Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hard Questions For Christians

It's obvious from watching the daily interchanges between Christians and non-believers in social media like Twitter and Reddit that there are several question which any but the most stupid Christians simply will not answer, not even to say they don't know the answer.

It seems what they crave more than anything is certainty. Anything, even thinking of how to answer some questions, will not be permitted if it would introduce the slightest uncertainty. Either that, or they know the question exposes an invalid assumption, even a lie, in their faith.

The closer you get to the heart of their 'faith' the more defensive they become and the less likely you are to get an honest answer without having to wade through torrents of prevarication and diversionary tactics, often descending into abuse, condescension, indignation and accusations of persecution, or excuses to break off the conversation and offers to "agree to disagree".
  1. Why is 'nothing' assumed to be the default state of existence?

    This underpins the KCA and yet there appears to be no logic behind the assumption. If anything, the assumption is completely devoid of logic. What possible logical argument can be made to arrive at the conclusion that 'nothing' can exist? The idea is logically absurd.

    But even if you can somehow show that 'nothing' has any logical meaning in terms of existence, how can you then determine any of its characteristics, such as what can come from it?

    And yet religious apologists glibly trot out the article of faith that 'you can't get something from nothing' or 'nothing can come from nothing', then promptly abandon that argument by declaring that something can come from nothing but only if their god made of nothing and which came from nothing says the right magic spells.

    It's not hard to understand why Christians won't answer this one. What's hard to understand is why they persist in using an argument which they know is so flawed they are embarrassed by it and yet claim to be doing it in defence of a god of truth.

  2. What is your god made of if nothing existed before it created everything?

    If you get any response to this it won't ever answer the question; it will simply assert that the god in question is eternal and exists outside space and time. This of course intentionally side-steps the question completely. Yet the same faith insists that the only logical explanation for the existence of anything is that it must have been caused, "because everything that begins to exist must have a cause". Behind this claim lies an assumption that there is a set of things which don't begin to exist and yet the faithful can never say how they determined what should be in that set and why it should be restricted to only their favourite god.

    Obviously those who rely on this, the KCA, realise they are trying to get away with invalid assumptions that:

    1. Everything must have begun to exist.
    2. Therefore, everything needs a cause.
    3. My god is exempt from this but nothing else is, but somehow this doesn't invalidate assumptions a & b.
    4. There is no inconsistency in applying my 'logic' to your argument but declaring my argument exempt from it.

    And even if you manage to wade through that, you'll be no closer to knowing what the god being promoted is made from, even though it must be more complex that the universe it is claimed to have created to contain enough information to create it and keep it all under control, even before it starts monitoring your thoughts, listening to the constant babble of prayers and deciding which deserve to be answered, keeping a check on your sex life and whether you touch your genitalia and enjoy it, or if you are responsible for a man becoming sexually aroused because he caught a glimpse of your face, breasts or bottom.

  3. If complexity must be intelligently designed, who or what intelligently designed your god's complexity?

    This is the 'Teleological Argument' or 'Argument From Design' which, so far as biological systems are concerned, was refuted comprehensively by Darwin and Wallace in 1859. It can also be refuted by simple logical deduction.

    In order to have the knowledge and understanding to create a universe and all living species on earth, a perfect creator must necessarily be more complex than the universe it creates. In order to monitor and observe it, and thereby exercise some control over it, it must be able to hold a perfect conceptual model of the universe to be able to see and plan change. This model must include the god itself in the model, complete with a model of itself, ad infinitum, otherwise there will be a point at which its knowledge is imperfect.

    This means the creator must be infinitely complex. So, if complexity needs a creator, there must be another infinitely more complex creator, and another infinitely more complex than that one.... and so ad infinitum. An infinity of increasingly more complex infinitely complex creators and requiring a concept of larger and smaller infinities.

