My arguments aren’t reasonable! Checkmate, atheist!

I get this type of comment from believers a lot, most recently from a chap named Bob Hunt who didn’t like Glodson’s glorious take down of the first cause argument:

Mr/Ms. Glodson,

Atheism is irrational because the classic arguments against the existence of God are arguments from faith, not reason.
You have many good questions re: the First Cause Argument. I’m afraid, however, that your response betrays a basic understanding of Aquinas’ argument. I work nights, so I’m only getting home recently and finding your post. I’ll get back to you on that.
I do enjoy respectful, meaningful conversations with those who think differently than I. I hope you do, too.

I just don’t get it.  How can you lead off with “my arguments are not based on reason” and still think you’re in the argument?  Hell, Hunt clearly thinks announcing that his arguments aren’t reasonable gives him a leg up!

Faith is simply poison to the minds of liberals and fundamentalists alike, even if the poison isn’t quite as debilitating in some.  But they all think faith is a good justification for believing the most outlandish things.  In a just world, they’d all be embarrassed.

  • http://smingleigh.wordpress.com Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    It’s amazing what you can conclude when your assumptions aren’t based on reality.

    I like to start by assuming a frictionless, perfectly spherical Batman, and work from there.

  • Art Vandelay

    No, he’s saying that the arguments against the existence of God are faith-based and not reason-based.

    That of course is bullshit as well but he’s not admitting that his own arguments aren’t based on reason.

    • Loqi

      That’s what I read as well. Still doesn’t make any sense, of course.

    • Randomfactor

      He’s trying to pull the old “not enough faith to be an atheist” scam. Ur doin it rong, then.

  • Rain

    I’m confused by the comment. Maybe I’m a little slow or something. I’m surprised anyone could get anything out of the comment.

  • Glodson

    Well, I was waiting for a rebuttal. Now I am disappoint. I wish the rebuttal hadn’t become reality because the glorious rebuttal I imagined was so much better. It is like when you finally see the monster in a horror movie, and you realize that it was just a guy in a rubber mask.

    Atheism is irrational because the classic arguments against the existence of God are arguments from faith, not reason.

    Like JT points out, this is absurd. And I’ll go further. No. The argument against anything comes from the Null Hypothesis. Now, here’s the part when I play my excessive pedantry card as I explain a simple complex in an overly long paragraph.

    Whenever we try to evaluate the truth of something, it is useful to look at the Null Hypothesis. In fact, one assumes the Null Hypothesis until shown otherwise. The Null Hypothesis is simply the negation of the original hypothesis. If given p, the Null Hypothesis is not p. One of these has to be true. And when we do this, we either reject or fail to reject the Null Hypothesis. The intent is to get as close to the truth as one can with the available information. Absent any information, any evidence, the reasonable course of action is to assume the Null Hypothesis.

    This is a weaker position in that I’m not making an active claim. I am just saying the claim has insufficient evidence to be considered true. In about 1905, it was the correct course of action to assume that relativity was incorrect. Only when experiment and information showed that there was evidence for the theory did people reject the null hypothesis.

    Which brings me to the death of the First Cause Argument: that’s not evidence. You need evidence to back up the claims made in the argument. My response to the First Cause argument is a stronger position. I actively say it is incorrect.

    You have many good questions re: the First Cause Argument. I’m afraid, however, that your response betrays a basic understanding of Aquinas’ argument.

    Explain where I got it wrong. The First Cause argument, in a nutshell, goes:

    1. Everything that exists has a cause.
    2. An infinite regress of causes is impossible
    3. So there must be a first cause.
    4. That cause is god.

    That’s the argument, and I explained, at length, how it breaks down. It doesn’t work. It is a bad argument. The two first premises, for example, are contradictions. That’s not a good start. If I have an error, then present the error. Show me what is wrong with my understanding of it. Dismissing it with this assertion is nothing more than argument by assertion. Without evidence, I can dismiss your claim without evidence.

    • invivoMark

      Damn. I was gonna say that.

      Like, exactly that, word for word. Well, minus a few words. And plus some unnecessary ones. And swapping out a few here and there.

