Unbelief As A Thought Experiment

Just something that popped into my head a few days ago:

To be an atheist, you don’t have to grapple with questions of the Bible or the provability of the nonexistence of God. You just have to perform a simple thought experiment: What if there were no God?

In larger society, that thought experiment has been done. In fact, there’s an entire culture, a incredibly powerful shared human endeavor, based on it. It’s called Science.

Someone asked “What would things look like if there were no God? How would things work? How would they fit together?” Out of that came biology, geology, physics, real medical science, so much more. The experiment was fantastically, astonishingly fruitful in providing answers that you could not just think about, but use.

Given that success in understanding and usefully manipulating the physical world, sooner or later someone had to insist that the same experiment be performed in human social terms.

That’s what modern atheists are doing. Insisting. Asking. What would society look like if there were no gods? What would it look like if there were no god-believers? What would goodness look like? What would government look like? What would social ceremonies and public meetings look like? What would schools look like?

What would a wedding look like? What would a funeral look like? What would Sunday morning look like? What would parenting and childhood look like?

What would everything look like if there were no gods?

Because this other thought experiment, the one where we ask “What would things look like if there were invisible, infinitely-powerful supernatural superbeings in the world with us?” … that question has been asked and answered a thousand times over.

What have we gotten out of it? Churches. Just a shitload of churches. And a lot of social baggage about the “right” way to do things, with threats ranging from death at the hands of your neighbors to sinister vagueries about what will happen to you later, if you don’t toe the social line.

And not one damned thing more.

Seriously. Point to anything, any solid invention or discovery or accomplishment done by churches and religion. There is no church radio, no religious medical research, no Southern Baptist carpentry tools or Mormon communication devices. No Scientology automobiles or Moonie moon missions.

In fact, a lot of the stuff we’ve gotten out of the question posed in the negative,  the WITAN (what if there are not?) question, has been opposed and stymied by the WITA (what if there are?) social faction. On balance, the productivity of the WITA experiment has been not just neutral, but negative – actually lessening the already-shown-to-be-positive effects of the other approach.

The WITA question is a useless question. Not only does it return confusing, fumbling, uncertain answers, it never even manages to define the central critical element of the matter — what is a god?

WITAs say you can’t prove there’s no God, and so they have every right to continue asking the question, insisting that it has useful answers. And they would be right about that right … if they kept it to themselves. But they insist that the rest of us – other people, other people’s children – must ask and answer it as they do. They insist the rest of us must suffer the effects of their asking.

WITA is sterile. It has bumbled around in society for thousands of years, but it has created nothing new.

WITAN, on the other hand, has been a firehose of invention, discovery, power. WITAN is a way of thinking that leads to a thousand ways of doing.

You don’t need advanced intellectual chops or an expert’s knowledge of the Bible or Koran to understand this. You don’t need a razor-sharp definition of “god.” You just have to look at human accomplishments over the past few hundred years.

Likewise, in your own life, you don’t need definitive proof. In either direction. You just have to perform this one simple thought experiment.

And then see where it leads.

  • Cuttlefish

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2011/10/10/becoming-an-atheist/

    (I thought I had said it more blatantly that that, somewhere, but I can’t find it.

    • Hank Fox

      Like everything you post: Wonderful!

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    WITA is sterile. It has bumbled around in society for thousands of years, but it has created nothing new.

    WITAN, on the other hand, has been a firehose of invention, discovery, power. WITAN is a way of thinking that leads to a thousand ways of doing.

    Bravo, Hank. This is one of the best if not the best arguments for atheism I’ve ever come across.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 michaelbrew

    Yeah, I’ve tried asking a Christian coworker of mine who always wants to argue with me about my atheism that question. He said he couldn’t imagine a world without a God and didn’t think such a world could exist. My response was that if I could imagine a world both with and without a God and he could only imagine a world with one, it seemed that my position was a bit better thought out.

    • Hank Fox

      The difference is that you’re not afraid to think, and he is.

  • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman777

    You just have to perform a simple thought experiment: What if there were no God?

    Not much logically follows from assuming God doesn’t exist.

    In larger society, that thought experiment has been done. In fact, there’s an entire culture, a incredibly powerful shared human endeavor, based on it. It’s called Science.

    Why would a scientist have to assume God doesn’t exist in order to do his job? What is the logical connection between atheism and science?

    Point to anything, any solid invention or discovery or accomplishment done by churches and religion.

    Currently YouVersion is working on rendering minority languages on mobile devices so everyone can read the Bible in his own native language. They are religiously motivated. Does that count or do religions get credit only for negative things?

    • Hank Fox

      Not much logically follows from assuming God doesn’t exist.