    This is probably as close as you can come to a position so logically absurd as to not warrant even considering, so rendering the entire 'complexity must be designed' argument absurd. Like the KCA, an example of a theological argument which its proponents need immediately to try to abandon to try to make it work. A form of special pleading so common in theology where their small god has to be granted special privilege to compete with the big boys of science and normal grown up logic.

    A veritable triumph of theological argument that! It results in the god being defended and promoted as infinitely wise and powerful, being reduced to an inadequate little god which needs affirmative action to compete on an equal footing with science and maths, and for the humans it allegedly created being required not to use the intelligence it allegedly endowed them with for anything other than making excuses for its inadequacies. Its followers claim it created us to worship it and wonder at it's power and majesty, yet they insist we treat it like a handicapped child - which of course, being unintelligently designed by inadequate people, it very probably would be - if it were real.

    So, as with the KCA, it's not hard to understand why Christians won't answer the question but not why they use an argument they know to be false to defend a god they claim is a god of truth and honesty from whom they get their 'good' morals.

  4. Assuming you are right and the only way to explain everything is to invoke a supernatural explanation, how did you conclude that your god was the only possible supernatural one which could do it?

    There will of course never be an answer to this question because any Christian with an IQ higher than a plank will know there is no way to answer it. There is no way to investigate the supernatural to determine the range of possibilities and to eliminate all the others bar one. Nor is it possible to make any comparisons between all the different possible supernatural explanations.

    You will get a response of sorts, though. You will get an assertion that theirs is the only god, so no others need be considered but they will never explain why other than with a passage from a book they have learned to chant when faced with that cognitive dissonance, rather like a protective mantra. They will never explain why the logic by which they conclude that all other hypothetical gods are false should not apply to their god.

    The reason they won't answer this question is, again, because the answer is frankly embarrassing. It's almost invariably because they've learned to avoid the question and so have never really thought about it, preferring to just assume that someone else must have done the work at some point and that's why their family and so many other people in their culture believe it.

    In effect, they are too embarrassed to admit they've just taken someone else's word for it and can't now admit they could be wrong. It's our old friends, intellectual indolence and ignorant parochial arrogance to the rescue.

  5. If you get your knowledge of right and wrong from the Bible, how can you tell it wasn't written by Satan?

    This question often evokes an abusive response but never an answer. I have been asking it repeatedly on Twitter, and in a blog, How Do You Know Satan Didn't Write The Bible?, for over a year now. In that time the blog has had 13937 hits at the time of writing. No one has yet given a coherent answer.

    Of course, this strikes at the heart of a central tenet of Christian faith - that there are no objective morals without a god to hand them down (and that therefore Christians are morally superior since they have the one true god therefore the one true moral code).

    And yet they are unable to resolve the paradox of therefore not knowing if their faith (and the morals that come with it) is the work of an evil being intending to deceive, or those of a good being wishing them well.

    In actual fact, of course, almost without exception, Christians will have worked out ways to explain away the obviously wrong things commanded by their god in the Bible and to take only the good stuff, such as it is. Clearly, they are applying an external standard of morality when they now reject the endorsement of slavery, selling daughters, forcing a rape victim to marry the rapist and, increasingly, the inferior position of women in the Bible. The reason Christians, on the whole, don't any longer behave like the god of the Bible is because they now know better.

    So, to answer this question honestly would necessitate them admitting that the Bible is not the word of a perfect, and perfectly moral, god, from which their claim to power and authority is derived. Rather than give up that they would rather abandon intellectual honesty and personal integrity, yet, in doing so, they reveal to the rest of the world that their 'faith' is being used as an excuse for something they are not owning up to, probably understandably so.

  6. If your god has always known all your decisions since before it created you, can you make different ones?

    Stated more simply, this question could be, "If your god knows what you will have for breakfast tomorrow, can you choose something else instead?"

    Like the previous question, I have been asking it for well over a year on Twitter in one form or another and on a blog, On Omniscience And Freewill, for over two years, and have still to receive a sensible answer. The few attempts to answer it have invariably been muddled and contradictory, arguing that there is some way in which a god can not know your actual choices yet still know what you would choose, or that omniscience merely means knowing the entire range of possible choices. Even one attempt to argue that the god can choose to forget what it knows so it both knows and doesn't know simultaneously.

