Why God could not possibly have created the universe (pt 3)

Sun

Posts here and here considered two reasons why Christians’ claim that their God created the cosmos is preposterous. A third reason is that –

God as creator leads to an infinite regress.

Christians like to assert that everything that has a beginning has a cause; the universe had a beginning therefore it had to have a cause. That cause – watch the unwarranted leap of faith here – can only have been have been their god. My previous arguments notwithstanding – that God needed to create everything from nothing (which according to Christians is impossible) and the immaterial cannot produce the material – the notion that god caused everything begs the question, as Richard Dawkins points out, of who caused his being. If, as Christians like to argue, everything has a cause then their god must have one too. Their assertion that he is the exception because, by definition, he has no beginning and consequently has no need of a cause is merely special pleading; why should he be different from everything else?

Christian apologists – William Lane Craig, for example – always assume that the first cause is their god, without a beginning and need of a cause. Their thinking goes as follows: everything that exists has a cause; the universe must have had a first cause; this first cause was somehow sentient; we are going to call this sentience ‘god’; this god must be our god, YHWH.

Yet they provide no evidence that there is, or was, a first cause; there could have been several contributory causes, including chemical, physical (gravity, for example) and activity on a quantum level. They then make the unwarranted assumption that this cause must have been sentient, again without evidence, and load this presumption with further insupportable connotations when they label it ‘god’. Finally, they make another leap of faith by claiming this ‘god’ is their god, YHWH.

This is all so much special pleading, insisting everything has a cause except the thing Christians don’t want to have had a cause. But God cannot be excluded; he too must have a cause (and indeed he does). So who or what caused him and gave him his start? And who or what created whatever it was that created god? Who or what created that? And on into infinite regress.

Those who offer such arguments put the proverbial cart 613.772 billion years before the horse. As Richard Dawkins says in The God Delusion, intelligence and creativity have only ever arisen as a result of evolution, specifically the evolution of the (human) brain. We know of no other means – there is no other means – by which intelligence and high-level creativity are produced. For a creative, super-intelligent mind to exist prior to the beginning of everything is, therefore, an impossibility. As I suggested in the second part of this series, the physical always precedes the immaterial; the natural world produced the advanced human brain about 200,000 years ago, and that brain has, ever since, projected its gods backward to the beginnings of the universe. This does not mean that a being without a beginning was actually there, much less that he produced the whole show. It means we know the cause of god. It is us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why God couldn’t possibly have created the universe (pt 2)

Where'sGod

More thoughts on why it is impossible that a God, much less the God of the bible, could have made everything.

2. The supernatural and immaterial cannot create the natural and material.

Let’s explore a little more of the nature of the God of the Christians. He is, they say, transcendent; ephemeral, intangible, invisible, ineffable, wholly spiritual. He is super-natural, existing on a plane outside the universe of matter, separate and removed from it and unlike any aspect of it. The bible implies as much and Christians have elaborated on these qualities throughout the millennia. The Christian God is everything, in fact, apart from physical matter (yes, those who claim to know all about this unknowable being assert he took on physical form as Jesus, but he’d yet to do that at the beginning of everything; 6000 years ago if you believe nutjobs like Ken Ham, 613.772 billion years if you accept the science.)

There is no incidence anywhere, no evidence that has ever existed ever, that demonstrates that something ephemeral, immaterial and super-natural is capable of creating the concrete, tangible and natural. To draw an analogy or two: music, which as heard is ephemeral and intangible, does not create the physical objects of the orchestra that play it. It does not look back as it vibrates through the air and conjure up the instruments from which it emanates.

Similarly, human thought, itself largely ephemeral and capable of imagining possibilities that don’t yet exist, does not of itself produce physical objects. However much you picture your ideal house in your mind, it will not produce the bricks and mortar without you taking action to realise them. This is always the case (and why prayer, spells and other wishful thinking are always ineffective); further action is required if what the human mind can imagine is to become a reality – some manipulation of the physical world. In all of our experience, in everything we know of reality, the transcendent cannot and does not produce anything material, ever. Music does not produce the orchestra. Thoughts do not construct the house; they must be translated into action, in the form of engagement with the physical world, for anything to materialise.

