Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is the Resurrection Account of Jesus Fallacious?


Is the Resurrection Account of Jesus Fallacious?

I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.
–Carl Sagan
Until now we have mostly been looking at reasons why most of these early Christian writings, including the Gospel accounts, cannot be considered historically accurate or reliable and how this complicates belief in Jesus. The same suspicion is cast over the whole resurrection event also.[i] Even so the resurrection of Christ, the defining characteristic which unifies Christian thought, is too big of a topic to tackle in the space of a few pages, but knowing that the historical account is untrustworthy, some interesting questions arise as to the nature of the resurrection narrative. As the title implies, and so too is the thesis of this chapter, I firmly feel it’s more than inadequate to rely on the Biblical account as attestation to the Christian presumption that Jesus resurrected. Be that as it may, I must make my case if others are going to agree with me.
               If miracles are to be considered real, assuming that the supernatural is possible, then the greatest miracle of all would have to be coming back to life after a brutal death, a burial, and a span of three days—i.e., a genuine resurrection. That would be a tad bit more astonishing than miraculously popping into existence ala magically inseminated virgins. Granted, coming back to life is no trivial matter. If Jesus did it, after three days of being deceased, then this would definitively prove he was supernaturally inclined, although it may or may not prove that he was necessarily the Son of God or the Christian Messiah. According to the Biblical historian James D. Tabor in his book The Jesus Dynasty:
The standard Christian proclamation is well known: that Jesus was raised from the dead, that he appeared to many witnesses, and that he ascended into heaven, where he sits as the glorified Christ at the right hand of God, from where he will return at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead…. Three of our four New Testament gospels report “sightings” of Jesus to support the idea that he had been raised from the dead—Matthew, Luke and John. But what about Mark? Here we come to one of the most ignored and underrated facts of our story. As shocking as it may sound, the original manuscripts of the gospel of Mark report no appearances of the resurrected Jesus at all![ii] 

This is problematic for Christians, especially considering that Mark’s original ending has Mary and Salome flee in fear never to tell anyone about the empty tomb (Mark 16:8). If they didn’t tell anyone, then how do the authors of the rest of the Gospels find out about it? But before Tabor lets the notion settle in our minds, however, he reiterates another very important and oft overlooked fact, which may shed light on whether or not Jesus was thought of as divine by those around him, affirming, “There is no evidence that James worshiped his brother or considered him divine.”[iii] If Jesus’ own brother, James the Just, who knew Jesus intimately and outlived him, eventually taking over leadership roles in the early Christian movement, never once worshiped his kin as the Son of God then we should perhaps question why this was so.
These two events, however, seem to offer us two very important clues which we must keep in the back of our mind. The first being that, according to the first of the Gospels, nobody should technically know about Jesus “resurrection” because the story ends with nobody finding out—and to me this suggests the resurrection is a literary theme, since the other Gospel writers included an unknown element into their own works. The most reasonable explanation is that Mark is not reporting on actually historical events, the resurrection didn’t happen in reality, it happened on paper, and that’s why the *story ends with nobody finding out—but anyone who read the story would undeniably know the important theme and they would be free to retell it—and this is just what Matthew, Luke, and John proceed to do. If the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event, then the problem of how the later authors came to find out about it arises, but the literary hypothesis does away with such considerations making it the more likely choice. Just as importantly, the second point about Jesus not being worshiped by his own brother fits the same thesis. Jesus may have been a rebel, a political upstart, and a Jew with radical views, but nobody thought of him as divine (not until much later). Such a historical Jesus, however politically intriguing he may have been, seems to suggest that the notion of resurrection, and the belief that he was divine, is all a later fabrication created by later evangelist Christian authors. We’ll come back to these points shortly.


