A Dozen Responses to the Transcendental Argument for God

transcendentalHave you ever thought about what grounds the laws of logic and mathematics? We know that they work, but why?

The Christian apologist has a quick answer: because of God. They exist and are sustained by God. The Transcendental Argument (TAG) challenges the atheist to resolve this any other way. What besides God could possibly explain the existence of something fundamental like logic? (To see the Christian case for this argument, read the selection from my book Cross Examined in an earlier post.)

This argument is of particular interest to me because I was introduced to it in a radio interview—not the best place for careful study and contemplation before stating one’s intellectual position—but more on that later.

1. TAG is just a deist argument

God gave us logic, you say? It’s curious then that this God-given logic can’t prove that it was God who did it and not Brahma or Odin or Moloch.

TAG is a deist argument. If it convinced you, you’d be a deist, not a Christian. The Christian apologist would be obliged to use different arguments to show that the deity was the Christian god, not some other god.

2. We don’t get physics from Christianity

Next, notice that we’ve never gotten physics from Christianity before. Why go to Christianity now to find the fundamental basis for physics? Yes, the Bible tells us how everything got started, but science gives the evidence to make clear that the Bible is wrong.

Nothing useful has ever come from resolving a science question by concluding that God did it. No honest seeker of the truth says, “I don’t know what causes this thing … so therefore I do know! It must’ve been God.”


See also: Do Atheists Borrow From the Christian Worldview? A Parable.


3. Avoiding logical puzzles invalidates TAG

Many apologists dodge the “Can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?” puzzle by saying that God can’t do anything illogical (for example, here and here)—he can’t make an impossibly heavy rock, a square circle, a married bachelor, and so on. The question is ill-formed. (Of course, you could say that if Christians can conclude that the Trinitarian god is both three and one, a mere logical impossibility should be child’s play, but let’s set that aside.)

By saying that God can’t make something that’s logically impossible, however, they create another problem as God’s actions become constrained by an external logic. If God is bound by logic, logic isn’t arbitrary. God can’t change it. He acts logically because he must, just like the rest of us.

This creates a Euthyphro-like dilemma: either God is bound by an external logic (and God answers to a fixed logic that he can’t change) or he’s not (and logic becomes arbitrary—it is what it is simply because God said so, and he could change it if he wanted to).

The apologist will try to propose a third option (again, as with Euthyphro): logic is simply a consequence of God’s nature. It’s neither external nor arbitrary. But this simply rephrases the problem. Is this nature changeable? Then logic is arbitrary. Is it fixed? Then God is again bound by logic.

How could God be the origin of logic if he’s bound by it?

4. Could God create logic and mathematics? Or is he bound by them?

Think about God creating arithmetic for a moment. Were God’s hands tied in creating arithmetic, or did he have some creative control? For example, 2 + 2 = 4 in our universe. Could God have made 2 + 2 = 9? If so, prove it. And if not, God was obliged to make arithmetic the way it is and unable to create any other kind. Here again, he answered to an external reality.

5. Consequences of a godless universe

But let’s assume the apologist’s argument and see what happens. God created logic, and logic is the way it is because God made it so. If God’s role here is important, a godless universe must be dramatically different. A godless universe could then have no logic or different logical rules.

In our universe, the Law of Noncontradiction tells us that X can’t be the same thing as not-X. Something can’t simultaneously be a rock and not-a-rock. But the apologist’s argument tells us that, without God, logic is up for grabs. In a godless universe, something might be a rock and not-a-rock. But this is an incredible claim that needs justification. TAG gives none.

Continue with part 2.

Can God make a rock so heavy 
that hitting His head with it 
would explain the change in personality He underwent 
between the Old Testament and the New Testament?
— commenter GubbaBumpkin

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/30/13.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • busterggi

    God is bound by logic and mathematics and his limited imagination.

    That’s why all the interesting stuff was invented by the devil.

    • Tony D’Arcy

      Would that be the same devil that Jahweh created ? The one who resisted the dictatorship of Jahweh’s rule, the one who failed to tempt Jesus, the one who only killed Job’s family on Jahweh’s express command ? There again they say he has the best tunes !

      • busterggi

        Ah, read the bibble again. Nowhere does it say Yahweh created the devil.

        • Tony D’Arcy

          Nor the hobbits, orcs, black riders, Gollum and Shelob. For those, we must thank Tolkien !

      • Greg G.

        There again they say he has the best tunes !

        The Devil has my sympathy.

        • Jim Baerg

          The Devil has my symphony

        • busterggi

          The Devil has my lawn mower & I need it back.

  • MesKalamDug

    Well – 2+2 could equal 9 just as well as 4 because 9 and 4 are nothing but human invented symbols. And, 2+2=1 in modulo 3 arithmetic. To a mathematician there is
    nothing to create except set theory. All the rest of arithmetic is human definitions.

  • Herald Newman

    For example, 2 + 2 = 4 in our universe. Could God have made 2 + 2 = 9?

    First thing to remember is that mathematics starts from definitions, and axioms. I can define any arbitrary set of values, provide operations, and axioms, and “prove” all kinds of things.

    Back to the topic at hand. I can make 2+2=9 by simply redefining what one of 2, +, =, or 9, means. From our current definitions of 2, +, =, and 4, we can find that 2+2=4 is simply a tautology, and no God is necessary to make it so. There’s no magic in mathematics, even if idiots like Eric Hovind want to tell you that 2+2=4 proves God.

