A Criticism of my Essay Responding to a Counter-Clockwise Paley
It really isn't much of a criticism
Several months ago, I read an essay by a gentleman who I consider to be a rather articulate defender of atheism, Kyle J. Gerkin. He has written an essay which is available over at the Secular Web entitled "A Counter-Clockwise Paley." I wrote a rather lengthy response (too long, now that I am re-reading it) to his essay which I entitled "Trimming the Wrong Hedge" which can be found on the CADRE site on the Answering Skeptics page.
In "Trimming the Wrong Hedge", I got right to the heart of the defect in Mr. Gerkin's argument: the argument assumes that God had to be a created being. I said:
While I believe he too easily dismisses the two objections, Gerkin completely overlooks a third possibility, to wit, that the intelligence may not be “the product of” anything. The intelligence that could be in existence may have been the “uncaused cause” or “uncreated creator” that has been parts of theistic thinking for centuries.
You see, with all due respect to Gerkin, a person who has been identified by J.P. Holding as “smarter than the average atheist,” he, like most atheists, is thinking “naturalistically.” He has adopted (and his argument requires everyone reading it to adopt) the belief that the universe is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be. His first premise of S1 appears to assume that worldview, and fails to take into account the possibility that an intelligence need not to be “the product of” anything.
Now, my writing has been criticized on a site called "Atheology: Strong Atheism" in an essay entitled "Argument from Evolution." The author, Francois Tremblay, had this to say about what I wrote:
. . . even if we posit that some mechanism can exist in the "supernatural realm", this mechanism and that realm would itself require a Creator. The only viable solution for the theist is to claim that intelligence can pop out of nothing, which goes against our scientific knowledge.
An objection has been raised in that line by William Kesatie in "Trimming the Wrong Hedge". Keasatie [sic] argues that the argument only applies to material entities, because God was uncaused. This is a lame objection, and he must be aware of that : whatever position one has, one has to uphold an uncaused entity, material or not. In this view, Kesatie only highlights the absurdity of the theistic position in assuming the existence of an uncaused intelligence.
First, it should be noted that Mr. Tremblay has not shown that my statement is in any sense irrational. Rather, he has chosen to call it "lame". Why is it lame? Because the idea that an intelligence can "pop out of nothing" goes against "our scientific knowledge." Three things can be said to that:
1. Nowhere did I, or any other theist of which I am aware, say that God (the initial intelligence) "popped out" of anywhere (nothing or otherwise). Rather, the claim about God is that He was preexistent. He is the "thing" from which all other things proceeded. I am not claiming that God came into existence at all. That is the point. Thus, Mr. Tremblay, like Mr. Gerkin, has trimmed the wrong hedge.
2. While we have learned a lot about our universe through the study of science, and like most people I have little doubt that we will learn a lot more, science is not so complete that we can unequivocally assert that things which go against our scientific knowledge are untrue.
3. Mr. Tremblay does not even himself believe that our scientific knowledge goes against the idea that intelligence can pop out of nothing. Scientifically speaking, there is evidence that things happen "uncaused" at times. Consider Mr. Tremblay's arguments in response to William Lane Craig's description of the Kalam Cosmological Argument's premise that "whatever begins to exist must have a cause of its existence I think is so intuitively obvious that scarcely anybody could sincerely deny that it is false." In an essay entitled "Dr. Craig's Unsupported Premise," Mr. Tremblay asserts:
Dr. Craig is no doubt aware, however, that to infer a necessary causality on a whole - the universe - on the basis of observation of such attribute in the parts - the existents around us - is a fallacy of composition. The attribute being transposed here, being caused, is relational and therefore cannot be transposed. Thus he cannot generalize from caused entities around us to the universe in this matter.
We do agree that causality is a necessary principle for our understanding of the universe. This does not mean, however, that we are prevented from realizing that an entity or property breaks this principle.
Of course, I expect that Mr. Tremblay would say that his statements were not dealing with intelligence, but I would counter that such an objection would be lame considering the way in which he objects to Dr. Craig's clarification of what he meant in his statements.
More importantly, I find it odd that a rational person (and I assume that Mr. Tremblay is a rational person) would argue that positing an uncaused entity is a lame objection. If that is the case, I guess that Mr. Tremblay would find the arguments of many of the most influential philosophers throughout history (e.g., Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas) to be "lame." I guess I should be humbled to be criticized by a person who is so much more intelligent than Aristotle that he should be able to pronounce that his arguments were "lame."
Basically, the Argument from Evolution demands that the theist accounts for the intelligence of this god. In this he is caught in a Catch-22. If he claims that intelligence is a very mundane thing to exist, then the existence of the universe and material intelligence is a much more mundane thing. If he claims that intelligence requires design, then he cannot claim that his god is intelligent.
With all due respect, this is a logical fallacy known as "false choice." He has not proven that this is the choice the theist is left because he has not come close to showing that a pre-existing intelligence could not be the first cause. Does this minor problem stop Mr. Tremblay? Of course not. He continues to praise Mr. Gerkin's original argument as having been shown to be sound.
Gerkin's argument does something that few atheological arguments have ever done, putting into question the intelligence of the god-concept, and using a purely scientific argument that is so simple as to be available to the common reader. This is a very powerful argument that I think deserves to be known and used.
I, for one, remain unimpressed.