Trying to Peg Jesus Down
Trying to place the resurrection of Christ into a historical framework is a troubling area of debate since the only official extra-biblical commentary of it comes from the unreliable Jewish Historian Josephus Flavius. Even the Gospels are not in harmony on the subject. Since this is the case, we might try to find a triangulation in other historical texts, even though contemporaneous sources external to the Gospels usually give relatively little information about Jesus.
Without a historical backdrop to gauge the dependability of the stories, we cannot merely assume the Gospel accounts are in any way accurate report of them (also because it seems the inference that they are literary works supplies a much less awkward answer to the problem). Take for example, the original Gospel of Mark, which does not contain the virgin birth or post resurrection stories.[iv] According to the New Testament historian and theologian David Trobisch, “The resurrected Christ has not appeared and the first witnesses say nothing to anyone. This is the worst imaginable ending for a Gospel.”[v] About the strange resurrectionless ending, professor Tabor is quick to remind us that, “such a shockingly “incomplete” ending could not be allowed to stand. It must have been deeply troubling to early Christians. Christianity was built upon the idea that Jesus appeared after his death to various individuals and groups. How could Mark have possibly left this out?... What happened was that pious scribes who copied Mark made up an ending for him and added it to his texts sometime in the late 2nd century A.D.—over one hundred years after the original text was composed![vi]
Early Christians were keenly aware of this problem, and it is why the Gospel of Mark was augmented to better fit into the canonical whole. Not only was an appropriate ending attached to fit with Christian belief, but because of the lack of a virgin birth as well the story was mistakenly placed after Matthew, as a bridge to Luke, to smooth over the difficulty. Rearranged in such a way, the absence of virgin births and post resurrection Christs becomes indistinguishable when wedged uncomfortably between the continuity of Matthew and Luke. It’s only later that historians realized that, in actuality, it is Matthew and Luke which both borrow heavily from Mark.
Meanwhile the longer ending of Mark comes from a variety of New Testament sources which get cannibalized for their parts in the struggle for early editors to provide an authoritative version of the Resurrection accounts (cf., Mark 6:9 with John 20; Mark 16:12-16 with Luke 24 and Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:17-20 with Acts 1:9, 2:6-8 and 28:5; and the closing sentence of the last ending “And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere,” appears to have been derived from Acts also). Tabor informs, “It is in fact a clumsy composite of the sightings of Jesus reported by Matthew, Luke, and John. It contains no independent material that can be identified as specifically from Mark, and the Greek style in which it is written is decidedly non-Markan.”[vii] In fact, the longer version of Mark was unknown to Clement of Alexandria and Origen, meanwhile, Eusebius and Jerome writing in the 4th century A.D., know of its existence but note that it is absent from almost all Greek manuscripts of which they are aware, and also mention two other “fake” endings. All this suggests that the longer ending, the one in which contains Jesus’ resurrection, may indeed also be artificial, that is, a literary creation.

Other Historical Concerns
What do these historical insights mean for the everyday practicing Christian? A lot actually. It seems to suggest some things which directly stand in opposition to some core Christian beliefs. But the question of whether or not Jesus resurrected is just one part of a larger problem. Other historical concerns could easily defeat the “truth” of Christianity as well, concerns such as, 1) It is more likely that Jesus was not born of a virgin and, 2) even Paul neglects to mention the virgin birth entirely (as if it never occurred at all), and furthermore, 3) Paul only ever alludes to the spiritually risen Christ (not a bodily “resurrected” one) who, conveniently enough, speaks to him on the sun-baked desert road to Damascus in what may amount to no more than heat-stroke induced visions, 4) the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark neither contain a virgin birth nor a post-resurrection Christ, and last but not least, 5) the longer ending of Mark seems to be purely a literary fabrication—and if so what is to suggest the rest of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are not also?
All this seemingly detracts from the debonair claim made by Christians that Jesus was divine, resurrected, and reappeared to his followers. In turn, this casts doubt as to whether or not the Gospels are historically reliable. As it turns out, they seem to be mostly literary in origin only containing simple references to historical landmarks, names, and places. Yet this should not surprise us, for all literature contains these things.
Apologists have retreated to the claim that, at the very least, we cannot know that the resurrection did not happen. Many have stated as much, giving the example that we can no more know that Jesus was resurrected from the dead than we can know if Julius Caesar was born by caesarian section. Julius Caesar may have been born via caesarian section and Jesus may have been bodily resurrected from the dead—almost anything is possible—however these scenarios are highly improbable if not completely impracticable. The fact that we cannot prove they did not happen does not improve our understanding of the past. Such admissions should be viewed as a weakness, not as a boon. The lack of any ancillary contemporaneous information regarding the resurrection, whether or not we can prove it happened, simply amounts to the implicit acknowledgment that, as Frank R. Zindler has asserted, no one will ever provide convincing evidence for the historicity of Jesus. That’s not a strong position to mount a defense of the Christian faith on.
Even so, Christians still try to find ways to prove the historical existence of a quondam Jesus. Equally, Carrier reminds us that:
Christian apologists will often insist we have to explain the “fact” of the empty tomb. But…the evidence is not the discovery of an empty tomb but the existence of a story about the discovery of an empty tomb. That there was an actual empty tomb is only a theory… to explain the production of the story.... But this theory must be compared with other possible explanations of how and why that story came to exist… and these must be compared on the total examination of the evidence…. Hence, a common mistake is to confuse hypotheses about the evidence with the actual evidence itself.[viii]