    • Anat

      OK, but can there be a universe where 2+2 equals both 4 and 9 (or sometimes 4 and sometimes 9), despite 9 being different from 4?

      • Michael Murray

        We live in a universe where 1 + 1 can be 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, … depending on what contraception or fertility treatments you are using.

    • Only Some Stardust

      The Christian repllies “OK, what about the physical phenomena of the universe obeying these axioms and not some other definition for 2? What about the physical objects and not just the symbol 2?” Because a rose is a rose by any other name. Changing two’s name to squibblepeck won’t change that.

      This is why people should use meta-logic… 😛

  • Kevin K

    So, in order to accept this argument as valid, you have to ask whether the evidence favors “god given” math and logic (and by extension, scientific knowledge), or whether human activities (philosophy, mathematics, science) surpass the knowledge of the ancients.

    The bible says pi = 3. And says bats are birds. And says that it’s possible to have plants without a working sun. And that you can get striped goats by mating the mother next to a fence (or some such). And on and on.

    Heck, even Jesus “cured” the sick by casting out demons, instead of developing broad spectrum antibiotics. Almost as if he knew absolutely nothing about the germ theory of disease.

    Even in the field of pure thought (philosophy), very few people adhere to Platonic notions anymore. And Aristotle was flat-out wrong about a bazillion things, including the four “elements” of nature, and the laws of motion.

    Sorry, in order for this argument to work, you have to demonstrate that their scientific knowledge was the equal (or superior) to ours. Wasn’t. Isn’t.

    Fail.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    TAG is a deist argument.

    Exactly! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve perplexed ostensible theists by noting that their self-expressed beliefs are deist.

    TAG and many other common arguments are in effect the bailey part of theists’ motte-and-bailey arguments.

    • Ficino

      Yes, this is ANOTHER thing that burns me up about a guy who died from hitting his head on a branch, whose name I will not say. There is an uncaused first cause … okaaay… but the “and this all men say is God” step is totally outside the deductive system. There is no demonstration, not even a weak demonstration that it exists, contra what Vatican I claimed.

  • Hans-Richard Grümm

    he law of contradiction applies to statements: for no statement S, S and not-S can both be true. What is a non-rock ? The negation operator acts on statements, not on classes (e.g. rocks).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Let X = the statement “That is a rock.” The Christian is then claiming that X could be both true and false in a mixed-up godless universe.

      Does this respond to your concern?

      • Hans-Richard Grümm

        And he would be wrong, because truth is a map from statements into the set {true, false} – or perhaps {true, false, meaningless}.
        My remark addressed only what the L of NC says.

  • Herald Newman

    Classical TAG type apologists (like Matt Slick) often point to the three logical absolutes and ask non-theists to “account” for them. Here’s my problem with TAG like arguments: The absolutes they point to are simply tautological, given the rules that we start with about logic.

    The three laws are:
    Law of identity => (P=P)
    Law of non contradiction => (NOT(P and NOT P))
    Law of exclude middle => (P or NOT P)

    What our universe would look like if any of these laws weren’t true is beyond me. I cannot fathom how people go from these laws to stating that there must be a god.

    • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

      The “laws” of non-contradiction and excluded middle simply function to select one logical language out of several. Paraconsistent logics lack the law of non-contradiction, and allow P and not-P to be simultaneously true without paradox; paracomplete logics lack the law of excluded middle and allow both P and not-P to be false.

      The “law” of identity is arguably just a definition.

      • catfink

        Tell us what you think it means for P and not-P to be simultaneously true without contradiction. Give us an example of a P that you think satisfies this condition.

        • Michael Murray

          Wikipedia has an article on paraconsistent logics. They give the examples of trying to model or deal with situations where you have inadequate knowledge or where different people hold different opinions on something. The idea is that in those situations perhaps paraconsistent logic helps. There are some other examples there.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraconsistent_logic

        • Phil Rimmer

          Interesting but not a great article.

          People holding conflicting opinions merely reflect the illusory nature of a singular self.

          The electronics application is wrong. Fuzzy logic and neuronal behaviours are more the issue. Tristate terminals and don’t-care sensitivities are conventionally logical and have no bearing on the case

          I suspect the suggestion that at root seemingly contrary positions are in fact sub-contrary quite likely

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_of_opposition

    • Ficino

      These demands that skeptics “account for” this or that drive me up a wall. When the apologist’s answer is, “God did it,” or a longer spiel that reduces to the same, no “account” has been proposed.

      • Kevin K

        Reply in kind … “no, unicorns did it. Prove otherwise.”

        Drives them up a wall.

        • Ficino

          Umm… if there is a plurality of unicorns, then no one unicorn is Pure Act, since each unicorn suffers limitation as a member of a genus. So the genus of all unicorns is not Pure Act, cuz composition fallacy. So therefore what it was that St. Thomas said. So therefore you are wrong.

          Rock on, noble Kevin K!

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Didn’t you know that all unicorns are just 3 dimensional projections of the Great Unitary Unicorn that exists in 18 dimensions? 😉

        • Kevin K

          Unicorns are 6-dimensional projections. That’s why there are three of them … Sparkle, Contessa, and Fred. Fred is kind of a dick.

