Quentin Smith’s Big Bang Cosmological Argument For God’s Nonexistence

I’ve always been fond of the atheistic philosopher Quentin Smith, since he has made the point constantly that almost all—the “great majority” is his words—of philosophers who reject theism do so without sufficient grounds to do so. They have, to quote Smith, “an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism is false”:

QuentinSmithNaturalism.png

Today I saw an atheistic argument posted to Twitter in the form of a graphic, which is attributed to Quentin Smith.  The post is from Atheist Academy @AtheistAcademy, here

And the actual graphic is

BigBangCosmologicalArgumentForAtheism.jpg

I do not know whether this is an accurate representation of Smith’s argument, or whether he is even the originator of it. I hope not, since it is rather terrible argument—and that is what I’m going to show.

Let’s begin with Premise (1). This is a plausible premise. It is probably worth noting that some physicists, e.g. Stephen Hawking, seem to believe that the laws of nature pre-exist the big bang singularity, to the point where Hawking ascribes them causal powers. But since the premise is plausible, let’s grant it and see what happens.

Premise (2) is also a plausible premise. Again, some philosophers and physicists have disputed it, usually on the the grounds that the putatively “inanimate” must actually be in some sense at least latently animate, since it gives rise to the animate. Leibniz is a good classical example of “panpsychism” and e.g. Colin McGinn of “naturalistic panprotopsychism.” If panpsychism is true in either a strong or weak sense, premise (2) is false, but once again, let’s grant it and see what happens. It is plausible.

Premise (3) is where things start to go wrong. The obvious problem is that premise (3) isn’t a premise at all, but an argument disguised as a premise. The “and consequently” makes it clear that an inference is being made within the premise. Worse, an invalid inference is being made within the premise. Perhaps the inference is hidden inside a single premise in order to hide the invalidity of the inference? I don’t know, but let’s take a closer look.

The premise begins by saying that “no law governs the big bang singularity,” which is dubious even if premise (1) is true. If premise (1) is true, no law preexists the big bag singularity which governs its coming into being, but nothing prevents it coming into being with a determinate—that is, law governed—structure. Nor does premise (2) help, since “being animate” is not necessary for “being law governed.” The premise, in other words, seems to assume that laws of nature neither preexisted the big bang singularity nor came into being along with it—leaving as the only alternative that the laws of nature came into being at some point after the big bang singularity. To claim that nature precedes the laws of nature is at the very least a strange claim, and it seems to me, a prima facie dubious one. It raises such obvious questions as “If nature was not law-governed from the beginning, i.e. the big bang singularity, when and how did it become law-governed?” I think many philosophers and physicists would reject the very idea that something could be “nature” without being “that which is governed by the laws of nature.”

So Premise (3) is off to rocky start, but to make things worse, it draws an invalid inference from the dubious premise which is the first part of the listed premise. Since the big bang is not law-governed, it follows that “there is no guarantee that it will emit a configuration of particles that will evolve into an animate universe.”

Since this argument is meant to demonstrate atheism (or naturalism, which Smith takes to be the same thing), it obviously cannot assume atheism or naturalism as a premise. But what this inference actually says is “if there is no law of nature governing the first state of nature, the big bang singularity, there is no naturalistic guarantee that it “will emit a configuration of particles that will evolve into an animate universe.”  Given that the argument is neutral on atheism vs theism, it cannot simply leave out the possibility that God guarantees this by His direct action.

As Plato says, everything happens by choice, chance, or necessity. This argument is making the case that the configuration of particles emitted by the big bag did not happen according to necessity (that is, deterministic law); it then concludes, without warrant, that it must have happened by chance—I see no other possible reading of “not guaranteed.” But this obviously leaves out the third possibility, that it happened according to the will of some agent powerful enough to enact this.

So premise (3) involves a dubious sub-premise and an invalid inference from it. At this point the argument is sunk, but let’s continue.

Premise (4) is valid and trivial, merely restating the second half of premise (3) substituting “the earliest state of the universe” for “the big bang.”

