Wednesday, 13 August 2014

KCA and choice

During my many interactions with theist apologists I have often come across a curious version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Essentially the argument in its simplest form looks like this:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe has begun to exist.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

There are problems with the first and second premises but I will not go into them here. Rather I want to focus on something else. So, for our purposes, let is grant the above argument and (again just for our purposes) agree that there's a cause of the universe. We can call it UC (Universe's Cause).

The obvious problem is that this doesn't prove a god. It only proves a cause of the universe. There's no proof here that UC is self-aware, intelligent or personal.

This is where it gets curious. The theist extension of the above argument often goes like this:

4. A backward infinity in time is logically impossible (ie time must have had a beginning)

5. Therefore the event causing the Universe to exist (often referring to the trigger of the Big Bang) must have been non-temporal.

6. The only conceivable non-temporal event is a CHOICE.

7. Therefore UC made a choice.

8. Therefore UC must have free will and be personal.

9. Hence, UC is God.

There are problems at many of the above steps but my issue here is with step 6. The apologists declare by fiat that the only conceivable non-temporal event is a choice.

What leads them to consider a non-temporal event is their rejection of infinite regression. The triggering event had to have no cause itself as otherwise there would be an infinite number of backwards causes and if that were the case we would never get to THIS point in time (current point; today). That's because, the argument goes, there would be an infinite number of preceding points, placing us at the end of infinity which is impossible.

Of course the above reasoning takes a shortcut. UC may have itself had a cause and may have been preceded by a sequence of 100000 causes that all follow a First Cause (the one and only UNCAUSED cause). But this shortcut is not the problem with the argument as, even if we avoid the shortcut (as I just did), we do end up with a First Cause. The apologist can turn around and call THAT cause "god".

Whether the First Cause is in fact the one that caused the universe immediately is not important. If we are to avoid infinite regression, we still have to end up with an Uncaused Cause, no matter how far it is causally removed from the Big Bang.

Thus the correct theist contention must be "the First Cause must have exercised a choice as there's no other conceivable uncaused action, except for a free-will-choice".

Let us consider this proposition.

A. Choice in the traditional sense

Choices, as we know them, don't appear out of nowhere. They are not uncaused and they are not non-temporal. They follow deliberations. There's input (emotions, data), there's processing (consideration of consequences, options, competing interests and emotions) and there's the final result; a choice, a decision.

If FC (First Cause) is said to make a choice in the sense that we know it (as in the above paragraph), then each step in that process must be preceded by another step. It's a causative sequence of events; each one leading to the next. This takes us back to infinite regression, unless the apologist can identify a first-ever event in the process.

Short breather to handle an anticipated objection

Note that it doesn't matter if we call this infinite regression "non-temporal". I say this because apologists are likely to pose that objection at this point. If the Law of Causality applies then we need a sequence of causes and effects. Each cause precedes its effect in SOME SENSE. Otherwise, there would be no telling between Effect "follows" (arises from) Cause and Cause follows (arises from) Effect. And if that were the case, we can't say the Law of Causality applies in the first place. In this sense, it must be possible to trace back Effects and their Causes to a first (sequentially, not temporally) Cause. Failing that, we are trapped in infinite regression (albeit in the causal and not in the temporal sense). Trying to escape that trap by saying "but all these Cause-Effects happen at the same instant as they're not temporal") might resolve that problem.

However, in that case the Choice Argument fails.

Once it's proposed that a reality can exist with an infinite sequence of Cause-Effects but in a non-temporal order, "choice" is no an attractive option even on the apologist's argument. For the claim would now amount to "Even though a non-temporal sequence of infinite Cause-Effects is possible, the creation of the Universe could only happen by choice". Such a statement of course makes no sense and, without its own support, would fail.

It amounts to saying that a non-temporal infinite sequence of events have lead to the choice. In these circumstances, there's no merit in saying "choice is the only conceivable option". Once an infinite number of Cause-Effects has been involved, the "Infinity+1st event" might simply be a mechanical effect of its own cause.

So, infinite number of steps in God's decision to make the Universe is out and there must be a first-ever step in this process.

Back to the argument

But how can there be a first-ever event in the process? What this would entail is a dormant entity (FC) who does absolutely nothing and then out of the blue, embarks on an uncaused process of deliberation.  And what triggers THIS event? Apparently nothing. It's a random, uncaused event. But if we agree that the choice process was triggered by a random, uncaused event, what's the relevance of CHOICE in the process at all? How do we exclude the Big Bang itself being caused a random uncaused event (BBCE - Big Bang causing event)? Or how do we exclude some other event that CAUSED BBCE and itself was a random, uncaused event? Or how do we exclude a longer sequence of causes and effects all beginning with a random, uncaused event but NOT involving a choice? We can't exclude any of these propositions.  And all of them are more economical (ie involve less unnecessary assumptions) than a random uncaused event in the so-far-dormant mind of a pre-existing self-aware entity. This makes God redundant.

