This post continues a conversation between myself and a Christian named Chris which began in the comments section of John W. Loftus' blog What Do You Think?
The discussion gravitated from a debate on whether or not the universe is eternal to a comparison of respective starting points. I have already written much on this topic and would suggest that Chris familiarize himself with my position by reading this
Responding to one of the other commenters in the combox, Chris stated:
It's not logical to assume that the universe has not been caused.
And in response to this, I asked Chris to indicate what he means by the term 'universe'. But instead of answering this, he seized on a statement of mine, namely:
Since I start with existence, there's no validity to the idea that existence needs to be explained.
In response to this, Chris reacted by declaring my starting point is "arbitrary," and though I asked him to present an argument to support this charge so that I can see how he came to this conclusion, he did not offer one. Perhaps it is not a conclusion to prior reasoning and thus has no argument. It may simply be a baseless charge. Chris gives nothing to rule out this possibility.
I had also pointed out that:
Existence is irreducible.
You're repeating what you previously stated. It is your starting point. You make this statement definitively as if it requires no proof.
It should not be difficult to see why existence is irreducible. By irreducible I mean it cannot be analyzed or broken down into something more basic than itself. What is more basic than existence? Meta-existence? What is that? Does it exist, or not? Since I do not see any need to multiply distinctions beyond necessity, I would see the postulation of something called 'meta-existence' as ad hoc, merely an attempt to offer something instead of my position in order to be able to claim a difference. But is there a difference? Would "meta-existence" be irreducible? Why couldn't there be something like 'proto-meta-existence'? We could continue fabricating ever more primitive levels ad nauseum, but would that gain us more understanding of reality? I don't think so. In the end, either something exists, or it doesn't. There is no in between here.
Also, an objective starting point by definition does not need to stand on proof. All proof assumes the truth of my starting point. Proof is a process by which we make explicit the logical relationship between something that is not perceptually self-evident to that which is perceptually self-evident. That which is perceptually self-evident does not need to be proven. When you see a tree, you see it, you don't need to prove that it is there. A proof of existence would be superfluous. And to what would its premises refer, if not to things that exist? Blank out.
I say that God is irreducible.
In a prior comment I had asked Chris to identify the means by which he is (allegedly) aware of what he calls "God." He has not done this. Why? He is aware of his god, is he not? If so, there must be some identifiable means by which he has this awareness, no? Most theists say that their god is invisible, and object to us rejecting their god on the basis of our inability to see it because we accept all kinds of things that we cannot see. For instance, theists have pointed to wind as an example of something we do not see, but accept as real nonetheless. True, we often do not see wind, and let's grant for argument's sake that we can never see wind. That's fine. But we need to remember that vision is only one of our five available sense modalities. We can feel the wind against our skin, as when we walk out into it. In fact, I've experienced some wind that was so strong it almost knocked me down. Wind is physical and scientifically measurable, so wind is a very poor analogy for theism to draw on, unless of course theists are ready to admit that their theistic arguments are full of a lot of wind. (Memo to self: Ask theists hypothetical question: Can God break the perfect wind?)
You require proof of me to make this claim.
I know better than to ask a theist for a proof of his god. Instead I went for the jugular by asking Chris to identify the means by which he thinks he is aware of his god. I also asked how I can distinguish between what he calls "God" and what he may be merely imagining. Theists claim that their god is invisible, it's not part of this world, it can do all kinds of amazing things which we can all imagine one way or another. But they can point to no objective basis to support what they claim. I'm simply being honest when I point out that I do not believe that the Muslim's Allah exists, and I'm simply being honest when I point out that I do not believe that the Lahu's Geusha exists. Likewise, I'm simply being honest when I point out that I do not believe that the Christian's god exists. It doesn't bother Christians when I don't believe the Muslim and the Lahu, but it bothers him when I don't believe him.
I require proof of you to make your claim.
