Last night I was talking to someone about advanced theological concepts while he was trying to kill zombies in Borderlands 2. What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. But there was one point at which he paused the game and turned to look at me and said, “Wait, what was that again?”
“The Kalam Cosmological Argument. Basically, everything that exists has to have had a cause. The universe exists, so it follows that the universe had to have a cause. Therefore, Jesus.”
He broke into laughter and went back to shooting zombies because that probably made a lot more sense to him than anything I’d just said.
Okay, I’ll cop to that being a vast simplification, but that’s the gist of it. The universe had to be created, and nobody else seems to be claiming credit for the job except the Bible’s god (who is Jesus), so obviously he did it. The apologist William Lane Craig has made a living with this argument as a proof for his religion’s validity, and you will sometimes hear it pop up in Christian conversation like here, with the radio show host Bob Dutko using variations of it in his “proofs” for the validity of Christianity.
Welcome to the very first video I’ve ever embedded. Man I hope this works. If it doesn’t, I proactively blame the French.
Iron Chariots (which I linked to in that first linkie up there) has a good refutation of the argument, which boils down to “nothing about Kalam says who this creator would have to be, or that this creator would even necessarily need to be a sentient being,” and you can count on all the other major theological arguments having similar refutations. Whole websites exist purely to refute various apologists, but Christians are largely completely unaware of their existence–witness the continued popularity of and faith in Pascal’s Wager (also used by toxic Christians as the even more simple-minded “What if you’re wrong?” argument) despite its glorious deconstruction and brutal evisceration at the hands of atheists like Greta Christina, Richard Dawkins, and loads of others. I used to be astonished when Christians tried that line on me–and let’s be clear here, we’re talking about that happening dozens or maybe hundreds of times over the years–but I’ve gotten used to it over time. It’s almost cute, really. Kalam’s a little more esoteric, so you’ll largely just see it in the super-analytical Sheldon types of Christian, but it’s wielded about as clumsily and as ineffectually as Pascal’s Wager and has about the same effect, with the added bonus of the Christian using Kalam coming off looking less like a harmless and ignorant puppy and more like a downright manipulative jerk.
Looking at how absolutely oblivious Christians are to the existence of these refutations and how easily the arguments are taken down, it almost looks–bear with me here, I know it sounds crazy–but it almost looks as if they are idolizing the arguments and adopting them without the slightest bit of investigation into their validity or usefulness. It’s like they’re just throwing strands of spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks so they know if it’s ready to eat (btw, if you do this, shame on you; lrn2cook, it isn’t that hard).
My main objection to arguments like these is that they’re used as substitutes for proof and evidence for Christianity’s validity. They’re very pretty, very high-flown theological arguments, yes, and they probably sound terribly impressive to people who don’t know any better. The people capable of wielding such arguments think of themselves as terribly rational and logical people who have carefully analyzed all the options and arrived at their form of Christianity (out of hundreds and maybe thousands of religions and tens of thousands of denominations) as the very best and most correct option out of all of the available ones.
The problem is, though, that these arguments aren’t evidence.
I’ve talked before about evidence and facts, but I don’t think we’ve specifically tackled the failure of philosophical arguments to substitute for evidence for Christianity. And they do fail. They fail harder than Christian rock music. But for some reason apologists keep using these arguments and keep writing books and making videos about them, and toxic Christians eat these failed arguments up like dogs gobbling down warm cat turds, and then the non-Christian world gets to deal with wide-eyed Christians spouting this bullpuckey for the next year or two till the next “slam-dunk” argument comes along in the next book or video and the whole merry-go-round begins again.
I know I’ve mentioned the sorts of things I’d consider evidence for the validity of the Christian religion. Historical accuracy is actually pretty low on my list (but lying about one’s religion having historical accuracy when it doesn’t is quite high). Far higher on the list than high-flown arguments are intellectual integrity, its adherents being demonstrably better people than non-believers tend to be, its worldview affirming women’s rights and the rights of those who are marginalized (like gay people, transgender people, and minorities), its lack of dishonesty, its dedication to advancing humanity rather than dragging it back, its lack of conflict with science, and its people treating others with respect, kindness, and gentleness.