B. A special kind of choice - no processes

What if the choice to create the Universe (or to cause the Big Bang as the case may be) was itself a special kind of choice? One that, unlike all the choices we have ever observed, is uncaused and is not preceded by deliberations/considerations/inputs?

Such a "choice" is so unlike any choices we know of, that it's difficult to even call it a choice.

But the problem gets worse. This event is itself random and uncaused. And again, once we propose a random and uncaused "choice", it would be more economical to consider a random uncaused trigger that does NOT involve a heretofore dormant and yet omniscient self-aware entity. Once again, God is redundant.

C. What if making that uncaused choice was in God's special nature?

Of course, that is special pleading.

And of course, the same question arises. What caused God to have in his nature the inexplicable tendency to make this sudden choice to create the universe (or trigger the Big Bang as the case may be)?

Of course the theist will answer that god's nature is uncaused. But if we are prepared to propose a special entity that has an uncaused nature leading it to make this sudden "choice" to create the Universe, it would be more economical to propose a non-sentient First Cause in whose inexplicable and uncaused nature it is to trigger the generation of the Universe.

In short, consider the two propositions:

1. An entity in whose nature it is to suddenly create the universe. We don't know how.

2. An entity in whose nature it is to suddenly make a conscious decision to create the universe AND who is self-aware, personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, capable of emotions and of will. We don't know how.

Both propositions are sufficient for a First Cause. But the the second proposition is MORE than sufficient. It contains a number of unnecessary attributes. It is therefore erroneous to propose it.

Occam's Razor shaves God away.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

God of the Bible does not exist

This is a response to @No_drones on Twitter. The full text of his tweet can be found here:

@No_Drones says this:

The correct answer to this question is: no. Employing weasel words, this is the fallacy of false dilemma. An omnipotent God CAN create a stone of any weight AND He CAN lift any stone He creates. You are creating the square circle, not theism. An inability is not an ability. God can do anything that is logically possible and does not violate His own nature.

My response:

My opponent says above that an inability is not an ability. And yet, I am able to make a contraption that's too heavy for me to lift. That's an ability that I have. I am also able to grow in size. Can the Biblical God grow in size? I don't even know if he has a size to begin with. According to some, he's a spirit and has no physical attributes at all. According to others, he's omnipresent (exists everywhere and therefore it seems he can't grow in size).

If God can't make an object that's too heavy for him to lift, then there's something I can do and God can't do. It's not logically impossible for one to make something that's too heavy for oneself to lift. I can do something God can't do!

And yet, the Bible repeatedly tells us that there's NOTHING God can't do. Matthew 19:26 has Jesus saying "with God all things are possible". Genesis 18:14 has God himself saying to Abraham "Is anything impossible for the Lord?". This is in the context of making an infertile woman  (Sarah) get pregnant. But again, the biblical claim is phrased in the absolute; NOTHING is impossible (or too hard) for God. There are many other verses in the Bible that imply God has ABSOLUTE power. And yet, absolute power is logically impossible. 

What follows is that what my opponent attempts to do above is to limit the power that the Bible seeks to grant God. I'm not responsible for what the Bible says. My claim is simple: The BIBLICAL God (ie, the God described in the Bible) is logically impossible and therefore doesn't exist.

I will go further. The Bible claims that God is omniscient; he knows everything (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalms 139:1-6, 23; Jeremiah 17:10; Luke 16:15; Romans 8:27; Revelations 2:23). The Bible is full of these claims; nothing is hidden from the Lord, he knows your heart, knows everyone's heart, he's everywhere etc. See also a very nice article on this at

And yet, in Genesis 18, God hears the outcry of the grave sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. His response to this news is:

20 “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

The Hebrew word in this verse for "will know" is "Yada" (transliteration - see Strong's Concordance) and it means "to know, learn, perceive, find out, discern, consider...."

The Bible tells us that this omniscient God, the one who KNOWS EVERYTHING, is planning on COMING DOWN to Sodom and Gomorrah to see things personally and then to FIND OUT if things are really as bad as he has been told. This is a logical contradiction on THREE GROUNDS.

1) A god who knows everything (and in particular, everyone's heart), as the Bible tells us, is not a god who would need to come down to Sodom and Gomorrah to find out if things are as bad as the cry told him.

2) A god who knows everything can't possibly use the word "Yada" (I will find out)! He can't find out that which he already knows. And since he knows EVERYTHING, there's NOTHING EVER for him to find out.

3) The god of the bible is declared to be EVERYWHERE. See, for instance, Jeremiah 23:

23 “Am I only a God nearby,
declares the Lord,
    “and not a God far away?
24 Who can hide in secret places
    so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
    “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.

