Friday, January 30, 2009

My review of George H. Smith's "Atheism: The Case Against God"

Smith's book is brilliant (Good End Notes too). Rational arguments against the existence of god are solid and irrefutable. Maintaining faith in this fiction Christianity) has no rational basis. Smith asserts. "Atheists have long contended that the concept of god is unintelligible, this being a major reason why it cannot be accepted by any rational man. The theist who openly admits this cannot expect to be taken seriously. The idea of the unknowable is an insult to the intellect, and it renders theism wholly implausible." (Smith p.45) Smith shows how all definitions of god reduce to religious agnosticism. The agnostic's and Christian's common belief in the unknowable nature of god as expressed in alleged qualities such as ineffable, inexpressible, transcendent and unfathomable support the foregoing conclusion. This allows us to learn that "If god is completely unknowable, the concept of "god" is totally devoid of content, and the word "god" becomes a meaningless sound." (Ibid p.44) Therefor since "Religious agnosticism suffers from the obvious flaw that one cannot possibly know that something exists without some knowledge of what it is that exists." (Ibid p.43) Smith delivers to the reader the inescapable conundrum of Christianity. Two choices present themselves to the believer. Quit the defense of the supernatural, or broadcast belief in the existence of a supernatural being "while arguing that this being is knowable, at least to some extent, by the human mind." (Ibid p.46) To claim god is unknowable yet knowable is to forsake the keep of reason.

Chapter three explores various characteristics of god, so the reader learns that "...the attributes of the Christian God cannot withstand critical examination; the concept of God is permeated with ambiguities, contradictions and just plain nonsense." (Ibid p.50) Both positive and negative theology are failures in alleviating these logical inconsistencies. Negative theology defines what god is not while positive theology asserts what god is. Both fail because of the Laws of Logic, The Law of Identity: A is A or anything is itself; The Law of Excluded Middle: Anything is either A or not-A; The Law of Contradiction: Nothing can be both A and not-A. (Ibid p.143)

On page 47 Smith lists the attributes of god from the National Catholic Almanac: "...According to this source, God is "almighty, eternal, holy, immortal, mmense, immutable, incomprehensible, ineffable, infinity, invisible, just, loving, merciful, most high, most wise, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, patient, perfect, provident, supreme, true." How is it possible for the Catholic writers to declare god is incomprehensible yet list twenty-two other traits? Smith found a Christian explanation. George Finger Thomas in "Philosophy and Religious Belief" asserts that god is not only ineffable but also immanent. God cannot be both ineffable and immanent for to be incapable of being expressed or indescribable is to not exist while existing or remaining within and being restricted to the mind are contradictory. No being as depicted in the National Catholic Almanac can exist any more than can a square circle. Thomas fails to reconcile god's incomprehensibility with other attributes.

Christianity and agnosticism share the same irrationality. The agnostic has advantage over the Christian. She knows better than to assign qualities to od, for to say anything about god is to limit god. To assert god possesses characteristic A is to say that does not have attribute not-A. (paraphrased from John Hospers, "An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis") "Existence entails a finite nature, and if God exists, then God must be a finite being." (Smith p.49) Smith concludes that no attempt to define god succeeds. "After judging religious agnosticism - the belief in a unknowable god - to be indefensible, we examined Christianity's attempt to escape from the irrationalism of agnosticism while retaining the notion of a supernatural being. The escape was a total failure. The attributes of the Christian God are merely a disguise, an elaborate subterfuge designed to obscure the fact that the Christian God is also unknowable. God's characteristics, while supposedly giving us information about God's nature. Actually accomplish the reverse: they plunge us further into agnosticism." (Smith p.87)

The only flaw I noticed was in chapter nine "The Cosmological Arguments" While Smith succeeds in refuting "The First Cause Argument" for god by demonstrating decoupling of causality from the epistemological context of existence, for "To demand a cause for all of existence it to demand a contradiction: if the cause exists, it is part of existence; if it does not exist, it cannot be a cause ... Causality presupposes existence, existence does not presuppose causality ... Existence - not God - is the First Cause." Herein he implies the Steady State model of Cosmology. We now know through observational data of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation and the accelerated expansion of the Universe that the Steady State model fails. Smith wrote "Atheism: The Case Against God" in 1979, at least two years prior to Alan Guth's Inflation theory. Inflation is now established as a leading theory of cosmic origins. The Universe began uncaused by a Quantum Vacuum Fluctuation that gave rise to the energy potential of a Higgs inflationary field. This resulted in a rapid(10^-32 second) expansion of space-time of the order of magnitude of 10^50. There was no cause or causality associated with this primordial or indeed any other Quantum Vacuum Fluctuation. All the energy of the entire Universe was compressed into a Planck sized region at the inception of the Inflationary period much like a similar sized Black Hole. This means the Universe began in a state of maximum entropy; thus, no information from any time prior to the Inflationary epoch could have survived. This means no ordering from outside our Cosmic Domain could have been applied to either Inflation or the Big Bang. Additionally, the rapid expansion created much room for order to form. As the fundamental forces decoupled from one another via spontaneous symmetry breaking, the nature of energy, matter, and the dark energy/matter congealed into what we see or infer. This well known and verified scenario solves/refutes all of the cosmological arguments for god. A new afterward addendum to the book would thus seem to be needed.

No comments: