constitutes a naturalistic explanation. Thus, it will center around the question of what is meant by natural. Keith Augustine offers three definitions. The one he seems to accept is problematic given that supervenience lends credence to non-natural or even supernatural explanations of the mind. Though non-reductive physicalism states that mental states are contingent on physical states, mental states and physical states aren’t congruent. This implies that mental states are non-physical.1
Along these lines, a religionist who is, for example, a Cartesian dualist can argue that the soul is supervenient on the brain. She can argue that mental states are non-physical precisely because mental states are a property of the soul. For such reasons, non-reductive physicalism is to be rejected by one looking to provide a case for strict naturalism. A case for strict naturalism would entail reductive physicalism or reductionism–which agrees with the thesis of physicalism but adds that complex phenomena can be reduced to physical processes.2 This is to say, for example, that morality reduces to the mind of the moral agent. Reductionism could therefore be seen as the view that a given phenomenon is reducible to another phenomenon; alternatively, in the philosophy of science, reductionism is the view that one theory is reducible to another (e.g. Modified Newtonian Mechanics (MOND) is reducible to dark matter). This thesis runs into, at least, two problems.
The first of these issues is qualia–“the felt or phenomenal qualities associated with experiences.”3 This is often referred to as the what it’s like-ness of an experience. For example, a sharp pain in the foot, the smell of wet dog fur, and the taste of chocolate have a subjective quality that vary from one person to the next. These can only be accessed via introspection and are thus a marquee example of the so called privacy of consciousness. Qualia, however, aren’t as pervasive as the second problem. The second problem will therefore receive much warranted attention.
The second problem for reductionism is the purported existence of abstracta. Abstracta are abstract objects like propositions, letters, and numbers. Of these, arguably the most seriously debated are numbers. The debate between mathematical realists and non-realists should occupy one who is attempting a clear case for strict naturalism. If numbers exist, then at least one non-natural object exists; furthermore, this non-natural object isn’t reducible to anything physical. The existence of numbers would therefore refute reductionism.
Of the four criteria Otávio Bueno offers, two have been at the center of the debate: indispensability and explanation versus description. The indispensability criterion states that mathematics must be more than a useful part of an explanation; it must be indispensable to that explanation.4Mathematical realists don’t doubt that mathematics meets this criterion. The explanation versus description criterion states that mathematics, aside from describing a given phenomenon, must explain the phenomenon.5 On these two grounds, the nominalist has the most to say.
Mathematics, for example, doesn’t explain Kirkwood gaps. It merely provides a description for the relevant interactions between the gravitational tugs of Jupiter, the Sun, and asteroids in the asteroid belt. Briefly, Kirkwood gaps are regions within the asteroid belt that contain few asteroids; the distribution of asteroids in the belt are therefore non-uniform. There have been attempts to explain this non-uniformity mathematically (see Vrbik 2014).6 However, as argued by Bueno, proper interpretation is required before a mathematical description is relevant to the explanation of the phenomena.
This failure to explain Kirkwood gaps doesn’t harm the realist case, however. Realists have offered other phenomena that mathematics might explain: the hexagonal cells of beehives; the lifespan of cicadas, which is either 13 or 17 years–both of which are prime numbers; the bridges of Königsberg; the plateau soap film. Each phenomenon is explained semantically. Despite this, Mark Steiner suggested that when one “remove[s] the physics, we remain with a mathematical explanation—of a mathematical truth!”7
However, Baker [forthcoming] has argued that the proposal is false. And it is false for a very simple reason: there are mathematical explanations of empirical facts where the mathematics involved has no (known) mathematical explanation. Baker has argued convincingly, I think, that the example of the bees is a case in point—i.e., that the proof of the Honeycomb Theorem given by Hales  does not explain the theorem. Therefore, whatever is doing the explanatory work, it isn’t the proof of the theorem.8
Steiner’s proposal has been replaced with program explanations. Conversely, program explanations make use of dispositions. John Heil provides an example:
Consider the dispositional property of being fragile. This is a property an object—this delicate vase, for instance—might have in virtue of having a particular molecular structure. Having this structure is held to be lower-level non-dispotional property that grounds the high-level dispositional property of being fragile; the vase is fragile, the vase possesses the dispositional property of being fragile, in viture of possessing some non-dispositional structural property.9
A disposition is “not causally efficacious” and “ensures the instantiation of a causally efficacious property or entity that is an actual cause of the explanandum.”10 This is precisely what program explanations make use of.
A fragile glass is struck and breaks. Why did it break? First answer: because of its Fragility. Second answer: because of the particular molecular structure of the glass. The property of fragility was efficacious in producing the breaking only if the molecular structural property was efficacious: hence 3(i) [there is a distinct property G such that F is efficacious in the production of e only if G is efficacious in its production]. But the fragility did not help to produce the molecular structure in the way in which the structure, if it was efficacious, helped to produce the breaking. There was no time-lag between the exercise of the efficacy, if it was efficacious, by the disposition and the exercise of the efficacy, if it was efficacious, by the structure. Hence 3(ii) [the F-instance does not help to produce the G-instance in the sense in which the G-instance, if G is efficacious, helps to produce e; they are not sequential causal factors]. Nor did the fragility combine with the structure, in the manner of a coordinate factor, to help in the same sense to produce e. Full information about the structure, the trigger and the relevant laws would enable one to predict e; fragility would not need to be taken into account as a coordinate factor. Hence 3(iii) [the F-instance does not combine with the G-instance, directly or via further effects, to help in the same sense to produce e (nor of course, vice versa): they are not coordinate causal factors].11
Though this is a remarkable case, it doesn’t accomplish the type of explanation the realist is looking for. There are, however, other program explanations such as the explanation of the radiation emitted by a piece of uranium over a period of time (see Jackson and Pettit, Ibid.). This kind of program explanation is both indispensable and cannot be superseded by a process explanation–i.e. “a detailed account of the actual causes that led to the event to be explained.”12 So given program explanations, it looks as though the mathematical realist has won. Not so fast.
One must ask whether program explanations bear any relation to mathematics. In other words, one must question whether program explanations are mathematical and whether they meet the indispensability criterion. There are two options for the nominalist: Kim’s exclusion principle: a principle which “hinders the acceptance of two causal explanations for a single effect unless an acceptable relation exists between the two purported causes” or “view mathematics as playing a broadly representational role in scientific explanations.” On the exclusion principle, the fragility example can be revisited:
The problem with this example is that there seems to be some avenue to a conceptual reduction of the two properties, “anyone who had access to the [molecular] account would have all the significant information at his disposal which is offered by the fragility explanation.” This, I think, again gives support to the heterogeneous nature of Jackson and Pettit’s examples; if a conceptual reduction of some kind is possible on a particular occasion then explanatory exclusion will effectively remove the program explanation in the same way that metaphysical reduction will remove the higher-level cause.15
If conceptual reduction of the efficacious and programming non-efficacious properties is possible, there is no longer room to assume that the non-efficacious property plays any role in the explanation. More pointedly, Juha Saatsi states the following: “For it seems that mathematical properties cannot ensure the instantiation of causally efficacious properties in any realist view of mathematics without some unduly ad hoc metaphysical connection being postulated between the concrete world and mathematical abstracta.”16 Given these epistemic and metaphysical difficulties, challenges are presented to one looking to defend mathematical realism. At best, the question of whether or not numbers exist in a Platonic sense remains to be seen. The fact that the floor is still open to this question shouldn’t hinder naturalism. Such an uncertain proposition–namely the existence of numbers–shouldn’t pose problems for naturalism. Though qualia were given less attention, the same conclusion applies. Therefore, reductionism is still a plausible thesis for one attempting a case for strict naturalism. It follows that natural is that which is physical or reducible to that which is physical.
Even if applied mathematics presented an issue for naturalism, pure mathematics says nothing about the world. It is concerned with objects, relations, and structures. These, however, are abstract. They’re not spatio-temporaral and aren’t causally active.17 Assuming that the existence of numbers caused a problem for naturalism, this wouldn’t lend any support to antithetical arguments. One, for example, wouldn’t be able to argue that the existence of numbers implies the existence of a god. For the same reasons one cannot assert that there’s a moral arbiter for morality, one cannot assert that there’s a programmer for program explanations or more simply, that there’s a being who designed a mathematical universe. This is to say, a being who designed the universe so that it adheres to laws fully explainable in terms of mathematics. Such a proposition would require justification.
There’s also the fact that in assuming that numbers exist, this existence could be entirely mind-dependent. This is to say that wherever there’s a being that is sufficiently intelligent, mathematical representations will not only emerge but might be required. Given, for example, the inferior fitness of h.neanderthalensis, one is justified in regarding them as less intelligent than h.sapien. Yet there’s evidence to suggest that neanderthals crafted and used tools; there’s also evidence to suggest that they produced art. In the case of cave art, rudimentary mathematical thinking is required. For instance, a cave artist didn’t depict herself and aspects of nature (e.g. buffalos; trees) in actual size. She, instead, scaled down actual sizes, but still represented herself and her environment in an accurate manner. That is to say that, though she didn’t depict buffalos at their actual sizes, she still depicted them as larger than herself. This scaling down is possible evidence for rudimentary mathematical thinking. Therefore, if an intellectually inferior being is capable of thinking in this manner, it is reasonable to expect that an intellectually superior being is also capable of such thinking. When presented with given circumstances (e.g. predators that hunt in packs), the capacity to identify multiple threats becomes advantageous to survival. This, in turn, are the first fruits of mathematical thought. Mathematics, thence, could have a real contingent existence rather than, as the Platonists/Mathematical Realists argue, a real necessary existence. Thus, despite the strength of nominalism, a watered down realism could also dispel with the problem the existence of numbers would pose for reductionism and therefore, naturalism.
With a definition of natural now established and given the care taken in addressing possible problems, it is time now to turn to examples of naturalistic explanations for the origin of the universe. Prior to doing this however, it is necessary to point out that naturalism is the prevailing view in science. Sean Carroll states:
[I]f a so-called supernatural phenomenon has strictly no effect on anything we can observe about the world, then indeed it is not subject to scientific investigation. It’s also completely irrelevant, of course, so who cares? If it does have an effect, than of course science can investigate it, within the above scheme. Why not? Science does not presume the world is natural; most scientists have concluded that the world is natural because that’s the best explanation for what we observe. If you are ever confused about what “science” has to say about something, just ask yourself what actual scientists would do. If real scientists were faced with a purportedly supernatural phenomenon, they wouldn’t just shrug their shoulders because it wasn’t part of their definition of science. They would investigate it and try to come up with the best possible explanation.20
If a supernatural explanation presented itself, however, one should remember “that most naturalists would agree that naturalism at least entails that nature is a closed system containing only natural causes and their effects.”21 This is precisely what cosmological models present: a causally closed universe and explanations showing that the universe is self-contained. Even if one wrongfully assumes, like William Lane Craig, that the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem yields evidence for an absolute beginning of the universe, when one considers that the theorem says that the ability to explain the universe classically gives out, such a theorem isn’t useful to argue for a beginning.22Even if we assumed, however, that this theorem implies an absolute beginning to the universe, this wouldn’t imply that a supernatural explanation is the only resort.
With this in mind, naturalistic explanations can be presented. The consensual theory, i.e. the Big Bang, will be discussed. The multiverse, which might be the mark of a paradigm shift, will also be discussed. Then an exotic possibility will be explored, namely that the universe is the product of a four-dimensional black hole.
Without surveying the history of the Big Bang, an outline of its properties can be presented: singularity, inflation, baryogenesis, cooling, structure formation, accelerated cosmic expansion. Stephen Hawking describes the singularity as follows:
At this time, the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe, would have been on top of itself. The density would have been infinite. It would have been what is called, a singularity. At a singularity, all the laws of physics would have broken down. This means that the state of the universe, after the Big Bang, will not depend on anything that may have happened before, because the deterministic laws that govern the universe will break down in the Big Bang. The universe will evolve from the Big Bang, completely independently of what it was like before. Even the amount of matter in the universe, can be different to what it was before the Big Bang, as the Law of Conservation of Matter, will break down at the Big Bang.23
Hawking later adds that “the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside.”24 Baryogenesis is the period in the early universe that resulted in the prevalence of matter over antimatter. It is useful to note here that this doesn’t make a difference given the assumption that the universe was created.