      Except the understanding that you then have to find some other explanation. For EVERYTHING.

      Why would a scientist have to assume God doesn’t exist in order to do his job? What is the logical connection between atheism and science?

      Because you can’t do science if you believe any part of what you’re doing can be explained by supernatural forces. Without anyone even saying it, the entire endeavor of science is conceptually based in the assumption that there are no unexplainable, explicitly supernatural forces.

      Everything is either currently explainable in terms of physics, chemistry, biology, etc., or it is a currently open question which will someday be explained in terms of physics, chemistry, biology, etc.

      Currently YouVersion is working on rendering minority languages on mobile devices so everyone can read the Bible in his own native language. They are religiously motivated. Does that count or do religions get credit only for negative things?

      Point to the original science or technology in that, or point to the part of it being done by religion, rather than science/technology used in the service of religion.

      • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman777

        Hank Fox:

        Except the understanding that you then have to find some other explanation. For EVERYTHING.

        That doesn’t follow from the belief that God does not exist. You could just as easily assume that there is no explanation for anything. You need to show that the existence of explanations logically follows from God’s non-existence.

        Because you can’t do science if you believe any part of what you’re doing can be explained by supernatural forces.

        First of all, the distinction between natural and supernatural is very vague. I would not base much on it. Second, there is no reason a supernatural force (whatever that is and however it differs from a natural force) could not, in principle, be part of a scientific explanation. You’re just assuming what you’re trying to prove.

        Without anyone even saying it, the entire endeavor of science is conceptually based in the assumption that there are no unexplainable, explicitly supernatural forces.

        Really? All those scientists who are also theists secretly hold atheistic assumptions? Also, a supernatural force could be explicable so I don’t see why you included “unexplainable” in your statement.

        Everything is either currently explainable in terms of physics, chemistry, biology, etc., or it is a currently open question which will someday be explained in terms of physics, chemistry, biology, etc.

        That’s a metaphysical position, not a scientific position. It needs to be defined on philosophical grounds, not scientific grounds.

        Point to the original science or technology in that, or point to the part of it being done by religion, rather than science/technology used in the service of religion.

        The original technology would be the ability to display all languages on all mobile devices in a readable way. The part being done by religion is that it provides the motivation and promotes unity (mobile device manufacturers are fractured).

        Perhaps you will grant the above but still insist that this is science used in the service of religion. But if that’s the case then your original post seems to be science in the service of atheism. In that case science is neutral on the existence of God.

        • Hank Fox

          That doesn’t follow from the belief that God does not exist. You could just as easily assume that there is no explanation for anything. You need to show that the existence of explanations logically follows from God’s non-existence.

          Sure it does, and no you can’t. Once you assume that there is no explanation, you’re done. You’re not in the lab, and you’re not in this argument. The silent assumption that everything works by laws of physics, principles of chemistry, known mechanisms of biology — AND NOT SUPERNATURAL SUPERBEINGS — underlies all science.

          Does science “follow” that belief? Hard to say. I think it does, historically. Regardless, the doing of science is attendant upon the assumption that whatever you undertake to understand is going to be understood in the realm of real-world stuff, and not the supernatural.

          First of all, the distinction between natural and supernatural is very vague. I would not base much on it. Second, there is no reason a supernatural force (whatever that is and however it differs from a natural force) could not, in principle, be part of a scientific explanation. You’re just assuming what you’re trying to prove.

          I suppose I’ve failed to define the terms of the discussion in my initial arguments — supernatural vs. natural — and now that we’re caught up in this lively back-and-forth, it’s too late to do it. Point to you.

          However … I really do imagine that any useful theory, force or idea that finds use in science is science. Supernatural is … all the stuff that doesn’t work, but is believed by some people to be true anyway. Telepathy is supernatural unless and until it might be shown to be natural. That is, real.

          Really? All those scientists who are also theists secretly hold atheistic assumptions?

          Yes, they do. When they’re doing science. In all the other parts of their lives, they can think and believe anything they like. But in those moments they’re doing science, they are not falling back on their religion for answers. The instant they do that, they’re not doing science anymore.

          Really, though, this comment strikes me as a quibble. You have to assume the word “scientist” means something. I doubt you can say it means “theist.”

          I don’t mean to say any particular scientist can’t be religious. But if the guy calls himself a scientist, he’s probably not showing up in the lab every day to pore over the Bible for explanations about physics.

          ________________

          One final thing: I’m always interested in input, and exploratory arguments that are carried out by two people of good will. I’m even willing to be wrong, even hugely wrong, as the people who know me can tell you. I actually refer to myself, frequently and in public, as a “well-meaning doofus.” That I can be wrong is a GIVEN.

