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Do Nones Really Have No Religion?

Bishop Robert Barron delivered this year’s Erasmus Lecture last Monday, “Evangelizing the Nones“, sponsored by First Things magazine. Your Roving Reporter was there.

Nones are those who profess, when asked by marketers and other such people, no religion. Since this is scarcely possible—even atheists believe in scientism—we can blame the non-specificity of the definition. Nones are those who have given up, or were only mildly exposed, to Christianity. As such, Nones in the West evince a mixture of the most popular Christian heresies. Which, to be fair, so also do many who profess Christianity. To evangelize Nones, then, would seem to require the same techniques used to talk heretics out of their mistakes.

Now many Nones are Millennials, kids unused to hearing they have made mistakes and are either appalled or indifferent to being told they hold false beliefs. How to get to them? Barron has five ideas.

First, begin evangelization by commencing with the beautiful. Before arguing about the Good and the True, show Beauty. In an era of ugly clothing (“designer” ripped jeans), ugly architecture (glass boxes with unopenable windows), ugly music (primitive unnatural sounds), ugly art (giants asses for giants asses), ugly movies (Bad Teachers “will ‘F’ you up”), ugly television (willed ungraceful sodomy), ugly language (heard everywhere) any exposure to Beauty will come as a relief.

So much in art, music, and the rest seems designed to attack the soul. It is as if the art, and not only the artist, hates us. It’s almost as if it’s all intentional, that it’s planned. That couldn’t be, could it?

The Catholic Church has an enormous repository of Beauty. In every instance when confronted by the Ugly, respond with Beauty. Show what happens when man directs his energy to something greater than himself.

Second, stop dumbing down the faith. Barron told the story of a woman who brought her eight-year-old daughter to work. The little girl proceeded to launch into an intricate description of the Star Wars universe, displaying full knowledge of minute details of the timeline and familiarity with all the minor characters. If she can memorize who Obi Wan Kenobi was, she can memorize Methuselah.

This does not mean Thomistic theology need be preached on street corners (we’ll save it for blogs), but it does mean not fearing to be misunderstood. Barron points to Vatican II and the wave of anti-intellectualism it created and ushered in what he called the “banners and balloons” era.

We should (and we do not here) not fear confrontation with, what are at least thought to be, our strongest intellectual enemies. Since one of the biggest errors going is scientism, it’s best to begin by cutting away at its shallow roots. (Scientism is, as has been pointed about endless times, self-defeating: there is no scientific proof it is true.)

Third, learn again to tell a good story about Israel. There were reasons our Lord showed up where he did, and when he did, and under the circumstances he did. Somebody page Cecil B DeMille!

When I was a boy a young atheist asked me “What if Jesus was killed with a shotgun? Would Christians wear little shotguns around their neck?” I thought that argument convincing during my days away from the Church. The answer is, of course, that Jesus chose to appear before shotguns. If you can understand that, you have gone a great distance.

Barron says that if we do not see Jesus as the culmination of the Jewish story, then “Jesus devolves in short order into a sage…a teacher of eternal truths”, a man of no more importance than Socrates, certainly no deity. And the man most people now see.

Fourth, emphasize the god of the new atheists. Nobody believes in the god constructed by new atheists. If the new atheists had any victory it was in convincing people that their fairy story was the God. God is not “one being among many”, as the NAs have it. He is not a fairly but-not-too intelligent scientist magician who lives on the other side of the universe pressing buttons on some sophisticated machine. God is the ground of all being. Not only does He exist, it is necessary that He does so, for if He did not, noting else could.

Fifth, engage in radical witness, by which Barron meant a “recovery of a radical form of Christian life.” Act like we’re here only for a little while. Act like we mean it when we say we believe Jesus. Act like all that stuff in the Bible is true, and better than (say) politics.

77 thoughts on “Do Nones Really Have No Religion? Leave a comment

  1. Great post.
    There does seem to be a coordinated effort to make everything we are exposed to ugly. I think it has the effect of convincing people that there is no true beauty, that everything is in the eye of the beholder or subjective.
    Roger Scruton had a very good Documentary on this process. I think it can be found on YouTube.

  2. Exactly the kind of liberal nonsense one would expect from Barron. The only evangelism that works is the preaching of the Gospel. Tell people they are sinners headed for Hell unless they accept the free gift of salvation that Christ offers. Tell them they are sinners, they must admit it, but Christ has died in their place, and offers eternal life to those who believe. The rest of it — books, movies, apologetics — is a damn waste of time. I’ve been evangelizing for over 50 years. Dylan songs don’t save. Narnia novels don’t save. ONLY the preaching of the Gospel saves.

  3. So preach Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in a world filled with the polar opposite of it?

    Indeed.

    I must admit, your point about the significance of when, where, and why Jesus chose to appear when he did and what it matters is something I hadn’t seriously considered – despite being raised in the Church.

    I thoroughly enjoy your prose by the way.

  4. “even atheists believe in scientism”

    No, we don’t. Atheism is a lack of belief in god and nothing else. Lack of belief isn’t a belief, in the same way that no ice cream isn’t a flavour of ice cream.

    “Now many Nones are Millennials, kids unused to hearing they have made mistakes and are either appalled or indifferent to being told they hold false beliefs.”

    As belief in god has been declining steadily for many decades, I suspect it has nothing to do with millenials. What started me on the (long) road to disbelief was being taught the story of Noah’s Ark and thinking: “Where did all the water go?”

    “First, begin evangelization by commencing with the beautiful.”

    What have you got that’s more beautiful than Saturn’s rings as imaged by the Cassini probe?

    “If she [an 8 year old] can memorize who Obi Wan Kenobi was, she can memorize Methuselah.”

    The stories in the Bible are not age-appropriate for an eight year old. Even the story of Noah’s Ark includes the murder of almost evry living thing on Earth, and there are depictions of rape, torture and slavery.

