Bad Argument for God: Why is there something instead of nothing?

This is the second in a series of bad arguments in support of a theistic god.

Argument: The universe exists, therefore God exists.

I will start by restating my premise for this series...that this is a deconstruction of some common arguments for a theistic god that intervenes in our world...a personal god that answers prayers...a god that has ostensibly revealed himself, his codes of conduct, and his dietary preferences. The theistic gods that have significant market share these days are 1) the god of Abraham [Judaism, Christianity, Islam] and 2) the gods of Hinduism. We smart apes claim to know something about these gods...their desires...their intents...their previous/current activity.

For this brief discussion, I will be using Christian/Abrahamic references...because, being in the U.S., it is what I am typically surrounded with. The examples and arguments, though, can be similarly applied to any theistic god.

FAILURE 1: The argument relies on the presupposition that it is only an intelligent creator that could have created "something from nothing". Certainly, the origin of the universe is probably the least well understood aspect of our cosmology...but saying that God did it is unambiguous hubris. By saying so; one ostensibly knows all the other possibilities of what preceded the Big Bang and has dismissed them in favor of their own God. The finest minds in the world are barely teasing the most preliminary flecks of understanding from the earliest moments of our universe. I suggest that our species will go extinct well before we have any compelling evidence as to what preceded the Big Bang.

The professionally curious scientists [i.e. Stenger, Hawking] have, at best, hypothesized various scenarios that, by their nature, are deeply unsatisfying and non-intuitive to the lay person...myself included. It's important to recognize, though, that their hypotheses are grounded in empirical understanding of the nature of matter. We have tested the non-intuitive idea that matter is another form of energy elegantly described in E=MC2 and successfully leveraged that to create nuclear bombs. Stenger and others have suggested that this duality and our observations would suggest that the net sum of our universe, even today, is zero. In effect; our universe is 'nothing' separated into its component parts. Of course that is a completely non-intuitive definition of 'nothing' for a lay person. We need to recognize, though, that non-intuitive does not mean non-true. Consider Einstein's idea that time was not constant and and varied with your rate of speed. We eventually proved it to be true and many of us rely on it daily by using GPS navigation.

This is classic god-of-the-gaps thinking. Just because we don't know what may have preceded the Big Bang is not evidence in support of God. It only means that the religious apologist and the theoretical physicist have nearer the same amount of evidence...and it is objectively wrong thinking to insert an explanation in the absence of evidence and wait to be disproved.

FAILURE 2: Such an argument only supports the idea of a deistic god...not a theistic God. This is a classic false dichotomy (the understanding of which seems totally lost of many many religious apologists). The range of options here is not No god or My God, but rather No god or Some god. The believer is still light-years away from demonstrating that their creation story is true while every other creation story is a myth.

I should say, too, that I do not concern myself with deistic explanations of the universe. For the most part, I only argue against theistic explanations because theism is what insinuates itself into public policy. The deist, I feel, is a much nearer to being an atheist, than a theist. (To pick nits: word deconstruction means that a deist IS an atheist) In matters of morality and policy, the deist (not claiming to know the mind of god) relies on the same introspective exercises that the atheist so well exploits. While I hold the position that deism is an invalid mode of thought; it cannot lead to the extremism and xenophobia that theism seems so well suited for.

Next time: The effectiveness of prayer.

Bad Argument For God: The Popularity of the Bible

This is the first in a series refuting some of the bad...yet still common...arguments in support of a personal god.

Argument: The Bible is the most popular book in history, therefore it must be true.

This isn't an argument for truth, but rather an argument for popularity. The most common number I have seen is that there have been around 5-6 billion bibles printed [ref] [ref]. This would, easily, make it the most reproduced book of all time. One thought that immediately comes to mind is "How do they know that?" Well, the truth is they don't know that with any real precision. There was never any formal census of publishers to get an accurate count of such a thing. Still; I am willing to go with that oft-repeated estimate. Christianity is the most popular religion and some version (more on that later) of the Bible is pretty much standard issue for Christians since the advent of broad literacy and movable type...6,000,000,000 it is then.

It should be obvious to the casual observer (but obviously isn't) that mere popularity does not infer any higher truth. The number two book in history is Mao Tse-tung's Red Book (aka Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse-tung). Like Christianity; Mao had an obedient captive audience that made ownership of his musings on communist ideology required. Does the popularity of The Red Book mean that communism is a truer form of governance? Is the Toyota Corolla a divine form of automobile? Is a McDonald's hamburger a more inspired form of sandwich? Of course the answer to those examples is a resounding "No!"...and I shan't bore you with saying why the answer is "no". If it needs explaining, then you need a serious intellectual intervention...and you can't get it on a blog post.