          But … what are we actually doing here? I’m not sure what you’re after, other than perhaps counting coup. To me it seems there’s a cold unfriendliness to the style with which you’re advancing these “you’re wrong because” arguments, and I don’t get why it has to be that way. Tell me something interesting, something original, something FUN on this subject, and let’s go on from there.

      • Beth

        Point to anything, any solid invention or discovery or accomplishment done by churches and religion.

        Science as we know it today started as an outgrowth of religion.

        you can’t do science if you believe any part of what you’re doing can be explained by supernatural forces.

        By this definition, Issac Newton doesn’t quality as having done science. His achievements were all done under the assumption that God created everything and he was trying to understand what God had wrought.

        Without anyone even saying it, the entire endeavor of science is conceptually based in the assumption that there are no unexplainable, explicitly supernatural forces.

        Science makes this assumption up front and it is not unstated, but clearly identified as an assumption – i.e. it is not known to be true.

      • hepburn1

        the presence of supernatural forces would not necessarily affect the operation of natural law, laws of logic, or the principle of absolute morality by which we are all inescapably bound.

        individual perception of the god question/answer certainly impacts, to a great degree, one’s worldview however this need not intrude upon scientific inquiry when it is conducted impartially.

  • Hank Fox

    Ah.

    [ To everybody else reading this, it finally occured to me to look into who and what Jayman777 is. His home link is a blog called Biblical Scholarship. ]

    ______________________

    Jayman, I did all the arguing with Christians years back, and hashed out all the “Jesus is REAL!! / No he’s NOT!!” stuff then. All that I wanted to, all that I needed.

    In my view: Yes, atheism is the starting point for an a-religious view of the world. It’s THE essential element for discovering newer, free-er frames of mind.

    But to actually discover those new frames of mind, to really refine the novel ideas that flow into your head after you decide to think about things OTHER than gods, you have to move away from the god/no god interface.

    I see what you do there on your blog, and I’m happy it works for you.

    HOWEVER … I’m not really all that interested in arguing with you. I’m trying to do something else here.

    All the best in your religious goals. Really.

    But I hope you will someday discover, as so many of us have (you do know that many of us here were once devout Christians, right?), that religion is a cramped little repetitive endeavor. It’s a dead crop, rooted in ground that has been harrowed and scraped a billion times over, never yet providing nourishment to the minds and lives of those forced to live under it.

    YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ANYMORE.

    You can be free of it. If I’m not the one who does it for you (I like to think my book Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith is an easy read and a good place to start), there are plenty of bloggers here on FtB and elsewhere who will gladly assist you in find the path. Go in with an open mind, actually listen to what’s said, think about it on your own, and see what you figure out.

    It will take a while to work your way out of it, just as it’s taken you a while to get where you are now. But, oh man, the freedom you’ll feel on the day you finally realize that all this heaven and hell stuff is imaginary — that there was never any Adam and Eve, that you’re not going to die and burn in a pit filled with demons, that you’re going to live and be happy, and discover things, and it’s going to be the coolest damned fun ride of your life — well, it’s gonna be fantastic.

    I do wish you the best, whatever path you take. (But hey, we could really use you on this side, buddy. You would be welcomed.)

    • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman777

      Hank Fox:

      Sure it does, and no you can’t.

      Just re-asserting yourself doesn’t make it so. You appear to be starting with the premise that God does not exist and concluding that explanations exist. As far as I can tell there is no logical connection between the premise and the conclusion.

      (P) God does not exist.
      (?)
      (C) Explanations exist.

      Once you assume that there is no explanation, you’re done.

      True, but I see no reason an atheist cannot take this route.

      The silent assumption that everything works by laws . . . underlies all science.

      I’m not disputing that. I’m disputing the notion that atheism underlies science in some way.

      Telepathy is supernatural unless and until it might be shown to be natural. That is, real.

      You might as well do away the terms “natural” and “supernatural” then and just use the terms “real” and “not real”. But then you’ve admitted that science could make room for real forces that many currently label supernatural.

      But … what are we actually doing here? I’m not sure what you’re after, other than perhaps counting coup.

      I took your opening post to be arguing that the success of science is somehow a point in favor of atheism. I’m arguing that is not the case.

      Tell me something interesting, something original, something FUN on this subject, and let’s go on from there.

      If you insist, I wouldn’t want to be charged with going off-topic.

      (1) There is an order of efficient causes in the universe. This is a metaphysical position that seems to underlie science. The truth of this premise is partly why science is intelligible at all. Note I’m starting with a metaphysical position informed by observation, not with a thought experiment.