      Look, I wasn’t gonna say that, but something along those lines and a whole lot less eloquent and clear. Well said, Glodson.

      • Glodson

        I really don’t understand why anyone thinks that the First Cause argument is worth anything. The logic itself is faulty, which is enough to condemn it. Worse, the premises aren’t true.

        This just happens to be one that I know because I read up on it as I tried to justify my own faith. Even if I dismissed the logical flaws, even if I ignore the evidence against the premises, I still have a problem. One that many of the “logical” arguments for god. They never explain how we go from this general and nebulous god to a specific deity. Therefore White Jesus doesn’t work for me.

        And thanks for your kind words. I do my best to be clear and at least interesting to read, often failing at both.

        • Art Vandelay

          You must have been the worst Christian ever. I mean that as a compliment of course.

          • Glodson

            Oh, I could be a nightmare to everyone. Christians were wrong because they got the Bible wrong. I could quote passages to show them how wrong, but then ignore the ones inconvenient to me. Having a decent and working knowledge of science(unlike another of other apologists who don’t), I could work around that. Having a grasp of logic helped me make illogical logic work, slightly better than some.

            But it was all bullshit. Worse, it wasn’t really an effort to bullshit others. It was a desperate attempt to bullshit myself.

        • Drakk

          Why, though, do we even allow ourselves to descend to the level of “arguments” for something existing? This is something I have never understood.

          There are no apologists for quantum mechanics, and there need not be. The evidence stands on its own merit. There are likewise no apologists for the sun, evidence for its existence is smacking us in the face at the speed of light every second.

          Why is it that a supposed energy source apparently so much greater in magnitude than the sun has nothing to support it but…arguments? And why do we take them seriously? When was the last time theory, not experiment, actually confirmed a hypothesis instead of merely suggesting one?

          It’s my opinion that we waste our time and weaken our position by engaging with apologia instead of demanding that religion, like everything else, submit evidence for itself.

          • Jasper

            It’s my opinion that we waste our time and weaken our position by engaging with apologia instead of demanding that religion, like everything else, submit evidence for itself.

            I don’t agree. For many people, these arguments are the “Training wheels” for climbing out of their ignorance. They’re case studies for basic epistemology, and as soon as a theist starts to realize a few things, they will often take the initiative on their own to dig deeper.

          • Glodson

            It’s my opinion that we waste our time and weaken our position by engaging with apologia instead of demanding that religion, like everything else, submit evidence for itself.

            When we engage with apologia, the point isn’t to argue with the apologist. The point is to refute their points. We do so with reason and evidence. The point is that there’s an audience. I know this because I was such a person. There are men and women with doubts, people who have been duped into believing.

            It is for their benefit that I respond as I do(unless I get impatient and overly snarky). It is to show them their doubts are founded, to give them the tools to dislodge this irrational and false belief. To dispel the illusion that these arguments have merit and weight.

            Explaining what evidence is, explaining why we reject an argument, explaining why something is false helps give people these tools. Much like Jasper said as well.

            And when we engage with apologists, we should hold them to the same standard. If anyone is going to pull the First Cause out, for example, they need to show that everything must have a cause. Or explain why we have observed effects that don’t have a cause. Otherwise, we can dismiss that premise.

        • Jasper

          I wish I had the ability to demonstrate that things are true without any kind of confirming empirical evidence.

          What’s even more ironic is that these are the people who keep telling us that our understanding of reality is imperfect so we can’t know anything, or whatnot…. and yet that’s the very reason why an inference like this is nothing more than an unsupported hypothesis, in the end.

          It’s nuts to think that you can demonstrate something as true without a single shed of confirming evidence in any way, shape or form.

        • invivoMark

          The conclusion to the First Cause argument is a total non-sequitur. Every time I hear it, I feel like I’m talking with underpants gnomes.

          2. There must be a first cause.
          3. ???
          4. That first cause was Jesus.

          • Rain

            I get stuck on number 4 too. I’m willing to let them slide on the rest of it, but when it gets to the “and this we understand to be God” part, then I have to ask for the “citation please”.

          • Glodson

            Yea. In the full reply, I asked how we get from “there being a first cause” to YWHW.

