Monday, March 30, 2009

Is “God” a good answer?

I was reading on Debunking Christianity of a Christian who appreciated the skeptic’s arguments, yet maintains his belief in theism, in part, due to the Cosmological Argument:
Always I have been of the opinion that the unanswered questions of belief are much easier to live with than those of unbelief. For example (and this is a huge one for me), if I choose naturalism (which I see to be the only real alternative to theism), then I must accept that somewhere, at some time, something came into existence out of absolutely nothing. (For all the efforts of contemporary atheists to escape what Frank Hoyle [Ed. – I believe he meant “Fred Hoyle”] saw clearly as the implications of big bang cosmology, this consequence still stands undefeated.)

I don’t get why this argument resonates with theists. Oh…I understand wanting to know what happened at the Big Bang; wanting to know how the universe works—what made the clock start to tick. What I don’t get is why “God” is such a good answer.

Look, we have an innate desire to present an Answer to a Question. Present a solution to a difficulty. If you have picked up any relationship book written in the past 50 years, you have read how men are supposed to learn when women present them with a problem, they don’t want a solution—they just want someone to listen. We are informed, and have to learn and often fail in suppressing our natural inclination to present a solution before our wives have even finished relaying what happened!

And our universe presents some great questions. Like the Big Bang. Or the start of life. Or why deep-fried Twinkies taste good when regular Twinkies do not. And certainly we want answers to those questions. But we want actual answers—not some propped up idea that is both unhelpful and presents more questions!

I had a teacher who, whenever you prefaced a question with “I have a question” would always interrupt with “I have an answer; let’s see if they match.” This resulted in conversations like:

Student: I have a question—
Teacher: Good. I have an answer; let’s see if they match.
Student: --what chapters are we supposed to read?
Teacher: Oh, too bad. My answer was ‘Three blind mice.’

While I appreciate he was attempting to break us of the habit of prefacing a question with a useless clause—doing it every…single…time…became annoying. Yet I get that same sense with the convenience of God

“Where did the universe come from?”

“How did life form?”

“What keeps atoms from blowing apart?”

“How do we impose our moral sense on others?”
“Say God says it.”

“Is our few years of life it?”

“What if I am struggling with my current situation?”
“Don’t worry—God.”

Like the theist has the same perpetual answer for any difficult question. An answer that, in the end isn’t very helpful. It is that co-worker who, when you tell them your car wouldn’t start that morning, says, “There must be something wrong with your car.” Hey—thanks for the valuable insight. Never crossed my mind! I thought cars were supposed to not start!

How did God start the universe? The theist doesn’t know.
What morals does a God impose? The theist makes a guess.
How did God initiate life? The theist doesn’t know.
What exists after this world? The theist makes a guess.
What would a God do to help me today? The theist doesn’t know.

This is what puzzles me about this argument. If you are going to propose an “answer” to our problem—shouldn’t it progress us forward toward a resolution? Instead, the God hypothesis introduces another character we know even less about, with even less understanding (or equal) as to how the problem would be resolved.

I almost find this argument…lazy. Like looking for a solution is too hard to do. So much easier to presume there is this “Unknown Entity” and lay the credit at its feet.


  1. God is an impossible answer to argue with. Belief in God is a faith proposition. It can't be proved.

    As you know I have an ministerial background. I understand the God answer BUT I find it increasingly frustrating to have conversations such as the ones you mentioned in this post.

    It like the creation debate. If one person starts with "God" where can the discussion go? Nowhere.Doesn't matter what the data is......the answer of God.


  2. In your last post, you mentioned Craig's argument that skeptics are predisposed to reject miracles.

    While it is true that my world view does not include miracles, it does include freaky shit that I cannot explain. Isn't that all that a miracle really is, something that a theist can't explain? The difference is that I am content to consider the thing unexplained and leave open the possibility that it might be someday. The theist on the other hand, declares that the thing is not just unexplained, but inexplicable, thereby allowing him to invoke God as the cause.

