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