    “The answer is, of course, that Jesus chose to appear before shotguns. If you can understand that, you have gone a great distance.”

    Shame about the millions of people living in the 100,000+ years before he bothered to turn up. They had no hope of salvation.

    “Jesus devolves in short order into a sage… a teacher of eternal truths.”

    I would say not even eternal truths, unless “Slaves, obey your earthly masters” is an eternal truth.

    “Fourth, emphasize the god of the new atheists. Nobody believes in the god constructed by new atheists.”

    Yes, we keep hearing this. You all believe in a near-abstract god and a specific, sophisticated allegorical interpretation of the Bible. Except, it isn’t true. Tens of millions believe in a completely literal interpretaion of the Bible and a vengeful, bigoted god who’s less forgiving and compassionate than any average person.

    “Not only does He exist, it is necessary that He does so, for if He did not, noting else could.”

    Special pleading fallacy.

    “Act like we mean it when we say we believe Jesus. Act like all that stuff in the Bible is true”

    You’ve had 2,000 years to do that and it’s conspicuously failed. Christians in general never impress anyone with their actions – it’s one of the most obvious ways an atheist can see the whole thing is a total failure.

  5. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “The incoherence of Flew’s “definition” is discussed here:”

    There’s nothing in the least bit incoherent about stating that lack of belief isn’t a belief, unless you want to claim that ‘no ice cream’ is a flavour of ice cream.

    You’ve linked to Eve Keneinan’s blog before. My conclusion then was that I’ve no idea where she gets such a high opinion of herself, as she’s actually as thick as two short planks (as we say in the UK).

  6. she’s actually as thick as two short planks

    An ad hominem does not make your argument wrong, but it does make it weak, since it is not actually an argument. Granted, she is a Platonist and not an Aristotelian, but she is a professional philosopher and logician, so if you bother to examine her post, you may be able to rebut her without a baseless dismissal.

  7. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “An ad hominem does not make your argument wrong, but it does make it weak, since it is not actually an argument. Granted, she is a Platonist and not an Aristotelian, but she is a professional philosopher and logician, so if you bother to examine her post, you may be able to rebut her without a baseless dismissal.”

    I have examined the posts you linked to, and numerous others, and the comments they received several months ago. I don’t need to rebut Ms. Keneinan’s arguments as numerous commentors on her blog have done so very effectively already. I’m aware that she’s a “professional philosopher” – it’s something she blusters about at every turn, but I don’t care as, IMHO, it’s not even a proper job.

    If you want me to rebut an argument, you’ll have to make one first, rather than relying on someone else to do it for you.

  8. @ Mike,

    “Why is claiming that God necessarily exists a case of special pleading?”

    Because the claim is that the universe needs a creator but god doesn’t. God is exempt from needing a creator because: special pleading.

  9. the claim is that the universe needs a creator but god doesn’t. God is exempt from needing a creator because: special pleading.

    You’ve got it backwards. The claim is that contingent beings exist. The consequence is that a necessary being must exist to account for the contingent beings. That among necessary being is one whose essence just is to exist. (Such a being is Existence itself. “Existence exists,” some like to say. And it cannot not exist.) From this one deduces various attributes which in toto add up to “that which all men call God.” That is, God is a conclusion, not a postulate.

  10. Swordfish,
    It’ more silly the claim that God which is the one eternal creator is eternal in the understanding of the clever and the not so clever human being.
    God is not a created God and therefore it is not necessary to ask who created him.
    He is eternal. That’s the point. No complicated metaphysical language required.
    The rest if faith or not.

  11. Let’s see if this is altered.
    It’ more simple than that.
    The claim is that God which is the one eternal creator in the understanding of the clever and the not so clever human being.
    God is not a created God and therefore it is not necessary to ask who created him. No sophistry required.
    He is eternal. That’s the point. No complicated metaphysical language required.
    The rest if faith or not.

  12. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “You’ve got it backwards. The claim is that contingent beings exist.”

    Wrong. The claim was: “Not only does He exist, it is necessary that He does so, for if He did not, noting else could.”

    No mention of ‘contingent beings’. Now, go and prove that the universe is contingent, prove that the universe has to be created and if you’ve got any spare time, prove that the Trinity isn’t contingent.

    “God is a conclusion, not a postulate.”

    Yeah, right. I’m really, really convinced that they didn’t just start with ‘therefore god exists’ and work backwards.

  13. @ Joy,

    “God is not a created God and therefore it is not necessary to ask who created him.”

    Sorry, but I disagree. IMHO, the God of the Bible was created by people, just like Odin, Osiris, Shiva, and all the thousands of other gods. And how do you know the universe was created?

  14. Mr. Bones:
    Don’t confuse a statement made posterior to the existence proof with the manner in which the existence proof is derived. Of course, one may start with a conclusion and work backward. We did that all the time in mathematics. One has an intuition; but intuitions are not sufficient in mathematics any more than they are in metaphysics or in physics. Maxwell had an intuition that the physics of charged bodies was precisely parallel to that of Ampere’s physics of dielectric bodies and laid it out without any empirical data. But his followers believed in him despite the falsification of permanent magnets and in the end they were justified in their beliefs. Likewise, in engineering and problem solving, one often has a desired end state and works backward to the current state to obtain the solution set. (Simply reverse the steps and you have the solution procedure or the program.)

    The “universe” is the collection of all things that have material existence, and like all collections it is contingent on the existence of the things comprising it. In the case of the “universe,” these are things that come into being and pass out of being. “Not even the mountains last forever,” as the old saying has it. The same is true of stars and galaxies, and even protons and the like. None of them contain within themselves the principle of their own existence. Hence, we have to look outside of them to find that.