            Whereas Carrier proposes historians use Bayes’s Theorem to correct for our mistakes I think we can simplify the logic behind Bayes’s theorem to the simple theory of truth, which is basically this: we start with two things, the objective facts and the claims. Upon indicating which claims, the facts being there, will and will not work successfully when plugged into our working model of history we will be left with the best inference to the truth.
            If the theory fits the facts and coincides with the working model of history then we can be relatively certain that this is a good theory. As Carrier cautions, however, we must take extra notice not to haphazardly force facts to fit the theories thereby squeezing out the theory which, opportunely enough, aligns with our convictions and religious claims (something most Christian apologists frequently and recklessly do). Instead of the forcing history to fit our claims we must adjust our claims to fit the available evidence thereby gaining a more accurate depiction of history.


Notes
           
            [i] Richard Carrier is a historian in ancient Greece who has offered a thorough refutation of the resurrection account of Jesus. See his article “Why I Don‘t Buy the Resurrection Story.” Available online at: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/lecture.html
            [ii] James D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, pp. 228, 230

            [iii] Ibid, p. 280
            [iv] Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, pp.78, 220.
            [v] David Trobisch, “The Authorized Version of His Birth and Death,” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition, ed. R. Joseph Hoffmann, p.135
            [vi] Jame D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, p. 230
            
            [vii] Ibid., p. 231

            [viii] Richard Carrier, “Bayes’s Theorem for Beginners,” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition, pp. 104-5

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vote for Advocatus Atheist!


My site is now listed at the AtheistSites.com directory page and can be voted for. More votes simply gets me more blog traffic and puts me up higher on their popularity rankings of all the listed atheist websites. Although I could care less about being the most popular, I wouldn't mind the increased traffic and a few extra subscribers. So if you have the time and goodness to help out a fellow blogger, please go to AtheistSites.com and click the "like" thumbs up for the Advocatus Atheist blog!

Fare Thee Well Discovery

This is Discovery's last launch/flight. Fare thee well old girl, fare thee well, and godspeed. 0-12,700 mph in less than 7 min. That's frackin' awesome!

Writing 101: George Orwell Part 2


In his excellent 1945 essay "Politics and the English Language" George Orwell lays out six rules of what not to do when writing. Every aspiring writer should be obliged to consider Orwell's excellent advice.

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

According to Orwell, along with the key points he posited (in part one), he informs us that these are the most elementary rules one can follow when trying to write clearly and get one's meaning across as straight foreword and efficiently as possible. It's good advice for any writer, and one which I personally aspire to.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Top Ten Annoying Types of Christians



1.      The OCD Bible Thumper type

This is the sort of Christian who is bound and determined to throw every Bible verse they can at you, regardless of whether or not it makes sense, and moreover, they are bound and determined to out quote you in the process.



2.      The Pete and Repeat were sitting in a boat but Pete fell out type

This is the type of Christian which will argue you in circle and keep on driving the same points home, or relying on the same fallacies, and even though their arguments crumble under scrutiny they don’t give you an inch edgewise and then prematurely declare that they have bettered you in the debate, even when you didn’t know you were actually having one.



3.      The Put a Fallacy in my back pocket for good measure type

These Christians rely on inept fallacy driven arguments to make their case for them (e.g., Paley’s Watch, Pascal’s Wager, William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological argument, and so on). Yet if you do engage them, once they have run through their list of arguments, all they have is a pile of scrambled up fallacies which, contrary to what they believe, only make their case harder to prove.



4.      The (Sunday) Schooled myself with complete and utter ignorance type

This is the sort of person who is, either by life circumstances or pure apathy, so ignorant, so totally na├»ve, that they simply never know what they are talking about—but low and behold, feel obliged to share it with you none-the-less (e.g., think Ray Comfort).



5.      The Apologist Wannabe Rambler type

I have lots of friends in this category. Usually they are of an evangelical streak, and they want to win you over to Christ, although reminding them that you were once a Christian and are happy to finally be free of that reason stifling dead end called religion, they continue to hound you with rambling, often disorganized, questions which try to get you to think about “spiritual” concerns. Typically they like to respond to your answers with a set of rehearsed phrases, like, “Did you know there are more original fragments and copies of the Bible than any other ancient text—even more than the Iliad?!” They may even throw in some numbers and statistics (most of them erroneous) just to sound more authentic. They also will quote facts which are untrue—like, “Darwinism was the cause for Hitler’s atheism, and so clearly atheists can’t be moral.” Then they pretend that everything in that sentence was related and made perfect sense and put the burden on you to account for it—even as you are desperately pleading with them that whatever book they’re getting these twice-baked apologetics from, they need to put it down and pick up a real history book written by real scholars and historians.



6.      The Theologian who holds it against you for not knowing any theology type

Obviously, this irritating bunch consists of the Theologians who often criticize religious critics who openly inveigh against religion as being unsophisticated, or in the dark, for not knowing any of the “deeper” more “complex” theological considerations, as if religious believers everywhere did, and then say they won’t take the skeptics and critics serious until they brush up on their theology.



7.      Jesus Freak Liars for Christ type

These are the shallow Christians who continually talks about all the good works Jesus does in their lives and loves to share it with you, hoping their anecdotes will be moving enough to emotionally nudge your from your realist, rational, common-sense mindset, even though A) they’re probably just attributing or mistaking normal happenstance as good blessings from God because they’re so saturated with God-talk as if it were a non-stop 24 hour radio station beaming straight into their heads, and B) their imaginary friend is nowhere to be seen even though they’re sure he’s everywhere all at once, all the time. On top of all this, they get so worked up about it they will often spread falsities about things they know little about just to make their cause look all the more appealing. I once had such a Christian brand me as a pedophile on an entire web forum because I defended the private use of pornography. Then he said Christ could heal my perversion, as if I was actually someone who was addicted to child pornography (which I’m not). Worse still, their uncritical, unquestioning, attitudes coupled with their credulity lead them to believe it, even though it was libelous slander and constituted a felony. But never mind, because they saw evidence for their convictions in the form of Mother Mary of baby Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich.



8.      The Judgmental Hypocrite type

These are Christians who use fear tactics, such as fire and brimstone lectures about your inherent “original” sin, and will claim you’re going to hell, often stipulating that you’re a no good, heathenish, materialistic, God-denying, rebellious, humanist/atheist and that you deserve to burn, but because God loves you he sent his only son—blah blah blah. After having condemned you to an eternal suffering of their own imagining they instantly begin trying to save you from it. At the same time, the derogatory or unflattering labels they give to everyone else as they unjustly judge others rings hypocritical, especially when they have the gull to claim it is you who are immoral. What the hell? Indeed.


9.      The Scientifically Ignorant type

Usually these are the creationists who graduated high school with apparently never having had a single biology, chemistry, physics, or physiology/anatomy class. Which explains why they don’t believe in the Darwinian theory of evolution but are certain the universe is designed and finely tuned just, as it turns out, so they could share the “Good News” about Jesus’ death and resurrection and burning love for you.


10.   Mormons

Although missionaries in general annoy me, something bothers me about the politeness of Mormons. These guys actually come to your house and politely ask to invade your privacy just to pester you, as if being super extra polite about it would make it that much easier to listen to their tall tales, personal anecdotes about how the Lord works in their lives, and their obviously rehearsed apologetics. I guess it bugs me because they are so nice, which makes you feel obliged to be nice back, and makes you feel like a cretin whenever you fail to bite your tongue. Let me just say, you're fine to believe whatever you want, but don't come knocking on my door to proclaim it. I don’t like to go out of my way to be nice to a bunch of self serving crazies—it’s just wrong on so many levels.

There are many more types I could name, and many of these areas are overlapping, but these are just the types of Christians which bother me (personally) to no end. I should know—I used to be one.


(*UPDATE*)

11.  Let 'em Have Their Faith Well Wishers

These folks get a special place on the list, because ever since I have published this list, this type of Christian pops up quite frequently. They are the, "who are you to judge these people's faith? Let them have their faith. They haven't done anything to you. Just leave them alone and let them believe what they want" accomodationalist well-wishers. Needless to say, this person misses the point entirely about varieties of faith, not to mention quality and such. And for being so annoying, this very *special type of Christian gets onto my list of only ten, because in actuality,  these defenders of the unthinking pious deserve the number one spot on the list.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is Scientific Knowledge Provisional?


Usually science minded adherents can be divided into two prominent camps. First there are the realists, who hold that mathematical theories can provide direct insight into the nature of reality, and secondly there are the instrumentalists, who believe that theory provides a means for predicting what our measuring devices should register but tells us nothing about any supposed underlying reality.  I personally side with the realist camp, but regardless, the debate as to the value of science and what it can ultimately do for us rages on.


Recently I have heard several objections to the notion that scientific knowledge can only be provisional, but I think this notion arises from the mysterious way in which science works against our intuition. To clarify this point we could say, with regard to scientific knowledge, the distinction which needs to be made is when considering the status of our current understanding prior to new discovery and after discovery.


Thus, it seems to me, that any information which has not yet been discovered or exists theoretically (i.e., remains unverified) denotes a level of uncertainty, and so is provisional. Whereas any information which has been discovered and tested (i.e., verified) denotes an established understanding–-the basis for our scientifically gained knowledge.


Needless to say, it would be remiss not to point out that post-discovery scientific knowledge carries with it a tentative certainty-–and by this I mean the established knowledge may be incomplete and/or subject to revision (e.g., the Big Bang theory is incomplete, but so far as we know accurate, and other theories may later be improved upon, such as cardiovascular understanding which was greatly improved with the advent of MRI technology). 


What this suggests is that, because our certainty is tentative, absolute knowledge may be out of our reach even as we feel absolutely confident, or certain, of the knowledge we do have. Additionally, modern cognitive science also reveals that our certitude is an emotional construct, and in actuality, there is no such thing as absolute certainty--especially when we know the brain so often perceives the world incorrectly and that our intuitions are usually off by a wide margin.


Of course I am familiar with the common objection: But we know for certain how some things work (absolutely). Take microwave ovens for example. We know exactly how a microwave oven works. We can explain every detail as to what makes it work and, furthermore, can give lengthy explanations on how it works. Our knowledge of microwave ovens, then, seems to be absolute. We even know about electromagnetism and how microwaves function, so it's not a big mystery of why a bag of Orville Redenbacher popcorn pops when you microwave it. And I'd agree, our understand with regard to microwave ovens and microwave popcorn is as absolute as it is going to get. 


But let's not overlook the fact that this is only because it is an understanding which we were able to derive from prior discoveries in physics, discoveries which were, and may still be, subject to revision, refinement, and/or improvement. So the fact that our certainty rests on a foundation of ongoing research suggests there is a certain amount of uncertainty we must predict, even expect, as any future find may change our minds about the basic understanding of microwaves, even as this does not jeopardize our current understanding of how microwave ovens and microwave popcorn work, per se.


So although it is true there are both logical and scientific claims we can deem absolute, our understanding never starts out that way. We begin with uncertainty and then work our way toward certainty--which is basically saying we move from ignorance to understanding--and science it the tool which helps us do this. So anything which is absolute is only deemed "absolute" because of the prior provisionality which allowed us to test the competing options and then either falsify or prove them, and after which we gain further insights--thus adding to the certitude in our scientific knowledge. Even so, I would caution, since science has, traditionally speaking, had a way of surprising us with rewriting our understanding of the world (e.g., quantum mechanics being a fitting example), we cannot be sure, at least not a hundred percent anyway, that tomorrow a new discovery won't have us updating the details of our current understanding and causing us to rewrite our textbooks on what we thought we knew.


Anyway, that's the gist regarding the provisionality of scientific knowledge.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Writing 101: George Orwell


In his excellent 1945 essay "Politics and the English Language" George Orwell lays out six rules to writing clearly and with purpose. Every aspiring writer should be obliged to consider Orwell's excellent advice.


A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:


1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?


And he will probably ask himself two more:


1. Could I put it more shortly [i.e., concisely]?
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly [e.g., wordy, extraneous]?


I have provides brackets to clarify Orwell's meaning, even as it may prove to be unnecessary, saying a sentence is "ugly" has, itself, become an outmoded colloquialism. Regardless, the outline Orwell provides is one which I try to adhere to each and every time I set pen to paper or begin to type on my keyboard. Those who fail to write clearly or fail to get their meaning across typically do so because they have failed to observer these six points.



Are Christians Delusional?

Richard Carrier covers this topic at Skepticon 3. Both funny and informative! Worth a viewing.