Is it possible for a God who IS EVERYWHERE to "go down" (the Hebrew word is "Yarad" and means "to go down, descend, sink, be prostrated) to Sodom and Gomorrah? No, of course it's not. He's ALREADY THERE, as he's everywhere.


My opponent's argument fails on two grounds at this point. Firstly, he's attempting to limit the meaning of "omnipotence" beyond that which the Bible gives to God. The Bible is clear that there's NOTHING impossible for the Lord. It does NOT say "there's nothing impossible for the lord except for that which is impossible for the lord" (and that wouldn't be very helpful as a definition of omnipotence in any event; note that the concept is so unreal that philosophers have been struggling to coherently define it for centuries now).

Secondly, the God of Genesis 18:20 is NOT the God of the rest of the Bible. Taken in its entirety, the Bible therefore proposes a God that can't possibly exist. And if he can't possibly exist, the only rational conclusion is he DOES NOT exist.

Note that Genesis 18 is not the only example of this. The God of the Bible is self-contradictory in a large number of aspects. Therefore, he doesn't exist. He's made up by a number of writers, each with his own views and his own agenda and theology. This explains why each portrays this deity in a different light, often with contradicting characteristics. 

Comments are welcome


Bible as evidence of miracles?

This is my response to parts of @No_drones' argument on twitter. His full argument can be found here:

@No_drones says this about claims of miracles:

"These events ARE documented in Scripture."

On related matters he also says this:

"Christians assert the Bible is historical evidence for such a God. You may not LIKE our evidence but that does not invalidate it."

Since both above declarations relate to the same claim, I will deal with them in a single post.

What my opponent is proposing is to ASSUME that the Judeo/Christian scriptures are factually correct.

This amounts to saying "what you're reading is true because those who believed it have written it down".

On this point, the fact that the beliefs were written down is irrelevant. Anyone could write their beliefs down. Thus, the only relevant issue is that somebody held those beliefs. In other words "this must be true because somebody believed it". Of course, this in itself is a fallacy.

If such an argument were allowed to succeed, we would be obliged to believe in Zeus, Shiva, Jupiter and 1000 other gods. We would have to believe that Caesar was divine, to name one. And what of the Book of Mormon? The Egyptian Book of the Dead? Ancient Slavic and Nordic beliefs? Other pagan beliefs? There have been thousands upon thousands of various religions and beliefs.

To claim that the Judeo/Christian tradition should be trusted is to claim that all other traditions (with deities markedly different in kind and number to the Abrahamic god) are wrong.

Unless a very compelling argument for this is presented, this simply isn't an intellectually honest approach. You can't just pick and choose a religious tradition and claim it's true to the exclusion of others.

So far I have seen no coherent argument that would in any way demonstrate the Bible to be true, let alone to be true to the exclusion of other religious beliefs.

If my opponent wants to use the Bible as evidence of supernatural events or entities, he must provide some solid evidence for why the supernatural claims of this particular culture ought to be accepted.

On the face of it, biblical claims are simply ludicrous.

In Exodus 7, Moses magically turns his staff into a snake which then eats the staffs of Egyptian priests (also magically turned into snakes). This is to convince us that the Jewish god is more powerful than Egyptian magic. Sound like something from 1001 nights? You bet.

In Numbers 22 we read about a donkey who has an argument with her owner. Cute. But I wouldn't expect a 6 year old to believe it. It's Alladin's lamp material.

What about the 42 teenaged mauled by 2 she-bears for the great crime of making fun of a bald man? (2 Kings 2). Are we believe these are the doings of an almighty creator of this enormous and wonderful universe? Nonsense.

Adam and Eve are tempted by a talking snake in Genesis. They then eat a fruit that has magic qualities; it allows them to understand the difference between right and wrong. Again, completely incredible. Also, the similarities with Pandora's box don't go unnoticed easily.  Mythology by all standards.

These accounts are no different in their style and content to many other magical claims in other mythologies. On their face, that's exactly what they are; myths. The Bible talks about monsters and giants. It talks about creating a woman from a man's rib.

Christian theology would have us believe that he creator of the universe couldn't find it in himself to forgive people unless somebody (an innocent man; in fact God himself, who is his own son) is brutally killed. Perhaps "killed" is too strong a word as he apparently comes back to live after 2-3 days (depending on the scripture; they're quite inconsistent).

Christ is said to perform miracles too. He restores a man's sight by washing his eyes in mud; a practice that back in the day was indeed widely believed to have magical effects.

On the face of it, all these claims are nothing short of fantastic and mythological. They do not show the world as we know it. Are we to believe them just because somebody wrote them down? Such an approach appears extraordinarily naive.

