Religious Logic in a Nutshell

If the universe had to have a First Cause… then everything religious people believe must be true.

Makes perfect sense.

(vía Jesus and Mo)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • guest

    Is anyone else getting ads for Liberty University on the right?

    • Burger

      Ha me too!

    • http://larianlequella.com Anonymous

      What’s an ad?  ;)

    • The Captain

      And one of the girls really make me want to get down to some sining!

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

        *insert Trigonometry joke here*

        • The Captain

          That’s what I get for posting and drinking again!

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

            I’m pretty sure I’ve had similar issues with posting while intoxicated. The fingers don’t always hit the keys you want ‘em to…

  • Anonymous

    This is what really gets me with the first cause argument. You can spend hours discussing cosmology, astronomy and physics and it gets you exactly nowhere as far as religion is concerned.

    Even if we knew that the universe could not exist naturally and that some being created it, we still know absolutely nothing about that being and its wishes. How does it communicate to us what we are supposed to eat, how we dress, when we work, how and when we worship and with whom and how we have sex? And why does it even care?

    • Gilbert

      I’m sorry, you lost me there. How again is “not all the way”=”exactly nowhere”?

      It would seem to me that this question has an influence on how (im-)plausible claims of revelation would seem a priori.  After all an existing God would seem more likely to reveal himself than a non-existing one.

      Does proof for natural selection also get us “exactly nowhere” because it doesn’t in itself explain abiogenesis?

      But perhaps it’s just my confused religious logic.

      • Anonymous

        All you have is Deism then. You know that some creator god exists. So what? Intellectually that’s certainly interesting to know, but it doesn’t prove any of the existing religions or their scriptures.

        And no, a creator god wouldn’t necessarily reveal itself. No god has yet done so. How do you know that it takes any special interest in us? Maybe the universe was created and Earth wasn’t. How do you even know that our planet is unique?

      • Anonymous

        It’s even worse. You can’t even extrapolate a deliberate Creator from a hypothetical acknowledgement of a necessary first cause (after a hypothetical acceptance that the universe had a beginning). There are all kinds of causes that we know about that don’t have intention and aren’t creators in the sense theists (or even deists) understand the term.  So if the universe did have a beginning, and does require a first cause, why couldn’t it be a natural first cause without any conscious actor causing it? Surely this would be more likely, as any conscious actor would have to have a first cause too? Forget all the other crap, like a god, a god that can reveal itself, chooses to reveal itself, chooses to reveal itself to humans, has revealed itself, and not as Athena or Krishna (two gods far more pleasant than the evil monster of the biblical texts) etc.

        The comparison with evolution is bizarre. Natural selection is an explanation for what we observe. There’s so much evidence for it we’re groaning under the weight of it all. It takes us back to our single-celled ancestors. That’s somewhere. Not only that, but it suggests what antecedents of those single cells must have been: not fully grown heffalumps or flower fairies, but self-replicating chemicals. We don’t know the details of the process, but we have a plausible framework, based on what we do know of chemistry and physics.

        The first cause argument fails on its first premise. And then its second. Even if you grant the entire thing (for the sake of the argument, not because it has any merit), it still gets you no further than “Some unknown force or process caused the universe.”

        • TheBlackCat

          Yeah, that’s the thing that gets me as well.  The first cause argument doesn’t even get us deism.  There is no reason to think the creator god is intelligent at all.  It could be a purely mechanistic system with no free will or decision-making ability.  Such a system would be perfectly compatible with the first-cause argument.  In fact I would say it is more likely, for several reasons:

          1. We have indications at least that physical processes acting in the abscence of a medium (gravity, quantum foam).  We have no such indications for intelligence.

          2. Although I cannot prove it, it seems highly unlikely to me that intelligence could exist independently of anything else.  So god thinks.  Thinks about what?  You don’t just think, you think about something.  but if god is all there is there wouldn’t be anything to think about.  I think the idea of thought without something to think about, intelligence without anything to be intelligent about, is self-contradictory.

