The Big Question left unanswered

John in the comments has pointed out a video on YouTube where the user makes similar points. You can find the two parts here and here.

I wish I could be bothered uploading a picture of myself so you can see how this not sleeping malarkey is taking its toll. But I can’t so you’ll have to imagine it.

I came across a video from the Atheist Media Blog (a great resource where you can find such gems as this redneck hick telling an invisible blonde bigfoot to ‘git’), which was apparently broadcast today on the BBC. The Big Questions is a show where they invite people on to talk about a big question and then it becomes a competition to see which side of the argument can nod most and clap loudest, then they decide they were never going to answer the question in 20 minute debate anyway and agree to disagree, so it’s all a waste of time in the first place. When I was last in the UK it was presented by Nicky Campbell (who I wouldn’t trust to tell me the time, never mind to answer a question that actually mattered), but it seems they’ve either changed or he was on holiday or something so the slightly more bearable Kaye Adams presents this one.

The big question for this week was ‘is there any evidence for God?’ The episode’s about 20 minutes long so here are the two videos, and seeing as arguments presented by various theists were answered so woefully (was Peter Atkins the only atheist there?), I’ll take a bit of a stab at them:

1) Adam Deen’s first argument (first part, 0:48). This is more commonly known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Anything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause (and that cause is God). First of all the second premise, that the universe began to exist, is far from settled. There are multiverse theories which I won’t go into, but also if you look at the scientists that actually know a fair bit about the physics behind the Big Bang, even if they do believe in a god, they don’t use the Big Bang as a reason for it.

More widely, however, this is an argument from ignorance. Scientists don’t know what the cause is, so goddidit. As far as explanations go, this is about the worst you can get. We expect an explanation to give us more information about a phenomenon, whereas this just says “X caused the Big Bang, where X is defined as ‘the thing that caused the Big Bang'”, and then they just call X God. It’s replacing one mystery with another, and it doesn’t tell us anything about how the Big Bang happened at all! Ironically that is exactly what he says is the atheist position, that the universe popped into existence ‘as if by magic’! What is a god if not magic? What if the Big Bang was caused by a particle which exists outside of spacetime? Are you willing to concede that your creator god is a particle? Because if so, then I’m a theist. Instead of that, why don’t we just stick with ‘I don’t know’ for the time being, and keep on looking for the answer, instead of pushing a premature answer and obfuscating the search for a real explanation?

2) Adam Deen’s second argument (first part, 1:16). This is the fine tuning argument which I’ve taken a very extensive look at before, go take a read if you have time, I’m fairly sure it’s a solid rebuttal. Obviously I couldn’t reply with all of that on the show but there are 2 points I would make. First of all he says that the universe was fine-tuned for intelligent life, and that therefore there was an intelligence behind the universe. Not only is that a complete non-sequitor, but how is the universe any more fine-tuned for intelligent life than for bacteria? It’s absurd. Secondly it’s ludicrous to assert that the universe is fine-tuned for life when 99.999% of this solar system, never mind the rest of the universe, does not support life! I’ve seen videos of Adam Deen debating before, and he’s been given rebuttals to these two arguments, and he’s still using them. That’s intellectual dishonesty.

3) Kaye Adams’ question (first part, 1:40). Good question, and on a related point made by Hitchens, if you are a theistic evolutionist, you have to believe that for at least the first 90,000 years of our existence or so, God watched the human species suffer, many dying in childbirth, most absolutely terrified of the world around them with all kinds of predators and natural disasters happening which they didn’t understand, and only in the last 6,000 years or so decided to intervene.

4) Adam Deen’s claim about science vs religion (first part, 4:19). No, your lectures are not based on science. Science is a method, not just a bunch of things we know. Your lectures and debating subjects may include nuggets of information that come under the umbrella of science, but it is preposterous to suggest that they are based on science. By the way, you may be familiar with Prof. Atkins’ work but I bet he’s never raised a weapon in the name of atheism.

5) The woman talking about mental illness and religious experience (first part, 6:12). Kaye is quite right to say that none of this is anything to do with the existence of a god, that’s just an effect that a belief can have (if it’s true, that is. The way I remember it, they found that when people spoke to God, the same part of their brain lit up as when people with schizofrenia had visions). Interestingly she mentions several different faiths here, and the effects seem to be consistent no matter what god you’re praying to, which somewhat undermines the suggestion that there is a personal god and that any one of the various faiths has got it right.

6) The bishop’s claim that science comes from religious belief (first part, 7:25). The view of a universe with immutable laws that do not change does not come from religious belief at all, it comes from observation. In fact, religionists are the ones who claim that these laws can be broken in the form of miracles! So that claim is complete bullshit. He then waffles about ‘primeval soup’ and doesn’t actually make a point at all.

7) Cristina Odone’s comments about love (first part, 8:37). There is no god-shaped hole. Plenty of atheists lead perfectly fulfilled lives. This is another argument from ignorance. Scientists can’t explain love therefore GOD!! If Cristina Odone can give me some evidence that love is anything other than a chemical and electrical process in the brain and body, that’s something. But just saying that she personally doesn’t believe it can be explained, and that God must be the explanation, is a specific type of argument from ignorance called the argument from personal incredulity.

8) Cristina Odone’s comments about believers being persecuted (second part, 0:06). I’m not one for persecuting anyone, but don’t you think it’s daft that if any other kind of belief were being criticised she’d have no problem with it? Say someone told her that they were abducted by aliens, she’d be the first to laugh at them! She wouldn’t say that the world was intolerant of abductees. She wouldn’t say abductees were being persecuted. Something I find absolutely incredible is that it is Cristina Odone who is putting herself across as the voice of tolerance. This is the woman that will very vocally oppose anything that goes against her precious Catholic dogma. She called Britain’s Best Former MP, Dr Evan Harris, ‘Dr Death’, because he believes science should be the measure of when the cut-off date for abortions is, and because he thinks people should be allowed to die with dignity. She has repeatedly praised the new government’s homophobic Equalities Minister and Home Secretary, Theresa May. At the same time that she’s pretending to be tolerant and respecting other religions, she supports segregating children through faith schools. She is a very vocal member of a church which obstructs granting rights to gay people. She’s a hypocrite, in other words.

9) The blonde woman in the orange cardigan (second part. 0:44). Who says there is a why? The burden of proof is on the one making the claim, not the one disbelieving it, otherwise you’d have to believe everything until it was disproven. When she’s boring the nation with her ‘transformed lives’ story, she’s only talking about Jesus. Adam Deen’s sitting right there, he’s a Muslim and he’ll have similar stories. So will Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Jews. You can’t all be right, but you can all be wrong. Your transformed lives stories aren’t evidence of anything unless your god personally intervened and you’ve got proof.

10) The psychologist’s question about atheism and agnosticism (second part, 4:11). He has absolutely no idea what atheism or agnosticism means, and he’s not the only one. I hate to keep having to go over definitions, but a lot of people don’t get it. Theism and atheism goes to what you believe, whereas gnosticism and agnosticism goes to what you know. So you can be a gnostic theist if you know a god exists, an agnostic theist if you merely believe a god exists, an agnostic atheist if you don’t believe a god exists, or a gnostic atheist if you know a god doesn’t exist. I’ve never even heard of a gnostic atheist.

11) Faith of an atheist is more than the faith of a believer (second part, 5:40). That’s complete rubbish. Even if you grant his trichotomy, the multiverse is obviously the most likely option. We have experience of one universe, why could there not be others like it? But he thinks the more likely option is a god, something that we can’t examine, we have no experience of, and is, ultimately, a non-explanation anyway, as I said up in number 1.

And then when the guy at the end actually wants to talk about evidence, they cut him off. Brilliant. I think I’ve strained my eyes enough now, hopefully I’ll be able to sleep.

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6 Responses to The Big Question left unanswered

  1. Sarah says:

    It did seem to be mostly theists in the room!

    Re the fine-tuning argument, it seems to me if there was a God who wanted to create life, he could do it any way he wanted – the possibilities not being limited to plugging finely-tuned numbers into equations, because wouldn’t that make the equations more transcendent than God?

  2. John says:

    Guy seems to have the same points as you do. You might want to send any theists who dislike the thought of reading your rebuttal to the vid.

  3. grammarking says:

    That’s a great video, I’ll put it in the post.

  4. peter ellway says:

    This focuses on point 10. For more years than I would like to remember, I have thought that the atheist – agnostic dichotomy is more apparent than real, but only with the explosion of religion-centred blogs have I got round to expressing this. Anyway, my reasons for saying this (no doubt this is not at all an original claim) are that, crucially, all atheists should be “humble” (I know this has undesirable Xian connotations but it seems the best word); they should be humble in not claiming to “know” that God does not exist; one can seldom if ever “know” any negative existential statement (I don’t even “know” that there are no fairies at the bottom of my garden) and I think that Peter Atkins unfortunately dug his own grave in the video by being too dogmatic on this point. The absolutely crucial point is that it is up to the “existentialist”, ie the theist, to show that some god exists; it is not up to the unbeliever to show that there is no such being. The only certainty is that no absolute certainty over existential (ontological) questions is possible. Atheists are therefore, in a sense, inevitably agnostic because they really assert that there is no good reason, overall, to believe in God, and therefore agnostics are effectively “humble” atheists – there is simply no ground between the two positions. I have comments on other points re the video but I would like some feedback on the above before blathering on further.

    • grammarking says:

      I do apologise Peter, I only just got around to this, my internet access is a bit sporadic.

      I agree, and as I said in the post, every atheist I’ve ever met is an agnostic. The point is that those two terms aren’t mutually exclusive as the psychologist seems to think they are. It’s not like there are theists at one end and atheists at the other, and agnostics are in the middle.

      I actually don’t think Peter Atkins was too dogmatic on that. He didn’t claim to know there was no God, and he quite rightly said that the burden of proof is on the theist. He didn’t mention that he’s also an agnostic, but I think that might have had everyone confused, and maybe he’s not so hot on definitions himself. Now whilst you might not know that there are no fairies at the bottom of your garden, would you be more inclined to describe yourself as an a-fairyist or a fairy agnostic? Do you sit there wondering whether there are fairies there, or do you get on with your life living as though there aren’t?

      I think it is only appropriate to describe yourself as an agnostic if you’re genuinely sitting on the fence in the middle and could easily be persuaded either way – in other words when your agnosticism is a more defining feature than what you believe.

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