Saturday, 1 October 2016

8 questions

Here are my answers to @InspiredWalk's 8 questions. I've published these on Twitter before. Despite that, InspiredWalk continues to claim that no atheist has ever (nor can ever, for some unknown reason) answered them. 

The questions can be found here:

If you open a dictionary you'll see BOTH definitions, put in the alternative. We can say lack of belief is "weak atheism" while positive belief that no gods exist is "strong atheism".
The weak definition does NOT mean atheists are incapable of believing in god but simply that they don't hold a belief that a god exists.

question 2: no. I'd only become a Christian if I saw evidence that convinced me to Christianity. #atheism

question 3: I use my moral radar. The radar is partially built in and partially a factor of culture and reasoning. #atheism 

question 4 re guilt: you learn a lesson and move on,try not to screw up in the same way again. Re sin: no such thing #atheism 

q5: I act according to what I believe and to what I don't believe. I disagree regarding lack of evidence. #atheism 

q6: I can't prove how the universe was "created" and neither can you. But at least I'm honest about it. #atheism 

q7: I can prove there's most likely no god. See here: #atheism 

q7.2 I can also prove the biblical god (but not all gods)DEFINITELY doesn't exist because he's logically impossible. #atheism 

I'll most likely be cremated. Unless they disrespect my wishes. 



Monday, 22 June 2015

Would the disciples die for a lie?

"If Jesus wasn't resurrected how come the disciples were willing to die for their faith?"

As common as this this argument is, it fails at every level. 

1. We don't know if the disciples were actually martyred. The evidence for this is skimpy and grossly unreliable. Much of it derives from the book of Acts which in itself has some serious problems. For instance, Acts talks about some amazing miracles performed by the disciples. And yet there's no independent mention (anywhere in contemporaneous literature) of any of these wonders. One would expect that, if Paul really did bring the young man (Acts 20:9) back to life after killing him with his boring sermon (perfect plot for a Monty Python movie, only written 2000 years ago!), somebody else would have noticed it. There would at least exist an independently attested legend. And yet, nothing. Acts is a work of theology and not of history. 

2. But let's assume that many of the disciples were indeed martyred and did indeed happily go to their death. Does this mean the resurrection is true? No. Here's why. 

2a. The disciples may have honestly believed in the resurrection (whether bodily or just spiritual), even if the resurrection did not in fact take place. 

2a(i) they may have been mistaken. For example, if in fact there was an empty tomb (for whatever reason; and many are possible; each theory itself more likely than a resurrection) they may have wrongly but honestly concluded that Jesus was resurrected. Remember that this is the 1st century we are talking about, when superstition was on the daily menu. Also remember that the disciples were naturally traumatised by the sudden and tragic death of Jesus. Severe trauma can easily affect one's rational thought. Thirdly, if they truly believed Jesus was the messiah, it would be difficult for them to accept that he was executed and that was it. Messiah isn't supposed to die a convicts's death. Combine that with an empty tomb and you have a pretty good start to an honest and yet mistaken belief. Some or many of them may also have believed that Jesus appeared to them in some way or another. They were sure to have dreams about him. They may also have "seen" Jesus in other people (tradition of that can be seen on Luke 24; on the road to Emmaus). 

2a(ii) they may have been deceived. It's possible that resurrection was a pious lie. If so, it may have been initiated by some disciples and told to the others. For instance, suppose that Peter makes up (whether consciously or by way of delusion) that he saw Jesus alive and convinces the others that this is the case. Again, we have to remember that we are talking 1st century, when superstition ruled the day. We are also talking about disciples who were simple, uneducated people. History shows us thousands of scenarios where groups of people fall for all sorts of claims propagated by a (often charismatic) single individual, or a small group. How many Mormons are there? What about Muslims? What about Charles Manson and his crew? The Wacco wackos? And thousands more. 
And if some of the disciples were duped by others to believe in the resurrection, there's no reason why they couldn't happily go to death with this false belief. 

But if that be the case, what of those who invented the lie? Surely they didn't have an honest belief in the resurrection. Why would they be prepared to die? Actually, they MAY have had an honest belief. Quite simply, one, two or more of the disciples may have been delusional. Delusions are a common feature of the human condition. Just ask any psychiatrist. And very often, delusional individuals have a strong religious backdrop to their delusions. Hospitals are full of people who think they are Jesus reincarnated. They're also full of people who believe they're spoken to by saints. 

2b. Could the disciples (or at least some of them) deliberately lie and yet be willing to die? I left this possibility for last because this is usually how apologists put their case. "Who would be willing to die for a lie?" 
The only conclusion from this is that these apologists are either childishly naive or simply dishonest. The disciples were following Jesus during his lifetime and would have continued to follow him even if he had not been crucified. They had faith in his message which in itself didn't require a resurrection. The message was na apocalyptic one. The day of judgment is near. Jesus is a king but his kingdom is not of this world. Flesh and blood can never inherit the kingdom of God. We must love one another. Whoever wants to save his life must lose it. Jesus's death on the cross did not diminish this message. Since his kingdom is not of this world, the disciples could be assured that there is a world in which Jesus reigns, with or without there being a resurrection and certainly without the need for a PHYSICAL resurrection. 
The disciples weren't martyred because of resurrection. They were martyred because they followed Jesus. At the same time if they wanted their religion to spread and be successful, there's no reason why they wouldn't embellish or even invent some things. And nobody can claim that such a momentous thing as a resurrection wouldn't sound like an appealing sales pitch. 
Anyone who thinks true believers can't ever invent or embellish claims should read some apocryphal gospels. For instance the gospel of St Peter (which nobody believes was written by St Peter) describes the resurrection, complete with a talking cross and Christ's head stretching up all the way to heaven. As another example, Papias, an early church father (often relied on by apologists for his claims of gospel connection to eyewitnesses), wrote about Judas Iscariot urinating worms and his body being bloated to the size of a chariot. Ridiculous stories that nobody believes. And yet, there's no doubt that both have been created by people who truly believed in Jesus. 
Inventing a story or adding to an existing story or exaggerating facts in no way means that the individual doesn't truly believe OTHER facts about his religion. People exaggerate things and make up stories, often despite the best of their own intentions. It's human nature. 
Would the disciples be ready to die for a lie? Probably not (though not necessarily; there's no telling they were all rational or mentally well). But would they be willing to lie in order to bolster the religion they were already prepared to die for? There's no reason whatsoever to say that they wouldn't. 