Moreover; there are many versions of the bible and they do not all differ merely from translation biases [ref]. Even the Ten Commandments...something ostensibly chiseled in stone by God himself...varies in content [ref] in important ways. Most importantly; the interpretations of those bibles is all over the map...even when using the same version. It would seem to me that, if a book were genuinely divine, then there would be only one consistent interpretation regardless of how it were translated.

But maybe the bible isn't the most popular book....

Think about all the basic mathematics textbooks that have every been printed. Effectively; every person in the world getting a formal education from the 1500's to present made use of a math textbook. [of course early on not every student had their own textbook, but populations were small and wouldn't skew the number too badly]. Let us consider the printing of myriad versions of math texts analogous to the printing of the various derivations of the bible. I would estimate that there have been 7,000,000,000 algebra texts printed ... because I can invoke my own unsourced number to compete with the unsourced 6,000,000,000 of the bible.

Even if I pulled my number from an orifice on my lower torso [I did], it is not insignificant that, while there are far more versions of math texts, there is only one interpretation of their content. If we are looking for a yardstick for determining truth; I would submit that there is far more truth in any math textbook than there is in any version of the Bible.

Next time: "Why is there something instead of nothing?"

Bad Arguments For God

For the last few years, I have been relatively active in discussing/debating the existence of a god or gods [myself arguing on the "not existing" side]. By mere virtue of living in the United States, this generally means a focus on the biblical god of Abraham...but I am an equal opportunity disbeliever in any god that interacts with our world...that is to say...a theistic god. My motivation is not to demean any given god-believer, but rather to demean and ridicule bad arguments. If the god-believer can be shown that their argumentative position is unsupportable yet they remain married to that argument, then the god-believer brings that ridicule upon themselves. I strongly believe that there is no such thing as a thought crime and an individual is free to believe what they will...though it does trouble me that children are inculcated with mythology-as-fact before they are able to reason for themselves.

So...In my years of discussing belief, it quickly became apparent that there is a very limited arsenal of arguments for the existence of God. Here I wish to present a list of common arguments for the existence of a theistic god and show how they fail. To my mind, the arguments cited below should simply be taken off the table if the god-believer wishes to have any intellectual credibility.

Over the coming weeks/months/years, I will provide provide a brief dissertation on how each of these arguments fail. Feel free to suggest other arguments if you feel I have missed some important ones. Remember...I am only refuting arguments cited for the existence of a personal, involved, theistic god and, for this exercise, am unconcerned with arguments for the "some higher power" deistic god.

  • 1) The bible is the most popular book in the world
  • 2) Why is there something instead of nothing?
  • 3) Effectiveness of prayer
  • 4) Personal experience
  • 5) My holy book says so
  • 6) The miracles of my deity
  • 7) Prophecies
  • 8) Irreducible complexity
  • 9) The morality of humankind
  • 10) The argument from consequence
  • 11) The uniqueness of Christianity
  • 12) All societal benefits of religion
  • 13) The inerrancy of my holy book

Secular Parenting

I was contacted recently by the organizer of the “Fox Valley Secular Parenting” Meetup group upon my [ill-tended] blog came to her attention. (‘Fox Valley’ here referring to the shallow valley formed by the Fox River running from southern Wisconsin to the Illinois River and passes about 40 miles west of Chicago). I myself live very near that river with gives its name to this blog.

I, myself, have ruminated on parenting without religion for some time and have touched on the topic several times on these pages [here] and [here]. I think it is important and valuable that support groups such as “Fox Valley Secular Parenting” exist for non-believers…particularly new parents surrounded by religion and newer to the secular worldview. I imagine that it is the specter of parenting, itself, that brings a good many people to become introspective for the first time and come to terms with what they really believe…and in the end realize that they cannot inculcate their child with the religious mythology of their childhood. For myself; there is no role of greater import than imparting a strong ethical and intellectual framework to a child. That responsibility forced me to answer questions about myself that I hadn’t considered before.

