Friday, September 9, 2011

First Cause? I got yer First Cause right here!

So JT Eberhard has agreed to participate in an online debate with Issac Fleming about the existence of God. And JT has posted Issac's opening dialogue. Now, I don't think I've heard of Fleming before, but I still find myself deeply disappointed by the quality of the arguments he has brought to the table.

Briefly, he lays out (and provides what he feels, I assume, are sufficient justifications for) the following points:
  1. Things exist, therefore God.
  2. Life has meaning, therefore God.
  3. Things can be objectively moral or immoral, therefore God.
  4. Life after death, therefore God.
  5. Truth can be objectively determined, therefore God.
  6. Zombie Jesus, therefore God.

Points 2, 4, 5, 6 really need no comment. But I'll deal with each briefly.

2 & 4: Citations please. Show me how either of those is anything other than wishful thinking. This is simply the Argument from Desire, or Argument from I Want It To Be That Way Cause I Don't Like The Alternative.

3: Others have dealt with this extensively. Morality does not require God. It serves an evolutionary purpose. And in spite of the claimed ultimate moral authority of God, his rule book contains some truly hideous examples of morality, which the faithful choose to ignore (because they KNOW these things are immoral), thus giving the lie to the claim that God IS the source and definition of morality. [If you want to do some reading, I recommend Jerry Coyne's site Why Evolution Is True. Just search for "morality". Enjoy.]

5: Well, this just doesn't follow, and I'll pretty much leave it at that. His justification is nearly incomprehensible, but smacks strongly of Argument from IWITBTWCIDLTA (see previous point).

6: Argument from Authority. It is in the Bible and therefore true (because everything in the Bible is true because the Bible says that everything in the Bible is true). Clearly this is rubbish.

Now, we finally get to my main objection, point #1.

This is a favorite argument of Christian (and apparently Muslim) apologists. It goes back thousands of years, and it is generally attributed to Aristotle. In short, it states:
  • Everything that moves (or is created) has a cause.
  • Logically (if you go far enough back the chain of causation) there must be something that moves (or is created), which is not caused (or created).
  • This is called the First Cause, or Prime Mover, or in the language of religious apologetics, God.

While this certainly seems reasonable enough, I see several problems with it.

Firstly, it requires that you concede that there must be a "first thing". To me, this really has to do with how we perceive the world and the universe. As humans, we have such a short window of experience. Even allowing for all of recorded history, we can lay claim to only a few thousand years. Over such a short duration (cosmically speaking), everything seems to flow nicely from cause to effect, and it is in the nature of our experience to expect this to always apply. However, scientists have speculated that the conditions and rules of the universe immediately after the Big Bang may have been somewhat different from what they are now, and we have no clue what the rules were before the Big Bang. (There has even been some indication that causation doesn't actually apply, even now, at the quantum level.) There is no reason to believe that, before the Big Bang, causality would have applied or even functioned in the same direction (in other words, the "first thing" might be that which generates its own "cause").

Second, even if we grant the First Cause, how does that justify that God must be that first cause? Even if you define God as the proximate cause of the universe (a common definition for apologists), you still haven't established that God is the First Cause. You have merely defined the proximate cause of our universe. What is the justification that the proximate cause of our universe must be the First Cause?

Third, even if you could prove that the proximate cause was the First Cause, how does that imply the intent to create our universe? How do you know that our universe isn't an unintended byproduct of a different project? Have you ever played pool? Have you ever intended to sink the 3 ball, only to have the cue ball bounce around the table and sink the 8 accidentally? How do you know we aren't the cosmic 8 ball?

And finally, even if you managed to demonstrate that the proximate cause of our universe is the First Cause and that this universe was created with intent, how can you prove that this First Cause continues to be interested and actively involved with its inhabitants?

So, in the end, it looks to me like the only (seemingly) reasonable argument presented, still relies on wishful thinking to "prove" the existence of God. And frankly, that just doesn't cut it when it comes to proof.


  1. This seems like a really sneaky way to stick me into HGTG's Total Perspective Vortex, dear.

    It demonstrates a good point, of course. I think back to the Big Bang (helluva party) and think "yup, that works". But then I think "ok, so before the Big Bang, there was...." And that's when my stomach drops a little, my mind goes kerflooey, and I realize how convenient the concept of God actually is.

    However, I'd rather be kerflooey than take the easy way out when considering our origins.

  2. Before the Big Bang: There are a nearly infinite number of universal mass clusters, black holes containing the mass of an entire universe, floating around the infinity of space. Given an infinite amount of time, these universal mass clusters will exert gravitational pull on one another, pulling themselves together. It is inevitable that two of these universal mass clusters will then eventually collide, causing the explosion we think of as the The Big Bang.

    Distant universal mass clusters continue to exert gravitational pull across the multiverse; this is why the rate of acceleration of our universal expansion is still increasing 14 billion years later. With nothing to stop us, terminal velocity is the speed of light. Our universal mass will continue to be pulled to another universal mass cluster, gradually accelerating until we hit the speed of light, at which point all matter will probably break apart anyway.

    After hundreds of billions of years, our mass will be sucked into a distant black hole, and may even cause that black hole to Big Bang itself. 14 billion years later, some caveman will try to discover what causes lightning and, failing to gather sufficient evidence, decide it was his invisible friend in the sky.

  3. In other words, Disney had it right with the whole "Circle of Life" thing? So obviously our universe is Simba, but what/who is the monkey shaman?