The Orbiting Teapot and Misunderstanding Science and Philosophy

The letters to the editor in our local newspaper “The Charlottetown Guardian“, have been reflecting a recent debate on the lack of abortion services here on PEI. Since most of the people arguing against abortion use theological arguments, it is no wonder that the discussion soon turned to the existence/non-existence of a deity, specifically the Christian version. The earlier letters are here, here, and here. The one I would like to comment on is here.

Editor:

A recent letter to the editor shared the popular argument that belief in the existence of God is equal to believing a teapot orbits the sun. This reasoning from Bertrand Russell can be summed up with three premises: (1) There is no evidence God exists, (2) There is no evidence for the existence of a cosmic teapot, (3) Therefore, both beliefs are equally valid. The implication is that neither is actually valid.

However, if one of the first two premises is false, the conclusion fails. Granted, there really is no evidence for the existence of a cosmic teapot. But is it true that there is no evidence God exists?

Actually, there are several arguments – both philosophical and scientific – that serve as evidence. For instance, Aristotle’s Cosmological Argument states that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Science confirms the universe had a beginning, so there must have been a transcendent first-cause (even prior to the Big Bang and evolution).

The Argument from Contingency – that anything that does not exist out of necessity owes its existence to something or someone else – shows how the universe needed a non-contingent first-cause that exists outside of time and space, i.e. God.

In the Teleological Argument, the incredible fine-tuning necessary in the initial conditions for the universe and any life at all to exist are used as evidence. Finally, the Moral Argument proposes that God’s existence is the only basis for labelling anything objectively good or evil instead of only like or dislike.

None of these arguments are specific to the Christian God. Examining the validity of several ancient texts – many of which have since been compiled into the New Testament – can fill that role, as can properly basic beliefs (intrinsic beliefs a person is justified in holding in the absence of a defeater) and personal accounts.

Everyone can examine the evidence and draw their own conclusions, but to say there is no evidence at all is incorrect. Choosing to ignore the evidence does not mean it doesn’t exist.

Greg Hanson, pastor, Sunrise Wesleyan Church, Charlottetown.

Here is a man who does not understand very much of either science or philosophy, or at the very least is extremely behind the times in both.  Lets look at each claim individually.

Cosmological Argument states that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Science confirms the universe had a beginning, so there must have been a transcendent first-cause (even prior to the Big Bang and evolution).

The very simple reply to this is that if everything must have had a cause, this develops into an infinite regression where there can be no such thing as a ‘transcendent first cause’, and it is disingenuous to consider the existence of one.  If we look a little deeper, we find that science says no such thing about the origin of our universe. From a cosmological perspective, since space/time began with the big bang, there is no meaning in discussing ‘before’.  The example that is often given in comparison is “what is north of the North Pole”? The only choices are up, down, and sideways, there is no more north. One of the most famous physicists of our time Stephen Hawking (who incidentally just turned 70) insists that there is no need to postulate a supernatural being to explain the origins of the universe. Given the nature of the big bang, since the singularity existed outside of space-time, it cannot be considered an  ‘event’, as we normally consider an ‘event’ in common terms, thus causality in the normal sense does not apply.

The Argument from Contingency – that anything that does not exist out of necessity owes its existence to something or someone else – shows how the universe needed a non-contingent first-cause that exists outside of time and space, i.e. God.

On the surface, many of the arguments against this are the same as the points discussed above.  A point form of this argument is this:

  1. A contingent being (a being that if it exists can not-exist) exists.
  2. This contingent being has a cause of or explanation  for its existence.
  3. The cause of or explanation for its existence is something other than the contingent being itself.
  4. What causes or explains the existence of this contingent being must either be solely other contingent beings or include a non-contingent (necessary) being.
  5. Contingent beings alone cannot provide an adequate causal account or explanation for the existence of a contingent being.
  6. Therefore, what causes or explains the existence of this contingent being must include a non-contingent (necessary) being.
  7. Therefore, a necessary being (a being that if it exists cannot not-exist) exists.

This can be considered another argument from causality, which develops into the problem of infinite regression. If a being that created the universe existed, there is nothing to suggest that it was the necessary being. The being that created the creator, might be the necessary being, or perhaps the being that created that being….

In the Teleological Argument, the incredible fine-tuning necessary in the initial conditions for the universe and any life at all to exist are used as evidence.

This is more simply disproved by the simple statement that without the physical laws that exist, we could not exist. There is no reason to suppose that animal life is necessary to the existence of a universe. We exist as we are because of the accidental confluence of physical laws that allow it. Without the necessity for our existence, there is nothing to suggest the Teleological Argument has any validity. Another challenge to this argument are String and Multiverse Theories. Again, to simplify these theories, new universes are constantly coming into existence that may or may not have the same physical properties of our own.

The Moral Argument proposes that God’s existence is the only basis for labelling anything objectively good or evil instead of only like or dislike.

Is it necessary for moral authority to come from an entity outside of human beings? Is everything commanded by a God automatically moral? A  look at the violence committed or commanded by the God of the old testament very quickly disproves that concept.  From the story of Noah where he destroys almost every living thing, to the destruction in Revelations, the Bible is filled with examples of cruelty in the hands of this so-called moral authority. Slavery, racism, sexism, xenophobia,and many other examples of bigotry are supported in the ancient text.

Many will point to the teachings of Jesus as being a re-examination of the old laws, but according to his own words (if you choose to believe the Bible as having exact quotes” Matthew 5:17 “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.‘ His primary teaching, and that echoed most strongly by his followers, is to believe in him, or face eternal torment. Not a temporary punishment for what we could consider minor transgressions, but again from Matthew 5 ” whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” I know I will be accused of taking these quotes out of context, but more examples would take an entire book.

The examples of not killing or stealing have no need of any religion to demonstrate their in any smooth running society. Most of the development and advances in legal and moral  thought have developed through the efforts of humanistic thought.  In fact the followers of religion have been instrumental in delaying almost all efforts at social equality. These arguments are also valid against Islam, although some of the details differ. No, the Moral Argument is perhaps one of the strongest arguments against a god and in favour of humanism.

Everyone can examine the evidence and draw their own conclusions, but to say there is no evidence at all is incorrect. Choosing to ignore the evidence does not mean it doesn’t exist.

I think we can safely say that it is Mr. Hanson who is ignoring the evidence.

I am not a philosopher and my understanding of the finer points of the arguments above may be flawed. I welcome corrections and debate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to The Orbiting Teapot and Misunderstanding Science and Philosophy

  1. Sounds like the pastor has been cutting and pasting William Lane Craig and hoping nobody notices.

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