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Understanding (and Refuting) the Arguments for God
Skeptic Michael Shermer presents ten major arguments for the existence of God — and counters each one.
Michael Shermer has made a career of skepticism — he is the founder of Skeptic, for one — but in his 2000 book, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, he does not come across as the hardcore atheist you might expect. (He prefers "nontheist.") One can appreciate his honesty and integrity. In a media that both champions and lambasts the so-called "New Atheist" movement, Shermer says one thing: Show me the evidence.
Certain fundamentalists and atheists alike see the question of God as an either-or proposal, not content on the murky speculations presented by the other "side." As Shermer points out, what we consider "miraculous" simply means what we do not currently understand. In the books he investigates 10 arguments for the existence of God. It should be noted that he does not question whether religion is right or wrong; he merely looks at these arguments from a reasonable standpoint.
1. / 2. Prime Mover/First Cause: The first two arguments essentially state: Since everything is in constant motion, there must have been something that first moved everything. And that is God.
This argument results in an infinite regress. If God is the entirety of the universe, and everything in it must be moved, then something must have moved God. Rephrased, God either must be in the universe or is the universe. If God does not need to be caused, then not everything in the universe needs a cause. If everything does need a cause, then something caused God.
3. Possibility and Necessity Argument: Not everything is possible, for that admits the possibility that there could be nothing. If nothing once existed, the universe could not have come into existence. What exists of its own necessity is God.
Shermer borrows from Martin Gardner by stating that this is a "mysterian mystery" — the idea that nothing is unknowable is due to our minds being unable to process the thought of it. It is conceivable that nothing could exist; we just cannot imagine it.
4. The Perfectionist/Ontological Argument: This convoluted argument presented by an 11th century archbishop named St. Anselm boils down to: a) There must be a cause for our very being, goodness, and perfection, and b) Is it impossible to think of God as nonexistent.
As Shermer points out, if the first point were true, you would have to add the false, ignoble, and worst, all of which would also be God. This argument is not uncommon: God seems to be around when things go well, suddenly on leave when they do not. As for perfection, humans invented this concept. You can always think of something "better than," as in adding one to infinity. Finally, it is impossible to think of anything as nonexistent, since our thoughts are always on something that exists, has existed, or could potentially exist. This argument proves nothing.
5. The Design/Teleological Argument: The heart of the modern creationist model: Since things act for a reason, there must be a designer. Otherwise how could we explain the perfect symbiotic relationship between insects and flowers?
Shermer points out that there are many design flaws in nature, such as the hind legs of a python and a whale’s flipper. I’ll add the human neck, which from a structural standpoint is not up to par with the 14-pound weight of our heads, especially with all the gazing down at our phones. If God perfectly designed us, he would have foreseen the ridiculous amount of time we stare at devices; thus, our necks would be much sturdier.
6. The Miracles Argument: The miracles of the Bible and any after can only be explained by an intervention from God.
As stated above, a miracle is simply something we cannot explain. To imagine all the great works of literature written thanks to the human imagination, then to somehow think the Bible is a special edition where everything is true, is foolish. It is, like other books of its time and since, a work of fiction.
7. Pascal’s Wager Argument: The famous wager by French mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal: If we bet God does not exist and he does, we have everything to lose and gain nothing. If we believe, we have everything to win.
Obviously there is no proof in this argument. As Shermer points out, if believing implies going to church, attending services, and so forth, then there is much to lose: time. Also, what god are we talking about believing in? If not the Judeo-Christian God, you’d have a lot to lose as well.
8. The Mystical Experience Argument: Mystical experiences have existed throughout history in many cultures. They imply some sort of direct connection with the divine, usually in the form of "light" or a "feeling."
Shermer points out that the "visions" experienced in such encounters correlate with temporal lobe seizures or other neurochemical reactions. For myself, I have experienced a number of such "visions" on LSD, ayahuasca, and other substances. While emotionally and mentally profound, I see no reason to attribute chemistry to a creator.