          3. The intelligence would necessarily have to be more complex than the thing it is creating, if it is able to simultaneously analyze every single particle in the entire creation.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

            . The intelligence would necessarily have to be more complex than the thing it is creating

            That’s a category error. See Keith Ward’s rebuttal to Dawkins’ attempt at this one, where he shows why a non-physical entity is not complex because it’s not made up of particles.

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

              sounds made up to me.

              • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

                Not everyone is a reductionist ;)

              • ACN

                It is made up.

            • http://pw201.livejournal.com/ Paul Wright

              non-physical entity is not complex because it’s not made up of particles.

              That doesn’t follow either. Isn’t Dawkins talking about something like programmatic complexity (it’s been a while since I read The God Delusion)?

              As Hume puts it, those who “maintain the perfect simplicity of the Supreme Being … are, in a word, Atheists, without knowing it.” A simple God is a mindless God: “A mind, whose acts and sentiments and ideas are not distinct and
              successive; one, that is wholly simple, and totally immutable; is a
              mind, which has no thought, no reason, no will, no sentiment, no love,
              no hatred; or in a word, is no mind at all. It is an abuse of terms to
              give it that appellation;”

              • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

                No, Dawkins is referring to complexity in terms of parts.  It’s really just equivocation in terms of what is meant by simple and complex. I’m not even sure the assertion that a cause must be more complex that it’s effect / creation is even valid.

                Anyhow.. read Ward’s book, as it’s a much more detailed than I can be right here (plus, he’s actually a real philosopher :P)

            • TheBlackCat

              First, just giving me a random name does not help much, especially not one who apparently wrote at least 15 books.  If you want me to be able to find the article you need to give me a link or at the very least the name of the book and a page number.

              But it doesn’t look like it matters, since it is just ab arbitrary redifinition of “complex”.  Something can be complex without being made of particles.  A mandelbrot set is complex in many ways yet it is just a mathematical formula.  Of course if you define complexity in terms of particles then a complex thing must have particles, but many definitions of complexity have no such constraints.
              The important thing is that an omniscient god must be able to analyze every property of every particle in the universe simultaneously.  So it doesn’t matter how you define complexity (unless you arbitrarily restrict it to matter composed of particles), and it doesn’t matter whether it is physical or not, it must have complexity higher than its creation or else it cannot be omniscient.

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      Theists, believers, and writers of holy books have fertile imaginations. The rub, though, is I can always imagine a god that can beat up (or cause) their god. To claim that one has the end-all god pictured in their mind is really kind of silly. It’s even more silly to think one has any specific information about that god.

    • Sulris Campbell

      the whole idea that everything with a begining has a cause does not lead to deism or theism it leads to infinite regress or nothing.  observe

      everything has a cuase.  god is a something therefore god has a cause.  god’s cuase is a something therefore it too has a cause and on and on.

      or for some reason God has no cuase (no begining)  but if you can imagine something with no cuase (no begining)  why not make that the universe and cut out an uneeded step.  why does a creator get the title un-caused and not the universe?  in otherwords why does the universe need a begning and God does not?

      thus if everything with a begining has a cuase and everything has a begining than you have an infininte regress of causes

      if everything with a begining has a cuase you need reasons for why the universe is defined as a thing with a begining and God is then defined as a thing without a begining.  you have to explain why you have entered God into the hypothesis at all indstead of just stating that the universe has no begining.

      frankly the whole thing doesn’t make any sense on premise 1.  drawing any conclusions from that would ludicrous.  at best we get infinite dieties… at worst we are asigning the need or lack there of for causation arbitrarily.

  • http://larianlequella.com Anonymous

    I thought religious logic in a nutshell was:

    “I don’t know how “something” happened, and neither do you, so therefore god.”

    • stuvellis

      Nicely put! Religious logic is closed/circular vs scientific logic which is open i.e. can be falsified with evidence. Scientific thinking and religious belief are at opposite ends of the logical spectrum. Science puts up theories to try and explain a body of data and if the data doesn’t fit the theory then out goes the theory. Religion is exactly the opposite: if the data doesn’t fit the theory then out goes the data. This is why Dawkins and many other scientists refuse to debate with Intelligent Design believers on a scientific platform because there is absolutely no common ground for the debate to take place on.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    There was an SMBC a while ago with a  similar joke: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1817

  • Dan W

    Yeah, I have yet to hear a religious argument for the existence of god(s) that makes sense.