Premise (5) is one of the the worst kinds of premise any atheistic argument can include. It is a “God would have 𝛗ed” premise. Premise (5) and every premise of the form “God would have 𝛗ed” is a non-starter for the simple and sufficient reason that, to be justified in affirming the premise, one would need to omniscient. God could say, with justification, what “God would have done,” but no finite creature, and in particular, no human being, can say so. So whether it is true or not, the premise is unwarranted, and cannot ever be warranted, making the argument unsound—the fact that it collapsed back at premise (3) notwithstanding.

But let’s grant—per impossibile—that we could be justified in a “God would have 𝛗ed” premise. The premise says that if God had created the earliest state of the universe, then God would have guaranteed that it “is animate or evolves into animate states.” What can we say about this? A few things:

(A) We haven’t shown that it isn’t animate—as I noted already, premise (2) just asserts this, without any justification or attempt to refute panpsychism or panprotopsychism.

(B) Granting premise (2) that the earliest state of the universe is inanimate, we haven’t show that God does not guarantee it “evolves into animate states.” All the argument would have shown is that God does not guarantee this by means of the laws of nature. God could, of course, guarantee it by directly setting or causing the proper parameters to occur, instead of building in the parameters that necessitate the occurrence from the beginning. Nothing in the argument has shown that it is a matter of chance.

(C) It is true that it seems less plausible that God would set up a chance mechanism and then monkey with the outcome of the chance mechanism as opposed to setting up a mechanism that is law-governed from the beginning—but since the argument has given us to reason to think that the universe was not law-governed from its creation, only the assertion it was not, we are free to follow our judgment as to what is more plausible. But even on the assumption that the argument is correct, and that the original state of the universe was not law-governed, we have no reason to suppose that God did not directly bring about the outcome He wished. If God did create the universe such that its earliest state were not law-governed but rather had a number of variables and constants that are assigned by no law of nature at all, there is still no reason to thing God did not consciously assign these values, at least no reason given in this argument.

Which brings us to the conclusion (6) that God does not exist. This just doesn’t follow. It doesn’t follow because assumes “God would have 𝛗ed in a certain way.” But even if we were justified in holding “God would have 𝛗ed”, we would still not be justified in “God would have 𝛗ed in a certain way.”

CONCLUSION: This argument rests on premises that range from “plausible” (1) to “fairly dubious” (2) to “almost certainly false” (3). Premise (3) is actually two premises, with an inference hidden inside a premise, and an invalid inference at that. There is simple no reason whatever to accept the first part of (3), and the second part, bundled with it, doesn’t actually follow from the first part, even if it were true, which it almost certainly is not. Premise (5) is prima facie unwarranted since it seems to require omniscience to be warranted, and even if we assume we were warranted in believing it, it doesn’t entail (6), since premise (5) only says that “God would have brought about that Ψ” and then tries to show it is false that “God brought about Ψ” by saying (based on pure assumption from earlier premises) that “God did not bring about Ψ by means Π.” But even if we assume both that “God would have brought about Ψ” and “God did not bring about Ψ by means Π”, these do not entail “God did not bring about Ψ by some other means.”

WORSE STILL, this argument seems to contain a latent argument for THEISM. Let us assume that it is true that, as the argument asserts, the initial state of universe was such it was not determined by any law of nature that the universe be such as would be capable of sustaining and would produce and sustain animate beings. To return to Plato’s trilemma, we would have to say “Since the earliest state of the universe did in fact generate a universe that is capable of sustaining animate being, actually produced animate being, and sustains animate being, this happened either by chance or by conscious, intelligent choice. The probability of this happening by chance is so low as to be mathematically indistinguishable from 0. Therefore, almost certainly, the production of the universe was a result of conscious, intelligent choice.”