Science Quote of the Day: Victor J Stenger


[N]othing we currently know from our best sources of knowledge requires anyone to buy into one or more of the many extravagant claims that are made by those who would try to use science to promote their own particular mystical or supernatural worldview. Since these promoters introduce extraneous elements of reality not required by the data, their proposals fail the test of parsimony. It then follows that they have the burden of proving their schemes, not I the burden of disproving them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reasonably Certain

Philhellenes does it again. Brilliant!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Science Quote of the Day: Brian Greene


The breathtaking achievement of quantum mechanic's founders was to develop a mathematical formalism that dispensed with the absolute predictions intrinsic to classical physics and instead predicted such probabilities. Working from an equation Schrodinger published in 1926 (and an equivalent though somewhat more awkward equation Heisenberg wrote down in 1925), physicists can input the details of how things are now, and then calculate the probability that they will be one way, or another, or another still, at any moment in the futures... the probabilistic predictions of quantum mechanics match experimental data. Always. In more than eighty years since these ideas were developed, there has not been a single verifiable experiment or astrophysical observation whose results conflict with quantum mechanical predictions. --Brian Greene (The Hidden Reality, pp.192-193)

Entropy Kills Kalam! Boom Shaka Laka!


The Argument from Entropy
Initially I conceived the argument from entropy as a contra-argument to the Kalam cosmological argument. Also, logically speaking the argument from entropy is backed by real observation, and is based on the second law of thermodynamics, hence the argument from entropy. But what is it exactly? The argument from entropy is:

1.     God created everything (including life)
2.     Entropy is certain
3.     Entropy will extinguish all life
4.     God has the power to prevent entropy, but doesn’t
5.     A God of love would prevent entropy
6.     Therefore God cannot be a loving being

Here we see that, logically speaking, entropy rules out a loving creator God. Even so, it is true that some deity may still be responsible for having created a universe capable of supporting life, but only insofar as this fulfills his ultimate purpose to, subsequently, have it annihilated (via entropy). As such, this rules out the Christian God, since we know that the Christian God is all loving and has the power to prevent certain death of his beloved creation. Failing to do so would suggest that it is not a loving God who created the universe; should a supernatural creating agent be involved. Thus the creator of this universe cannot be the Christian God.

Kalam Assumes Wrongly
Proponents of the Kalam cosmological argument assume that God is a personal being, a being of immense love, who intended there to be the flourishing of life—not impending heat death. But low and behold, the second law of thermodynamics is a veritable fact! As plain as day, we can see that any life which arises will just as quickly be snuffed out of existence, and this regrettable fact is evidence that God’s real desire is to have all things in existence annihilated. This means God is capriciously creating life only to distinguish it. It also means he is not technically a creator being, but rather, a being of destruction. Since the argument from entropy is predicated on real observations, and Kalam is predicated on the assumption of an uncaused cause (which we’ll get to momentarily), we know that the argument from entropy overrules the Kalam cosmological argument.

The Cornucopia Conundrum
Another reason the argument from entropy overrides the Kalam cosmological argument is that it is more practical. Unlike the Kalam, it does not generate the problem of inestimable quantities of excess gods. A Christian detractor criticized the argument from entropy, stating:

I am not sure how your ‘entropy argument’ defeats Kalam. Kalam makes no claim about the nature of the goodness of God or the permanence of the universe, per se, so claiming that somehow entropy indicates God isn’t what Christians suppose Him to be is irrelevant in this case... and I am not sure what it has to do with Kalam at all.

Okay, let’s break it down. The entire premise of Kalam, and the cosmological argument in general, rests on the theological foundation of Christianity as a proof for the existence of God. While is need not refer to the Christian God specifically, as it does not presuppose monotheism, it is most frequently employed by Christian theologians.

The prior assumption that the Creator being is the God of Christianity denotes a distinction between the types of gods we may be speaking of. Other religions have other concepts, but we cannot divorce the theological basis of the Kalam without losing all referent to the sort of deity it is trying to prove. After all, many gods are supposedly capable of creating the universe, but somehow I doubt the Kalam cosmological argument is making the claim that Brahma is the creator of the cosmic waters (i.e., the universe), in which he deposited the seed of life, in the form of a golden egg, called the hiranyagarbha, in which it was born itself as Brahma, the creator of the universe.

However, Christians presumptively claim that their God concept is the only viable one, i.e. the one true God. This is an inlaid confirmation bias, a feature of Christian thought, which, as it so happens, conveniently gets rid of the problem of having to weed through excess gods. Such an expedient fix may ease the believer’s difficulty in having to take seriously other religion’s god concepts, while escaping the heavy burden of weeding through and endless series of excess gods, testing god hypothesis after god hypothesis, to find the correct one predicted by Kalam.

