A reply to Rick Warden’s “How Identity, Logic and Physics Prove God’s Existence”

I wrote the below reply to this blog post by Rick Warden, but I’m also making it available here in case anyone who missed it wants to chime in. We’re hoping to get Rick on the Fundamentally Flawed podcast soon.

Hello, this is Jim who emailed you earlier today following on from Alex Botten’s invitation for you to talk about this on our podcast.

This is an extremely long argument which makes some interesting points, but for fear of being overly simplistic, I have to ask what it has to do with proving the existence of a specific God from a specific religion.

It is perfectly true to say, for example, that the high entropy state of the universe infers that, at some point in the past, every-thing was highly ordered. Indeed the coming into being of the first fundamental particles which later coalesced into dust and gas, galaxies, planets and eventually DNA and RNA, remains one of the great unanswered questions in all of science.

Postulating a designer, or an instigating force of some kind, at this point, is a perfectly valid position to take. But that does not mean you are free to immediately suppose that the nature and character of that instigating force is a specific god of a specific religion. In fact, if anything, it undermines the idea of us having any understanding whatsoever of the nature and character of that designer — least of all that such things are explored with any degree of accuracy, in the musings of an ancient, tribal people who authored the allegedly holy documents at the foundation of monotheism.

I am constantly amazed as to the lengths religious people will go to, to understand the scientific position on a range of topics, only to abandon what they have learned completely, when the evidence begins to point to something far more interesting than the God from their religion of choice. It really is classic God of the gaps stuff to insist, on one hand, that “The foundation of cohesive logic appears to have been undermined by quantum physics.” and on the other insist that this somehow constitutes proof of the existence of the deity to which you happen to have a predisposition towards believing in.

You undo your own argument in this way, because it highlights your greater commitment to theistic chewing gum, than the nouvelle cuisine of evidence against all forms of inductive assumption.

For instance, what possible justification can there be to say that simply because one understands Pauli’s exclusion principle, rumours of a desert dwelling preacher immediately become true? How, in other words, do you get from a position where you accept the scientific evidence of, say, cosmological evolution, but refuse to see that the very deductive process which gave us that knowledge to begin with, also tells us there is something far more profound happening, than we can hope to understand in one lifetime.

If you’re offended by having what you actually believe read back to you, consider the offence we take at being told the only way to be a moral person is to believe in such things without question.

I also understand that you believe the ability of the atheist to behave morally, despite their non-belief in Yahweh, constitutes proof that — even in their denial of his existence — they prove His ability to exert influence upon even the hardest of hearts. But you misrepresent us in this way so as to cover over the fact you haven’t even begun to approach a proof of your basic truth-claim — and it stands out like a sore thumb.

Further, it assumes we are hardened to the astounding beauty of the universe and the precision by which we measure it, when in reality we are the ones who advocate such a view. In simply pointing out that you make the perfect argument against the existence of the designer you postulate as being Yahweh, every time you acknowledge the even greater profundity of what we can empirically ascertain about reality, in your view, we immediately sacrifice ourselves to “random chance” or “a universe without meaning” — when nothing could be further from the truth.

Moreover, you have talked yourself into this position, on a perfectly wrong understanding of what Quantum Mechanics actually is and what it actually tells us. Quote, “If quantum mechanics seems to dismantle a cohesive logical explanation of the universe, it is likely that there is a non-materialist explanation.”

Quantum Mechanics does not dismantle cohesive logic, it solidifies it. Your misunderstanding of what Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle actually is, doesn’t constitute a reason for other people to be similarly confused.

More to the point, even if it did undermine what we know about the physical world, by your own logic it would necessarily follow that a “non-materialist explanation” of what we observe, would be — by definition — one which you cannot measure, quantify or describe — thereby even further undermining your belief that Yahweh embodies a “non-materialist explanation”; since the validity of the truth claim that He reveals Himself to us as a physical presence, cannot be considered an objectively valid experience, since our description of that experience is by definition borne of our material understanding.

Q.E.D., metaphysical truth claims are meaningless for precisely the same reason any conclusion drawn from its own proposition is viciously circular.

So on points 1 and 2, you have undone your own argument. Which is amusing, but not in a “let’s all point and laugh at the fundamentalist” petty kind of “typical atheist on the internet” sort of way. But in an almost amusing “he’s just explained how small his God is without realising it” kind of extremely sad sort of a way. I genuinely pity your loss of perspective, in this regard.

Don’t take that wrong — I admire your mental acrobatics, but only because it speaks to the level of sophistication the scientific evidence has forced you into adopting, simply to continue believing in belief for belief’s sake.

I’m going to deliberately skip large sections of your argument on the afterlife and the hallucinations of Ernest Hemingway, in the hope you will accept our invitation to debate this on the podcast, and finish instead on your final statement, “IV. Materialism has failed to provide support for answers to foundational questions while theism has provided such support.”

Please describe an action of good which could not be performed by an atheist and only performed by a theist. Do not insult your reader’s intelligence by saying “prayer”. And consider, by analogy, the shattered body of a child, sent into a crowded subway packed with timed explosives, and ask yourself if her parents are religious, or secular humanist.

13 comments on “A reply to Rick Warden’s “How Identity, Logic and Physics Prove God’s Existence”

  1. I should also add that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, mentioned briefly above, is essentially an attempt to describe, mathematically, the margin of error involved in predicting where an electron, in orbit around the atom will be, after it has been observed and NOT (as it is commonly believed) an expression of some kind of chaos inherent to the quantum mechanical world. Richard Feynman’s path integral formulation expresses this more precisely, by calculating the probability of the electron being anywhere in the universe on its way towards a fixed point from a fixed point, where it is sampled again. The famous double slit experiment demonstrates this brilliantly.

    However, the urban myth goes that Heisenberg’s equation means “anything is possible”, but this is pure woo woo and is hence a highly popular belief, propagated by those who want to sell Quantum Mechanics as the new “proof” of a supernatural aspect. It isn’t.

  2. nice piece. essentially people like this are insisting upon inserting a deity into an explanation that requires none and then either using or deriding logic as it suits their purposes. i think this is an excellent rebuttal of such an attempt. well done.

  3. Most of what he wrote is straight out of the presuppositionalist hand book, but I get particularly animated when people invoke Quantum Mechanics, as if the words we use to explain the behaviour of subatomic particles in non-mathematical language have a literal meaning, which transposes over into the language of metaphysics. They borrow words like “uncertainty principal” as if it means “that which can never be known or predicted” when, in reality, it means the exact opposite — hence “principal” as opposed to “law”. It’s the same sort of thing we see in creationism, where the word “theory” is taken to mean “rough guess”, as opposed to “that which is yet to be falsified”.

  4. pretty much what i took away from reading the post you were responding to was that there seemed to be a great deal of presupposing going on. it’s the same sort of thing i’ve heard over and over from some of the guests on the podcast. and of course these people do seem to show an absolute REFUSAL to learn the meaning of “theory” as it relates to matters scientific. it’s just…astounding.

  5. I’m not familiar enough with Rick to lump him in with the creationists, but there does seem to be an underlying suggestion that atheists refuse to debate with him on the facts, which I’m keen to clear up with a firm, “bring it on”.

  6. …it’s also worth noting that, unlike many of the “la la la I’m not listening” brigade, Rick doesn’t appear to censor, prescreen or remove any comments on his blog, so that’s definitely an encouraging start.

  7. “infers”? Hardly. Look up the difference between “infer” and “imply”, and use them correctly.

  8. I’ve been having problems using blogger.com to keep on top of the debate over at Rick’s site. So I’ve attempted to contact him via email twice now. Here is my latest reply:

    Hey, Rick. I’m sorry if I don’t follow up via the comments on your blog, but to be perfectly honest I find the blogger.com interface totally appalling. Its prevented me from posting twice now, despite that I split up the comments into easy to handle chunks. Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re “censoring” them, I’ve had blogger.com do something similar before. I blame Safari web browser.

    To summarise what was said in the lost comments, then:

    What definition of the word God are you using? I don’t mean that in a “you are an atheist towards the existence of Allah for the same reason I am an atheist towards the existence of Yahweh” kind of way, I mean it in as in some people use the word God to mean everything we don’t yet understand about nature, and some people use it to mean Yahweh — the specific God of a specific religion.

    This is an important distinction to clarify for three reasons: Firstly, the scientifically proven, unquestionable fact that Yahweh literally exists, would not undo myriad multi-self-refuting truth claims made in His name by theology. Secondly, calling ‘the unknown’, “God”, gets us absolutely nowhere in understanding things, except to insist that no matter what we discover, religious people are going to continue calling it God regardless. Thirdly, most people — 99.9% of the American electorate, for example — will mix and match the first two definitions without concern for, at least a conscious delineation between, ‘descriptions’ of nature, and their deeper ‘meaning’ – both in terms (for want of a better word) spiritually and materially. Into the confusion steps pseudo-science and superstition.

    Similarly, your piece seems to place a great deal of weight behind “Identity” and “Logic”, without fully explaining what definition of those words you are using. I know you quote the dictionary definition of various terms, but you then go on to regurgitate the same presuppositionalist nonsense — yes, nonsense — on why your argument in this area is so vital to your truth-claim, without actually fleshing out what your argument is, or why it is undone by a correct understanding of these terms.

    There is a lot of the usual straw man argument against broad definitions of godlessness, but you confound these notions by insisting these same bait and switch tactics of your detractors in this area render each of their arguments as invalid. But you then go on to do exactly the same thing. So you either know it when you see it, but assume no one else will see it when you pull the same trick, or you haven’t debated me yet. I don’t mean that in a small way. I mean that you seem to assume “all atheists” are incapable of awe and wonder, but make no attempt to account for there being a great deal of difference between the nihilistic self obsession of Nietzsche and Rand, and the secular humanism of Harris and Russell.

    I also think if you were to agree to a debate via Skype, you’d be pleasantly surprised as to the areas in which we agree. There seems to be a trend in society these days, which prizes anti-intellectualism over and above all else. It’s “cool” to be stupid. This is a concern of theological thinkers which is shared by many of us on the non-religious benches, who don’t necessarily hang on every word Richard Dawkins says — or indeed the importance he himself places in, say, genetic memes.

    The reason I’m interested in getting you on the podcast, isn’t to see which of us can borrow this in-speaking term and that buzz-phrase from the popular authors of our respective “camps”. What I’m looking for, which I don’t see on your blog, is an explanation of how religion might rescue all of us from the certain doom your faith predicts, which science cannot offer. Whereas, I believe, there is a scientific approach to the problems which face us, which theology cannot broach. There really is no more of an agenda behind my interest in getting you into a debate than that.

    If you’re still not interested in accepting the challenge, would it be cheap of me to remind you Christianity commands those who profess it to share the Word with anyone who wants to listen?

    Looking forward to speaking soon. Perhaps you would be kind enough to post this reply to the comments on my behalf, since I’m having such technical difficulties. I’m also making our exchanges available via my blog.

    Jim.

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