In short, this failed argument for atheism actually yields a very strong form of the fine tuning argument for God, with only minimal adjustment—namely, the addition of the evident fact that animate being, conscious life, does in fact exist in our universe. By ruling out necessity as a cause of this, the argument leaves us to decide whether chance or conscious choice is responsible for the universe, and the thing is unfathomably improbable to have happened by chance, than otherwise sensible people frequently posit the existence of an undetectable, unfalsifiable “multiverse” just so they can get “necessity” back on the table as a cause! But that is just what is ruled out here.

This argument leaves us with the stark choice of “our life sustaining universe was either the result of an infinitesimal chance, more than winning a trillion trillion lotteries in a row, or to the conscious intelligent creation by a being powerful enough to do so.”  At this point, it is almost trivial to say that a conscious, intelligent agent is by far the best explanation.

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YOUR WEBSITE IS WRONG

If you have been directed here, you posted a link to a website, claiming something was true because the website said so. Since one bare assertion, or in this case, link to a website, is as good as any other, this website declares categorically that YOUR WEBSITE IS WRONG in whatever you claimed it proved or showed. It’s just wrong. You know it is wrong because a website—this one—says it is wrong. And since you believe websites govern truth, you are bound to accept this. Sorry, but YOUR WEBSITE IS WRONG.

 

Atheists Trolled Me for 5 Days, So I Learned Their Strategies | Matthew Schneider

via Atheists Trolled Me for 5 Days, So I Learned Their Strategies | Matthew Schneider

[Excerpt]

Why Atheists Have More Faith

Faith is a belief in anything beyond what we directly experience. In the simplest form, I believe Madagascar is a real place despite almost no chance I’ll go there in my life. When we Christians talk about our faith, we often mean a theological virtue that gives us a certainty beyond what we experience. However, what we believe is beyond reason but not against reason. What atheists believe is against reason, plain and simple. Hence, why I called their belief as having more faith.

Deducing God

There are many arguments to prove the existence of God through philosophy. But I won’t post each one here (just follow the links).

Problems with Atheist Arguments

Throughout the five days of being trolled and seeing 100s of atheist messages, they seem to fall into a limited number of repeated errors. Many of these errors are forms of confirmation bias or assuming what they are trying to prove. I fit these in two categories.

Fundamental Errors of Philosophy

  • The error of assuming only scientific knowledge matters (this statement is philosophical, and thus beyond the realm of science).
  • The error of assuming that everything is material (this is a trickery of including their conclusion in their premise). We don’t need to begin by assuming that non-spiritual realities exist, as this can be proven so long as you don’t automatically discount that evidence like atheists wrongly assume.
  • A similar error is assuming all causal chains are linear. If a ball hits another or two mice make babies we have linear reactions but some causation requires a power on a level above it. For example, although I and a kitten can press keyboard letters, it requires intelligence to write coherently.

Errors in the Relationship Between Philosophy and Theology

  • The error of assuming proving God means proving the Trinity. This is the underlying issue if you hear atheists claim that we only believe because of faith. Unfortunately, English doesn’t have two separate words for God-insofar-as-we-can-know-him-without-faith and the fullness-of-the-Christian-understanding-of-God. Although these refer to the same being, they refer to him in different ways.
  • The error of assuming that God is just like bigfoot or the thousands of pagan gods. A person need not necessarily confront if bigfoot exists in their life, however, we do need to confront if there is a first cause. Without a first cause, everything is meaningless. Hence, the importance of the distinction above.

Lessons

I learned two things from this experience. First, that atheist troll Twitter is one of the less pleasant Twitter groups. Second, which is more applicable for the rest of you, that atheists often make false arguments or assume what they are trying to prove. So, hopefully, my experience and explanation above might help you better deal with atheists. Sometimes you can explain God’s existence, but other times when dealing with atheists, we realize there is some error the atheist holds that goes beyond logic so we just need to pray for him or her.

Burden of Proof in Philosophy? [reblog from the Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella]

Reblog of Burden of Proof in Philosophy via Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher.

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Burden of Proof in Philosophy?