      (2) Nothing can be the cause of itself, for if it were it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. In other words, that which comes into being must have an efficient cause.

      (3) In a series of efficient causes, the first cause is the cause of the intermediate causes and the intermediate causes are the cause of the ultimate cause. Therefore, if there was no first cause there would be no intermediate causes and no ultimate cause.

      (4) Since efficient causes obviously exist, there must be a first efficient cause that did not come into being, which is called God.

      The upshot is that one can take the metaphysics underlying science and conclude God exists.

      HOWEVER … I’m not really all that interested in arguing with you. I’m trying to do something else here.

      Fair enough. But I had already written most of the above so I might as well post it.

      Go in with an open mind, actually listen to what’s said, think about it on your own, and see what you figure out.

      You’re not the first atheist I’ve run across. I’ve been reading atheist literature/websites for a dozen years. I purposely subscribe to blogs from different viewpoints (atheists, Christians, Muslims, pagans, Republicans, Democrats, etc.). I subscribe to the entire FTB blog feed, in fact. The fact is I don’t find atheism intellectually compelling but it’s not because I don’t listen to its proponents.

      But, oh man, the freedom you’ll feel on the day you finally realize that all this heaven and hell stuff is imaginary — that there was never any Adam and Eve, that you’re not going to die and burn in a pit filled with demons, that you’re going to live and be happy, and discover things, and it’s going to be the coolest damned fun ride of your life — well, it’s gonna be fantastic.

      Many, if not most, atheists are determinists so I’m not sure how I could experience freedom at all. And while you think the world of atheism is fantastic an atheist like Alex Rosenberg recommends I pop an anti-depressant before reading his book. And it’s hardly the case that religion is some kind of burden or enslaving force in my life. Freedom, discovery, and fun are all possible within theism.

      • mcbender

        Oh, I see. So it’s turtles all the way down, is it? Just what, exactly, privileges this “God” thing to be exempt from the regress you’ve arbitrarily brought it in to terminate? If “God” can be uncaused, then why not the universe? Your hypothesis doesn’t actually help us answer the question at all. (Needless to say, there are lots of good reasons to believe the universe could have come into being without a “first cause” of the type you posit, thanks to quantum mechanics – see Lawrence Krauss’ new book A Universe From Nothing, for instance).

        Regardless of that, though… even if a “firat cause” were necessary, and even if we call it “God”… how in any way does that imply any of the properties religions add on top of it (e.g. Christians, who may think it cares about them)? All that argument gets you is a first cause of unknown type that happens to be named God, even if it works. You still have a huge amount of work ahead of you to get from this vague maybe-deism to any kind of theism. Don’t move the goalposts.

        The “first cause” argument is a colossal non-starter, which you would know if you’d engaged with atheists a tenth as much as you claim to have done.

        That’s not the only ridiculously bad bit of reasoning in your post, but my time is valuable to me and I don’t particularly feel like wasting more of it. I could not, however, let your post atand completely unchallenged.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman777

          mcbender:

          So it’s turtles all the way down, is it?

          No, a First Cause prevents infinite regress.

          Just what, exactly, privileges this “God” thing to be exempt from the regress you’ve arbitrarily brought it in to terminate?

          He doesn’t begin to exist. Also, do you really believe the belief in efficient causes is an “arbitrary” belief? How do you propose doing science without looking at efficient causes?

          If “God” can be uncaused, then why not the universe?

          Because the universe began to exist while God did not.

          Your hypothesis doesn’t actually help us answer the question at all.

          It’s not an hypothesis, it’s a logical deduction. For the sake of argument I could grant that it doesn’t “answer questions.” Such an admission would do nothing to show that the logical deduction is false.

          You still have a huge amount of work ahead of you to get from this vague maybe-deism to any kind of theism.

          The First Cause as Creator and Sustainer of the universe implies monotheism. Polytheism, deism, and atheism are all ruled out.

          The “first cause” argument is a colossal non-starter, which you would know if you’d engaged with atheists a tenth as much as you claim to have done.

          I don’t imagine atheists will change their mind in light of one argument (most don’t understand the metaphysics underlying the argument to begin with). Hank asked for “new” thoughts so I gave it to him.

          • mcbender

            You are engaging in special pleading here. If we grant your assumptions and say you must put something in the category “did not begin to exist”, then it may as well be the universe as “God”. “God” gets you absolutely nothing here, except moving the problem up one level – again, as I said, turtles all the way. You cannot escape so easily. And, as I said, it’s patently ridiculous to jump from “something exists which did not begin to exist” to “that thing must be God”. Sorry. Your argument (really Craig’s “Kalam”, I guess) holds water about as well as a sieve.