    As far as I am concerned, saying that God did something is just another way of saying that you don't know what happened.

  3. Christians often say something like, "I can't imagine how this could happen without there being a God." Which of course gets you no where because you couldn't "imagine" how (a) God could do that thing anyway.

    I will say, I think the way J. Sennett wrote left me feeling that at least he had thought through his decision. It struck me less as lazy than as a personal view held because he would rather live his life that way.

  4. I have issue with the questions, perhaps more than with the answer.

    Being overly practical, even as a Christian my answer was, "Who cares." I suppose I accepted the creation story out of laziness.

    So for me, it is more like, "We are here, can't help it, have to deal with it."

    The dealing with it part is where I focus on during my waking hours. I find it quite hard, so the issue demands my whole attention.

  5. I relate more with what this theist said about the cosmological argument than what you said in response. I don't think it's possible for something to come into existence uncaused out of absolute nothingness. If the universe came into existence, then something other than the universe existed that was able to bring the universe into existence.

    But why call it God? Because the more I think about it, the more it starts looking like some sort of god. I wouldn't say this argument alone establishes that the Christian God brought the universe into existence, but some sort of god did, and any god would negate atheism.

    I don't understand why the mere existence of these other problems you raise should be any reason to doubt that god is a good explanation for the origin of the universe. Every discovery we make in our ordinary lives raises further questions. And the inability to answer these further questions doesn't make us dismiss the discoveries that raised them. (So much for the whole scientific enterprise if it did!) I would think that with your big bang, start of life, and twinky analogies, you would agree with me.

    It seems inescapable to me that if the universe began to exist, then the universe is not all that exists. But let's just grant for the sake of argument that neither of us can say for sure how the universe came to existence. Is it so unreasonable to guess that maybe something non-physical brought it into existence rather than guess that it just popped into existence for no reason at all? Must we know everything about this entity before we can know anything about it?

  6. Sam: I don't think it's possible for something to come into existence uncaused out of absolute nothingness. [emphsis added]

    Then it’s a good thing that is NOT WHAT THE BIG BANG THEORY SAYS! No wonder you all are so impressed with the Cosmological argument—you create a strawperson argument (“out of nothing”) and then declare it unfathomable.

    Sam: Is it so unreasonable to guess that maybe something non-physical brought it into existence rather than guess that it just popped into existence for no reason at all?

    a) I have no idea how a non-physical can “cause” anything. So yes, that seems quite unreasonable to make a speculative guess. Or at least equal with any other speculative guess—such as a paranatural, non-physical, ununiverse “caused” our universe to exist.

    b) I am unsure what you mean by “reason” in “popped into existence for no reason at all.”

  7. When you invoke the supernatural, you are saying that the phenomena is not subject to natural laws or natural reason, i.e., it cannot be explained. Once you have declared something to be supernatural, how can you tell whether something looks like one supernatural thing rather than another? How do you know the difference between an effect produced by a god and one produced by a pixie, a fairy, a gnome, a sprite, a demon, a leprechaun, or Mr. Mxyzptlk?

    Isn’t it really the case that the more you start calling the thing “God,” the more it starts looking like some sort of god?

  8. Then it’s a good thing that is NOT WHAT THE BIG BANG THEORY SAYS!

    If the big bang happened, then there are only three options. Either something was sitting there from all eternity and then exploded, the universe oscillates, or the big bang is the absolute beginning of the universe. Even if the universe oscillates, I don't think it could've been oscillating forever, so there would still have to be an absolute beginning of the universe. I don't think something existed from all eternity that then exploded because that would involve a cause existing for an infinite amount of time before its effect.

    But that is similar to what we theists claim about God--that God existed without the universe from eternity and brought the universe into existence. Well that is why I think God must be a personal being, and not just a blind mechanistic cause. It seems to me that only by having the faculty of volition is it possible for a cause to delay an effect, and only personal beings have volition. So now we have an immaterial personal being that chose to bring the universe into existence. You have to admit it's beginning to sound more and more like a god all the time.