The Bible is not evidence of its claims; the Bible IS THE CLAIM. To say "it's true because it's in the bible" is to ASSUME that, despite its fantastic and typically mythological nature, the bible is true in the first place.

Unless we are to immerse ourselves in a world of ancient myths, this approach simply cannot be allowed. If you want to rely on the Bible as evidence of extraordinary claims, you must first demonstrate that it is extraordinarily credible.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Bible as cosmological proof

This is a response to @No_drones on twitter. His tweet can be found here:

In an attempt to prove the veracity of the bible, @No_drones has said the following:

YWYH claims in the first sentence of the first book of His self-revelation to mankind, the Bible:

[Genesis 1:1 ESV] 1 In the beginning [time begins to exist], God created the heavens [space begins to exist] and the earth [matter begins to exist]. [square brackets mine]

Predictions that logically follow from this text:

[1] The universe began to exist. > VERIFIED
[2] Time began to exist. > VERIFIED
[3] Space began to exist. > VERIFIED
[4] Matter began to exist. > VERIFIED

Which is logically and scientifically supported by the following argument:

[1] Things that begin to exist have a cause outside of themselves for beginning to exist.

[2] The universe began to exist.

[3] The universe has a transcendent cause for beginning to exist.


The above argument is fatally flawed on a number of grounds.

1. It assumes that when Genesis says "in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" it is referring to "space and matter". There are absolutely no grounds for this assumption. Likewise, the word "beginning" ("Re'shiyth" meaning "first") does not, on the face of it, denote the beginning of time (the bible does not say god created time) but the beginning of the creation process.

The words used for "heaven" and "earth" in the Hebrew Bible are (transliteration)  "Shamayim" and "'erets" respectively.

The former refers to the visible sky and atmosphere. The latter means "land, territory, country etc". NEITHER of the two words has any meaning that would even come close to "space" or "matter". To claim that they have those meanings is incorrect and, frankly, naive if not disingenuous.

2. The selected verse is an exercise in cherrypicking.

Genesis 1 goes on:

"2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.
3 God said, "Let there be light." And there was light!"

So there's no light. There's matter (on my my interlocutor's interpretation) and there's....water. If my opponent is correct in his interpretation, water is created before light. That's simply not correct.

What's more, once god creates light, God separates light from darkness, calling the darkness "night" and the light "day". And this is the evening, the end of the first day.

The first DAY? In a universe in which there's no planet earth? This simply can't be right.

But contrast this with a more literal interpretation; one where "earth" means "earth" (and not "matter") and "heaven" means "sky" (as it does!) What do we get then? We get a mythological account of creation of the earth (land) and of the sky. And we get light which marks the day on that land and darkness which marks night on earth. From the point of view of those who created the mythology this actually makes sense.

3.  There is nothing remarkable in speculating that the earth, the sky and time itself had a beginning.  I used to speculate that as a young child. In a world where everything we know of and observe has a beginning, it's intuitively sound to assume that the land and the sky had one too.

Likewise, it's difficult to imagine backwards infinity and there's nothing remarkable in speculating that time had a beginning.

After all, apologists often come up with philosophical arguments against infinite regression, based on that very intuition. To think that the same intuition would escape the ancient Jews (save for magical revelation from an existing god) is to deprive them of the human brain.

To claim that a culture's religious tradition is reliable (for its claims of deities and miracles etc) simply because the culture has intuited that the land and the sky (or even time) had a beginning makes no sense. MOST cultures have their creation myths, many claiming that their chosen chosen deity has created all that exists. Is my opponent claiming that all those gods are therefore true?

4. There's no scientific principle that "things that begin to exist have an outside cause". What we do observe is that there's causation which applies to TRANSFORMATION of matter and energy. That observation says nothing about the CREATION of either. Furthermore, causality as we know it is an observation made WITHIN our universe and there are no grounds to extrapolate it to a state where no universe exists at all. What my opponent is doing is ASSUMING that the law of causality applies to CREATION of matter and energy, that it applies OUTSIDE our universe and that it was the first law to have been "created". NONE of those three assumptions has any basis for it.

5. Finally, the Kalam (as this old Muslim argument is called) has other problems. It doesn't prove a god. At the very most it seeks to prove a special case First Cause. There's nothing to suggest that this First Cause was intelligent or even self-aware.

In conclusion, my interlocutor's claim of biblical accuracy has no legs. Firstly, he relies on an incorrect interpretation of the words used (effectively inventing meanings that the words do NOT have). Secondly, there's nothing remarkable or miraculous in making the intuitive assumptions that he claims (quite incorrectly) were made in the bible.

Thirdly, he relies on the Kalam which has a flawed premise and in any event only seeks to prove a first cause and not a self-aware god.

If this is what apologists rely on then they are indeed grasping at straws.

I will reply to the other parts of my opponent's tweet shortly, in separate posts.

Comments are welcome