The validation (which is broader than a formal proof) of my starting point is that it has to be true in order for Chris to deny it. For Chris to deny existence, he would have to exist, thereby refuting his own denial. Also, since his claim "God exists" piggybacks on my starting point by affirming the fact of existence, my starting point would have to be true in order for him even to contemplate what he calls "God." For Chris to contemplate the existence of his god or anything else, he would first have to exist. This alone is sufficient to validate my starting point. He then tries to make off with my starting point by smuggling it across the divide between atheism and theism, and attempts to enlist its service in support of theism. It is at that point that he swears allegiance to the primacy of consciousness metaphysics by affirming the view that the objects of consciousness ultimately find their source in a consciousness, as I have explained here
Meanwhile I can deny Chris' god, just as I deny the Muslim's Allah and the Lahu's Geusha, while remaining true to my starting point. But Chris cannot affirm his god without begging and borrowing from my starting point.
Don't you have a concept which includes everything, including your god?
Of course not. God is apart from everything.
But since he affirms that this thing he calls "God" exists, he automatically includes it ex hypothesi
in the class of things which exist. The universe is the sum total of things that exist. (This is in direct keeping with Webster's
, which defines 'universe' as "the whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated.") Therefore, if Chris' god exists, it exists as part of the sum of all that exists
, which means: it is member of the universe
. If Chris maintains that his god is not a member of the universe, then it is not a member of the class of things that exist. Which means: Chris is telling us that his god doesn't exist. There, we have agreement. And he said "we are at an impasse"!
Including God in the definition of the universe, is to make him subject to it instead the Causer of it.
Here Chris is telling us that he has reasoned from undesirable consequences. Essentially he's saying "I don't want to use a concept that includes both everything in the universe and
my god because I don't like what this might imply. My god's bigger than anything, dammit!" It's like a kid on a schoolyard insisting that his GI Joe is bigger than everyone else's, and therefore should be excused from all contests. He exhibits no concern here for conceptual integrity for he slashes himself off from a perfectly good concept and offers none in place of it. Thus he divides existence into two categories, the actual (which is represented by the finite universe of real objects) and the imaginary (which is represented by his god and arbitrarily elevated above the actual, as if the actual found its source in the imaginary).
The bible says he is without beginning or end, from time indefinite to time indefinite.
This is not an argument. Also, if Chris learned about his god from the bible, then he is acknowledging that his god could not be his starting point. He had awareness of the physical material making up his copy of the bible before he had awareness of its content. Ignoring this fact and asserting that the god he imagines came prior to and is responsible for creating the materials which make up his copy of the bible and everything else we find in the universe of real objects, is just an expression of frustration with the actual universe prompting a retreat into a realm of his own imagining where his god rules over all. Meanwhile, he continues to make use of my starting point, but does not explain where he got it. So he stands before us red-handed, his mouth full of cookies and the cookie jar lying broken on the kitchen floor. What does he say for himself? He does what all Christians eventually do: he appeals to the bible and hopes that serves as an adequate surrogate for an explanation to exonerate himself.
The name Jehovah means 'causes to become'.
This too is not an argument. And to the extent that it is true, it is at most trivial and uninteresting. The name of the Lahu's deity is Geusha. It has numerous meanings, such as "before the before," "the one before all," "the supreme ever," etc. So what?
He is the First Cause.
But the concept 'cause' does not make sense outside the context of the universe - i.e., outside the context of that which exists. Since Chris refused his god membership in the sum total of existence, he commits the fallacy of the stolen concept by referring to his god as a cause, whether foremost or collateral.
You prefer to relegate this concept to "the universe" or existence itself. Again, you have no evidence of this so therefore you must have faith that your argument is correct, as I do.
This misconstrues my position. I do not posit a "first cause." I have not identified the universe as a "first cause." Nor is the universe an effect
; to call it an effect would commit the fallacy of the stolen concept. Why would one do this, unless he doesn't care about the logical implications of his position?
Also, since I have awareness of my starting point by directly perceiving it with my senses, no faith is needed to affirm its true. Everything that exists is evidence of itself, which means: my starting point is ubiquitously attested.
by Dawson Bethrick