Two things follow: while the transcendent or spiritual cannot create anything in the real world without the corresponding physical activity, the reverse is not the case. Physical activity can and does produce the ephemeral. The instruments of the orchestra can produce music. The synapses of the brain can produce thought, love, empathy, desire. These do not exist, like other abstract concepts such as peace, hope and beauty, outside the physical human brain. In this reality, as opposed to that of the bible and the Creation Museum, the physical is always primary; it always comes first, the transcendent second. Never the other way round.

This, in fact, would appear to be a ‘law’ of the universe. As such, it is impossible a transcendent, supernatural being could have created the natural, material world. Applying this law, it can only be the case that the physical reality – or some aspect of it (guess what) – imagined the transcendent, without it having any real existence. No amount of physical activity has ever been able to produce it. If Christians therefore want to postulate a spiritual being as the first cause they need explain how the universal law that the physical always precedes the non-physical came to be overturned.

More to follow. Part one of this series is here.

 

 

Why God couldn’t possibly have created the universe (pt 1)

Preacher

I’m doing some thinking aloud here in an attempt to address the Christian claim that atheists are somehow compelled to believe the universe arose from nothing. Nothing can’t create something they say, so a creator is required – and what do you know? This creator turns out to be their very own pet god, YHWH, in one of his many incarnations. Definitely not Allah, Ra or any of the other hundreds of creator gods dreamed up by mankind through the millennia.

I’m not convinced atheists do claim that the universe can only have come from nothing. It’s an argument put into the mouths of atheists by some Christians who say, in effect, ‘if you don’t accept that our God made the universe then you have to believe it came from nothing.’ But it is the result of a false dichotomy (or false witness) because the position is not the only alternative to claim that a supernatural entity made everything. Lawrence Krauss, for example, demonstrates how something can arise from nothing and he and other scientists tell us that in any case there is no such thing as nothing – there’s always something, if ‘only’ at the quantum level.

The notion then, that in God’s absence the universe can only have come from nothing is a straw man, created by Christians desperate to diminish, dilute and dismiss scientifically viable alternative explanations.

It’s patently dishonest. (Christians being intellectually dishonest? Whoever heard of such a thing?) It’s dishonest because, in fact, it is Christians who believe the physical universe was created from nothing. I’m going to attempt to show you that they do and in the process dismantle their claims that their God was the one who magicked up everything from this nothing.

1. God too would have had to have create something from nothing.

Here’s the problem. God had nothing to go on. No raw materials with which to create the universe, and no raw materials from which to make the raw materials. There was only him and nothing. It is not unreasonable to ask, therefore, where the material from which he made the universe came from. The necessary ingredients for a universe – gravity, black holes, dark matter, dark energy, vast quantities of chemicals and what-have-you – are all physical phenomena, none of which existed before god allegedly made them. So, from what did he make them?

Perhaps he used parts of himself, in which case, he’s been depleted ever since, missing those bits of himself he used to make matter. Or maybe he turned part of himself into the physical universe so that he retained his integrity while integrating the universe into his very being – like a divine dream, say, or a tattoo.

The bible, however, doesn’t support either of these propositions. It makes clear that God created the earth and that which surrounds it (it has little concept of the universe as we now know it) as entities entirely separate from himself. His creation did not deplete him, nor was it a part of him (though he wasn’t, in the early days, averse to making guest appearances in it). Which bring us back to my original question; with what did he make it when there was only himself and nothing? Everything, Christians tells us, is made from something, so if God did not make the universe out of himself then he can only have made it from nothing. Everything there is, everything there has ever been – from gas clouds to planets, bugs to brains – God apparently produced from nothing.