9. Fideism, or the Credo Quia Consolans Argument: This is not an argument at all. Basically, it means you believe in God because it consoles you.
Many people believe in religion for exactly this reason. And yet, if beliefs are based on emotions rather than evidence, it negates the necessity of reason and science altogether. You can’t argue against this one as it’s not an argument, but it still does not hold up from a logical standpoint.
10. The Moral Argument: Alongside the creationist argument, this is the most popular: How can there be morals without God?
The notion that everyone would turn into robbers, rapists, and murderers if it were discovered there is no God is ludicrous. Morals are based on cultural upbringing and, to a degree, genetics. Likewise, if morals were the domain of God and He is omnipotent, then there is a flaw in His creation when humans do bad things. There is no sense in this argument; altruism and empathy are part of our evolution as social beings. Living in society helps us create morals for the betterment of the whole.
Image: St Salvator church, God. (Photo by: Godong/UIG via Getty Images)
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Got $55 million lying around? If so, you might be able to score a spot aboard the International Space Station starting 2024.
- NASA awarded a contract to startup Axiom Space to attach a "habitable commercial module" to the International Space Station.
- The project will also include a research and manufacturing module.
- The move is a major step in NASA's years-long push to privatize.
Image: Axiom Space<p>But first, space-tourist-hopefuls would have to pass through physical and medical exams, and 15 weeks of expert training. After that, the trip sounds pretty comfy:</p><p>"There will be wifi," Suffredini <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/style/axiom-space-travel.html" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> last year. "Everybody will be online. They can make phone calls, sleep, look out the window. [...] The few folks that have gone to orbit as tourists, it wasn't really a luxurious experience, it was kind of like camping. [...] Pretty soon we're going to be flying a butler with every crew."</p>
A render of the ISS tourist experience.
Image: Axiom Space<p>In a blog post, NASA wrote:</p><p>"Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-opens-international-space-station-to-new-commercial-opportunities-private" target="_blank">five elements</a> of NASA's plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA's long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit."</p>
NASA's push to privatize the ISS<p>When a Russian rocket launched the first module of the ISS into space in 1998, NASA expected the space station to operate for about 15 years. But the agency has extended the life of the ISS twice, with funding currently set to expire in 2024. NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion per year operating and shuttling astronauts to and from the station. That's a decent chunk of the agency's $22.6 annual budget. What's more, the "major structural elements" of the ISS are certified only through 2028.</p><p>Meanwhile, NASA has been eyeing other projects, namely: putting humans back on the moon in 2024 and establishing a lunar presence. So, to save and redirect money, the agency has been starting to hand over the aging space station to the private sector, which could use it for commercial research and space tourism.</p><p>But some have questioned the move to privatize the ISS, including NASA's own inspector general, Paul K. Martin.</p><p>"An obvious alternative to privatization is to extend current ISS operations," Martin wrote in a <a href="https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/CT-18-001.pdf" target="_blank">2018 report</a>. "An extension to 2028 or beyond would enable NASA to continue critical on-orbit research into human health risks and to demonstrate the technologies that will be required for future missions to the Moon or Mars."</p>
Image: Axiom Space<p>Martin noted that "research into 2 other human health risks and 17 additional technology gaps is not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2024," meaning that any slip-ups in the process would mean such research might go uncompleted. He also wrote that it's "questionable" whether the private sector could turn a profit on the ISS without "significant" government funding. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, <a href="https://docs.house.gov/meetings/SY/SY00/20180517/108302/HHRG-115-SY00-Wstate-LalB-20180517.pdf" target="_blank">also found</a> that it "is unlikely that a commercially owned and operated space station will be economically viable by 2025."</p><p>The implication is that, if the ISS is handed over to the private sector, taxpayers could end up indirectly supporting space tourism for the ultra-rich. Whether that's worth any of the research benefits that might come from the ISS post-2024 is anybody's guess.</p><p>As the ISS enters its final years, China <a href="http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-10/17/c_138479514.htm" target="_blank">plans</a> to complete construction of a manned space station in 2022.</p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?