            However, the above discussion is absolutely pointless and is really just me being charitable, because quantum mechanics and virtual particles directly put the lie to the claim that “everything that begins to exist has a cause”.

            These are not new thoughts and have been thoroughly debunked before (more skillfully than by me, and in much greater detail), and logical deduction only works insofar as the premises are valid. I have demonstrated here that yours are not. Q.E.D.

          • sailor1031

            “Because the universe began to exist while God did not.”

            We assume the universe exists; but current cosmology indicates that it may have always existed, undergoing periodic cycles of destruction and recreation. You are assuming that the universe did not exist prior to the “big bang” and subsequent inflation. That is not settled science. Now as to the need for a deity in the case where the universe itself is possibly infinite with no first cause, it is possible there is no such deity and never was. We certainly have no scientific evidence to establish such a deity’s existence. So we actually have no idea if there is one or not. It is just a hypothesis (like the phlogiston hypothesis) and there is no way to know what such a deity’s attributes might be. But in any case, even if that deity exists there exists no connection to yahwe, ganesh, allah, rama, glooscap, jizo, quetzalcoatl, yeshue bar yussef, zeus, mars, diana, odin, freya, thor, yamantaka or any other of the “gods” men have made in their own image and likeness. In fact these gods are an insult to the real one if it exists.

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      “And then a miracle happened” is not science. Miracles don’t have any explanatory power. They aren’t falsifiable. As a result, science cannot use the supernatural, and so it doesn’t.

  • B-Lar

    Great piece. You should take heart that this Jay fellow is wading in with him obfuscation, because that shows that a nerve has been struck.

    The point that he cannot grasp is that once you think you know something, you do not search for answers. With religion, that “thinking you know something”-ness is so circular and seemingly self supporting that its adherents would never want to leave the cocoon. It is the cocoon of intellectual cowardice.

    Dont worry Jayboy. Its natural that you should feel this way, but until you come out of you cocoon you will never know peace. One of the most important elements of human existence is “Letting the reins go” and normally it is the faithful who are more capable of doing that. However, science, in acknowledging that we do not know things, liberates itself in ways that faith cannot. This is why science can do things, build things, develop things, and will continue to do so.

    PS your example of a scientific endeavour from the religious community was hilarious! Religiously motivated yes. Using some new exciting technology developed by Religiocorp? Perhaps using a new type of divinely inspired room temperature superconductor? I would love to hear your justification for the YouVersion project being scientific contribution. I promise that if you do that I will eat my words (I mean, actually write them down, and chew them up with a grimace). If you cannot, then think of another example please.

    • Jayman777

      B-Lar:

      You should take heart that this Jay fellow is wading in with him obfuscation, because that shows that a nerve has been struck.

      The nerve that has been struck is the apparent lack of any logical connection between atheism and science. How is the success of science in any way point for atheism?

      The point that he cannot grasp is that once you think you know something, you do not search for answers.

      That’s not true. We thought we knew Newtonian physics was all there was and yet we changed our mind. The mere fact that I think I know something does not stop me from continually re-appraising my beliefs.

      Dont worry Jayboy. Its natural that you should feel this way, but until you come out of you cocoon you will never know peace.

      How do you think I feel? It seems you’re just making things up.

      I would love to hear your justification for the YouVersion project being scientific contribution. I promise that if you do that I will eat my words (I mean, actually write them down, and chew them up with a grimace). If you cannIf you cannot, then think of another example please.

      It would be a technological contribution in the sense that, well, it would be the creation of technology that does not currently exist. But it seems you have ruled out, in principle, that a religion could make any scientific contribution. I’m willing to grant that. But then you need to be willing to grant that atheism has never made any scientific contribution. Science is religiously neutral. But then what will you make of the OP?

  • Jayman777

    mcbender:

    You are engaging in special pleading here.

    You actually need to point out a false premise or an invalid step in the argument.

    If we grant your assumptions and say you must put something in the category “did not begin to exist”, then it may as well be the universe as “God”.

    It is not an assumption that there must be something that did not begin to exist. It is a logical deduction required to explain a series of efficient causes. The universe is not an acceptable First Cause because it began to exist and because it undergoes change (it continually begins to exist in a new form).

    “God” gets you absolutely nothing here, except moving the problem up one level -again, as I said, turtles all the way.

    The problem is not moved up a level because the First Cause is pure actuality. Its essence is existence and therefore needs no external explanation. “Turtles all the way down” implies an infinite regress. That is the exact opposite of what I am proposing.

    And, as I said, it’s patently ridiculous to jump from “something exists which did not begin to exist” to “that thing must be God”.

    You still don’t understand the argument. The First Cause is God because, whatever else one takes God to be, he is almost always conceived of as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

    Your argument (really Craig’s “Kalam”, I guess) holds water about as well as a sieve.

    This is not the kalam cosmological argument. It is the second way of Thomas Aquinas. While you claim the argument is weak you have yet to demonstrate that you understand it, let alone that you can refute it (see below).

    However, the above discussion is absolutely pointless and is really just me being charitable, because quantum mechanics and virtual particles directly put the lie to the claim that “everything that begins to exist has a cause”.

    You’re misinformed. If you are familiar with Craig’s work you must know that he addresses this very claim. Moreover, Thomists can and do provide metaphysical interpretations of quantum mechanics without trouble.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 michaelbrew

    Jay, theism is specifically a system of thought which accepts the existence of a god. Atheism is any other kind of system of thought, from the “religiously neutral” (agnostic atheism) to the oppositional (gnostic atheism). Given that most of us here are agnostic atheists, it’s natural for us to see scientific thought, which is the “religiously neutral,” as you’ve said, as supporting our general view. No theory in our body of scientific knowledge explicitly implies any gods, and every testable claim made about a god or gods has been proven false, so in this sense science could be considered “atheist.” That does not, of course, imply that scientists are atheists, though it should be no surprise that a greater percentage of scientists are.

    Also, I’d just like to add one small critique of my own to your argument. Why is it that you think your First Cause argument rules out Deism and Polytheism? As far as Deism, you claim that the First Cause is also the Sustainer, the reasoning for which I’m afraid I didn’t catch. Why do you think we need a being sustaining our existence at all? Do you fancy that gravity would naturally “wear down” and we’d all go flying off the planet otherwise? As for polytheism, you didn’t really provide any explanation for that. As long as we’re speculating, why couldn’t there be two, three, or a hundred of what we’d call “gods” responsible for the creation of the universe? Or perhaps even offspring of the original or a fracturing of the original after “creation” into many separate gods. Remember that historically the concept of a god did not include the Abrahamic religions’ “all-powerful” “all-knowing” etc. concepts. A god merely need be naturally vastly beyond the power of us mere mortals to qualify.

    • Jayman777

      michaelbrew:

      No theory in our body of scientific knowledge explicitly implies any gods, and every testable claim made about a god or gods has been proven false, so in this sense science could be considered “atheist.”

      My claim is that the metaphysics underlying science (e.g., the existence of efficient causes) logically entails the existence of God. Scientific knowledge does not encompass all knowledge, so even if science tells us nothing about God that still does not entail that science in any way supports atheism. For example, it’s quite possible that science says nothing about God one way or the other but other kinds of inquiry do tell us about God.

      As far as Deism, you claim that the First Cause is also the Sustainer, the reasoning for which I’m afraid I didn’t catch.

      Let me be clear that the argument is rooted in Aristotelian and Thomist metaphysics. It’s probably not something that will make sense after reading a few blog comments. Nonetheless, I’ll try to give answers that at least point you in the right direction. I don’t claim to be an expert teacher on the matter.

      The order of efficient causes does not merely stretch from the present back through time to a chronologically First Cause. There are also orders of efficient causes that are simultaneous with their effects, here and now, that have a logical First Cause.

      Why do you think we need a being sustaining our existence at all?

      Because our essence is not existence.

      As for polytheism, you didn’t really provide any explanation for that.

      The essence of the First Cause is existence. Based on the indiscernability of identicals there can only be one such being.

      Remember that historically the concept of a god did not include the Abrahamic religions’ “all-powerful” “all-knowing” etc. concepts.

      I’m referring to the God of classical theism.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 michaelbrew

        My claim is that the metaphysics underlying science (e.g., the existence of efficient causes) logically entails the existence of God. Scientific knowledge does not encompass all knowledge, so even if science tells us nothing about God that still does not entail that science in any way supports atheism. For example, it’s quite possible that science says nothing about God one way or the other but other kinds of inquiry do tell us about God.

        I didn’t say science supported atheism. I said that, in strict definitional terms, it’s position is atheist in that it doesn’t assume a god. What other “kinds of inquiry” have to say about it is moot. Science, itself, is done “without God.”

        Let me be clear that the argument is rooted in Aristotelian and Thomist metaphysics. It’s probably not something that will make sense after reading a few blog comments. Nonetheless, I’ll try to give answers that at least point you in the right direction. I don’t claim to be an expert teacher on the matter.

        The order of efficient causes does not merely stretch from the present back through time to a chronologically First Cause. There are also orders of efficient causes that are simultaneous with their effects, here and now, that have a logical First Cause.