Those who argue for this – and everyone who says God made everything is doing just that whether they realise it or not – does not advance our understanding of how the universe came into being one iota. All it does is introduce a sentient being into the equation, long before sentient beings existed. Moreover, the presence of such a being is superfluous, adding only unnecessary complication while explaining… absolutely nothing. Applying Occam’s razor we can just as easily take God out of the equation and be no worse off. There is a far greater probability that phenomena that do actually exist created the universe, not one that is mere conjecture.

 

Next time we will look at an empirical and logical impossibility that also means (a) God can’t have had anything ot do with it.

 

More fairly random, half-formed thoughts on Evolution

Flintstones42

(Note to self: check the captions to this and last time’s pictures are the right way round.)

 

3. On God in Nature

God is revealed in nature! The bible says so (Romans 1.20) and you don’t even have to be a Creationist to see it – the evidence is there in plain sight.

But to suggest that, because aspects of nature are beautiful (or stunning or endearing) from a human perspective, the natural world can only have come from the hand of a loving Creator is merely to argue from a position of incredulity: “I can’t conceive how such beauty came to be; it must have been God.”

I live close to the countryside and although there is much that is impressively beautiful, the mercilessly cruel working of nature is also apparent: ruthless competition, even between plants and certainly among animal wildlife; waste on a vast scale; predation – young blue-tit (chickadee) chicks in my garden eaten a few weeks ago by magpies – death and sex.

The incredulous believer who refuses to see these aspects of nature and sees only beauty – and much of it is undeniably beautiful – is being disingenuous in their selection of evidence (confirmation bias in action). If God reveals himself in nature, then just as it is, he has to be callous, cruel and indifferent to suffering too.

“Ah, yes,” says the Christian, “but that’s because we live in a fallen world,” which is having it both ways: God is apparent in nature, except when he isn’t… because then it’s a fallen world.

Speaking of which –


4. On This Being a Fallen World

Creationists, such as those at Answers In Genesis, like to argue that genetic mutations in humans and animals fail to ‘increase the information’ and, further, that such errors would only lead to malfunction and the death of the organism. They’re right about the latter; significant mutation is almost always detrimental. However, according to Nature, ‘others have little or no detrimental effect. And sometimes, although very rarely, the change in DNA sequence may even turn out to be beneficial to the organism.’ A mutation that increases the chances an animal will survive and reproduce ensures that the particular mutation is passed on to its offspring.

The constant shuffling and recombining of genes in sexual reproduction also changes and ‘increases the information’ within the genome with the consequent effect on the phenotype (the genome’s physical expression). This is analogous with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet producing new, unique sentences, paragraphs and texts every time they are recombined.

Creationists are wrong therefore to insist that mechanisms do not exist to change or add to genetic ‘information’. They are wrong too that variations caused by mutation cannot contribute to the evolution of an organism; while most born with such variance are likely to die before they can reproduce (natural selection in action) a minority are able to pass on the changes. Mutation and sexual recombination of genes are integral to evolution and the development of the organism.

I mention this because the bible presents quite a different scenario. In Genesis, the world and everything in it is created in a state of perfection. Then, because of human disobedience and sin, God feels compelled to curse his entire creation and the sudden or gradual – Christians are none to clear about which it is – transition to degradation, entropy and death begins.

It’s here that creationists’ objection to the role of mutation in evolution proves a stumbling block for their own scenario: a system designed to function in a particular way cannot continue to operate effectively after undergoing such a radical, brutal overhaul. We know of no other system that, having undergone such demolition, can continue to work in the way it was intended to, and certainly not as effectively as the ecosystem has for millennia. Look, for example, at how human activity has contributed recently to radical changes in climate.

Nature relies on those things that Christians say arose because of God’s curse on it: death, disease, waste, competition, cruelty. A system with such inherent ‘faults’, so far removed from how it was ‘designed’ to operate, would have failed long ago.

From this we can conclude that:

Nature/ecosystems/life were not ‘designed’ at all.

     They were never part of a ‘perfect’ creation.

         They were not cursed and are not now faulty components of a fallen,     malfunctioning world – nor could they be.

                       They could not operate any differently from the way they do.

                             They will not, despite what the bible says (Romans 8.20-21), be restored one day to a state of perfection they didn’t have in the first place.