    Actually, “contingent” being is not quite the right word. We should say, “generated” being. The first stage of the proof concludes only there are some things that are not generated, such as mass-energy, i.e., a conservation law, and can neither be created (generated) nor destroyed. So these things count as “necessary beings” in the context of the proof. (Although I understand that in current theory, protons are given mass by the Higgs field, which is carried by the Higgs boson.) But this sort of necessity is derivative. This takes us to the second part of the proof, which people often forget about. You cannot establish the necessary existence of mass-energy simply by considering mass-energy as such. Thomas called this the difference between what is “necessary by another” and what is “necessary by itself” – and the latter is something whose existence you could be certain of just by knowing its definition. But nothing in nature is like this, so you need something outside of it.

  15. @ swordfishtrombone,

    “the claim is that the universe needs a creator but god doesn’t. God is exempt from needing a creator because: special pleading.”

    What YOS said. You should buy a copy of Ed Feser’s new book ‘Five Proofs of the Existence of God’. You still might not be convinced after reading it but at least you won’t have the option of attacking straw men.

  16. Swordfish,
    I understand your position completely. I think what you say is sensible and without device or barb or sophistry. Atheists, the ones I’ve known, just stop before they speculate and stay away from what in some ways are emotional and uncertain things.

    I was just explaining why I understand that there is a point at which knowledge and logic fails to describe the universe.

    The never-ending question or puzzle of before and outside and beyond do have an explanation for the faithful. The questions in my mind must be circular and tend to curve round but this is only because infinities are too big and scary or silly to contemplate. Assigning a mathematical symbol doesn’t solve the problem.

    How do I know the universe was created?
    Initially because of the bible but maybe it was matter and energy that was created. Maybe matter and energy is not all there is. That’s what I suspect. Given that these questions even exist and that matter and energy do not explain truth, experience or emotion, I find it rational to believe that there is more than mass and energy.
    “Before Abraham was, I am” is saying something about time. “God is love” is also saying something about mass and energy. It makes sense separate from Biblical authority.

  17. Materialism, positivism, naturalism, empiricism are completely sterile as a basis for any kind of science because they cannot even be made to account for themselves… or even worse, they refute their own base assumptions.

    The fundamental absurdity of any kind of Materialism cannot be rescued by assuming that matter (or mass) and energy are some kind of primordial, immutable “things” that do not need a cause and can, therefore, be the magical “cause” of everything in which they are present or used.

    For one thing they are mutable; liable to be changed from one to the other or from one type to another. They need a cause to make them what they are.

    “Nones” are entirely religious having blind faith in a great superstition that cannot be substantiated by any observations of reality; nor is their religion in any way intellectually coherent.

  18. @ Oldavid,

    “Materialism, positivism, naturalism, empiricism are completely sterile as a basis for any kind of science”

    It’s so obvious now you point it out that science doesn’t work! How could I have failed to notice that before?

  19. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    Your response is just a more complicated special pleading fallacy.

    The universe isn’t a “collection of objects”. It can’t be described as ‘contingent’ as a whole just because it contains (possibly) contingent objects. The universe may be infinite, or may be one of an infinite number of finite universes (or both) – in either case, every possible arrangement of matter would be inevitable. It’s difficult to see how something can be 100 % inevitable and also contingent.

    In any case, it doesn’t make sense to claim that the universe *must* be explained by something outside itself – what does “explained” mean anyway? All you’re doing is saying that the universe requires something ‘outside’ itself, but god doesn’t, purely because you’ve defined him that way. This is just the original special pleading fallacy put in a slightly different way.

    Even if your entire explanation was correct, how can a ‘necessary’, non-contingent ‘being’ create a contingent universe, hold moral values, or have a very contingent son who is part of itself?

  20. “In any case, it doesn’t make sense to claim that the universe *must* be explained by something outside itself – what does “explained” mean anyway?”

    It means there must be an explanation for why the thing exists (The Principle of Sufficient Reason). You concede that the objects in the universe can be explained (by things outside themselves) and yet the universe as whole need not be – special pleading!

  21. The universe might just be a brute fact.
    It is not an irrational position to take and it’s no use telling atheists that it is.

    It simply depends upon your starting point and premises, as with all arguments.

  22. “The universe might just be a brute fact.
    It is not an irrational position to take…”

    I disagree. Actually it’s not even coherent to say that ‘things’ in the universe can be explained but the universe as a whole need not be, because the universe doesn’t exist independently of its contents; the universe is just the collection of ‘things’. To admit the possibility of ‘brute facts’ is self-refuting because if they are possible then we deny the principle of sufficient reason, in which case there are no grounds for doing so!

  23. @ Mike,

    “Actually it’s not even coherent to say that ‘things’ in the universe can be explained but the universe as a whole need not be, because the universe doesn’t exist independently of its contents”

    “It means there must be an explanation for why the thing exists (The Principle of Sufficient Reason). You concede that the objects in the universe can be explained (by things outside themselves) and yet the universe as whole need not be – special pleading!”

    I think you’re trying too hard. If “the universe doesn’t exist independently of its contents”, then the same explanation may be applied to the existence of the universe as to its contents – in other words, we don’t need any separate “special” explanation for the existence of the universe.

    Everything in the universe exists as a change of state of something else, like energy into matter; chemical reactions; or life itself – following that observation, we may assume that nothing in the universe is created, so there’s no reason to assume the universe must have been. None of this amounts to any sort of “special pleading”.

    Special pleading means claiming that something is impossible (like the universe existing without any cause) so it must have been created by god, then claiming that god doesn’t need a creator because he’s special. I’m not claiming that it’s impossible to “explain” the universe as a whole, just pointing out that it may not be necessary.

    Why can’t the universe ‘just exist’?