        • Kevin K

          Unicorns are the Pure Act from which other Pure Acts are derived!!!

          Ha!!!

    • eric

      Humans have thought up lots of logical and deductive functions, even different systems. Through use we discover that a few of these are really helpful in understanding how the world works. A couple (hundred) years later, people are amazed that one of those systems and three of its functional relations are really helpful in understanding how the world works. They wonder how that could be, and explain in via God. They give little thought to the hard work of past generations, who worked to try and figure out which such systems, functions, and relations were the best tools to use. This is not a remarkable coincidence that must be explained via metaphysical design, its the end-result of a long sequence of trail and error refinements.

      Of course if the world worked differently and our trials-by-use had identified a different set of functional relations as being accurate descriptions of the world, we’d be using that set instead. In that alternate world, the same people would probably be proclaiming that only God could explain why (P or NOT P) may have not one but two different truth values, T or U. :)

    • TheNuszAbides

      they certainly don’t make any headway in ‘explaining’ how utterly masterful Satan is at deceiving us — he can play a different shell game with each one, and dangle the Trinity in front of us to boot!

  • Tony D’Arcy

    The number of times I’ve made a “rock” so big I couldn’t lift it are numerous. But then I’m human, and have mixed concrete many times and have no claim to being allstrengthful ! I am working on the square circle though, – philosophers beware, Tony D’Arcy on the case !

    • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

      Square circles are easy—just use the Chebyshev norm or the Manhattan norm.

    • eric

      A square circle is easy; make a cylinder where D = H. In two dimensions, it’s a circle; in two others, it’s a square.

      We can even make square circle triangles (circle in xy, square in yz, triangle in xz). You probably have one around your house; it also known as the head of a flathead screwdriver.

    • adam
  • eric

    What besides God could possibly explain the existence of something fundamental like logic?

    Which logic are we talking about? Two-value logic? Three-value? N-value? They are contradictory systems, so which one is fundamental? What about second-order
    logics?

    The fact that there are many logics, some contradicting others, and that we humans use whichever one seems most appropriate for the problem and boundary conditions we have at the moment, is all consistent with them being human-developed hypotheses or tools.

    • GubbaBumpkin
    • Only Some Stardust

      The logical behavior nature seems to obey – aka nature’s consistency with itself.

      Two value logic and N-value aren’t contradictory, it’s just one has less nuance. If I’ve got something 51% true in N-value, two-value would just say it’s true. If it was 51% false in N-value, we could convert to two-value and just say it’s false, in the same way we can convert from decimal systems in a database to integers. In fact, if I had a two value database and an n-value database that’s exactly what would happen. On edge cases of 50% true and 50% false I’d have to decide which way to round, but I would do so consistently each time.

      That’s an awful lot of correlation and agreement for two things that are supposed to be deeply contradictory systems.

      That said, humans don’t automatically know what logic nature uses, so by human nature we have to make hypotheses and guess. It’s perfectly possible for one meta logic to control many little logics underneath it, the same way I do with a database that accepts both two-values and n-values as possible ways to store things and allows conversion between them.

  • Anthrotheist

    For a while now I’ve had the sense that our laws of logic and math, while not arbitrary, are also not as universal as many believe. I seem to recall stories and articles claiming that young children, and societies that haven’t been taught Western math, don’t think of numbers the same way we do at all.

    For instance, which is greater, the difference between 1 and 2 or the difference between 20 and 25? By our mathematical logic, (25 – 20) > (2 – 1), but unless you learned that at some point, the opposite is true: 2 is twice the amount of 1, while 25 is only a few more than 20. By the same way of thinking, you can conclude that 2 + 2 = 2. After all, if you take one pair of something and add one more pair of that thing, you now have two pairs.

    Now this isn’t helpful at all in our systems of engineering or science, but philosophically they are not inherently invalid (unless we insist on imposing definitions and axioms, which we honestly must if we are to agree on what numbers mean).

    • GubbaBumpkin

      I read Pi on the Sky by John D. Barrow and learned some fascinating things about the origins of mathematics.

      We use base10 math, which can be easily attributed to our having 10 fingers. Some cultures used base20, which means they had open-toe sandals. That makes sense.
      But some other cultures don’t use the fingers to count, they use the gaps between the fingers, and so wound up with base8. There is speculation that they counted by placing sticks or bones between their fingers.

      Lots of other fun stuff in there too that I had never run across elsewhere.

      • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

        Didn’t the Babylonians use base 60?

        • GubbaBumpkin

          Sounds vaguely familiar.

        • RichardSRussell

          Base 60? Is that where the space aliens landed their UFOs before they discovered Area 51?

        • Only Some Stardust

          The Bablyonians used both their finger-parts, knuckles and the gaps between their fingers to count, if I remember correctly. So your thumb tip to your index finger tip would be different number to your thumb on halfway up your finger.

        • Greg G.

          http://cubuddhism.pbworks.com/f/1270665430/W020080801605720162723.jpg

          Babylonians were closely related to theses people but they only had 12 hands.

        • TheNuszAbides
      • Dr Sarah

        I heard some tribes use base 12, because that’s the number of finger-bones in your fingers. (If you try counting the spaces on your fingers by tapping them with the thumb of the same hand, you can see how that works out.) Which is actually a good thing for them as it’s a better number to use as a base, although I think they’re also tribes who don’t get that far with mathematics.