            At best, we could maybe posit some god that is in line with deism/pandeism. That requires ignoring the massive flaws with the rest of the argument. The argument is terrible, and even if granted, it still doesn’t explain which god.

          • invivoMark

            I reject that it’s even an argument for deism. There’s no reason to call the First Cause “god” at all, other than because that’s the conclusion the Christian necessarily must come to for the argument to work. The First Cause could just as easily be a magic tiara, an invisible pink unicorn, or a large wet noodle. As long as we call it the First Cause, it fits the argument.

          • Glodson

            That’s why I added the qualifier “at best.”

            We would have to be talking about a nebulous and undefined god, we would have to grant the premises, and we would have to ignore the leap from the proposed first caused to any deity. That is the most favorable conditions for this argument, and it is the best outcome for arguing for a god with it.

            This is the best hope of the argument, and it shows how terrible it is.

        • Daniel Schealler

          I really don’t understand why anyone thinks that the First Cause argument is worth anything.

          They want to hold (at least) the following two beliefs at the same time:

          1) That God exists
          2) I am not foolish

          However, if we show through argument that 1) negates 2) then that provides dissonance.

          First Cause doesn’t have to be a good argument. It just has to be enough to resolve the dissonance and let them keep 1) and 2) in their heads simultaneously.

          The less closely they look at the argument, the better.

          • Glodson

            That’s right. I didn’t think of it like that. It isn’t so much the logic as it is the illusion of reason and thought.

    • Bob Hunt

      Glodson,

      Happy to see your response. As I said, I work nights. I’ll get back to you. If you prefer, you can email me at rcchuntrn at gmail dot com, where we can discuss it in more depth than a combox allows.

      Thanks,
      Bob

      • Nate Frein

        The “combox” allows for plenty of depth if you take the time to learn some basic HTML.

        The only point in engaging you is to do so in front of an audience (the other blog readers here). Many of us are waiting with bated breath to see your attempts to respond to Glodson.

        • Rain

          What does it matter? We all know it’s going to be baloney. We already know he will shift the burden.

          “Atheism is irrational because the classic arguments against the existence of God are arguments from faith, not reason.”

          Hardy har har!

          Here’s another one:

          “Your lack of confidence in Matthew is your issue, not mine.”

          Yeah, too bad if you don’t believe Matthew! That’s your problem, not his! Don’t believe any Catholic Church bald assertions? Too bad! That’s your problem! Burden duly shifted, lol.

          • Nate Frein

            But then I don’t get to watch Glodson’s epic responses T.T

      • Glodson

        Bob, we can reply here. Where everyone can see. Part of the point in these exchanges isn’t just communicating with each other. There are people reading these replies, people who likely have the same thoughts each of has as we engage.

        You can post links, if needed. You can direct me to overviews to other ideas. Maybe you can find something I missed. If so, present it. I understand working nights. I understand having limited time. These threads have no real time limit. If you have relevant information, I will find the posting and respond in kind, as long as you attempt to engage in good faith.

        • Bob Hunt

          Glodson,

          I’ll be writing my replies on the previous thread where you originally posted your objections to the First Cause argument. It will be easier for us, and any others interested, to refer to your objections as I write my replies. See you there.

          Bob

          • Glodson

            Okay.

  • Andrew Kohler

    Re: Glodson’s four-point summary of the First Cause Argument: I think No. 2 needs to be backed up by some sort of evidence. More importantlz, Nos. 1 and 3 are mutually exclusive. The first cause has no cause, and therefore it doesn’t exist according to No. 1. Hence, Brian Dalton’s twist on this banal argument:

    Everything that exists has a cause.
    The God of Abraham does not have cause.
    Therefore, the God of Abraham does not exist.

    And Brian would know, being Mr. Deity and all! :-)

    Note how the Kalam Cosmological offshoot of the First Cause Argument tries to get around this by saying that everything that *begins* to exist has a cause and then making an implied exception for God, who has no beginning. As usual, it all comes back to special pleading (I always love hearing the hosts and cohosts of the Atheist Experience calling out special pleading).

    • Glodson

      I almost mentioned Kalam in my original post. Hell, I even had a few paragraphs outlined in my head as I typed it out. But I was drunk and tired, so I just left those to the side.