To sum it all up, the apologist argument fails. The disciples' willingness to die for their beliefs doesn't mean the beliefs were based on actual facts. But even more than that. It's entirely possible that some or all of them could lie about the resurrection and yet still be ready to die for other beliefs that they did hold. 

Unless Christian apologists start coming up with some convincing arguments, Christianity is going down (and we already see a trend of this in the educated world). You simply can't treat 21sf century people like idiots; we are not the gullible superstitious peasants of 1st century Middle East. 

Comments are welcome. 


Friday, 19 June 2015

Resurrection? Or a confused, scared Mary?

Christian apologists have a history of relying on the "empty tomb" as proof that Jesus was resurrected. 

If Jesus was not resurrected, how could it be that when the women went to the tomb on that Sunday morning, they found it empty? 

There have been many responses by skeptics to this argument. Many perfectly natural theories have been advanced. They ranged from the swoon theory (Jesus didn't die; he was just badly wounded) to the theft theory (the body was stolen from the tomb). Each of these theories, while in itself unproven, is more probable than a resurrection. That's because tombs do get raided (and have in the first century as well), people do cheat death and hold on to dear life by a thread, only to fully recover later. On the other hand, resurrections do not happen. All these perfectly natural explanations are in themselves more likely than a man being raised from the dead. 

This does not mean that a resurrection can be 100% excluded. We don't and can't know that miracles can't ever happen. But the likelihood of a resurrection, when compared with that of any of these perfectly natural (and quite common) events is so small that it can be effectively ignored. 

Here then is my pet theory about the empty tomb. 

We know from ancient sources (and informed apologists are also well aware of this) that the bodies of executed criminals were usually buried in a dishonourable burial, in kind of a mass grave specially set aside for criminals. This wasn't always the case, however. Sometimes the authorities allowed for an exception and there have been reported cases of convicted and executed criminals given an honourable burial in a tomb. 

Scholars are almost unanimous that Mark was the earliest gospel. It was also the least embellished. Mark has fewer miracles than do the other three gospels and it doesn't have that ridiculous (and arguably embarrassing to Christianity) pericope about dead saints roaming the streets of Jerusalem during Easter (Matthew). 

According to Mark, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea who himself was a member of the Council. The male disciples were not present during the burial. However, the burial was witnessed by two women; Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses. Mark 15:47 tells us that they saw where the body was placed. 

The burial takes place in the evening (Mark 15:47) and arguably it was getting dark, if not dark already. The women were understandably traumatised as they had just witnessed a gruesome, horrible death of their guru. There is no mention that they spoke to Joseph of Arimathea or that they took any active part in the burial process. Since Jesus had just been executed as a criminal, it would make good sense to suppose that they would fear persecution and want to keep their distance. All we know is that the women saw where Jesus was buried. 

On Sunday morning Mary Madalene (only one of the two women who witnessed the burial) ventures out with some other women (who did not witness the burial) to visit the tomb and anoint the body. It's interesting to pause here and note that Joseph of Arimathea took no part in this process. Why? If he buried the body (and especially if the tomb was his own tomb, although Mark does not go this far), it would make perfect sense that he should be involved. Why isn't he? 

The answer might lie in Acts 13:29. That verse suggests that a tradition existed that Jesus was buried by those who had killed him. Could this mean that Joseph of Arimathea (a place that itself isn't known to any map of the ancient world) was in fact an enemy of Jesus? If that's the case, it would explain not only Acts 13:29 but also why he took no part in assisting the women in anointing the body. Remember that the women were wondering who will remove the stone. If Joseph was a fellow disciple, would they not have asked him to send some servants along (as a member of the Council he was bound to be wealthy and the gospels do echo that tradition; he would have servants) and assist in this? Naturally they would. And yet they did not. Why? Because he either was an enemy of Jesus or, if he was a disciple, the women didn't know this! 

But if Joseph was Jesus' enemy, would he plead with Pilate to get his body and bury it? The answer is yes! We are told that Jesus died shortly before the Sabbath and we are well aware that the Jewish law prohibited a corpse being exposed during the Sabbath; it would defile the land. This known fact has given rise to many theories that Jesus was buried in a temporary tomb (whether that was the case or not does not concern us for our purposes here). 

Now if we accept that Joseph of Arimathea was an enemy of Jesus or at least that the women thought he was (or alternatively that they did not know who he is at all), it would make good sense to conclude that they kept very good distance when watching the burial on Friday night! 

Could it then be that on Sunday Mary Magdalene simply went to the wrong tomb? She had only seen the tomb from afar, in a state of fear, trauma and despair and in the evening, when it was arguably getting dark (if not dark already). 

If you think this scenario is far-fetched, think about how many times you parked your car and then looked for it in the wrong place. And you, unlike Mary, had the benefit of street lighting. Unlike Mary you did not have the trauma associated with what she had just witnessed. 

The scenario is entirely plausible. And it's way more plausible than a resurrection. People mistake locations all the time. Every day. And resurrections simple don't happen. If we are to conclude a resurrection, we would have to have extremely compelling evidence. We would need to positively exclude all "the usual suspects"; all natural hypotheses. But can we exclude this one? No. 

Let's keep going with the scenario. Mark tells us that the women ran away in fear and said nothing to anyone as they were scared. In fact this is where Mark's gospel actually ends. The remaining verses are later additions. I'm not kidding. Scholars call this the "Short ending of Mark". Our earliest manuscripts of Mark end right there. Some apologists argue that this is too abrupt and therefore there must have been some further text that simply got omitted (a copying error) in our earliest copies. 

But there's a major problem here. Why would the women be scared? They have (so Mark tells us) just been told that their master isn't dead; he's alive again and wants to meet with his disciples! Is that something to be scared of? Or is that a reason to rejoice? Of course it's the latter! And if we accept that Jesus performed miracles in his lifetime and Mary Magdalene was aware of this (and thought of him as the messiah), being scared of his resurrection would make no sense at all. 