If Kalam merely intended to prove that a god (singular, lowercase deity), then without defining it as, quote unquote, “the Christian God,” any other god would do. Therefore the confirmation bias within Christianity acts as a filter which allows only one god concept to properly be considered. As such, this confirmation bias is the reason the Kalam cosmological argument only intends to prove the existence of just one god—the Christian God—even as the Kalam cosmological argument does not presuppose monotheism.[i]

Knowing this we can safely assume that the Kalam cosmological argument, as argued for by Christian theologians, does make specific claims about the nature of the goodness of God and the permanence of the universe, because such claims are married to Christian theology and, as we have seen, cannot be so easily divorced. 

Foundations of the Kalam Cosmological Argument
Knowing that the Kalam cosmological argument does, in fact, refer to the Christian God, as Christian theologian William Lane Craig maintains, we can make some simple deductions based on the provided context. Let’s simplify this into formal logic and see how it works out.

According to Christian Belief
1.     God exists
2.     God is a creator being
3.     Everything in existence was created
4.     Therefore God created all

Following modal logic, we know that since God created everything he must be the initial cause of creation. Theologians then semantically manipulate the language by saying God is the “uncaused cause” which created the universe. Basically, saying something is an “uncaused cause” is the same as saying that it “just is.” How can we hope to argue against something that “just is”? Checkmate skeptics! God just is, deal with it. Never mind that this is nothing more than unconfirmed, desperate, special pleading.

Yet the Kalam cosmological argument goes one step further than this and suggests that God transcends all physical reality. What this means is that he is beyond space and time, he literally transcends reality. Which is sort of like saying God exists outside of the theoretical framework, and this is clearly meant to safeguard God from disproof. Now, according to Christian theological reasoning, God just is and since this is an unfalisfiable claim, we can neither confirm or disconfirm it, and so must take it on faith. Religious people tend to like unfalsifiable premises because they are a lot like Invisible Pink Unicorns. So be weary of such obvious pitfalls. Side-step them and move on.

Before we come back to the argument from entropy, however, let’s better define God as to discover why his inborn nature denotes that he act as creating agent.

According to Christian Belief
1.     God is a loving being
2.     God’s will is for there to be life
3.     God created all life (from 2)
4.     Therefore God love’s all life (from 1 and 3)

This defines God’s character, according to Christian belief, that he is a creator, is a loving God, and so, as a consequence, loves his creation infinitely. Allowing for the Christian understanding paves the way for the Kalam cosmological argument.

Two Logical Inferences from the Argument from Entropy
Now let’s talk about why the argument from entropy is problematic for the Kalam cosmological argument.

Let us consider two options regarding the consequences that arise from the argument from entropy.

Option 1
It is likely that the universe we live in is the byproduct of a capricious and unloving supreme being in which we are merely anomalous life forms, accidents of an ill-fated universe predestined to annihilation.

Implication
If so, for me personally, this is a frightening prospect and one religious believers ought to seriously ponder. Does such a description, as the argument from entropy provides, derived from observable reality, fit with the Christian notion of God? If not, then they are mistaken about the nature of their God. Whereas evil god theory accounts for the second law of thermodynamics, the Christian concept of God does not. In fact, the Christian concept of God, as we saw above, is falsified by the argument from entropy.

Option 2
It is likely that the universe exists as it naturally is, minus supernatural agents/assumptions, and therefore the observed entropy simply reflects the sort of universe we happen to live in.

Implication
If so, tough luck, but I still find it more desirable than being made a pawn in some mad-as-a-march-hair deity’s rigged chess game. Option two contains the more plausible answer, since unlike the philosophical premise of the first one, no ad hoc assumptions about initial causes are being made. Applying Occam’s razor we see the supernatural premise of a creating agent is unnecessary to explain entropy, therefore the second option is the more feasible of the two.

Asking the questions, “what sort of universe do we live in” and “which option most accurately depicts it?” allows us to rephrase these options as a logical deduction. It goes something like this: Using Occam’s razor to cut out the extemporaneous, option one falls away, since all supernatural agents/assumptions are unnecessary. Heat entropy can be explained as a natural consequence of the sort of universe we live in without invoking prior supernatural causes. Thus option two becomes the more conceivable choice. Accordingly, the best logical inference is that God is not required for the sort of universe we find ourselves in, and more over, the God of Christianity is incompatible with the sort of universe we do find ourselves in. As such, we can safely assume the Christian God does not exist.

Now, you can check my reasoning and see if I have made some sort of oversight, but I have thought long and hard about this, I have double and triple checked the logic, and I simply do not see what I could have overlooked.