      The thing is that none of the premises are backed by evidence, they are just asserted. Kalam, as you note, is dead in the water as it creates a special pleading for god, and begs the question as to why god gets this special pleading but not the universe itself.

      • http://smingleigh.wordpress.com Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

        That was drunk and tired? I’ll have some of what you were drinking in the hope that it gives me such fallacious-argument-slaying powers.

        • Glodson

          It was a hard cider my wife wanted to try. To be fair, I wasn’t that drunk.

          • Daniel Schealler

            It shows.

            A little bit of inhibition is good for getting the creative juices flowing.

            Too much makes us silly.

            Good job, by the way. You were both detailed and succinct. You big jerk. [/envy]

          • Glodson

            It was a bit of a softball for me, given my history in trying to justify my own religion back before I reached the Age of Reason.

      • Baal

        I somewhat have an urge to protest the creationism museum or the discovery institute by getting some large brass handbells and shouting “Kallam!!! KALAM!”

    • Rain

      Everything that exists has a cause.

      I think technically it’s supposed to be something like, “everything that has a beginning has a cause”.

      The God of Abraham does not have cause.

      But the God of God of Abraham doesn’t have a beginning.

      Therefore, the God of Abraham does not exist.

      Doesn’t follow, because out of necessity there has to be one thing that exists but does not have a beginning. Which coincidentally just happens to be the God of Abraham.

      • Rain

        But the God of God of Abraham doesn’t have a beginning.

        Argh, typo. That’s supposed to be “But the God of Abraham doesn’t have a beginning”.

      • Randomfactor

        That’s why the “has a beginning” got added to the argument. Because it was failing.

        All of “apologetics” is the organized study of which logical fallacies can best shore up a failing argument.

        • Randomfactor

          Of course, there’s no reason to assume that gods don’t have causes. The whole argument is sleight-of-hand: getting you fixated on one point while they slip their assumptions past unnoticed.

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

            Indeed. Many gods were born, in fact. The titans birthed the Greek gods, who then overthrew their parents and imprisoned them. The Norse gods were also born. Other gods ascended; Jesus was born and ascended, Japanese spirit-deities often started as ordinary (or extraordinary) mortals, etc. This idea of an eternal, formless, non-causal god is really quite rare in the history of human religion.

        • Rain

          All of “apologetics” is the organized study of which logical fallacies can best shore up a failing argument.

          Or can best support an a priori fantasy. No point in having an apologetic without first having an a priori. Lol.

      • Andrew Kohler

        I noticed that too (hence why I brought up the wording of Kalam), and it occurred to me that believers will raise precisely those objections. I neglected to mention that Brian was making this tongue-in-cheek, and it was apropos of his general complaints about theological arguments; of course his variant, delightful though it is, could not dissuade a theist because of the other fallacies (special pleading ranking high among them) involved in the various iterations of the First Cause argument. As Randomfactor notes, having to add the part about “that has a beginning” is itself a sign of the argument’s weakness, and indeed it is making an unsubstantiated leap to assume that gods are without cause (not true in plenty of other religions).

        “Doesn’t follow, because out of necessity there has to be one thing that exists but does not have a beginning. Which coincidentally just happens to be the God of Abraham.”

        This line of reasoning (which I take to be Rain’s characterization–quite accurate, too–of the usual objection made by the WLC-minded) fails because no one has ever proven that one thing has to exist without a beginning (unless I’ve missed something!). And even if that were proven, it would hardly vindicate the God of Abraham. I also think it is a leap to say that the universe had to have had a beginning and/or cause in the first place.

        What an irritating argument.

        • Rain

          fails because no one has ever proven that one thing has to exist without a beginning (unless I’ve missed something!).

          I look at it like a catchy pop song. Aristotle wrote a catchy clever little tune, and they’re still playing it this very day. Who cares if it makes sense, it’s a cute little ditty, ergo Jesus.

  • Azkyroth

    I’m afraid, however, that your response betrays a basic understanding of Aquinas’ argument.

    Basic understanding, of course, being anathema to theology.

    • Daniel Schealler

      I think I might be psychic.