Because antiparticles otherwise have the same properties as particles, a world made of antimatter would behave the same way as a world of matter, with antilovers sitting in anticars making love under an anti-Moon. It is merely an accident of our circumstances, due, we think, to rather more profound factors…that we live in a universe that is made up of matter and not antimatter or one with equal amounts of both.25
Given this, the prevalence of matter over antimatter is arbitrary when assuming that the universe was created. This, however, serves as evidence against the notion since it serves as an example of chance in the universe. After the universe began to cool, stars, galaxies, and planets began to form. Expansion, as discovered by Edwin Hubble, is accelerating. What was accelerating the expansion of the universe was, at the time, unknown. Today, it is held that dark energy is responsible for the expansion of the universe and this, Sean Carroll states, is because dark energy is persistent and doesn’t dilute as the universe expands. It is, he explains, a feature of space itself and therefore constant throughout space and time.26
There have been recent suggestions that the universe is a dynamical fluid. Or, at the very least, the universe is a medium that appears to have more than three phases; in fact, as many as 10^500 and maybe even an infinite amount. So aside from curving and expanding, space could be doing something like freezing or evaporating.27
Inflation was intentionally set aside because it has received a lot of recent attention. On March 17th of this year, John Kovak, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, announced the detection of gravitational waves. Initially, the BICEP2 collaboration had ruled out the possibility that cosmic dust in the Milky Way accounted for the polarization pattern in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).
The BICEP2 collaboration, on June 19th, published a paper acknowledging that cosmic dust in the Milky Way could account for more of the b-mode polarization signal than previously thought. If the signals originate from primordial gravitational waves, this would be a smoking gun for inflation. Inflation theory proposes a short burst of exponential expansion in the early universe. This rapid expansion would produce gravitational waves.
It wasn’t long before the results came under fire and were eventually proven wrong. Charles Choi writes:
The controversy hinges on their handling of the dust emission, which relied on a preliminary map based on about 15 months of data from the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft. Falkowski noted the BICEP2 group might have misinterpreted the Planck data, thinking that it only contained emissions from the Milky Way when it also included unpolarized emissions from other galaxies. If the BICEP2 team did not account for this fact, they might have underestimated how polarized the foreground from the Milky Way actually was. This could mean the inflation signal the group thought it saw might only be a spurious result from Milky Way emissions.28
Gravitational waves would be a smoking gun for inflation. Though the Bicep2 results were eventually shown to be wrong, a recent suggestion could prove promising. A team, consisting of Nora Elisa Chisari, a fifth year graduate student with the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton, Cora Dvorkin with the Institute of Advanced Study at the School of Natural Sciences, and Fabian Schmidt with the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, is now proposing that weak lensing surveys may be able to detect the cross-correlation between b-mode polarization in the CMB and cosmic shear. The team suggests the possibility that cosmic shear is the best way to confirm primordial gravitational waves resulting from b-mode polarization in the CMB.
If inflation is empirically established, it would serve as indirect evidence for an inflationary multiverse. An inflationary universe, according to Tegmark, results in a Level I and Level II multiverse. Inflation would eventually end in parts of a rapidly expanding region, forming u-shaped regions. Each of these regions constitute a Level I multiverse while the amalgam of the universes constitute a Level II universe.29 Another way to imagine this type of multiverse is by imagining an enormous block of swiss cheese. As Brian Greene explains:
[T]he cheesy parts [are] regions where the inflaton field’s value is high and the holes [are] regions where it’s low. That is, the holes are regions, like ours, that have transitioned out of the superfast expansion and, in the process, converted the inflaton field’s energy into a bath of particles, which over time may coalesce into galaxies, stars, and planets. In this language, we’ve found that the cosmic cheese requires more and more holes because quantum processes knock the inflaton’s value downward at a random assortment of locations. At the same time, the cheesy parts stretch ever larger because they’re subject to inflationary expansion driven by the high inflaton field value they harbor. Taken together, the two processes yield an ever-expanding block of cosmic cheese riddled with an ever-growing number of holes. In the more standard language of cosmology, each hole is called a bubble universe (or a pocket universe). Each is an opening tucked within the superfast stretching cosmic expanse.30
Briefly, an inflaton field is a field corresponding to a given inflationary model. Like the Higgs field corresponds to the Higgs boson and an electromagnetic field corresponds to electromagnetism, an inflaton field corresponds to inflation. Some have written off multiverses as too hypothetical. However, Einstein’s general relativity suggested both an expanding universe and black holes long before there was evidence for either. Likewise, quantum mechanics (e.g. Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation), string theory, and other equations suggest a multiverse. Some consider the multiverse the best explanation for the so called Fine-Tuning problem in physics. When the mathematics of such equations suggests as observable aspect of a given theory or a yet to be observed phenomena, it isn’t long before these phenomena are found to be actual.