About Beginnings
For Kalam to work God must exist necessarily so that he may be established as an uncaused cause, but I would caution this is pure sophist speculation. It does not follow from any logical deduction that I am aware of. Christians often presume we lack evidence of things coming into existence absent of any known cause. Anything which came into existence without a cause would defeat the idea that the universe could only come into existence via God’s divine will. Meaning, that if there was any evidence which showed us that the universe may come into existence without the aid of God, well then, this would defeat the Kalam cosmological argument. Luckily we are in possession of such evidence.

Quantum mechanics has measured the energy patterns of a proton coming in and out of existence with no apparent cause.

If the universe is uncaused, and just is, but exists none-the-less, then we have no need to ask about the cause. Kalam then posits God is the cause—which we have absolutely no reason to invoke. If the universe spontaneously came into existence, as quantum mechanics suggests, then again, we have no valid reason to invoke God.

The Circle that Begot a Triangle: Expounding the Analogy
According to Kalam: God is an uncaused cause; the universe is caused; therefore God preceded the universe and therefore must have caused it. That’s the reasoning behind Kalam anyway.

According to my analogy: A circle which is uncaused just is; a triangle is caused; therefore the circle which preceded the triangle must have caused it. Notice there is no actual link between a circle which just is and the existence of the triangle.

Thus asking whether an uncaused cause is related to the beginning of what it purportedly caused is ineffective. There is no valid relationship to connect God (the uncaused cause which just is) to the universe’s existence any more so than there is an uncaused circle (which just is) denotes any relationship to the existence of a triangle.

The theological premise that an uncaused cause caused our universe, and that God is such an uncaused causer, is not merely illogical, but hubristic in the highest sense of the word. It would be like saying that an uncaused circle caused a triangle, therefore any triangle which exists must have had a beginning, therefore a cause, thus the circle (which just is) really exists. Thinking this way too long is bound to give you a headache.

Worse still, somehow the nature of the triangle, it having three distinct angles, sides of discernible length, etc., is proof the circle (which just is) also happens to be loving circle of all triangular beginnings, for he loved them enough to give the unique properties which define triangles (three acute angles connected by three line segments—just as theologians claim God’s love also sponsored his desire to create life and therefore the life sustaining properties unique to our universe are evidence of God). Seriously, this is how backwards the reasoning of the Kalam cosmological argument is.

Recall that when we restate the Kalam’s first premise, to reflect our more practical understanding of the observable universe, we come up with: all physical reality which exists has a beginning and most probably a cause. As a lucky side-effect, all the other cause claims fall away, but the meaning is retained. Things that begin to exist usually have causes. But this does nothing to suggest God is that cause. For all we know, there may not have been any cause, i.e. the universe may have spontaneously erupted out of Quantum fluctuations, called a Quantum singularity. Let’s not overlook the fact that it’s called a singularity for a reason.

Therefore invoking God as an uncaused cause, proves illogical to begin with, and has nothing to do with the existence of the universe. Positing an uncaused cause as the cause to our beginning, then, is simply superfluous and is not necessary in establishing the universe’s existence. Do Quantum fluctuations require the existence of God? How so? That’s what I’d like to know. Couldn’t quantum events themselves be considered uncaused causes? Then what purpose serves God? God causing the universe simply does not follow from logical deduction, and so is, in philosophical terms, a poor inference. Just as an uncased circle is a poor inference for the existence of a triangle.

The Bottom Line
I do realize that the Kalam is arguing for the existence of God, not the existence of the universe, or of imaginary circles. But when pondering philosophical subjects, such as these, it is important to keep a distinction between analogies which aid in the description of the concept, and the concept itself. I think people often confuse or conflated the two. Analogies aren’t exact, mind you, they’re analogous.

The bottom line is God’s existence does not necessarily follow from logical processes. We cannot get from uncaused circles to triangles any more so than we can get from God to the universe. This is why the Kalam is a non-sequitur. It hasn’t proved God, nor has it explained the origins of the universe (to any relatable degree), even as it pretends to do both.

When we consider entropy, matters get severely complicated. As I have shown, the sort of universe we live in where the second law of thermodynamics is a veritable fact leads us to conclude that should God have created such a universe, he is either evil (a fact which is completely incompatible with the Christian God), or else, more probably, he does not exist as entropy can be explained without invoking supernatural agents (the simpler solution).



[i] The Kalam cosmological argument does not presuppose monotheism, let alone a personal God. Instead it allows for various conceptualizations of god. Ive written about this problem before in my essay entitled The Problem with Kalam (see here). Christian confirmation bias, however, is the only thing requiring Kalam be about the God of Christianity.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist