Encouraged by Atheism?

Somehow, the mass of men have allowed themselves to become pre-conditioned to assume that philosophers and atheists are super intelligent. We expect to read their writings and be blown away by irrefutable logic and insights concerning, among other things, the existence of God. Many of these so-called intellects shroud themselves in complex sentences, four-dollar words, insults, and a fiery indignation creating the illusion that they know something we don’t and that they know it so deeply that they are passionate about it. It is equivalent to the fallacy that equates truth with sincerity.

I admit that I like to read atheist arguments, mainly because I have yet to encounter any claim refuting the existence of God that was able to hold any water. Scratch the surface just a little bit and you discover angry apologists, many of whom are intellectually dishonest.

Bertrand RussellBertrand Russell

Consider the noted twentieth century philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell who, in his lecture-turned-essay, “Why I am Not a Christian,” addressed the “first cause argument” for the existence of God. He wrote:

I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question ‘Who made God?’” That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument for the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument . . . There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination.

Now, certainly one of the most well-known expressions of the First Cause argument is Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). In Volume I, Question 2, Article 3 of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas gave five arguments for the existence of God: 1) the argument from motion, 2) the nature of the efficient cause, 3) the argument from possibility and necessity, 4) the gradation of things, and 5) the governance of the world (design). His argument from motion goes like this:sandro-botticelli-st-thomas-aquinas

Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

I particularly like Aquinas’ discussion of possibility and necessity:

We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt,[1] and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything [emphasis mine] is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence—which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go onto infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has already been proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The principle behind the First Cause argument is simple: everything that is has to have been caused by something prior to it. However, we cannot rightly conceive of an infinite regression of cause and effect. Therefore, there must be a necessary “cause,” or a Prime Mover. That is, there must be some source, outside of the universe—outside of whatever is outside of the universe—that can be said to have been the initial cause of all that is. This requires that we must at least allow for the possibility of a necessary first cause that exists outside of our own understanding and scientific insights. There would be no reason to posit such a necessary force or being except that we do see the universe, we do know it had to have a beginning, we cannot credibly posit matter that exists eternally, and even if we choose to imagine a universe of universes, or a so-called “multiverse,” we only succeed in pushing the question of a Prime Mover further out. One may imagine as many aliens and universes as one likes: everything has to have a beginning.

The Rule Breaker

Now, that last statement must immediately be refuted in the case of one “thing” or being that must have been eternally present in order to be in position to cause the first things that was caused. At this realization we encounter the need for a leap of faith. That is, in order to allow for all that we see we must allow for a primary, necessary being or force that can be said to be the source of it all. This entity or force breaks the mold and does not conform to the rules that apply to everything else.

For the moment, I am content to bring the discussion just that far. If one wants to imagine some kind of necessary force other than God, particularly the Judeo-Christian God, one should have at it. However, my requirement is that one should have at it honestly and logically.

It is too bad, of course, that Russell was willing to give up his belief in God (if that’s what it was) at so young an age for such fragile reasoning as that which came through a book from someone else’s father. At first blush, one might think there is a debate to be had, for the argument that even God would have to have a beginning is a good first try at arguing against the First Cause concept. However, when Russell says, “There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all,” he speaks foolishness. Did Russell really think that it was possible that “the world” had always existed, not having a beginning?

One of the ways we know that we cannot posit an eternal matter is that we observe that everything decays. We have not encountered anything that can be said not to be in a state of decay. Therefore, we must imagine that matter is not eternal, has not the power to exist eternally, and therefore must have had its beginning at some point in time, just as it will have its ending.

If there is a God, He must, by definition, exist outside of all other things. The very definition of God is that He must be, if He exists, Self-existent and eternal. One must allow for God to be considered differently than that which He has made. Therefore, there is reason to assert that all created things would have a beginning but that He who created all things would not. Decrying the impoverished imagination of the hoi polloi, Russell used his to imagine an eternal universe but he could not allow, at least in this treatment, for even a reasoned consideration of the existence of God. Maybe the kind of imagination needed is the kind Richard Dawkins demonstrated in his interview with Ben Stein.