        • Ficino

          it may have been in Gagnon’s The Fierce People, a book about the Yanamamo in the Amazon, which said that the tribe knew three numbers: one, two and more than two. I never really believed this. If a group of enemy neighbors was approaching, would a scout really tell his fellow Yanamamo that “more than two” described the size of the approaching raiding party, with no attention paid to whether it was closer to three guys or to forty guys?

        • TheNuszAbides

          i’ve tried to make a habit of digging for detail when i hear such cultural details that seem counterintuitive or rococo or ~alien~ or what-have-you. i was intensely disappointed when i finally found out that two particular soundbites had been misleading (or at least that i had been projecting pedantry without investigation): “eskimos” have x words for snow, and Arabic has x words for sand. for years, whenever either factoid popped up i marveled at the mind-blowing trivia that so many synonyms existed for any word, even a generic one.

          when it finally dawned on me that this was an oversimplified way of saying “poets, naturalists, meteorologists et al. have used [or re-used] this many words to describe or refer to sand/snow”, usually in adjective or verb form — i.e. i would not find an Arabic-to-English dictionary in which 150 words were translated as “sand” but could rather be used to refer to sand as well as any number of other things — i was annoyed that i had let such a misinterpretation go unexamined for so long. (that particular sensation never gets old, as far as i’m concerned.)

          so when i hear something like “they count from ‘two’ to ‘many'” i try to get a sense of whether the person conveying the information has a demonstrable grasp of semiotic distinction.

          e.g. some counting systems use a different set of quantitative words for each type of object being quantified. but i have a hard time imagining that, were i to answer by speaking the numeral ni (2) in Japanese in answer to the question “how many books are in your bag?” (rather than futatsu [2 [of that sort of thing]]), i would be thought to be speaking total gibberish. better yet, perhaps, would be to simply hold up two fingers.
          so i have to wonder whether Gagnon is comprehensively describing the totality of their numerical expressions, or discounting quantities they represent in nonverbal ways, or …

        • Michael Neville

          eskimos” have x words for snow

          The first time I heard this bit of nonsense I asked, “which Eskimos speaking what language?” The people generally called “Eskimos” include the Inuit stretching from Greenland to western Canada and the Yupik of eastern Siberia and Alaska.

          Inuit languages comprise a dialect continuum, or dialect chain, that stretches from Unalakleet and Norton Sound in Alaska, across northern Alaska and Canada, and east to Greenland. Changes from western (Iñupiaq) to eastern dialects are marked by the dropping of vestigial Yupik-related features, increasing consonant assimilation … and increased consonant lengthening, and lexical change. Thus, speakers of two adjacent Inuit dialects would usually be able to understand one another, but speakers from dialects distant from each other on the dialect continuum would have difficulty understanding one another. Seward Peninsula dialects in Western Alaska, where much of the Iñupiat culture has been in place for perhaps less than 500 years, are greatly affected by phonological influence from the Yupik languages. Eastern Greenlandic, at the opposite end of the Inuit range, has had significant word replacement due to a unique form of ritual name avoidance.

          The four Yupik languages, by contrast, including Alutiiq (Sugpiaq), Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Naukan (Naukanski), and Siberian Yupik, are distinct languages with phonological, morphological, and lexical differences. They demonstrate limited mutual intelligibility. Additionally, both Alutiiq and Central Yup’ik have considerable dialect diversity.

    • Greg G.

      1 ÷ 2 = 2, if we are talking about crumbs or piles.

      Edit: corrected code for the “divided by” sign

    • Michael Neville

      The “experts” tell us that 2 + 2 = 4. But can that really be the whole story? Consider this: supposedly 2 + 2 = 4 and 4 = 2 + 2? Such a nice little package, don’t you think? Isn’t that convenient? But then consider this: 4 = 3 + 1. That’s right, we already know what two numbers added together equal 4. So what are they hiding? What does 2 + 2 really equal? What would it hurt for more study on the real value of 2 + 2? A lot of people make a lot of money off of the fact that 2 + 2 = 4. Math teachers, accountants (who control the world’s money supply), capitalists, the socialist fascist military industrial oedipal complex. I think they’re afraid of the truth. Now I’m not one of those loonies who say the number 2 doesn’t exist or that it can’t be combined with other numbers to make bigger numbers. But the “official” party line that 2 + 2 = 4 seems odd to me. “They” say that 2 + 2 = 4, but then they also say that 2 x 2 = 4 and 2² = 4. They can’t be all right! I think it’s time we ask what are they hiding? We will not be silent any longer!

      • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

        /snerk

      • Ficino

        My brother-in-law knows a guy whose cousin is an ex-Secret Service man who blogs out of his mother’s basement. You have no idea what he’s already found. It will amaze you what they’re covering up.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Yes, relative size of a subset is an easier concept to grasp, and precedes mathematics. After all, it’s easier to see 2 oranges are double 1 orange than that 25 oranges are a 25% increase over 20 oranges, both of which seem infinite to one’s appetite.