So why was Mary scared? Could it be that she thought the body was removed and put in an dishonourable grave for criminals? Could she think that the authorities will now go after those who were close to Jesus, including herself? Maybe. 

What if Mary wasn't scared at all? What if she said nothing about it (for a while anyway) because she realised she probably got the wrong tomb? It's a major embarrassment to have to go back to the disciples and say "oh gosh, you know, I just can't remember where he was buried on Friday, couldn't do the anointment thing". How do you avoid that embarrassment? You say nothing at all. 

But we know that Mary did break her silence as otherwise Mark's author would never hear about the empty tomb at all. When did she break it? What did she say? We can't know. Mark (in his earliest known version) is silent on this. 

Now, on this version, the disciples never do find out what happened to Jesus' body. They might speculate it was moved to a dishonourable grave (and maybe it was; the fact that Mary got the wrong tomb doesn't mean that the right one wasn't empty for that very reason!) But some of them, having strong faith in their guru, might speculate that he was resurrected. If you have any doubts about what faith can do, read up on doomsday cults. Start with the Heaven's Gate. Faith can move proverbial mountains. There's absolutely nothing surprising in the disciples, having found out about an empty tomb, speculating that Jesus was risen. Perhaps one of them had a dream about this the following night? Entirely possible and very natural in the circumstances. How many of us have a dream about a traumatic or strange event shortly after it happens? Of course, most of us make nothing of it. But back in the superstitious 1st century dreams were thought of as a major source of truth. Just remember the Christian tradition of Joseph (Christ's stepdad) having dreams about virgin birth (Matthew 1:20) or that it's now safe to go back to Israel from Egypt (Matthew 2:19). If you were facing mortal danger (to you, your wife and her child) and had a dream where an angel tells you "it's safe now", would you take the risk? I hope you say "no". In the least, you'd want to verify that it's true. But early Christian tradition places a lot of emphasis on dream visions. This in itself should make us suspicious as it has the marks of superstition. 

But I digress. Could a disciple have a dream that Jesus had risen? Of course. Could various disciples then experience visions of Jesus? Naturally. Perhaps in dreams and perhaps in other people whom they met. Remember the appearance on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24)? Two disciples travel alongside a man and have no idea this man is in fact Jesus. They don't realise this until much later, after they part his company (note that the word in Luke 24:31 translated as "vanished" in many translations is in fact "aphantos" which also means to simply "go out of one's sight"). This is one example of the "Jesus appearing but not looking like Jesus" tradition in early Christianity. Another one is in John 20:14. Mary Magdalene at the tomb. Jesus speaks to her, she looks a him but doesn't recognise him. The same theme appears in Matthew 28:17. The disciples go to Galilee, they see Jesus and worship him. The author adds "but they doubted" (often translated as "but some doubted"; the Greek word translated as "some" is "ho" and means "this, that, these").  

An interesting side note at this point is the irreconcilable contradiction between Matthew and Luke. In Matthew Jesus appears to the disciples in Galilee. In Luke, the first appearance to all of them is on the night of the Resurrection and takes place in Jerusalem. Galilee is some 70 miles from Jerusalem. So if Luke's version is true, the Luke appearance must have taken place before the Matthew one (as the disciples had to travel to Galilee for the Matt appearance and couldn't possibly make it there on the same day). But according to Matthew, the disciples doubted when they saw Jesus in Galilee. If they had already had the Lukan appearance (complete with Jesus eating fish to prove he's not a ghost; is Luke saying he looked like a ghost?) there's no way they would still doubt. It also makes no sense that Jesus would tell the women (see Matt 28:10) to tell the disciples to go see him in Galilee if he was in fact going to appear to them in Jerusalem that very night (Luke 24). 

This small digression is important as it's a good example of how unreliable our "evidence" of Jesus's bodily appearances is. Apologists tend to claim that eyewitnesses often get confused about detail. That's true. As a litigation lawyer with some 15 years' experience, I'm the first to admit that. You can be confused about the colour of someone's jacket or about whether a car was going 35 or 40 miles per hour. But that's a far cry from getting the very location of an event wrong. And yet the first appearance in Matthew is Galilee while that in Luke is Jerusalem. 

Of course the above issue becomes irrelevant altogether once we realise that both Luke and Matthew are dated by most scholars to well after 60AD, some 30 years after the alleged events. In addition, neither claims to be an eyewitness of the events or an actual disciple of Jesus. Both are greatly based on Mark (copying entire portions, often word for word). It's accepted by scholars that both gospels are based on earlier tradition. And tradition is simply a fancy name for "legend". Legends get embellished with time. That's their nature.

So what do we end up with? A woman confused about the location of a tomb finds an empty one instead. Grief-stricken disciples then conclude a resurrection must have occurred. This leads them to experiences of appearances of their master. Tradition suggests appearances in other people, where the disciples later conclude that who they saw was Jesus. Gospel traditions of actual appearances to a group of disciples (physical bodily visitations) are years later and are mutually inconsistent. Therefore, they can be excluded as legend that formed over the years. 

What about the appearances mentioned in Paul's letters? Aren't they an early tradition? Yes they are. But Paul does not describe a physical appearance. In fact, he gives no detailed account of any appearance at all. Instead all we get is a list of people that Jesus apparently appeared to. The word used is "Horao" and it means "to see, become aware, to see within one's mind". This is consistent with the "appearances" I have described above. Clearly Paul has heard that the disciples have "seen" Jesus after the resurrection. But how he heard it is a mystery, as are the details of what he heard. He swears throughout his letters (Galatians and 1 Cor) that his sources aren't human tradition. Of course, apologists who claim an early tradition must necessarily play this down; Paul must have been lying about his sources of information. One way or another, all this reflects is that there was an early tradition of disciples "seeing" Jesus. The appearances to Peter, "the twelve" (interestingly at that time there would only be "the eleven" as Judas had apparently committed suicide - something Paul doesn't appear to be aware of), 500, James, then "all the apostles (how is that different from "the twelve" and does it include Paul - also an apostle himself?) and finally Paul himself. We know that the appearance to Paul was a vision and not a physical bodily visit. And Paul makes no attempt to differentiate between this appearance and the appearances to the others. Rather, all form part of the same laundry list. There's therefore absolutely no reason to assume that the tradition of appearances that Paul relies on is a tradition of actual bodily visits, as opposed to visions (either in dreams or by seeing Jesus in other people, as in the Emmaus incident).

