5/31/09

Natural Atheology - John Allen Paulos “Irreligion”

Jim Holt’s article, Proof, is a succinct review of John Allen Paulos’ book “Irreligion.”

Jim Holt mentions that John Allen Paulos considers various arguments for God’s existence. While it is a little difficult to tell where Jim Holt begins and where John Allen Paulos ends, since there is no direct quotation at this point, one point is of interest:

Take the cosmological argument, the first one Paulos considers. It goes something like this. The universe we live in seems contingent. Nothing about it suggests that it exists by its own nature. Therefore, if there is an explanation for the universe’s existence, that explanation must involve another kind of entity — one that does exist by its very nature. Call this entity “God.”

From that barest of sketches, it is obvious that the cosmological argument has some grave problems. For one thing, it takes for granted the dubious principle that everything has an explanation. For another, there is no reason to suppose that the self-existent entity it points to has any other divine attributes, like omniscience or benevolence.

Now, atheists would rephrase the argument to their own pseudo-erudite ends by stating,

…Therefore, if there is an explanation for the universe’s existence, that explanation must involve happenstantial coincidincs — one that does exist by its very nature. Call this “Matter: the eternal and uncaused first cause.”

As to that “it takes for granted the dubious principle that everything has an explanation” this is certainly an anti-scientific-progress statement and yet, actually reminiscent of the atheism promulgated by Bertrand Russell who stated, “The universe is just there, and that’s all.”[1]

I am not certain that it is quite accurate to claim that the cosmological argument simply “takes for granted the dubious principle that everything has an explanation” or that it seeks to determine if it has an explanation and what the explanation may be.

Also, it seems faulty to conclude that “there is no reason to suppose that the self-existent entity it points to has any other divine attributes” since creation ex nihilo is, at least, indicative of: personality or personhood via volition and intelligence which demonstrates the ability to formulate, entertain and carry out a plan, the power to carry out such a plan, timelessness, immateriality, lack of time based restriction, etc.

Apparently, John Allen Paulos’ actual book/arguments deteriorate in typical New Atheist fashion into moking jokes likening the cosmological argument to “a jokey allusion to self-fellating yogis.” Thus, Jim Holt notes,

Like other neo-atheist authors, his tone tends to the sophomoric, with references to flatulent dogs and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ann Coulter crops up in the index, but one looks in vain for the name of a great religious thinker like Karl Barth, who saw theology as an effort to understand what faith has given, not a quest for logical proof.

John Allen Paulos also offers the obligatory qualifier of absolute agnosticism for all,

Paulos concedes that, just as arguments for God’s existence are logically inconclusive, so too are arguments against God’s existence. That means that you can either believe or disbelieve without being convicted of stark irrationality.

John Allen Paulos’ “Irreligious” may be good for a well-within-the-box-group-think laugh but who knows if it is worth anything else.

[1] Bertrand Russell and F. C. Copleston, “The Existence of God,” in The Existence of God, ed. and intro. by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan, 1964), p. 175

3 comments:

  1. What possible reason (other than it supports your previously held belief) is there to suppose that 'creation ex nihilo' is indiciative of personality or voilion or intelligence? This stikes me as very sloppy thinking. We don't know what 'conditions' (and I use that term in a vague ill defined way) need to exist for a 'creation ex nihilo'.
    The only personalities and intelligence we know about are ourselves and we don't know how to create a universe. Also, the only intelligence we know about (ourselves and the other animals on Earth), emerges from the physical processes of the brain - no brain, no intelligence. And brains require space and time to function in. Intelligence and volition are very 'Johnnie come latelies' to the universe, so I see no reason to suppose that they existed prior to the Universe.

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  2. As to that “it takes for granted the dubious principle that everything has an explanation” this is certainly an anti-scientific-progress statement... 
    This isn't true. Quantum events are purely stochastic as far as anyone knows. If you can show why one uranium nucleus decays and another identical nucleus does not there's a million dollar Nobel Prize with your name on it waiting for you in Stockholm.
     
    Now, atheists would rephrase the argument to their own pseudo-erudite ends by stating, ... 
    Would we? Then how come you can't find one to quote and have to make up pseudo quotes from straw men instead?

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  3. So Mariano, you have not actually read the book?

    Also, the "dubious principle" is more commonly called "the principle of sufficient reason" and is employed by those making cosmological arguments, whether they know it or not.

    As MM pointed out, our current understanding of quantum physics seems to refute this commonly held intuition.

    Amusingly, theists who use the PSR are forced to special plead, as they obviously can't use the PSR when it comes to the existence of their god.

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