    That and the no bacon rules. I love bacon. :P

  • Anonymous

    We shouldn’t posit the existence of a first cause without evidence of a first cause.  What we can hypothesise is a rapid expansion of the universe from a hot, dense state.  Cause unknown and with no way of knowing if it was the first cause or the trillionth cause.

    Similarly the existence of a specific god should not be claimed without evidence for the existence of that god.  The Bible or the Qur’an are not evidence for gods, they are mythologies.  Religions that arise from belief in these deities are based on a very large assumption.  Moral decisions (bacon, gay sex, etc) based on these religious teachings are without sufficiently compelling foundation to be accepted as reasonable.

    • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

      We shouldn’t posit the existence of a first cause without evidence of a first cause. 

      You don’t think that everything else that begns to exist having a cause is evidence that things which begin to exist have a cause?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

        and here you have  the next step of this “argument” when the theist is asked “so if the universe needs a cause, does god need a cause” and, of course, the theist says no.

        Funny how god doesn’t need a cause, but the universe does.

        • http://pw201.livejournal.com/ Paul Wright

          The Kalam Cosmological Argument (which is what the cartoon’s referring to) says that everything that begins to exist has a cause. The theist doesn’t claim that God began to exist.

          • Rb6k

            If your God didn’t need to “begin” to exist, then perhaps neither did the universe? You cannot possibly argue one way for God and another for the universe, if you genuinely believe it is possible for a being to just exist with no cause then you believe it is possible the universe just exists with no cause. If you insist on the universe having to have a cause then a God would have to have a cause too, you’re defeating your own wise ass logic.

            All people ask for is proof, your God could stop this debate in an instant with proof they exist. “But they don’t want to” perhaps? It’d stop a lot of time wasting if they changed their mind!

            • http://pw201.livejournal.com/ Paul Wright

              your God

              Not my God: I’m an atheist. Nevertheless, the point is that the Kalam is cleverly designed (by the addition of “begins to exist”) to avoid the “so why doesn’t God need a cause?” objection to the standard First Cause arguments.

              If you think that something can begin to exist without a cause then you’re disputing the first premise of the argument. If you think that the universe didn’t begin to exist, you’re disputing the second. Both of these are valid tactics. However, taking the argument and saying that if the universe needs a cause God does too isn’t, because the argument doesn’t address things which didn’t begin to exist. If an atheist responds that “God needs a cause too” someone like Bill
              Craig will just wipe the floor with them (as he usually does,
              annoyingly).

              • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

                Right… too many fail to understand the concepts of necessary and contingent. To ask what caused a necessary and eternal entity is incoherent.

                • http://pw201.livejournal.com/ Paul Wright

                  I’m not convinced the concept of a “necessary entity” is coherent: “necessity” is a product of some premises and rules of inference, that is, you end up saying “Given these rules of arithmetic, 1 + 1 = 2″. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to apply to beings.

                • TheBlackCat

                  It applies because they define it to apply.  When you define God to be necessary, then of course the god in that definition is necessary.  The problem is that we could just as easily define the universe as being necessary.  There is just as much basis for it, i.e. none whatsoever.

            • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

              perhaps neither did the universe

              The current consensus of cosmologists, AFAIK says otherwise. Indeed, this was partly why the big bang was initially resisted by many naturalists.

              • Anonymous

                One current idea are natural fluctuations in the quantum vacuum/foam. Maybe one can call that a cause, but there is no particular reason or intent behind it. It just happened

              • Anonymous

                The Wikipedia article, “Cosmological argument,” notes:

                “In light of the Big Bang theory, a stylized version of argument has emerged (sometimes called the Kalam cosmological argument, the following form of which was set forth by William Lane Craig):

                1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.2. The Universe began to exist.3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.”

                The article does not say what the cause is, but Craig obviously thinks it’s God.