 

Big Bang Theory

BigBang

You’re probably familiar with William Paley’s teleological argument for the existence of God. If you haven’t used it yourself then you’ll have been subjected to it by proselytising believers. A couple of days ago I had someone treat me to an updated version of the argument.

I was on the phone with a sales-person, talking about his company’s product, when he decided it would be a good time to dust off the old idea, give it a make-over and use it to convince me of God’s existence.

He started by asking me if I would agree that a computer must have an intelligent designer; I agreed this was so (though I have my reservations.) He responded with ‘how much more then must the universe and life on Earth – being so much more complex than a computer – also have an intelligent designer.’ He said this was ‘something to think about,’ and I agreed it was, though maybe this wasn’t the best answer I could’ve given.

Having ‘demonstrated’ that everything must be intelligently designed, my new friend announced that this was therefore irrefutable proof that Allah must have made everything.

Oops. I’m sure this isn’t what the Reverend Paley had in mind when he devised his watch analogy two centuries ago. His proof, however, is every bit as much a demonstration of Allah’s existence and creativeness as it is Yahweh’s. Or Vishnu’s or Marduk’s or any other of the multitude of deities credited with intelligently creating the universe and life in this insignificant part of it. Any one of them could’ve done it according to the teleological argument. Take your pick and sign up for the set of beliefs that corresponds with your choice.

But wait – complex machines like watches and computers bear no relation to anything in nature. A watch found on a heath, as Paley conjectures, or computers in hedgerows, can only have got there because a human being put them there (fly-tipping again). They would not be there because they’d arisen, like the rocks, grass and other plants that surround them, through the processes involved when nature creates something. Moreover, we know that machines have intelligent creators, because we are they. What doesn’t follow is that because man-made objects are demonstrably the product of intelligence that natural ones, which, remember, bear no relation to computers, watches, cars and CAT scanners, are as well.

We are gaining more understanding of how the universe came to be. Significantly, it doesn’t require that there is intelligence behind it. If it did, we would then need to explain how that intelligence arose, who created it and by what process. To say, as religious believers are wont to do, that this supreme intelligence has always existed is no explanation at all. If we’re to have something that has always existed then it is far more likely to be that which we know really does exist, rather than something we don’t. Conceding the longevity of the components of the universe, which we know to exist, is a far better bet than inventing deities to account for it. A God no more explains life, the universe and everything than do fairies the intricacies of my computer (gremlins maybe, but not fairies.)

For all that, life on Earth does have a creator. The genealogy of the universe tells us that physics begat chemistry begat biology. (‘But if life emerged from physical and chemical processes, then how come there’s still physics and chemistry?’) All life on Earth, including ourselves, is the product of these processes, ‘the blind watchmaker‘ that Richard Dawkins speaks of. They are not intelligent, do not have names like Yahweh or Allah and do not, on their own, create the machines that only humans can design.

Is there anybody out there?

KenAnyone searching for extra-terrestrial life – NASA, SETI and so on – can stop now. We know definitively that there isn’t any out there. How do we know? Because Ken Ham says so. The Bible – Genesis specifically – doesn’t mention life on other planets so that means there isn’t:

(T)he notion of alien life does not square well with Scripture. The earth is unique. God designed the earth for life. The other planets have an entirely different purpose than does the earth, and thus, they are designed differently… where does the Bible discuss the creation of life on the “lights in the expanse of the heavens”? There is no such description because the lights in the expanse were not designed to accommodate life [this is utter gibberish; life within stars? Who has ever suggested that?] God gave care of the earth to man, but the heavens are the Lord’s. From a biblical perspective, extraterrestrial life does not seem reasonable.

But hang on a minute! The Bible doesn’t mention other planets, never mind whether there’s life on them. It doesn’t tell us anything about cultures outside of a small area in the Middle East, doesn’t mention the Americas or Australasia, doesn’t have anything to say about microbes, anti-biotics, computers or technology in general. It must follow, therefore – to use Ken’s logic – that none of these things exist either.