1. The question this post raises is whether it is at all useful to speak of burden of proof (BOP) in dialectical situations in which there is no judge or tribunal to lay down and enforce rules of procedure.  By a dialectical situation I mean a context in which orderly discussion occurs among two or more competent and sincere interlocutors who share the goal of arriving as best they can at the truth about some matter, or resolving some question in dispute.  My main concern is with dialectical situations that are broadly  philosophical.   I suspect that in philosophical debates the notion of burden of proof is out of place and not usefully deployed.  That is what I will now try to argue.

2. I will begin with the observation that the presumption of innocence (POI) in an Anglo-American court  of law is never up for grabs in that arena.  Thus the POI is not itself presumptively maintained and subject to defeat.  If Jones is accused of a crime, the presumption of his innocence can of course be defeated, but that he must be presumed innocent until proven guilty is itself never questioned and of course never defeated.  The POI is not itself a defeasible presumption.  And if Rescher is right that there are no indefeasible presumptions, then the POI is not even a presumption.  The POI is a rule of the ‘game,’ and constitutive of the ‘game.’  The POI in a court room situation  is like a law of chess.  The laws of chess, as constitutive of chess, cannot themselves be contested within a game of chess.  The reason there is always a definite outcome in chess (win, lose, or draw) is precisely because of those nonnegotiable chess-constitutive laws.

As I pointed out earlier, defeasible presumption (DP) and burden of proof are correlative notions.  The defeasible presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty places trhe onus probandi on the prosecution.  Therefore, from the fact that the POI is not itself a defeasible presumption in a court of law, it follows that neither is the BOP.  Where the initating BOP lies — the BOP that remains in force and never shifts during the proceedings — is never subject to debate.  It lies on the state in a criminal case and on the plaintiff in a civil case.

3. But in philosophy matters are otherwise. For in philosophy everything is up for grabs, including the nature of philosophical inquiry and the rules of procedure.  (This is why metaphilosophy is not ‘outside of’ philosophy but a branch of same.)  And so where the BOP lies in a debate between, say, atheists and theists is itself a matter of debate and bitter contention.  Each party seeks to put the BOP on the other, to ‘bop’ him if you will.  The theist is inclined to say that there is a defeasible presumption in favor of the truth of theism; but of course few atheists will meekly submit to that pronunciamento.  If the theist is right in his presumption, then he doesn’t have to do anything except turn aside the atheist’s objections: he is under no obligation to argue positively for thesism any more than the accused is under an obligation to prove his innocence.

4. Now we come to my tentative suggestion.  There is no fact of the matter as to where the BOP lies in any dialectical context, legal, philosophical or any other: it is a matter of decision.  This is because BOP is a procedural matter.  If so, then there must be an adjudicator above the fray (i.e., a judge or arbiter who is not party to the dispute) who makes the decision as to where the BOP lies and has the power to enforce his decision.  There must be an arbiter who lays down and enforces the rules of procedure.  But in philosophy there neither is nor can be an above-the-fray adjudicator  whose decisions are unquestionable and backed by the threat of violence.

For suppose I were to try to play the arbiter in a debate between a theist and an atheist.  I give the following speech:

There is a presumption in favor of every existing institution, long-standing way of doing things, and well-entrenched and widespread way of belief.  Now the consensus gentium is that God exists.  And so I lay it down that there is a defeasible presumption in favor of theism and that the burden of proof  lies squarely on the shoulders of the atheist.  Theism is doxastically innocent until proven guilty.  The theist need only rebut the atheist’s objections; he needn’t make a positive case for his side.

Not only would the atheist not accept this declaration, he would be justified in not accepting it, for reasons that are perhaps obvious.  For my declaration is as much up for grabs as anything else in philosophy.  And of course if I make an ad baculum move then I remove myself from philosophy’s precincts altogether.  In philosophy the appeal is to reason, never to the stick.

The situation in philosophy could be likened to the situation in a court of law in which the contending parties are the ones who decide on the rules of procedure, including BOP and DP rules.  Such a trial could not be brought to a conclusion.  That’s the way it is in philosophy.  Every procedural rule and methodological maxim is further fodder for philosophical Forschung. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the alliteration.)