The Everettian interpretation isn’t the only interpretation of quantum mechanics that results in a multiverse. Howard Wiseman, a theoretical quantum physicist at Griffith University, along with his team of colleagues, suggested the “many interacting worlds” approach. On this interpretation, each world is governed by Newtonian physics. However, given the interaction of these worlds, phenomena that are associated with quantum mechanics will arise. To test this approach, Wiseman suggested that the collision of two worlds could lead to the acceleration of one and the recoil of another; this would result in quantum tunneling. Wiseman and his team go through other examples, including the interaction of 41 classical worlds resulting in the type of phenomena observed in the double-slit experiment.31
It was suggested that the multiverse could mark a paradigm shift. This could be the case because the multiverse is able to explanatorily absorb Big Bang cosmology. In other words, inflation, for example, though a property of the Big Bang theory, isn’t well understood without introducing the inflationary multiverse. For Big Bang cosmology to remain the paradigm, inflation would have to be explained without recourse to the inflationary multiverse. The multiverse, aside from explaining inflation, via string theory, it can explain the behavior of dark energy. As aforementioned, as many as 10^500 phase changes of space have been proposed by string theorists.
As surveyed above, the Big Bang and the multiverse are self-contained, naturalistic explanations for the origin of the universe. There are, however, exotic explanations. One of the more recent suggestions offered by Niayesh Afshordi and his team is that the Big Bang was the result of a star that collapsed in a higher dimension. This four-dimensional star collapsed into a black hole. Interestingly enough, one of the properties of black holes is the singularity. The Big Bang, coincidentally, began as a singularity. “When Afshordi’s team modelled the death of a 4D star, they found that the ejected material would form a 3D brane surrounding that 3D event horizon, and slowly expand. The authors postulate that the 3D Universe we live in might be just such a brane—and that we detect the brane’s growth as cosmic expansion.”32 This, Afshordi argues, led astronomers to extrapolate back to the early universe and reason that it must have begun in a Big Bang. According to Afshordi, the Big Bang is a mirage.
This brief survey offers the consensual explanation: the Big Bang; a good candidate to shift the current paradigm: the multiverse; and an exotic explanation: the universe resulted from the collapse of a four-dimensional star into a black hole. The survey is by no means exhaustive. There are, for example, many inflationary theories (e.g. hybrid inflation; inflation as is related to loop quantum gravity). There are also a number of theorems (e.g. quantum eternity theorem). The feature they all share, however, is that they represent a self-contained universe–i.e. a causally closed universe.
A religionist may object and say that his god chose to work via naturalistic processes. William Provine offers a perfect reply to this notion:
A widespread theological view now exists saying that God started off the world, props it up and works through laws of nature, very subtly, so subtly that its action is undetectable. But that kind of God is effectively no different to my mind than atheism.33
This sort of suggestion is also in violation of Ockham’s razor or the principle of parsimony, which states that one shouldn’t multiply entities beyond necessity. Augustine quotes J.J.C. Smart:
“Ockham’s Razor does not imply that we should accept simpler theories at all costs. The Razor is a method for deciding between two theories that equally account for the agreed-upon facts” (Smart 1984, p. 124).
Given this basic heuristic, if we have no evidence for likely candidates for a supernatural event, we should adopt the simplest explanation for this fact–that only natural causes are operative within the natural world. If every caused event we have encountered can be explained in terms of natural causes, there is no reason to invoke supernatural causes that do no explanatory work for any particular events.34
Given this, such a god would be an added, unnecessary appendage. Attaching a god to naturalistic explanations doesn’t change the nature of the explanations. It doesn’t support the case for the supernatural. Therefore, given the naturalistic explanations surveyed above, creative agents are unnecessary. Attaching them to such explanations doesn’t make them necessary since they don’t lend support to the explanatory work. As argued earlier, if such gods are unnecessary, then they are also nonexistent with respect to the object purportedly created.