To conclude this point, early appearance tradition does not support a claim that the disciples believed in physical visitations by the Risen Jesus, such that could be taken as evidence of Resurrection. 

In short:

1. Mary Magdalene mistakes the tomb
2. The disciples conclude Jesus was resurrected 
3. They start looking out for him and see him in dreams, visions and in other people 
4. With decades, a tradition of physical visitations develops
5. By the time the Gospels are written, the physical visitation tradition exists and has already diversified into a number of inconsistent accounts

What we see above is a perfectly natural and reasonable course of events. It's consistent with the evidence, if considered properly. And it's greatly more likely than an actual resurrection. People do make mistakes and do see things in dreams. People do "see" departed loved ones when they look at other people. Resurrections, on the other hand, do not happen. 

There is much more to be said. For instance, why would a tradition like the one in 4 develop? But let's leave it for another day. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

"Who created God" video - "the end of atheism". Or just another bad theist argument?

What follows is my response to a video  (recommended to me by @bilalmahmooduk on twitter) that claims to prove a god exists. The video can be found here:

Not unlike many (all?) theist arguments for the existence of a god, the argument in the video is flawed. In fact, it’s flawed on almost every level.

The video is entitled "who created God?" and aims to overcome  this (often argued by atheists) objection. The title ends with a rather ambitious phrase "the end of atheism". Curiously, the video fails to even address the objection, let alone rebut it. But more on this later.

Before we start examining the argument in detail, I should mention that the video does NOT seek to rely on a teleological argument. That is, it does not rely on the apparent complexity of the universe, or on any apparent organisation of physics/chemistry/biology. This is made very clear in the very opening section of the video. Rather, the argument appears based on a version of the KCA (Kalam Cosmological Argument). That argument is centuries old and has been rebutted hundreds of times. In effect, it’s no exaggeration to say that the KCA is truly dead. You can see my own rebuttal of a (better structured than the video) KCA here.

A preliminary note on Causality

One more crucial matter to address is the Law of Causation. This is essential as all KCA arguments rely on it and our video is no exception. The premise is that "everything that has a beginning, has a cause". There are two points to be made about the Law of Causation.

Firstly, we derive the Law from our observations of what we see WITHIN our Universe. And what we observe is matter and energy changing states. We see matter and energy reacting and we observe that each reaction CAUSES a further reaction. These reactions always operate on PRE-EXISTING matter and energy. They NEVER (in our observations) involve the "creation of everything that exists". In fact, they never involve the creation of matter/energy that previously did not exist. We have observed that all these effects always seem to have causes. Since the Law of Causation (derived from empirical observation) is ALWAYS observed on pre-existing matter/energy, there is absolutely no reason to extrapolate it to apply to the GENERATION of matter and energy that did not previously exist.

The second objection is even more powerful. For us to say that the Law of Causation applied to the generation of "all that exist", we would have to first assume that The Law of Causation itself pre-existed everything else that exists. Thus, we would be making an assumption that "In the beginning, there was The Law of Causation (imagine a scripture starting with those words!)". And yet, there is absolutely no valid reason to make such an assumption. If, prior to the existence of the Universe (or the Multiverse, if that's the case), NOTHING existed, why would we assume that Causality did? The answer is: we can't.

This is crucial as, unless we first establish that Causality pre-existed everything else, there is no basis at all to claim that everything that begins to exist has a cause. And without this premise, all KCA arguments fail...including our video.

What follows is that the argument in the video fails before it even begins. What theists invariably take for granted is nothing but an unjustified assumption (surprised?).

On to the argument

Let’s now turn to the central premises of the argument in the video:


1)      "The only way for something to come from nothing is by a Designer."

The argument attempts to arrive at this conclusion by eliminating “the alternative” (ie chance). The narrator tells us that chance is “random selection of an outcome from a set of possibilities”. He then goes on to say “When however there are no possibilities because nothing yet exists then how can there be a selection of them?”

Let's pause here for a brief moment. The author has just proposed that "nothing yet exists". He objects that since nothing exists, there are no possibilities and therefore no random selection is possible. But if he assumes that nothing exists, how can there be a design? There can't. Clearly then, whatever the author is saying, he can't be saying that nothing exists. Perhaps what he means is "nothing material exists (as in matter/energy)"? I will proceed on the basis that this is what he means. Thus, we'll assume he's saying no MATTER/ENERGY (as we know them) exists but some type of entities/objects/things may indeed exist.

Having eliminated chance (or so he thinks), the author then concludes that design is all that’s left. Here are the problems with this section of the argument:

a.       The argument poses a false dilemma. It gives us only two options; random chance and design. In fact there’s also a third option; non-random causation. We could, for the sake of the argument, agree that there’s been a cause that brought matter and energy into existence. However, there’s no evidence at all to suggest that this cause couldn’t be a natural, non-sentient predecessor or cause of the universe. Imagine an earthquake shaking a tree and causing a coconut to fall off it. It’s not a random event. It’s perfectly natural and totally explicable by our existing knowledge of physics. And yet, the earthquake is not a designer. It’s simply a natural process. Could there be a natural process (clearly unfamiliar to us) that simply caused matter and energy to come into existence? There’s no evidence to suggest that there couldn’t. While we don’t have any positive evidence of what such a process might be, we also have no positive evidence of the existence of a sentient and eternal god who is capable of creating things from nothing. Just ask a theist HOW God created all matter and energy. The answer you’ll get is “God works in mysterious ways”, “We’re only human, we can’t understand God”, “Nothing’s impossible for God”, or other things to that effect. In short, “I have no idea”.

It’s intellectually dishonest to propose one unexplained process while arbitrarily excluding the possibility of other unexplained processes (where there's no evidence for any of the processes at all).

