Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ex Nihilo

Ray Comfort has a website out called "Pull the Plug on Atheism", which appears to be made for the purpose of promoting his books and publishing company. You may remember Comfort as the guy who, along with Kirk Cameron, appeared on ABC's Nightline in 2007, claiming to have proof for the existence of God. I myself didn't see that, but I've just found the video on YouTube; so, I'll have to check it out.

Anyway, on the Pull the Plug site's front page, Comfort defines an atheist as "someone who believes that nothing made everything". He is referring, of course, to the scientific theory called the Big Bang. I don't know that all atheists believe in the Big Bang, but I know I believe in it. I base that belief on the evidence and observations published in the works of reputable astronomers and cosmologists, such as Edwin Hubble or Stephen Hawking.

I certainly can't say that I know for a certainty that the Big Bang happened, because I wasn't there to observe the beginning of all things. But, then, neither was Comfort. One quote that Comfort uses to support his claim that atheists believe that "nothing made everything" was from Cornell University's astrophysics web page, in which Karen Masters, PhD writes “ . . . space and time both started at the Big Bang and therefore there was nothing before it.”

However, Comfort did exclude part of what Dr. Masters wrote:

"We can speculate in meta-physics or in religion about what was before the Big Bang, but again, we cannot use science to tell anything about it, as physics as we understand it breaks down at that point. "
Not only does Dr. Masters seem to be accommodating towards religious beliefs in this quote, but she also admits that she doesn't know what happened before the Big Bang. If Dr. Masters is an atheist (and there's no indication either way given at the Cornell site) then it seems she's an intellectually honest one. (n.b., she does appear to be wearing a cross pendant in the photo at her own website.)

But not having a better explanation for what happened before the Big Bang is no proof that Genesis 1 is correct. If we even need an explanation of what happened before the Big Bang, there's a whole host of creation myths to choose from (cf., the Wikipedia article on creation myths). Pick any one you like, each one is as unverifiable and unfalsifiable as the next.

Or pick none of them. Do we really need a Designer to explain the origin of things? The argument from design, as I understand it, is that complexity requires a designer. For instance, Comfort argues on his site that "if I say that I don’t believe that a builder built my house, then I am left with the insanity of believing that nothing built it. It just happened." Except we know for a certainty how houses are built. We've seen carpenters and bricklayers at work with our own two eyes; perhaps even some of you reading this have actually participated in the act of creating a house.

And doesn't the Designer himself qualify as complexity? The God of the Bible certainly seems complex: he talks, he smites stuff, he creates everything (presumably from nothing!). Since complexity requires a Designer, then shouldn't we also posit the existence of a Designer of the Designer? And following the same logic, such a Designer would have to be even more complex than the original Designer, therefore, there must be a Designer of the Designer's Designer. And that logic could be carried on ad infinitum.

As far as I can tell, the only way Comfort can avoid this infinite regress is by qualifying the Designer as self-sufficient and in no need of a Designer apart from himself. I propose, then, that a better definition for an atheist would be someone who believes that the universe is a self-sufficient designer that has no need of a Designer apart from itself. But the difference between an atheist and Comfort, is that the atheist can actually admit she doesn't know for certain.


(posted ex nihilo by) Philosobot

10 comments:

  1. Ray Comfort is a banana. I think I need to find another description for myself to replace Christian so that I'm not associated with bananas.

    My banana reference is a joke related to Ray Comforts "proof" of God or a designer but I do think I need a different despription. Maybe I'm not a Christian but a Zeeist. I believe in the understandings of Zee.

    I really hope someone is familiar enough with Ray Comfort to get my banana joke. I've eaten wild bananas in Thailand and in the Dominican Republic and wild bananas can be a pain to eat.

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  2. More than "complexity," the problem comes down to information. Somewhere, somehow, there was an incredibly organized system of information, and ever since "then," that information has been breaking down.

    Both parties have the same problem. No one can say where the information came from. No one can say where God (or whatever) came from.

    We live in an expanding universe whose systems are crumbling toward an infinite white hum (in the theories I abide by).

    So, there's the problem. God or... infogod. Before whom nothing was that is.

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  3. Also, metaphysics: religion.

    not that anything's wrong with religion (;

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  4. If anyone is unfamiliar with Zee's banana reference, here is a link to a YouTube video that will make everything clear: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z-OLG0KyR4

    The idea is that banana's were designed by an intelligent creator to be perfect for human consumption. As Zee alludes to, Comfort only talks about one cultivar of banana, the one that westerners tend to favor, as opposed to several other varieties we don't favor. And, by cultivar, we mean it was cultivated by humans for humans. So, I guess they had an intelligent designer after all. But even if they didn't, it's not a matter of necessity that just because something suits us it was therefore made for us.

    So, too, when we see how the physics of the cosmos are favorable to bring about our sun, our planet, our biosphere, and eventually us too, it might be a mistake to think of those physics as "information". (This commented is directed toward Samm, although I might be misinterpreting your point).

    To give an analogy of what I mean (and I admit that this is an imperfect analogy, but it's all I can think of off the top of my head): when paddling a canoe I "create" eddies and whorls on the river's surface. But, if my creations could think for themselves, they would be mistaken to believe that the creation event (the stroke of my paddle) was done to transmit information to create them. Their creation is just the happenstance of my trying to propel the canoe.

    Regards,
    Eric

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  5. Philosobot,

    Did I ever tell you that you are a good writer? In case I haven't, "You are a good writer."

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  6. to quote modest mouse,

    "the universe works on a math equation that never even ever really ever ends in the end"

    Where I see power behind the equations, you see power within the equations.

    Certainly, the fact that an unfathomable number of factors came together in such a systematically articulate fashion in just the right order and in just the right way (and of course we talking chemistry, biology, astronomy, physics, etc) doesn't prove that it was done for a reason.

    But, it doesn't hurt my case. (:

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  7. Quote:

    "Ray Comfort has a website out called "Pull the Plug on Atheism", which appears to be made for the purpose of promoting his books and publishing company."

    My Response:

    Richard Dawkins has a website out called richarddawkins.net which appears to be made for the purpose of promoting himself, his diabolical philosophy, and his product line. Just click on the Red Letter A to get your OUT campaign scarlet letter t-shirt, lapel pins, buttons, and stickers. At the website store, check out the New Products for your grocery totes, DVD 12 packs and MORE!

    And this is not Evangelism?!

    Attention Sheeple: Losing your soul has never been easier!

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  8. well, that's not helpful, is it?

    we should probably stay away from logical fallacies, and I'm thinking that attacking atheism by attacking Dawkins falls under that category.

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  9. Well said, Samm. And with the goal of avoiding that same fallacy, I was careful to focus on Comfort in this article, because I know he doesn't speak for all Christians.

    Tandi, let's not confuse marketing with evangelism (though sometimes they seem awful similar). I wasn't criticizing Comfort for peddling his books on his site (I even provided a link to the site). I wholeheartedly approve of such capitalism; but if I think someone is selling snake-oil, I'm going to say so. If you don't like what Dawkins is peddling, then I emphatically urge you *not* to click that scarlet letter.

    Peace,
    Eric

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