Monday, July 27, 2015

The Reagan Question

"Sometimes when I'm faced with an unbeliever, an atheist, I like to take him to the most delicious gourmet dinner I have ever served, and then when he's done, ask him if he believes there's a cook."

That's a quote concerning God from president Ronald Reagan, or at least it's been attributed to him. Whether or not that is really the case remains to be seen. I don't want to spend too much time on who actually said this, though. Frankly, it's irrelevant to what I want to talk about right now. I'm far more interested in addressing the substance of the argument. Yes, trust me. There isn't a lot of substance to this, but it is there. Just squint and look real close, you'll find it.

This is essentially another way of wording the Argument from Design. That is to say, the world looks so complex, it must have a creator. Reagan uses a cooking metaphor to drive this point home. Every meal has a cook, so every universe has to have a designer. God must exist, or the universe would not.

This is a fallacious assertion for a number of reasons. The first is that a meal and a universe are not one and the same. That's shocking, I know, but just bear with me for a moment. This will all make sense in time. See, the universe is essentially a series of natural processes working in tandem with one another, whereas a meal is guided by a human hand. I am not aware of an natural processes that can create a gourmet dinner. If you are, let me know. That sounds tasty as fuck. Anyway, because there are no natural processes that are known to result in a meal, the only reasonable assumption one can make is that it was created by a human.

Conversely, we know of nothing that can create a universe other than the natural processes that science has observed. There is no evidence of an ethereal sky-daddy, whether you like it or not. Because there are natural processes in place, the existence of the universe just isn't enough to reliably say that a deity exists. If we could not observe evolution, for instance, then you might be able to say that there is a god. But we already know how the universe functions, for the most part. Therefore, the god claim holds no water.

The above refutation is not an endorsement of the God of the Gaps argument, however. That, too, is incorrect. The God of the Gaps assertion, for the uninitiated, goes something like this: "You cannot explain everything about how the universe works, so there must be a god." I have seen this defense used in almost every context imaginable, including the existence of hummingbirds. No, seriously. According to the theist in question, hummingbirds are too small to be able to fly under their own power, therefore God must have created them.

This is bullshit as well, and here's why. In order to make a positive claim about anything, you must be able to provide positive proof. Not knowing the cause of something doesn't mean you can just plug God into the equation and be done with it. That's not the way these things work. When you don't know something, you must work harder to find the answer. That's the only intellectually honest course of action.

Just something to think about.

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