It must be concluded that “random chance OR Designer” is a false dichotomy; a logical fallacy.

b.      The argument assumes that nothing in fact existed. There’s no evidence to support that either. Big Bang Cosmology tells us that the Singularity existed. Whatever existed prior to that is, at this point, pure speculation. Did nothing really exist prior to the Big Bang? If so, then there was no God (nothing MEANS nothing). And if you propose God, you are no longer saying that nothing existed. You are actually saying that something existed that was capable of giving rise to matter and energy. And once again, this something might be a god or it might well be some non-sentient, non-intelligent entity. Perhaps another type of Universe? We simply don’t know.

By claiming that nothing existed, the argument is contradicting its own conclusion (ie that there was a god).

c.       Let’s now get back to “chance”. Even though I’ve already pointed out that chance is not the only alternative to design, is chance a possible player here? The answer is yes, it is. Since we don’t know what (if anything) existed prior to the Universe (if “prior” is an applicable term at all, given that time may well not have existed), we can’t know what the range of possibilities was in that state of affairs. Could it be that there were a number of possibilities? Let’s suppose that an entity (call it PU – “pre Universe”) existed which could randomly give rise to a range of entities, one (or some) of which being a universe. Suppose that by random chance what it DID give rise to happened to be a universe. What we end up with is a range of possible outcomes and a random selection of one of those outcomes; precisely the scenario that our author arbitrarily deemed impossible!

Is it really far-fetched to propose that a universe was a possible outcome? Clearly not, because we KNOW that a universe IS AN ACTUAL OUTCOME. If the Universe were not a possible outcome, it WOULDN’T EXIST AT ALL. Is it far-fetched to propose that THE Universe was not the ONLY possible outcome? It wouldn't seem so either. There may well have been other possible outcomes, including other configurations of universes and perhaps other entities that couldn't be called universes at all.

To claim that an actual outcome is not a possible outcome is entirely irrational, if not dishonest.

The only way to overcome this objection would be to posit that the Universe was a possible outcome ONLY FOR GOD. But that’s a fallacy. It’s called Special Pleading. Given that we have no evidence as to what process God would undertake to create a universe, we can’t claim that God is the only possible initiator of that process. Nor is there any evidence that this process and this result were the only possible processes and results. The simple truth is WE DON’T KNOW.

It follows that the claim that the Universe could not be created by chance not only lacks a basis but is in fact contradictory to the observable facts: THE UNIVERSE EXISTS and therefore MUST HAVE BEEN a possible outcome.

d.      The video gives an example. “Random chance cannot create a car from parts that do not exist”, the narrator tells us. He’s right. But then he fails to explain to us just how DESIGN can create a car from parts that do not exist. The answer is: IT CAN’T. No matter how clever a designer you have, he cannot build a car from non-existent parts. Design is NOT the answer to making things from non-existent parts.

e.      The argument then goes on to assert “as God has always existed, God doesn’t need a designer”. Now that may be right. Clearly if something has always existed, it doesn’t need a designer.

It is at this point that we need to take a breather. Why? Because THIS IS THE REAL ASNWER TO THE QUESTION that the video proposes to address. Remember, the video is entitled “Who Created God?”

But before we congratulate the author on his “win”, we need to turn our mind to yet another fatal flaw here! This time the Logical Fallacy is: Strawman.

You see, the question “who created god?” is posed by atheists and sceptics IN RESPONSE TO a Teleological Argument. Teleological Arguments are arguments that theists pose, relying on the apparent complexity/design/organisation of the Universe/life/nature. Atheist response is “if, as you claim (in a Teleological Argument), an organised Universe requires a designer, God can’t be the answer unless he himself was designed”.

But our narrator at the very start of the video already told us he’s not interested in pursuing a Teleological Argument. Instead, he opts for a Cosmological Argument. And “who created god?” is not an answer to Cosmological Arguments. He’s responding to a criticism that doesn’t apply in the first place!

KCA does not EXCLUDE that an uncaused god may have existed. The only argument that does (on the atheist objection, in any event) exclude that is the Teleological Argument; one that the video cleverly (or dishonestly?) ignores!

2)      Infinite Regression

Our video then goes on to discuss what philosophers call “Infinite Regression” (IR). Infinite Regression is the concept of a backward infinity of causes and effects. If IR is true, there may have been an infinite number of causes, each having its own cause, all the way into backward infinity.

Theists have a real problem with Infinite Regression. Why? Simply put, if IR is true, then the Universe’s Cause (let’s assume here that the Universe DID have a cause) may have had its own cause, preceded by an infinite number or previous causes. This would destroy their concept of God. God, by definition, must be the First Cause, the ultimate cause of everything, The Prime Mover. Theists hate Infinite Regression. Our video’s author is no exception. And indeed, the argument he uses to attempt to defeat Infinite Regression is one of the most common theist arguments around.

Essentially, it goes like this: “If there had been an infinite number of causes-and-effects in the past then we would have never gotten to where we are now”. There are two major problems with the theist approach to this issue.

Firstly, the argument is logically flawed as it ASSUMES a beginning and therefore fails to address Infinite Regression to start with. Secondly, the argument itself eliminates the possibility of a god existing. Let’s turn to these two problems in more detail.

f.        The argument essentially says that if there was an infinite past, an infinite amount of time has passed before we got to where we are and therefore we couldn’t have ever gotten to where we are now. But an infinite amount of time has passed SINCE WHEN? If you pick any particular point along the past timeline, the distance in time between that point and our present moment is in fact finite. You can never point to a moment in the past that was infinitely removed from our present moment. The only way to suggest that such a moment exists is to claim that there was a FIRST MOMENT, from which an infinity has passed (although that would fail too as infinity has NOT passed since a moment in the finite past!). And clearly, there can’t have been a first moment if the past is indeed infinite. This is difficult to grasp as it’s counterintuitive. No surprise; humans don’t understand infinity very well. It leads us to anomalies and paradoxes. Just ask any mathematician. I’m mentioning this objection because I myself found it interesting when I read it in a book by Victor Stenger. I will try to find it again (can’t recall what book that was in!) and will include a proper citation here in an update.

g.       Is it possible that time is cyclical or even reversible? Some very serious physicists seem to be saying that it is indeed a possibility. If that’s the case, the above objection might not apply at all.

