Sunday, January 08, 2006

Two arguments for God

How can we be sure that God isn't a figment of our imagination? God has never shown himself to us. We have no proof of his existence. Many of us are content to listen to the authorities: the bible, the church, our parents. But even very devout Christians have been known to question their beliefs.

Questioning is a good thing, because it gets you somewhere. You don't necessarily have to take the other side. But you should be able to come up with a reasonable argument for your beliefs. This is what St. Thomas Aquinas did. Aquinas was a devout monk who lived in the thirteenth century, and tried many times to prove the existence of God with logic. Here is one of his more famous arguments:

First, he points out that every event has a cause. A glass will smash only if you push it off the table; it's not going to jump off the table by itself. Secondly, he points out that causes can be events. Pushing the glass off the table is an event which also had a cause (a tantrum, I suppose). In this way, we get chains of events, where each event on the chain is caused by a previous event: A called B fat, which caused B to get angry, which caused B to push the glass, which then caused the glass to smash into a thousand pieces. Aquinas strokes his chin and realises that these events must have had an initial cause. Because if A didn't call B fat, the glass wouldn't have smashed into a thousand pieces.

But how can you have an initial cause? What caused the initial cause? Aquinas strokes his chin again and realises that there can be only one thing in this entire universe which can give brith to an initial cause: God himself. Therefore, God exists.

This is a pretty sophisticated argument. It logically makes perfect sense (leaving besides what caused the existence of God). God pushed the first domino.

So why isn't everyone today convinced that God exists? Well, first I'd like to point out a small logical problem. It's called the Birthday Fallacy. The Birthday Fallacy is shown in the following argument:
1. Everyone has a birthday
2. Therefore, there must be one day which is everyone's birthday
It's a mistake to assume that just because everyone has a birthday, that everyone has the same birthday. Aquinas made this mistake when he assumed that every cause could be lead back to one common cause (God's initial cause). There could have been separated chains of events.

But this wouldn't have really hurt his argument because then he could have just said that God made more that one initial cause. The real problem with Aquinas's argument is the assumption that only God could create an initial cause. Quantum physics tells us that the rules of causation do not apply to the tiniest of particles. Scientists nowadays have also replaced God's initial cause with the big bang. Science has replaced God.

But we can't criticise Aquinas for this: the study of quantum physics developed six centuries after his death. It would be unfair to judge him on these grounds.

Now we shall have a quick look at what is probably one of the best arguments we have on the existence of God. It's called the clock analogy. The story basically goes like this:

You are walking along a deserted beach and you stumble across a watch. Curiously, you pick it up and open it. Inside, you see all the carefully crafted mechanical workings of a clock, and you wonder how this could have come about. You have two options: it was made by a craftsmen, or the watch came into existence accidentally.

Obviously, it was crafted by a person of the trade. The clockwork could not have been made by the subtle movements of the sand, or the risings of the tide. It was made by an intelligent being. Now we can make the analogy. The clock is a human being. The craftsman is God. The silly option of the clock coming about accidentally is evolution.

The argument has a point. Humans and other living creatures are immensely complex in structure, so much so that you would think that we were made by someone really smart. But what about Darwin's theory? Apparently we are the product of 3.7 billion years of evolution. That's a very long time. Darwin's theory also gives sound explanations as to how we came to be this way, without the helping hand of God (Darwin had trouble accepting this himself). Another problem with the analogy is that it is not analogous. Clocks don't reproduce. So the evolutionary changes that take place over thousands of generations of living organisms could not have taken place in the development of a single clock.

Further Reading:
  • Sober, E., 1995, Core Questions in Philosophy, Simon and Shuster, pp. 39 -60


Doctor Marco said...

The clock analogy is something that the people who are believers in Intelligent Design would use as part of their intelectual framework towards demonstrating the existence of a supernatural engineer. We are the product of billions of years of evolution. We do not function perfectly as the mechanical workings of the clock, our genetic code shows examples of useless genetic material and inactivating mutations. It seems to be more the work of billions of years of trial and error mutations which lead to environmental adaptations than the work of a supernatural being.

N B Saunders said...

thanks for pointing out the mistake - yes evolution has taken place over 3.7 billion years. Also, i like the point that you make on the useless genetic material; our imperfections stand out as evidence that we are not made by God, and that we did come about naturally.

Doctor Marco said...

Let me tell you that I love your blog, I did not see it yesterday because I was on-call in the hospital, but I always look forward to read it when I get home!

N B Saunders said...

wow that's really great to hear - thanks! i guess i'll have to keep writing

Anonymous said...

The argument is self defeating if the watch is too complicated to simply exist, isn't God too complicated. By this reason doesn't God require a God for his existence, and doesn't that God require a God, and so on into infinity.

AP said...

The Big Bang doesn't replace God. It was theorized by a Catholic monk because it strengthens the argument for a first cause.

Tyler said...

The Big Bang.. hmm.. sounds familiar..
Case closed

Anonymous said...

The big bang is not an explanation. The universe has been proven to be expanding in all directions which means it began from a single point in space. The theory is that an intense focal point of pure energy the size of a sugar cube banged into matter and antimatter and space and time was created. Einsteins theory proves matter and energy can convert back and forth so this focal point of energy exploded into the matter which created our universe. I believe this random event had to be by a creator, something does not come from nothing and as a scientist myself there is no explanation as to where this energy began and what caused the big bang. Everything after the bang is explainable, but that does not mean a supreme being did not have influence in the outcome.

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