  24. Everything in the universe exists as a change of state of something else, like energy into matter; chemical reactions; or life itself – following that observation, we may assume that nothing in the universe is created

    So it’s all an illusion? But clearly stuff exists; so what you must conclude (not “assume”) is that creation and transformation are two very different processes. BTW, would it may you happier if instead of saying “form” we said “state” and replaced “formal causes” with “static causes,” because that was a nice summary of transformation.

    Special pleading means claiming that something is impossible (like the universe existing without any cause) so it must have been created by god, then claiming that god doesn’t need a creator because he’s special.

    It would be an example of special pleading if that were the actual argument. But it is not, so it isn’t.

    Why can’t the universe ‘just exist’?

    Because shouting IT JUST IS! is no more an explanation than shouting GODDIDIT!

  25. It is only by implicitly denying the very foundations of reason and logic that the fool can say in his heart there is no God.

    The whole material Universe is in motion and flux. That means changes. Even the most unsophisticated reasoning intuitively knows that that requires a thing to be changed and an effective agent to cause the change. However, our most sophisticated narcissists do not allow mere reality to interfere with their egotistical dreams. They most happily assume absurd premises and “reason” their way to impossible conclusions (although it is mostly disguised in elaborate, circular, backwards reasoning; the premises implied, assumed and unstated).

    Unassailable commonsense premises include:
    Things exist.
    A thing that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist. And the corollary; an effect cannot be greater than its cause(s).
    In any change a thing is not what or where it was before the change and that requires an agent, or cause, to effect the change.

    One of the most commonly and decietfully implied nonsenses is an infinite regression of causes. The implied assumption is that if causes are vanished into the unimaginably distant past (currently about 14.5 bn years) then they become irrelevant because it is assumed that in that time processes and changes that do not naturally occur will have occurred. At this point “modern “science”” is indistinguishable from Voodoo magic.

    A moment’s reflection, detached from insane ideology, would reveal that an infinite regression of causes would come to an infinite cause. But, of course, an infinite cause would have no need of an infinite number of “steps” to produce anything. However, a sane observer can see immediately that there are material things and nonmaterial systems and laws by which they operate… none of which can create themselves out of nothing or randomness.

    If there were not material things consistently operated by systems and laws any kind of physical science would be completely impossible. Logic would be entirely meaningless.

    So, if reason and science is to exist at all there must be an uncaused first cause of all that is changeable (and thus unable to cause itself). This uncaused first cause is what we call God.

  26. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    [we may assume that nothing in the universe is created]

    “But clearly stuff exists; so what you must conclude (not “assume”) is that creation and transformation are two very different processes.”

    We have evidence that things exist but no evdience that things were created. The fact that things exist doesn’t mean that there must have been a previous state of non-existence.

    “It would be an example of special pleading if that were the actual argument. But it is not, so it isn’t.”

    I was responding to the claim that my suggestion that the universe may ‘just exist’ is a case of special pleading, which it isn’t, because I’m not claiming that any alternative explanation is impossible.

    [Why can’t the universe ‘just exist’?]

    “Because shouting IT JUST IS! is no more an explanation than shouting GODDIDIT!”

    I didn’t shout, that’s what you’re (UPPER CASE) doing. The fact that you don’t think it’s an explanation doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

  27. We have evidence that things exist but no evdience that things were created. The fact that things exist doesn’t mean that there must have been a previous state of non-existence.

    You are thinking of “creation” as a kind of “transformation,” just another kind of moving of matter around from one form/state to another. A “state” of non-existence cannot by definition exist. Creation, as I said, is an altogether different kind of thing. It is not anything like a dark, empty room and suddenly presto something appears — which is about all that the imagination can conjure up. You must use your intellect, not your imagination.

    Creation is the joining of an Essence to an act of Existence. Nothing prohibits that existence from having always been, as the example of Plato’s Foot illustrates: the Eternal Foot is planted in the Eternal Sand and beneath it is the Eternal Footprint. The Footprint is still Caused by the Foot, even though there was no time when the Footprint did not Exist.

  28. I’m not claiming that any alternative explanation is impossible.

    Special pleading is claiming an exemption from a general rule.

    I didn’t shout

    How nice. But I was making a parody of the kerygma of faith involved in consigning some aspect of material reality to the zone of the unexplanable, in which it must simply be accepted on faith. At least the religious folk have the decency to draw the line outside the material universe and not inside it.

  29. The Universe cannot “just exist” (if that has any real meaning) because in it there is “movement” (i.e. change).

    Time is “a succession of events”; no succession of events (no “movement”) = no time.

    Plato’s footprint is an imaginary effect without a cause… an assumption of no before and after… i.e. no “movement”.

  30. Goodoh, YOS. Point taken.

    I have been somewhat preoccupied with mundane matters and only had a chance for a quick flick through the article by Dr. Dennis Bonnette linked above. It seems rather convoluted but roughly congruent with what I’ve been trying to say.

    In the temporal realm (of, or in, time) the natural cause must necessarily precede the effect… even if in nano pico seconds. However, in the “atemporal” or “non-temporal” a cause and effect could be “contemporaneous” because the cause is essentially the effect… as in “spiritual” beings are what they do and “where” they do it.

    That’s a partial reason why I agree with St ‘Gus that Creation “was” instantaneous… there was no “before” and then there was an “after”.

    Apart from all that, infinite regress of causes is absurd because it denies even its own premises and its own existence.

  31. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “You are thinking of “creation” as a kind of “transformation,” just another kind of moving of matter around from one form/state to another.”

    Well, I both do and don’t think of creation in that way. (To be fair, most religious believers seem to have a quite unsophisticated view of creation as being somewhat like the big bang, or in the case of young earth creationists, animals and other objects presumably appearing in a puff of smoke.)

