Andreas Geisler over on G+ has challenged some of his theist detractors to frame one of the 20 arguments for god in their own words so that it provides a compelling argument for the existence of god. Now, I had never heard of these 20 arguments for god. I have heard many of them independently of this list, after having read the list here, but never seen them written down in such an ‘accessible’ manner.
Here are my refutations, should anyone even care.
1: Argument from change
The whole piece makes a pretty bold assumption. “Everything that changes only does so because of the exertion of some external forces”
Or, in Kreeft’s own words;
“Nothing changes itself. Apparently self-moving things, like animal bodies, are moved by desire or will—something other than mere molecules. And when the animal or human dies, the molecules remain, but the body no longer moves because the desire or will is no longer present to move it.”
This is palpable nonsense. There are things that change themselves that have neither will nor desire. Inanimate things that do in fact change themselves. Change is a fundamental property of these ‘things’. Radioactive decay of radioisotopes is what I am driving at. And they change in a nondeterministic manner [i.e. random!]. For example we can say of a radioisotope that it has a 50% chance of decay over a fixed period of time. It is a change that requires no external agent, and is also not deterministic in nature.
So the entire premise here is faulty.
2: The argument from efficient causality
After making the false statement in the first ‘proof’ that nothing changes itself, completely ignoring high-school physics, Kreeft continues this line of ‘reasoning’. But he moves from talking about change to causality itself. Which should put him on more solid theological ground.
[Aside: Kreeft really seems to like using negative imagery for his ‘straw man’ non-theistic counter arguments. Comparing the idea of an endless chain of causality, which is not the current non-theistic argument for the universe’s existence anyway, to a line of drunks stumbling along. Classy.]
After the straw men, his argument boils down to “there must be a prime mover whose existence is outside of causality”.
Assuming that we accept this argument, does this prime mover even need to be a creator god? Could it just be the very nature of the universe itself, like the property of a radioisotope to decay nondeterministically? His conclusion is a non sequitur. It does not follow that this prime mover, if even needed, is a god. [Abrahamic or otherwise]
3: Argument from time and contingency
This is just a rephrasing of the previous argument using bullet points. If I was grading this as an academic paper I would dismiss it as ‘padding’. But he does make a statement worth refuting.
6. From nothing nothing comes.
Really? This assertion actually poses far more problems for the theist than it does for the non theist.
We know that the universe is time+space, both are attributes of the universe’s existence, and ‘before’ the universe existed neither time nor space existed. So ALL the stuff of the universe, including causality itself, did not exist ‘prior’ to the universe’s existence.
Let that sink in a while. Go get a cup of tea or coffee. Take an aspirin. Back? Ok. Let’s continue.
When we talk about the creation of the universe we are talking about “creatio ex nihilo”, or creation FROM NOTHING. Inside of our universe, we are restricted to “creatio ex materia”, or creation from something else. Imagine it like this. If I want to create a table do I suddenly make it ‘poof’ into existence by mere will power? Or do I go to a lumber yard and buy some wood and, after nailing my hand to a 6×4, get someone actually skilled enough to put it together for me?
The statement “from nothing nothing comes” is only true inside of our universe as it currently stands. “Before” it was ‘created’ is an unknown and so the statement is false. [In fact, saying ‘before’ is illogical as time itself did not exist ‘before’ the universe. But humans, creatures of causality, find this concept quite difficult to grasp. Go on. Take another aspirin and a coffee. I’ll try and be more gentle.]
4: The argument from degrees of perfection
Oh, here we go. The Ontological argument. But phrased like high-schooler learning the adverbs of a new language. Good, better, best! Bad, worse, worst!
But why selectively choose only positive adverbs? I can think of evilest. Is god also the evilest? There must, by the ‘logic’ of this argument, be an evilest. And that thing must be god!
5: The Design Argument
*sigh* Not even half way and he comes up with the “watchmaker” argument.
Natural Selection elegantly explains why there is an apparent ‘impressive order’ out of the chaos of the natural universe. There is no need for an intelligent designer.
Natural Selection is just as it says. Random variations in organisms are ‘selected’ based on how well they ‘fit’ the ‘natural’ environment. If a mutant gekko has a better chance of survival [i.e. better environmental fit] because it has a dappled skin, you can expect the genes and/or alleles that have that attribute will be passed on, and over generations, promulgate through the species, changing it to a dappled skinned gekko. The problem with the Watchmaker argument is it shows a very poor understanding of modern evolutionary synthesis and does not consider the effect of tiny incremental changes over aeons, but instead looks only at the huge changes over aeons. [microevolution vs. macroevolution: The latter does not actually exist. It is nothing but snapshots of the changes that occur in a species over time. Imagine a photograph of yourself as a baby and then as an adult. You are the same person, but if you accept the design argument put forth by Kreeft and others then you would be compelled to say that you believe in micro-aging but not macro-aging, and that the two pictures are of completely different people. Which is ludicrous.]
Kreeft then presents an argument that no matter where we look we see intelligibility and more complex, intricate, order.
“And what has this expansion of our horizons revealed? Always the same thing: more—and not less—intelligibility; more—and not less—complex and intricate order.”
