Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A response to a response...

Apologies in advance for taking you down the rabbit hole! 

Back in July 2015 I wrote a blog post called '10 poor reasons to believe a god exists'. If you'd like to read it, you can find it here

I've recently been talking to a Christian apologist on twitter who tweets under the handle @Lead1225. She was also known as @SJThompson but that account is now suspended. If you'd like to know more about her apologetics, you get hear her on Episode 21.10 of The Atheist Experience. (I've linked to where her call starts). 

Moving on. Stephanie (@Lead1225) saw my blog post about the 10 poor reasons to believe god exists and wrote a post in response with the slightly long-winded title of "10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists: A Response to “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by Mr. Oz Atheist.

It's not really a response to my post, but rather an independent list of what Stephanie mistakenly thinks are 10 good reasons to think a god exists. 

So...I've decided to respond to her response. But rather than do what Stephanie did, and just list 10 further reasons, I'm going to go through each of her 'good' reasons and explain why they are not, in fact, good reasons. Here goes....

(note - after doing 5 I decided to split it into two posts) 

1. "God's timing is perfect". 
Stephanie thinks that god's perfect timing is a good reason to think god is real. She goes on to highlight that that currently 98% of the human population has lived since Jesus allegedly lived (she doesn't say allegedly). She then points out that this will soon be 99.9%. (I haven't checked this figures, but it matters not if they're accurate)

This is a 'Begging the question' fallacy. What this means is that the argument premise includes an assumption that the conclusion is already true. A kind of circular reasoning. It's right there in the heading 'God's timing is perfect'. This already assumes god is real. It hasn't shown, in any way, that god is real, but simply insists that he is and then declares his timing perfect. Writing it in argument form highlights the circularity: 

  1. God is real.
  2. God's timing is perfect
  3. Therefore God is real. 
As you can see for yourself, this is NOT a good reason to believe god is real. 

2: "Christianity has survived against substantial odds"
Here Stephanie argues that because Jesus was a man of simple means, and made friends with people of similar simple means, it was unlikely for him to create a religion that would continue to this day. She also highlights that percentage of people who are Christians and how this percentage has progressively increased. 

This is an Argumentum ad populum fallacy. Latin for 'appeal to the people' it is the argument that because something is believed by many, it must be true. I'm sure we can all think of example of where this is false, but the one most commonly mentioned is flat earth. There was certainly a time where most (all?) people thought the earth was flat. We now know they were wrong. (Well, most of us do. Flat Earthers are a whole different blog post!) 

If current trends continue, in this century it's possible that Muslims world wide will outnumber Christians. I wonder then if Stephanie will be arguing that Islam is true ;) 

Again, I highlight this in argument form: 
  1. God is real. 
  2. May people believe it to be true. 
  3. Therefore god is real. 
Estimates suggest that there are currently one million people in the USA today who claim to have been abducted by aliens. A small percentage of the global population, sure, but Stephanie believes a man rose from the dead on the testimony of one man - Paul. If one man, with anecdote alone, can convince you a man rose from the dead, surely one million people should convince you, with anecdote alone, that aliens have visited earth....right? 

I'm quite convinced that if you were to ask Stephanie if the testimonies of a million people are enough to convince her aliens have visited earth, she'd say no. 

There are also many cases of people dying for what they believe and, again, I'm sue Stephanie wouldn't concede that this means what the believed was true. (Heaven's Gate, Jonestown, Branch Davidians to name but three).

Again, NOT a good reason to believe a god is real. 

3: The Cosmological Argument
I urge your to read Stephanie's 'argument' here for yourself as it's quite the jumbled mess. I'll break it down line by line...

"At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang." 
Not entirely true. Not entirely false. Science has provided at least one hypothesis. Is it consensus? Nope. Demonstrable true? Nope. Needing some work? For sure. But it exists (See Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing). And even if it hasn't, how does this point to god? It wasn't that long ago that science hadn't provided an explanation for lightning. Doesn't mean the Greeks were correct in saying it was being thrown by Zeus from atop Mt Olympus. 

"What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter" 
Do we? Seems convenient, to say then when you know you're already trying to point to 'God did it' but I'm not sure this is knowledge we have. This is a pure assertion trying to pass itself off as knowledge. 