h.      But let’s assume that the objection against Infinite Regression is valid after all. What does that mean for our God? Well, if we exclude Infinite Regression, WE KILL GOD. Think about it. God is said to have existed infinitely. What was he doing with himself for all eternity? Whatever it is he was doing, he was doing it FOR ETERNITY (as that’s how long he has existed). And that means that by the time he got to the point of CREATION (a finite time ago), an infinite time HAD PASSED. Thus, ON THE VERY THEIST ARGUMENT, God could never get to the point of Creation because he would have had to first get through an infinite amount of time in his infinite past. You see, by positing an infinitely existing God, you INVOKE past infinity and therefore an Infinite Regression in time and you fall victim to the apparent woes that come with it!

i.         An objection to point “h” above that I have sometimes heard is that “God is outside time”. Whatever that might mean, it still doesn’t help the argument. Once we accept that God is “outside of time” (so that Infinite Regression doesn’t apply to him, despite his eternal existence), we are automatically conceding that it’s possible for an eternal entity to avoid Infinite Regression. And if that’s the case, we can’t limit it to God! Nor can we limit it to just ONE entity. There’s simply no evidence that only God can be exempt from Infinite Regression. Thus, to suggest that ONLY God is so exempt, would be to engage in that favourite theist logical fallacy yet again; Special Pleading. If it’s possible to avoid Infinite Regression (by being “outside time”) then there may just as well have been an infinite number of causes and effects, all “outside of time”.



The video now concludes that there must have been an “uncaused cause”. In doing so, it gives us three options:

A. Believe in an Uncaused Cause
B. “Believe that nothing – including yourself has a beginning”
C. Disbelieve in everything that exists

While I’m not too sure about the above (it appears to be a false dilemma as well; one could imagine SOME BUT NOT ALL things having no beginning but there being no “Uncaused Cause” in the sense of a creator of everything that exists), let’s give this part of the argument limited credibility. I say “limited” because it has to be qualified by all that’s been said above. Thus, what we would end up with is this:


(I) everything that begins to exists must have a cause (ie causality applies outside the Universe and was the first thing to exist); AND

(II) Infinite Regression is impossible,

then the only three options are:

A. To believe in an Uncaused Cause
B. To believe nothing has a beginning
C. To disbelieve everything that exists

Where do we end up? Well, clearly we don’t believe B or C. We therefore must accept A. But the Uncaused Cause in A cannot be an eternal entity such as God, as that would contradict (II), as discussed in “h” above.

Therefore, if we grant the above premises (I and II) – and there’s no reason to grant them, as discussed throughout this article – we can only conclude a First Cause (“Uncaused Cause”). This doesn’t entitle us to conclude that this First Cause is sentient or intelligent. And it can't be eternal, due to Infinite Regression. And of course if FC is not eternal then it's something that "begins to exist" and therefore (on the theist argument) must have a cause. 


But let’s get back to the video. Does it even attempt to prove that the Uncaused Cause is a sentient entity? No, it does not. Instead it tells us TO PRAY TO IT AND ASK IT. That’s not an argument. It’s not evidence. It’s not logic. It’s an appeal to some sort of personal revelation. (To be sure, for completeness’ sake I did pray after watching the video and got no answer whatsoever). Anyone who attempts to convince an atheist by telling him to pray is greatly deluded as to what atheism means. Might as well tell us to write a letter to Santa and ask for answers.


As a matter of fact, many if not most atheists used to be theists and used to pray. We are familiar with the experience. Many of us are familiar with the “inner voice” that can be invoked when someone who believes utters a prayer. But we also know that there’s no evidence at all that this inner voice is anything more than just that…our inner voice. Our mind. And while this might work for a believer, it simply will not work for an atheist.


In conclusion, the video fails at EVERY PREMISE. In addition, even if the premises were to be granted (and that would be generous indeed), it fails to prove anything beyond a first cause (one that can’t be an eternal god).

 Comments welcome


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

KCA and choice

During my many interactions with theist apologists I have often come across a curious version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Essentially the argument in its simplest form looks like this:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe has begun to exist.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

There are problems with the first and second premises but I will not go into them here. Rather I want to focus on something else. So, for our purposes, let is grant the above argument and (again just for our purposes) agree that there's a cause of the universe. We can call it UC (Universe's Cause).

The obvious problem is that this doesn't prove a god. It only proves a cause of the universe. There's no proof here that UC is self-aware, intelligent or personal.

This is where it gets curious. The theist extension of the above argument often goes like this:

4. A backward infinity in time is logically impossible (ie time must have had a beginning)

5. Therefore the event causing the Universe to exist (often referring to the trigger of the Big Bang) must have been non-temporal.

6. The only conceivable non-temporal event is a CHOICE.

7. Therefore UC made a choice.

8. Therefore UC must have free will and be personal.

9. Hence, UC is God.

There are problems at many of the above steps but my issue here is with step 6. The apologists declare by fiat that the only conceivable non-temporal event is a choice.

What leads them to consider a non-temporal event is their rejection of infinite regression. The triggering event had to have no cause itself as otherwise there would be an infinite number of backwards causes and if that were the case we would never get to THIS point in time (current point; today). That's because, the argument goes, there would be an infinite number of preceding points, placing us at the end of infinity which is impossible.

Of course the above reasoning takes a shortcut. UC may have itself had a cause and may have been preceded by a sequence of 100000 causes that all follow a First Cause (the one and only UNCAUSED cause). But this shortcut is not the problem with the argument as, even if we avoid the shortcut (as I just did), we do end up with a First Cause. The apologist can turn around and call THAT cause "god".

Whether the First Cause is in fact the one that caused the universe immediately is not important. If we are to avoid infinite regression, we still have to end up with an Uncaused Cause, no matter how far it is causally removed from the Big Bang.

Thus the correct theist contention must be "the First Cause must have exercised a choice as there's no other conceivable uncaused action, except for a free-will-choice".

Let us consider this proposition.

A. Choice in the traditional sense

Choices, as we know them, don't appear out of nowhere. They are not uncaused and they are not non-temporal. They follow deliberations. There's input (emotions, data), there's processing (consideration of consequences, options, competing interests and emotions) and there's the final result; a choice, a decision.

