Dec 252002

No, strike that…God’s existence not disproved…no, that’s not it either.

Jim Holt, who writes on philosophy for Slate, is often good but today, on God, he is merely facile. He manages to write 1300 words without mentioning the most obvious objection: that God is a classical violation of Occam’s Razor. He is an entity without necessity. This places the burden of proof on those who assert his existence. Holt does discuss, briefly, the equally powerful objection that God is incoherent — irresistible forces, immovable objects, that sort of thing — only to dismiss it. “This is very much a philosopher’s argument, and it has been worked over to the point of inconclusiveness.” Ah. The philosophers disagree. So we laymen can safely put it aside.

He also puts the problem of evil in its weakest possible form, by choosing as his example a catastrophe willed by men, the Holocaust. Here there is an easy answer, and Holt quotes a Professor Van Inwagen of Notre Dame, who provides it: “To ask God to give me free choice between x and y and to see to it that I chose x instead of y is to ask him to do the logically impossible.” This rejoinder has somewhat less force against an accidental disaster, an act of, er, God. The classic case, the one that shook the faith of Voltaire, is the Lisbon earthquake of November 1st, 1755, All Saints’ Day. It was in the morning, when church services were being held. Thirty-five of the forty churches in the city collapsed, more than 10,000 people died, and the faithful in church generally fared much worse than the infidels at home. This ought to persuade anyone that, if God does exist, He is at least anti-clerical.

Holt does tell one excellent joke, however. Q: How do you protest when a Unitarian moves into the neighborhood? A: You burn a question mark on his lawn.

  7 Responses to “God’s Existence Proved!”

  1. Brother William of Ockham would have been appalled at your use of his razor. While he would not have claimed that the human mind was capable of anything approaching a proof of God’s existence, he would have pointed out that, say, the idea of causality pointing to an eternal, uncaused Cause was a means of recognizing His existence.

  2. God is indeed an entity without necessity, no matter what Brother William might have thought. One way to put the question is, if you agree that the conservation of matter works forward in time, whether it works backward as well. Another way is this:

    Q: How did the universe come into being?
    A: We don’t know.

    Q: How did the universe come into being?
    A: Some big magic dude in the sky created it.
    Q: How did he come into being?
    A: We don’t know.

  3. Ah, I just remembered who I stole that dialogue from. Mark Wickens. Sorry Mark.

  4. Oh, I’m sorry. I was waiting for an argument. :.)

    I say that something outside of the universe, outside of time, caused the universe, that the universe did not self-create. The universe began, and has not existed eternally. You say you don’t know, which is a perfectly valid response, but makes no attack on my point. I never claimed that something to be big, magic, or a dude.

    The principle of parsimony requires that I only claim as many entities as necessary to fully explain my model–no more than explains the facts. I say something caused the universe to begin. You have offered no alternative: the fact that the don’t know dialog is shorter does not mean that it is more parsimonious–it explains nothing at all.

    The dialogs were cute, but do not constitute an argument. I know you pride yourself in logic: attack the argument, not some straw man.

  5. Looked like an argument to me. Something has always existed. The Second Law of Thermodynamics implies that that something is matter. You say it is intelligence, incorporeal intelligence at that. Which one of us is multiplying entities?

    However, I should have said, in answer to the question of how the universe came into being, "It didn’t," instead of "We don’t know." My cute little dialogue, alas, only confused the issue.

  6. I would think that on both a physical and metaphysical level, the second law of thermodynamics favors a universe with a beginning. Physically, it means that time’s arrow points one way. If entropy always increases, then at some point in the future the universe will be in some form of equilibrium. The universe can never have emerged from such an equilibrium by this law; the universe must have come from some more ordered state–thus the universe began, and has not existed eternally.

  7. Sorry Allan, meant to answer this and forgot about it. That matter (actually energy, to be technical) is neither created nor destroyed is the First Law of Thermodynamics, not the Second; my error. This proposition does seem to make it rather hot for theists and others who wish to suggest that the universe had a beginning.

    In any case, the Second Law of Thermodynamics would imply that the universe arose from some more ordered state only in a universe of constant volume, which is not, of course, what we have. It applies to closed systems in equilibrium, and the universe is neither.

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