    • TheNuszAbides

      For instance, which is greater, the difference between 1 and 2 or the
      difference between 20 and 25? By our mathematical logic … but unless you learned that at some point …

      that really only hinges on whether one’s use of “difference” is precise or vague. saying the ‘difference’ between 1 and 2 is the ‘difference’ between 100 and 200 is, arithmetically speaking, as not-even-wrong as pretending it doesn’t matter whether you tack “%” or “x” onto the end of a figure to get your point across. also, “unless you learned that at some point” applies to either or any other perspective [via abstract reasoning] mentioned. neither apples nor oranges are Richter scales.
      “our mathematical logic” benefits from formal phrasing because it facilitates checking the work.

      unless we insist on imposing definitions and axioms, which we honestly must if we are to agree on what numbers mean

      of course … not sure how the example helps with this, though?

      but your point that too much universality can be assumed/presumed is an important one — that’s the sort of rigor i expect from, e.g., some of the folks who make it their business to speculate on what another sapient/sentient/intelligent life-form might “be like”.

  • Otto

    Have you ever thought about what grounds the laws of logic and mathematics?

    Logic and mathematics are ‘grounded’ in the fact that the universe is consistent with itself. I think a better argument for God would be if we found that the universe was not consistent and instead was incoherently random.

    • Anat

      Are you saying that the universe at large would be inconsistent, but God works at making it locally consistent for our benefit? At least that kind of god would actually have something to do.

      • Otto

        That would at least make more sense, and the people praying or giving deference to the ‘real’ god would have extra consistency. THe sinners would have less.

    • RichardSRussell

      On a sufficiently small scale (Planck length or thereabouts), the world is incoherently random. But, by the Law of Large Numbers, it’s stochastically predictable at larger scales — which, fortunately, is where we live. Thus we can speak of the “laws” of nature with some confidence.

      • Otto

        I would hate to see logic grounded in the small scale then…;)

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I don’t see that indeterminism is necessarily illogical.

      • Only Some Stardust

        We only /think/ it’s incoherently random. There are actually quite a few rules that are very coherent down there, though – you re-see the same behaviors of entanglement and superposition, of fundamental forces, tunneling, etc… which happen to be very strange to human eyes, but doesn’t make them logic-less or indescribable by mathematics. People still manage to predict things like matter-antimatter reactions on really small scales.

        • RichardSRussell

          You will be pleased to know that you are on the same page as Albert Einstein, who once remarked that “God does not play dice with the Universe.” Having made his reputation by having articulated laws to describe weird things that happen around very high gravities (G=general relativity) and very high speeds (S=special relativity), as well as having predicted a 5th state of matter (the Bose-Einstein condensate, in addition to solid, liquid, gas, and plasma), he was firmly convinced that there were solid, reliable laws underlying everything. Einstein believed that there were “hidden variables” that could account for various quantum phenomena, just that we hadn’t yet discovered what they are.

          Unfortunately for this attitude, it was based on confidence more than evidence. His intellectual opponent, Neils Bohr, held out for randomness and the “observer effect”, and so far all the critical experiments designed to distinguish between the approaches advocated by these 2 genii have tilted in Bohr’s direction.

          Not to say that Einstein might not still have the final word on the subject, of course, but it’s not looking that good for him as of 2017. Even tho we can predict to a remarkable degree of precision what proportion of, say, carbon-14 will beta-decay into nitrogen-14 (half of any given sample in 5,730 years), we can’t predict from one moment to the next which specific atom of C-14 will be the next to go.

          And, of course, just because we can reliably predict some things at the quantum level (conservation of spin, for example) does not imply or require that we can predict them all.

    • adam

      “I think a better argument for God would be if we found that the universe was not consistent and instead was incoherently random.”

      You mean if the universe were more like Trump’s universe?

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Something can’t simultaneously be a rock and not-a-rock.

    Can a virus be both alive and not-alive?

    • Mr. A

      Thats more of a case in which viruses do not fit either the criteria of life or non life because they are wierd, but the sentiment is appreciated.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        Exactly. Only in abstract mathematics are things truly black and white. When one enters the real world, one finds that pre-conceived definitions are frequently inadequate. Even to the point that black is not black

  • Rudy R

    Atheist: we don’t know how the universe was created.
    Theist: I know how, god created it.
    Atheist: how did god create it?
    Theist: magic!
    Atheist: like I said, we don’t know how the universe was created.

  • Pofarmer

    Hey Bob. Just FYI, we have a troll trying to drive Kodie off. Might need a little house cleaning.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I appreciate that. I’ll try to monitor the situation. I’ve had a hard time keeping up with the comments lately. Let me know if you see it getting worse or that I’ve missed something.

      • Pofarmer

        I just don’t want to see Kodie bullied into leaving. I think she is a real asset.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, I agree.

          After “Pop Leibel” promised to leave a few minutes ago, I made that certain with a permanent timeout.

        • Kodie

          I don’t feel bullied, but there’s a certain way a person can be so annoying that ruins my experience, and I don’t want to continue ranting and ruining others’ experience when someone like that is around. It’s like being in a restaurant where the food is really good and the company is good, but there’s someone at another table pooping on his plate, running around, screaming, etc., and there’s nothing you can do. It’s not just like, being a troll, it’s just he’s so gross and offensive. Dys had it right – he’s un-self-aware to the point of, you just want to leave, well I did if he didn’t.