The reason the Bible doesn’t mention any of them, and a myriad of other things, is not because they don’t exist but because the primitive priests and ignorant scribes who wrote Genesis and the rest of Ken’s magic book didn’t know that they did. They had no concept that the Earth is a planet, let alone that there are others; they had no idea that the sun is a star, nor that other stars, which they thought were attached to the inner surface of a canopy surrounding the Earth, are suns. With such a limited cosmology the possibility that there might be life on other planets was as alien to them as, well, aliens themselves.

Whether there is extra-terrestrial life, and whether any of it is intelligent, we may never know. But either way, Ham’s deity will have no bearing on it, nor it on the Christian God. The existence of aliens, like their absence, won’t breathe life into an already discredited idea.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 20: The Lord God Made Them All

creation

The poster outside a church in my neighbourhood informs all who pass by that ‘the Earth is the Lord’s and everything that is in it’ (Psalm 24.1). Christians seem to think it’s important that their deity is the one who made the universe and life in this particular small part of it. Some even go so far as to say their God (though being Jewish he wasn’t their God back then, of course) made the world and all of its occupants including ourselves, literally within 6 days, about 6,000 years ago. I suppose that’s where you end up if your premise is that mythical beings, like ol’ Jehovah, actually exist. A third of Americans believe in Creation, innumerable web-sites insist an Intelligent Designer is responsible for life on Earth and street preachers are happy to tell you that evolution is a lie. ‘Were you there?’ asks Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, as if this clinches the deal.

But let’s be generous. Let’s concede that we don’t know how life started on this planet – because we don’t – and let’s jump to the conclusion that therefore it must’ve been the Christian God. It’s not a very convincing line of reasoning, I know, but I’m being generous as I say. So let’s acknowledge that the Lord did indeed make hummingbirds and butterflies, roses and angel fish, lambs and tygers and all other bright and beautiful things, more or less in their present form.

But that means we’ll also have to concede that he made mosquitoes, flies, lice, ring-worms, parasites of all descriptions, E-Coli, pneumacoccus, all manner of harmful bacteria, viruses, AIDs, cancer – and on and on. The naturalist David Attenborough points out that Creationists are quick to give credit to their God for hummingbirds but that he himself sees ‘a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator.’

How do Christian creationists square their loving God with such harmful creatures?

There are only four possible ‘explanations’ available to them:

1. Harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites were ‘good’ when God first made them (Genesis 1.31). Then, like everything else, they become perverted when Adam and Eve ate some forbidden fruit.

But this creates more questions than it answers. What were these creatures like in their original forms? How did they live, when their ‘life-cycle’ depends on them infecting other forms? How did they change from being ‘good’ into the creatures they are today? It can’t have been by the process we know as evolution because, of course, evolution is a lie.

2. The Devil made them to plague mankind. He even made sure they survived Noah’s flood – no doubt in the bodies of Noah’s family and the animals supposedly on the Ark.

But if Satan did create them, doesn’t that make him as clever as God in his own way? (I know, I know, the devil doesn’t exist either but I’m trying to think like a Christian here). In any case, why would God let him? Ultimately, he’s responsible for his creation.

3. God made them because, even from the beginning, infections, infestations and disease were all part of what he considered ‘good’.

If this is the case, what an evil bastard he is, indistinguishable from Satan himself.

4. God, the Intelligent Designer just set things in motion at the beginning before leaving evolution to do his work for him.

But, as Darwin pointed out, evolution is a mindless, haphazard, wasteful process that relies heavily on sex and death. What is a supposedly loving, intelligent designer doing using it to bring about his creation? Did he forget that evolution is lie?

Which leaves us with the fact that if God designed and created all life intelligently, as many Christians want to believe, then much of his creation shows little sign of either his love or his intelligence. It does, however, show every sign of having come about as the result of a mindless, haphazard, wasteful process, in which all life-forms occupy their own particular niche to which they have adapted and have evolved, through an infinite amount of sex and death, into the life-forms we see today – hummingbirds and eye-burrowing worms included.