Thursday, August 18, 2011

God Gone in 60 Seconds?

Is there a quick disproof of God? Normally, I would not respond to much out there against God’s existence that originates on the Internet. It just typically is a waste of time and lacks any academic rigor. The same is the case for the following “Why God is Impossible: A 60-Second Proof.” However, this line of argumentation is becoming more and more prevalent, if not actually influential. Therefore, I will just this once pay it some undue attention, and then forget it ever happened.

First, she starts off a little confused about some philosophical presuppositions. She says, “One can not prove that something does not exist.” This is, of course, flatly false. But as it turns out, she does not believe this claim either. Not only does the title claim that God’s existence is impossible, she goes on to state: “In this argument you will not be proving the non-existence of GOD, but rather the impossibility of his existence.  Clearly, however, if you are able to prove that it is impossible that GOD exist [sic], it is manifest that he doesn’t.” The problem is that if it is impossible for something to exist, then it does not exist. There is no possible world in which something exists that is impossible to exist, on pain of logical contradiction. Hence, if one proves that X is impossible to exist, then one has proven X’s non-existence.[1]

Next, she then insists on two “ground rules.” These rules are first that if the concept of God is shown to be self-contradictory then God’s existence is impossible. Fair enough. The second rule is that “ignorance will not be accepted as a substitute for knowledge.” Again, I see no problem with this.

Third, she begins the exercise with the question “what is God’s most relevant attribute?” While she presumes to answer “his ability to create,” I find the question underdeveloped and ambiguous. Relevant to what? To his existence? In that case, it would be his logical necessity, or perhaps his aseity. But no mind; let us suppose (since we must) that we would answer “his ability to create.”

Next, as Ed Feser likes to say, those who talk about the cosmological argument often demonstrate they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. The argument is that creation is self-contradictory, since “from nothing, nothing comes.” The odd part is this is exactly what an apologist would use in defending the kalam cosmological argument! “By definition, creation requires that nothing initially exist,” she claims. The problem is just that I have never seen a Christian apologist or philosopher make such an assertion. They say the principle in relation to time and space requires that time and space not exist; nothing material or physical would exist. It seems to trade on ambiguity between “nothing material” and “nothing whatsoever.” So far she has not shown why we must accept the definition that literally no being must exist in order for creation to work.

Next, she slips in some unsubstantiated claims: that humans have believed in creation “almost” since the beginning of modern civilization (does she have confirmation they didn’t at the beginning?), that the possibility of creation cannot be proven (this is just question-begging), and that the theist’s claim is that “nothing can become something by adding nothing to it.” The last statement is a problem precisely because no Christian philosopher claims God acted on “nothing” and transformed “nothing” into something. In fact, this is a reification of nothingness, and hence fallacious. What the Christian philosopher says is that God acts from his own power and not on any prior thing. To suppose this is impossible is just to assume what one is trying to prove, and hence is question-begging.

After a brief strawman, she engages in another strawman of the causal principle. “Everything had to start at some point,” is the claim she attributes to the theist. But no prominent theist makes this claim. Rather, the claim is that “everything that begins to exist had a cause.” This is egregious enough on its own that this should alert the attentive reader greater problems remain. Sure enough, they do. For it is here that she violates her own second ground rule: that ignorance is no substitute for knowledge. In response to the mention of the Big Bang, she offers, “How sure are we that this big bang was the first?” As far as I can tell, this is not much different from using ignorance to counter the defeater that the universe needs a creator. However, since the defeater is only used within the context of the objection to the proposition of creation, we have a bona fide case where ignorance is used as a stand-in for knowledge.

Next, she asserts that faith is loosely defined as “that which is unknown” and “beyond understanding.” Again, no prominent theist philosopher teaches this. Rather, faith is the belief—which can be grounded rationally—in a being who created the universe. It need not be certain in order to be rational. I noticed that the author’s name listed a Ph.D. after it. Turns out, according to the video at the end, she is a clinical psychologist. This does not make her philosophy wrong, but it does explain why it went so wrong. In any case, I think the article is poorly done and overstates its case.

                [1] One may object that this is only an indirect, logical consequence rather than a direct entailment (such as is the case when one disproves X’s existence, he also renders false every proposition regarding acts of X). However, both propositions deal with X’s existence; the only difference lies not in propositional content but modal status. In that case, however, the claims are the same.

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  1. At least it isn't on a ridiculously annoying background that makes it nearly impossible to read...oh, wait.

    I think there are some decent internet deductive arguments against God, but they will usually include an honest discussion of where disagreement lies in the premises, since there will of course be disagreement somewhere if it's valid. Then, the area of disagreement will usually depend on a very nuanced point or area of uncertainty (and I would say the same for many theistic arguments).

  2. Agreed on all counts. :) Normally I just don't respond to these types, but I feel compelled to do so if an argument or series of arguments seems to be influential.


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