However, we know that exceedingly simple rules can govern extremely complex systems. A brief look at Chaos Theory, which shows that exceedingly simple initial states can provide highly complex and difficult to predict outcomes, for how science is showing us the exact opposite of his contention. We find that there is increasingly simple order that lies behind the apparent complexity we observe. And just browsing the many valid but incompatible interpretations of quantum physics, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretations_of_quantum_mechanics, shows that we struggle with intelligibility, of understanding the universe. We are forced to construct models simpler than the observed universe to be able to comprehend it. [This ability to understand without actually understanding is a real plus for our species]
He then takes the argument outside of just biology with a tangential jab at thermodynamics by contesting we cannot be in a bubble of order in the universe. He is correctly stating the Mediocrity Principle.
However, we do not need a “bubble” of order, but instead we need the universe to expand marginally faster than the universe’s own rate of entropy, which, considering the immense size of the universe, will leave more than enough room in which order can naturally arise.
6: The Kalam argument
This goto, Islamic, argument that is popular with Christians. It is a much simpler restatement of arguments presented in 2 and 3 and all of the same rebuttals apply.
Essentially, nothing can come from nothing and so something must have been the prime mover. Of course, the much simpler proposition that the universe could have been its own creator, as we know nothing of the physics ‘before’ the beginning of the universe and causality as-we-know-it does not apply, is not addressed. Instead Kreeft only looks at a single interpretation that presupposes the existence of deity as prime mover. He makes his argument fit his conclusion.
And even if we accept his more complicated proposition, there is no reason to believe that such a being would be capable of interacting with our universe once it had been created. That is just wishful thinking.
He ends with a straw man attack on atheists;
“it disproves the picture of the universe most atheists wish to maintain: self-sustaining matter, endlessly changing in endless time.”
Firstly, atheism says nothing about the nature of the universe. That is something else that is called Science. Atheism is simply the lack of ‘belief’ in a deity/deities. [And there are a lot of them to choose not to believe in!] However, Atheists that are scientifically literate would likely argue that time is not infinite, but that there are valid, and much simpler, naturalistic explanations for the ‘creation’ of the universe than ‘My deity did it! So there!’.
7: Argument from Contingency
Seriously? Kreeft is now beating a dead horse. The argument is only really differentiated from the previous installments, like Kalam et. al, by the following;
4. What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.
5. Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time.
Ok. Let’s say we accept these points. They in NO WAY mean that a “deity did it!”. Yet again, a much simpler proposition is that the creation of the universe is just a property of the universe. i.e. it created itself. The argument that the universe could not create itself only works if the rules of causality as-we-know-them apply ‘prior’ to the existence of the universe. And point 4 says that this is not the case. Therefore any contention that the much simpler proposition cannot apply is moot. It is refuted by point 4.
8: The argument from the world as an interacting whole
Woah. Gaia hypothesis for the monotheist. [/sarcasm]
Seriously though, this is an attempt to argue that everything is so interconnected that the universe would not exist without a single piece, and that each piece is actually defined by its relationships with other pieces. How bizarre. We know that the universe could work perfectly well without some of the `not as important pieces`. We could easily live in a universe with no uranium, for example. This alone invalidates his slightly weird argument.
9: The argument from miracles
Kreeft claims there are “numerous well-attested miracles” and he is right!
In Christianity, in Islam, in Judaism, in Hinduism, in Jainism, in Buddhism, and the list goes on and on, there are many well-attested miracles in all faiths. But a well-attested miracle does not exclude the possibility of mass delusion, misappropriation, group-think, ignorance, and plain outright fraud. And as every religion has its own set of “well-attested miracles” then how do we know which religion is true. Kreeft myopically dismisses all “well-attested miracles” other than those of Christians. This alone undermines his argument irreparably. [If all those ‘other’ miracles are also true then god does not give two shits which religion you believe in, or if you believe in any of them at all. Which is not a conclusion Kreeft would be comfortable with.]
10: The argument from consciousness
Here Kreeft argues that “randomness cannot create intelligence”. Neural Networks and Machine Learning, which apply evolutionary theory in an algorithmic way, are showing this to be palpably not the case. The human brain is also another, far more personal, disproof. It is the product of natural selection over the last 4 billion years, and, as far as I know, humans are intelligent. [Or at least we think we are]
The only way to accept this argument is to completely reject modern science.
11: Argument from truth
Is there in truth no beauty? Kreeft makes a statement that is purposely ambiguous when he says “truth properly resides in a mind”. His definition of truth is faulty as the sun rising in the morning is `true` and yet it is a physical manifestation that exists outside of the mind and is true regardless if there is a mind there to perceive that truth or not.
12: The argument from the origin of the idea of god
Kreeft basically says that “God belief can only exist if god exists”, this is another form of the Ontological argument, and has a similar counter. “Belief in unicorns can only exist if unicorns exist” Which is absurd. Humans are more than capable of believing in, and stating, impossible things, like; “This sentence is false”
We also know that Judaic monotheism was preceded by Judaic polytheism. The monotheistic god is not something that was borne in perfection, but came about due to, primarily, political considerations in antiquity. It did not arise because of an extrapolation of perfection, as he claims, but because the dominant warrior god in the Judaic polytheistic pantheon took over all the roles of the other gods, and by marginalising them, became the sole creator god.