I’m forced to conclude three things after a few years of dealing with Christian infatuation with these failed arguments:
* First, if Christians had real evidence backing up their historical claims or their claims to truth, they’d have ponied it up by now. They don’t seem to have any, so they have to rely on these philosophical arguments and hope nobody asks for actual evidence. When non-Christians get adept at dealing with these arguments, then another one comes along and we start the ride over. One shred of evidence, one tiny bit of actual proof and validation for the religion’s claims would end the ride, but for some reason that evidence doesn’t appear to be forthcoming.
* Second, these arguments clearly don’t exist to convert anybody. I don’t care what their authors/actors/whatevs claim the goal is. The goal is most certainly not to convert non-believers, because only the most daft of non-believers would fall for something as patently loony as Kalam’s Cosmological Argument or as manipulative as Pascal’s Wager. I’ve certainly never met a single person who fell for any of these arguments, and I’ve asked and never run into anybody else who has. Maybe someone has, who knows, anything’s possible in a world where a solid chunk of Americans believe that President Obama isn’t actually a native American citizen. It seems more clear to me that apologetics arguments exist to sell stuff to believers and make them feel more secure in their own life choices, and maybe give them some “in” for confronting non-believers, but it is impossible for me to survey the dreck that is modern apologia and come to the conclusion that it is meant to persuade non-believers into converting or re-converting. It does however seem very good at keeping believers’ butts in pews, and certainly books and videos about these arguments sell like crazy (Bob Dutko’s video series about his completely failed “10 Proofs” costs over $150).
* Third, Christians aren’t really good at critical thinking if they keep thinking that these arguments are slam-dunks that they can wield at non-believers and claim that if we had any integrity, we’d just turn in our non-believer cards then and there and get our butts to church. Like all they have to do is incant the magic words and they’ll “win,” meaning that the next act will involve their onetime opponent kneeling and reciting the Sinner’s Prayer. When we fail to comply with the fairy tale results promised by apologetics authors, then we get accused of being “close-minded” or “hard-hearted” because obviously anybody reasonable would convert upon hearing whatever argument is being paraded around today. But if a Muslim tried a Muslim version of Kalam on a Christian, I seriously doubt the Christian would immediately convert. (I know, I know, I’m using that example very deliberately!)
And in that objection comes the most damning aspect of using these arguments as a substitute for actually having good reasons to believe in a religion. These arguments have a rather nefarious and insidious side effect: they give the people using them a superiority complex by making them think that they’re much more rational and reasonable than they really are. They let their wielders think that they are being oh so very logical when they really aren’t. They make the people using them believe that because they have assimilated this argument, that they have a very good reason to believe when these arguments are anything but good reasons to believe. They are props to faith, but not substitutes for it or good and valid reasons to assume it.
If I could advise Christians about anything, I’d say this: drop the stupid apologetics. Nobody converts to anything based on it. If you need to read it for your own benefit and you want to argue about Kalam with Christian friends, that’s fine, but be aware that non-Christians are usually very aware of these arguments already and already have refutations for them all. The second Christians get into those sorts of pissing matches with non-believers, they’ve already lost the most important battle of all–first, because I’ve never met someone using Kalam who wasn’t a complete and total jackass, and second, because non-Christians already know that the argument’s being deployed in lieu of actual real evidence for a claim. Third of course is that non-Christians also already tend to know refutations for the major arguments, so if the Christian tries to use that argument, that tells us that the Christian is unaware of those objections, which casts a serious pall over the Christian’s credibility or intellectual honesty.
When I was a Christian, the ultimate goal was to save as many people as I could from Hell. Even back then I knew that apologetics arguments do not come anywhere close to meeting that goal. You know what does? Loving people. Treating people with respect and dignity. Feeding and clothing the needy. Refusing to indulge in history or science denial. Keeping sight of the big picture. Living with integrity. In other words, the stuff Christians were told to do by their very own Savior. Wouldn’t it be a fascinating world if the Christian religion produced people who were well-known for living the way the Christian Messiah told people to live under pain of eternal torture?
So why is it that instead of doing any of that, they write, buy, and use arguments like Kalam like they’re magic incantations that function as a shortcut for converting non-believers so all that messy lifestyle stuff isn’t necessary?