        Yeah… metaphysics always makes me leary. I took a bit of advance philosophy, myself, so I’ve been exposed to it plenty; however, I was never really convinced of its usefulness in describing reality. I feel metaphysicists generally rely too much on “common sense,” the most notoriously unreliable kind.

        Because our essence is not existence.

        That kind of illustrates my misgivings, actually. So, like, this is that “essence is imbued with existence” by some agent. This makes a weird kind of sense, but only when you think in the manner of the old philosophers who would take convenient categories we use to make the universe easier for our hodgepodge brains to process and ascribes some kind of absolute existence to them. I don’t accept the concept of “essence” as being any more than a convenient way to categorize things.

        The essence of the First Cause is existence. Based on the indiscernability of identicals there can only be one such being.

        You mean identity of indiescernibles? The assertion that if two or more objects or entities have all properties in common, then they are the same entity? Well… it may come as no surprise to you by now that I have certain contentions with this principle in itself, but further I wonder why you would assume that two beings that created the universe would have all properties in common. It’s certainly conceivable that the entities might have differing levels of power, different perspectives, different goals… being “gods” rather than purely natural phenomenon implies sentience, after all, and sentient beings can have varying personalities.

        I’m referring to the God of classical theism.

        I don’t know why this should be the only type of god considered in your argument, however. It doesn’t seem to me like the argument leads specifically to such an entity, and I suspect that such a conclusion is colored by the fact that it’s been the assumed “default” theistic belief system in Western culture for over a thousand years.

        I really didn’t feel like you answered my questions, I’m afraid. At least, you must have left out some crucial information or thought process that got you from my question to your answer. Perhaps a major problem, though, is that you take many metaphysical ideas as matters of fact, while I and, I would think, many others here most likely don’t agree with the premises as they don’t really have any more evidence to back them up than any bald assertion. These principles certainly may be true, but like I said before it mostly seems like the inflation of “common sense” principles that work in daily human life, but may not reflect reality when put into unfamiliar cosmic territory such as quantum behavior or even the behavior of the early universe. By all means, though, feel free to elaborate on your reasoning.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman777

          michaelbrew:

          Yeah… metaphysics always makes me leary.

          I understand, I once thought that way too but then I realized I have metaphysical beliefs and they need to be examined like any other belief. It would be logically inconsistent on my part to reject efficient causes when the discussion is metaphysical in nature but to accept efficient causes when the discussion is scientific in nature.

          I don’t accept the concept of “essence” as being any more than a convenient way to categorize things.

          Yet the fact that we can categorize things suggests essences (or something like them) exist.

          . . . but further I wonder why you would assume that two beings that created the universe would have all properties in common.

          Aquinas’ Second Way (as well as the other four arguments from his Five Ways) all converge on a First Cause whose essence is existence. If we assume that there are two such First Causes then there would be no way to distinguish them from each other.

          I don’t know why this should be the only type of god considered in your argument, however. It doesn’t seem to me like the argument leads specifically to such an entity . . .

          Well, it does.

          Perhaps a major problem, though, is that you take many metaphysical ideas as matters of fact, while I and, I would think, many others here most likely don’t agree with the premises as they don’t really have any more evidence to back them up than any bald assertion.

          The evidence for their truth is their consistency with observation and the fact that they make the world intelligible. For whatever reason, the atheists in this thread have not really attacked the premises of the argument nor have they proposed an alternative metaphysics.

          By all means, though, feel free to elaborate on your reasoning.

          I have a post on my blog discussing the Five Ways, though it may not clear things up for you. Aquinas by Edward Feser could serve as a short introduction (he’s a far better writer and thinker than I am).

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 michaelbrew

            I understand, I once thought that way too but then I realized I have metaphysical beliefs and they need to be examined like any other belief. It would be logically inconsistent on my part to reject efficient causes when the discussion is metaphysical in nature but to accept efficient causes when the discussion is scientific in nature.

            Don’t get me wrong, I certainly comprehend that all people have what you call “metaphysical beliefs,” that is, questions about why we’re here, the nature of things, and so forth. However, there’s an issue with metaphysics that specifically elicits much skepticism from me. You’ll find that for any metaphysical question there is usually more than one answer, one of which will inevitably contradict the other, but on their own either is entirely plausible. The reason for this highlights the reason that the scientific method is generally a better way of knowing than modern philosophy and most other ways of knowing. What answer one chooses to accept to a metaphysical question in the end has nothing to do with hard evidence, but with personal preference. Like the belief in a god, itself, the belief in a metaphysical position is based on faith. This is why, while I may find some positions more or less plausible than others, I generally maintain a healthy skepticism toward all answers to all metaphysical questions.

            Yet the fact that we can categorize things suggests essences (or something like them) exist.