Ultimately, much is said about agnostic atheism. Agnostic atheism is an epistemic position, which disavows belief in gods but doesn’t claim to know whether or not they exist. Given The Argument From Cosmology, however, the fact that creative agents are unnecessary implies their nonexistence. We can know, with a high degree of certainty, that the universe is causally closed and therefore, self-contained. No outside influence can causally interact with or within the universe. It is therefore possible to know that gods do not exist. Therefore, from a much broader perspective, this argument lends strong support to gnostic atheism: an epistemic position which not only disavows belief, but claims knowledge, warrant, and justification. This implication makes for a much broader thesis that is perhaps worth exploring. Perhaps another time.
1 Augustine, Keith. “A Defense of Naturalism”. Infidels. 2001. Web. 5 Dec 2014.
2 “Reductionism”. 25 Nov 1999. Web. 5 Dec 2014.
3 Blackburn, Simon. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. 301. Print.
4 Bueno, O. [2012a]: “An Easy Road to Nominalism”, Mind 121, pp. 967-982. Web. 5 Dec 2014. Available on Web.
5 Ibid. 
6 Vrbik, Jan. “Mathematical Exploration of Kirkwood Gaps”, Mathematical Journal 14. 2014. Web. 5 Dec 2014. Available on Web.
7 Lyon, Aidan [Sept 2012]. “Mathematical Explanations of Empirical Facts, And Mathematical Realism”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 90, No. 3, pp. 559–578. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
8 Ibid. 
9 Heil, John. Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction 3rd Ed, p. 211. London: Routledge, 2013. Print.
10 Ibid. 
11 Jackson, Frank and Pettit, Phillip [Mar 1990]. “Program Explanation: A General Perspective”. Analysis, Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 107-117. Web. 6 Dec 2014. Available on Web.
12 Ibid. 
13 Cooper, Wilson [Jun 2008]. “Causal Relevance and Heterogeneity of Program Explanations in the Face of Explanatory Exclusion”. Kritike Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 95-109. Web. 6 Dec 2014. Available on Web.
14 Saatsi, Juha. “Mathematics and Program Explanations”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy Vol. 90, No. 3, pp. 579–584. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
15 Ibid. 
16 Ibid. 
17 Ibid. 
18 Tarlach, Gemma. “In Europe, Neanderthals Beat Homo Sapiens to Specialized Tools”. Discovery Magazine. 12 Aug 2013. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
19 Than, Ker. “World’s Oldest Cave Art Found—Made by Neanderthals?”. National Geographic. 14 Jun 2012. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
20 Carroll, Sean. “What is Science?”. Preposterous Universe. 3 Jul 2013. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
21 Ibid. 
22 William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll, “God and Cosmology (33:33)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 3 Mar 2014. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
23 Hawking, Stephen. “The Beginning of Time”. ND. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
24 Ibid. 
25 Krauss, Lawrence. A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. 1st ed. New York, NY: Free Press, 2012. 61. Print.
26 Carroll, Sean. “Why Does Dark Energy Make the Universe Accelerate?”. Preposterous Universe. 16 Nov 2013. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
27 Tegmark, Max. Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest For the Ultimate Nature of Reality, p. 135. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Print.
28 Choi, Charles. “Will the Bicep2 Results Hold Up?”. The Nature of Reality. PBS. 27 May 2014. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
29 Ibid. , p.133-134
30 Greene, B.. The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and The Deep Laws of the Cosmos, p.56-58. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.
31 Hall, M. J. W., Deckert, D. A. & Wiseman, H. M. . Quantum Phenomena Modeled by Interactions between Many Classical Worlds”, Phys. Rev. X 4. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
32 Merali, Zeeya. “Did a hyper-black hole spawn the Universe?”. Nature. 13 Sep 2013. Web. 6 Dec 2014.
33 William Provine as quoted in Strobel, Lee. The Case For A Creator. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004. 26. Print.
34 Ibid.