        • epeeist

          Dys had it right – he’s un-self-aware to the point of, you just want to leave

          Sorry, but I disagree. I think he knew precisely what he was doing, namely winding people up to provoke a reaction. Unfortunately it is something that is all to easy to fall for.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          But where to draw the line? I’ve been laissez-faire, perhaps to an extreme, though I’ve banned more quickly of late. Any thoughts on a clear and simple line in the sand that we could follow?

        • Pofarmer

          I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions, personally. On the one hand, you want theists to be able to converse, on the other hand, they do tend to become abusive. And, and, it’s the same old shit over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, well, you get the point. do these folks really think that they have something to say that hasn’t been said 5000 times before on this very blog?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That’s the challenge. I want to know what the latest pop apologetics are, and it’s good having sparring partners (more like punching bags, I suppose–they never land a glove on me and I beat the shit out of them, but they keep standing there, thinking that they’re doing a credible job). But those interesting arguments are very rare.

        • Kodie

          There are some really annoying theists, but then there’s a special kind of annoying type that I’d rather not get too comfortable. Greasy sexism and patronizing really grosses me out. I’m not known for my patience, so I’m glad others can take it down a notch and actually make a point, but when the troll starts calling people sick for not being nicer to them, or thinking Jesus would correct our attitude toward them, there’s really no substance, I’d just shut them down. Theists who just make the same poor arguments over and over, well, what are we going to do? They have no other arguments.

        • adam

          “But where to draw the line?”

          I think you’ve done an admirable job!

        • TheNuszAbides

          not that I’ve Been Everywhere, Man — let alone real experience policing content — but it seems like the clearer and simpler the line, the more those who cross it will crow about double standards.

          then again, is anyone here genuinely worried that a ‘bad reputation’ among the definitively credulous will be the tipping point that prevents the Best Atheism Defeaters, the True Heavy Hitters(TM), from ever gracing these halls with their insight?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I enjoy the sparring practice, and I think others also enjoy the combat. (OK–I like the combat, too.) While the conversation is hot, I suppose that there’s an up side. This is the “if people weren’t positively engaged, they would ignore the comment” argument. The trick is to know when that goes too far.

        • adam

          “The trick is to know when that goes too far.”

          We thank you for your ability and patience to determine that in a manner that appears fair and keeps the conversations engaging.

        • Kodie

          I think they’re all self-un-aware, though.

  • RichardSRussell

    Can God make a rock so heavy that hitting His head with it would explain the change in personality He underwent between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

    I will take advantage of this convenient epigram to climb on one of my favorite hobby horses: the idea that the New Testament represents a more horrific worldview than the Old Testament.

    The idea popularized by the professional spreaders of Christianity (whose income depends on people swallowing the snake oil they’re selling, so good idea to throw in the spoonful of sugar for free) is that the New Testament was kind of like the religious version of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal — it improved on an awful situation and gave people some hope for a better life; “love your fellow human beings” and all that.

    That’s the propaganda. As they say about Jesus coming, “don’t swallow that” (yes, double entendre intentional).

    It’s true that the OT Yahweh was a petty, vindictive asshole. As Mark Twain pointed out, he really had it in for “him that pisseth against the wall”, and any poor sap observed in the act was due for a serious smiting. Not only him, but his whole family as well, and half the members of his tribe for 3 counties in every direction.

    But it ended there. Sure, you were dead, and all your loved ones as well. But that was it. Dead. Story over.

    Jesus came along and “improved” upon this insufficiently intimidating scenario by saying that he’d get you not only for what you did but for what you were thinking! And he wouldn’t settle for just killing you once and for all, thereby ending all your worldly suffering for good. Noooooo! He’d fry you for all eternity!

    It’s utterly beyond me how in hell’s name Christians can possibly claim that the New Testament was a kinder, gentler take on the wild cosmological speculations, brag stories, and imperatives to injustice they inherited from their ignorant, arrogant, bloodthirsty, misogynistic goat-herding forebears. Cognitive dissonance knows no bounds, I guess.

    • Ficino

      Allegory. Metaphor. Analogical predication.

    • sandy

      Good point! The old testament was about laws and preaching to the already choir, however, the new testament was about selling and no better way to sell than with a threat…especially the greatest threat one could ever come up with…hell!

    • Gary Whittenberger

      I never thought of it that way, but your idea is appealing. I think it has merit.

    • wtfwjtd

      Your comment makes a great point Richard.
      I would also like to add, what satisfied the OT god wasn’t enough for god 2.0 of the NT. Whereas, the OT god might give you a pass if you sacrificed a goat or pig or sheep or whatever to him, the NT god 2.0 has upped the ante: now he demands a human sacrifice, and is actually offended if you think killing an animal will appease him. But, it gets worse. A quick thrust of the knife to kill the sacrifice is not sufficient–NT god 2.0 also demands the sacrifice be killed in a blood-soaked orgy of cruel violence and torture. Not only that, but his followers are required to commemorate this human sacrifice with a cannibalistic ritual, wherein they have to pretend to be drinking the dead sacrifice’s blood and eating his flesh.
      How and why is this supposed to be better than OT god 1.0? I have no idea. And I am baffled that I ever could have believed this nonsense was literal, and somehow reflected on a kinder, gentler version of god. Brainwashing is indeed a powerful thing.

  • Tommy

    Christian Apologist: Of course the universe has a creator! All scientific and all physical, natural evidence testifies to a creator!

    Tommy: So, about this creator. Is it a he or a she or an it?