13: The Ontological argument.
Finally! We have seen shades of this in previous arguments. The argument is basically tautological in nature. “God is that of which a greater thing cannot be thought!”, so if god does not exist then the mere ‘idea’ of god is greater than god. Which cannot be!
Tautologies like this are insipid nonsense.
I could equally say, “A Unicorns mane is that of which a softer thing cannot be thought!”, but this does not substantiate the existence of unicorns anymore than the preceding statement substantiates the existence of a deity.
14: The moral argument
This argument is predicated on the vicious straw man that `atheists have no morals`. This lie has been the impetus behind the christian persecution of atheists from the purges of Constantine to the very first people through the gates of Dachau. But even moderate christians continue to believe it.
Let me point out that christian morality over the last two thousand years is not really something to brag about. Also, morality, or more accurately compassion and empathy, can be seen as the consequence of the evolution of our social species. As a species we thrive in social environments and so it is advantageous for us to consider those around us. Morality could be considered an emergent phenomenon of our evolution. [note: Species other than humans have been shown to exhibit empathy and compassion. This is at least indicative of a potential evolutionary explanation]
No god is necessary.
15: The argument from conscience
This argument is designed to make a rational persons brain melt. Mine got a little hot trying to parse the argument. But if you get through it you find it primarily consists of Kreeft telling us what atheists believe about the nature of morality, a glorious straw man again, and then telling us why it is wrong. As in the previous argument, morality could easily be an emergent phenomenon of the evolution of a social species. There is no need for a god, and yes, the morality as conveyed in the sermon on the mount could easily be the outcome of the primordial slime…. given 4 billion years of evolution.
16: Argument from desire
This argument is a complete mess. Kreeft argues that we all have innate desires, which are natural, and other desires, external, which are unnatural. He then says that there is a natural desire that cannot be met by the universe and that can only be met by god. Seriously. How does he differentiate between a natural and unnatural desire? Simply put, anything that cannot be expressed as a single noun that can be another noun meaning its absence. [Sleep, sleeplessness vs. corner office, corner officelessness]
Yeah, he uses a grammatical argument for the existence of god. Pathetic.
17: The argument from aesthetic experience
He likes Bach and therefore…. GOD!
The counter is simply; “The music of Iron Maiden exists, therefore … NOT GOD!”
[This is the most stupid argument ever! And I love Bach!]
18: The argument from religious experience
Experiential arguments fail on the simple truism that our senses, with depressingly regular tendency, deceive us. We can induce the feelings of a divine intervention, or being out-of-body, or being abducted by aliens, by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves. The kind of waves that occur naturally during the piezoelectric discharges seen during earthquakes and other tectonic movements. We also know there can be group delusions, folie a deux, where people can share a common delusion. So, experience is not a convincing enough proof on its own, even if all these experiences were truly similar… which they aren’t.
19: The common consent argument
Kreeft starts with some grandiose claims “Belief in god is common to all people of every era” and “It is more plausible that people are not wrong in their belief”. Firstly, belief in a single Abrahamic god is a relatively new thing. Monotheism has only been around the last three thousand years or so. Secondly, just because a majority of people believe something is true does not mean that it is. That is an argumentum ad populum and does not support anything. Before the fifth century BCE most people believed the world was flat, but that did not mean that it was. [Even though the biblical and koranic authors show that world flatness was still believed by the common man, it was not believed in intellectual circles.]
20: Pascals Wager
If Kreeft had any credibility in his preceding 19 insipid arguments for god then he completely blows it here. Big time. The argument does not address gods existence in any way. Instead it focuses on basic game theory applied to the consequences of belief.
It postulates that; “If god does not exist then neither the believer nor the disbeliever lose anything, as they return to nothing at death, but if god does exist, then the disbeliever has an eternity of suffering in hell and the believer an eternity of glory in heaven”
Even Pascal was unconvinced by his wager, and with good reason. There is a major flaw. It assumes that there is only the Christian interpretation of god and atheism. What if Muslims are correct? Or Bahai? Or Buddhists? There is a very large number of “bad” outcomes if you are more honest than Kreeft and include the actual competitors with Christianity along with atheism, for people with and without faith.
The 20 arguments for the existence of god are unconvincing to anyone who is not already convinced by the proposition “god exists”. Most of them are just different rephrasing of the same tired old arguments.
They do their purpose though, as they are always brought up by christian apologists online. That is the target demographic with these arguments, they are preaching to the choir, while us heathens get ignored [or far worse.] I just wish Kreeft, and other apologists would stop with the anti-atheist straw men. It makes them sound like the christians that burnt atheists at the stake, or the christians that rounded up atheists for the concentration camps.
If any of the arguments above were valid they would not indicate a Christian God, but a Deist God.
And in the end, I would actively refuse to worship any god that would punish me eternally for not being compelled by Peter Kreeft’s insipid and unconvincing list of arguments.
Such a god is not even worthy of worship.