                In this precise form, the argument is flawed, for a couple of reasons.  The reason I want to point out here is that it rests on the assumption that the universe is all there is.  Modern cosmology is moving away from that assumption as it develops the hypothesis that the universe is part of a larger structure, the metaverse, and that the origins of the universe are to be explained by events in the metaverse.

                I’m sure that Craig would argue that, even if the universe had a naturalistic cause within the metaverse, the metaverse itself must have had a cause. A critical part of the Kalam cosmological argument is that there cannot have an infinite chain of causes leading up to the present.  Why this is necessarily so, I have never been able to fathom.  What reason for the argument that there cannot have been an infinite chain of past causes would not imply that there could not be an infinite chain of future effects?  If there cannot be an infinite chain of future effects, what sense are we to make of the phrase “eternal life” that Christians are always talking about?     

              • TheBlackCat

                No it doesn’t.  It says that the universe began to exist in its present state.  But there is no consensus on what the universe was like before that.  It very well may always have existed in one form or another.  Current cosmology has nothing to say on the issue because our understanding of physics does not let us say anything about the universe prior to that point.  For all we know it could have been this:

                http://abstrusegoose.com/79

            • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

              perhaps neither did the universe

              The current consensus of cosmologists, AFAIK says otherwise. Indeed, this was partly why the big bang was initially resisted by many naturalists.

      • Mr Atheist

         If the universe began to exist under the current state of natural laws then there would be substantial weight for belief in a first cause.  But it is better evidenced that current natural laws are a result of the universe becoming what it is from an earlier hot dense state.  I cannot conceive of change occurring without a cause (argument from incredulity).  But neither can I conceive of any kind of necessity without having at least a rough idea of what laws governed the precursors of spacetime, matter and energy.  With different medium effected by different laws it is unreasonable to expect cause and effect to be the same, similar or perhaps even any place in the scheme of the proto-universe.

        If you need an example of current phenomena that at least appear to be independent of cause we can look to quantum physics. 

      • Anonymous

        You don’t think that everything else that begns to exist having a cause is evidence that things which begin to exist have a cause?

        Everything that exists is an awful lot of things.  I don’t know that they all have a cause and out knowledge of radiactive decay and the Casimir Effect in quantum mechanics are fair indicators that not everything has a first cause.

        I can understand someone who might have used the logic of the Kalam Cosmological Argument to convince themselves (somehow) that their particular god exists might not like this.  That’s just tough.  Reality doesn’t give a hoot what you or I like.

        Anyway the argument is flawed in the assumption that time itself exists.  Einstein has already explained that time and space are really spacetime and are inextricably tied together.  Despite recent news this is still the best model that we have.  If the universe formed from a hot, dense state, a singularity of zero space then spacetime could not be said to exist and time has no meaning.  Nothing exists “before” the Big Bang because “before” is meaningless in this context.

        Besides which the Kalam argument equates events on a macroscopic scale with events on a quantum scale.  Anyone with even a layman’s knowledge of quantum physics (which is all I will ever claim to have and that’s pushing it) could tell you that this is a deeply flawed way of looking at the universe.

        Another argument for gods fails to be compelling after a little thought.  Quelle surprise!

        • ACN

          Well said. You made many points I wanted to make.
          Let me add a few things based on my experience reading/listening to WLC. Craig tries to dodge the QM stuff by claiming that events in QM are caused, just not in a pre-determined manner. He calls this ‘probabilistic causality’. If he wants to have his probabilistic causality though, he has to admit that the ’cause’ in his premise could be accidental, spontaneous, and/or not pre-determined. Kaboom, there goes the case for a pre-determined creation. But even if the Kalam was logically sound, there is no reason to think that the cause it posits is not natural.
          More importantly, there are compositional errors in the premises. The first premise “whatever begins to exist has a cause”, is a compositional error because it tries to infer necessary causality on the universe on the basis of the observations/attributes of the parts. The attribute here, being caused, is relational and can’t be transposed. The Kalam can’t generalize caused entities around us to the universe in this way.The other premise, “the universe began to exist” is again, a compositional error, because it tries to force an inference between the items of the set, things in the universe, and apply it to the whole set, the universe. For this to make sense, you have to presuppose a place/realm beyond the universe in which the universe can be taken as an item in a larger set, within which it is compact, defined, and contained. Such a realm is entirely unproven, unsupported, and highly dubious, so the presupposition begs the question.