    Christian Apologist: It’s a being! It has a mind! It’s a consciousness! The creator is a person! We believers call it a ‘he’!

    Tommy: So, about ‘him’; is he a natural being like you and me or is he ‘supernatural’?

    Christian Apologist: He is supernatural! He is above nature! He created nature! He is not bound by natural laws or made up of atoms! He’s a spiritual being! A spiritual being is not of this world!

    Tommy: So you believe supernatural ‘spiritual beings exist? What evidence do you have that supernatural beings exist? Can you demonstrate it through the scientific method?

    Christian Apologist: You silly deist! That question has no meaning! You’re asking me to provide natural/physical evidence of non-natural and non-physical beings! It is impossible! You cannot prove the supernatural using the natural!

    Tommy: So what you are telling me is that I cannot demonstrate the supernatural/spiritual using the scientific method, nor is there any physical/natural way to prove their existence?

    Christian Apologist: Of course!

    Tommy: If that is true, then your statement ‘All scientific and all physical, natural evidence testifies to a creator!’ is false since the creator you posited is a supernatural/spiritual being and you further explained that it is impossible to provide natural/physical evidence of non-natural and non-physical beings and that one cannot prove the supernatural using the natural. You then confirmed that I cannot demonstrate the supernatural/spiritual using the scientific
    method, nor is there any physical/natural way to prove their existence.

    Christian Apologist: ……………

    Tommy: Hello? Are you still with me?

    Christian Apologist: Why do you hate Jesus so much?

  • D Rieder

    “The Transcendental Argument (TAG) challenges the atheist to resolve this any other way.”

    It’s actually kind of easy. Logic and mathematics exist and are sustained by Nature. What besides Nature could possibly explain the existence of something fundamental like logic? If that seems like a blunt assertion, then it’s in keeping with “God explains logic and mathematics because it’s part of his nature.” In both cases we are simply asserting that since these things exist, they must have been part of the necessary existence that is the foundation for what we see around us. I see no reason to look further than the natural as that “necessary” existence.

    • Gary Whittenberger

      I don’t agree with your statement “Logic and mathematics exist and are sustained by Nature.” They are rules of thinking which we have found work well within the reality in which we live.

      I agree with Anri above who answered this question: “Have you ever thought about what grounds the laws of logic and mathematics? We know that they work, but why?” by giving this answer: “Because we kept on keeping the ones that worked and kept on chucking the ones that didn’t.” Good answer!

      • D Rieder

        I decided to change my answer.

        I think that if there were NO minds in the entire universe, the math that we have figured out would still apply, so it doesn’t depend on us keeping good answers and discarding that didn’t work. Exa. I don’t know exactly how water forms, but if there was some area in space where there was only one atom of hydrogen, wouldn’t another have to somehow show up before water (however it forms) to could form? Doesn’t logic dictate that if you are to have H20, you’ve got to have 2 of hydrogen and no force at all, ever can change that. So I see that logic and math is sustained…is the very essential part of existence as the basis for logic and math. Logic and math that must be part of nature in order that we, now, with our minds, can delve into logic and math things and try to articulate the principles. We aren’t creating logic and math, we are discovering it.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          DR1: I think that if there were NO minds in the entire universe, the math that we have figured out would still apply, so it doesn’t depend on us keeping good answers and discarding that didn’t work.

          GW1: I disagree with you. If there were NO minds, there would be no math.

          DR1: Doesn’t logic dictate that if you are to have H20, you’ve got to have 2 of hydrogen and no force at all, ever can change that.[?]

          GW1: No, logic doesn’t dictate that. However, logic dictates that 2 does not equal 3.

          GW1: The world would exist without minds, but logic and math would not.

        • Greg G.

          GW1: I disagree with you. If there were NO minds, there would be no math.

          There would be no mathematicians but there would still be math. One proton plus one proton plus two neutrons would still be a Helium nucleus that would attract two electrons and not interact chemically very well. That’s how our universe formed before there were any mathematicians to count protons and electrons in atoms.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I disagree. In the natural world if there are no minds (and there were none at some point) there is no math. Yes, there are protons, neutrons, Helium nuclei, electrons, atoms, and their interactions without minds. But there is no math without minds. For example, “two,” “one,” and “add” are concepts which do not exist without minds.

        • epeeist

          In the natural world if there are no minds (and there were none at some point) there is no math.

          So, for example, in a world without maths is do parallel lines ever cross?

        • Gary Whittenberger

          In a world without minds there are no parallel lines! How could there be? Parallel lines are abstractions of minds.

        • D Rieder

          But you would agree that now, we can look back on a world without minds as a thought experiment and conclude that some arrangement of matter/energy would qualify as a set of parallel lines, right?

        • Gary Whittenberger

          You are changing the thought experiment. Stick with the original one. You now agree that if there were no minds there would be no logic, math, or parallel lines in nature, right?

        • D Rieder

          Was that a yes?

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I’m trying to get you to stick with the original thought experiment and answer my question, and so right now we have different goals.

          If there were no minds, there would be no logic, math, or parallel lines in nature, right? If you think otherwise, then explain and defend your position.

        • D Rieder

          I would say that since we are “of nature” or natural and logic and math are developed by us, then, but definition, logic and math are sustained by nature.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I think that is an odd and mistaken way of looking at it. I would say that if there were no minds in nature, there would be no logic, math, or parallel lines. Nature produces these things only indirectly after a long causal chain of events. But you could say the same thing about tractors, cell phones, and democracies. They are inventions of minds.