"The force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful." 
Says who? How do they know? Has this been verified? (Spoiler: No, it hasn't) 

"So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal."
Well, I guess this assumption can be made...but there's no reason to think it's accurate. There's a good consensus that before the universe came to be in the state we observe, there was a singularity. The specifics of what it was like are unknown. Addressing her three elements: 
Powerful: It's naive to think it *must* have been powerful given we have no real idea what the environment was like. Has Stephanie ruled out the possibility that a TINY bit of energy popping, un-caused, into existence set off a chain-reaction that THEN became "powerful"? No, she hasn't. 
Metaphysical: Hard to work out what Stephanie means here, but I think she's (erroneously?) using metaphysical to mean 'outside the physical'. But I'm guessing if I asked Stephanie to explain what outside the physical means, she'd not be able to. As with the above, Stephanie hasn't ruled out a tiny bit of energy popping into existence and causing a chain reaction in the singularity. 
Eternal: If time started when the Big Bang happened then there was never a 'before' the big bang. So theists make up this idea that god is 'outside of time'. When I ask what that means, I get no satisfactory answer. (On a side note, if god is outside of time, how come it took 6 days to make everything? Shouldn't it have been instant? Also, given there is no 'before' the big bang, god couldn't have existed before the universe did. If he didn't exist 'before' the universe, how could he have created it?). 
The Cosmological argument was popularised by Thomas Aquinas as a 'First Mover' or First Cause argument. Stephanie makes it a lot more convoluted that it ought to be in her blog. It's basic form is: "Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause. This leads to a regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God."

The formal argument (from Iron Chariots) 
1: Everything that exists must have a cause.
2: If you follow the chain of events backwards through time, it cannot go back infinitely, so eventually you arrive at the first cause.
3: This cause must, itself, be uncaused.
4: But nothing can exist without a cause, except for God.

5: Therefore, God exists.

The Kalam version of the cosmological argument states that everything that 'begins' to exist has a cause. This is a special pleading fallacy. It gets out of having to apply the rules to god by saying god is outside of the rules. Says who? How do they know? 

This argument assumes the first cause must be a god, but never explains why it must be. It never explains how a god existing is more likely that a universe existing. 

There's also an element of begging the question fallacy in this argument. If only god can exist outside time, and the creator of the universe exists outside time, then it must have been god. But saying 'only god can exist outside time' assumes, already, that god is real. 

My counter to the cosmological argument is this: If you can explain a god without a creator, you can explain a universe without a creator. 

4: The Teleological Argument
More simply known as the argument from design, it is the idea that the universe is SO fine-tuned for life that only an intelligent designer could have created it. 

This is one of the weaker arguments Stephanie listed. 

Firstly, if this is a designed universe, and all that is within it is designed, how does Stephanie contrast this to something that is NOT designed? There's no way to tell. 

Secondly, what would a 'not-designed' universe look like? We only know about our own universe so we can't compare and contrast it to a 'known' not-designed universe to see the differences. 

Third: A universe fine-tuned for life is a myth. If earth is the only planet on which life exists, the amount of the universe NOT suitable for life is 100% minus earth. (and not even all of earth). To claim the universe is 'fine-tuned' for life when life exists in an infinitesimally small part of it is absurd. That's not to say the environment of Earth is not spot on for having the life WE know on it. 

Fourth: An all powerful god has no requirement to 'fine-tune'. A god, as described to me by those who believe, can do *anything*. This includes creating any kind of life in any kind of environment. If god wanted to have roses growing on the surface of the sun, he could. If god wanted people to live in a sea of hydrochloric acid, he could. He has no boundaries, no restrictions. Stephanie includes the following in her post: 

"Scientists have found that constants must fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of values for the universe to be life-sustaining. For example, the weak force, which operates inside of the nucleus of an atom, is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part of 10^100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe"

So what? With god at the helm that constant COULD be different and if god wanted life, there would still be life. The 'everything must be exactly right for there to be life' argument goes out the door when a god is in control It can do whatever it wants. It's not constrained to 'the possible.' 

Earth being well suited to human life suggests a series of NATURAL processes at work NOT supernatural creation. 

Fifth: Humans can only observe a universe in which humans can exist. The Anthropic Principle explains this clearly and easily and requires no supernatural intervention. 

Sixth: We don't know that this is the only universe to exist or to have existed. From Stephanie's post: 

"The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 10^60 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one inch target!"

It might be possible that we're in an 'expand and contract' universe (though Stephen Hawking doesn't think so). This could mean that at some point, rather than expanding, the universe contracts. And contracts so much that it forms a super-massive, tiny object (a singularity) that once again suddenly expands to form a NEW universe. This expand-contract process could have happened billions of billions of billions of billions of times previously. This could be the first time and last time life will appear. 