    Of course the simple logic is that if you can surprise a god, that god isn't omniscient, and if you can't surprise that god, you don't have free will.

    The reason most 'sensible' Christians refuse to answer this question is because it destroys the very foundation of their religion - the notion of original sin and the need for redemption through Jesus. If man doesn't have freewill then everything is pre-ordained and there was no original sin, merely the fulfilment of predestination. The notion of an omniscient god also renders that god powerless, constrained by it's own inerrant knowledge of the future. If there is freewill then the Christian god isn't omniscient and so has no moral authority by which to judge us.

    Refusal to contemplate this paradox at the heart of their faith shows us that Christians are only too aware that their 'faith' is based on a lie. From that simple observation we can conclude that the Christian 'faith' is not something they actually believe to be true but something which has a mere utility value; an excuse and something to threaten and control others with.

  7. Praying Hands
    Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
  8. What is the purpose of prayer?

    You would think that, since they spend so much time allegedly praying, Christians would be able to answer this question easily and succinctly, but not a bit of it. I have been asking this on Twitter and in a blog, Can Someone Explain The Purpose Of Prayer, Please? for about nine months, and no coherent answers.

    The problem is with the Christian god's alleged omniscience, omni-benevolence and inerrancy. If it already knows what's happening, then the purpose of prayer can't be to inform it. If it is omni-benevolent then it will have already ensured that that which does the most good is being done. There is no point in asking it to stop something undesirable from happening or to make something desirable happen, because it will always have been aware of these things and will have prevented them if they are not in the prayer's interest. It will already be aware of any declarations of adoration or gratitude and it will be aware of any insincerity, so the purpose of prayer can't be to fool it.

    None of this is hard to work out so most Christians will be aware of it - which is why they won't ever answer the question honestly. Clearly, they either know the real purpose of prayer has nothing to do with its stated function, or they don't believe their god is omniscience and or omni-benevolent.

    In fact, it looks for all the world as though it is fear of their god which is driving them and prayer is an attempt to mollify and pacify it, like the actions of pagans in trying to pacify a volcano or earthquake god. Not surprisingly, none of them are going to own up to that.
A formative influence on my undergraduate self was the response of a respected elder statesmen of the Oxford Zoology Department when an American visitor had just publicly disproved his favourite theory. The old man strode to the front of the lecture hall, shook the American warmly by the hand and declared in ringing, emotional tones: “My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.” And we clapped our hands red.
Richard Dawkins, 1996
Just a few very simple questions and yet they provoke the most extraordinary response in Christians. To be fair, it's not just Christians who panic at these or similar questions. Muslims are also especially prone to it and readily resort to abuse and threatened or actual violence rather than answer them.

It's quite astounding how the need to handle uncomfortable cognitive dissonance can provoke such a spectacular and revealing response in religious people. Imagine a scientist being confronted with simple questions which show his theory to be wrong. The sensible thing to do would be to thank his questioner for correcting his error and to change or abandon his theory. To do anything else would earn the justified opprobrium of his colleagues and reduce his standing immeasurably in the scientific community.

Christians, on the other hand, gain kudos for their creativity and skill at avoiding the embarrassing questions and finding ways to blame the questioner. Christian apologists earn their living inventing new ways to avoid the obvious and wave it aside.


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23 comments :

  1. Very interesting! Those questions must be really hard for not only Christians but all sorts of religious people to answer.

    And now a tip from me. The New Scientist (Magazine issue No. 2893, from December 3 2012) has a big section dealing with some of the same questions as Rosa does.

    The section is called "Before the big bang: something or nothing".

    This link gives you access to the section in The New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21628932.000-before-the-big-bang-something-or-nothing.html?full=true .

    But just for nine more days. So hurry on if you want to read it wirhout paying for it.