If FC (First Cause) is said to make a choice in the sense that we know it (as in the above paragraph), then each step in that process must be preceded by another step. It's a causative sequence of events; each one leading to the next. This takes us back to infinite regression, unless the apologist can identify a first-ever event in the process.

Short breather to handle an anticipated objection

Note that it doesn't matter if we call this infinite regression "non-temporal". I say this because apologists are likely to pose that objection at this point. If the Law of Causality applies then we need a sequence of causes and effects. Each cause precedes its effect in SOME SENSE. Otherwise, there would be no telling between Effect "follows" (arises from) Cause and Cause follows (arises from) Effect. And if that were the case, we can't say the Law of Causality applies in the first place. In this sense, it must be possible to trace back Effects and their Causes to a first (sequentially, not temporally) Cause. Failing that, we are trapped in infinite regression (albeit in the causal and not in the temporal sense). Trying to escape that trap by saying "but all these Cause-Effects happen at the same instant as they're not temporal") might resolve that problem.

However, in that case the Choice Argument fails.

Once it's proposed that a reality can exist with an infinite sequence of Cause-Effects but in a non-temporal order, "choice" is no an attractive option even on the apologist's argument. For the claim would now amount to "Even though a non-temporal sequence of infinite Cause-Effects is possible, the creation of the Universe could only happen by choice". Such a statement of course makes no sense and, without its own support, would fail.

It amounts to saying that a non-temporal infinite sequence of events have lead to the choice. In these circumstances, there's no merit in saying "choice is the only conceivable option". Once an infinite number of Cause-Effects has been involved, the "Infinity+1st event" might simply be a mechanical effect of its own cause.

So, infinite number of steps in God's decision to make the Universe is out and there must be a first-ever step in this process.

Back to the argument

But how can there be a first-ever event in the process? What this would entail is a dormant entity (FC) who does absolutely nothing and then out of the blue, embarks on an uncaused process of deliberation.  And what triggers THIS event? Apparently nothing. It's a random, uncaused event. But if we agree that the choice process was triggered by a random, uncaused event, what's the relevance of CHOICE in the process at all? How do we exclude the Big Bang itself being caused a random uncaused event (BBCE - Big Bang causing event)? Or how do we exclude some other event that CAUSED BBCE and itself was a random, uncaused event? Or how do we exclude a longer sequence of causes and effects all beginning with a random, uncaused event but NOT involving a choice? We can't exclude any of these propositions.  And all of them are more economical (ie involve less unnecessary assumptions) than a random uncaused event in the so-far-dormant mind of a pre-existing self-aware entity. This makes God redundant.

B. A special kind of choice - no processes

What if the choice to create the Universe (or to cause the Big Bang as the case may be) was itself a special kind of choice? One that, unlike all the choices we have ever observed, is uncaused and is not preceded by deliberations/considerations/inputs?

Such a "choice" is so unlike any choices we know of, that it's difficult to even call it a choice.

But the problem gets worse. This event is itself random and uncaused. And again, once we propose a random and uncaused "choice", it would be more economical to consider a random uncaused trigger that does NOT involve a heretofore dormant and yet omniscient self-aware entity. Once again, God is redundant.

C. What if making that uncaused choice was in God's special nature?

Of course, that is special pleading.

And of course, the same question arises. What caused God to have in his nature the inexplicable tendency to make this sudden choice to create the universe (or trigger the Big Bang as the case may be)?

Of course the theist will answer that god's nature is uncaused. But if we are prepared to propose a special entity that has an uncaused nature leading it to make this sudden "choice" to create the Universe, it would be more economical to propose a non-sentient First Cause in whose inexplicable and uncaused nature it is to trigger the generation of the Universe.

In short, consider the two propositions:

1. An entity in whose nature it is to suddenly create the universe. We don't know how.

2. An entity in whose nature it is to suddenly make a conscious decision to create the universe AND who is self-aware, personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, capable of emotions and of will. We don't know how.

Both propositions are sufficient for a First Cause. But the the second proposition is MORE than sufficient. It contains a number of unnecessary attributes. It is therefore erroneous to propose it.

Occam's Razor shaves God away.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

God of the Bible does not exist

This is a response to @No_drones on Twitter. The full text of his tweet can be found here:

@No_Drones says this:

The correct answer to this question is: no. Employing weasel words, this is the fallacy of false dilemma. An omnipotent God CAN create a stone of any weight AND He CAN lift any stone He creates. You are creating the square circle, not theism. An inability is not an ability. God can do anything that is logically possible and does not violate His own nature.

My response:

My opponent says above that an inability is not an ability. And yet, I am able to make a contraption that's too heavy for me to lift. That's an ability that I have. I am also able to grow in size. Can the Biblical God grow in size? I don't even know if he has a size to begin with. According to some, he's a spirit and has no physical attributes at all. According to others, he's omnipresent (exists everywhere and therefore it seems he can't grow in size).

If God can't make an object that's too heavy for him to lift, then there's something I can do and God can't do. It's not logically impossible for one to make something that's too heavy for oneself to lift. I can do something God can't do!

And yet, the Bible repeatedly tells us that there's NOTHING God can't do. Matthew 19:26 has Jesus saying "with God all things are possible". Genesis 18:14 has God himself saying to Abraham "Is anything impossible for the Lord?". This is in the context of making an infertile woman  (Sarah) get pregnant. But again, the biblical claim is phrased in the absolute; NOTHING is impossible (or too hard) for God. There are many other verses in the Bible that imply God has ABSOLUTE power. And yet, absolute power is logically impossible. 

What follows is that what my opponent attempts to do above is to limit the power that the Bible seeks to grant God. I'm not responsible for what the Bible says. My claim is simple: The BIBLICAL God (ie, the God described in the Bible) is logically impossible and therefore doesn't exist.

