Tuesday, August 9, 2011

REASON part 1: The cosmological argument

Ever since the snake with arms convinced Eve that pomegranates have free-radical isolating anti-oxidant properties, there have been those among us who defend unreasonable positions with the attempted application of logic and reason. Michael Shermer stated it best in his thesis for the book 'Why people believe weird things,' by stating the the human mind is incredibly effective at rationally defending positions that were stumbled upon by irrational circumstances.

We have tried, so many times, to put forth a logical and rational explaination for our belief in the supernatural. The arguments for the existence of God are myriad, and have been presented over the centuries by our greatest thinkers.

Every single argument for the existence of God begins with a pre-supposition: God exists. Sure, some are more veiled than others, but in the end, the apologetics practiced therein, by necessity, begin with this premise. My purpose in presenting these arguments is NOT to refute them. These arguments fall under the category of PRATT - previously refuted a thousand times. My purpose here is to show how we use language, hidden premises, and the bastardization of logic to substantiate our positions.

That being said...The cosmological argument.

The cosmological argument is more commonly referred to as 'the first cause' argument. Essentially, it states that 'something' must have caused the universe to exist, and that 'something,' is, by necessity, God. In a causal universe, every action is caused by a previous action. I strike a cue ball, and it in turn stikes a number of different billiard balls, as is the cause of their action. The argument is extrapolated to state that, in fact, our existence is a pool table full of moving billiard balls acted upon by the events that led to the collisions put into motion by the 'prime mover.' That prime mover is the person holding the pool cue, that prime mover is God.

There are a couple of problems with this.

First off: Ok, fine...but God, in this argument, is just a name given to the guy holding the pool cue. I prefer to call him Steve. So, let's take a look at Steve's beliefs: Now, I'm fairly certain that Steve believes he is playing pool, but I cannot even be certain of that. He may think that he is golfing.  That is the firmest ground I can find, because Steve's beliefs on whether or not I should pray to Mecca five times a day, not eat meat on Friday, or whether I should strap a bomb to myself to blow up the damn eight ball, are unclear. The logical leap of 'Steve is God, the God I believe in, who sent his only begotten son...' is problematic because we have no information about Steve other than the fact that he is holding a pool cue.

Unfortunately for theists, that is not the greatest problem with the cosmological argument.

The greatest problem is infinite regression. To state this another way: Who made Steve? Who made whoever made Steve? The cosmological argument has a big, huge, glaring logical fallacy, and that is the fallacy of special pleading. To restate the argument: everything requires a cause...EXCEPT FOR STEVE!

The argument hinges on the presumption that everything we can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell is the product of a series of events leading to the moment we experience those sensations. Special pleading is an informal logical fallacy that removes Steve from the constrants of the premise that the entire argument is based on. So, why doesn't Steve require a cause? Because Steve is God.

This sort of thinking can only come from a mind that has decided, before formulating the argument, that Steve is God, and as such, deserves special consideration.

The logical arguments for the existence of God are myriad, and put forth by theists as a way to support the conclusions they have come to by other means. In my experience, the greatest question to ask when presented with a logical proof for the existence of God:

Is that why you believe in God?

The answers will be, invariably, no...and the answers will be infinitely entertaining. At least they are to me.

-Paul Wittmeyer

1 comment:

  1. The cosmological argument is my favorite. Despite having holes big enough to drive impressive things through, it still elegantly illustrates how fundamentally we must misunderstand what is going on. Causality is nice for small tasks.