Stein: What do you think is the possibility that intelligent design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in Evolution?

Dawkins: Well, it could come about in the following way, it could be that at some earlier time somewhere in the universe a civilization evolved by probably some kind of Darwinian means to a very, very high level of technology and designed the form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now that is a possibility and an intriguing possibility and I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology you might find a signature of some sort of designer. And that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe but that higher intelligence would itself have had to have come about by some explicable or ultimately explicable process. It couldn’t have just jumped into existence spontaneously. That’s the point.[2]

So, Dawkins can imagine aliens seeding life on this planet but he cannot imagine God: not just the Christian or Jewish God, but any god. Taken to its illogical conclusions, Dawkins believes against Aquinas that we can “go on to infinity” with a perpetual line of causes and movers, never ever getting back to a beginning! Aquinas says Dawkins is absurd.

Now, some godless scholar will no doubt reply, “Aquinas was an unenlightened scholar from the age of scholasticism. We have moved beyond such proofs.” My answer to this is that the philosophes of the enlightenment have gave us nothing worthwhile to replace Aquinas. Nor have Darwinians given us anything but dogs evolving into whales. Atheists have only given us Dawkins and Hitchens spewing out anger, bitterness, and diatribe against God in order to discount any voice that might want to tell them how to live.

Atheists demand proof of God’s existence and then expect the masses to give up their belief in God over such unscientific, intelligence insulting assertions of a world with no beginning or of aliens seeding life on our planet.

A Final Word about John Mill’s Influence on RussellJohn_Stuart_Mill_by_London_Stereoscopic_Company,_c1870

At the outset of this article, I quoted Russell’s quote of John Stuart Mill and his father, James Mill, himself a historian, economist, political theorist, and philosopher. He was also an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland. Here is a reminder of Russell’s statement:

I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question ‘Who made God?’” That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument for the First Cause.

Here is the actual quote from Mill’s Autobiography:

It would have been wholly inconsistent with my father’s ideas of duty, to allow me to acquire impressions contrary to his convictions and feelings respecting religion: and he impressed upon me from the first, that the manner in which the world came into existence was a subject on which nothing was known: that the question, “Who made me?” cannot be answered, because we have no experience or authentic information from which to answer it; and that any answer only throws the difficulty a step further back, since the question immediately presents itself, “Who made God?”[3]

Russell’s inaccurate quotation makes the elder Mill’s position much meaner and seem more premeditated, seemingly grouping him in with atheism. However, according to Mill, his father was greatly influenced by and spoke with respect for a book called Butler’s Analogy, which “kept him, as he said, for some considerable time, a believer in the divine authority of Christianity.”

Mill’s father wrestled with questions of creation and the inspiration of scripture. Mill’s father struggled with the presence of evil in the world, hell, and the creed of Christianity which he considered to be evil, thus he struggled with institutional Christianity.[4]  Ultimately, he found no “halting place in Deism [and] remained in a state of perplexity, until, doubtless after many struggles, he yielded to the conviction, that, concerning the origin of things nothing whatever can be known. This is the only correct statement of his opinion; for dogmatic atheism he looked upon as absurd; as most of those, whom the world has considered Atheists, have always done.”

Finally, Mill’s testimony above was that his father was committed to making sure that his son shared his own convictions in these matters. Interestingly, Mill characterized himself as “one who has not thrown off religious belief, but never had it: I grew up in a negative state with regard to it.”[5]


[1] Here, Aquinas is referring to the tendency of all things to suffer entropy, degradation, or to fall into disorder.

[2] Dialogue taken from the documentary on Intelligent Design, “Expelled,” featuring Ben Stein (begin listening at 1:16:24).

[3] John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, Seventh Edition, (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1882), 43.

[4] Ibid., 38-42.

[5] Ibid., 43.

Categories: Atheism, Philosophical, The Logic

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  1. Encouraged by Atheism? | scottythinks | ccithink

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