Seventh: We know there is a future point, even if the universe doesn't contract, where all life (whether it's just earth or elsewhere) will cease to exist. This is because there is a finite amount of fuel being burnt up by the stars. One day (a long time from now, granted) all stars will have run out of fuel. The universe will be totally empty and void. Not sure how this fits in with 'fine tuned for life'. Prior to that, because the universe is expanding, there will be a point when the galaxies are so far apart that we'll no longer be able to see another one. It will appear that the milky way is not just the 'only' galaxy in the universe, but it IS the universe. People (not that they'll be 'people') will not say 'the universe is fine tuned for life' because they won't know there is a universe. 

I'm confident you'll agree that these seven points (and there are plenty more to make) are enough to realise this is NOT a good reason to believe a god exists. 

5: The Moral Argument
This argument seems to be one Stephanie hasn't researched whatsoever, except to find things that confirm what she already believes. I once said on twitter, don't be so convinced you must be right that you don't bother to check if you are. It seems that's what Stephanie has done here. She really has no insight into morality, its origins, and its complexities. To wit she defeats her own argument in her own first line. 

" All mentally sound human beings have an innate sense of what’s moral."

I'm going to forget the 'all' and let her get away with 'mentally sound' as a standard. It's the latter part of the sentence I'm interested in. An "innate" sense of what's moral. For those who may be unaware, "innate" means 'in-born: natural". Natural. A *natural* sense of what's moral. Well, Stephanie, if it's natural....god isn't involved. 

Stephanie further argues against herself when she highlights that atheists argue (correctly, though she doesn't acknowledge this) that morality is evolved. She argues that if we evolved our morality, then groups such as ISIS, the NAZIs and Boko Haram refute this argument. 

Um....if you think we all get our morality from a single source...don't these groups negate THAT argument also? If God wants none of us to murder and (magically?) MADE us not want to murder....how come murder happens? 

Stephanie, and those of similar thinking, may argue here that 'Free will' is the answer. Well, if we have 'free will' then god giving us morality is negligible. It doesn't matter, because we STILL use our own thoughts, compassion, logic, reason, desires, and other emotions to decide what's right. We still decide for ourselves what actions we will or won't take. 

It's quite clear that morals are an evolved trait. Not just the way they differ among humans (and change over time) but also that the DO appear in non-human animals (though Stephanie seems unaware of this saying "as other creatures on this planet do not operate under the same moral code as we do." Stephanie then cites 'Craig, 2010' (I assume William Lane Craig, but I'm not sure) who points out that when a lion kills a zebra it doesn't 'murder' it. Or when a male shark forcibly mates with a female it doesn't 'rape' her. Adding these actions are 'neither permitted, nor obligatory'. Well, that's inaccurate. Mating and eating are instinctive. Humans have developed down a path where mating is required to be consensual but it still happens, even when people don't know what it is. Areas with little to no sex education in school have higher rates of teen pregnancy. Why? Because people have sex even when they don't know what sex means! Same with non-human animals. And although there are cases of people deliberately not eating, it takes *extreme* action to achieve it. We, and our non-human cousins, want to eat, and want to mate. Instinctively. 

But that's something of a digression. 

Human morals don't map 1 to 1 with other humans. They don't even map 1 to 1 within a single human. I doubt anyone reading this is free of any action they find morally questionable. I doubt none of you has done something they didn't later regret. So I'm not sure why Stephanie thinks human morals should map 1 to 1 with other animals. Other animals have evolved down different paths to humans, so to expect our morality to evolve down the same path is absurd. 

But it's not as though other animals DON'T have a moral code. 

There is an excellent TED talk by Frans De Waal which you can watch here, that shows various moral behaviours in different animals. Things such as a sense of fairness, cooperation, comfort, and kindness. 

This article at Live Science talks about animals knowing right from wrote. Examples include a Rhesus Monkey refusing to electrically shock fellow monkeys even though it meant getting food. Chimpanzees who punish those amongst them who break certain rules, and a dog helping an injured dog off a busy Chilean highway, despite the risks to itself. 

There is discussion as to whether these examples are 'hardwired' instinct or conscious moral choices. But I agree with Mark Rowlands, a University of Miami philosopher, and author of "Can Animals Be Moral?" who says the distinction is overthinking things.

It is clear that other animals, particularly mammals, have developed their own moral codes and behaviours which shows this is a *natural* process and a *natural* result of the evolutionary paths that some animals take. We are instinctively guided to protecting and furthering our species. Obviously we differ on the best way to do that, and obviously some of us lack that instinct. 

This is indicative of an 'incomplete', for want of a better word, natural process that is operating on a species that is still quite 'immature'. 

Given that morality is easily explainable without supernatural intervention and the differences in morality between individual humans, as well as humans and other animals, is easily explainable as being the result of the natural process of evolution, it's quite clear that the argument from morality is NOT a good reason to think a god exists. 

Part 2 coming soon!