I came to parenthood somewhat later than some in my early thirties. My wife and I have a hard time deciding what kitchen cabinet finish to choose.... so choosing when to start a family was similarly onerous. By this time, I was well on my way to being the ‘strident atheist’…but I didn’t recognize it. I still had the ingrained Catholic guilt of my childhood that knew that an 'atheist' had cloven hooves and serpents for pets. I knew I wasn’t THAT (an atheist)…so I assumed I was something else but hadn’t analyzed it much further by the time my wife was waddling around with her swollen belly. I knew there was the ‘agnostic’ term, but that seemed too vacant. I wouldn’t call myself agnostic with regard to Unicorns or trolls…I didn’t believe in them. The same was true with the god of the popular monotheisms. (after substantially more rumination I now know that the terms are in, no way, mutually exclusive)

My point here was that, by the time my son came into the world, religion meant nothing to me. I conducted myself ethically and responsibly. I at least realized that religion was not important to being either ethical or responsible. In my parenting, religion was a non-issue despite most of my family being Catholic and being predominantly surrounded by church-going households. Sure; my mother worried about my son not being baptized until the Pope said all the limbo stuff was just made-up s**t [ref]. For some years I wanted to have my son baptized just for the family tradition aspects but knew that I would have to lie about my intent to bring him up as a Catholic. Beyond that; I had no difficulties.

Some parents, on the other hand, may not be as far along in their turn away from religion. Maybe family and community pressures make it very difficult. Maybe you don’t know any non-Christians (you would be wrong). For these parents, support groups like Fox Valley Secular Parenting and social groups like Fox Valley Atheists can be a great place to go. The more you study; you realize that there are far more non-believers than you might realize.

Catholic Church: I DEFECT!

I finally got around to it. I just sent off my official request for defection from the Catholic Church. I have been a lapsed Catholic since about puberty, but it has gotten to the point that the mere thought of my name on their rosters seemed offensive to me. Given their actions on child sexual abuse, their positions on contraception, women, gays, etc. etc. etc, I felt the need to put as much distance as I could be me and the Pope.

There is a formal process for defecting and you can read about it here. I just filled out a form and sent it via certified mail to Cardinal George in Chicago. I included the following letter (some personal information changed for posting here)

21 May 2010
To: Cardinal Francis George
From: Mike Burns
Subject: Defection from the Catholic Church

Mr. George,

I write to you today request that my name be formally removed from the official roll of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). I do this with a clear head and with the full understanding of its implications (as perceived by the RCC).

What motivates me to this action is the final and full recognition that the RCC, at its highest levels, is more concerned with the power structure it maintains than the congregants that it purports to serve. Most recently, the Irish abuse revelations, the Wisconsin abuse revelations, the RCC’s position on contraception in Africa, the demand of clergy celibacy, the status of women, and the status of homosexuals (to name but a few) make it clear that I cannot allow myself to be, even informally, associated with the RCC.

The Wisconsin abuse revelation brings involvement to the very highest level of your organization. The teachings that condoms make the AIDS epidemic worse can only be described as primitive, dangerous, ignorant and evil.

I have been a lapsed Catholic for over thirty years now and recognize that there is no compelling reason to believe in any supernatural actor (creator) at work in our universe. I further believe that religion is an abysmal basis for a moral/ethical framework. I actively educate interested parties to the facts of science and the history of religion in a conscious effort to dissuade others from adopting a theistic worldview.

I have informed my family that I no longer wish to be associated with the RCC at any level.

I have enclosed a self-addressed, stamped envelope which I request be returned to me with documentation/acknowledgement that my formal defection has been affected and that I no longer appear on the RCC register. Pertinent information for the request is:

Full Name: Michael Burns
Parents: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DOB: ~~~~~~~~~
Diocese of Baptism: Chicago
Parish of Baptism: Mount Carmel, Melrose Park, Illinois
Date of Baptism: Unknown

It should be noted that I will be documenting these communications and efforts publicly on my blog site. Staff may contact me at or [phone number] if necessary.

I also included a document to be returned to me in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. It read:


This document is for the purpose of documenting the formal defection of Michael Burns. It may be substituted with a document of your choosing as long as the substituted document contains at least the same information below.

I (printed name) _______________________________ can verify that Michael Burns, baptized in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Melrose Park, Illinois has been formally removed from the registers of the Roman Catholic Church.



_____________________________________________________ Title/Position/Role within the Roman Catholic Church:

Can their be a greatest quote of all time?

My nomination for the Freethinker's best quote of all time:

"Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.VI, 1782.

Honorable mention goes to:

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain