Thursday, May 13, 2010

it suddenly becomes so clear

If you're anything like me, by the time you were, lets say, six, you'd have come up with an argument against the idea that god made the universe. You'd have said "well who made god then?" The argument is much derided because, well, a six-year-old can come up with it. I'd be surprised if most don't. But simplicity isn't necessarily a flaw and it's a compelling argument. You just have to see the antics of theologians as they try to refute it to realise it's pretty much a deal breaker.

For example, a popular rebuttal is that god exists 'outside time' or 'outside the universe' and therefore that his existence is not contingent on the prior existence of the universe. This is a fairly incoherent argument to begin with, but more importantly it suffers from a total lack of evidence and a bewildering lack of parsimony. To accept it, you need to invent enormous swathes of imaginary physics. So let's be clear: in order to argue that a being whose existence we have no evidence for created the universe, we have to invent a whole bunch of physics that we have no evidence for either. To a certain mind, this is a reasonable and compelling argument.

There are others, equally vapid and desperate, which you can google if you bear it. None of them make any more sense than the above and I had started to bask in the unassailability of the who invented god argument.

Sadly, however, it has finally been refuted by a philosopher and theologian called David B. Hart:

These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself. Thus, abstracting from the universal conditions of contingency, one very well may (and perhaps must) conclude that all things are sustained in being by an absolute plenitude of actuality, whose very essence is being as such: not a “supreme being,” not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates.

Well that certainly clears things up. I hope you followed that argument. You'd have to be pretty stupid to think it was a badly strung together list of meaningless wank. That's real philosophy, you understand, not just a tawdry attempt to blind with bullshit.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh on Hart. After all, as he takes pains to point out, the argument is true even if it doesn't make sense. That's some powerful reasoning all right and I for one cannot fail to be convinced by it.

Hart says lots of other stuff. I'm not one of your high-falluting big city philosopers, of course, but Hart seems to smear together a rather odd version of the already blithering ontological argument and sets an army of tottering strawmen lurching toward Hitchens of all people. His dismissal of A C Grayling seems more smarmy than anything. Grayling seems to be talking about the common argument that without religion we wouldn't have art and saying that on the contrary we could do with fewer canvasses rendered with a scene of torture and death. Hart says Grayling should consider why that particular scene has so captured our imaginations that we seem to prefer as a species that depiction over something more obviously lovely. In my unsubtle way, it looks to me as though he's saying that the existence of lots of pictures of Jesus constitutes evidence of a sort of the existence of god.

I have an alternative explanation for the pervasion of Jesus on the cross in our art. WE ARE ALL IDIOTS.

Whatever happened to parsimony?

Hart's stuff is here: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/04/believe-it-or-not

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