    Here are some titbits from the long article:

    In the context of known physics, however, Vilenkin and Mithani conclude that, whatever way you look at it, the universe cannot have existed forever so it must have had a beginning. But how did it begin? According to Vilenkin, quantum theory has a solution because it permits something to pop out of nothing - with that something being a small universe that starts to inflate, cycle or hang for an extremely long time before inflating.

    Can we really be sure now that the universe had a beginning? Or are we in for an infinite cycle of belief and disbelief over the matter? "For the first time in history, we have the tools to address the origin question scientifically," says Vilenkin. "So I have a feeling we are getting near to the truth."

    Still, cosmologists have plenty of other big questions to keep them busy. If the universe owes its origins to quantum theory, then quantum theory must have existed before the universe. So the next question is surely: where did the laws of quantum theory come from? "We do not know," admits Vilenkin. "I consider that an entirely different question." When it comes to the beginning of the universe, in many ways we're still at the beginning.

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    1. >Still, cosmologists have plenty of other big questions to keep them busy. If the universe owes its origins to quantum theory, then quantum theory must have existed before the universe. So the next question is surely: where did the laws of quantum theory come from?<

      A theory is a human attempt to explain what it observed. The 'laws of quantum theory', like all descriptive scientific laws, are descriptions or mathematical models of what is observed to happen, not to be confused with proscriptive, coercive human laws. There is nothing to suggest that the universe needs to be coerced into doing something it would not otherwise do.

      Neither of them need to pre-exist what they explain or describe any more so than a description of a painting can pre-exist the painting. Pebbles do not need to check that they have the right number present when you find one next to another and call them two pebbles, yet the 'laws of mathematics' say that 1+1=2.

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  2. I will answer the first one. The answer is that you have a malformed definition of the word nothing, wherein it is actually something. Aristotle had a good definition for nothing; he said that nothing is what rocks dream about. When we say nothing, we mean that there is not anything.

    Nothing has no properties, no causal powers, no existence. It is nothing. Reifying negative terms may be a fun joke, such as the dialogue depicted in your image, blogging about nothing. But that is not how I would wield this argument. So nothing is not the default state of existence.

    I think that definition resolves this question. It is not difficult to affirm the notion that that physical material cannot come from no physical material with absolutely no cause.

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    1. So this 'nothing that rocks dream about'. How do you think the rock would define it? Would the definition involve space and time at all? If not, in what sense can it have existed/not existed before space and time, please? If so, where did said space and time come from without coming from a different nothing which preceded your nothing? Would this 'nothing' actually exist at all? Hint: the answer to that is either 'yes' or 'no'.

      If 'yes', in what sense of the word 'exist'?

      If 'no', how did you examine this nothing to arrive at the conclusions about it's qualities in order to, without difficulty, 'affirm' what it can't do, namely 'cause' space, time and energy to exist, please, especially given our observation that particle-antiparticle pairs can arise spontaneously in a quantum vacuum, and the well-documented Casimir Effect, please?

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    2. Actually, something can come from nothing, depending on your definition. Eg., energy has been proven to be converted into mass, or material. If energy meets the definition of "nothing", then....

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  3. Rosa it would appear as if you were deliberating trying to miss lead your readers. You stated that:
    A)Everything must have begun to exist.
    B)Therefore, everything needs a cause.
    C)My god is exempt from this but nothing else is, but somehow this doesn't invalidate assumptions a & b.
    D)There is no inconsistency in applying my 'logic' to your argument but declaring my argument exempt from it."

    However that is not at all what the cosmological actually is. I can only assume you meant to put:
    A) Everything that has a beginning needs a cause.
    B) The universe had a beginning.
    C) the universe needs a cause.
    D) it cannot be an infinite regress caused cause.
    E) there must be a cause for all else which has no beginning and needs no cause for its own existence.