            I have to disagree. The fact that we can categorize things suggests that it was a useful survival tool; a shorthand for the universe that probably doesn’t reflect reality, but provides us with enough information fast enough that we can make the safe decision quickly. There’s plenty of evidence that our categories don’t really comport with reality, though. One big hint is the fact that categories tend to completely change over time or across regions. Did you know that in some eastern countries what we refer to as green and blue respectively were/are considered the same color? Also look at how our society defines gender as a binary male and female. However, if you look to the middle east you’ll find hijras, which are considered a third gender. One could actually make a good argument for there being a multitude of genders. Ring species also shows the error of thinking of species in terms of rigid categories, or “essences.” I should say that the fact that reality time and again breaks the rules of the categories we make for it means that categories and the concept of essences is probably a flawed concept.

            Aquinas’ Second Way (as well as the other four arguments from his Five Ways) all converge on a First Cause whose essence is existence. If we assume that there are two such First Causes then there would be no way to distinguish them from each other.

            I suppose if you want to bundle a purely monotheistic presumption into the argument via the quinque viae that’s your prerogative, but the cosmological argument on its own certainly doesn’t specifically lead to that conclusion. And, contrary to Aquinas’ assertion, his way of defining a god is certainly not what “all men” mean when they refer to a god.

            Well, it does

            Nuh-uh.

            The evidence for their truth is their consistency with observation and the fact that they make the world intelligible. For whatever reason, the atheists in this thread have not really attacked the premises of the argument nor have they proposed an alternative metaphysics.

            Well, I’m no philosopher, but I could take a crack at what I find wrong with the premises. Now, my understanding is that the argument basically begins with the premises that whatever begins to exist has a cause and that the universe began to exist, with the conclusion that the universe had a cause. The philosophical argument against these premises boils down to the fact that the universe is defined as everything which exists. Because of this, as long as existence has been, the universe has been. Even if a god existed, that god would either inhabit or simply be the universe. Therefore, equating the first premise with the second is nonsensical; after all, how can existence begin to exist? Also, it’s not set in stone that everything that begins to exist has a cause, even now, especially when we start talking about the quantum level, at which the big bang would have been operating. Time, itself, may even be an emergent property of matter, which would mean that there was no time “before” the universe which would make talking about the universe coming into existence even more absurd.

            Of course, even if the concept of a first cause is true, I’m still not sure why one would conclude that it’s intelligent or sentient, which is one of the universal attributes of all gods. In fact, going by Aquinas’ model of a necessary being being unchangeable, that would seem to eliminate sentience from the realm of possibility. After all, self-change is what sentience is all about. Decision-making, self reflection, etc. All the attributes that define sentience involve the changing of the self on the cognitive level.

            I could go on, but I have SRP in the morning and it’s late, so I’ll just leave you with this for now.

  • Jayman777

    sailor1031:

    We assume the universe exists; but current cosmology indicates that it may have always existed, undergoing periodic cycles of destruction and recreation.

    We assume the universe exists? I’m guessing you meant we assume the universe began to exist. In comment #7 I also note that the universe cannot be the First Cause because it undergoes change. Periodic cycles of destruction and re-creation sounds like change to me, so even on that account the universe cannot be the First Cause.

    You are assuming that the universe did not exist prior to the “big bang” and subsequent inflation. That is not settled science.

    Luckily, Aquinas’ second way works even on the assumption that the universe is eternal.

    We certainly have no scientific evidence to establish such a deity’s existence. So we actually have no idea if there is one or not.

    This sounds like scientism (not science), which is self-defeating: you don’t have scientific evidence that your statement is true so we actually have no idea if you’re correct or not. Since my claim is not that we have scientific evidence for God, this is irrelevant. You have to attack the metaphysics.

    It is just a hypothesis (like the phlogiston hypothesis) and there is no way to know what such a deity’s attributes might be.

    No, it is a logical deduction from metaphysical truths. The argument tells us what some of the deity’s attributes must be.

    • sailor1031

      I suggest you learn a little about modern cosmology before you dismiss it out of hand. Until you have done so you do not know what you are talking about. There are a number of books that could introduce you to the topic. And don’t refer to Aristotelian or Thomist metaphysics, they are quite irrelevant here.

      • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman777

        sailor1031:

        I suggest you learn a little about modern cosmology before you dismiss it out of hand.

        I am not rejecting modern cosmology out of hand so I don’t see where this comment is coming from. I even granted your cosmological speculations (for the sake of argument) just to show that they don’t refute the argument.

        And don’t refer to Aristotelian or Thomist metaphysics, they are quite irrelevant here.

        Can you explain how science would progress without referring to material and efficient causes?


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