I will go further. The Bible claims that God is omniscient; he knows everything (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalms 139:1-6, 23; Jeremiah 17:10; Luke 16:15; Romans 8:27; Revelations 2:23). The Bible is full of these claims; nothing is hidden from the Lord, he knows your heart, knows everyone's heart, he's everywhere etc. See also a very nice article on this at

And yet, in Genesis 18, God hears the outcry of the grave sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. His response to this news is:

20 “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

The Hebrew word in this verse for "will know" is "Yada" (transliteration - see Strong's Concordance) and it means "to know, learn, perceive, find out, discern, consider...."

The Bible tells us that this omniscient God, the one who KNOWS EVERYTHING, is planning on COMING DOWN to Sodom and Gomorrah to see things personally and then to FIND OUT if things are really as bad as he has been told. This is a logical contradiction on THREE GROUNDS.

1) A god who knows everything (and in particular, everyone's heart), as the Bible tells us, is not a god who would need to come down to Sodom and Gomorrah to find out if things are as bad as the cry told him.

2) A god who knows everything can't possibly use the word "Yada" (I will find out)! He can't find out that which he already knows. And since he knows EVERYTHING, there's NOTHING EVER for him to find out.

3) The god of the bible is declared to be EVERYWHERE. See, for instance, Jeremiah 23:

23 “Am I only a God nearby,
declares the Lord,
    “and not a God far away?
24 Who can hide in secret places
    so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
    “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.

Is it possible for a God who IS EVERYWHERE to "go down" (the Hebrew word is "Yarad" and means "to go down, descend, sink, be prostrated) to Sodom and Gomorrah? No, of course it's not. He's ALREADY THERE, as he's everywhere.


My opponent's argument fails on two grounds at this point. Firstly, he's attempting to limit the meaning of "omnipotence" beyond that which the Bible gives to God. The Bible is clear that there's NOTHING impossible for the Lord. It does NOT say "there's nothing impossible for the lord except for that which is impossible for the lord" (and that wouldn't be very helpful as a definition of omnipotence in any event; note that the concept is so unreal that philosophers have been struggling to coherently define it for centuries now).

Secondly, the God of Genesis 18:20 is NOT the God of the rest of the Bible. Taken in its entirety, the Bible therefore proposes a God that can't possibly exist. And if he can't possibly exist, the only rational conclusion is he DOES NOT exist.

Note that Genesis 18 is not the only example of this. The God of the Bible is self-contradictory in a large number of aspects. Therefore, he doesn't exist. He's made up by a number of writers, each with his own views and his own agenda and theology. This explains why each portrays this deity in a different light, often with contradicting characteristics. 

Comments are welcome


Bible as evidence of miracles?

This is my response to parts of @No_drones' argument on twitter. His full argument can be found here:

@No_drones says this about claims of miracles:

"These events ARE documented in Scripture."

On related matters he also says this:

"Christians assert the Bible is historical evidence for such a God. You may not LIKE our evidence but that does not invalidate it."

Since both above declarations relate to the same claim, I will deal with them in a single post.

What my opponent is proposing is to ASSUME that the Judeo/Christian scriptures are factually correct.

This amounts to saying "what you're reading is true because those who believed it have written it down".

On this point, the fact that the beliefs were written down is irrelevant. Anyone could write their beliefs down. Thus, the only relevant issue is that somebody held those beliefs. In other words "this must be true because somebody believed it". Of course, this in itself is a fallacy.

If such an argument were allowed to succeed, we would be obliged to believe in Zeus, Shiva, Jupiter and 1000 other gods. We would have to believe that Caesar was divine, to name one. And what of the Book of Mormon? The Egyptian Book of the Dead? Ancient Slavic and Nordic beliefs? Other pagan beliefs? There have been thousands upon thousands of various religions and beliefs.

To claim that the Judeo/Christian tradition should be trusted is to claim that all other traditions (with deities markedly different in kind and number to the Abrahamic god) are wrong.

Unless a very compelling argument for this is presented, this simply isn't an intellectually honest approach. You can't just pick and choose a religious tradition and claim it's true to the exclusion of others.

So far I have seen no coherent argument that would in any way demonstrate the Bible to be true, let alone to be true to the exclusion of other religious beliefs.

If my opponent wants to use the Bible as evidence of supernatural events or entities, he must provide some solid evidence for why the supernatural claims of this particular culture ought to be accepted.

On the face of it, biblical claims are simply ludicrous.

In Exodus 7, Moses magically turns his staff into a snake which then eats the staffs of Egyptian priests (also magically turned into snakes). This is to convince us that the Jewish god is more powerful than Egyptian magic. Sound like something from 1001 nights? You bet.

In Numbers 22 we read about a donkey who has an argument with her owner. Cute. But I wouldn't expect a 6 year old to believe it. It's Alladin's lamp material.

What about the 42 teenaged mauled by 2 she-bears for the great crime of making fun of a bald man? (2 Kings 2). Are we believe these are the doings of an almighty creator of this enormous and wonderful universe? Nonsense.

Adam and Eve are tempted by a talking snake in Genesis. They then eat a fruit that has magic qualities; it allows them to understand the difference between right and wrong. Again, completely incredible. Also, the similarities with Pandora's box don't go unnoticed easily.  Mythology by all standards.

These accounts are no different in their style and content to many other magical claims in other mythologies. On their face, that's exactly what they are; myths. The Bible talks about monsters and giants. It talks about creating a woman from a man's rib.

Christian theology would have us believe that he creator of the universe couldn't find it in himself to forgive people unless somebody (an innocent man; in fact God himself, who is his own son) is brutally killed. Perhaps "killed" is too strong a word as he apparently comes back to live after 2-3 days (depending on the scripture; they're quite inconsistent).

Christ is said to perform miracles too. He restores a man's sight by washing his eyes in mud; a practice that back in the day was indeed widely believed to have magical effects.

On the face of it, all these claims are nothing short of fantastic and mythological. They do not show the world as we know it. Are we to believe them just because somebody wrote them down? Such an approach appears extraordinarily naive.

The Bible is not evidence of its claims; the Bible IS THE CLAIM. To say "it's true because it's in the bible" is to ASSUME that, despite its fantastic and typically mythological nature, the bible is true in the first place.

Unless we are to immerse ourselves in a world of ancient myths, this approach simply cannot be allowed. If you want to rely on the Bible as evidence of extraordinary claims, you must first demonstrate that it is extraordinarily credible.