    As you can see this is a very different argument. Premise a and b in your statement are both incorrect, only things that require and beginning need a cause. Therefore since a and b are incorrect one can only assume you conclusion is necessarily wrong. Please help me to understand what you actually intended because what you have now is logical incoherent and does not follow the premises of the cosmological argument.

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    1. Thank you but I meant what I said.

      I'm sorry if it embarrassed you.

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    2. The four point you cite is not an attempt to state the argument, but a case of pointing out the problems with the argument, as indicated by the statement immediately preceding the four points: "Obviously those who rely on this, the KCA, realise they are trying to get away with invalid assumptions that..."

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    3. There is nothing logically distinct between an infinite regress of caused causes and a thing that exists which has no beginning. Both require a form of infinity.

      In mathematical terms, this logical parlor game would look something like this:

      a) I really want to divide by zero.
      b) Division by zero is undefined.
      c) There must be some thing that is defined in such a way as to make division by zero legal, because I really want to do it.

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  4. If everything did in fact begin to exist then your argument would be valid, but certain things did not begin to exist. At this point I do not want to argue why certain things do not require a beginning, rather I want to know where you found the first two premises of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. You state that "those who rely on this, the KCA, realise they are trying to get away with invalid assumption." However since you did not use the premises KCA states I would like to know what your argument is based on?

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    1. So this set of all things which didn't begin to exist. How did you determine what should be in that set and what shouldn't, please?

      You may wish to spend a little time thinking about this and working out your reasoning. Hint: "it says so in a book written by pre-wheel Bronze Age goat herders" isn't going to convince me.

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  5. Whatever causes the universe to appear must not be inside of space, because there was no space causally prior to the creation event. The cause must therefore be non-physical, because physical things exist in space. In addition whatever causes the universe to appear cannot be bound by time because there was no passage of time causally prior to the big bang. In summary things that never had a beginning do not require a cause, but the universe did begin to exist therefore it needs a cause. If there were no first cause, the chain of causes never would have started. Therefore, there is, at the beginning at least, an uncaused cause that had no beginning. This first cause is God. He would fit in that set.

    Also, you failed to present any references to support your version of the KCA.

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    1. I'm sorry you were unable to answer my question. Since your assumed set of all things which don't begin to exist is essential to your argument, unless you can do so, you have no argument.

      You may wish to be honest at this point and admit that you can't explain you reasoning and are just relying on a form of the 'god of the gaps' argument, hoping I'll assume the only occupant of your assumed set of things which don't begin to exist is the Bronze Age goat herders' god you are trying to foist on me.

      As I'm neither that parochial nor that ignorant, you may wish to revise your strategy.

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    2. If a hypothetical individual was spreading a distorted truth, would they cause others to become ignorant?

      I know that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but if someone was to make up the first couple premises of an argument we would consider the argument distorted and invalid. If you would like to make up your own cosmological argument that is fine with me, just call it “Rosa's cosmological Argument”.

      I have requested three times that you provide me with your source. If you are right and the cosmological argument backs your premises then you should have no problem finding the original source.

      I do not wish to revise my strategy because my argument is not based on a “book written by pre-wheel Bronze Age goat herders," but rather the KCA! There is a difference. It was proposed by a Muslim philosopher and has absolutely nothing to do with their holy book. The argument merely states that universe had a beginning therefore it needs a cause.

      You may not be parochial, but you seem unwilling to answer my simple question.

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    3. When you are able to answer my question and state how you decided what things should be in the set of things which don't begin to exist (not including that you just wanted them to be there so you could beg the question and rig the debate to prove the Bronze Age goat herders you admire were right) then I'll take your argument seriously.

      Until then, I'll treat it as yet another example of the god of the gaps fall-back argument which theists resort to because they don't have any facts, evidence, reason or logic they can use, and of the lengths theists need to go to to deal with the cognitive dissonance reality keeps causing them.

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    4. "This first cause is God"

      This is what infuriates me about theist arguments. Even if we agree that the universe needed a cause, how do you make the jump to that cause needing to be God? Just as we know our world is round and there is a whole universe beyond it, science is starting to deduce that our universe is a part of some larger frame of existence. Good 'ole "god of the gaps" arguments...