My tentative conclusion is as follows.  In philosophy no good purpose is served by claims that the BOP lies on one side or the other of a dispute, or that there is a DP in favor of this thesis but not in favor of that one. For there is no fact of the matter as to where the BOP lies.  BOP considerations are usefully deployed only in dialectical situations in which some authority presides over the debate and lays down the rules of procedure and has the power to punish those who violate them.  Such an authority constitutes by his decision the ‘fact’ that the BOP lies on one side rather than on the other.

It follows from what I have said that if you disagree with me, then neither of us bears a burden  of proving his metaphilosophical thesis.  But this is paradoxical.  For if you disagree with me, then presumably you think that BOP considerations are usefully deployed in philosophy, and that there is a fact of the matter as to where the BOP lies, and that therefore one of us must bear a probative burden.

The mysterious case of the totally bogus Epicurus quote

e g r e g o r e s

If you do a google search on the following words (without quotes):

“Is he willing to prevent evil, but unable?”

you will get over 2 million hits. Most of those hits ascribe these words to Epicurus, who is supposed to have posed the above question concerning “God”. The only problem is that Epicurus never wrote any such thing, and, in fact, directly contradicted the sentiment expressed in that question.

The quote actually comes from David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. More specifically it is found on page 134 of the 1907 edition of Hume’s Dialogues (look here and search for the word “malevolent”).

Hume has Philo, one of the fictional speakers of his Dialogues, say the following:

Epicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered.

Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent…

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A Simple Epistemological Question for Dr. Bronwyn Winter

Dr. Bronwyn Winter, Associate Professor of “European Studies”—one of the paradigm fields of scientific and academic rigor—at the University of Sydney, and radical feminist, has this to say:

Girls who have felt suicidal, who have histories of eating disorders and self-harm, who have felt our bodies are all wrong, and who have suffered from conservative [sic] and abusive family or school environments and have come out the other side—or who are perhaps still working on coming out the other side—we all know that the problem is not our bodies or our brains; the problem is not us; the problem is society; the problem is gender. [Emphasis mine.]

It isn’t clear who the “all” is in “we all know”—perhaps it is only the ones with the histories of suicidal ideation, eating disorders, and self-harm, things I admit I no experience with.

Assuming this is correct, what exactly is the epistemological link between being suicidal, having eating disorders, and a history of self-harm, and accurate knowledge that “there is nothing wrong with us”?

Prima facie, it seems likely that there is something wrong with a person who is suicidal, has an eating disorder, or engages in self-harm: all three of theses things are, in fact, recognizable and recognized mental disorders.

How do “we”—or I suppose “they”—have this knowledge that, despite the fact that there is obviously something wrong with them, that there is nothing wrong with them, that it is “society” or “gender” which are out of order?

You all know I like arguments to be laid out systematically, so

  1. P is suicidal.
  2. P has an eating disorder.
  3. P has a history of self-harm.
  4. Therefore, P knows that there is nothing wrong with P.
  5. Therefore, P knows something is wrong with society.
  6. Therefore P knows something is wrong with “gender.”

I would really like to know how Dr. Winter manages to get conclusions 4-6 out of premises 1-3.

The Story of Moira Greyland (Guest Post)

Something everyone should know.

askthe"Bigot"

I was born into a family of famous gay pagan authors in the late Sixties. My mother was Marion Zimmer Bradley, and my father was Walter Breen. Between them, they wrote over 100 books: my mother wrote science fiction and fantasy (Mists of Avalon), and my father wrote books on numismatics: he was a coin expert.

What they did to me is a matter of unfortunate public record: suffice to say that both parents wanted me to be gay and were horrifed at my being female. My mother molested me from ages 3-12. The first time I remember my father doing anything especially violent to me I was five. Yes he raped me. I don’t like to think about it. If you want to know about his shenanigans with little girls, and you have a very strong stomach, you can google the Breendoggle, which was the scandal which ALMOST drummed…

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