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?"