    I don’t think of it as a transformation happening in time and/or space, but I do think it has to be viewed as some sort of transformation or transition from nothing to something, otherwise it isn’t anything(!) If you want to claim creation doesn’t mean a transition between two states, (nothing and something) whether it happens ‘in time’ or ‘eternally’, then I don’t see how it differs from just saying things ‘just exist’.

    What I’m going to say again is that the only thing we know is that things exist. There isn’t any evidence or any reason to suppose that said existence requires a creator.

    “A “state” of non-existence cannot by definition exist.”

    That’s what I keep saying! If the ‘something’ state exists but the ‘nothing’ state doesn’t, there was/is no ‘creation’.

  32. If the ‘something’ state exists but the ‘nothing’ state doesn’t, there was/is no ‘creation’.

    Alternatively:
    If the ‘something’ state exists but the ‘nothing’ state doesn’t, then “nothing” is not a “state,” for a state would have to be a state of some thing, a contradiction.

  33. Noisyfish is demonstrating very convincingly that “Atheism” is, indeed, a superstitious religion based on the absurd assumption that nothing magically turns itself into everything for no reason with no viable mechanism, or first cause, or final cause (purpose).

  34. Good ole Uncle Tom, whom I love and admire for his brilliant thinkery is nonetheless not an infallible divine oracle.

    He seems to have had some difficulty in trying to reconcile his notions of temporal and a-temporal as evidenced by his considerations of the Immaculate Conception and Predestination, for example.

    I am sure that, in his great wisdom and humility, he would be delighted to be clarified or even corrected by his very own method of logical inquiry.

  35. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “If the ‘something’ state exists but the ‘nothing’ state doesn’t, then “nothing” is not a “state,” for a state would have to be a state of some thing, a contradiction.”

    The way I read this, it looks like you’re agreeing with me – surely not!

  36. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “Special pleading is claiming an exemption from a general rule.”

    I’m not claiming an exemption from a general rule.

    “But I was making a parody of the kerygma of faith involved in consigning some aspect of material reality to the zone of the unexplanable, in which it must simply be accepted on faith. At least the religious folk have the decency to draw the line outside the material universe and not inside it.”

    I’m not consigning something to the “zone of the unexplainable”, just saying “I don’t know”. That is more honest and useful than claiming to know that “goddunnit”.

  37. @ Oldavid,

    “Noisyfish is demonstrating very convincingly that “Atheism” is, indeed, a superstitious religion based on the absurd assumption that nothing magically turns itself into everything for no reason with no viable mechanism, or first cause, or final cause (purpose).”

    Wrong! Atheism isn’t a religion (how many times?!), it’s just a lack of belief in a god or gods. Atheists don’t have to propose an alternative hypothesis for the origin of the universe (not that Genesis counts as a hypothesis anyway), I’m doing so because I think it’s an interesting exercise.

  38. Toothless eel, your atheism is just a nebulous cloud of mud to hide in from which to launch the nefarious deceits of antitheism on the hapless and unsophisticated.

    “Evolutionism” is invariably the marketing tool of choice to deceive the unwary into any of the various disguises of self-deification, God-hatery or, at least, indifference (don’t know, don’t care, doesn’t matter).

    While vociferously claiming “science” as the justification for their perversity “atheists” duck for cover in any of their mud holes when challenged to provide REAL evidence from observation, experiment, or logic for their irrational beliefs. (Yair, I know, belief in irrational unbelief is not a belief. By that token belief in any other kind of Voodoo magic is not a belief either).

    Atheism is entirely bankrupt and relies entirely on invective, insinuation and illusion to sustain and propagate itself.

  39. Atheism [is] just a lack of belief in a god or gods.

    The fascinating thing is that Anthony Flew, who came up with that dodge, later became convinced of the deist stance. And of course, none of the on-line philosophical encyclopedias accept that as a definition for atheism.

    Atheists don’t have to propose an alternative hypothesis for the origin of the universe

    Especially when they fall back on claiming there is no origin.

  40. Anthony Flew, coward that he was, apparently secretly converted to Catholicism before he died. Perhaps he was trying to avoid the scenario of his protégé the revolting Voltaire who, allegedly, was calling for a priest on his deathbed but his disciples physically prevented a priest from access.

    “Atheists don’t have to propose an alternative hypothesis for the origin of the universe”
    Of course not! There two sets of rules! One for them that accept the evidence and its logical implications and another for them that ideologically deny the existence of reality except as a figment of egomaniacal imagination.

  41. @ swordfishtrombone,

    The point is that it’s not a case of special pleading if there are good arguments for God based on real distinctions such as those between ‘linear’ and ‘hierarchical’ causes and start from such self-evident premises such as ‘change occurs’ (the Cosmological argument). The conclusion ‘God Exists’ isn’t a rationalisation but a necessary conclusion, given the premises. These arguments don’t depend on any ‘blind faith’ or revealed theology.

  42. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    [Atheism [is] just a lack of belief in a god or gods.]

    “The fascinating thing is that Anthony Flew, who came up with that dodge, later became convinced of the deist stance. And of course, none of the on-line philosophical encyclopedias accept that as a definition for atheism.”

    According to Olavid, Flew “secretly converted to Catholicism before he died” which is a dodge we atheists have heard before. Whether he did or not is irrelevant to whether the definition is correct, and the fact that many online encyclopedias of philosophy get it wrong is also an irrelevant appeal to authority.

    There is no official atheist position, so it’s up to individuals to define their position any way they want. I choose the “lack of belief” definition because it makes sense to me. Trying to shift the burden of proof onto atheists doesn’t make sense because it’s not possible to disbelieve in a god unless the existence of that god has been claimed previously by theists, in which case it would be up to said theists to provide evidence for their claim.

  43. Of course there’s no official “atheist position” because atheism is entirely irrational and does not allow any definition that would require a statement of belief or attempted justification of “belief in unbelief”.

    And “said theists” provide compelling evidence from observation and logic which is completely ignored by antitheists for no reason at all other than that it’s inconvenient to their irrational ideology.

  44. “…in which case it would be up to said theists to provide evidence for their claim.”

    And the theists *have* provided evidence. It’s just that atheists either ignore the arguments (as you have done) or say that such “evidence” doesn’t really count as evidence, even though everyone routinely uses such evidence in their everyday lives.

    So who is being irrational? 😉

  45. @ Mike,

    “The conclusion ‘God Exists’ isn’t a rationalisation but a necessary conclusion, given the premises. These arguments don’t depend on any ‘blind faith’ or revealed theology.”

    But these arguments all fail for numerous reasons. For example, here is the Kalam, William Lane Craig version:

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2. The Universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.

    Some problems:

    1) What does “begins to exist” mean? Everything in the universe just changes state, like gas cloud -> star.

    2) We don’t know that the universe began to exist. The big bang could be merely a change of state of a pre-existing quantum field or whatever. We simply don’t know what happened before the big bang.

    3) “Cause” doesn’t mean god.

    And there are many more possible objections.

    These sorts of arguments have been discussed for centuries. They’ve never been able to establish themselves as definitive proof of god. Why aren’t they used to convert people to religion?

  46. Why aren’t they used to convert people to religion?

    Logical arguments will seldom convince people who have an a priori emotional commitment to the opposite. The fraction of people who are intellectually able to apprehend a technical proof in logic or mathematics is limited and will often require some prior training.

    kalam argument

    This argument was rejected by Aquinas for some of those selfsame reasons. It was an argument never made by Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibnitz, and others, but derives from ibn Sinna in the Islamic tradition.

    In particular, time is “the measure of motion [change] in corruptible being” and, as such, is logically posterior to matter, which begs the question on “beginning to be.” It would be more correct to say that matter causes time. This is why “First” in phrases like “First Uncaused Cause” or “First Unmoved Mover” does not (and cannot) mean “first in temporal sequence.” But good little Humeans never seem to grasp this point.

    And as noted previously, the universe is an abstraction, a “set,” and exists insofar as any particular object exists.

    That First Cause is “what all men call divine” is demonstrated by “details to follow” in several hundred pages of closely reasoned questions, not in the precis or summaries stated in the “Five Ways.” But most people who do not bother to read them do not even bother to grasp what is meant by “First” or by “Cause” in summaries.

    At the time these arguments were developed, there was no philosophical demonstration that the universe had a beginning in time, only a religious belief, and Aquinas in particular disallowed religious assumptions in his arguments and so assumed sec. arg. that the universe was eternal in his arguments. (That was why there was so much resistance to the Big Bang theory from atheists.)

    An efficient cause was that which effected a thing; i.e., brought it to existence. Whereas, Moderns reflexively think of efficient causes as producing “events,” which are inherently time-related, rather than things.

  47. I chose the Kalam because it’s the simplest, most elegant of these arguments IMHO, but they’re all essentially the same: just substitute “begin to exist” with “motion”, “first cause”, or whatever, shuffle a few words around and hey presto! None of them work.

    “In particular, time is “the measure of motion [change] in corruptible being” and, as such, is logically posterior to matter.”

    “Logically posterior” certainly sounds like it means something, but what? Time, space and matter are all linked, I’m not clear how one can be “logically posterior” to another.

    “This is why “First” in phrases like “First Uncaused Cause” or “First Unmoved Mover” does not (and cannot) mean “first in temporal sequence.””

    You seem to think this is a real and important distinction. I don’t. But anyway, whether temporally or atemporally, there is no evidence that a cause is needed for things to exist. In reality, it’s hard to stop things existing, like the way empty space fizzes with virtual particles which exist essentially because it’s impossible for space to be exactly nothing. (Insofar as my layperson’s understanding goes, anyway!)

    “And as noted previously, the universe is an abstraction, a “set,” and exists insofar as any particular object exists.”

    I’m not sure I agree with this either. There are obviously things in the universe that aren’t objects, such as fields. Beyond that, I’m not clear it makes sense to talk about an empty universe not being a universe – again, we just don’t know. It’s amazing how many things you state as if they’re well-known facts, which “just aren’t so”, to use Reagan’s excellent phrase.

  48. they’re all essentially the same: just substitute “begin to exist” with “motion”, “first cause”, or whatever, shuffle a few words around and hey presto!

    That you think they are the same indicates that you fail to understand any of them.

    “Logically posterior” certainly sounds like it means something, but what?

    That a conclusion is posterior to a premise.

    Time, space and matter are all linked, I’m not clear how one can be “logically posterior” to another.

    If all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal. The mortality of Socrates is logically posterior to his humanity even though Socrates, humanity, and mortality are all “linked” (whatever that may mean). More to the point in this case, there cannot be time without the motion of creatures and there cannot be space without the extension of creatures. so time and space require creatures to exist. Hence, Einstein’s well known dictum that: Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter. This really bugged a lot of people.

    You seem to think this [“First” does not mean first in time] is a real and important distinction.

    Well, it would stop naifs from making stoopid objections.

    there is no evidence that a cause is needed for things to exist.

    IOW, it just IS! And we must accept it on blind faith. But what sort of “evidence” do you imagine there might be? There is no empirical evidence that the universe even exists, since any empirical evidence assumes a priori that there is a universe in the first place. The reasoning is circular.

    In reality, it’s hard to stop things existing…

    Which is sort of what I was saying. If nothing existed, there would be no reality in which to perceive it. It’s just a matter of getting the causal arrow pointing the right direction: from the existence of things to the existence of space and time. Rather from the existence of space and time to the existence of things.

    like the way empty space fizzes with virtual particles

    “Virtual,” i.e., “not actual.” Heisenberg compared such critters to Aristotelian potentialities.

    which exist essentially because it’s impossible for space to be exactly nothing.

    But virtual particles do not “exist” in any objective sense, and may be nothing more than artifacts of a mathematical model. However, the impossibility of “empty space” (DeSitter space) as a physical solution to the field equations is pretty much what I’ve been saying. Mathematically, iirc, it is unstable, and physically it is impossible. Although I admit it has been many decades since I took differential manifolds. But who can resist playing around with it?

    There are obviously things in the universe that aren’t objects, such as fields.

    I’m not sure how you distinguish a field from other objects. But I don’t insist on a pure materialism. I admit mathematical objects as well, although I have a sneaking suspicion that a gravitational field requires a massive body (and a Higgs field requires a boson) and an electromagnetic field requires a charged body, and so on. So a certain amount of dualism may be called for.

  49. @ (R)eely fishy: “But anyway, whether temporally or atemporally, there is no evidence that a cause is needed for things to exist.”

    All this pretentious waffling to create a mudscreen in which to bury perfectly self-evident, to the intuitive logic of common sense, fundamental principles.

    “A THING THAT DOES NOT EXIST CANNOT CAUSE ITSELF TO EXIST”. So that means that any corruptible being (changeable thing) has not the power to cause itself to “be”. That includes immaterial “things” like electric, magnetic, gravitational fields, for example. We know that they exist because we can see what they do even though we can’t take a slice of gravity and look at it with a microscope or measure it with calipers.

    Unless the confines and restrictions imposed by reality are recognised and accepted there is absolutely no basis from which much more interesting questions can be examined.

    Anyhow, there is plenty of observational and logical evidence that anything that is not eternal (is changeable, or has “movement”) requires a cause. To willfully, spuriously avoid, ignore, or deny such will not change the fact one jot.

  50. swordfishtrombone,

    It’s about consistency, so like I said, your objections amount to special pleading, the form of which is:

    Rule: Xs are generally Ys.
    x is an X.
    x is an exception to the rule because it is I (where I is an irrelevant characteristic).
    Therefore, x is not a Y.

    I’ll leave you to fill in the placeholders. This post by Ed Feser might help (although probably not because you appear not to want to understand)-
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html

  51. @ Mike,

    What I’m suggesting is that everything just exists. That isn’t special pleading. Your side’s claim is that something is needed to cause that existence (god) which doesn’t itself need a cause. That claim *IS* special pleading.

  52. @ Oldavid,

    “A THING THAT DOES NOT EXIST CANNOT CAUSE ITSELF TO EXIST”

    1. Prove that the universe has ever not existed.

    2. Stop shouting!

    “Anyhow, there is plenty of observational and logical evidence that anything that is not eternal (is changeable, or has “movement”) requires a cause. To willfully, spuriously avoid, ignore, or deny such will not change the fact one jot.”

    Firstly, you can’t have “logical evidence”. Secondly, “cause” doesn’t mean something appearing out of nothing. If a tree starts to grow, it builds itself out of CO2, water and minerals which already exist. It’s just re-arranging pre-existing components.

  53. swordfishtrombone,

    “What I’m suggesting is that everything just exists.”

    But you don’t *behave* as though that’s the case in your everyday life. You assume that whatever exists has a cause or explanation. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be able to function. What you’re denying is that anything has an *ultimate* cause or explanation; it’s just an infinite regress. Why should it be when you’re perfectly willing to grant that thing/event A can be explained/caused by B, which can in turn be explained/caused by C etc… That’s why I say it’s special pleading, because you’re implying that causes and explanations are ok up to a point, but there’s no such thing as an ‘ultimate’ cause or explanation. In other words, the buck stops nowhere.

    “Your side’s claim is that something is needed to cause that existence (god) which doesn’t itself need a cause.”

    ‘We’ are just following the cause/explanation argument to its logical conclusion, not arbitrarily abandoning it. If you deny an infinite regress, then of course there has to be an ‘ultimate’ cause which by definition has no cause of its own, so how can it be special pleading? This ultimate cause, with further argumentation, can be shown to have all the traditional divine attributes, and is therefore what we call ‘God’. And note that the argument does *not* beg the question or try to justify prior assumptions that God exists.

  54. Your side’s claim is that something is needed to cause that existence (god) which doesn’t itself need a cause.

    But that is not the claim. The claim is that in sensible nature no thing is observed to be an efficient cause of itself, nor is it logically possible that it should be so.

    From this claim and the impossibility of an infinite regress in efficient causes (https://strangenotions.com/why-an-infinite-regress-among-proper-causes-is-metaphysically-impossible/) one deduces that there must be a primary (“first”) cause from which all secondary (instrumental) causes derive. After some further work of the intellect, this is seen to be something not of the natural order, and is what all men call “divine.” (https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/the-which-all-call-deus-clause-in-the-five-ways/)

    That is, one does not start out with God (or even with a god) as a “hypothesis” and plug it in as a solution to a “scientific” problem like “What illuminates light?” or “What causes existence to exist?” and ask “What causes the uncaused cause?” Modern natural science examines only natural, secondary causes of natural phenomena. Like any science, it cannot examine its own basic assumptions: e.g., that stuff exists. (https://thomism.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/response-to-objection/#like-13442)

  55. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “That you think they [cosmological arguments] are the same indicates that you fail to understand any of them.”

    No, it doesn’t. I understand the Kalam (and you agreed with my objections), I understand the others also, and I said “essentially the same”, not just “the same” so you’re misrepresenting my position.

    “there cannot be time without the motion of creatures and there cannot be space without the extension of creatures. so time and space require creatures to exist.”

    Creatures?

    [You seem to think this [“First” does not mean first in time] is a real and important distinction.]

    “Well, it would stop naifs from making stoopid objections.”

    You didn’t understand my objection. There’s no need for a ‘first cause’ in time and no need for a ‘first cause’ in an atemporal causal hierarchy, hence the distinction between the two is irrelevant.

    “There is no empirical evidence that the universe even exists, since any empirical evidence assumes a priori that there is a universe in the first place. The reasoning is circular.”

    No evidence that the universe exists, yet there are unassailable arguments proving that god created it? Does not compute! Bzzt, crackle.

  56. I understand the Kalam

    Oh, goody. I hadn’t thought of that as one of the cosmological arguments.

    I understand the others also

    Now, that I profoundly doubt.

    I said “essentially the same”, not just “the same” so you’re misrepresenting my position.

    Let’s not get into essences.

    Creatures?

    Things

    You didn’t understand my objection. There’s no need for a ‘first cause’ in time and no need for a ‘first cause’ in an atemporal causal hierarchy, hence the distinction between the two is irrelevant.

    So, it’s “turtles all the way down”?

    Imagine a series of dominoes toppling forever. Each domino is toppled by its predecessor; and each one topples its successor. Suppose, sec. arg., that there are an infinite number of dominoes. There is not and cannot be a First Domino. Yet there is a First Cause; viz., the arrangement of the dominoes. (It is a formal cause.) The arrangement of the dominoes is not a domino, but transcends the dominoes.

    Simil atque, consider a sequence of emails that have been forwarded unchanged from one sender to the next. Suppose further that this has been proceeding forever. Every sender you will ever find has received the email from someone else: he is a “sent sender.” But the process of receiving and sending the email does not provide sufficient reason for an important property of the email; viz., its content.

    Further discussion is here:
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-feast-of-st-thomas.html

    No evidence that the universe exists, yet there are unassailable arguments proving that god created it? Does not compute! Bzzt, crackle.

    Hence, the distinction between mathematical and metaphysical demonstrations versus physical, probabilistic arguments. “No empirical evidence”; not “no evidence,” simpliciter.

  57. If reasoning according to the rules of logic (scientific rules for effective, valid reasoning) can’t provide evidence of valid reasoning (i.e. the elimination of contradictions and absurdities) then it can’t do anything at all because that’s all it does. Reasoning without the rules of logic is merely the association of fanciful speculations starting nowhere and going anywhere (or vice versa).

    Creatures is anything that is created i.e. anything that is not eternal, “immovable” (unchangeable) and entirely self-sufficient.

    [quote=eely] There’s no need for a ‘first cause’ in time and no need for a ‘first cause’ in an atemporal causal hierarchy, hence the distinction between the two is irrelevant. [/quote]

    You assume that any irrational assertion of yours is a valid premise that requires no rational, observational or logical justification.

    [quote=eely again!]Firstly, you can’t have “logical evidence”. Secondly, “cause” doesn’t mean something appearing out of nothing. If a tree starts to grow, it builds itself out of CO2, water and minerals which already exist. It’s just re-arranging pre-existing components. [/quote]

    There is nothing in the definition (or notion) of cause that precludes a sufficient cause from creating, out of nothing, “pre-existing components” and the life system that can re-arrange them into a growing tree. There is, however, a logical objection to the notion that the components and the life system can create THEMSELVES out of nothing.

  58. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “The claim is that in sensible nature no thing is observed to be an efficient cause of itself, nor is it logically possible that it should be so.”

    How would you recognise that something was the cause of itself, in order to be able to claim that no such thing has been observed?

    “From this claim and the impossibility of an infinite regress in efficient causes”

    You link to an article which I skimmed. It’s quite amusing to read through the comments, where you get owned(!), and there are a series of physics-based objections, to which the author responds in an increasingly irritated and pompous manner. Why are these philosophers and theologians always so up themselves? The entirety of philosophy, metaphysics and theology could be totally binned without it having any noticeable effect on our lives, yet they pretend that their made-up, ‘meta’ nonsense is more important than actual physics.

  59. [quote] The entirety of philosophy, metaphysics and theology could be totally binned without it having any noticeable effect on our lives [/quote]
    On your life anyway. Anything that is not the preserve of eels and like brutes is incomprehensible your lot.
    [quote] yet they pretend that their made-up, ‘meta’ nonsense is more important than actual physics. [/quote]
    “Actual physics” is entirely impossible without “meta nonsense” that can identify a reality and determine what it is and how it can be explored and known. You have shown a complete ignorance and disregard for “actual physics” and any scientific or logical method. I am jolly glad that the people who make aeroplanes have a much more realistic approach to their pragmatic disciplines than galahs like you and your mates who think they can simply “make up” reality to suit their insane egomania.

  60. @ Mike
    “swordfishtrombone = troll”

    Don’t be in too much of a rush to avoid a nuisance, Mike. Sometimes obstacles are put in our way to strengthen us and our companions.

    From my agrarian point of view, the eels are doing more harm to themselves and their ideology than anything else.

  61. @ Mike,

    “swordfishtrombone = troll”

    It didn’t take long for you to run out of arguments.

    My understanding is that a troll is someone who disagrees with and insults people for the sake of it. I only insult people if they’re being exceptionally rude and I don’t disagree for the sake of it; my motivation is usually that something said on here seems flat-out wrong to me, or because I’m trying to sharpen my thinking.

  62. Sure, I’ll go along with it; but like I said, it was a weak argument to begin with, as the medievals noted.

  63. swordfishtrombone,

    “it didn’t take you long to run out of arguments”

    Your last comments were quite revealing and make you a troll in my book. You can’t argue with scientism or someone who has the attitude that premises are ‘meta nonsense’, even though they implicitly sign up to them when it suits them, so why bother to try? There are other arguments but they will similarly be dismissed by you as more meta nonsense. FWIW, I’m not religious (and am not trying to ‘save’ anyone) but I am convinced by the arguments for the existence of God.