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  6. Dear Rosa:

    I just discovered your site--well done. You have a gift for simple analysis and explanation. Much like another of my favorite writers on this topic, Greta Christina.

    It would appear that Mr. Hiscox has drunk deep of the Kool-Aid. I am always amazed that otherwise intelligent people don't recognize Aquinas for the used-car salesman he was, and that the "Argument from Motion" isn't a logical progression, but a simple contradiction.

    However, arguments to that effect usually concentrate on the "well, then, what caused this god?" side of the coin. The flip side is more interesting...if this god can be uncaused, then why can't an infinite number of other things also be uncaused? For example, I, for one, hold that Harry Potter is uncaused.

    Here is a good (although ultimately unavailing), simple explanation of the cosmological argument from apologists: http://carm.org/cosmological-argument. Most tellingly, it ends with this:

    "Also, by definition, God is uncaused."

    Well, that's refreshing! We'll just build the conclusion into the preliminary definition of terms! Uh...but who says that this god is uncaused? Oh, that's right--those same illiterate Bronze Age goatherds.

    I think that Mr. Hiscox needs to meditate on the term "unsupported assertion."

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  7. here is a link on KCM -it contains arguments against it by major thinkers and physicist etc.Kalam cosmological argument

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  8. the nothing every1 talks about is nonsence...scientist have their reasons2think it.ive read universe from nothing...
    what i took from that book and other sources...
    the universe is clearly a recycled universe...
    one that has always been here..
    humans live and die so we expect the universe 2 have a beginin and a end..
    well heres the news...
    its never started and never ends..
    prove it? i cant but i can accept it.
    the big bang was the end reaction of the lat universe and the beginin of ours.the black stars in the center of galaxies are like massive particle accelerators...
    they turn matter back into its particle form.smallest form.. caused by the jets of stars.dont say holes cuz theres no holes in space...when dark matter interacts with this new form of matter.it expands the universe til all the matter is turned 2 dust..thn the dark matter moves from the reaction of the 2...it moves to the outside of the universe.pressing the matter back2 the center.to form 1 hell of a wild ass star that immediatly explodes (big bang again)that forms everything u see 2day...thn itll do it all over and over and over.making new forms of life each time...im happy with that.it explains our place.and explains the sheer numbers of planets and life.IT FUCKIN BEAUTIFUL AND FITS..fuck nothing..#recycled universe

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  9. hi, Rosa -

    I just wanted to (attempt) to answer Question 7 - Why Do People Pray?

    Well, even the most logical Atheist knows "why" people pray, even if the answer itself is illogical - they are trying to "talk to God." Some people go so far as to say that it is the same as Meditation, but I totally disagree with that. Some have made the comparison that prayer is "talking to god", while meditation is "talking with god."

    I'm still not sure what exactly meditation is, besides attempting to calm the stressed-out mind, but it is definitely NOT "talking with god."

    Aside from that brief explanation, I'm not sure what else prayer may be "for."

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  10. Hi Rosa,

    I noticed this line under your masthead: All posts © Rosa Rubicondior. Contents may be reproduced without permission provided credit is given to the author, it is not altered in any way, the context is made clear and a link is provided to the original.

    You have six cartoons that provide no credit lines or links back to the original. As the owner of one of these cartoons (the HAILDUBYUS one), I'd really appreciate the same courtesy that you request :)

    Greg Uchrin
    Formerly of HAILDUBYUS.COM continued since 2009 as Intravenous Caffeine, ivcaffeine.com

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    1. Of course, though I should point out that most of them, including yours, already include an integral statement of copyright and all are in the public domain already where ownership is untraceable. I assume they were placed there by their owners originally.

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  11. Hi Rosa. I had to laugh at some of your cartoons - especially the strawman ID class one. You've said that Christians crave certainty. Are you certain of that?

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