    I have no idea how a non-physical can “cause” anything.

    But you have some idea of how something can come from nothing without a cause or reason?

  9. Sam,

    A coupla things to clear up. There are a few terms that become conflated and perhaps it is our fault for not being more distinct.

    When we use the term “universe,” it would be more apt to state, “our known universe.” The natural world we live in that started 13-14 Billion years ago and has developed to its current state with billions of galaxies, billions of stars, time, space, matter and energy. That started at the Big Bang.

    This is not the same as ‘everything that ever existed or possibly existed.” In fact, the multiverse theory would propose our known universe is NOT everything that ever existed; I have read of other theories that would include other things existing.

    You are correct there are only a few possibilities (given the evidence we have) regarding our universe--but there are multiple possibilities regarding other things existing outside of our universe. (It is difficult for me to use precise terminology, as terms like “before” or even “outside” are not correct, given our state of space and time. Work with me, if you can…)

    When philosophers attempt to use the Cosmological argument, they interchange, and go back and forth from “our known universe” to “everything that ever existed” while continuing to use the same term “universe.” This causes confusion, yet convenience for their argument.

    Secondly, we can only observe back to 1 Planck time. True, an extremely short period of time, but we cannot observe, and can only wildly speculate what happened between t=0 (no time) and that first Planck time. We cannot even fathom what happened “before” t=0, and even using the term “before” is incorrect as, there is no “before” prior to time.

    Hence, I am unaware of a Cosmologist claiming our known universe came from “nothing” (other than using it in the loosest of vernacular to lay people) since cosmologists readily admit they do not know what the state of existence was from t=0 to 1 Planck time, let alone “before.” (Again, forgive my use of the term, but it is the only way I know how to think.)

    Nothing? Perhaps. Something? Possibly. Everything? Maybe.

    I know you rarely like my analogies, but here goes…

    Imagine I show you a wall. We suspect something is behind that wall. We cannot see it, hear it, taste it, touch it, or feel it. We don’t know if it is exactly like us, partly like us, or completely dissimilar to use. We don’t know if it is bound by time, bound by space or bound by energy. We don’t even know if it is bound by logic as we understand it.

    We know nothing about it.

    Now tell me why it is convincing to say, “There is a God behind that wall”? I find it interesting you think a creature must have the faculty of volition to cause the delay in an effect. Why? Why is it that something we see as quite natural in our world MUST apply to that thing behind the wall, when in the next breath we see something that is not natural in our world must equally apply to that thing behind the wall?

    Theists tell me God is not bound by time, space or energy—yet it is “bound” by the laws of cause and effect? How does the theist rationally come to a method to determine what God is bound to that is similar to our world? Why can’t a God NOT be bound to our understanding of cause and effect?

    This is why I see “God” as such a poor answer. The theist constantly picks and chooses what is convenient to them to prove such an entity while not staying consistent. I agree, Sam, it seems perfectly reasonable that the ability to choose would be necessary to cause a delay. It ALSO seems perfectly reasonable to me, that such a creature would have the ability to choose to do both moral and immoral acts. Because I utilize what I see in our known universe to extrapolate to that “thing” behind the wall.

    Yet some theists tell me how silly I am to think God could commit immoral and moral acts (when this is what I see in our known universe) but at the same time, I must believe such a God is bound by our notion of cause and effect (when this is what I see in our known universe.)

    How does the theist come up with a method to determine what, in our universe, is exactly like God, what is similar to God, and what is not like God at all?

    Sam: But you have some idea of how something can come from nothing without a cause or reason?

    A. I don’t think “something came from nothing.” That is a strawperson. I don’t know what the universe “came” from. Could it be “nothing”? Sure. With my limited knowledge, this seems unlike anything I can fathom or have experienced. But so is a God; makes it pretty equal.

    B. When I don’t know, I don’t propose we add a new entity to the equation (“God”) that doesn’t present any solution (I.e.—“HOW did God do it?”) and only presents more questions. (Now we have to explain what “God” is.)