        • D Rieder

          I agree that if there were no minds, there would be no logic, math or parallel lines. Just like if there were no ants there would be no ant mounds, if there were no birds there would be no bird nests and if there were no stars, there would be no nuclear fusion. Do ant mounds, bird nests and nuclear fusion exist in nature?

          What do you think nature is?

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Ok, we finally agree on something! If there were no minds, there would be no logic, math, or parallel lines.

          I believe “nature” has two accepted definitions: 1) Everything which actually exists, not hypothetical or imaginary things. 2) Everything which actually exists, excluding human beings and their products.

          By the first definition, parallel lines themselves do not exist in nature, but the idea of parallel lines does exist in nature. Parallel lines are an abstraction produced by minds sufficiently intelligent.

        • Michael Neville

          If there were no minds, there would be no logic, math, or parallel lines in nature, right?

          Wrong. The law of identity, one of the foundations of logic, that A=A, is true whether or not there is a mind to grasp the concept. A does not stop being A just because nothing is capable of thinking of it.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Michael, you are conflating the existence of behavior and the existence of the law that describes the behavior.

          It is true that stuff would act the same with or without humans, but the law of identity is a conceptual abstraction of that behavior, so it would not exist without a mind to conceive it.

        • Michael Neville

          I guess this is one of those things where intelligent, rational people cannot agree. I still think that parallel lines would exist even if there weren’t any minds around to notice that they’re parallel.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Objects might still be parallel to each other, but lines are abstracted models so they would no longer exist.

          Once again, it is important to discern between a thing and the description of that thing.

        • D Rieder

          Michael. This is interesting. What it seems like is being said is that logic, being a mental construct, cannot exist without a mind. I guess it might be tantamount to language that cannot exist without a mind. The things that the words represent exist, just not the words. So two photons traveling through space may travel for many light years, never getting closer to, or further away from, each other would be considered by us to be traveling parallel to each other. But the concept of a line does not exist until some mind comes up with it. Did red exist before living beings with visual sensors and interpreters came up with the concept?

        • Greg G.

          For example, “two,” “one,” and “add” are concepts which do not exist without minds.

          The word “mathematics” cannot exist without minds creating a language that give the word meaning. Cavemen didn’t invent concepts like “two” or “plus”, they recognized the principles that already existed in nature that had no words for them.

  • Anri

    Have you ever thought about what grounds the laws of logic and mathematics? We know that they work, but why?

    Because we kept on keeping the ones that worked and kept on chucking the ones that didn’t.

    By saying that God can’t make something that’s logically impossible,
    however, they create another problem as God’s actions become constrained
    by an external logic

    Even moreso: god is limited by human logic, by our fallible brains’ understanding of logical rules.
    The most common sidestep I’ve heard of this point by those theists who’ve thought about it a bit is that god, being so much smarter than us, can do things that are perfectly logical in reality but appear illogical to us due to our limited understanding.
    The problem with this, of course, is that such a logic is, by definition, beyond human grasp and therefore utterly worthless to humans trying to make an argument. Even one as simple as “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” If human logic is entirely inapplicable to god, you can’t make any “if – then” statements about god.
    Presumably, they want god to be bound by logic so long as it makes god look good, and to be free of it when it gets a little tight around the collar.

    • TheNuszAbides

      If human logic is entirely inapplicable to god, you can’t make any “if – then” statements about god.

      which is what makes presuppositionalism such a ‘Just So’ nightmare. IF {chain of suppositions} then God has Revealed The Truth[Logic] to Me [and certainly not to any fool-hearted atheists]! horribly convenient.

      • Anri

        …and nobody is allowed to ask for proof or any sort of evidence at all! ‘Cause reasons. Godly ineffable reasons, in fact.

  • G.Shelley

    “Can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?”
    “Yes, but he wouldn’t be able to lift it” is also a possible answer

    Do they think that God is actively intervening “oh, better step in, that rock over there is about to be both a rock and not a rock” or did he somehow set up the initial conditions that would prevent it ever happening?

  • Gary Whittenberger

    I think the laws of logic are ways of thinking that we have learned work well for us human beings living on this planet Earth and in this reality. God has nothing to do with it since God doesn’t exist.

    • Greg G.

      Logic is actually separating the ways of thinking that are always right from those that are prudent yet usually wrong, usually right, and almost always right. Those are identified as fallacies.

  • KarenOfRocks

    I found most of this discussion really interesting. The argument that logic is a process for thinking developed by people by trial and error is very compelling to me. As a scientist, I see a law as a description of some behavior of objects or processes that is a basic characteristic of our universe. It’s an invention of the human mind, a way of using language and symbols to characterize a behavior that appears to be immutable. I carefully use the word ‘appears’, because sometimes, upon further study, a law of nature only operates under a certain set of constraints that we might not have figured out yet. (For example, Newtonian mechanics.)

    However, this geologist would like to point out that there are partially lithified sediments. Such things are both rocks and non-rocks. :)

    • Greg G.

      However, this geologist would like to point out that there are partially lithified sediments. Such things are both rocks and non-rocks. :)

      Would we find these sediments in a quasi-quarry?