          There is a good summary of all of the hogwash surrounding the Kalam and related cosmological arguments here:http://realevang.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/xfiles-weekend-back-to-square-one/

      • Greg

        Equivocation fallacy.

        You’re saying that because we observe creation ex materia all the time, therefore creation ex nihilo must also be possible. Actually, not just possible, but actually happened.

        So until you can show that the universe poofed into existence from nothing, you can’t posit that it did. (And the Big Bang does NOT show the universe (as we know it) was created ex nihilo – it shows it was created ex materia.)

        • Anonymous

          Things can be created out of “nothing”. See virtual particles, Casimir effect, Hawking radiation

          • Greg

            I’m not hugely au fait with the science, but as I understand it, the only things that ‘pop into existence’, as it were, are uncaused (in the world of quantum mechanics). Am I wrong? 

            The only reason I say that, is because what I was meaning was that until it can be shown that something can be created from nothing (i.e. someone/thing does something to a piece of ‘nothingness’ that causes someone/thing else to be created – which is what is being claimed by creation ex nihilo) then we can’t assume that it happened.

            I admit that my final paragraph was sloppily worded, however.

  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

    It’s an amusing cartoon, though I don’t know any theists whose reasoning is this alone. To suggest that something must take one all the way or none of the way is a false dichotomy.

    • ACN

      I didn’t find the humor to be the dichotomy that you mentioned. I  found it to be about the silliness of logical proofs for god’s existence that attempt to prove a deist deity, but then swap in a “therefore my particular brand of theism” at the very last step. It’s  THE classic swindle performed by just about everyone from Anselm and Aquinas on down to people like Turek and WLC. 

      Usually it goes something like this:

      …so from the cosmological/ontological/teleological argument, therefore a first cause exists. Let’s call such a first cause god…

      The unsuspecting listener, who has likely grown up in a judaeo-christian normed culture if they live in Europe/USA/Australia, now assigns all of the cultural baggage they attach to “god” to the thing the apologist is saying to call “god”. If the listener isn’t on his or her toes, they have paid for a deism, but received a theism at no extra charge. Indeed, at no extra work from the apologist. I need only mention the phrase “some assembly required” to fully capture the apologist’s spirit here. 

      • Anonymous

        Bingo. The point is that even if true, the cosmological argument is at best an intellectual curiosity, but it doesn’t prove anyone’s particular mythology

        • ACN

          It is huckster apologetics. 

          You have to have something to tell the people that are smart enough to formulate questions about this stuff. The tricky part is that it has to be just thoughtful enough to shut them up and make them think the issue is resolved, but not interesting enough to provoke any sort of serious follow-up. 

          Pro-tip: If they get uppity, tell them that they have to WANT to believe it or they can’t/won’t ever understand. 

  • Mr Atheist

    The cosmological argument is incomplete. Even if we can prove the universe began to exist (as opposed changing from something we would not recognize as a universe) we have not proven (1) a cause was necessary, (2) that cause was an entity, (3) that entity was intelligent, (4) creation was intentional, (5) our existence/manifestation was part of that intent, (6) that entity cares about us at all, (7) that caring is concern rather than curiosity, (8) that caring is benevolent, (9) it has attempted to influence us and/or our environment, (10) it has successfully influenced us and/or our environment, (11) it has attempted to communicate with one or more humans, (12) it has communicated with one or more humans,  (13) the human(s) recognized and accurately understood the message, (14) the message was accurately proliferated within one culture at one time, (15) the message was not tainted over time by inaccuracies (deliberate or otherwise) by changes in culture or language and(16) (almost inconsequentially) that whoever is making the argument for the existence of a creator god is actually part of this chain and hasn’t mistakenly chosen the wrong creation myth.

    • Anonymous

      That we are now actually discussing the first cause argument is proving the comic right. It’s pointless and completely irrelevant as far as theism or Christianity are concerned. You can’t jump from “Something caused the universe” to “My God created the universe, so do what it says in my book”


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