Dallas

The silliness of Matt Chandler

I’ve posted about Matt Chandler before, the charismatic lead pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, TX. He’s likable, but from what I can tell doesn’t think too hard about much beyond scripture (I’m using “likable” less and less now when describing him, actually). The jaw-dropping straw-man in this video on evolution had me boiling for months, and I had avoided watching another short clip of his on YouTube called “The Sillyness of Atheism” (yes, that’s misspelled), mostly because I care less about atheism and more about reason and science denial. I was also a little worried he’d say something ridiculous and that I would end up frustrated. Hypothesis confirmed.

In the 51 second clip below, Chandler shows exactly how muddy his thinking is. The premise of the clip (and it is just a clip – perhaps he clarifies certain points before or after so I don’t want to judge too harshly) is that he cannot understand “why people who don’t believe in God are so hostile to the idea of there being a God.”

Well, that’s a pretty glaring generalization and mis-characterization of nonbelievers, a group with tremendous variety in terms of thought and attitude toward religion (there’s not even one name you can fit them under, for example: atheists, skeptics, freethinkers, agnostics, secular humanists, etc). Yes, some nonbelievers cross a threshold into anti-theism and are openly hostile toward religion, but the great majority never give God a second thought beyond studying religion as a natural phenomenon or when it interferes with civil or human rights.

Chandler jokes that the two tenets of atheism are 1) there is no God, and 2) I hate Him. He sees a discontinuity, which I think is meant to demonstrate a logical fallacy with atheism, between being angry about something one doesn’t believe in. He goes on to say, “I have never grown furious about unicorns … it’s a weird thing, all this pent up animosity toward something you don’t think exists.

But of course, Chandler’s analogy fails. People who don’t believe in unicorns (and that hopefully includes you, dear reader) don’t grow angry about unicorns because nobody believes in unicorns! If 80% of the american populous expressed a belief in unicorns, you would likely see a hostile reaction to such a belief. Heads of state don’t pray to unicorns, there are no moralities based upon ancient scriptures devoted to unicorns, laws are not influenced by followers of unicorns, children are not indoctrinated into unicorn cults before they can think for themselves, people do not constantly insist that the science rejecting the existence of unicorns is flawed, and rival groups of unicorn believers do not slaughter one another.

It is perfectly consistent for an atheist to be frustrated with religion (and it’s a frustration with religion and the tenets thereof, not with God, which an atheist obviously can’t be frustrated with). In an atheist’s mind, there is no more evidence for God than there is for unicorns – but the former (in one form or another) is worshiped by the majority of people on the planet. For the believer, I ask whether it wouldn’t frustrate you for the majority of people to suddenly start worshiping unicorns (provided the evidence for unicorns stays exactly as it is now: zero)?

Personally, I try not to be overly hostile toward religion, but one can understand why some think they have a moral imperative to be outspoken about what they see as a mass delusion, particularly one that has such an influence on society.  As Bertrand Russell said:

There can’t be a practical reason for believing what isn’t true … Either a thing is true or it isn’t. If it is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or whether it isn’t you should suspend judgement.

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The Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Destructive Power of “Maybe Not”

I came across another interesting Sean Carroll video today (watch here) on the strengths and weaknesses of God as a theory (not a purely scientific theory either, but simply an “idea about the universe which may or may not be true”). Carroll briefly covers the Kalam Cosmological Argument, a deductive attempt to prove that some sort of prime-mover or first-cause was necessary to create the universe. I last saw this argument while attending a Reasonable Faith seminar in Dallas entitled “Does Science Bury God: A Refutation from Physics”. Here it is in full (there are various forms):

Modern rendition of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Modern rendition of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Now, the first thing to note is that this argument is not a refutation from physics. That’s because it’s not physics – it’s metaphysics. The second odd thing is how often this argument is still used. It’s been so badly beaten by so many people that I’m a little confused  as to why it keeps getting offered (most notably and skillfully, or greasily, by William Lane Craig). You don’t have to be a professional philosopher to refute it, but Carroll offers you the easiest way:

Just look at the first premise and say, “maybe not.”

It certainly has not been proven that everything which begins to exist must have a cause. Lots of things do, but if experience has taught us anything it’s that our observations are limited and generalizing can get you in trouble, especially in areas you cannot conceivably test (such as the rather broad spectrum of “everything”). As soon as one premise fails to be completely established, the deduction fails and the argument is of little use. There are obvious additional flaws as well – namely that most theologians will exempt God from the first premise (saying something like, well, He didn’t begin to exist, He always existed, and therefore doesn’t need a cause) but that begs the question and assumes the conclusion the argument is setting out to prove.

Then of course there do seem to be examples in physics of things coming into existence without causes – see Victor Stenger. The verdict’s still out on the the universe having a beginning (that is, there are scientifically consistent models describing situations in which the universe does not have a beginning). And, just for kicks, even if we were to accept the premises as all true, it wouldn’t get us any particular God. You would still have all the work ahead of you to demonstrate the truth of Judaism or Christianity or Islam or any tiny, single, pitiful attribute of any creator.

How would the Kalam Cosmological Argument look using the scientific ethos? Simple:

  • Everything which begins to exist might have a cause
  • The universe might have begun to exist
  • Therefore, the universe might have a cause

Well. Waters it down a bit, no?