      I just have this… premonition that there’s an incoming courtier’s reply moving towards this conversation.

      Any minute now.

      :P

  • L. Poe
  • http://scaryreasoner.wordpress.com SteveC

    Once, when trying to argue with someone, I got this response: “Rational thought does not apply.”

    • Daniel Schealler

      I had that once too.

      Subject was astrology. I trotted out the point that when it is tested in properly blinded and controlled studies, the predictions can be shown to be no better than chance.

      His response: Well yes, that’s the logical response. But there are other ways of approaching it.

      Really? Such as?

      Well, it really resonates with people, you can really feel how powerful the predictions are.

      Okay, so: If someone feels that the prediction was correct, therefore it is a justified to believe the basis of that prediction was valid?

      Yes, exactly.

      No, sorry. If/then is a logical construction. You just threw logic under the bus. If you reintroduce logic now, then my original argument stands and you’re still wrong.

      Wait… What?

      You granted that my argument about controlled experiment was correct and logical, but wanted to offer a non-logical view – then you immediately tried to use logic. Nope. You’re going to have to either address my original argument OR find a way to sound convincing without the use of logic.

      You’re just being closed-minded!

      There we go! In under a minute as well. Well done.

  • ah58

    Glodson used reason to reach his conclusion therefore it was irrational? Um… OK.

    • http://smingleigh.wordpress.com Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      Yeah! Therefore purple rhinoceros, underpants legume deckchair between.

      • Randomfactor

        Chewbacca defense.

  • BradC

    My favorite formulation of the first cause argument I call the “first cause dilemma”, originally from http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2012/08/06/two-philosophers-walk-into-a-bar/

    Assumption 1: anything that exists requires a cause
    Assumption 2: that cause cannot be the thing itself
    Assumption 3: infinite regresses are bad

    Each one of these seem logical in their own right, but they can’t all 3 hold at the same time. There are three arbitrary ways to resolve the dilemma:

    A) Violate assumption 1: Allow the first cause to be uncaused
    B) Violate assumption 2: Allow the first cause to be self-caused
    C) Violate assumption 3: Allow an infinite regress

    Written this way, it makes it harder to argue that one of these three is “obvious”, since all three assumptions hold in other circumstances.

    Modern Christians tend to argue for (A), some physicists do as well (although they of course differ on WHAT was first).
    Early Christian Theologians apparently argued for (B), that God is self-caused.
    It might be harder to argue for (C), since evidence seems to show the universe had a beginning.

    But we can’t just pick whichever of these answers we like the best, or fits best with our other religious ideas. We have to use EVIDENCE and OBSERVATION to determine if there is any reason to prefer one over the other.

    • Glodson

      Modern Christians tend to argue for (A), some physicists do as well (although they of course differ on WHAT was first).

      Which still steps into the same problem the argument always hits. It begs the question why do we need god if the first cause can be uncaused? Why not just leave off the god bit for which we have no evidence and just stay with the Big Bang? Allowing for events to be uncaused is in line with some events in our universe, but it removes the need to claim that Goddidit.

      Early Christian Theologians apparently argued for (B), that God is self-caused.</blockquote

      Almost the same as above, and is almost in the same vein. If god can be self-caused, why can't the universe be self-caused? Why do we even need god, again? One can make the argument that the Big Bang caused itself.

      It might be harder to argue for (C), since evidence seems to show the universe had a beginning.

      This is interesting, but it still doesn’t require god. If there’s a multiverse, then there easily could be an infinite regress. However, talking about before the Big Bang is tricky, as time didn’t exist until the Big Bang. But, I suppose there could have been a universe that had a Big Crunch, and then banged again. Creating a multiverse composed of one universe, in a strange manner.

      Good post. It shows that god, no matter which we chose, is not necessary. And if god is a needless complication in an argument for god, that argument isn’t good.

      • Andrew Kohler

        “And if god is a needless complication in an argument for god, that argument isn’t good.”

        Good point–and so, we add Occam’s Razor (or rather a violation thereof) to the list of problems with the various First Cause arguments. My main objection, however, is that it is so very tedious and uninteresting, yet people apparently write books about it.


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